How Does a Field Hockey Game Start?

How Does a Field Hockey Game Start?

Starting A Field Hockey Game

Field hockey is a popular sport during which the players play the game on either grass, artificial turf, watered turf, or some type of synthetic field. There are typically ten players in the field on each team, while each team’s goalkeeper remains on each end of the field. If you’re new to the game, you might wonder how a field hockey game starts.

A field hockey game starts with a backward pass or “push back” from the center-forward to one of the backline players. The opposing team may not attempt to engage in play until the ball has been hit back. The previous method of starting a game with a “bully-off,” where two centre-forwards compete for the ball to start the game, has become obsolete.

The game will restart in the same way after either team has scored a goal. This article will examine the procedures for starting a game, the players and their roles, and why the “bully-off” method is no longer used.

The Coin Toss

Before a field hockey game starts, the umpire will perform a coin toss to see which team will receive possession first. The umpire will toss the coin, and the home team will have the chance to choose either heads or tails.

Whichever team wins the coin toss will start with possession, and the opposite team will have control after halftime. A field hockey match may officially start when the umpire blows the whistle, and the center-forward passes the ball back to their teammates.

How Does a Field Hockey Game Start

A field hockey game always starts with a “push back” from the middle of the field. The two teams will line up in formation on either side of the field. The ball will be in the middle of the field, along with one player from the team that starts play.

Any defenders of the opposing team must always remain five yards away from the ball, and when the umpire begins the match with the blow of a whistle, the player that has the ball will hit it back toward the lines behind them and start the game. If a goal is scored at any point during the match, the game will restart in this way as well.

Starting with a Backward Pass

The most basic rules are that a hockey player may only hit the ball with the flat end of their stick and that they are not allowed to use any part of their body to touch or control the ball at any time. The goalkeeper is the only player exempt from this rule.

Hockey is not a contact sport, so players may not trip, charge at, interfere with, touch, handle, or push any opponent. Hockey players may also not interfere with the ball at the start of play until the backward pass from the center-forward has been completed.

At a professional level, a field hockey match has four quarters with a two-minute break between the first and second as well as the third and fourth quarters. There is also a 10-minute halftime break in between the second and third quarters.

After each quarter and after halftime, a hockey match will resume again using the backward pass method from a single player on one of the teams.

The game will be started in the same way, with a backward pass, after one team scores a goal. The team that has had the goal scored against them will take possession of the ball after that goal to restart the game.

The Old Bully-Off Method

The bully-off method was a way of starting a game, used before the “push back” became the preferred method. It involved two players standing together with the ball between them.

The “bully-off” method was similar to a face-off in ice hockey in that two players from the two teams would battle with their hockey sticks around the ball to gain possession.

They would then hit their sticks alternately against one another’s sticks and the ground three times before competing to hit the ball to gain possession.

However, this has since become obsolete and isn’t really in use anymore. Generally, it will only be used in ice hockey when time or play has stopped due to an injury or when no penalty is relevant (source). It has also been used in other sports like lacrosse or bandy.

When the Bully-Off Method is Used

The bully-off method will only be used in field hockey to restart the game after a player has suffered an injury or when both teams have been awarded simultaneous penalties. The bully-off method may also be used in field hockey should the ball become entrapped in a player’s clothing or after an equipment time-out.

The bully-off method used in field hockey will entail two players from the opposing teams to meet in the center with the ball between them. They will hit each other’s sticks and the ground alternately three times before battling for possession of the ball (source).

Field Hockey vs. Ice Hockey

While field hockey and ice hockey are two versions of the same sport, field hockey is very popular in many countries, where they sometimes referred to it as just “hockey.”

Although they share the same origins, the playing style varies significantly between the two, and they require a different skill-set, even though hand-eye coordination and good control of the hockey stick are essential for both.

As we can gather from the name, ice hockey is usually played in areas with a colder climate or indoors in a climate-controlled environment where the temperature can be adapted for an ice rink to be maintained.

As can also be surmised from the name itself, field hockey is generally played on a grass field and mostly outdoors. However, it can, on occasion, be played indoors on synthetic turf (source).

The Push Back vs. the Face-Off


Image by LuckyLife11 via Pixabay

Ice hockey, similar to field hockey, starts in the center of the playing area. However, whereas a field hockey game starts with one player in possession of the ball playing the ball back to their own teammates, ice hockey starts with a face-off.

The referee in an ice hockey game will drop the puck between two opposing players who will then battle each other for possession of the puck and try to place it in a winning position for their team. This face-off method will also be utilized after play has stopped due to a penalty or any other type of stoppage.

In a field hockey game, the game opens with a player from one team who has possession of the ball without having to battle for it. The backward pass must be complete before the opposing team can interfere with the ball at all. Only then may the match between the two teams officially start.

When playing field hockey, after a stoppage, the game may be resumed by employing the face-off method, similar to ice hockey. However, an official game will never start in this way — only restarted. After halftime, an ice hockey game starts with a face-off again, and a field hockey game will once again start with a backward pass from a center-forward (source).

Starting with Only One Team Present

The umpires will clearly state the duration of any time-outs, halftimes, or quarter-times called during a field hockey match. The players should pay close attention to these timings, as it can be detrimental to their chances of winning should they forget.

If a field hockey umpire calls a time-out of one minute, play will resume after that one minute has elapsed whether both teams are on the field or not. Should a team fail to be in place after the stated and agreed-upon times for time-out, halftime, or quarter-time, the umpire will restart the match without them present.

This means that the team in place will take the backward pass, start the game, and, most likely, score an easy goal as no opposing players will be present to interfere with their chances of scoring. This is entirely legal, and that is why the timing of time-outs especially is so critical.

Players and Equipment

Like any other game, field hockey has a specific number of players, and special equipment is necessary even in the most basic versions of the sport. Field hockey is played with 11 players on each side, one of whom is the goalkeeper.


There are specific definitions regarding the players and their roles. Still, field hockey is known as a fluid game, and all players, except the goalkeeper, may traverse the field.

Teamwork and communication are much more essential factors in a field hockey game than the players’ assigned positions. However, at the start of play, each player needs to be in a specific assigned position.

There are five types of players in a field hockey game: forwards, midfielders, defenders, sweepers, and goalkeepers. The forwards are the offensive team members, and their aim is to play the ball towards the opponents’ goal, and, although any player can score a goal, they are the prominent goal-scorers.

A coach can choose to position their players in different ways on the field. The sweeper is an optional position to be played, and a coach or trainer may choose to play either four forwards and three midfielders or three forwards and four midfielders.

There have been many debates regarding which is the most challenging position to play, but all players need to be equally skilled in hand-eye coordination, ball control, speed, and agility (source).

Positions at the Start of the Game

At the start of a field hockey game, the players need to be in their proper positions. A field hockey pitch has a center circle of 10 yards in diameter. At the start of play, the players need to line up and be stationary in their designated positions on the field.

The two center forwards, or inners, will be slightly behind the center circle on either side, except for the team that won the opening toss, where one of the forwards will be in the center circle, ready to make the opening backward pass.

On either end of the pitch, the wings will position themselves, right and left behind the forwards. The midfielders will line up in a three-person line behind them, with the middle midfielder set slightly ahead of the two on either side.

The defenders, or fullbacks, will be positioned on either side of the scoring circle, or striking circle, in front of the goal, with the sweeper, if the coach chooses to utilize this position, in front of them and right in front of the goal.

The goalkeeper will generally position themselves in the center of the goal, ready for any possible attack on the goal (source).


Image by Jeffrey F Lin via Unsplash

The Field

The original field for field hockey was always natural grass. In the early 70s, synthetic grass started to be used for fields, especially at a more professional level, such as at the Olympic games. Nowadays, artificial turf is mandatory in all international competitions and even at some national levels.

There are three main types where it concerns synthetic field hockey playing surfaces. The first is an unfilled or water-based field where artificial fibers are packed tightly together to provide stability. This type of pitch will need to be watered or irrigated to avoid degradation.

A dressed or sand dressed pitch is the second type. The artificial fibers can be less tightly packed on this type of pitch, and sand will support the fibers for a percentage of the entire pile depth at the base.

A filled or sand-filled pitch is much like a dressed pitch, but the sand will support the fibers for 100% of the pile depth at the base, which means the artificial fibers can be longer and even less tightly packed.

The sand-based pitches have been a popular choice, as they used to increase the speed of play fairly dramatically, but, nowadays, the water-based pitches have been growing in favour. The reason for this is because a water-based pitch allows a ball to transfer at a much quicker pace than on a sand-based pitch.

The fact that play is even faster on a water-based pitch is why they’ve been the surface of choice for both international and national competitions. They are also less abrasive than their sand-filled counterparts, which means that players have a lower risk of injury should they fall (source).

Facts about Field Hockey

Field hockey is a popular sport across the world and played by men and women of many different nationalities, abilities, and skill levels. It is a common school sport also played at the collegiate and professional level, up to the Olympic level.

Here are some of the most interesting facts about field hockey:

  1. Field hockey was the sport with the third most spectators at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
  2. In the 1800s, field hockey was a taboo sport for women in Europe and India.
  3. The Netherlands female team is currently the reigning top women’s field hockey team.
  4. Field hockey can get you to college! Research dictates that field hockey is responsible for providing more students with college scholarships than any other sport.
  5. Left-handed players do not get special sticks. There are no left-handed hockey sticks in field hockey, and, regardless of your dexterity, players are only allowed to use one side of a right-handed stick.
  6. Men’s field hockey holds the record for the fastest swing speed in any sport, including golf and baseball. The speed they reached is 103 miles per hour.
  7. In countries where temperatures don’t drop below freezing, field hockey is simply called hockey.
  8. On average, the distance that the players run during a field hockey game equates to five miles or more.
  9. Field hockey is the national sport of Holland, and Holland’s female field hockey team won the gold at the 2012 Olympic Games.
  10. Pennsylvania is the US state with the highest number of field hockey players.
  11. The British Army assisted in the widespread adoption of field hockey across the British Empire, which is why it is such a popular sport in India, Australia, New Zealand, and Pakistan.
  12. Many celebrities were hockey players in their youth, including Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Watson, and Heath Ledger (source).

Final Thoughts

A field hockey game always starts with a single player in possession of the ball in the middle of the field. As the whistle blows, this player will “push back” the ball by hitting it backward, and then play will engage. Should a goal be scored at any point during the match, the game will restart in this way as well.

Field hockey is a widely popular sport, also known merely as hockey in some parts of the world. In contrast to ice hockey, which some will be more familiar with, it is a non-contact sport, and this is reflected in how the game starts.