Understanding Field Hockey Game Rules

Although field hockey is a cousin to its counterpart on ice, field hockey game rules feature a few differences. Ready to play? Let's learn the rules.

Game Basics
Question: What's the goal of field hockey?

Answer: Score goals from shots executed within the 16-yard semicircle that extends from the goal. Score the most goals by the end of the game and your team has earned a victory.

At the high school level, field hockey consists of two 30-minute halves. College and international games play 35-minute halves. Eleven players for each team take the field, including the goalie. Players dribble or pass the ball with the flat head of the hockey stick as they progress down the 100-yard field. Who supervises game play? Two umpires are on the field, and in some instances, a third official is available at the scoring table.

Foul Intentions

  • Field hockey players may be called for committing a foul. Infractions fit into categories.
  • Body Interference. All players on the field should have the opportunity to gain control of the ball when it's moved down field. Any interference without a stick is considered a foul. Shielding the ball with the body, charging, hitting, or tripping a player, or using the foot to hold the stick to block an opponent violates rules of the game.   
  • Stick Violations. A foul occurs if a player hits the ball with the round side of the stick. Hooking, holding or interfering with an opponent's stick or intimidating a player by raising the hockey stick result in a foul.
  • Ball Breaches. Anytime the ball is played in a dangerous manner, a foul will be signaled by the umpire.

Free Hits
Committing a foul leads to a free hit by the opponent at the spot of the infraction. Opposing team members must be positioned at least five yards from the ball when it is hit. If the foul took place within the shooting circle, the attacking team receives a penalty corner.

Penalty Perks
In certain situations, a penalty corner is awarded. Members of the attacking team must be outside the circle before the ball is hit. The ball sits on the goal line a minimum of ten yards from the goal. An attacker needs to hit the ball to a teammate standing outside the hit line before a shot can be attempted.

Defensively, five players can stand behind the goal line, but the remaining five defenders have to be beyond the center line.

For a goal to count, the ball cannot cross the goal line more than 18 inches high and it can't be deflected.

If the defenders in the circle cause an intentional breach or an unintentional breach that stops a goal, a penalty stroke is assessed. This one-on-one battle positions the attacker seven yards in front of the goal and the goalie on the goal line. Remaining players are behind the 25-yard line.

Occasionally, the defense receives a break. One is called a 16-yard hit. When the attacking team plays over the backline, the defense hits the ball 16 yards from the penalty spot.

The final type of penalty stroke is the push-in, awarded when attackers hit the ball over the sideline. The opposition gets to push-in the ball. Other players stand at least five yards from where the ball is put in play.

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