hockeybalI do admire the officials at the reigns of our hockey sport. Their innovation in different areas is one way to guarantee the attractiveness of the sport and to prevent it from becoming obsolete. However another quality  should also be the ability to not be afraid and turn back on decisions that have proven to be not so much an added value to the game. The most prolific example here would be the “own goal” rule of course…

scoring is simpleApparantly no one in the world understands how a shot from outside the circle, ending up in the goal, is not counted. Well I’m sorry, the rule wasn’t that hard to understand: “a ball had to be touched by an attacker inside the D (or circle) in order to be a valid goal”. If people think this is too complicated I feel sorry for them… But since some other more wel known ball-sports allow scoring from anywhere on the pitch that seemed to be a problem for spectators. So we could have changed the rules so any shot from anywhere on the pitch entering the goal should be counted and the sole purpose for the D would be the area for the keeper to use his whole body to play the ball and the area where faults would be sanctioned with a penalty corner. The “D” from our hockey game would be very similar to the “box” from football for example in that case. This would be a valid choice… I still would not like it, but it would make sense.
However since the material our ball is made off and the speed at which it travels this would make our game a whole lot more dangerous, so they came up with some rule change in between. The ball still had to be touched within the circle, but now when a defender is the only one to have touched the ball within the D before the ball enters the goal it now counts a a goal scored where before this would have been a long corner. OK, I’ll admit the rule where any touch within the D is a goal is more simple than it has to be the attacker who touches the ball within the D. But seriously… is this going to make our sport more spectator friendly? Hardly… It will make it more dangerous again. That’s for sure… Please listen to your players/coaches and change this rule back to what it was before…

Speed & size of the ball

The only real issue for spectators from outside our sport or even those who do know hockey is the combination of the higher speed of the game and the visibility of the smaller ball. That is what makes our sport somewhat harder to follow on TV or from the stands. So let’s address these issues instead…

bluepitchyellowballTwo rule chages where tried out at the London Olympics to make it a more spectator friendly sport with regards to the issues stated above. They turned to the game of tennis where the speed of the ball and its size where also issues for TV and grand stand spectators at times… So they tried out two tennis-recipes for curing this :

  1. change the colour of the ball from white to yellow;
  2. change the colour of the pitch to blue.

Allthough a great idea, if only for marketing because the blue & pink smurf turf really stood out in the Olympic Park in London, the proof of the pudding is always in the eating. Spectators on the stands around the pitch, as well as those behind the TV or any other screen, soon came to the conclusion this blue colour may have worked for tennis ( a dry surface) but in combination with the water needed on the pitch was not the best of ideas. The blue colour, the sun and the water on the pitch resulted in a glare even worse than on the traditional green pitches. The yellow ball however was an improvement. Still very small and very, very fast sometimes but clearly more visible than the white balls before.

So allthough I’m a little bit dissapointed the yellow ball still has not taken off as the improved successor of the white ball, I was happy to see the organisation for the World Cup as well as other major international tournaments abandonned the idea of a blue pitch. Most of them returning to the usual green, so unfortunately not testing other options. The World Cup scheduled for 2014 announced a darker shade of green which makes sense to me. Then, out of the blue -no pun intended- I heard the choice has been made for a blue pitch once again in Rio for the Olympics in 2016… Why? We’ve tried it… It was no improvement…
Investec World League LeagueAnother recent test of the colour of the pitch was held at the recent World League for women in the UK. The test there was changing the colour of the D only. So the pitch was a regular green, but the circles were blue. I did think it was a good idea, at least worth a test to have a more distinctive circle or D. However the conditions in which it was tested were far from ideal. Anyone with some experience in these matters could have told you it is a bad idea to replace only a part of the pitch with some new turf. The new patches of turf will always be different regarding ball handling from the older existing turf and the idea behind an artificial turf is having the exact same ideal conditions of play all over the pitch. You’ll never have that if you replace only a certain part of the existing pitch, which is what they did for this World League tournament in the UK. So unfortunately this could not be a valid test for this idea. Next time the opportunity is there they should replace the entire pitch when trying out different colours for the D only.
I do think testing different colours for the pitch could be worthwhile, but the true innovation would be a pitch similar to today’s waterbased pitches without water. That would be a major breakthrough that would also be beneficial for promoting the artificial turf and our sport in regions of the world where water is very costly… maybe the blue colour could work without any water on the pitch, but forget about it as long as we need the waterbased pitch to play modern hockey.

Some (very) good changes

However we did see some recent rule changes that have proven to be a plus for our sport or have the potential of proving their worth. The best example of great rule changes since the abolishment of the off-side rule and the rule allowing for continuous changes has got to be the self-pass. The innovation rich EHL came up with this one and it has been embraced by all in our sport at every level of the game. It doesn’t make it easier to follow for referees nor for the spectators, quite the contrary. But it has been a wonderful addition to our game, making it more fair (intentional faults are not rewarded anymore) and more competitive. I think all agree here…

showoffThe latest test already seen in action shows some promise as well: allowing the raising of the stick above the shoulder to play the ball. They’re testing it in the EHL and have been testing it in the Wolrd League as well. Unfortunately the test seems not be prolonged to the European Championship this summer.
Again a rule that was a little bit hard to follow sometimes for spectators from outside our sport. So allowing the stick above the shoulder would simplify the game for them and add something extra and spectacular for the players as well. Of course the interpretation by the referee for what would be dangerous remains… But think about those beautiful goals smashed in that had to be disallowed because of the old sticks rule.  I truly hope this one makes it into the regular hockey rules soon !

Another change in the making is the up and coming Hockey 5’s… The FIH will be testing this new format of our game with 5 against 5 on the next Youth Olympics and has conducted tests in Asia recently as well. Changing the rules for indoor hockey last week by dropping a player and so aligning this variation of our game to the Hockey 5’s outside seems to indicate a keen interest in developping this new format. However I can’t really tell if I like it just yet… I do think it could be an interesting addition to our sport but I can’t really decide if it would be beneficial to our regular game of hockey or if there’s a risk of it would taking it’s place in the Olympics maybe? Did the game of volleyball suffer from the rise of beachvolley?
I do think there should be room for different kind of variations in our sport, such as indoor hockey or beach hockey. However, I’m not sure about this one yet…