Field hockey is the oldest-known ball-and-stick game and is believed to date from the earliest civilizations. Although the exact origin of the game remains unknown, 4,000-year-old drawings found in the tomb at Beni-Hasen in the Nile Valley of Egypt depicted men playing the sport. Throughout the following centuries, variations of the game were played by a spectrum of cultures ranging from Greeks and Romans to Ethiopians and Aztecs. The Arabs, Greeks, Persians, and Romans each had their own versions of hockey. Traces of a stick game played by the Aztec Indians have also been found. Hockey can also be identified with other early games such as hurling and shinty. During the Middle Ages, a French stick game called hoquet was played, and the English word may have derived from this. The sport is referred to as field hockey to distinguish it from the sport of ice hockey.
Modern hockey was developed in the British Isles, but it was not until the first half of the nineteenth century that field hockey became well established. The first club was Blackheath, headquartered in southeast London prior to 1861. The club played on a large piece of open ground with crudely designed sticks and a "ball" that was a solid cube of black rubber. At this time, there were few offensive or defensive tactics involved in the game, and, although Blackheath was the first club, it was Teddington, another London club, that modernized and refined the game by introducing several major variations into hockey, including banning the use of hands or the lifting of sticks above the shoulder. They also began to use a sphere as the ball, instead of the rubber cube. Most important, they instituted the striking circle that was incorporated into the rules of the newly founded Hockey Association in London in 1886.
After modern field hockey had developed in the British Isles in the late nineteenth century, it spread throughout the British Empire. The British army introduced the game to India and throughout the British colonies, leading to the first international competition in 1895. Hockey first appeared on the Olympic program at the 1908 London Games and again in 1920 at Antwerp. The sport was featured on the program at Amsterdam in 1928 and has been an Olympic sport ever since. The call for more international matches led to the introduction of the World Cup (1971), and some of the other major international tournaments include the Asian Cup, Asian Games, European Cup, and Pan American Games. India is the most powerful field hockey nation in Olympic history. Between 1928 and 1956, India won six gold medals and thirty consecutive games. The streak ended in 1960 with a loss to Pakistan in the finals. Field hockey has become an integral part of national sports in both India and Pakistan. By 2003, field hockey was played all over the world by a variety of countries, and it was recognized as the second-largest team sport in the world, just behind soccer.
Although by the twentieth century field hockey was a popular women's sport, it was once considered far too dangerous for female participation. The ball, originally made from rubber, used in field hockey often travels at very high speeds, posing a risk to all players. Goalies are particularly vulnerable because they often must use their entire body to prevent the opposing team from scoring a goal. Therefore, field hockey goalies protect themselves with a shield of plastic armor. Field hockey quickly became popular with women whose previous introduction to sport included the "socially acceptable" outdoor activities of croquette and lawn tennis. With more and more women becoming active in the sport, the liberating game of field hockey earned the dubious title as the only team sport considered proper for women. By 1887, the first women's hockey club appeared in East Mosley, England, and was quickly followed by the creation of the All England Women's Hockey Association in 1889. The sport spread across the Atlantic in 1901, when English physical education instructor Constance Applebee introduced the sport to the United States while attending a seminar at Harvard. Appalled at the parlor games passing for exercise among young American women, Applebee borrowed some sticks and a ball and staged the first hockey exhibition in the United States behind the Harvard gymnasium. The game received an enthusiastic response, and Applebee quickly spread the sport to some of the region's most prestigious women's schools.
Field hockey took its most important step forward in 1924 when the Fédération Internationale de Hockey (FIH), the world governing body for the sport, was founded in Paris under the initiative of Frenchman Paul Léautey. Léautey, who would become the first president of the FIH, was motivated to action following hockey's omission from the program of the 1924 Paris Games. To form the sport's international governing body, Léautey called together representatives from seven national federations; the seven founding members, which represented both men's and women's hockey in their countries, were Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Hungary, Spain, and Switzerland.
The women's game developed quickly in many countries. For example, by the early 1920s, several colleges and clubs sponsored field hockey teams for women in the United States. The U.S. women's touring field hockey team participated in its first international competition in 1920, and two years later the United States Field Hockey Association was founded for the purpose of promoting and generating enthusiasm for the sport. In 1927, the International Federation of Women's Hockey Associations (IFWHA) was formed. Its founding members were Australia, Denmark, England, Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, the United States, and Wales. The IFWHA merged with the FIH in 1982. In many ways, the FIH serves as the guardian of the sport. It works in cooperation with both the national and continental organizations to ensure consistency and unity in hockey around the world. The FIH not only regulates the sport, but also is responsible for its development and promotion so as to guarantee a secure future for the field hockey.
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Philip F. Xie
Field hockey is a game that has been played in varying forms and in different cultures for over 4,000 years, as the striking of a ball with a stick either towards a goal or away from an opponent is a universal sporting concept. While field hockey bears an initial physical similarity to ice hockey, the closest sporting cousin to field hockey is soccer, both in respect to the shape and dimensions of the playing field, and the 11 players common to each sport.
The rules of the modern field hockey game were first codified in England in the mid-1800s. Field hockey has become a popular sport throughout the world, particularly in many European countries, India, and Pakistan. In North America, field hockey enjoys a primarily female following, where it is competed at both a high school and a university level. The governing body of world field hockey is the International Hockey Federation, the FIH, founded in 1924. Field hockey was first introduced into the Olympics in 1908.
The object of field hockey is to direct a hard plastic ball using a stick into the opposing goal. The ball can be advanced up the field against the opposing team by a player dribbling the ball, which includes any use of the stick to keep the ball under control while the player moves down the field; by passing the ball; or by driving the ball ahead and running after it. The field hockey pitch is a 100 yd by 60 yd (90 m by 55 m) rectangular surface; the surface may be either natural grass or artificial turf. The introduction of artificial turf in field hockey, a process which began in the late 1970s in elite competition, has proven to be one of the most significant changes in the history of the game. Players can run faster, and the reduction in friction between the ball and the artificial surfaces has created a faster style of play with a ball that tends to run true on all passes and shots. Each team has 10 players in the field, plus a goal keeper, who protects a goal that is 7 ft high and 12 ft wide (2.1 m by 3.6 m). The goal is at the center of a 16-yd arc, within which the ball must be shot for a goal to be counted. Like soccer, there is also provision for a penalty stroke, awarded for serious infractions committed with the arc. The penalty stroke is taken from a designated spot 7 yd (6.4 m) in front of the goal. Minor infractions are the subject of a penalty corner, which is similar to an indirect free kick in soccer. On the penalty corner, the ball is directed into the shooting area for a shot by a team mate, as opposed to being driven directly at the goal. A tactical departure from soccer is the absence of an offside rule, meaning that any player on a field hockey team is permitted to take a position behind the last defender.
One of the remarkable features of field hockey is the fact that each stick is designed to permit only a right-handed shot. The stick is approximately 3 ft (0.9 m) long, and it must be carried by each player in a manner that does not pose an undue risk to one's opponents. The ball similarly may not be struck or directed in any manner that, in the opinion of the referee, poses a risk to other players. The composition of the stick, often from carbon fiber or composite materials, creates a greater coefficient of restitution in the stick shaft that was possible with stiffer wood construction, which results in greater energy being transferred from the muscles of the player to the ball when it is struck. Coupled with the reduced friction of an artificial surface, the field hockey ball can be passed or shot on goal with considerable velocity. For this reason, goalkeepers wear protective equipment similar to that worn by their ice hockey equivalents—chest protectors, upper body protection, a full mask and helmet, and shin protection.
Field hockey is intended as a non-contact sport, and the deliberate strike of an opponent with either one's stick or body at any time in a game will result in the imposition of a penalty. The legal method of preventing an opponent from advancing a ball or making a pass is with a tackle, the field hockey term for the use of the stick by the defender to take the ball from an offensive player.
An elite-level field hockey game is 70 minutes in length, and as with all running sports, emphasis is placed on both aerobic and anaerobic fitness of the athletes in the course of training. Core strength, the inter-related development of the abdominal, gluteal (buttocks), and lumbar (lower back) muscles, is essential to field hockey success, as a successful athlete must move in a stable and explosive fashion forwards, backwards, and laterally. Physical size alone is not a significant advantage in field hockey. As a primarily outdoor, warm-weather sport, field hockey players must pay particular attention to the development of strong hydration practices, coupled with training that serves to acclimatize them to warm-weather competition.