Last Updated on July 24, 2022 by Field Hockey
Field hockey is a fast-moving team sport that uses eleven different positions, combining both offensive and defensive skills, as well as requiring a unique skillset PLUS a good level of cardiac fitness, speed, agility and flexibility to achieve maximum effect and penetration. While that might sound daunting, once you have learned the basic skills of field hockey, you will find that you are more adept at improving certain aspects of those skills, and you might decide you would like to play a different field hockey position.
Also See: The Top Field Hockey Sticks this Season
This guide will give a breakdown on the individual field hockey positions and the main skills and responsibilities that are required to play in them. Individual teams may utilize the positional play options slightly differently depending on their skill level, speed, fitness and personnel.
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The Positions Below Are Covered in Detail:
- Offensive Striker
- Defensive Fullback
Overview of Field Hockey Positions
To start with, field hockey positions can be broken into three different groups: offensive, defensive and midfield. The offense are traditionally the left and right wings and the centre forward, although having players set into these positions is relatively uncommon in recent years, and offensive players will usually rotate through the wings and centre positions during the game.
The midfield in field hockey are the inside-left and inside-right (inners) positions, and the centre half. They will roam the field and are used to link the defense with the offense, and are often required and expected to do a lot of running to make this happen!
The defensive line up consists of the left and right halfbacks, two fullbacks and goalkeeper. Unlike their striker counterparts, the half line will usually stay in their allotted positions, and might only move from right to left to cover injury or substitution. The left and right halfbacks will focus on defending against the wingers and wide strikers, although the half-line is also used in attacking situations, but are vulnerable to counter-attacks if they do run upfield.
The fullbacks will invariably stay in the defensive half of the field, although they can venture into the midfield or forward positions if there is room and opportunity to do so. There are traditionally a high and low fullback in field hockey – one who will mark the opposition centre-forward or striker, and the other will mark any roving or break-away players.
The goalkeeper will usually stay within the goal-circle, which is the only place they are allowed to use their body to play the ball. If a keeper leaves the circle, they are only able to play the ball with their stick. The goalkeeper’s main focus is to stop the ball from crossing the goal line.
Setting up a Field Hockey Field
To start a game of field hockey, players line up in their designated positions behind the half-way line: Strikers, then inners, then halves, fullbacks and finally the goalkeeper. Some teams may opt to use a slightly different set-up which may bring another striker forward, an extra midfielder or an additional defender.
Each field hockey position requires a unique set of skills that are based on the common basic field hockey skills – hitting, pushing, trapping, tackling and dribbling. Learning the basic skills of field hockey will help you to hone into individual skillsets that will improve your game.
How to Play Offensive Striker
Field hockey strikers (wings & centre forwards) will be adept at shooting goals and possess quick stick skills and have explosive speed and athleticism.
Strikers should be able to shoot the ball towards goal with either foot being their dominant (forward) foot on their forestick side, as well as be able to utilise a backstick or tomahawk swing. To shoot the ball, use the basic “hitting” technique – hands together towards the top of the grip, lock wrists, aim your left shoulder and left (dominant) foot towards your target and follow through. To increase your shooting speed, try moving your hands further down the grip – this will take a bit of practice to get used to, but can produce a similarly-powered hit, but with a shorter backswing. You will have to bend your knees and back further as well. Make sure to have the appropriate stick for shooting!
Changing the angle of your hockey stick will alter how the ball reacts – with the hook of the flat side of your hockey stick angled toward your body, try aiming to connect with the base of the ball. This is called a “chip” or “undercut” and can be a devastating attacking weapon. Practice with the degree that you hold your stick at to hit the ball on and you will find the optimal level for you. Likewise, hitting the ball with a flatter angle, or “squeezing” the ball will also take some practice, but both are effective shots for different phases of play.
Practice & Drills
1. Place some balls inside the goal circle. Run from the baseline to the first ball, get into position and shoot it towards goal. Run back to the baseline and then repeat until you have shot all of the balls.
When you are comfortable with shooting from a stationary or slow-moving position, the next levels of the shooting skill will be hitting, chipping or squeezing the ball while you are running and dribbling.
2. Set up some cones from the 25-yard line to the top of the goal circle. Dribble a ball through your obstacles and drag left or right at the top before shooting.
Next you can practice receiving a pass and shooting.
3. From a standing position inside the goal circle, call for a pass from your team-mates who are standing across the 25-yard line. Run to trap the pass, then control the ball to position it –and yourself – before shooting towards goal. Practice shooting from your forestick and backstick, and try to limit the amount of “touches” that you need to put onto the ball before you shoot.
How to Play Field Hockey Midfield
Midfield players will have to be able to shoot, tackle, mark, dribble and pass, as well as read the play accurately. It is probably the hardest field hockey position to play in the modern era.
Practice & Drills
1. Stand about three feet behind a player, and have someone pass the ball to that player. As a midfielder, your aim is to have good speed off the mark to intercept the ball before the opposition. Build from this drill and incorporate a pass to a team-mate after successfully intercepting the original ball.
2. If your opposition player beats you to the ball, get into a position to tackle them. Tackling is an important skill for all field hockey positions, and can be done in different ways: stick tackle, reverse tackle, jab tackle and channeling.
If your opponent is a yard away from you, try a jab tackle; literally poking your stick at the ball. If they are running towards you, a flat-stick or reverse-stick tackle would be your best option – be careful not to be too flat on your feet, or the player will be able to move around you easily! If you are chasing your opponent, channel them to the sideline by keeping your body and hockey stick in the way of where they want to run or pass the ball to.
Swap around the roles of “receiver” and “interceptor” in this drill to ensure you get a chance to practice your attacking, defending and “50/50 balls” – those moments where no one has control of the ball, and both are willing to scrap for it!
How to Play Field Hockey Defense
As a defender, keeping the opposition away from the goal circle is your main priority. If you are going to make a tackle on an approaching player, try to make sure that you are outside of the goal circle, or an accidental foot or stick-check will result in a penalty corner against your team. Concentrate on the different tackling styles, as well as channeling a player to the sideline. Your attacking opposition with have strong stick skills and speed, so defenders need to have a strong tackle and be able to channel their opposition into a weaker position.
Practice & Drills
1. An attacking player starts with the ball on the twenty-five yard line, and has an attacking partner inside the goal circle. There are also two defenders; one takes the player with the ball, and the other marks (or follows) the free player. The idea is to channel the attacking players around the goal circle, and to tackle them if they are able to penetrate it, or pass within each other.
2. Take out the defender within the goal circle, and see how the sole defender can stop a two-on-one situation using their body position and tackling skills. This is also a great drill to help players in attacking and offensive field hockey positions to understand the angles and movement required to eliminate a defender.
How to Play Field Hockey Goalie
The goalkeeper is the most unique field hockey position – they are the only ones restricted by where they can move to on the field, and they are the only ones permitted to play the ball with their body. Goalkeepers should work on improving their explosive speed off the mark, flexibility, hand-eye coordination and most importantly –nerves of steel! Despite the padding and protective gear that goalkeepers can wear, the ball can still hurt when it hits, and the helmet and face mask can restrict vision. Keep your eye on the ball!
Practice & Drills
Get warmed up by having your teammates take soft hits, pushes and flicks at you. Get used to the ball coming onto you and feel comfortable within the goal box itself. Keep an indicator of where your posts are at all times.
1. As a player approaches for a shot, imagine an imaginary line from each of the goal posts to the ball. The goalkeeper should stand on the inside of this angle to give themselves the best chance to stop the ball.
2. Instruct the players to pass the ball laterally across the goal circle. Work on moving quickly to be inside of the angle as the ball crosses the field.
3. Organize your team across the top of the goal circle, with a ball each. Alternate sides of the field to shoot from, ensuring that your positioning is good as the shots come from all angles. Concentrate on keeping your feet together and clearing the ball with hard kicks and sweeps with your hockey stick.
How to determine which position you want to play?
The best way to determine which position fits you is to play more with a coach watching and guiding you along the way. The best position for you also has to fit the best position for the team and the overall goals of the team. We highly recommend you spend some time playing recreational games in multiple positions before deciding which one you want to play on your official team. Overall it can be quite flexible as your skills get better and better.