Table of Contents


By the very nature of the game, the Rules of Hockey leave much to individual interpretation. The following explanations should ensure more consistency and a fair opportunity for players of both teams to play the game.

Subjects are referred to in the same sequence as the related Rules.


A game of hockey cannot be played unless each team has a player equipped with at least protective headgear and shirt of a colour different from those of both teams, to act as goalkeeper. As a result, following the suspension of a goalkeeper, the captain has to choose between:
  1. replacing the goalkeeper with another goalkeeper
  2. nominating a field player who will put on protective headgear, other protective equipment if desired, and a shirt of a colour different from those of both teams; time will be allowed for this.
If option (a) is chosen, the replacement goalkeeper enters the field as a substitute for a field player. Thus, the team concerned will have one less player on the field.

If option (b) is chosen, the team will have one less player on the field.

At the end of the original goalkeeper's temporary suspension, the captain again has a choice:

  • to re-instate the temporarily-suspended goalkeeper. In this case, the replacement goalkeeper should be substituted by a field player in the normal manner, or should remove protective equipment, and change shirt colour to that of their team before becoming a field player. Time should be stopped while this is done.
  • to continue to play with the replacement goalkeeper. In this case, another player can enter the field as a substitute and field player.


The responsibilities of captains are clearly defined in the Rules. Umpires should not hesitate to call upon the captains when their players misbehave. A captain who does not respond should be penalised for misconduct with a warning or suspension.

CENTRE PASS (Rule 10.1)

Players, other than the striker, should not cross the centre line but umpires should not be unnecessarily strict over this point.

OFFSIDE (Rule 12)

Offside was withdrawn from hockey as a Mandatory Experiment in 1996 and was formally incorporated in the Rules from 1998.

TACKLING (Rule 13.1.1 f and g)

A reverse-side tackle or one from behind the player with the ball is not permitted if there is any body or stick contact between the players concerned before the ball is played by the tackler.

Diving or sliding tackles can cause injury to tacklers and opponents. They can also cause unnecessary interruptions to the game. An illegal tackle which grounds the player with the ball should be penalised appropriately, possibly including a warning or suspension. However, this must not be confused with the occasion when the player who had the ball trips over the tackler or the tackler's stick after a legitimate tackle has been made.

Note that a diving or sliding player will often obstruct an opponent and should be penalised on this basis.

Umpires should be strict in penalising illegal tackles from the reverse-side, from behind the player with the ball or by diving or sliding.


It is an offence to actively kick the ball. However, it is not an offence if the ball hits the foot and no benefit is gained by that player. Umpires should allow play-on in the latter circumstances; a foul has not been committed. This will result in fewer, unnecessary and incorrect, interruptions to the game.

Umpires should also carefully note the related Rules Interpretations concerning the Manufactured Foul (Rule 13) later in this section.

RAISED BALL (Rule 13.1.3)

The raised ball over a long distance (the raised ball) must be judged for actual or potential danger:
  • where the ball is played
  • during flight
  • where the ball lands.
The offence should be penalised where the danger occurs, not necessarily where the ball was originally played:
  • when the danger occurs where the ball was played, the penalty must be taken there
  • when the danger occurs during the flight of the ball, the penalty should be taken where the ball was originally played
  • when a player of either team behaves in a dangerous manner in the area of the flight of the ball, the penalty must be applied where the player is positioned
  • when the danger occurs where the ball lands, the penalty must be taken there.
Any flick or scoop made with an oncoming opponent within 5 meters is almost certainly dangerous and should be penalised.

A player receiving a raised ball must be given the opportunity to play it safely. If the receiving player is clear of other players at the time the ball is raised, no players of the opposing team should approach within five meters until the ball has been received and is on the ground. Any player doing so should be penalised. Defenders do not have a right to the ball if an attacker is the initial receiver.


When a ball is deliberately raised over a long distance so that it falls directly into the circle, the penalty should be applied where the ball was raised.

It is important to realise that not every ball entering the circle off the ground is forbidden. A ball which bounces into the circle from a raised stroke or which otherwise enters the circle off the ground must be judged according to the dangerous play rule.

A ball raised from a hit near the corner flag should be penalised as dangerous if it is raised into the circle and into players. This does not mean that every hit which is not played along the ground is to be penalised. The raised ball which is played into the open or to a lone player should not be penalised unless dangerous.

A ball raised over an opponent's stick or body on the ground is permitted subject as always to danger or leading to danger.


This note describes two primary playing circumstances: the stationary player and the moving player.

The principles are:

The Stationary Player

  • the receiving, stationary, player may be facing in any direction
  • the onus is on the tackler to move into position, for example usually to move round the receiver to attempt a legitimate tackle
  • the tackler must not crash into the receiver and thereby try to claim obstruction; such action should be firmly penalised possibly with a suspension.
Having collected the ball the receiver may move away in any direction (except, of course, bodily into the tackler).

The Moving Player

The variations in this instance are many but the principles are:
  • the onus is on the tackler to be in, and if necessary move to, a position from which a legitimate tackle can be made. Once in the correct position the following conditions must also be satisfied before obstruction can occur.
  • there must be an intention to make a tackle. In essence the tackler must be attempting to move the stick towards the ball.
  • the timing of the tackle must be precise because, until the tackler is in a tackling position and intending to make the tackle, the player with the ball may move off with the ball in any direction (except bodily into the tackler).
This interpretation of obstruction allows players to receive a ball, play or pass it in any direction, and only to be penalised if obstruction takes place at the time a properly placed tackler tries to make the tackle.

However, umpires should careful note certain forms of obstruction which are often incorrectly overlooked. In particular, preventing a legitimate tackle by intentionally shielding the ball with the body or leg is obstruction. Stick obstruction and interference is prohibited; no player may strike at or interfere with an opponent's stick. The player with the ball may not use the stick to shield or protect the ball from a legitimate tackle.

Umpires should also look out for "third party" or "shadow" obstruction. Players who run in front of or block an opponent to deny them the legitimate and feasible opportunity to play the ball are obstructing. This can happen, for example, at penalty corners when attackers run across or block defenders including the goalkeeper.

A sliding or diving tackle may also lead to obstruction either in its execution or once the player concerned is on the ground.

It is important for umpires to be vigilant in observing the obstructions referred to in the preceding paragraphs. Players gain unfair benefit and opponents can become frustrated if the obstructions described are not penalised.

TIME-WASTING (Rule 13.1.5)

Having taken up a proper position with the ball and with other players in their correct positions, a player is time-wasting if an unreasonable amount of time elapses before the ball is put into play. This also applies after the whistle has been blown to start a penalty stroke.


Play is often interrupted too many times during a game. Some of these interruptions result from offences which have been manufactured so that an opponent has been forced into unintentionally offending. Examples are:
  • forcing an opponent into an obstructive position, often emphasised by running into an opponent or by waving the stick over an opponent's head. This action should be penalised.
  • playing the ball clearly and intentionally into an opponent's foot, leg or body. In these cases the umpire may decide to let play continue or penalise the player who played the ball into the opponent.
Umpires should be vigilant in observing manufactured fouls such as those described above and not be tempted to blow obstruction in the first instance and feet in the second. Applying these interpretations strictly will discourage players from attempting to manufacture fouls.


A penalty corner should be awarded if the defence intentionally plays the ball over their back-line. Goalkeepers are permitted by Rule 13.2 c intentionally to deflect the ball with their stick or any part of their body only over the cross-bar or around the goal-posts.

Defenders must show by their actions that it is not their intention to play the ball over the back-line. If a defender plays the ball in such a way that it can only finish up going out of play over the back-line, a penalty corner should be awarded.

Consistency of interpretation throughout the game and at both ends is of particular importance in view of the penalty involved.

FREE HIT (Rule 15.1)

(Note: the 1996-8 Mandatory Experiment has been withdrawn.)

The Rules require that a free hit is taken close to where the offence occurred and that the ball must be stationary before it is hit or pushed.

Regarding the appropriate place, teams which gain an advantage should be penalised. Regarding the stationary ball, there should be a little leniency if a legitimate attempt has been made to make the ball stationary.

The ball must be moved at least a metre. If it is not and another player of the same team plays it or an opponent is prevented from playing it, a penalty should be awarded against the team taking the free hit.

Although players of the opposing team are required to be at least 5 metres from the ball when the free hit is taken, they must be given sufficient time to move there before they are penalised. The free hit does not have to be delayed until they are. Such action would be detrimental to the flow of the game.

However, players of the opposing team who delay the taking of a free hit (for example by not withdrawing 5 metres, by hitting the ball away, by handling the ball before returning it) should be penalised as appropriate. Persistent offences of this type should be penalised severely.

A free hit should not be penalised when the ball lifts slightly off the ground if the intention to play along the ground is clear and the free hit itself is not dangerous or leading to dangerous play.


No shot at goal shall be made from a penalty corner until the ball has been stopped or has come to rest (unless it has travelled 5 metres outside the circle). The ball is considered to have come to rest even though it may be spinning on the spot, which sometimes happens on hard surfaces. There is no requirement that the ball necessarily be stopped by the stick; it could just cease to move along the ground.

If the first shot at goal is a hit, the ball should cross the goal-line no higher than the back-board or side-boards. If this hit is, or will be, too high at the line it should be penalised even if it is subsequently deflected downwards off the stick or body of another player. The ball may be higher than the back-board or side-boards during its flight before it crosses the line provided that there is no danger and provided that it would drop of its own accord to a legitimate height before crossing the line.

For the purposes of this Rule, the first hit at goal is independent of the number of times the ball has been passed or deflected before or after the stop.

Even if the ball touches the stick or body of a defender before the first shot at goal, that shot, if a hit, must still be below the 18 inches when it crosses the goal-line. Once the ball has been shot, the penalty corner is considered ended when:

  • the ball crosses the back-line or goal-line
  • a further penalty, against either side, is awarded.
The ball is deemed to be in normal field play, and therefore only subject to the dangerous play rule, after it has gone 5 metres or more beyond the edge of the circle. Under these circumstances there is no requirement for the ball to be stopped before a shot at goal or to cross the goal-line at a height of not more than 460mm.

The possibility of any shot being dangerous should be considered if players are in the circle in front of goal.

It should be noted that the Penalty Corner may be taken again if the defenders enter the circle too early but, if the attackers do so, a free hit should be awarded to the defenders.

To put the ball back into play some players use a stroke which is different from the traditional hit or push. They use a dragging action in which the ball is moved from behind the front foot and not released from the stick until it has passed the front foot. This is acceptable provided the ball is played only once.


Players sometimes intentionally break the Rules to gain an advantage for their team. This includes knocking the ball away after a free hit has been awarded, picking the ball up and carrying it away before returning it to the opposing team, playing the ball with the hand or above the shoulder with the stick, apparently "accidentally" colliding with an opponent or falling in front of them.

All intentional offences must be penalised by an appropriate penalty combined when necessary with a personal penalty of a warning or suspension. Strict action taken early in a game will usually result in non-repetition of the offence.

If players dissent at a penalty awarded in their favour, umpires should be prepared to reverse the decision. This interpretation of the misconduct Rule is most effective. Where a decision is reversed umpires should blow the whistle again, indicate the new penalty and indicate the player causing the new decision.

If players dissent at a penalty awarded against them, it is possible either to advance a free hit up to 10 metres or to increase the penalty, for example from an attackers' free hit inside the 23 metres area to a penalty corner if the dissent is from the defending team. However, a penalty corner cannot be upgraded to a penalty stroke in this instance.


Players who break the Rules must be cautioned, warned or suspended when circumstances justify. These powers can be used in addition to other penalties awarded.

It is important that such powers are used thoughtfully and have a clear purpose. Umpires should understand that if a card is used for an offence early in a game, a precedent has been set for the remainder of the game. It is important to think carefully before using a card.

The main purpose of cards is to communicate decisions to the other umpire, players, team and technical officials and spectators.

Some general principles apply to the use of cards. Under certain, relatively uncommon, circumstances a player could receive two green or even two yellow cards for different offences during the same game. When an offence for which a card has been awarded is repeated the same card should not be used again. When a second yellow card is awarded it would be normal for the period of suspension to be significantly longer than the first suspension. Once a yellow card has been awarded to a player that player should not be given a green card.

Any offence involving violence should not be followed by another card of the same colour. For example, a yellow card for violence must be followed by a red card for another violent offence.

Oral cautions can be given to players in close proximity without stopping the game.

Umpires should keep a note of players to whom cards have been awarded and of the duration of suspensions and should exchange and confirm this information at half-time.

It should be noted that substitutes on the bench are also under the jurisdiction of the umpires. If necessary they should be cautioned or warned. If further action is required they can be suspended from the bench either temporarily or permanently.