The objective of hockey is simple – to hit the ball within the striking circle into your opponent’s net and score a goal. The team with the most goals at the end of the game wins.

Players and Teams

A hockey match is contested between 2 teams of 11 players. Up to 5 substitutes are allowed.

Each team will normally include a goalkeeper and 10 outfield players. It is not unknown for teams to use 11 outfield players to boost their attacking options.

Outfield players are categorised as defenders, midfielders or forwards/attackers.

Field of Play

Official dimensions for the field of play are laid down by the International Hockey Federation (FIH) in the FIH Rules of Hockey.

Hockey matches are predominantly played on systhetic surfaces. These are either water-based or sand-based surfaces.

Water-based synthetic turf enables the ball to be transferred more quickly than on the original sand-based surfaces. It is this characteristic that has made them the surface of choice for international and national league competitions.

Starting a Match

All hockey matches are started with a push back from the centre spot. The two teams line up on their respective sides of the field, with the ball in one player’s possession at the centre of the field.

Defenders must be five yards away from the ball and when the whistle blows, the player hits the ball backwards to start play. After a goal, the match is restarted in the same way.

The previous bully-off method, where two opposite players used their hockey sticks to compete for the ball, is no longer used to start matches. It is only used to re-start a match when time or play has been stopped for an injury or for any other reason when no penalty has been awarded.

Match Duration

A game is split into two halves, each lasting 35 minutes. There is a 5 minute half-time interval, or longer if agreed.

In the event of a draw at the end of the match, some competitions will use extra time to try and determine a winner. If teams are still drawn after extra time, penalty flicks are used to determine a winner.


Goals can only be scored from inside the shooting circle, a semi-circular area in front of the goals. Goals scored from outside this area are disallowed.

Using a Hockey Stick

One of the basic rules of hockey is that you can only use the flat side of the stick to hit or control the ball.

Players must not play the ball with any part of the stick when the ball is above shoulder height except that defenders are permitted to use the stick to stop or deflect a shot at goal at any height.


Hockey is played with a hard ball and emphasis is placed on safety. Players must not play the ball dangerously or in a way which leads to dangerous play. A ball is considered dangerous when it causes legitimate evasive action by players.