A peculiar interpretation

FIELD HOCKEY RULES

Cris Maloney is a well known, enthusiastic, and well liked umpire coach in the USA. He has produced a number of videos and written three books on the playing and umpiring field-hockey. He has also been involved with Steven Horgan (the Pan American representative Member of the FIH Rules Committee since 2017) in the production of the USA Field Hockey Rules Briefing videos since 2012 – so he should know what he is talking about (even though there has not been a single mention of the Obstruction Rule – the subject of this article – in the USA Briefings for as far back as I have been able to track them: so no mention since at least 2012). It is therefore something of a surprise to discover that he has concocted a bizarre interpretation of part the wording of the Explanation of application of the Obstruction Rule (that turns the Obstruction Rule ‘on its head’) and which he presented in a pre-2017 season coaching session at Eastern. The video clip below is a small segment of that session.

Like the ‘curate’s egg’ what is said is not all bad, the opening statements he makes in the video, about the possibility of obstructing when moving the ball or moving with the ball, are accurate (but see video below for a different interpretation which was previously ‘fashionable’), but he very quickly departed from the rule-book and referred to an offence called ‘Misconduct’ which was deleted decades ago, and also refers to tackle prevention, which is not specifically mentioned in the Obstruction Rule – although instruction about the prevention of a tackle – “if  the opponent could otherwise have played at the ball” – was at one time included in Advice to Umpires in the back of the rule-book and should still be included in the Rule or Explanation of application, but isn’t. Strangely ball shielding when an opponent is within playing distance of the ball and clearly intent on playing at the ball – making a tackle for the ball – is no longer seen (interpreted) as the prevention of a tackle attempt. (That said “attempting to tackle” is presently very poorly defined and absurdly interpreted – see separate article

https://martinzigzag.wordpress.com/2018/02/10/attempting-to-play-the-ball/).

He then, after describing backing in as a contact offence, asks a player to back into him in demonstration, and declares when she does as she is asked, that she is not backing into him (but backing up), as he retreats behind her, because she does not make contact with him. When he stops retreating and the player does back into physical contact, he then declares that she is backing in and therefore obstructing him. The flaw in this reasoning should be obvious as the player with the ball simply continued with exactly the same action – but he did not.

The question that needs to be addressed is “Does ‘back in’ mean backing into physical contact?” Without additional information it is not possible to say because the term is ambiguous. Certainly (as Cris Maloney pointed out) someone who backs into another car hits that car. But, someone who backs into a parking bay or a garage does not normally keep going until they hit something – the terms used are the same and both interpretations can be correct, meaning clearly depends on the context in which the term is used. It is therefore necessary to go to the published Rule to see if there is other wording within the Explanation of application to support the contact interpretation or to make it doubtful or to contradict it.

There are other criteria described and I will set them out without setting out the entire Explanation of application, Third Party etc. 

9.12 Players must not obstruct an opponent who is attempting to play the ball.

Players obstruct if they :

– back into an opponent

A player with the ball is permitted to move off with it in any direction except bodily into an opponent or into a position between the ball and an opponent who is within playing distance of the ball and attempting to play it.

The last clause needs breaking down to highlight its component parts.

A player with the ball is permitted to move off with it in any direction except bodily into an opponent which can be accurately transcribed into the previously used prohibitive form: – A player with the ball is not permitted to move bodily into an opponent. and  A player with the ball is permitted to move off with it in any direction except bodily into an opponent or into a position between the ball and an opponent who is within playing distance of the ball and attempting to play it. transcribes to become A player with the ball is not permitted to move into a position between the ball and an opponent who is within playing distance of the ball and attempting to play it.

Summary

A player with the ball is not permitted to:-

  • back into an opponent
  • move bodily into an opponent
  • move to position between the ball and an opponent who is within playing distance of the ball and attempting to play it.

I believe the separate listing of ‘back into’ and ‘move bodily into’ call for different interpretations of the two terms.

Because a player may be obstructed once that player is within playing distance of the ball, ‘back into’ can reasonably be interpreted to mean ‘back into the playing reach of an opponent’ and not only or just back into contact. The separate ‘Move bodily into an opponent’, which is otherwise unnecessary, is then justified as a different action from ‘back into’.

Why then is another action described separately ‘move to position between the ball and an opponent who is within playing distance of the ball and attempting to play it’. listed ? Is this not unnecessary duplication? No, one reason is because it is possible to turn (move) into a position between an approaching opponent and the ball without backing towards that opponent and a second, important one, is that if a ball holder is moving into an opponent while shielding the ball – which is likely if there is ‘backing in’ or ‘moving bodily into an opponent’ – it is not necessary for the opponent to be attempting to play at the ball at the time for there to be an obstruction offence; this requirement is omitted from the first two criteria listed. That is a reasonable interpretation because if a player is forced to back away from a moving ball holder to avoid physical contact or has been barged into by the body of the ball holder, an attempt to play at the ball may have been made unfairly difficult or impossible by either of these actions.

I assert that there are sufficient other terms and reasonable alternative interpretation to discard the idea that ‘back into an opponent‘ must mean back into physical contact with that opponent. Backing into physical contact is an offence, but so is backing into the playing reach of an opponent, while shielding the ball but without making physical contact, because this contravenes two other clauses of the Explanation of application 1) shielding the ball  2) moving to position between an opponent and the ball. (both actions separately or together preventing a tackle attempt) 

A difficulty with interpretation might disappear if the Explanation of application was clarified to read –  back into the playing reach of an opponent. but I think it better to expand the clause to include all leading of the ball into the playing reach of an opponent while shielding the ball from that opponent to prevent direct playing at the ball: this would include the common ‘crabbing’ actions – leading the ball with shoulder and/or hip and with a leg. So:- A player obstructs if leading the ball with any part of the body into the playing reach of an opponent, thus shielding the ball to prevent that opponent playing directly at it.

Cris Maloney also presented some very strange ideas in the coaching session (shown in the video below) which appear to be based on this clause from the Explanation of application:- A stationary player receiving the ball is permitted to face in any direction. They are strange because that clause refers only to a player who is in the act of receiving and controlling the ball. A player in possession who is not in the act of receiving and controlling the ball is subject to a player shall not shield the ball from a legitimate tackle with their stick or any part of their body and must, when in possession of the ball but not in the act of receiving and controlling it, take account of the positioning of opponents to avoid an obstruction offence, i.e such a player is not always permitted to be facing in any direction. The shielding clause applies whether a player who is shielding the ball from an opponent is stationary or is moving at the time. That is something Cris Malone mentioned but did not expand upon when he referred, at the beginning of the first video clip above, to players who were moving the ball or moving with the ball.

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In fact the only times, other than when in the act of receiving and controlling the ball (receiving is not ‘in possession’) , a player in possession need not be concerned about the positioning of opponents vis a vis the possibility of obstruction is when there is no opponent within playing distance of the ball or no opponent rapidly approaching who will be within playing reach of the ball before it can be put into an open position or when the ball holder and the ball are the opponent’s goal side of any opponent, (which includes any opponent who is within playing distance of the ball). An opponent who is ‘behind the play’ as described (behind – not own goal-side of – both the player in possession and the ball) cannot, no matter how close he or she may be, be bodily obstructed by a player in possession of the ball (but obstruction of a tackler’s stick, by ‘protecting’ the ball with stick or leg or hand/arm, is still a possibility).

Whether or not a player in possession of the ball is in “a legal position” or is “still in a legal position” when an opponent is attempting to make a tackle does depend on how they respond/position when a tackle attempt is made. The correct response when the group were asked “Is she still in a legal position” as a tackle attempt was demonstrated to be blocked by the body of the ball-holder was “NO”: Cris Maloney should have been explaining why it was “NO”. The “Yes” reply was an example of cognitive dissidence or wilful blindness.

The Obstruction Rule is intended to put pressure on a player in possession of the ball to encourage movement with the ball (dribbling and stick-work) and movement of the ball (passing) – and to discourage physical contact, illegal ball shielding and static ‘play’: it by these means promotes all aspects of skillful play. ‘Diluting’ the criteria for obstruction does the opposite: it ‘dumbs down’ the game so that very little skill is needed to keep possession of the ball. The result is that many players, who are coached to shield the ball whenever possible and do so ‘automatically’ in contested situations, do not develop necessary stick-work and footwork skills or passing skills to properly (legally) play the game.

There is not much backing in taking place during the boring action shown in the video below, so what is seen complies with Cris Maloney’s view of “not obstruction”  – but not with what is written in the Rules of Hockey Rule 9.12.- besides it not being Rule compliant, could anyone want hockey to be played like this?

 

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The answer to that last question is possibly “Yes”. Now nearly everyone plays hockey like this because this, despite Rule 9.12, is the way it is umpired. Are umpires umpiring as ‘everybody’ wants them to or only as umpires want to? In the following video there are many clips showing players shielding the ball while leading it into an opponent in a way that obliges that opponent to give way to avoid physical contact or moving into body contact (sideways or backwards) while ball shielding or going over the ball and barging into an opponent. Only the last two incidents were penalised for obstruction, the first of them the reversal, after video referral, of a silly penalty stroke decision made by the involved match umpire, and the second, after a long delay, when a second player was obstructed in the same way as the first one continued to be – and even then the penalty awarded was a penalty corner and not, as it should have been, a penalty stroke.


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What Cris Maloney is currently coaching is at least two steps ‘behind’ what is now permitted, contrary to the Obstruction Rule, by FIH Umpires. To rescue the game we need to go back three or four ‘development’ steps, to where ball shielding to prevent an opponent playing at the ball, when he or she would otherwise have been able to do so, was considered an obstruction offence, and opponents were eluded or ‘beaten’ by passing and stick-work skills rather than, commonly, by barging and body blocking.

We are no longer trying to understand the wording used in the Obstruction Rule; we are trying to understand the umpiring which is supposed to be based on the provided wording, but clearly is not. What the above umpiring is based on is a mystery.

 

 

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https://martinzigzag.com/2018/02/10/a-peculiar-interpretation/

 

 

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