Like hockey, but hate ice? And maybe you are into cool looking sticks and crazy penalty corners? Then peep some field hockey while you still can!
Field hockey feels like several sports at once. It’s a bit like ice hockey, and a bit like lacrosse, and a bit like soccer, but skewed in a weird way that makes it fascinating. However, hockey on a field is not a bad way to think of it. Teams are made up of 11 players, including goalies. Their sticks look kind of like upside down canes. They aren’t made for stickhandling like a hockey stick. They are more for knocking balls around. Oh, also they use a ball. The sport, at its core, is about trying to score goals by putting the ball into the net. The net is bigger than a hockey net, but smaller than a soccer net. The goalies wear pads similar to a goalie. One of the goalies in the USA-Great Britain women’s match had pink pads. They were very cool.
While field hockey is easy enough to follow at a basic level, there are some intricate rules. Players can only score goals from within the shooting circle. At first, you may think it is like a three-point line, where you get more points for goals from there, but sadly that isn’t true. You aren’t allowed to lift your stick too high, even on a shot, and there are a lot of rules about dangerous plays. There are penalties, green, yellow, and red cards are used. A red card is like a soccer red card. Yellow cards are more like penalties in hockey.
OK, let’s get to the best part about field hockey; penalty corners! They are hard to describe, but they look cool. Some fouls lead to penalty corners, which are kind of like corner kicks. What makes them so interesting is that some of the defenders get in the net with the goalie, and they briefly don masks in case a ball comes at their face. It’s weird and a lot of fun.
Games used to be divided into 35-minute halves, but this year at the Olympics they are using 15-minute quarters, with a 15-minute halftime as well. It’s a smart move. Scoring is at a premium, unless you are playing the Brazilian men’s team. Goals are the most dynamic of events, but they are still exciting. A few cool looking goals have been scored, but mostly scoring is exciting because of how important goals are.
One more thing: The field hockey at Rio is played on a blue field. We’re taking Boise State Broncos blue. We’d be lying if we didn’t say that’s part of the fun.
Men’s field hockey was introduced at the 1908 Olympics, and then also played at the 1920 Olympics. It was then not included in 1924, at which point the International Hockey Federation was founded to try and keep that from happening again. They have been successful, as every year since 1928 men’s field hockey has been at the Olympics. In 1980, they added women’s field hockey. It used to be an invitational tournament, but they have had qualifications since the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
In addition to the Olympics, field hockey has its own World Cup, and a Junior World Cup. You can find it played at colleges in the United States in some areas. Usually, it’s a women’s team. In America, field hockey is considered more of a female-oriented sport. At the Olympics, it was dominated by India for a lot of years, they have eight gold medals, but recently the domination has moved to Europe, led by countries such as Germany and the Netherlands.
Germany is the two-time defending men’s champion, with Netherlands winning a silver last Olympics, and finishing fourth the Olympics prior. Australia has won the last two bronzes. Meanwhile, the Dutch ladies have won the last two golds, with Argentina picking up a silver and a bronze. What about this year, though? Well, 12 teams qualify for the Olympics for both men and women. With Germany and the Netherlands both in Group B, Belgium, the one team to go undefeated in the group stage, won Group A. They got the pleasure of taking on Brazil as well. Look, Brazil is really bad at men’s field hockey. We can’t sugar coat it.
Everybody else got at least one point. Canada was the second-worst team. They went 0-1-4 with a minus-22 goal differential. Brazil didn’t win a game, scoring one goal and letting in 46. They are so, so bad. It’s unbelievable.
The men’s quarterfinals have already been played. Belgium beat India 3-1, Argentina took down Spain 2-1, the Netherlands easily handled Australia 4-0, and Germany beat New Zealand 3-2. Germany and the Netherlands could face off in the finals again.
Brazil did not have a women’s field hockey team. Here’s why you might be interested in women’s field hockey; the American ladies are good! They finished second to Great Britain in their group, losing their only game to the British ladies. The Netherlands won the other group. They are really good still. The U.S. are facing Germany in the quarterfinals. If they win, they probably have to play the Dutch in the semifinals. Australia is playing New Zealand. That’s fun.
Field hockey is a pretty controversy-free sport. The move from halves to quarters seemed to have worked well. Maybe people don’t like the blue field, but they can jump in a lake, or that gross ass green pool. The field hockey governing group, the aforementioned International Hockey Federation, actually is really progressive. They have what they call “mandatory experiments.” Basically, they change their rulebook, or at least tweak it, every two years. Think about how obnoxious baseball is about rule changes. Field hockey is the sport for those who are willing to evolve.
Not that there won’t be plenty of drama. The German men’s team and the Dutch women’s team are looking for back-to-back-to-back gold. Everybody else is trying to stop them. Basically every field hockey game is competitive, now that Brazil isn’t around. Games tend to go down to the wire. Any goal you see could be a game-winner. Also, there are penalty shootouts. Yeah, you could see a field hockey shootout. Of course, there is also the drama of the American women. Can they get a medal? How great would that be? Care about the U.S. women’s field hockey team, guys!
When to watch
The women’s quarterfinals, including U.S.-Germany, take place today, August 15. Their semifinals are on August 17, and the gold and bronzes medal matches are August 19. The men’s semifinals are August 16, with the medal matches August 18. This feels like the rare sport where the women get to play last. That means there isn’t a lot of time left to watch field hockey, but every game will be an elimination game. The stakes are super high! Field hockey is a sport that is relatively easy to follow and quite interesting. It’s probably kind of like a sport you already like. What more convincing do you need?
Chris Morgan is not the author of THE book on Mystery Science Theater 3000, but he is the author of A book on Mystery Science Theater 3000. He’s also on Twitter.