This article contains some valuable tips which can be used to develop field hockey drills, field hockey plays, and assist with field hockey coaching.

Field Hockey Rules and play

Throughout most of the world the field hockey rules set by the FIH are used. However in the United States, NCAA have their own rules for inter-collegiate field hockey competitions, and high school associations similarly play to different rules. This article assumes FIH rules unless otherwise stated.

Field hockey players are permitted to practice field hockey drills and play the ball with any part of the stick other than the rounded side (back). The flat side is always on the "natural" side for a right-handed person — there are no "left-handed" hockey sticks (for actual use in play, some have been made as novelties).



Teams consist of eleven players on the field, and up to five substitutes. Substitutions are not limited but may not be made during a penalty corner. There are no set positions other than goalkeeper, but most teams arrange themselves (in a similar way to football (soccer) teams) into fullbacks, midfielders and forwards. Many teams include a single sweeper.

field hockey goalkeeper
A goalkeeper makes a glove save. Equipment worn here is typical gear for a goalkeeper.

One player from each team is designated the goalkeeper. Goalkeepers must wear a suitable helmet with full face mask and are also permitted to wear protective padding, including large leg guards, kickers and gloves. Although goalkeepers may block or deflect the ball with any part of their bodies, and propel the ball with their feet, they must always carry a stick, and normal stick rules apply. Goalkeepers are permitted to play the ball outside their defensive circle (scoring area or "D"), but must only use the stick in this circumstance.


General Play

For the purposes of the rules, all players on the team in possession of the ball are attackers, and those on the team without the ball are defenders.

The match is officiated by two field umpires. Traditionally each umpire generally controls half of the field, divided roughly diagonally, although now experiments are being made where either umpire can make any decision anywhere on the field. These umpires are often assisted by a technical bench including a timekeeper and record keeper.

Prior to the start of the game, a coin is tossed and the winning captain can choose a starting end or start with the ball. The game time is divided into two equal halves of 35 minutes each, with five minutes for half-time. At the start of each half, as well as after goals are scored, play is started with a pass from the centre of the field. All players must start in their defensive half, but the ball may be played in any direction. Each team starts with the ball in one half, and the team that conceded the goal has possession for the restart.

Field players may only play the ball with the face of the stick. Tackling is permitted as long as the tackler does not make contact with the attacker or his stick before playing the ball (contact after the tackle may also be penalised if the tackle was made from a position where contact was inevitable). Further, the player with the ball may not deliberately use his body to push a defender out of the way.

Obstruction typically occurs in three circumstances - when a defender comes between the player with possession and the ball without first performing a legitimate tackle; when a defender's stick comes between the attacker's stick and the ball or makes contact with the attacker's stick; and also when (usually deliberately) blocking the opposition's passage to the ball (called third party obstruction).

When the ball passes over the sidelines, it is returned to play with a sideline hit, taken by a member of the team whose players were not the last to touch the ball before crossing the sideline. If it crosses the backline after last touched by an attacker, a 15 m hit. A 15 m hit is also awarded for offenses committed by the attacking side within 15 m of the end of the pitch they are attacking.


Set Plays


Free Hits

Free hits are awarded when offences are committed outside the scoring circles. The ball may be hit or pushed once in any direction by the team offended against. Opponents must move 5 m from the ball when a free hit is awarded, and for attacking free hits within 5 m of the circle all attackers other than the one taking the hit must also by 5 m away.

As mentioned above, a 15 m hit is awarded if an attacking player commits a foul forward of that line, or if the ball passes over the backline off an attacker. These hits are taken in line with where the foul was committed (taking a line parallel with the sideline between where the offence was committed, or the ball went out of play). If the attack commit a foul in the circle they are attacking, the defence additionally has the option to take the free hit anywhere in that circle.


Long Corner

A long corner is awarded if the ball goes over the backline after last being touched by a defender. Long corners are played by the attacking team and involve a free hit on the sideline five yards from the corner of the field closest to where the ball went out of play. These are also known as long hits.


Short Corner

The short or penalty corner is a rather complicated set play that is awarded against a defending team when any offence is committed in the defensive circle, and may be awarded when a deliberate offence is committed in the defending 23 m area, or when the defending team deliberately plays the ball over the back line.

Short corners begin with five defenders (including the keeper) arranged along the backline. All other defenders must return to the centre line until the ball is in play. Attacking players begin the play standing outside the scoring circle, except for one attacker who starts the corner by playing the ball from a mark 10 m either side of the goal (the circle has a 14.63 m radius). This player puts the ball into play by pushing or hitting the ball to the other attackers outside the circle; the ball must pass outside the circle before the attackers attempt to get a shot or deflection into the goal. For safety reasons, the first shot of a penalty corner must remain under 460 mm high unless it is flicked.


Penalty Stroke

A penalty stroke is awarded when defenders commit a deliberate foul in the circle which deprives an attacker of possession or the opportunity to play the ball, when an accidental breach prevents a certain goal, or if defenders repeatedly "break" or start to run from the backline before a penalty corner has started. This penalty pits a single attacker against the goalkeeper, and is taken from a spot 6.4 m out and directly in front of the goal. The goalkeeper must stand with heels on the goal line, and cannot move his feet until the ball is played. On the umpire's whistle, the striker may take one step and push or flick the ball at the goal, which the goalkeeper attempts to save. The attacker is not permitted to take more than one step, more than one shot, to fake or dummy the shot, or to move towards or interfere with the goalkeeper once the shot is taken. Hitting or dragging the ball is also forbidden. If the shot is saved, play is restarted with a 15 m hit to the defenders; if a goal is scored, play is restarted in the normal way.


Dangerous Play and Raised Balls

If the ball is raised off the ground in a manner that is, in the umpire's opinion, dangerous, the ball is turned over to the other team and they receive a free hit. The free hit is taken where the action that caused the danger occurred (that is, not where the danger itself occurs). The definition of a "dangerous ball" is a matter of interpretation by the umpires. Guidance in the rules states "a ball is considered dangerous when it causes legitimate evasive action by players" — but it also depends on the speed of the ball, the height at which it is raised, and the number of players near its path.

It is, however, legal to raise the ball when making a shot on goal (by hitting or flicking), or to make an 'overhead' pass (providing opposition players are greater than 5 m from the player, and the ball is not dangerous). The ball may only deliberately be raised using a hit if the player is shooting at goal.

Dangerous play rules also apply with relation to the usage of the stick. Players may not attempt to play at the ball above their shoulders (unless saving a goal on the goal line). It will generally be considered dangerous play to hit the ball while it is in the air; the ball must be controlled first in this circumstance.


Warnings and Suspensions

Hockey uses a three-tier card system of warnings and suspensions:

  • A Green card is a warning.
  • A Yellow card is a temporary suspension, just like in rugby football, but normally for a minimum of 5 minutes duration without substitution, in normal games. (In some modes, including indoor, shorter periods of suspension are applied, dependant on local rules).
  • A Red card, just like in association football, is a permanent exclusion from the rest of the game, without substitution, and in many circumstances will also result in the player being banned for a certain period of time or number of matches (this is governed by local playing conditions, rather than the rules of hockey).

Unlike football, a player may receive more than one green or yellow card, although if a player has already received a yellow card, they cannot be issued any more green cards. In the case of a second yellow card, the temporary suspension would be expected to be of considerably longer duration than the first. However, local playing conditions may mandate that cards are awarded only progressively, and not allow second awards.



The teams' object is to play the ball into their attacking circle and, from there, hit, push or flick the ball into the goal, scoring a point. The team with more goals after two 35-minute halves wins the game.


Tie Breaker

Conditions for breaking ties are not laid down in the rules of hockey, but many associations will follow the procedure laid down in FIH tournament regulations which mandate 7.5 minutes each way of "golden goal" extra time (i.e. the game ends as soon as one team scores). If scores are still level, then the game will be decided with penalty strokes, in much the same way that association football penalty shoot outs are conducted.

Other competitions may use alternative means of breaking a tie, for example, an extended period of golden goal extra time with a progressive reduction in the number of players each team can have on the field (usually termed "drop-offs"); if no goal is scored at the end of such extra time periods, again a result would be achieved using penalty strokes.

field hockey drills