How to Play Field Hockey (Rules, Positions, History)

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Last Updated on March 27, 2022 by Field Hockey

How to play field hockeyField hockey is a high intensity sport that runs on the faced-paced movement of both the players and the ball. Because of the speed of play, and the rules, the sport can be hard to grow accustomed to. But don’t worry Field Hockey Review is here to help! Understanding the basics makes understanding the slightly more complex nuances of the game that much easier, which makes watching and playing field hockey that much more enjoyable. Read through our how-to guide to field hockey, and fall in love with one of the fastest growing sports in 2022!

A Quick Field Hockey History

Field hockey originated in the Middle Ages in Scotland, England, and the Netherlands. Two teams compete against each other in a match, each trying to out pass, out run, and outscore the other. Synthetic turf fields have recently been growing in popularity, particularly at high levels of play like the college level, but the sport is traditionally played on a grass field about the size of a football or soccer field. The term “field hockey” is used primarily in areas where ice hockey is also a popular sport like the United States and Canada, however many other countries refer to that sport simply as hockey.

What’s the Difference Between Field Hockey vs Ice Hockey?

Even though both games have been played for ages, there is still a misconception about what are the differences between field hockey and ice hockey. While no fan of a hockey will confuse these games, for a newbie this is a natural question.

What game word “hockey” associates with, might depend on the country a person lives. For someone from the US, Canada, or the Scandinavian countries, where the winter sport of ice hockey is popular, hockey associates with the ice hockey. And if a hockey fan lives in warm climate countries, a field hockey might come up to the mind.

The biggest difference between field hockey and ice hockey, is the surface the game is played on.

Field hockey is played on the field, and the ice hockey is played on the ice.

As the games are played on different surfaces, naturally the equipment differs. There are also more differences between the games. Below is a list of the biggest distinctions of the games.

Field Hockey Ice Hockey
Playing Surface Field Ice
Field Dimensions

100 yards x 60.1 yards

(91.4m x 55m)

200 ft x 100 ft

(61m x 30.5m)

Players in a Team 11 6
Scoring Only from the D area Anywhere from the ice
Offsides No offsides

Two blue lines marking


Game Structure

70 minutes (2 periods

35  minutes each, or

4 quarters 15 minutes


60 minutes (3 periods

20 minutes each)

Field Hockey Equipment

Unless you’re a goalie, field hockey equipment is pretty simple. All field players have cleats and shin guards, similar to those worn by soccer players, although field hockey shin guards are typically larger than soccer shin guards to cover more of the player’s leg. Mouth guards are also required to protect teeth and to prevent concussions, and goggles are often required in middle and high school; players at the college and international level do not wear goggles. The equipment for goalies resembles the equipment of an ice hockey goalie, with large pads made of a dense foam, a caged helmet, neck guard, and other general protective padding.

Also See: The Top Field Hockey Sticks Ever

The field hockey stick is usually hip length (31-38” usually) with a rounded handle and a J shaped hook at the bottom (sometimes called the stick’s “head” or “toe”), and flattened on the left side when held with the hook facing upwards and looking down the handle. Field hockey sticks are only made right handed. Wooden field hockey sticks are still available, but most sticks sold now are composite, which means they’re made of other materials such as fiberglass for increased strength and durability.

The Field Hockey Field or Pitch

Generally speaking, field hockey fields look rather similar to a soccer field, and often times fields will be marked for both sports. The field is divided into quarters, with a 50 yard mark in the middle with two 25 yard marks on either side. Inside each 25 yard line is a half circle extending 16 yards off the baseline. Five yards farther out from this is another semi-circle, this time marked with a dotted line. Goals may only be scored from inside the solid half circle, and if a foul occurs between the two half circles, the free hit will be taken from the dotted line. Inside the 25 yard line during a free hit, the ball must move a minimum of five yards before entering the circle.

Checkout: Buying the Best Field Hockey Goal

This is how the field hockey field or pitch looks like

Field Hockey Positions

Positions in field hockey are also similar to those in soccer. Each team plays with ten field players plus a goalie, totaling in eleven players on the field at a time per team. There is an offensive attacking line whose primary role is scoring and creating scoring opportunities by working the ball into the attacking circle and keeping it there. Behind the attackers are the midfielders, who serve as the link between the attack and defense. Midfielders play both offense and defense, and play a critical role in transferring the ball from one end of the field to the other. The defense work behind the midfielders to limit the scoring chances of the other team’s offense, and clear the ball to the midfielders so that they can begin to attack the other end of the field. The goalie is the team’s last line of defense, and their job is to prevent goals at all costs.

Inspirational field hockey quoteField Hockey Rules

The most important and basic rule when it comes to field hockey is that the ball can only be hit with the flat side of the stick. Because of this, players are unable to use any part of their body (foot, hand, etc) to direct or play the ball. An aspect of game-play that separates field hockey and other team sports would be its third party rule, that only one player from each team may play the ball at a time. A third party call is more often called on two or more defenders trying to double team and offensive player and both defenders reaching for the ball on the same time. Third party can be called on offense, most commonly when an offensive player is dribbling, and another offensive teammate runs across their line of play, cutting the player with the ball off from the defense.

If a rule infraction occurs, a foul is called and the ball changes possession and there is a free hit. The only time this is not true is when a foul is called inside the attacking circle. When this happens, a corner is called. Four defensive players line up inside the net with the goalie while the rest of their team goes to the 50 yard line and waits for the whistle to sprint back and help defend. For an offensive corner, players line up around the perimeter of the circle and wait for one player to insert the ball into play from the baseline. If a foul is called and a corner is awarded but the clock runs out of time, the corner is played out until the offense scores or the defense clears the ball out of the circle.

Field hockey can be a difficult sport for spectators because of frequent calls by referees. This isn’t because of an overwhelming number of rules, but more because of how easy it is to accidentally kick a ball or have a ball pop up too high into the air. In order to combat this and make the game more enjoyable for both fans and players, a more recent rule that was created was the “self start” rule. After a whistle, instead of taking the free hit from a stand-still and being forced to pass, players now have the choice to pass or self start the play and dribble. This rule has increased the speed of play, and made the sport much more focused on constant movement and creating opportunities rather than stopping and setting up plays.

Field Hockey Fun Facts

  • Men’s field hockey has the fastest swing speed (103 mph) of any sport, even baseball.
  • Field hockey was the third most watched sport at the 2012 London Olympics.
  • Players can run five miles or more during the course of one game.
  • Field hockey is played by over 3 million players in over 100 different countries spread over 5 continents.
  • The state having the most field hockey players in the US, is the Pennsylvania
  • In North America field hockey is female-dominated sport. However, globally it is contrary – the sport is mostly man-dominated.