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Drives, Hacks and Long Hits: Field Hockey Explained

University Communications
Written by Jamie Oriol

Photo via University Communications

The first time I picked up a field hockey stick was my freshman year in high school. Field hockey was a mystery to all, and as an awkward 14-year-old who had never played sports before, this one seemed like the perfect fit.

Like any logical person, I assumed field hockey would be just like ice hockey, minus the ice of course. Yet for some reason you can’t check like you can in hockey, you can use high sticks, and you can only use one side of your stick! It turns out this is for safety reasons, as a “drive,” which is a big hit, in men’s field hockey actually has the fastest swing speed of any sport, with an average at 103 mph.

Now when I try to explain field hockey to my friends, I usually resort to the cop-out answer of: “it’s just like soccer!” However, this isn’t completely true. In field hockey, we can’t let the ball hit any part of our body, especially our feet, and “off-sides” is still a mystery to me.

It took me a solid year of running in circles, whistles every 30 seconds, and countless bruises before I really grasped the rules of this game. To start, in order to score, the ball must be touched within the 16-yard semi-circle that surrounds the goal. If there is a foul against the defense in the circle, this results in a “corner” where four defenders and the goalie line up behind the defensive line against the opposing team’s offense.

When the ball is hit out, the rest of the defensive team sprints from the 50-yard line back to help the defense out. Fouls include anything from “hacks” where you hit another player’s stick, to “third party” fouls, where you physically obstruct someone from reaching the ball. When the defense hits the ball out on their own end line, the offense takes a “long hit” towards the goal.

The only rule is that they have to start with the ball on the 25-yard line and dribble five yards before hitting the ball right towards the goal. If you understand these rules, then you know enough to follow a field hockey game.

Eight years and many angry comments at refs under my breath later (still trying to work on those), I’ve found field hockey to be an extremely fun game. It continuously pushes me past what I think are my limits. With the average midfielder sprinting over six miles in one game, field hockey is definitely a sport of both strength and endurance. Currently, Saints field hockey is only halfway through our season. So now that you know the rules, you can come test out your knowledge and watch a game!

About the author

Jamie Oriol