Saturday, 21 July 2012

A Few Rules For London

Having only played field hockey once in all my life in a high school gym class, I'm not all that familiar with the rules of field hockey. With London's Olympiad approaching fast, I thought it might be time to actually look at the rules so you understand what may be happening on the pitch if you tune in to watch the game. You can check out the women's teams that will be playing, and the men's teams that will try to capture gold. The history of medalists in field hockey can be found here until the 1980 Moscow Games, and here for all Olympiads from 1980 and on. The history of how the game evolved can be read here, and some facts about the field hockey pitch can be found here. Let's check out the rules!

The first thing to know is that games are split into two 20-25 minutes halves, and there is a five-minute halftime to allow the players to rest. Each team is allowed to field eleven players including the goalkeeper. Only one goalkeeper can be on the field per team at any time.

In order to move the ball, it must be pushed or dribbled down the field using only the flat side of the stick. The following video, produced by Hockey England, shows a variety of dribbling techniques.
Notice how the players flip the stick over to play the ball with the flat side of the stick? That type of dribbling, called Indian dribbling, was actually developed by players in India when the game was introduced there. It allows for players to move around defenders much easier! Honestly, this video is excellent, and it really shows some good dribbling that you can pick up on while watching the games in London.

Goals in field hockey can only be scored when a player strikes the ball within the striking circle. Players can't just shoot from where ever they like in an attempt to score - they need to actually work as a team to get within the 16-yard half-circle that surrounds the goal, and then score from within that area.

There are a pile of fouls that a player can commit while playing, and I'll only go over the more common fouls seen in games. They include:
  • Shielding or obstructing the ball from an opponent with the body or stick. The rules of field hockey state that all players must have an equal chance to gain control of the ball as it is dribbled or passed down the field.
  • Playing the ball with the rounded side of the stick. This happens accidentally on occasion.
  • Charge, push, trip, or "bodycheck" an opponent. Any sort of physical abuse is not allowed.
  • Slash, hook, hold, or interfere with an opponent's stick. This is also not allowed.
  • Raising the stick above the waist dangerously. Respect for your teammates and opponents must be observed.
  • Advancing or stopping a ball with any part of the body. Only the stick may be used to play the ball.
You might be thinking that there's less body contact in field hockey than there is in golf. Tackles, as they are called, will happen often, and there are definite good and bad examples of tackles. The following video demonstrates a vast number of legal tackles.
Basically, as long as there is no disadvantage to the ball carrier, a tackle is legal. If you make contact with the stick on a swinging tackle, however, that would constitute a foul. Keep your eyes peeled for fouls on the pitch when watching the games on television.

This, of course, leads to the conversations about penalty strokes. A penalty stroke is awarded for an intentional foul committed within the striking circle or for a foul preventing a probable goal. Penalty strokes can also be awarded against the defensive team if defenders continually break the line early during a penalty corner, but this type of infraction is rarely seen at an Olympic competition. Here's a perfectly-executed flick from Englishman Ashley Jackson.

A penalty corner, on the other hand, is awarded if an unintentional foul is committed that does not prevent a goal from being scored, an intentional foul is committed on a player who is neither playing nor receiving the ball, an intentional foul committed within the 23-meter zone but outside the striking circle, or for a defender who intentionally plays the ball over the back line.

A penalty corner can only be defended by five players - four defenders and the goaltender, normally - while the other six players must be outside the center line. All of the offensive players can take part in the corner against the five defenders. The remaining six defenders must remain outside the line until the ball is put into play. To restart play from a penalty corner, the offensive player must put the ball back into play from a point on the back line at least 10 meters from the goal but within the striking circle. The ball must leave the striking circle in order for a goal situation to present itself. The penalty corner situation ends when a goal is scored, the ball goes out of play, another penalty corner or a penalty stroke is awarded on the play, or the ball travels either 5 meters from the circle or outside it more than once. Hockey England has a great video showing the penalty corner.

Penalty corners and penalty flicks are how a lot of goals are scored in field hockey. With this primer, you should be ready for the majority of plays seen in field hockey, and I hope this allows you to enjoy the games more as we near the London Olympiad.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the field!

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