Field Hockey Ball Composition
Field hockey is a fast sport, and the small, hard ball is key to the sport’s speed. In fact, next to the field hockey stick, the ball is the most essential piece of equipment on the hockey field.
A field hockey ball is almost always made out of hard plastic, although international regulations don’t specify the material. Some balls have a cork, rubber, or hollow-core, depending on the brand and where they will be used. The ball’s colour is usually white or a shade that contrasts with the playing field, and it may have a dimpled surface.
Field hockey balls may look very simple, but don’t be fooled. The composition, size, and surface detail of the ball can vary in subtle ways that make a big difference in how the ball performs in different conditions and different competition levels.
Worldwide, competitive field hockey is regulated by the Federation Internationale de Hockey (FIH) (source). The FIH dictates the rules of play as well as the shape, dimensions, and composition of all of the equipment players use, including the field hockey ball.
In contrast to the rules regulating field hockey sticks, the requirements for the ball are minimal. The FIH simply requires the ball to be spherical, weighing between 5.5 and 5.75 ounces (156 and 163 grams). The circumference must measure between about 8.8 and 9.25 inches (224 and 235 millimeters).
When it comes to material, there are even fewer restrictions. The FIH allows a field hockey ball to be made from any material, as long as it is hard with a smooth surface. A field hockey ball should be white in colour or another colour that is in contrast with the field surface.
Although all current field hockey balls are made of smooth, seamless PVC plastic, there is space for a surprising amount of variation within these regulations (source). According to FIH regulations, the surface may also be dimpled — next, we will find out why this is important.
Ancient stick-and-ball games resembling field hockey in Egypt and Greece appear to have used a ball composed of compacted papyrus fibers or some other material covered in leather (source).
Unlike the field hockey stick, the modern hockey ball is a much newer creation, dating back to the 1980s. Initially, the ball’s outer skin was made of leather, covering a wooden or cork core. The leather covering was firmly sewn together to create a seam, much like a modern cricket ball or baseball.
The disadvantage of the leather ball was that it soaked up water on the pitch, becoming much heavier and slower in rainy conditions (source). This meant the seamed leather and wood or cork balls varied in speed and performance according to wear and tear or even the weather during a match.
During the 20th century, natural grass fields were increasingly replaced with artificial turf, which often has a water base. This meant that leather balls presented more and more of a problem for competitive leagues.
In the 1980s, this problem was solved by a groundbreaking design patented by Kookaburra, a leading manufacturer of cricket and field hockey equipment, which had already been the exclusive provider of field hockey balls to the Olympic Games since 1956 (source).
The Kookaburra ball was coated in a hard plastic shell, which did not soak up water. This meant the ball didn’t change consistency or weight in different conditions and played predictably in all weather.
The new design was a universal success, and, since the 1980s, all field hockey balls have been made with a smooth, hard plastic shell.
However, there is surprising variation in the details of a field hockey ball’s composition. Many brands’ balls are solid plastic, but Kookaburra balls are made with a lighter-weight rubber and cork core, which also helps the ball to bounce.
To learn more about the consistency of a field hockey ball, read “How Hard is a Field Hockey Ball?“
Chances are, the average new player or spectator would never know that there are different types of field hockey balls, let alone be able to spot the difference between styles.
Of course, when it comes to professional teams, players will practice with a different ball from the one they use in matches. Match balls are often a more expensive brand and highly engineered for performance.
Match balls are almost always solid-core, often with a cork or rubber core. Many brands make practice balls with hollow cores, which are lighter in weight and lower in cost.
Lighter-weight balls are available for young children who may not have the strength to hit a standard weight ball. Indoor hockey balls are also lighter in weight than outdoor field hockey balls, and they may also fall on the smaller end of the acceptable size range.
As we’ve seen, the FIH requires a field hockey ball to be white or any solid colour that contrasts with the playing surface. Most balls are white because it is a colour that contrasts nicely with the green playing surface of the traditional grass field and is visible in most light conditions.
However, artificial turf pitches are increasingly manufactured in colours other than “natural” green. In 2012, the London Olympics popularized a bright blue pitch, which is optimized for television viewers (source).
On a blue pitch, a yellow ball is most visible, and this is now the standard colour combination in professional competitions.
Other standard colours for field hockey balls are pink and orange, and some leagues make their own requirements for the ball’s colour in their field hockey matches. Any match ball must be a solid colour.
Practice balls and lightweight children’s balls often come in fun colours and patterns, such as glitter or rainbow colours, as there is no need for practice equipment to adhere to FIH regulations.
The field hockey ball design patented by Kookaburra in the 1980s was called the Kookaburra Elite Dimple and incorporated a slightly dimpled surface.
The dimpled surface introduced by Kookaburra was revolutionary because it increased the ball’s speed and helped it to run more smoothly on a wet surface by preventing the ball from aquaplaning. The dimples may also increase the ball’s airspeed.
This was critical because the FIH stipulates that all international matches must be played on artificial turf, and elite competitions must take place on water-based pitches.
On sand-based pitches and indoor floors, a smooth surface is often preferred.
As with most sports equipment, to a large extent, you will get what you pay for when it comes to field hockey balls. High-quality balls engineered for professional performance will, of course, cost a lot more than balls intended for beginners.
Before you invest time and money in finding a good quality ball that you can afford, consider whether you need to purchase your own field hockey ball at all. If you are joining a club or school team, your coach should have a large supply of both training and match balls.
However, you might want to invest in a practice ball so that you can work on your skills at home.
Using hollow practice balls means you will be able to afford more balls for the same price. The disadvantage to this is that you will practice your hits on a ball that is a different weight from the one you will use in matches.
Remember that hollow-core balls are also not as durable as solid core balls, and they will crack over time.
For much of the 20th century, Kookaburra has dominated the arena of field hockey ball development and manufacture as the only brand approved for international competition by the FIH.
Elite Kookaburra balls have a patented dimpled design and a composite rubber and cork core, which is the result of many years of innovation.
Since Kookaburra introduced the Elite Dimple ball during the 1984 Olympic Games and World Cup tournaments, it has been the only ball approved by the FIH and is used in international competition (source).
To this day, Kookaburra is the largest manufacturer of field hockey balls and is generally considered the world’s leading brand in terms of design, innovation, and quality. Other highly respected brands include TK, Grays, Mercian, and Gryphon.
Recent decades have seen enormous investment in the details that improve the performance of field hockey balls. However, professional-grade balls come at a premium price, and many players choose instead to purchase cheaper, less durable hollow-core practice balls.
Whatever choice you make, ensure you carefully consider the playing surface on which you usually train and compete, the conditions of play, and your own needs as a player before you simply invest in the “best” brand you can find.