How Many Players Are on a Field Hockey Team?

How Many Players Are on a Field Hockey Team?

Field Hockey Team Size

Field hockey has gone through many changes during its long history. Components such as the type of ball for gameplay and material used for the playing field have been carefully developed to enhance the game for both teams and spectators. The strategies and player positions have also been molded for each type of field hockey game.

A field hockey team usually has 16 players, with 11 being on the field at a time. However, this number can vary with play type. Teams utilize the players’ skills to organize them into different offensive and defensive positions to meet their current needs. The position count on the field will change based on the team’s strengths and strategies.

This article will discuss the different field hockey positions and how they work together to form a team. It will then explore the types of gameplay where the number of players on the field varies from the traditional 11 athletes.

Positions in Field Hockey

Field hockey squads most often have 16 members for traditional gameplay. While there are 11 players allowed on the field for each team, the unlimited number of substitutions means the athletes can be refreshed as needed.

The 11 players on the field, or pitch, work together to play both offence and defence. The game is fast-paced, which means players must be able to move quickly and easily into different roles if required. Field hockey team members also gain high fitness levels, speed, and agility, which makes them great athletes.

The coaches set the initial formations based on the needs of the game and the players’ strengths. However, formations might change throughout the game, either as the athletes evaluate what needs to be done in the moment or coaches adjust the playbook (source).

The positions on a field hockey team can be grouped into offence, defence, midfield, and goalie (also known as a goalkeeper). Offensive players can be called forwards, attackers, strikers, or wings. Defensive players are known as defenders, fullbacks, or sweepers. Midfield players are called midfielders or halfbacks.

Each position requires a particular skill set, so it might take a bit of time for a player to find the best fit. Learning about different positions can help one decide which direction to take. For more detailed information, please reference “What is the Hardest Position in Field Hockey?


Forwards are usually the players scoring the most goals because they lead the offence. Their purpose is to get the ball to the opposing goal and score as many times as possible. The center forward works the middle of the field, while the outside wings focus on moving in from the sides and getting the ball to the center goal.

Forwards need to possess many skills to excel in their position. They need to have speed and good ball-handling skills to move the ball down the field. Passing, rebounding, and shooting prowess are also important, especially when working together to score goals.


Athletes in this position play both offence and defence. They help the forwards advance the ball down the field, as well as support the defence in protecting their own goal.

Midfielders must always be moving on the field, so having stamina and speed is essential. They must also be able to intercept balls, guard opponents, and stay alert for quick passes from their defence.


Defensive players focus on keeping the opposing team from scoring goals. They usually stay in the back of the field and protect the goalie.

Also known as fullbacks, the defence also need to pass the ball upfield to the midfielders and forwards. Even though they usually do not score many goals, they may move into offensive positions if the need arises.

Sometimes a coach will utilize the position of a sweeper for an extra layer of defence. Sweepers play in-between the fullbacks and the goalie and solely focus on keeping the ball out of the goal.

Good defensive players will be able to anticipate the other team’s moves and attack or intercept the ball. They will have quick reflexes to outmaneuver the opposing offence and help get the ball up the field.


The goalie acts as the last line of defence before the other team can score. They have a designated goal circle where they usually stay to protect the goal. In addition to using their stick the same as field players, goalies can use their bodies to play the ball if they are inside this circle.

Goalkeepers wear protective gear and pads, making it easier to use their bodies to block hard shots. Along with blocking shots, goalies must be able to kick or hit the ball back out to their teammates.

Great goalies have quick reflexes to be able to anticipate plays and move to stop goals. They must also communicate with the defence about strategies and spur-of-the-moment plays.

Teams can also decide to keep 11 athletes on the pitch and play without a goalie. In this case, it is up to the other teammates to keep the ball away from the goal and push forward to score (source).

Variations to Traditional Team Size

Field Hockey Variations

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The International Hockey Federation (FIH) has set forth rules governing different field hockey games. Clubs and teams must comply with the regulations for the appropriate type of play.

For traditional outdoor field hockey, there is a maximum of 16 players on each team, with 11 players being allowed on the field at a time. The team maximum may be extended to 18 players if permission is granted.

Below is an overview of the various types of field hockey that might require a different number of players on the team and on the field.

Indoor Field Hockey

The rules for indoor and outdoor field hockey have been modified to make for a smoother transition from one to the other. While the pitch size and composition are different, the majority of the game components are quite similar.

Since the field is smaller in indoor field hockey, fewer players are allowed on the pitch during gameplay. Instead of being capped at 16 players, indoor teams can have up to 12 members on a squad. There are six field hockey athletes allowed on the field during the game, with substitutions taking place as needed.


Designed to reach more players and allow the development of core skills, Hockey5s is a shorter form of the traditional field hockey game. Hockey5s has a simple set of rules that can be adapted to work for many teams and athletes worldwide.

Hockey5s can be played on any surface at any time and supports all levels of ages and abilities. Although the FIH has laid out a simple framework for the rules, some items might need to be changed to fit the players’ needs (source).

The rules state that Hockey5s teams may have five of their players on the field at one time, including a goalie. Teams are also allowed to have up to four substitutes on the sidelines.

However, these numbers can be altered if it makes the most sense for the gameplay in question, and both sides agree. For example, if there is a smaller playing surface, it might be beneficial to have fewer players on the field or play without goalkeepers.

Beach Hockey

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Beach Hockey

Beach hockey can be played anywhere there is a beach and willing participants. As is the case with other field hockey adaptations, the rules for beach hockey are guidelines that can be changed as needed for recreational play. However, there are specific rules that need to be followed for national and international competitions.

Teams are allowed up to eight players, with five on the field during play and three as substitutes. Upon petitioning, teams can be allowed to have a maximum of 10 players. This mandate holds for competitions but can be changed elsewhere to accommodate teams’ needs.

Additional Considerations

Different levels of play have different rules for tie games. In most instances, a draw is declared if the game is tied at the end of the regulation playing time. Other variations include overtime play or penalty shootouts.

The league level or tournament rules will dictate what overtime, if any, looks like. For American collegiate players, overtime play consists of 10-minute periods played by seven athletes from each side. Shootout rules can vary, from either ending the game with the first goal or letting each player take a shot on goal.

Final Thoughts

The standard rules for outdoor field hockey are the guiding framework for the other variations of the sport. The number of players for each team is usually 11 on the pitch at one time, but might be different according to the type of play.

Additionally, while the number of team members is usually consistent, the number of players for the different positions will change with the players’ skills and coaches’ strategies. Modifications of the game are continually being developed, which can potentially mean changes in future rules.