What Are the Five Types of Fouls in Field Hockey?

What Are the Five Types of Fouls in Field Hockey?

Field Hockey Fouls

As with any sport, field hockey has rules, and a failure to abide by those rules can result in a foul and a penalty or multiple penalties. If you’re looking to get into field hockey, you’ll need to know the five types of fouls.

The five main types of fouls in field hockey are obstruction, backsticks, rough and dangerous play, touching the ball with your body, and undercutting. Each foul will result in a penalty as decided by the umpire. Rough and dangerous play is the one foul which may result in an immediate red card penalty and your possible ejection from the game.

This article will explain the fouls in Field Hockey and subsequent penalties that accompany each. Whether you’re a player or a spectator, understanding the five fouls will make your field hockey experience more enjoyable.

Field Hockey Fouls

In the sport of field hockey, players are expected to act and play responsibly. However, to expect every player to play every game perfectly, according to the rules, is unrealistic. Rules are put in place for the players’ and teams’ enjoyment and safety, and some can be broken with or without intention.

Field Hockey has many levels of play and leagues, each with varying rules. However, there are five common fouls a player can commit during the game. The main concern of these rules and what they outline as a foul is directly related to player safety.

1: Obstruction

There are various types of obstruction in field hockey that will result in a penalty, and players cannot in any way obstruct their opponents if they are attempting to play the ball on the field.

There are three types of obstruction that lead to a penalty:

  1. One player uses a portion of their body to impede play on the ball.
  2. One player uses the stick to restrict play on the ball.
  3. Another player interferes with two players.

Simple Obstruction

The first type of obstruction is when either a defender or an attacker places a part of their body between one player and the ball. The players are also obstructing another player if they back into the other player.

Charging is a play used by a defender to draw a foul from the other player. One player runs into an opposing player intending to play the ball. However, suppose the opposing player blocks the charge using their body. That player commits a foul and is called out for obstruction (source).

Stick Obstruction

Stick obstruction or stick interference is when a defender’s stick comes between the attacker’s ball and stick or their stick comes into contact with the attacker’s stick or body. A successful tackle by a defender requires them to take the ball from the attacker without contacting the player’s stick (source).

It is interference if a player’s stick is used to hit, hold, hook, or strike an opponent’s stick. A slang term for this is hacking.

Team USA field hockey rule number 9.6 states that players cannot hit the ball hard on the forehand motion with the stick’s edge. This does not mean that players can never use the edge of their stick in a tackle, but they do have to be under control.

When tackling, the player must maintain control as they raise the ball over their opponent’s stick or the goalkeeper, especially if the goalkeeper happens to be lying on the ground. In this case, they may use a long pushing motion.

Hooking is a foul called by an umpire if players use their stick to hook their opponent’s stick or leg. Tripping is another foul in which the stick is used to trip the opponent intentionally.

Third-Party Obstruction

Third-party obstruction is when a player uses their body, intentionally or otherwise, to keep a defender from getting at the player in possession of the ball.

Third-Party Obstruction

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2: Back of Stick or Backsticks

Playing with the rounded edge or back of the stick is prohibited. A player may only use the stick’s flat or face side to touch the ball, and the umpire will call “backsticks” or “back of stick” if the player touches the ball with the back of their stick.

3: Touching the Ball with Your Body

It is illegal to advance the ball with any part of your body, and players on either team must never stop, kick, propel, pick up, throw, or carry the ball. The most common issue is kicking the ball, and the most common penalty call is “foot.”

However, there are cases where a penalty would not be incurred. For instance, when the ball may inadvertently hit another player’s foot or body or the opponent positions to stop the ball deliberately. The umpire will sometimes elect to allow play to continue if it was accidental, and there was no advantage gained.

4: Rough and Dangerous Play

Dangerous play can encompass many actions that might expose players to physical injuries, such as wild swings, a high ball, or overly aggressive actions by players.

Legitimate Evasive Action

The first involves evasive action. If an opponent, or any player on the field, feels the need to take legitimate evasive action due to possible direct impact with the ball, it is considered dangerous and a foul.

High Ball

The second, labelled a high ball, occurs when the ball is lifted above knee height and directed at an opponent standing within five meters of the ball.

Player’s may not continue play of the ball if the ball is above shoulder height, and only defenders may deflect a goal shot with their stick. However, they may not actually hit the ball to prevent a goal from being scored.


An umpire may call sticks if a player raises their stick so close to another player as to be dangerous. Players must not ever lift their stick over their heads or the heads of other players, particularly in a threatening or harmful manner.

A defender may attempt to stop or deflect a ball when travelling towards the goal. However, if it is clearly going to miss the goal, using their stick above shoulder height will result in a penalty.

Flagrant Fouls

An umpire will call a flagrant foul for any intentional physical act they deem as rough or dangerous play that could cause harm or injury to another player. This results in an immediate red flag and ejection from the game.

5: Undercutting

Undercutting occurs when the ball is hit into the air using a hard stick swing, which is only allowed when attempting a goal shot. This is another rule left to the discretion of the umpire.

While raising the ball in the air is not a goal of field hockey, it can happen unintentionally, and often when taking a free hit. If the ball is raised off the field unintentionally, it is not a foul unless it causes danger to the other players.

It is permissible at times for the ball to be raised over the opponent’s stick or body when on the ground, both in and out of the circle, unless it is dangerous.

Players may also raise the ball with a scoop or flick, but, again, if not dangerous. Technically, the flick or scoop made toward an opponent must be farther than 16 feet or 5 meters, or the umpire will consider it dangerous.

Penalties for Fouls

Penalties For Fouls

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Penalties are awarded only if a player or team was disadvantaged by those committing the foul; otherwise, play must continue.

Free Hit

A free hit is a play given to a team when the opposing team commits a foul outside the shooting circle. The free hit takes place near where the foul was committed, with all opposing players standing at least five yards away from the shot taker.

Umpires may also award a free hit for intentional fouls committed within the 25-yard line.


Field hockey has a short corner or penalty corner and a long corner (source).

Penalty Corner

A penalty corner is awarded to the offensive team when a foul is committed by the defensive team inside the shooting circle or if they commit an intentional foul inside the 25-yard line.

The ball is placed on the backline, 11 yards away from the nearest goalpost, and thrown out by an offensive player to their team waiting outside the shooting circle so they can take a shot on the goal.

There are five reasons for a penalty corner to be called (source).

The first is when a defender in the circle does not prevent the likelihood of a goal being scored.

The second also occurs in the circle and is committed by a defender against another player who doesn’t have possession of the ball, or even the opportunity to play the ball.

The third happens when a player commits an intentional offence outside the circle, but still within the 25 yards or 23 meters that they are defending.

The fourth occurs when a defender intentionally plays the ball over the backline.

The fifth and final reason for a short corner to be awarded is when the ball becomes stuck in the player’s uniform or equipment while they are in the circle they are defending.

Long Corner

A long corner is played on the 25-yard (23-meter) line in the NCAA, and in line with the location that the ball crossed the goal line. This happens when a defender unintentionally hits the ball behind their own goal line.

Penalty Stroke

A penalty stroke is a penalty shot awarded to an offensive player against the opposing team’s goalie, allowing them a chance to score a goal. This penalty is mainly awarded when a defender commits a foul to prevent an offensive player from scoring or if they commit an intentional foul in the shooting circle.

If Another Foul is Committed Before Awarded Penalty is Taken

It is not unheard of in any sport for more than one foul to happen before an awarded penalty is used. In this case, four other penalties may be awarded.

  1. A free hit may be moved closer, up to 23 feet or 10 meters.
  2. A free hit awarded to the attack may not be moved into the circle.
  3. Umpire may award a harsher penalty.
  4. Players may incur a personal penalty.
  5. The penalty may be reversed if the same offence is committed by the team awarded the penalty.

Personal Penalties

A personal penalty occurs when an individual player is cautioned or suspended for a time by the umpire. Any offence deemed inappropriate by an umpire may result in the umpire first verbally warning the player. If the player needs another warning, the umpire will use three different cards — green, yellow, or red.

A Green Card: The player is warned and suspended from the game for two minutes for a minor rule violation. Any further warnings may result in receiving a yellow or red card.

A Yellow Card: the player is suspended for a minimum of five minutes for committing an intentional foul, for example, a high stick or playing rough. It is up to the discretion of the umpire to extend the time. After three yellow cards, a player risks being given a red card.

During a green card (two minutes), or yellow card (five minutes or more) suspension, the offending team must play with one less player,

A Red Card is the most serious and results in the player’s permanent suspension from the current game and the team’s next game. Also, the team continues to play down one player for the remainder of the game.

An umpire may issue a red card for a player committing an intentional foul such as deliberate body contact or verbally abusing umpires.

It is important to note that a personal penalty may be awarded in addition to any other penalty awarded on the foul.

When a player is temporarily suspended, they must remain in a spot designated by the umpire until told they may resume playing.

A player that has been temporarily suspended can rejoin their team at halftime but must return to the designated spot for the remainder of their suspension.

While suspended, if the player continues to misbehave, their suspension is subject to extension.

If a player is permanently suspended, they must leave the playing field and the immediate area surrounding it.

Each penalty card also has a different shape, which helps the players identify it. Green is rectangular, yellow is triangular, and red is circular.

While a player can receive more than one green or yellow card, that card cannot be given for the same offence, making it necessary to issue a more serious card.

Who Decides the Rules and Penalties

The Hockey Rules Board largely governs the rules of Field Hockey. This board is organized by and functions under The International Hockey Federation or the FIH, which is the executive board.

The Hockey Rules Board is in place to ensure that the game rules are interpreted and applied consistently at all play levels. They provide advice to umpires and develop regulations to maintain the game’s integrity while improving safety and making the game easier for the fans to understand and follow.

Among this board’s responsibilities is to effect rule changes to keep up with technical advances such as coaching tactics. They address safety issues, such as the protective gear worn by players, especially the goalie.

The board will make significant rule changes only after an extensive trial period through National Associations. If the results are favourable, the rule will be made mandatory. The board will generally only change one rule at a time to provide adequate time to monitor if the change is, in fact, a positive one.

Final Thoughts

Field Hockey is a game that many players begin as early as five years old. Some play for fun, some for the joy of competition, and others, if they are good enough, as a ticket to college. There are leagues for small children, middle school, high school, college, and professional athletes.

There are slight rule variations among the different national associations and even countries where the game is played. However, the five main types of fouls are obstruction, backsticks, body contact with the ball, undercutting, and rough and dangerous play — a foul results in a penalty against the team, an individual player, or both.

Rules are imperative to any sporting event and are in place for the safety of the players and others on the field of play. The Hockey Rules Board, organized by the FIH, is tasked with the consistent application of the rules by umpires and the development of new regulations provided they add to the safety and enjoyment of the game.

Knowing and following the rules of play to the best of your ability will not only keep you and others safe but allow for everyone’s enjoyment, player and spectator alike.