Field hockey is about outsmarting your opponent through mastery of stick and ball. To prevent unnecessary fouls and limit game interruption, understanding the rules of tackling is essential. For example, what is a stick tackle in field hockey?
A stick tackle in field hockey is when a tackler hits an opponent’s stick rather than the ball. Stick tackling is a foul that is not always easy to spot for umpires. While legitimate defensive tackles are key, field hockey remains a non-contact sport, and players are never allowed to hit another opponent’s stick with theirs.
This article will help you understand the difference between legitimate tackles and fouls and have you walk away with straightforward tips on how to increase your success rate in tackling.
Like the ball itself, the hockey stick is a critical piece of equipment in field hockey. In fact, players cannot take part in the game without one.
A field hockey stick consists of three parts. The handle, also known as the grip or shaft, is the part where you hold the stick. The head refers to the stick’s curved end, while the toe is the upturned part at the bottom.
Stick adaptations and innovations over the past 30 years have led to standardized guidelines by the International Hockey Federation (FIH). Regulations stipulate an overall smooth stick, a flat left side, a weight limit of 26 ounces, and a length not exceeding 41 inches (source).
How to grip a hockey stick is vital in field hockey, especially when it comes to tackling. A proper grip improves control of the ball and supports the execution of a clean tackle. All hockey sticks are made for the right hand, and, therefore, the grip is the same for right-handed and left-handed players.
The basic grip is the most common technique and forms the starting point for many tackles. Place your left hand at the top of the stick, in a tight clutch, with the right hand loosely placed further up on the grip just before the flat part of the stick.
At the top of the hockey stick, the grip material enables a better hand position and hold on the stick itself.
Then position the thumb and index finger of both hands in a V-shape and face the curved part of the stick. Your left hand twists the stick, turning the stick to move the ball from left to right, doing most of the work. Your right hand stays in place to exert control (source).
Other grips include the reverse grip, the double-V grip, the short-handle grip, the frying pan grip, the left-handed and right-handed grip. Having both hands in a solid grip on your hockey stick is critical when trying to avoid stick tackles. You will find out why later in the article, so keep reading.
A stick tackle, also referred to as stick interference or hacking, occurs when a player hits the opponent’s stick rather than hitting the ball. This is not allowed in field hockey and is treated as a foul, whether it’s done intentionally or by accident.
Like all faults, a stick tackle automatically results in a free hit or penalty corner for the opposing team (source).
While the definition is clear, spotting a stick tackle is one of the most formidable challenges umpires face in field hockey. This is because the stick-on-stick noise can be produced by both a stick tackle and a stick block. Both are not allowed in field hockey, but the culprit, and the impact on the game, is different in each scenario.
When it comes to the stick tackle, the wrongdoer is the tackler, playing the opponent’s stick rather than the ball, with ball possession switching to the attacker. In the case of a stick block, it is the ball carrier’s offence by taking his stick off the ball and playing the tackler’s stick instead. Here, the ball possession switches to the defender.
While the stick tackle is challenging to spot, umpires increase their success rate by being alert, placing themselves in the best viewing position, and by watching whether the actual stick movement corresponds with ball movement (source).
The FIH defines a tackle as a maneuver to intercept the ball from an opponent to gain ball possession. Tackling is allowed as long as the ball is played (source).
Acceptable defensive tackle techniques include the block tackle, where the entire stick is used to block or take the ball from the opponent. The double-handed tackle uses the basic grip to lower the stick to the ground in an attempt to block the opponent’s ball.
The one-handed block tackle can be executed by the right or left hand at the top of the stick through a single-handed grip. In either case, timing is of the essence, and the tackle should be made at the very last moment.
The jab tackle is a great tactic to throw off an attacker and claim ball possession. The player jabs the stick to the ball with the left hand stretched out to return to both hands in one swift movement. While the tackle starts off with a left-handed grip, once executed, it returns to the basic grip with the palms turned upwards (source).
The reverse tackle lowers the left hand parallel to the pitch. It simultaneously lowers the body as far down as possible to maximize reach. It is an effective way to slow down play, block the ball’s path, and increase the likelihood of loss of ball possession (source).
Firstly, to enhance the execution of a flawless tackle, shoulder-to-shoulder body position is critical. Move in with your strong side, namely your forehand, and focus on the attacker’s weaker, left side.
Secondly, in terms of grip, it is essential to keep both your left and right hand on the stick for as long as possible. When you use both hands, you place more power behind your tackle. Subsequently, quick hand movements are essential to facilitate a smooth transition in and out of a tackle.
Thirdly, your footwork and speed should match your opponents. Make sure your feet are in front of each other, pointing in the same direction as your opponents, and run towards the same direction.
Lastly, visual competencies such as concentration, hand-eye coordination, eye-tracking, and visual reaction time will keep you focused on the ball irrespective of distractions on the field. In recent years, these capabilities have come to the foreground in the form of vision training, programs, and drills.
To sum it up, your success rate in tackling increases through strong defensive footwork, body rotation to get in and out of optimum positions quickly, a double-handed grip, and well-developed visual competencies (source).
According to FIH regulations, players must not tackle unless in a position to play the ball without body contact. Let’s take a closer look at two key factors that turn tackling into fouls.
Obstruction occurs when a player backs into, pushes, or leans on an opponent, which causes them to lose ball possession. It does not matter whether the obstruction is committed with intent or by accident; in both cases, a foul is committed.
Secondly, an umpire will whistle for obstruction if there is a physical interference with the stick or body of an opponent. This tampering is also known as third-party obstruction. When it comes to body interference, no body part, such as an arm, leg, or hand, can be used at all. The stick tackle also falls under this type of obstruction.
Lastly, obstruction takes place when a ball is “protected” from a legitimate tackle, either through the use of a hockey stick or body part. This 9.12 rule from the FIH Rules of Hockey is monitored closely by umpires, and this ball shielding is instantly penalized.
Safety is critical in field hockey, and dangerous play is seriously frowned upon and punished harshly by umpires.
Unsafe tackling from behind is a common dangerous play that can lead to serious injury. It involves the tackler pushing from behind with the stick, leading the opponent to lose ball possession, fall over, or end up hurt (source).
Another dangerous play scenario involves a tackler running into the shot or opponent with no effort to play the ball.
Swinging your stick above shoulder level is also considered dangerous play. This includes all active play scenarios, including tackles, since a high backswing can lead to severe injuries, including those of your teammates.
A stick tackle is considered an obstruction foul in field hockey that automatically leads to a free hit or a penalty corner for the opposing team. While stick interference is not always easy to spot, sound decision-making is achieved by umpires through good movement patterns that allow the best viewing position on stick and ball action.
While obstruction and dangerous play are severe impediments for safe and enjoyable field hockey, legitimate defensive tackles boost the star-factor of this incredibly fast-paced, high energy, and non-stop movement sport.
Successful tackling requires a flawless integration and execution of tight footwork, quick successive body, grip, and hand rotation in line with the opponent while maintaining a constant view of the ball.