Curvature of a Field Hockey Stick
Any sport with a long history that is still competitively played today is a combination of the tradition carried from the sport’s earliest days and innovations based on sports science. Field hockey and its characteristic stick are no different. Both traditional regulations and performance engineering dictate the shape of the field hockey stick.
Curves on a field hockey stick are carefully engineered to improve performance and playability for different in-game scenarios. They are regulated by international rules of the sport to keep things safe and fair. There are three curves on a field hockey stick — the J-shaped head, the bow or rake along the length, and the set-back of the head from the shaft.
The field hockey stick has been through many iterations in its history. Its shape will continue to evolve as manufacturers develop new technologies to improve performance and as ruling bodies seek to regulate those innovations.
The stick is the most essential piece of equipment for a field hockey player. Without it, the game would be impossible to play, as no player except the goalkeeper is permitted to hit the ball with any part of his or her body.
Like a tennis racquet, a field hockey stick is a player’s point of contact with the ball, so its design is essential to performance. Slight variations in shape or material can make all the difference to the power of a hit or the accuracy of a shot at goal.
There is evidence of early forms of field hockey played in ancient civilizations from Ancient Egypt to Ancient Greece, the Aztec Empire, and East Asia.
To learn more about the history of field hockey, you can read “Where Did Field Hockey Originate?“
Early sticks were cut from ash saplings split lengthways to create a flat playing surface. They were flexible with a very long, gently curved head. The shorter, tightly curved head familiar to modern players was developed in India in the early 20th century, allowing more rapid maneuvering of the stick for dribbling the ball (source).
Mulberry became the favourite material for field hockey sticks, and over the following century, manufacturers experimented with extremes in shorter and more hooked heads.
At the beginning of the 21st century, a dramatic change took place with the introduction of composite materials such as carbon fiber and fiberglass, allowing even greater variety in available shapes, as well as in the weight, flexibility, durability, and power of sticks (source).
The field hockey stick has a distinctive elongated J shape, which regulations call the “traditional shape.”
The stick is made up of a rounded grip or handle, which widens into a shaft, flattened on one side. Below the shaft is the curved head, which is shaped like the top of a candy cane. The bend where the head joins the shaft is called the heel, and the rounded end is called the toe.
When holding the handle with the toe facing forward and upward, the head’s left-hand-side is a flat surface, known as the playing side. The other side is rounded.
Only the playing side of the stick may be used to hit the ball. If a player hits the ball with the rounded side, the other team is given possession of the ball (source). There is no left-handed stick in field hockey.
Most adult hockey sticks range in length from about 36 to 37.5 inches. The correct length for a stick is usually measured from the ground up to a player’s hip, but it’s also a matter of individual preference (source).
Like the earliest sticks, beginner sticks are made of wood, but more advanced players use composite sticks made from fiberglass, kevlar, carbon fiber, and other materials, which change the weight and flexibility of the stick.
To learn more about the different materials used to make field hockey sticks and their advantages and disadvantages, read “How Long Do Field Hockey Sticks Last?“
You might think that a field hockey stick is a simple, straight cane with a hooked end, but in fact, there are three different ways in which field hockey sticks usually curve. Each shape has a different purpose, and there are legal restrictions on how extreme the curves can be.
In the early days of formalized field hockey, only six rules dictated the shape of the stick. These rules specified maximum and minimum weight and dictated that the playing side had to be flat.
The head had to be curved and made from wood, the stick could not have rough edges or sharp points, and that the whole stick had to be able to pass through a ring with an internal diameter of two inches.
These rules still apply, but, as with all professional sports, they have become more complex and technical over the years as players and equipment manufacturers find ways to gain an advantage by manipulating the field hockey stick’s shape.
Today, the rules pertaining to the exact shape and dimensions of the field hockey stick are laid out in great detail in the FIH rules of hockey.
The first curve in a field hockey stick is the most obvious — the curve that forms the foot and makes a stick look like a candy cane. The curved head of a field hockey stick provides a larger surface area with which to stop and hit the hockey ball.
Today, the heads of most field hockey sticks are “hooked” upwards. FIH regulations dictate that the head must be J or U shaped and that the hook may not be more than about 4 inches (100mm) deep.
The stick also may not twist along the playing side and may have a single concave or convex curve across the head of no more than about 3/20 inch (4mm) deep.
If you place the stick horizontally on a flat surface with the flat playing surface downward and look at the line along which the stick meets the floor, you will see that there is a gentle curvature from handle to toe. This is called the bow or rake of the stick.
Different depths of the bow can affect how the stick handles and plays the ball. On most sticks, the bow is at least ¾ inch (19mm) deep, but on elite sticks, it may be up to an inch (25mm). Since 2006, a depth of an inch or 25 millimeters has been the legal limit (source).
The placement of the peak of the bow on the stick is important. A regular bow falls in the middle of the shaft, whereas a late bow falls closer to the head. The lower the bow, the better the stick performs with aerial shots and flicks.
According to FIH rules, the bow may not lie less than about 8 inches (200mm) from the stick’s head. Sticks that fall on this limit are said to have an extreme late bow. There may only be one continuous curve along this axis of the stick.
The set-back is a curve in the stick that bends in the opposite direction of the J-shaped head. If you hold a hockey stick vertically with the J-shaped head pointing to the left, you will see that most sticks bend to some extent to the right, along the shaft above the head.
The set-back allows a player to make full contact between the ball and the head of the stick without having to hold the stick in a completely vertical position. This makes stopping and hitting the ball easier at speed and gives the player a greater effective reach.
FIH regulations permit some curvature of a stick along this axis. Still, it is limited to a single curve either forward over the toe or backward over the head’s heel, with a maximum deviation of about ⅘ of an inch or 20 millimeters from the vertical.
The design and manufacture of modern sporting equipment is an extremely technical process, and the rules must evolve to respond.
Field hockey is a sport with an ancient lineage, but it is only in recent decades that the field hockey stick has been developed into a high-tech item made from materials used in aerospace engineering and with dimensions painstakingly calculated to optimize athletes’ performances.
Today, the curves of a field hockey stick are a marriage between the stick’s history as a rough-cut sapling, its development through the years as technology has come to bear on the sport, and the regulations that have sought to limit innovation and keep the sport on an even playing field.