We don’t want any change

I was prompted to write this article in response to this posting by Ernst Baart


Ernst writes “First off… I love our game as is! I think any future changes should be minimal. Especially changes affecting the core of our sport. Hockey is great the way it is. We should not change it. If people don’t get it, that’s their loss… Instead of changing the way we are, we should focus on teaching the sports fans about our game to help them understand and love the game as is.”

Okay, no argument with his passion, but how is (what as, why is) ‘our’ game, ‘seen’ in any one particular way? Is it? No, absolutely not. The view of it, and how it should be played and the Rules of it interpreted and applied, is far from an homogeneous one. In fact that is a huge understatement, this area is a battleground and the above declaration of “as is” is meaningless unless “as is’ refers only to the perception Ernst, as an individual, has of it.

I want to see enormous changes, some of of them rolling back present practice, which I see as mistaken (I do not want to see current practice ‘consolidated’ – the ‘in’ term for refusal to see error in application – I want to see it dismantled) and other changes, new ideas, which I believe would be significant improvements, put in place. Ernst dismisses my suggestions as ‘square wheels’ and has no time to respond in detail (indeed respond at all) to any of them.

I listen to (read) the “no change” proponents and note that in the majority of cases the first thing they do is propose the changes they want made. Inside every conservative, rebel or revolutionary there is a potential dictator. For example. If people don’t get it, that’s their loss… Instead of changing the way we are, we should focus on teaching the sports fans about our game to help them understand and love the game as is.” Dictatorship is in human nature (survival of the fittest). But who is “We”, perhaps I should use ‘us’ and ‘we’ to express my own opinions where that might appear more powerful.

Howls of anguish at changes made and calls for no more change are not a new phenomena, but let us suppose that instead of launching a number of trials and Mandatory Experiments, which led to Rule changes in the period 1990 -1999 (the rule-book was rewritten and reformatted in 1995/6) the FIH HRB took notice of the “No changes ” mob and to date did nothing. Suppose that instead of major changes – like the introduction of the receiving exception to the Obstruction Rule (in 1993) and the abolition of Off-side, (completed by 1997) which were far from popular reforms at the time, but (or because) they made a huge difference to the way in which the game was played, the FIH Executive went ahead and adopted them into Full Rule – the FIH HRB to date recommended no changes from the Rules and Guidance to players and umpires as they were in 1991. What would hockey be like? What, that we now generally applaud as good hockey, would be entirely missing from the game?

I chose 1991 as a time to go back to because I have the 1991 rule-book and because it is a date before nearly all the current top level players began playing hockey but most of them had been born by then, and also because by 1992 the all composite hockey stick had been accepted, a ‘landmark’ change that, ironically, is now one that is almost unnoticed “we have had composite sticks since the beginning of time” is a young and misinformed view and this change is rarely recalled in Rule change lists.

In 1985 I had to make a virtue out of a near necessity when designing a wooden stick with a set back head (the set-back was the aim of the design, the heel bend of the stick-head having been made as tight as it could get, could not be improved upon), the kink in the shaft, a by-product of bending laminated timber into the shape of a set-back stick head with an up-turned toe, had to be made a significant advantage, (a problem not appreciated in the early thinking about a set-back head). As it happened it did turn out to be of real advantage, after a great deal of tweaking of shape (a tapered thickness) for balance, in the stopping of the ball (and in scanning the field and balance).

If you are not sure what the advantage is of not having to put the left hand to ground when holding the stick with it, try this:- Put the left hand in contact with the  ground with the handle/shaft of the stick horizontal and on or nearly in contact with the ground and across the front of your feet as if presenting a stick block to the ball. Now try to lift your left foot off the ground. Put the stick to ground in the same way but to your right hand side- now try to lift your right foot off the ground. You may have discovered that putting your hand to ground while holding a stick not only puts your head at the knee level of opponents – and a knee to the head hurts – it will pin one or the other, and sometimes both, of your feet, especially if you have not much bent your knees. In addition to that your scan vision will be non-existent or very limited.

The set-back head  produced later by Talon as a composite stick (called a recurve), did not have a kinked shaft because that stick, being a moulded product, could be manufactured without one (and anyway I held a patent on the kink feature which Talon were decent enough, unlike others, not to breach). The introduction of the composite stick was not an easy process, TK struggled mightily to get it accepted (the same vested interests who fought against the introduction of my design, also fought hard against the introduction of the composite stick) and, even when eventually approved for general use, composite sticks were initially not permitted to be used in international level matches. In making that announcement in his home country (in 1990), the Chairman of the FIH Equipment Committee, the late Frank Zind, also declared that ZigZag sticks could not be used in international matches or on artificial surfaces (in Australia) even though these sticks had been in use without any such restriction for five years at the time. Thus began my long love affair with FIH bureaucracy and the investigation into who could and could not make the Rules to which the game is played (Not, as it turned out, Frank Zind, his ZigZag bans were just a personal invention ‘hung’ on his Chairmanship of the FIH Equipment Committee – a body that cannot dictate the Rules of Hockey).

So we start and are stuck with (after that long introduction), the mainly glass and carbon-fibre reinforced, wooden stick – maximum weight 28oz (now 26oz). I’ll make observations and suggestions about other Rules issues as I present them.

Off-side changed a lot during my playing ‘career’. When I started there had to be three defenders goal-side of an attacker for that attacker to be on-side at any time his side was in possession of the ball. The number was reduced to two around 1967 and the Rule made similar to the way it now is in soccer – two defenders goal-side at the time a pass was made. Then in the mid-1990’s the off-side line was moved from the half-way line to the 25 yard (23m) line. Off-side was abolished in 1997 (with promise of the introduction of Rules to constrain the actions of attackers close to the goal – which never materialized – no compensation for this tactical loss to defences was ever enacted ) I would now like to see the introduction of a small goal zone  as well as a rewrite of part of the Rule concerning the playing of the ball at above shoulder height (forbidding the playing of the ball at above shoulder height when in the opponent’s circle) – as the least the FIH RC should offer for the loss of the Off-side Rule.



Recounting the number of changes made to the Penalty Corner Rule would require a separate article. I would like to see it replaced with a time limited Power Play conducted within a defended 23m area. There has been talk of doing this for more than thirty years but no widespread trial or Mandatory Experiment has been conducted. The nearest to an official trial was carried out in the Australian Lanco 9’s but the fact that it was 9-a-side and the goal were made 1m wider for this tournament, made making any comparison of scoring stats worthless and the trial close to a waste of time. The only other suggested replacement, a 14m penalty hit, was trialed in South Africa and had to be abandoned because scoring rates got close to 100%.

Edge hitting was considered ‘back-sticks’ (not face-side) and not permitted. The forehand edge hit has more recently been banned after having initially being permitted but umpires almost routinely ignore the offence of forehand edge-hitting even when it is used to raise the ball when not shooting at the goal (the prohibition by the way specifically includes forehand edge hits made as shots at the goal). My view on edge hitting is that it should be permitted to either side of the body but height limited to no more than waist height or 1m. There is supposed to be an issue concerning control of only the forehand edge hit, but I once umpired a match between an England U16 team and senior county players, at Bisham Abbey, in which several attempts to shoot at the goal from a left inner position with a reverse edge hit by an U16 England player, went out of play high in air over the right side-line. This level of control of the reverse edge hit was not uncommon among young players when the stroke was first introduced – but for some reason the FIH insisted on persevering with it – the ‘trial’ went on for three years and edge hitting was then accepted into Full Rule in spite of still vigorous opposition to it on ground of danger. I have no doubt that with sufficient practice the forehand edge hit could be properly controlled. Look at reverse edge hitting now; look at those long head sticks from the turn of the 20th century, how did anyone play hockey with them? But they did – just not, because of changes (nothing fast and ‘brilliant’ but a gradual evolution), hockey as it came to be when I started playing in the mid 1950’s.

Playing or playing at the ball when it was above shoulder height was prohibited. I liked the later amendment which allowed a defender to try to save a high shot at the goal with the stick, but not the penalty imposed (mandatory penalty corner) if the shot happened to be off-target.

I am convinced, because there have been fatalities as well as a large number of serious injuries caused by sticks, that players should be prohibited from raising the stick-head to above shoulder height when they are attempting to play at the ball or have played at the ball with a high follow-through and there is in either case an opponent present within playing distance of the ball. The Rule as it was initially framed prohibited any raising of any part of the stick above the shoulder in any circumstances, even the taking of a Free Hit – it was far too severe – but to delete it entirely instead of suitably amending it was a mistake (and a case of the usual extremes).

Aerial pass. In 1991 attention was paid to the relative positions of players (in the area it was perceived the ball would fall) at the time the ball was raised. if opposing players in the fall area were too close to each other for safety, the player who raised the ball could be penalised for play likely to lead to dangerous play (the player who raised the ball to fall in a potentially dangerous area was considered  responsible for doing that). This was advice given to umpires which was never made Rule, but it should have been and still can be, with the proviso that if the same team player retreats from the landing area (3m?) before the ball arrives, to allow the receiver to accept the ball, there is no need to penalise the offence. Deflections could be treated in much the same way except that there would be no intentional play likely to lead to dangerous play and failure to retreat would properly be penalised at the landing point. Accidental deflections by defenders into their own circle would probably be more fairly dealt with by a free ball from the place of the deflection or a free ball to the attacking team centrally on the 23m line.

In 1991 when the ball accidentally lodged in the equipment of a goalkeeper or the clothing of a player a bully restart was ordered to be taken at the place the incident occurred, unless that was in a circle, in which case the bully was taken in line with the incident and 5m from the circle. There was nothing wrong with that Rule. The award of a penalty corner for such an incident involving a defender in the circle is in my view unnecessarily harsh. Similarly the award of a penalty corner for accidental deflection which sent the ball directly up high into the air was fairly dealt with by a bully restart (and now both need nothing more severe than a restart for the attack on the 23m line). The same is true of a ball intentionally played over the base-line by a defender – a restart for the attack on the 23m line is fair for something that is not even an offence.

The self-pass did not exist. I suggested this idea in 2001. It was introduced in the EHL in 2007 and into Full FIH Rule in 2009. It has never been applied as I envisioned it would be, being almost destroyed as an effective tactic within the opposing 23m area by a number of 5m requirements and restrictions which effect both the taker and opponents.

I proposed the Direct Lift at the same time as the Self Pass, but it was introduced a couple of years after the Self Pass was established. It’s a Rule that is very difficult to make a mess of applying – it is at the receiving end where the Rule application has unraveled See aerial Pass above.

The other Rules associated with what is misnamed the Free Hit have become a complicated mess when the free is awarded in the opponent’s 23m area, especially when it is taken as a self pass. The prohibition on playing the ball directly into the circle is inane. What is needed is a prohibition on raising the ball into the opponent’s circle (in any phase of play) with a hit that propels the ball out of the direct possession of the hitter. In 1991 with very limited exception (over an opponent’s stick on the ground or over an opponent on the ground), any raising of the ball into the opponent’s circle with any stroke was prohibited – raising the ball into the circle over an opponent’s stick placed flat on the ground was also often penalised, umpires not allowing permitted exceptions. Exceptions to Rules generally have a very poor history of observance in Rule application. An exception to a Rule is often either completely ignored (Rule 9.11 – not an offence unless) or becomes the Rule (Rule 9.12 – may be facing in any direction)

In 1991 we had Long Corners. Now because of the mess made of the Fee Hit Rule we have instead a restart for the attack on the 23m line, fortuitously, this is an improvement.

There are probably some Rules which were extant or not in 1991 or after, but are not now extant, that I have not remembered (the Own Goal came and went and we had the ‘gains benefit’ debacle post 2006), but as what there is under the heading of changes is substantial and this article is already longer than I had intended (when aren’t they) I will close the list. There is no reason to go beyond briefly pointing out that many of the changes made since 1991 have had consequences far beyond what was intended at the time they were made.

(Who, for example, would have imagined in 1993 that allowing a receiver to receive the ball while close ‘marked’ by an opponent, without immediately being penalised for obstruction, would rapidly lead (within five years) to the Obstruction Rule not being applied at all?. There is even an umpire coach in the USA who is currently promoting the idea that moving backwards towards and into the playing reach of an opponent, while shielding the ball from that opponent, cannot be obstruction unless the ball holder by doing this causes physical contact.(His justification is that this is the way FIH Umpires are applying the Rule, which is an inverted rational and no justification at all) But in these circumstances it will, of course, usually (always) be the defender who will be penalised for any such contact.

Reminder list.   Wooden sticks.  Off-side.  Severe Obstruction Rule application. No edge hitting. No raising of the stick above the shoulder when playing or attempting to play the ball. No playing at the ball above shoulder height. Aerials could be considered likely to lead to dangerous play. Lodged ball = bully. High deflection = bully.  Raising the ball into the opponents circle prohibited.  Long Corners. No self-pass. No Direct lift from free ball. No zone restriction on the taking of a Free ball.

Are we happier now than we would be if no changes had been made post 1991? We don’t  know the answer to that question, at least not completely. If participants were not made aware of the possibility of a legal edge hit or Self-Pass how could they miss either not being introduced?

On the other hand, the frustration of having what seem to many people to be reasonable and important suggestions for change ignored or turned down can make them very unhappy, as can the useless and irritating chant “No change”.

The other side of the coin is the making of useless and irritating Rule changes, often it seems, without applying foresight or common sense or apparently just for the sake of change (A needless change the name from Long Corner to corner, followed a couple of years later by the senseless retaining of the name corner for a 23m restart for the attacking team, is one such self inflicted wound) The Own Goal and the (dramatically opposite) ban on playing a ball from a free ball, awarded in the opponents 23m area, directly into their circle (and the necessarily attached 5m requirements and restrictions), are also examples of such irritations.

The cry of “No change” has, unfortunately, some foundation in reason, but not enough to erect a monumental shrine on it. We need changes, I am convinced the survival of the game depends on radical changes being made to it. Many participants (including me) who were playing in 1990, cringe when watching the present ‘product’, are appalled by some aspects of it, and are also dismayed that it is now coldly referred to by administrators as a product and that umpires now ‘sell’ decisions, instead of simply ensuring that they make decisions that are both correct and fair.

The FIH Rules Committee continue to ask for suggestions for the improvement of the game from all participants. Undoing much of the damage done to the Rules and interpretation since 1994 (or even 2004, the last major rewrite) could be a vast improvement.


See comments below:-



2 Comments to “We don’t want any change”

  1. Hi Martin,
    First off let me be clear about the reason I prefer not to enter a discussion with you anymore. It is not because a lack of time, nor a lack of interest in the subject and especially not because I do not want to discuss opposing opinions. I did and do this all the time with hockey people from all over the world. The reason why I’m not doing this with you anymore (so this will be my one and only response on your blog as well) is because of the confrontational almost aggressive style of communication you seem to like. At least that’s how I feel about it…
    For me hockey is a hobby and I choose to talk about it with people who share my love for the sport, sometimes with similar and sometimes opposing opinions. But if the tone of voice becomes unpleasant (!) I choose to ignore those people. That’s all…
    On the subject though I would like to state (as I think I did in several of my opinion pieces) I do not oppose change at all. I love hockey is such an innovative sport and several (not all) of the changes were wonderful improvements for our sport. But since these changes have become a bit overwhelming because of tempo and quantity my preference would be (my preference indeed, but I use we because I’ve spoken about this with many many people from all walks of hockey-life) to have no more of these kind of changes for several years (unless someone thinks of something brilliant such as the self-pass) and focus our innovation on the way we bring hockey to the screen and market of possible fans. The occasional fan, I feel, needs a bit of a rest from all these changes if we want them to still recognise the sport when the major events come along. But you’re welcome to your own opinion(s) and to disagree with mine of course. So I hope you enjoy the discussions about hockey you have within your circle. But I have chosen to not be a part of your circle…

    • The problems in our sport need to be confronted, so I confront them. I cannot do anything about ‘the tone of voice’ in which what I write is read, that is for the reader to decide, but my articles and comments are written from my side in a reasonable ‘tone’, I aim to persuade not to bully or intimidate. I am bewildered that some people feel threatened or pressured (as one person has said he does) by anything I have written. People create their own pressures for their own reasons (guilt is one). I ask for change and give reason for doing so, but I have never pretended to be in a position to demand it. Being human, if I could demand change and dictate it I would do so, I would not bother writing a blog or putting up videos of the current practices which I find objectionable. I would just impose changes in the way that umpire coaches do – actually I wouldn’t I just can’t help being reasonable.

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