6th November 2017. Hockey is an intense and exciting sport whether one plays it on a field of lush grass or inside a chilly ice skating rink. It's surprisingly physical, too, demanding fitness in a variety of areas. Unlike in sports like American football, association football, and even rugby, success in hockey is all about one's ability to manipulate the stick in your hand and the ball on the field. It's easier said than done, and it requires a lot of practice to hone your skills before you can even think about scoring a goal. What if you aren't very familiar with the sport at all, though? Whether you know ice hockey but not field hockey or you're brand new to the sport, taking a comprehensive overview of the subject can help spark your interest. Where did this sport come from originally? The exact origins are hard to trace, but it seems that even the Ancient Greeks played a game with some similarities to today's hockey. Even the word "hockey" itself has an unknown origin; we don't know how we came up with the term! However, we do know that by the 1800s, the sport was gaining popularity in Britain, often considered the real birthplace of the sport. Students at public schools played field hockey regularly, and by the end of the century, the sport was well-established enough to merit the formation of hockey associations. The game even made a few early appearances at the Olympics in 1908 and 1920. It wasn't until the late 20s that it became a permanent Olympic fixture, though, after players worldwide banded together to form the first real governing bodies. The history of the sport aside, how do you play? The rules are simple on the surface but hide depth and complexity below. With 11 players on each side of the pitch, it's an often hectic and very chaotic game, especially at higher levels. As the ball soars from one end of the field to the other, it's anyone's game to win. Curious about how the sport works overall? Let's dive into the rules so we can sketch out a basic understanding.
The basic rules of field hockey explained
The field hockey pitch is large, at 100 yards by 60 yards; there aren't many field markings, just a 25-yard line on each side of the field plus a striking circle that extends in a semicircle around either goal from roughly 16 yards away. Only shots taken within the striking circle are legal, and any balls that enter the goal from beyond this line are void. As mentioned, 11 players on each time (10 players and 1 goalie) face off to see who can gain the most control over the small plastic field hockey ball. Players can only move the ball with the flat side of their stick via dribbling or passing; you cannot simply roll the ball along with your stick, nor can you shield the ball from others with your body or the stick itself. Two halves of 30 or 35 minutes comprise the playing time, with the potential for overtime play and even football-like penalty shots if the game goes long enough. There are, of course, many other rules about how to position one's body or carry the ball, and these are best taught through experience. You won't forget the time you draw your first foul! We'll look at some of those later, but those are the basic rules of the game. What about the 11 people playing? Let's look at each of the positions you could play.
Breaking down player positions on the field
First, there are the forwards. There are always at least three but as many as five players in total playing forward of the goal, and these are the players responsible for generating the team's offence. The centre-forward, often called the striker, must take the lead when the ball nears the opponent's striking circle and make their best effort to score. The left and right forwards pass to the striker while receiving passes from the players behind them. Second, there are midfielders. These players cover almost the whole field, from deep in their own territory to across the pitch near the opponent's goal. They convey the ball back and forth from defenders to their forwards while also fighting for control against the other team's midfielders. It's a demanding position that requires attention at all times. Next, we have the defenders. Hanging back from the pack, their job is to get the ball back to the neutral zone and out of their own territory. They must push back attacking opponents at all costs! There may be one defender tasked as the "sweeper" whose job is to keep the other team from getting too close to strike on the goal. Finally, last but certainly not least, is the goalie. Their purpose is self-evident, but they also serve as a spotter. By shouting out to defenders, they can pass a tactical message up the field to make them aware of what the other team is trying. Goalies are the only players allowed to use their whole body to block the ball, rather than just their stick.
Important field hockey penalties to know
Proper conduct on the field is crucial for smooth play; if you commit a foul, you could be giving the ball to your opponents, or worse, giving them a chance at a shot on goal. Knowing what you need to avoid is essential. Here are a few of the most common penalties you'll hear about whether you play or watch field hockey. Advancing: This foul occurs when a player contacts the ball with any part of the body besides the stick; generally, the hand is considered "part of the stick," and will not draw a penalty. Obstruction: Using one's body or stick to prevent an opposing player from a fair chance at attacking the ball. Raised ball: While a flick or a scoop that sends the ball into the air is OK, undercutting, striking the ball like a golf club, is not. A "raised ball" penalty often occurs in any scenario where the ball's flight creates dangerous conditions. Other penalties, such as charging players, blocking them, or deliberate tripping will also award the other team a free hit. If you commit a foul within the striking circle, however, your opponents will receive a penalty corner and a chance to put the ball in scoring position.
Making your own start in the world of hockey
So, what if you want to start playing this game? Grabbing a used stick from a local athletic store, along with a field hockey ball, will let you practice some of the basics at home. You'll also want to consider your physical needs, like improving your cardiovascular health and your exercise endurance. Otherwise, you'll find that the game leaves you even more fatigued than a pick-up game of football. When you feel more confident, try gathering some friends together to play a small-scale version of the game. Have a seriously growing passion for the sport? You may be able to find a team to join in the area, especially if you are a young or school-aged student. Field hockey got its start in British schools, and it remains a popular sport in educational institutions around the world. When all you need is a stick and some comfortable clothes to play, starting off isn't hard at all. Practice dribbling drills or grab a friend again to practice passing the ball back and forth. It can be a challenge to coordinate your body's movement with that of the ball, but nothing beats the rewarding feeling of succeeding on the field.
Will you become a master of the stick?
Will you take a stick in hand, strap on the right equipment, and start hitting the field? There's a low barrier to entry for field hockey, and it's not only a great way to improve your physical fitness, but to also challenge yourself and meet new people. Look around and see if there are any local leagues that you might be able to join. Continue to familiarise yourself with the rules, and even consider checking out some introductory videos on YouTube or elsewhere on the Web to see if this sport can really draw your interest. Soon, you might just make your first smash shot right into the goal! Follow @SportNessUK