R U L E S   O F   H O C K E Y   1 9 9 9


The complete text of the Rules is also available on this site, as well as a Guide for Beginners.

If you are not yet very familiar with the detailed Rules, you may prefer to read this summary. Included here is an introduction to the main Rules of the game with automatic links to the official, more detailed, text.

Please be aware, these notes are only a summary of the Rules and therefore leave out some of the detailed Rules requirements.

I. The first major section of the Rules covers the specification of the playing area and equipment used to play hockey.

Field of Play - A hockey field of play (sometimes referred to as a "pitch") is rectangular, 91.40 metres (100 yards) long and 55.00 metres (60 yards) wide. The long sides are called the side-lines and the short sides are called the back-lines. Lines 22.90 metres (25 yards) from each of the back-lines mark an important area of the pitch known, not surprisingly, as the 23 metres area. Lines which are almost semi-circular run from each back-line out into the pitch and contain the area known as the shooting circle. There are also some other specialised markings on the pitch.

Goals - Goals are placed at the centre of each back-line. The Rules give very precise details of the size of goals and their fittings including sideboards, backboards, and nets.

Hockey Balls - A hockey ball is similar in shape and hardness to a cricket ball but is usually white. For those of you not familiar with cricket, a hockey ball is like an over-sized golf ball.

Sticks - By tradition, the hockey stick has a hooked shape. An important characteristic is the flat face on the left-hand side. Only the flat face, and not the back, of the stick may be used to play (hit, push, etc.) the ball. However, a "Mandatory Experiment" has been introduced in 1999/2000. ("Manatory Experiments" apply to significant potential changes in the Rules; the experiments must be undertaken at all levels of the game, and they allow the possible change to be evaluated.) The current experiment allows the edge of the stick to be used to play the ball, but an overriding consideration will be, as usual, that the ball is played safely. The Rules give more details about the overall composition, size and weight of a stick.

Uniforms - Each team should wear matching uniforms so that their own players can be easily identified. Goalkeepers are required to wear additional protective clothing. This consists of leg guards, kickers, hand protectors, and headgear. No equipment used or worn should be dangerous to other players.

II. The second major section in the Rules deals with teams, captains and umpires.

Teams - A team is comprised of 11 players but there may be substitutions from a total playing squad of 16 (or 18 in international matches). Substitutions are allowed at any time, except during penalty corners (the only exception is that substitution is allowed if the defending goalkeeper is injured or suspended). Each team must have a goalkeeper on the field of play throughout the match.

Captains - Each team must also appoint one of their players as captain. Captains have a special role to play during a match, including certain duties like being responsible for their team's on-field behaviour.

Umpires - A hockey match is controlled by two umpires. Their role, essentially, is to ensure fair play. Each umpire covers roughly half of the pitch, but they work together in the middle area of the pitch and assist each other in various other ways. The Rules explain when umpires should blow their whistle, give a penalty, etc. An appendix to the Rules describes the signals umpires should use to communicate their decisions.

III. The third major section of the Rules describes how the game is played.

Duration of play - A match consists of two halves of 35 minutes each. Each team has 11 players on the field, one of which must be a goalkeeper. Teams must try to score by hitting the ball into the opponents' goal. The team with the most goals at the end of regulation time is the winner. It is also possible for a game to end in a draw (or a tie).

At the beginning of each half, and after a goal is scored, play begins with a pass from the centre of the field.

Ball out of play - If the ball goes out of play over the side-line, it is put back into play from that line. If it goes out of play over the back-line, and it was last touched by an attacker, the ball is put back into play by defenders from a spot 14.63 metres (16 yards) inside the pitch. If defenders intentionally put the ball out of play over their own back-line, a penalty corner is awarded. If defenders do this unintentionally, the ball is put back into play from near the corner of the pitch.

Scoring goals - A goal is scored when the ball crosses the back-line and enters the goal. However, a special aspect of hockey is that the shot must have been made from inside the "circle", officially known as the shooting circle, which is a designated scoring area in front of the goal. (Please see the Guide for Beginners for an explanation of different ways to score in a hockey match.)

Offside - At one time, hockey had an offside Rule, but it has been discarded.

Conduct of Play - Rule 13, about the conduct of play, describes the main features of the game of hockey. It specifies, for example, the use of the stick and that only the flat, left-hand side, of the stick may be used to play the ball (but also see the note about a "Mandatory Experiment" concerning use of the edge of the stick). It also limits certain dangerous actions, especially related to the stick or ball. In general terms, the ball may not be hit into the air unless for a shot at goal.

This Rule is important because, unless hockey is played with consideration for others, it can be a dangerous game.

"No hands"…almost - To reinforce that the game is played with a stick, the Rules make it clear that the ball cannot be stopped or caught with the hand; nor can it be played with any other part of the body. The exception to some of these requirements is the special set of privileges for goalkeepers. Among other things, when inside their circle area, goalkeepers can stop the ball with any part of their body and kick it. This is why they are required to wear protective equipment!

Obstruction - A particular feature of hockey is its obstruction Rule. This essentially means that the ball cannot be shielded from a tackle by the stick or any part of the body.

More generally, players must not physically charge or push each other. Hockey is essentially a non-contact sport.

Penalties - A range of penalties can be given by the umpires if Rules are broken. However, the advantage rule allows for the umpire to allow play to continue, even if a rule has been broken, if this is better for the non-offending team. This helps eliminate unnecessary stops in the game.

The main playing penalties are:

  • a free hit
  • a penalty corner (against defenders, mainly for intentional offences in the 23 metre/s area but outside the circle or for unintentional and unimportant offences inside the circle)
  • a penalty stroke (against defenders if, for example, the foul prevents a goal being scored).

In addition, personal penalties can be applied to individual players, including a caution, temporary or permanent suspension from the match.

The procedures for taking penalties are as follows:

  • free hit: the team which was fouled plays the ball from near where the foul occurred. Certain conditions apply to precisely how the ball is played and where players may stand.
  • penalty corner: this is really quite a complex, but exciting, piece of play. Five defenders stand on the back-line until the ball is put into play from a spot on the back-line. Until the ball is put into play, other attackers must be outside the shooting circle. Certain other conditions then apply. For example, the ball must be stopped outside the circle before a shot is made, and there are limitations on the shot so that it is not dangerous. A penalty corner which is underway at half-time or full-time must be completed.
  • penalty stroke: A penalty stroke is a shot taken on goal by a chosen player and defended only by the goalkeeper. (All other players must stand outside the circle, about 23 metres/25 yards back.) A penalty stroke may be awarded for a few reasons, the most common being an offence by a defender in the circle to prevent the probable scoring of a goal. The shot is taken from a spot 6.4 meters (7 yards) directly in front of the goal. Match time is stopped when a penalty stroke is being taken.

Accidents & Injuries - While we all take action to avoid accidents and injuries, inevitably, they still happen. The final Rule describes what is done in such circumstances.

Other parts of the Rules book offer explanations and advice.

Immediately following the formal set of Rules, there is an explanation of an experimental rule currently in place. Everyone who plays organised hockey is required to adopt this experiment. It is through experimental rules that the Hockey Rules Board - the group responsible for monitoring and, if necessary, amending the Rules - gathers information and decides whether certain rules should be changed permanently.

The preface to the Rules describes the current thinking and philosophy of the Hockey Rules Board.

Appendix A defines some of the terminology used in hockey.

Appendix B should be very helpful if you are relatively new to hockey.

It describes Rules interpretations. It addresses the more difficult or complex parts of the Rules and explains them in greater detail, often using examples.

The subjects covered are:

Descriptions of the signals used by umpires come next in the Rules, followed by general advice to umpires.

The headings here are:

If you are involved in a competition, it may be interesting for you to read the regulations for penalty strokes competitions, which are used to decide a winner during matches where it is completely necessary to have one (such as during tournaments).

If the spirit of the Rules is understood and followed by players, and if the Rules are applied fairly by umpires, hockey is an enjoyable and rewarding game for players, officials, and spectators.