Which Came First?
Different sports likely come to mind when you hear the word “hockey”. Maybe you imagine players in shorts or bulky uniforms and padding. In hockey, there is running or skating and sweeping of hockey sticks that hit balls or pucks into nets.
Field Hockey is older than ice hockey and is indeed one of the oldest sports in the world. While the style of hockey has changed over time, there are records of ball-and-stick games dating back almost 4000 years. These games would have been played on smooth fields and open spaces, compared to ice hockey.
The history of field and ice hockey is rich and deep. Keep reading to learn more about a game that inspired the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Dhyan Chand, and many others.
Early versions of field hockey have been played for millennia across different civilizations. Historical artifacts and documents have indicated that some versions of field hockey were played in nearly every society, including Roman, Egyptian, and Andean (source).
Earlier forms of field hockey were generally a lot more aggressive. In the 17th and 18th centuries, English villagers would play cross-village games of field hockey that lasted for weeks, had hundreds of players, and were a test of masculinity and manhood.
While the chaos may sound like fun in those primitive versions, these mass games often led to many injuries, so the changes are probably for the best, even though changes were made slowly.
Hockey comes from the antiquated French word “hocquet”, which means “stick”, indicating field hockey’s more European origins (source).
Interestingly enough, field hockey’s standardization followed a very similar timeline to that of ice hockey, just a few years earlier.
In 1875, the Hockey Association was founded, creating a standard set of rules throughout England. The association also insisted on increased power for umpires to control the game, compared to their more static roles in previous versions.
There is quite a lot more to know about the fascinating origins of field hockey. Take a look at “Where Did Field Hockey Originate?“ to improve your knowledge and learn a few fun facts.
If you understand soccer, then field hockey should not be too difficult to understand as well.
The sports share 11 players on a side, with a goalkeeper, attackers, midfielders, and defenders. Sticks are used to push the ball around the pitch, and points are scored by moving the ball into the goal (source).
Compared to ice hockey, field hockey is a non-contact sport, and players hit the ball with the flat side of a hockey stick.
Hockey sticks have a straight handle with a smoothly curved bottom that is flat on the left-hand side. Left- and right-handed versions of the sticks are available but not legal in most games, forcing some players to play with their non-dominant hands, something which is unique to field hockey players.
The standard field hockey field is large, approximately 100 yards by 60 yards, and players use standardized 1-meter-long sticks. Except for the goalkeeper, players cannot use anything except their sticks to contact the ball.
Unlike soccer, where a goal can be scored from any point on the field, you can only achieve a field hockey goal from inside the circle. The ball is almost always white or a contrasting colour that you can quickly identify and follow.
Uniforms and protective equipment are required for players, and the goalkeeper always wears a different coloured uniform from the rest of the team. Protective gear has to be carefully sized so that it is not unnaturally bigger than players’ need.
Some hockey leagues may have slightly different rules, such as the number of players allowed for substitution, but the majority remains the same.
Field Hockey is played across the world, with the 2014 world champions being Australia (source). However, Canada still does well in the sport, coming out in the top 15 in world rankings.
Women’s field hockey teams have become more successful and recognized globally, and the Netherlands team placed first in women’s hockey in 2014.
While field hockey may not have the same popularity as football or soccer, it has millions of fans worldwide who watch each match and swing of the stick with anticipation and excitement.
The history of field hockey is long and somewhat violent. Ice hockey has an equally impressive history, only a little shorter.
Few would be surprised to hear that ice hockey originated in the Great White North. While most people used frozen ponds for skating, Canadians started the game of ice hockey with sticks and balls back in the 1850s (source).
There have been some reports of a Scottish form of field hockey called shinty being played during an unusually cold winter in 1607 that froze some of the coastlines and allowed sailors to play with sticks and a ball on the sea (source).
Scottish history does indicate that ice hockey is a little older than most suppose, but it does not take away from Canada’s direct contribution to ice hockey history. As one of the most successful ice hockey-playing nations in the world, Canada is the center of ice hockey history.
While sticks and balls were the primitive beginnings of ice hockey, the game was formalized in 1879 by students from McGill University in Montreal. They changed the ball to a puck to facilitate movement on the ice and decided that each team would have fewer players than field hockey.
Needless to say, ice hockey has changed through the years to be safer for players. Anyone who has fallen on ice knows that it is a very painful experience. Imagine skating around without any helmets or protective equipment?
Ice hockey moved from Canada into the United States in the 1890s. Around 1895, games started taking place between competing colleges across the border.
Ice hockey soon spread to Europe as well. It became a competitive Olympic sport in the 1920 Antwerp Summer Games. Canada did exceptionally well in the sport on a global level as it gained more international recognition.
Luckily, as ice hockey leagues started to become popular in Canada and in the USA in the 1930s, safety equipment rules became more standardized, and many concussions have thus been avoided.
When you think of ice hockey, you likely think of bulky uniforms and some bloody battles on the ice. The National Hockey League (NHL) is the largest ice hockey league in the world, and they are responsible for keeping all of their players in line and safe (source).
Two distinct rule groups govern ice hockey games. One set comes from the NHL, and the other is from the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). Professional games within North America generally follow the rules of the NHL.
Ice hockey has smaller teams than field hockey, with six players on each side, including a goaltender.
Ice hockey uses a thick circular rubber disc for a puck. Only sticks can be used to guide the puck, though angling feet can also be used to obstruct, but not guide, the puck. The puck can be passed backward and forward and has to be shot into a net to score.
Within the team, five players are made up of three forwards and two defenders or defencemen. The forwards are spread out, with one player handling the center and the other two on the wings of the faceoff.
Ice hockey distinguishes itself from other games by having a unique penalty system. Players who are found guilty of an offence or infraction, such as tripping or elbowing, can be given a penalty. The penalty usually sees the offending player suspended for two minutes in the penalty box.
Since ice hockey has more contact than traditional field hockey, a large amount of protective equipment is required, including shoulder pads, mouth guards, shin pads, and a helmet.
Canada currently has six teams in the NHL, and the country has had consistently positive performances throughout the years. Canadian ice hockey players outnumber their American counterparts four to one, and many Canadians love the sport.
Ice hockey is not as popular in the United States, but it does very well in the colder states in the Northeast, Midwest, and, of course, in Alaska.
On a global scale, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) currently boasts 72 member countries, including Russia, Slovakia, and Sweden. Canada routinely excels on the world stage, and it’s certainly understandable considering such a strong history with the sport.
While ice hockey may be the least-watched sport in the United States, it is the most popular in Canada. Understandably, a country with such low temperatures needs entertainment that will last for a good part of the year.
Field hockey and ice hockey have maintained popularity over the years and continue to gain fans worldwide. Fast-paced action, majestic play, and exciting set pieces keep fans coming back for more.