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​FAQs About Field Hockey Rules, Facts and Terms – Everything You Need To Know!


FAQs About Field Hockey Rules, Facts and Terms – Everything You Need To Know At A Glance

To some, field hockey may seem like a relatively new sport without too much popularity. It is only a misconception though. While not as popular as basketball, football or even ice hockey, field hockey has a fair share of enthusiasts all over the world.

It makes a great activity for larger groups of friends and families. So, what should you know about it before joining this venture?

What is field hockey?

What is field hockey

Field hockey is played with a stick and a ball. Its origins date back thousands of years, yet no one can tell precisely who played it first. Just like many other sports, it is most commonly played on grass pitches. However, given its raising popularity, more and more people play it on synthetic surfaces and even indoors.

A game consists of two different teams. Each player must use a stick to handle the ball, whether it comes to passing, pushing, dribbling, tackling or hitting. The ball is quite small when compared to other sports. It is also hard. The final goal? Scoring more goals than the opponent team by getting the ball past the goalie.

Officially, each team needs 11 players on the pitch. There will be maximum five substitutes in a game. Players are not limited when it comes to substitutions, so they can go in and out as many times as they want. Of course, when played among friends or sports clubs, you do not necessarily need 11 players. Just divide the total amount of players by two and you got yourself two teams ready to play.

Each team requires a goalkeeper, but this is not a general rule. If you watch professional field hockey, you will notice that many times, some team play with nothing but field players. This way, they get an extra advantage on the field, but they obviously have to pay more attention to the goal. Players can play in defense, midfield or attack.

The goalkeeper is the only one who can use any part of their body to defend the ball, but this is it. Players must handle the ball with the stick and nothing else. In professional circles, this is referred to as stick work. The stick features a hooked head with two sides – a flat side and a rounded side. Players must use the flat side to control the ball.

How to play field hockey?

how to play field hockey

Just like in other sports that involve scoring, field hockey games are divided into two halves. The duration? Variable. For example, some competitions require 25 minutes for a half, while others will go up to 35 minutes. There are more situations if the score is draw. In some leagues, the draw is accepted. In others (especially in knockout competitions), there will be an overtime period.

Generally, this overtime period has a sudden death profile. If someone scores, they win the game, which stops. Also, it is not unusual for overtime periods to be played in less players (sometimes from 11 to seven), only to come up with more opportunities. If nothing happens, there will be penalties – five for each team.

Scoring can occur in multiple ways, depending on the attackers’ style and techniques. A shot must come from the striking circle though, which is 16 yards from the goal. Therefore, you need to be in this circle to score. However, many players shoot from long distance, hoping that someone in the circle will deflect the ball. Even if the ball hits someone in the circle by mistake and goes inside, the goal counts. If it does not hit anyone, the goal is not taken into consideration.

When it comes to defense, there are similar rules. It is worth noting that in professional field hockey, defenders are not allowed to contact attackers – although everyone can pursue the ball.

Scores are easily kept – one goal is one point, just like in football. As long as the ball was last touched by someone in the circle (not the goalkeeper) before going in, the goal counts. Otherwise, it is canceled. The goalie does not count.

Sticks and balls (a few spares are recommended) are the only necessary pieces of equipment for field hockey. Players may also invest in more gear, such as gloves, shoes, helmets and so on. Goalies are supposed to be properly padded for protection.

Interested to learn more? Check out our field hockey beginner’s equipment guide!

How to choose the right field hockey stick size?

best field hockey stick guide

Since the stick is the most important element to play field hockey, this is where you need to pay lots of attention. You can buy a random stick made by who knows who in the middle of nowhere – not going to last. Plus, it probably does not have the required features to improve your skills and actually gain some benefits out of it.

For this reason, there are a few quality and world renowned manufacturers too, who actually spend time on research and development. Top sticks come with all kinds of small features and details to improve control, speed, strength, power, grip and so on.

They simply aim to make your life easier on the field.

But, how do you choose the right one?

There are more aspects to take in consideration and the length is probably the most important one. If the stick is too tall, you will not be able to hold it properly, so you will be good for nothing. If it is too small, you will have to crouch a little to reach the ground. Not only do you kill your skill, but you also get closer to the ball, so you risk getting injured.

The more professionals you ask, the more often you will hear this general rule – the stick should reach the top part of your hipbone. Clearly, personal preferences are not to be overlooked either. You should know most sticks range between 24” and 38”, yet you can also find some models out there available in fewer sizes.

How does the length affect your game? Easy. If the stick is longer, you get a better reach. If it is shorter, you will handle balls more efficiently. To help you get an idea about general sizes, here are a few considerations:

  • Under 3’5 in height – 24” in stick length
  • 3’6”-3’7” – 26”
  • 3’7”-4′ – 28”
  • 4’1”-4’3” – 30”
  • 4’4”-4’6” – 32”
  • 4’7”-5” – 34”
  • 5’1”-5’3” – 35”
  • 5’4”-5’6” – 36”
  • 5’7”-5’9” – 37”
  • Over 5’10” – 38”

Learn more about the best field hockey sticks here!

Basic field hockey terms

field hockey terms

The more you learn about field hockey, the more unusual terms you will read about. Becoming familiar with the jargon in this sport is part of the education.

  • 16 yard hit – a free hit for the defending team given after an opponent attacker hits the ball over the ending line.
  • Crossing or centering – passing the ball in front of the other team’s goal, hoping someone can come up with a scoring opportunity.
  • Undercutting – a penalty given if the player hits the ball under it to raise it.
  • Scooping – passing the ball by hitting under it to pick it up and throw it.
  • Raised ball – a ball in the air. Chipping, scooping and flicking the ball are allowed, while hitting it dangerously and undercutting it cannot be accepted.
  • Add 10 – a penalty given for delaying the game. The free hit is advanced 10 yards towards the opponent goal.
  • Advancing – an illegal move that involves handling the ball with a part of the body and not the stick.
  • Obstruction – an illegal move that involves using the stick or body to prevent an opponent from reaching the ball.

Pretty much everything else is self explanatory. You do not have to be a genius to understand what a penalty hit is or what it means to push the ball around.

What are the different positions in field hockey?

field hockey positions

Positions in field hockey are similar to positions in other sports too. You have 11 players in a team and five substitutions. These are the official rules. Of course, if you play with friends and family or in private hobby clubs, you can set your own teams based on the total number of players.

Forwards are famous players. They can be the stars of a team. Basically, they spend lots of time close to the other team’s goal. Their role is to dribble, pass and coordinate to score goals. They rarely go between the midfield and their own goal.

Midfielders are among the most important players because they have to go everywhere. They can go in attack and support the strikers, but they can also go in defense and help against attacks. They tend to run a lot due to these transitions, so a good midfielder requires a top notch stamina.

Defenders are responsible for keeping the ball away from their goal. Their main role is to defend against opponent attackers. If the ball is too close to their own goal, they should clear it – send it forward. There are more variations of defenders. For example, you can have fullbacks, which are some sort of midfield defenders. You can also have an actual defender – sometimes called a sweeper – who spends most of the time close to the goal in the attempt to support the fullbacks.

Finally, the goalkeeper (if there is one) must be in front of the goal and do anything to block shots. Goalkeepers can use their bodies. Since they are often aimed at by opponent attackers, they require some good padding. Their reflexes should be extremely sharp, but they should also be able to organize the defense.

How many players do you need in each position? Formations are quite diversified. Some coaches go 4-3-3, while others choose 5-3-2, 4-4-2, 4-5-1 and so on. At this point, your options depend on nothing but your vision, personal preferences and number of available players.

What are the main types of fouls in field hockey?

field hockey fouls

In official games, there will be two umpires to direct the game. They will signal every incorrect move, from obstructions and pushing to raised balls and using the wrong side of the stick. Free kicks are given for most illegal moves. The other team is given the ball in the exact same spot, while the other players must be five yards or more away from the ball. Hits are indirect, meaning players taking them must push or hit the ball once. They cannot touch the ball again before others do it.

Sometimes, umpires let the game go on even after an illegal move. If the offended team is still in advantage, the game can go on. This situation varies from one game to another, as well as the circumstances.

If a foul is committed in the striking circle, the umpire will dictate a penalty corner. Only one player can take the shot. The ball is located 10 yards away from the goal. Every other player must be outside the circle. This is usually the best opportunity to score.

There are lots of fouls that can be punished in field hockey. Some of them are more common than others though:

  • Obstruction – when a player prevents another player from reaching the ball.
  • Advancing – when a player uses their body to handle the ball instead of the stick.
  • Stick interference – when a player uses their stick to hit another player’s stick.
  • Sticks – when a player raises the stick above the shoulder level or just so high that they endanger an opponent.
  • Third party obstruction – when a player prevents another player from reaching the ball, only for one of their teammates to get there first.
  • Backsticks – when a player uses the rounded side of the stick to handle the ball.
  • Undercutting – when a player raises the ball in a potentially dangerous way.

Who is the best field hockey player in the world?

best field hockey player in the world

While the game may seem new to many, it is actually quite old. It has seen some great players over the past decades. All in all, officially, you can tell by checking out the FIH Player of the Year Awards. These awards are given on a yearly basis in a ceremony by the International Hockey Federation. The prize was first given in 1998. It is given to both males and females in separate categories.

In 2001, the FIH has added new categories for the best young players. A few other categories were added in 2014 for the best goalkeepers.

Names change quite often, so every new year has different nominees.

  • 2014 – Mark Knowles and Ellen Hooog
  • 2015 – Robert van der Horst and Lidewij Welten
  • 2016 – John-John Dohmen and Naomi van As
  • 2017 – Arthur van Doren and Delfina Merino
  • 2018 – Arthur van Doren and Eva de Goede

Dutch player Teun de Nooijer has won this prize three times, being known as one of the best male players in the history. On the other hand, Argentinian player Luciana Aymar has won it eight times.

Argentina (10) and the Netherlands (9) dominate these awards when it comes to women, while Australia (8) is the leading country for men, followed by the Netherlands (5).

What is the difference between indoor and outdoor field hockey sticks?

There are a few major differences between indoor and outdoor field hockey. Most importantly, you got the difference in the playing field. An outdoor field can be up to 100 yards long and 60 yards wide.

On the other hand, indoor hockey fields are around 40 to 50 yards long and about 22 yards wide. There are, of course, less players on each team if you play indoors.

While it might seem irrelevant, indoor sticks are also different from outdoor sticks. The first outdoor sticks were made of wood. Hickory and mulberry were the most popular options because they were hard. Some manufacturers relied on ash and elm as well.

Times have changed though. These days, you can find composite sticks. In other words, wood is mixed with other materials for stiffness, flexibility, less vibration and so on. Most commonly, wood is mixed with carbon fiber and fiberglass.

Outdoor sticks are quite varied. If you are new to this game, you might look for flexibility. You sacrifice power a bit, but you gain more control over the ball. It helps you develop your skills faster. On the other hand, more experienced players are good with control anyway, so they want heavy and rigid sticks for power.

Indoor sticks are generally lighter than outdoor sticks. Moreover, they are more flexible. Some of them are made of wood, but you are more likely to find composite materials. Size is also a big difference. Parts like the blade and the shaft are smaller. Other than that, you can find full composite models – no wood at all.

Why are these sticks lighter and more flexible? You need more control on a smaller field and you do not need so much power. Besides, aggressive shots can be quite dangerous and may lead to injuries – no one wants that.

Given these differences, it is obvious that you should not use indoor sticks outdoors and vice versa. Sure, if you play with friends and family, you can do that. But then, indoor sticks can be easily broken when used outdoors due to the more aggressive environment.

On the same principle, you can use an outdoor stick indoors, but it will not be too comfortable. It will feel too large and bulky for such a small environment, so you will compromise skills and control.

What are field hockey balls made of?

best field hockey balls

Field hockey balls are now standard, although they have gone through a series of upgrades overtime. Before the 1980s, most balls were covered in leather. If the environment was wet, they used to swell a little. Players could no longer express their skills freely, as balls became spongy.

During the same decade, the leather design was left behind. Plastic kicked in and revolutionized everything. Practically, the so called kookaburra ball (named after a patented style) was covered in plastic and helped players predict the trajectory much more efficiently. This kind of design is not perfectly round, but it features dimples. The shell will then roll more efficiently, regardless of the conditions. Also, the same design will be perfect on both natural and artificial grass. The interior features a cork core, which is some sort of tradition – it keeps the ball light.

There are other popular designs of balls, but they come with plastic cores, so they are not as popular.

As for the actual color, most balls are white. You can buy other colors too. In fact, other colors are also accepted in official competitions if visibility is low and white balls are difficult to spot.

If you are training for competitions, you should know that plastic balls have a different construction, so they will feel different. They are often made of plastic, but they are hollow on the inside – basically, they are much lighter. Since there is not so much plastic in their composition, they are inexpensive and can be bought in bulk. Colors are just as diversified – from official colors to cartoon designs.

Given the different design, many professionals train with real balls, rather than the practice alternatives. If you are a newbie or you play with friends or family only, classic practice balls are just as efficient.

What is the hardest position in field hockey?

There is no such thing as the hardest position in field hockey because what works for some people will not work for everyone else. Some people may like scoring goals and they are good at it. Therefore, they prefer to play as attackers. Some others are better at tackling and recovering the balls. All in all, each position has its strengths and weaknesses. If you are not sure what suits you, a brief overview will give you some hints.

Attackers used to be broken into three categories – left wings, right wings and a center forward. These positions are not necessarily respected, especially in unofficial games. Even in competitions, many teams have rotating attackers, meaning they change positions all the time. Attackers are often said to have an easier job because they just need to dribble and hit. However, they are exposed to lots of tackles and harsh challenges from the opponent defense.

Midfielders are split into similar categories. They have lots of tasks. As a general rule of thumb, a good midfielder requires a good physical condition and lots of stamina. To many, this is the most difficult position in field hockey. Midfielders must go up and support attackers, but they must also run back and provide some help to defenders. Without lots of running, they are less likely to do a good job.

Defenders are like attackers. They usually hang around their allotted area. They barely move from one side to another to switch positions. Every once in a while, the half line is used to support the attack too. All in all, the main downside of being an attacker is being exposed to regular hits. You might get hit by lots of balls if the opposite attack is active and efficient.

As for the goalkeeper, you might think they have the easiest job. Sure, if you hate running or your physical condition is not too bad, it might be an easy job. But think about all the balls that are likely to hit you. Plus, goalkeepers often have the responsibility of the team concedes too many goals.

In other words, it is hard to tell what the most difficult position in field hockey is. Defenders and attackers are common and mostly exposed to tackles and hits. Midfielders must run all over the field, while goalkeepers will get hit whenever a ball makes it to the goal.

What do I need to be a field hockey goalie?

field hockey goalie helmet

Whether your physical condition is not the best or you simply feel like you can be a good goalie, learning how to become a good asset to your team might take a while. Years ago, those who were not good enough to be on the field would play as goalies. These days, it is an actual position that requires training and lots of practice.

There are more things to know if you choose this position. You should be tall (not mandatory), but most importantly, you must be athletic. Some of the best field hockey goalies in history have been athletic and efficient without actually being tall.

Positioning is also important. Keep an eye on the goal and try to feel it. You should know where you are without having to look at it, so you need some practice. Here is a good tip. Imagine or scuff in the sand a mini D running from one post to another. Now, imagine a ball on the top of the D and a rope going from this ball to the middle of your post. Ideally, you should be on the D with the rope between your legs to perfectly cover the ball.

Every time you move, try to imagine that D and be on it. Take a quick look at the posts to realize where you are or you might be surprised.

A common mistake newbies do involve attempting two moves in one. Basically, when they make a safe, they kick or swing the ball – rookie mistake. Instead, just reach to the ball and let all the pads do the work. Focus on saving, not on clearing. You are not a defender.

Other than that, you should stay on your toes for more flexibility when you reach and keep an eye on the ball at all times (even when out of the circle). Many attackers hit it from long distance, hoping that someone would deflect it and score. Communicate with your defenders at all times and feel free to organize them. You have a better view of the field, so you can see positioning.

If you get these aspects covered and your reflexes are good, nothing can stop you from becoming a good field hockey goalie. Of course, when you play with friends, nothing really matters – you just want to have fun. Make sure you always wear the right field hockey equipment!

What country is field hockey popular in?

field hockey federation

Based on the total amount of fans and the fact that it is appreciated in countries with a big population, field hockey might be one of the most popular sports in the world – even if lots of people have never even heard of it. While played all over the world, the truth is that some countries give it more attention and importance than others. It is easy to tell where it is popular – just look at world trophies in official competitions and you have your answers.

Countries like Australia and India have won a series of cups, championships and Olympic competitions. The Netherlands cannot be ignored either, not to mention Pakistan and the United Kingdom. Other countries are also worth being mentioned, such as Argentina, Germany, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea or Belgium. When it comes to grass, India and Pakistan dominate. But fake grass is just as popular and this is where Europeans and Oceanic countries have made the difference.

To help you understand the importance of field hockey in certain countries, you should know that Australia has astro turf championships at a university level, as well as professional leagues. The Netherlands has plenty of astro turf pitches too. In fact, some of the best players in the world are Dutch.

Although there are quite a few astro turf academies in India too, the truth is that it represents an expensive option. For this reason, natural grass is the primary choice in field hockey.

Other countries where field hockey is gaining popularity include:

  • Germany
  • Spain
  • Canada
  • Malaysia
  • Japan
  • New Zealand

Most countries are part of the International Field Hockey Organization.

Is field hockey safe for children?

is field hockey safe for children

Compared to most other sports out there, field hockey is one of the safest sports for children. Of course, common sense prevails. Besides, just like in any other sport, a little training will work wonders in the long run.

Whether it comes to a practice game or a competition, make sure your little one wears the right equipment – even on a simple practice day. Shin guards are a must, not to mention mouth guards. Helmets are just as important. A facial mask will help against potential injuries. Keep in mind that having the right gear is not everything – the size is just as important.

Kids can easily overlook the importance of certain equipment while practicing. It is not an actual game, so how risky can it be? Many injuries occur in training though, hence the necessity to always suit up.

If your kid is a goalkeeper, the equipment is slightly different. Remember that at some levels, professionals can shoot the ball at around 100MPH. It is less likely to happen when it comes to kids, but the point is speeding can be quite impressive. For a goalkeeper, the necessity of proper equipment is even more obvious.

A helmet is a must and it should have a mask or a cage for facial protection. Throat and mouth protection is needed too. The same rule applies to feet and legs. A goalie needs padded pants, pelvic protection and leg guards. Chest pads are important too, not to mention arm guards and elbow protection. Even hands require protection – heavy padding. Why? Simple – the goalkeeper is like a living aim. Everyone in the opponent team will aim in that direction, so chances are the goalie will take a good beating from all directions.

Other than that, kids tend to skip certain parts of the game, such as the warm up. Sure, this is less likely to happen in a professional game, but kids are not professionals. They skip this part and go straight into the game, ready for some fun.

The truth is that every sport requires a proper warm up session upfront. Even if your little one is not playing in a competition, but in an organized environment at school or with friends, warming up will most likely prevent a lot of mild injuries. After all, it only takes around five minutes, so it is not such a big waste of time.


Bottom line, field hockey has many similarities with lots of other sports. It is similar to ice hockey, of course, but it also shares some rules and elements with sports like football. It may not be the most popular sport in the world, but its popularity keeps growing. In certain countries – such as a few Asian countries, it is a​​mong the best rated sports.

Unless you plan to play it professionally, you should find a local group, community or a bunch of friends to come up with some teams and enjoy it.​


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