Rules of Field Hockey

The Rules of Field Hockey

At first glance the rules of field hockey appear complex but within no time at all it’s possible to grasp the ins and outs of the game.

  1.   Field hockey players may only hit the ball with the flat side of the stick.
  2.   Hockey players must be properly attired with shin guards, mouth guards, (Goggles in USA).
  3.  There must be 10 outfield players plus a goalkeeper on each side.
  4.  Hockey players must not use their feet to hit the ball, notwithstanding goalies.
  5.  The field hockey game lasts for two 35 minute periods.
  6.  There are an unlimited number of substitutions. The outgoing sub must exit the field at the 50 line. Only then can the new  player step onto the field.
  7. A goal can be scored either from a field goal, a penalty stroke or a penalty corner. A field goal is a goal scored from open play, and can only be scored from inside the ‘striking circle’, in front of the opponent’s goal. If the hockey ball is hit from outside the circle and goes into the goal, it does not count as a goal.
  8. Hockey players may not trip or push an opponent or physically man handle a player.  Hockey is a non-contact sport and all fouls result in a free hit or a ‘penalty corner’ for the non-offending team depending on where the infringement occurred and the severity of the foul.
Field Hockey Rules

The type of fouls in hockey are varied and it’s good to know them from the start.

  • Hockey stick interference. This is awarded when a hockey player hits the opponent’s stick intentionally or unintentionally.
  • Undercutting: The ball cannot go in the air with other players in the vicinity. This is judged by the discretion of the ref. The exception are goal bound strokes, as long as there is not a player in the direct line of the ball and no one is in harm’s way.
  • Backsticks: This is awarded against a hockey player who hits the ball with the rounded back of the hockey stick.
  • Obstruction: This is awarded against a hockey player who uses their stick or body to prevent an opponent from reaching the ball.
  • Sticks: This is awarded against a player who uses their stick dangerously near an opponent.
  • Advancing: this is awarded against a hockey player using any part of the body to move the ball forward.
  • Third-party Obstruction. This is awarded against a player when a team mate blocks an opposing player from reaching a team mate and the ball.

Punishments for infringements include:

Self –start. When taking a hit into the circle, whether it is a free hit or long hit, you cannot directly shoot into the circle. You must pass it first or dribble the ball for 5 yards before hitting the ball into the circle.

 Free hit. This is a free play awarded against any offenses occurring outside of the scoring circle. The free hit usually takes place at the location of the violation. All opposing players must stand at least 5 yards (4.6m) from where the hit is to be taken.  

Dangerous Play: usually an excessive point of contact with another player. It can also be using the stick in a dangerous manner. Playing the ball dangerously by lifting it within 5 meters of another player, or playing it dangerously above shoulder height. Dangerous play is punishable by either a green card which is a warning or a yellow card where the player is sent off temporarily for 5 minutes or a red card where you are sent of the pitch without substitution.

Penalty stroke. This is awarded to the attacking side when an offense is committed by the defending side which is thought to have prevented an almost certain goal. The penalty is taken 7 yards (6.4m) from goal, with the player having only the goalkeeper to beat. The shooter may pass, scoop or push the ball towards the net. Any goals scored count to the overall score. 

Let’s look at the basic rules of field hockey in more depth. Field hockey is often known as just hockey. Field hockey is a game played with 2 teams of 16, with 11 players in each team taking to the field, at one time.

Rules of Field HockeyRules of Field Hockey
  • The teams consist of one goal Keeper, 3 defenders, four midfielders and 3 forwards.
  • The object of the game is to score more than the other team within seventy minutes. Both teams play with hockey sticks designed within FIH rules, which are used for shooting, passing and blocking.
  • The ball must completely cross the goal line for the goals to count.
  • The game is played in 2 x 35 minutes halves for a combined playing time of 70 minutes. If the game is tied at the end of time, a draw can be declared or if it’s a knockout competition or a final, there is extra time and penalty shootouts can be used to determine the winner.

There are a few other things, you’ll need to understand before playing.

The above paragraphs really do introduce the simple basics of field hockey rules. While my nephew’s mouth gaped after he asked me the rules and I gave a tongue tied description of the rules of field hockey, I decided to jot down everything I could think of and research every point I couldn’t think of to give him a better explanation, described in an easier way.

Before We Start The Game egg heads may want to know the size of a hockey pitch. Pitches where field hockey are played are 299 feet 10 inches long, (91.4 meters) and the widths are 180 feet, 5 inches (55.0 meters). This boundary is marked on the turf and the shorter lines are called backlines. For people who like the traditional form of measurement the field is 100 yards long by 60 yards wide. There are lines of the halfway point and at 23 meters.

Goals are 12 feet wide, and 7 feet high or 2.14 m and 3.66 m wide, and surrounding the goals are the shooting circles, which form a 50 meters radius around the goals.

The 25-yard line is marked in each half, another parallel line is drawn at a distance of 75 feet, 2 inches (22.9 meters) from the backline. This distance converts to 25 yards, traditionally so the name has stuck: this is called the 25-yard line, thus the pitch is divided into four equal parts.

D”or the striking circle: From the center of each backline, a point is marked of 1.8 meters (6 feet)away and a quarter-circle arc having a radius of 14.6 meters (48 feet) is marked from here on the inside of the field. The two quarter-circles are joined at the top by a straight line measuring 12 3.7 meters (12 feet) to form the D-shaped “D” or striking circle. More quarter circles are marked outside these and 5.5 meters( 8 feet, 1 inch) away.The arcs are marked as dashes.

Long Corner Attacker’s Mark: along each sideline at 5.0 meters (16 feet, 5 inches) from the backline, there is a line 0.3 meter (1 foot ) long marked to indicate this

Penalty Spot: from the center of the baseline, this point is drawn 6.4 meters (21 feet) towards the inside of the pitch with a width of 0.2 meter (6 inches).

Attacker’s and Defender’s Penalty Corner Marks: at 5.0 meters (16 feet, 5 inches) and 10.0 meters (32 feet, 10 inches ) from the center of each backline in either direction, a line with a length of 1 foot (0.3 meter) is marked so each backline will have four of these marks. These are called the penalty corner defender’s and attacker’s marks.

So we’ve discussed measurements of the pitch. Now the rules that affect players every time you step onto the pitch…

  1. Long Corner. This is awarded to the attacking team when a defending player unintentionally plays the ball behind their own goal line. A long corner is awarded at one of the long corner marks at each end of the field. The ball is placed on the same side where the ball went out of play.
  1. Short Corner or Penalty Corner. This is awarded if a defender deliberately hits the ball behind the wrong goal line, their own goal line. Or for any foul by a defender within the circle that would have resulted in a free hit to the attacking team if the breach had occurred outside of the circle. The attacking team places the ball at the short corner mark inside the penalty circle. Only the goalkeeper and four defenders can guard the net. All other players must be outside the circle. The ball is hit to a team mate. An offensive player will stop the ball with the stick while another player will strike the ball towards goal.
  1. Penalty shoot out: In the event of a draw a penalty shootout may occur. There are 5 shooters on each team and each one is allowed up to 8 seconds to shoot the ball at the goal only the goalkeepers are allowed to guard the net.
  1. The Push-In/Hit-In A push-in or hit-in reminds me of a throw in in soccer. This is awarded to the opposition if a player hits the ball completely over the sideline. All other players and their sticks must be at least 5 yards away from the spot where the ball is put into play. A player from the opposition gets to push or hit the ball from that spot.
  1. 16-Yard Hits When a player from the attacking team plays the ball over the backline, the defense receives a 16-yard hit. The free hit is taken 16 yards from the spot where the ball crossed the backline.


In the USA field hockey players must wear eye protection as well as shin pads. Whereas in the rest of the world it is only recommended to wear shin pads and mouth protection, this writer urges that you do.

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