Sunday, 17 June 2012

Hitting The Pitch

A playing surface is vitally important when it comes to getting good results on a scoreboard. You hear comments in ice hockey about the condition of the ice when teams visit warmer climates, and how the ice conditions cause the play to be slower and choppier than normal. Field hockey is no different in that field conditions can dictate how the game is played. There is much to know about the pitch, though, and HBIC will take you through the important information about the surface on which the game is played.

Most field hockey pitches today are some sort of artificial surface. Maintaining artificial turf as opposed to grass is entirely easier, and it provides a very stable surface where divots and holes are rarely seen and topography rarely changes. In short, there is a distinct advantage to going with artificial turf, and most arenas, including Hockey Centre in London, will have artificial turf. In fact, the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games were the first to feature field hockey on a synthetic surface.

FieldTurf is an approved FIH supplier of artificial surfaces, and has a long track record of success in various sports, especially field hockey. It's durable, it is easy to maintain, and the speed of the game has increased on the artificial turf tenfold since moving off grass. Here's a quick image of what FieldTurf looks like up close:

In seeing the image, it becomes apparent as to why the FieldTurf model would best serve as a field hockey surface. The shorter fibre structure allows for an increase in how fast the game is played, but the fibres provide a more natural feel for the players. The fibres are shorter than those seen in baseball and football stadiums, allowing for the ball to move much faster across the surface. While the speed is close to being what was seen on Astroturf, FieldTurf is proving to be a much better surface for the game as a whole in terms of the improvements seen in gameplay.

There are three synthetic turf constructions that are approved for field hockey play, and each have their advantages:
  • WATER-BASED PITCH: The pile is unfilled and requires regular irrigation. A water-based pitch is very sliding friendly for foot-sliding, and the ball bounces very true upon the surface.
  • SAND-DRESSED PITCH: The pile of the carpet is filled to within 5-8 millimeters from the tips of the fiber with fine sand particles. The sand is not visible. Sand is sprinkled on top once the pitch is prepared to closely resemble the properties of a water-based pitch. If sand is not sprinkled on the pitch, it resembles a sand-filled pitch in terms of its properties.
  • SAND-FILLED PITCH: The pile of the carpet is filled almost to the top with sand. The pitch is stable and even.
For play at the Olympics, we'll only see a water-based pitch being used. The speed of the game is best on the water-based pitch due to the dimpled ball not creating as much friction on the water substrate, and the players are able to execute better stroke techniques and footwork. There were also far less injuries seen on the water-based pitch compared to the sand-based pitches, so the acceptance of the water-based field was accepted universally.

Surface color is beginning to see some loosening of the rules. Green was the only standard for the longest time as per the International Hockey Federation. However, there appears to be some room for compromise since 2008 when the FIH published in their Pitch Handbook that the surface can be "green or another FIH approved colour". The London Olympics will feature the first non-green playing field at an Olympic Games as they will use blue for their field color. The run-off areas must be in contrast to the field of play, and London will contrast the blue playing surface with pink run-off areas.

In something that I found to be impressive on the side of FIH and its rules was the protection of the field from advertising. The FIH's rules state, "The inclusion of advertising or logos on the field of play is prohibited. Advertising or logos may be included in the run-off areas subject to conditions imposed by the users of pitches or by the organisers of particular competitions including the FIH". That means you'll never see an advertisement of any kind on a field of play at a FIH-sanctioned tournament. It's rare to see a sport uphold this kind of standard, but I applaud the FIH for preventing its sport from being overrun with all sorts of ridiculous advertisements. Good on you, FIH.

Because modern field hockey started out in the mid-19th century, imperial measurements were used. The field is rectangular, and originally measured 100 yards by 60 yards, but the standard field is now measured in metric for dimensions of 91.40 meters by 55 meters. The goal at each end stands at 2.14 meters (seven feet) and is 3.66 meters wide (12 feet) when measured from the inner sides of the posts and crossbar. The shooting circle - a semi-circle around the goal areas - measures 14.63 meters from the goal (16 yards), and is also called the "D" or the "arc" by some. Outside that line is a dotted line that is five meters (5 yards 6 inches) outside the shooting circle, and 19.63 meters from the goal. Beyond that, there are lines that cross the field 22.9 meters (25 yards) from the end lines, and are commonly referred to as "23-meter lines". Finally, a center line cuts the field in two, and there are two penalty spots or stroke marks measuring 0.15 meters in diameter that sit 6.4 meters (7 yards) directly in front of each goal.

There are no rules in terms of the distance needed for the run-off area, and this area can be as big or as small as necessary to fit the pitch inside a stadium.

The FIH published a Pitch Handbook in April 2008 that explains a lot of technical stuff about the pitch. Honestly, it's a bit of a dry read, but you're welcome to it if you like. They also have a manual on the care of synthetic turf you're welcome to read, but, like the Handbook, it's a little on the technical side for casual reading.

Information for Hockey Centre in London is being added to the London Olympics site as the Games approach. I encourage you to check it out when you can. We're not far off, and here's hoping we get to see some great hockey action this summer!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the field!

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