The Game of Hockey explained

At the start of each game, a coin-toss decides which team has the choice of either starting first with the ball or selecting which end to start at. The game is made up of 2 35-minute halves, with 5 minutes for half time in-between. At the beginning of each half and after every goal, the game will start from the centre of the field. When play is started from the centre, each team must be in their defensive half of the field. The ball can be played in any direction across the floor of the field throughout the game.

Within a game of hockey there are two teams, who each have 11 players on the pitch at any one time. However, within the rules of hockey there is no minimum requirement as to the amount of players needed for a game to take place. That said, some competitions will institute their own rules about this, with 7 players being the average minimum.

The aim in a game of hockey is for the players to get the ball into their attacking circle, and attempt to hit, push or flick it into the goal. The team with the most goals at the end of the game wins.

The hockey field explained

The game is played on a rectangular field, which measures 91.4m x 55m. There is a goal at each end, which is a square box measuring 2.14m high and 3.66m wide. A semi-circle is drawn on the ground 16 metres in front of this goal, which is referred to as the shooting circle. There is a further semi-circle of dotted lines 5 metres from the shooting circle, as well as lines drawn across the field 22.9m from each end line in the centre of the field. These lines mark the third end of the pitch. The penalty spot (or the strobe mark) is placed 6.4m from the centre of each goal on this line.

Hockey Field

Hockey Field

The players

None of the players have their own set positions, even under the new rules for 2007 a goalkeeper is not required, but there is a general pattern which most teams follow. These sequences are very similar to those found in football, and are arranged into fullbacks (representing the defence), midfielders (who occupy the halfback), and forwards (who cover the front line).

Some teams will also include a single sweeper, while the player positioned in the centre of the defence is referred to as the centre half. All players who are in possession of the ball are deemed the attackers, with the rest naturally being the defenders.

One of the players may also be assigned as the goalkeeper, and will occupy the goal trying to block any attempts made at scoring. Due to the speed that hockey is played at and the fact a hard ball is used, the goalkeeper must wear protective clothing. This includes a helmet with a full face mask, and protective padding for the body, including leg guards, kickers and gloves.

According to the new 2007 rules, the goalkeeper is allowed to use any part of his or her body to deflect and/or propel the ball, including their feet, if situated within the defensive circle. They also have to carry a stick and normal outfield rules apply in this regard, along with the proviso that the stick cannot be used if located outside the defensive circle.

The goalkeeper is not allowed to pass the 23m line unless he or she removes their helmet. If this player returns to the circle without having the opportunity to replace their helmet, then he or she is automatically given goalkeeping privileges again. During penalty strokes and corners, the goalkeeper must wear the helmet. The team may decide not to have a goalkeeper for tactical reasons or if no suitable equipment if available. This type of player is allowed to wear a helmet or padded clothing, but is only allowed to use the stick to play the ball.

Each team is allowed 5 substitutes within their team, on top of the 11 players who are on the field. There is no limit as to the amount of substitutions which can be made during any game, although a substitution cannot be made during a penalty corner.

2 umpires are used to officiate each match, with each one controlling one half of the field, which is divided diagonally. The technical bench backs up and assists the decisions of the umpires, which includes the timekeeper and the record keeper.

Hockey Positions

Hockey Positions


Although there are no set places for players on a hockey field, there are general formations which are usually adopted by teams. As there are many similarities between hockey and football, especially due to the fact there are 10 outfield players and (usually) 1 goalkeeper in both games, common formations can be found across both sports.

Professional teams are likely to produce their own more complicated formations, whereas amateur teams usually choose from a few basic choices; 4-3-3, 5-4-1, 5-3-4 and 4-4-2 positioning. Each number refers to how many players are positioned across the pitch in front of the goalkeeper, in midfield and then in attack. The 2-3-5 formation is one that is used mainly in Australia, and is adopted from early school games right through to professional level.

Unlike in football, there is no offside rule in hockey, which means that attackers can move and play well up the pitch, using the large spaces which are often found here. This technique greatly tests the opposition’s defensive skills, and usually the defending side will try and place a player close to each attacker which has moved up the field. This method causes a change to the formation so that it starts to resemble 1-4-4-1, which is an adaptation of 5-4-1.

Types of fouls

Obstruction – When a player uses their stick or body to block another player’s access to the ball.

Third-party obstruction – When a player places themselves between the ball and a player on the opposing team, giving a player on their team access to the ball.

Advancing – When a player advances, pushes or shoves the ball using any part of their body.

Backsticks – When a player touches the ball with the back, rounded part of their stick.

Stick interference – When a player uses their stick to hit another players stick, whether it is unintentional or intentional.

Sticks – When a player lifts their stick dangerously close to another player, or hits the ball with their stick whilst it is above shoulder level.

Set plays

Sideline hit
If the ball leaves the pitch by moving out of the side lines, then a sideline hit is used to bring the game back into play. The hit is taken by a member of the side that did not touch the ball last before it left the pitch.

15m hit
A 15m hit is awarded if the ball leaves the pitch by crossing over one of the backlines by rebounding off an attacker, or if an offence is committed forward of the 15m line. The hit is taken in line with where the offence was committed or, if the foul is committed in the circle, the defence can take the hit anywhere in the circle.

Again, the hit is awarded to the team who were not the last to touch the ball before it crossed over the backline, or whoever the offence was committed against, and any player in this team can take the hit. A 15m hit is also awarded for any offences which are committed by the attacking team within 15m of the end which they are attacking.

Free hits
This type of hit is awarded when an offence is committed outside the scoring circles. The hit is taken where the offence was committed and by any player in the team who the offence was committed against. It does not have to be taken by the same player who the offence was committed against.

The ball can be hit or pushed in any direction, and all players in the opposing team must be at least 5m away from the ball when the free hit is taken. If the free hit is taken within 5m of the circle then all other attackers must also be 5m away.

Long corner
A long corner is given if the ball travels over the backline and was last touched by a player on the defending team. The corner is played by one of the players on the attacking team, and is taken closest to where the ball passed off the field, 5m from the corner of the pitch on the sideline. In some clubs and competitions, this type of hit is also referred to as a "long hit".

Penalty corner
This type of set play is reasonably complicated, but is known as one of the best goal-scoring opportunities. This has obviously made them a vital part of the game, especially since the invention and popularisation of the drag flick.

A penalty corner is given to the defending team when a foul is committed inside the defensive circle, or a deliberate offence is committed anywhere in the 23m defending area, or if the defending team deliberately push the ball off the pitch over the backline. Five defenders, including the goalkeeper, are positioned along the backline. The attacking team start play outside the scoring circle, apart from one attacker, who is positioned 10 metres either side of the goal and is responsible for playing the ball by either pushing or hitting it to the other attackers. The ball has to pass outside the circle to these attackers, who then try and shoot the ball or deflect it into the goal. They cannot touch the ball until it has passed outside the circle. The defenders are allowed to move as soon as the ball is played.

Penalty stroke
This set play is awarded if a foul is committed deliberately within the circle, which causes the attacker to lose possession or the opportunity to play the ball. It will also be awarded if the foul stops the attacker from scoring a goal, or if the defenders run from the backline before the penalty corner has begun to be played.

A penalty stroke only involves one player from the attacking team and the goalkeeper. The attacker is positioned 6.4m directly in front of and away from the goal, behind the ball and within playing distance of it, i.e. he or she can touch the ball with their stick but cannot take a run up to the ball. The attacker is allowed to either hit or push the ball, but is only allowed to take 1 actual or dummy shot at the goal, or can only move to tackle the goalkeeper after the shot is taken once. The attacker is not allowed to drag the ball. The goalkeeper must keep his or her heels on the goal line and is not allowed to move from this position until the ball is touched. It is their job to attempt to save any goal shots taken, or to try and tackle the ball off the attacker. If the goalkeeper succeeds at saving a goal then a 15m hit, awarded to the defending team, will restart the play. If the attacker succeeds in scoring a goal, the play is restarted from the centre line. If the attacker commits a foul, play is restarted with a 15m hit.

Penalty goal
During a penalty shot, if the goalkeeper commits an offence which results in the goal being prevented from being scored, then a penalty goal is awarded. This means that a free shot at the goal is awarded without the goalkeeper being present, from the same distance and position as the penalty shot.

Raised balls
If a player raises the ball off the ground and the umpire decides that it is dangerous, then the ball is given over to the other team and they are awarded a free hit. This is taken in the spot where the ‘dangerous’ ball was hit. It is always the umpire’s decision whether the ball is called dangerous. This will be based on the speed and height of the ball, as well as how many players are in its path. Balls are allowed to be raised when a goal shot is being made, or if the player is attempting an overhead pass, as long as all other players are more than 5m away from the hitting player and the umpire does not rule it as dangerous.

Dangerous play
Dangerous play can also be called in relation to the use of the stick. Players are not allowed to try and play the ball above the height of their shoulders, apart from the goalkeeper or player in this role. It is also usually ruled dangerous to attempt to hit the ball whilst it is in the air; players should attempt to control the ball before they hit it. If a play is ruled dangerous, a free hit is awarded to the opposite team.

The warnings within hockey are awarded very much like those of football, however 3 types of warning are given instead of 2: –

  • Green card – This card merely gives the player a warning.
  • Yellow card – This card forces a temporary suspension on the player, usually for a minimum of 5 minutes without any substitution being provided for the player coming off the pitch.
  • Red card – This card excludes the player permanently from the rest of the game, and no substitution is allowed for them coming off the pitch. Sometimes this card will also mean that the player cannot be involved in future games, which is determined by the local rules of the competition being played or the association governing the game.

Unlike football, in hockey, two cards cannot be awarded for the same offence, and if 2 cards are awarded to 1 player within a game then the second one has to more severe than the first. This means that if a green card has already been given, the next would have to be a yellow card. Also, if 2 yellow cards are awarded to the same player, the temporary suspension that comes with the second card must be longer than it was for the first yellow card given.

Tie breakers

If, at the end of the game, the two teams are tied, the game will go to a tie breaker. There are no set rules for a tie breaker made by the Hockey Rules Board, but generally games will follow the guidelines set in the FIH tournament regulations. These advise 7.5 minutes extra play each way, with the rule of sudden death or golden goal. This means that whichever team scores the first goal will win. If at the end of this extra time no goals have been scored, then each team will have to endure a penalty shootout, akin to football.

On occasion, alternative rules will be used to these. For example, in the extra time allocated, if no goal is scored, players will be removed. After set amounts of time, progressive reduction of players will continue until a goal is scored.