Archive for December, 2019

December 15, 2019

The receiving exception restructuring

A fundamental change to the way hockey is played was initiated in 1993 with the introduction of what was termed a new interpretation of obstruction.. What was introduced was not in fact a new interpretation of the actions that constituted an obstruction offence, the existing criteria for the offence did not change in any way, but the creation of an exception to the Rule.

Thereafter a player receiving and controlling the ball from any direction,including from the direction of his own defence, could no longer be guilty of an obstruction offence, provided that player, having received and controlled the ball moved away (from opponents) with it.

Although the explanation of the ‘interpretation’ occupied a page and a half of the rule-book the nature and purpose of this moving away was left vague. Because of this vagueness from day one umpires had difficulty in applying the revised version of the Rule and a wide variety of ‘personal interpretations’ appeared in umpiring practice.

Now the lengthy explanation has been reduced to a single sentence which declares only that a stationery (???) receiver may be facing in any direction.

Moving away and the restrictions on moving into and positioning between an opponent and the ball, were revised in 2009 (the last revision made to the Rule) but the restrictions contained in that 2009 revision are all but ignored. Umpires appear to be ignorant of them.

This (below) is an article on a suggested restructuring of what is in fact a Rule exception, made in the hope that a revised layout will be read,understood and acted upon by both players and umpires.

The receiving exception to the Obstruction Rule and restructuring of the Rule.
The Current Rule.

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

Players obstruct if they:

back into an opponent

physically interfere with the stick or body of an opponent

shield the ball from a legitimate tackle with their stick or any part of their body.

A stationary player receiving the ball is permitted to face in any direction.

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.

A player who runs in front of or blocks an opponent to stop them legitimately playing or attempting to play the ball is obstructing (this is third party or shadow obstruction). This also applies if an attacker runs across or blocks defenders (including the goalkeeper) when a penalty corner is being taken.


Players must not obstruct an opponent to prevent that opponent playing at the ball.

Exception: A player is permitted to face and receive the ball from any direction without being penalised for obstruction even if, while in the process of receiving and controlling the ball, he or she is shielding the ball and preventing an opponent who is attempting to tackle from playing directly at it. The exception ceases the moment the receiver has controlled possession of the ball on the ground and is able to move off with it. (It is therefore advisable for a receiver to make a move towards the ball when receiving, to create the time and space to move off with the ball in a desired direction or pass it away, once it has been controlled) End of exception.

A player with the ball is not permitted to move 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. That means that player who leads the ball with the body into the playing reach of an opponent while backing towards or sidestepping towards that opponent will be obstructing that opponent.

A player who runs in front of or blocks an opponent to stop them legitimately playing or attempting to play the ball is obstructing (an action of this kind may also be third party obstruction).

Third party obstruction is the obstructing of an opponent by body blocking, to prevent that opponent intercepting the ball or making a challenge for the ball in the possession another member of the same team as the obstructing player, when that opponent would otherwise have intercepted the ball or would have been able to make a tackle attempt against the player in possession of the ball.

The above additional wording to explain third party and the restructuring of the wording of the Rule covers all player movement situations. It is necessary to add to it instruction concerning a stationary player in possession of the ball. This last appeared in Advice to Umpires in the rule-book in 2002 – additional explanation is given in parenthesis.
Umpires should watch for (that means discourage with penalty) a player who stands still and shields the ball (to prevent opponents’ tackle attempts) when under pressure. A receiver of the ball in a ball shielding position cannot therefore stand still and continue to shield the ball from opponents once it has been controlled)

So what should a receiver of the ball do when the ball has been received and controlled?

Prior to the changes made in September 1993 a closely marked player could not face towards his or her own base-line and receive the ball without being in an obstructive position, and if the umpire thought that the receiver was positioned in a way that blocked the path of the tackler to the ball the receiver would be penalised for obstruction, often before or just as the ball reached him. An attempt to tackle was frequently demonstrated by the tackler barging into the back of the receiving player and being rewarded for this foul because obstruction was seen as the prior offence.

So at that time we were at the opposite extreme to what we have now. This kind of flip has happened so often that it has become almost standard practice for Rule interpretation to move from one extreme to an opposite extreme. (for example, prior to 2004 there was a Rule prohibiting a player from raising the ball towards other players – no minimum height limit, no distance limit, no mention of velocity. In effect a drag-flick shot raised high at a defender on the goal-line during a penalty corner was illegal – although never penalised as such – even though a first hit shot was always penalised if raised significantlyabove 460mm (so that it would not fall to below 460mm before it crossed the goal-line). In contrast, by 2008 there were declarations being made that a raised on target shot at the goal could not be considered dangerous play, and by 2010 umpires were treating this statement as if it were a Rule. There was no common sense in any of these extreme positions.

Prior to 1993 a marked player who wanted to receive a pass from the direction of his or her own goal was obliged to make a sudden and well timed short run (perhaps only two or three steps) towards the ball as the ball was passed to create the time and space to receive the ball before a marker could close down and tackle. Skilled players could turn on the ball as it was received and evade the charging tackler, like a matador eluding a charging bull. Defenders who were alert to this tactic did not commit to a charge tackle for the ball and the skilled receiver was comfortably able to turn to be facing his opponent in control of the ball. A skilled receiver welcomed a charging defender, he or she only had to move the ball a few inches to one side or the other and the tackler was beaten by his or her own impetus.

The problem was that receiving in close marked situations was a difficult skill and a fit and determined marker could ensure that a player who was not highly skilled never got possession of the ball. That made the game very hard to learn to play (near impossible in the more crowded indoor game) and novice players often gave up and took to the easier soccer (in which ball shielding is considered a skill – we are heading that way in hockey), instead of developing the required open-ball play skills (dribbling and passing).

The exception to the Rule had two great advantages, it protected receivers from rough play and it encouraged the (essential) development of back-passing and the tactics that flowed from that.

But it also led to the static receiver. The player who just stopped the ball without having first thought about what needed to be done once the ball was in controlled possession, thereby committing an offence by not moving off as they should (although not in fact instructed by Rule to move off – they are instead permitted to move off – a statement that is neither directive or prohibitive). Receivers should sensibly still be moving towards a pass as or just after it is made, and know where their first touch of the ball is going to deflect the ball to, so the next movement flows from that first stick/ball contact.

The initial wording of the exception was “having received the ball the receiver must move away in any direction exceptetc”, which is the opposite of what a competent receiver would do – movement naturally comes first, not just as as a secondary and separate action after the ball is received – i.e. stopped. This is still the case. A receiver of a pass should not be stationary in close marking situations and should know in which direction his or her first touch of the ball is going move the ball. The ball is then kept moving to evade opponents. It is on that premise that I base my opinion on what the Rule should demand of a receiving player.

The initial “must move away” wording did not work because a receiving player who had stopped the ball dead needed then to work out what to do next and markers had ample time to close up behind them and make it difficult to turn with the ball. Receivers when in possession of the ball could not as easily run away from a marker from a standing start, and as they were then no longer receiving players but obstructing players, it was not difficult for tacklers to ‘run them down’ and force an obstruction from behind. Umpires didn’t know how to cope with this situation so they either penalised for obstruction as they had previously or they did not penalise at all. Not penalising at all became the standard response, even if the player in possession slowed to a walk or a jog to entice a tackle attempt on one side or the other so that he or she could easily spin away to the other side, or even if the player in possession feinted with the body and ball, moving the ball across the feet from one side to the other and back again, or even if the ball-holder slowly weaved from side to side with the ball, these tactics again used to entice the tacklers to attempt to go around the ball-holder and in effect beat themselves.

The HRB addressed this situation by making a disastrous mistake. In 1995 they changed the wording of the Interpretation to “having received the ball the receiver may move away in any direction except.etc”.

What does “may” in this context instruct a player to do or prohibit a player from doing? Answer, nothing at all. The current “is permitted to move off” does exactly the same nothing.

The situation which had developed and the response to it became entrenched ‘practice’. Why? Because it was very easy for umpires, no judgements concerning timing and distance to determine obstruction were required and a tackler could be penalised if the ball-holder was touched in any way – giving the team in possession of the ball another huge advantage.

A player who has received the ball in shielding position is not currently obliged to do anything to change that position. He or she it can be claimed is not moving to position between the ball and an opponent, they are already in such a position (even if they are shielding the ball to prevent a tackle attempt, a prohibited action “Players shall not shield the ball from a legitimate tackle with their stick or any part of their body”. It will always be claimed that there was no legitimate tackle – poor wording defeating the intent of the Rule. shall not shield the ball to prevent a legitimate tackle makes more sense.

At the same time (2004) the previous instruction in Advice to Umpires to “watch for players who stand still and shield the ball when under pressure” disappeared from both the rule-book and the UMB, as all previous Rules Interpretations and Advice to Umpires in the rule-book were deleted during what was called “a rewrite for simplification and clarification”. Brilliant. In effect the Obstruction Rule has almost been unofficially deleted, it is at the very least contradictory.

The actions a marked player who has just received the ball when not facing generally towards the opponent’s base-line should not engage in are easy to list.

1) Stationary ball shielding with or without moving the ball.

2) Not moving away but feinting with the ball and or body from side to side while maintaining a shielding position.

3) Moving away with the ball only slowly at no more than walking or jogging speed.

4) Dribbling away at jog speed while weaving from side to side. (not genuinely attempting to move the ball away beyond the playing reach of a tackler but keeping the body imposed between the ball and a close opponent. – 3 & 4).

5) Shunting (continuous sidestepping in one direction or another or even alternately in two opposing directions) while ball shielding.

6) Leading the ball with a the leg, hip or shoulder into the playing reach of a tackler.

7) Backing into the playing reach of a tackler

These are all things receiving players routinely do after having gained controlled possession of the ball, usually without penalty.

The excuses for not penalising for obstruction are generally. 1) The opponent did not make a tackle attempt or 2) The opponent was not in a position to make a tackle attempt (even when the opponent is within playing reach of the ball and in a balanced position from which a tackle attempt could have been made if the path to the ball had not been blocked by the opponent in possession).

Theses two excuses disregard that the actions of the ball-holder are almost always deliberately carried out with the intention of preventing a tackle attempt or preventing a tackler ever reaching a position from which he or she can play directly at the ball and also, importantly, in situations where, if an obstructive action had not taken place, opponents would have been able to play directly at the ball from the positions they had adopted. We get the conundrum where a player intent on tackling for the ball is considered not to be obstructed because he or she is so obstructed a legal (non-contact) tackle is made impossible.

The above list is too long and clumsy to include in a Rule (most people struggle to remember more than three items in a read list unless a determined effort is make to learn them) so phasing for a clause, either directive or prohibitive or both, has to be found that encompasses and prohibits all of these ball shielding tactics.

For example:-

A closely marked receiver of the ball who is facing in a direction other than towards the opponent’s goal-line must when receiving the ball, immediately, play the ball away at speed sufficient to put and keep it beyond the playing reach of any opponent, or immediately pass the ball away.

Alternatively the receiver may, in the same manner, play the ball away to create the time and space to turn over or with the ball to face opponents without at any time after the initial ball-stick contact shielding the ball with body or stick in a way that prevents an opponent from attempting to play directly at the ball.

The above actions are fairly simple to carry out if movement is made by a receiver towards the ball as he or she is receiving it. They are more difficult if the receiver remains stationary and stops the ball dead before moving off with it or passing it away. Good technique in moving and receiving will help the speed of the game and game flow. Correct application of the Obstruction Rule would (contrary to popular belief) speed up the game and enhance game flow – not least by making impossible the tactic of holding the ball in corner or against a base or side-line.

December 4, 2019

Change, intention and perceptions

There is a persistent perception among umpires that it is part of their task to interpret the wording of the Rules for meaning and intent and then apply the Rules according to their personal interpretations (or the personal interpretations of an Umpire Manager or Umpire Coach given in a tournament briefing). But this perception is contrary to what has been circulated to National Associations from the FIH Executive – so long ago now that the current Executive Members will have forgotten that they (their predecessors) ever did it, even if they were at one time aware of the relevant documents. According to this document even the publication of a written UMB should have been discontinued.

From an FIH Executive Report 2001-2002 .

FIH Highlights Hockey Rules Board

In line with our overall aims, the last two years have,on the one hand, been a period of transition for the Hockey Rules Board (HRB) – while on the other it has been a period of relative consolidation. The transition has focused on incorporation of research and development of the rules within the active remit of the HRB rather than in a separate but linked Rules Advisory Panel, which has now been disbanded.

The Rules Advisory Panel, as might be expected, became a pressure group and advocated many changes that the HRB did not adopt, much to the chagrin of the Advisory Panel. It was not mere coincidence that the disbanding of the Rules Advisory Panel coincided with the announcement that only the FIH HRB had the authority to introduce or amend Rule or Rule interpretation.

At the same time, the rules themselves have been through a period of consolidation rather than significant change. But this does not mean that the HRB has not been active, as the following report will testify.

Rules Changes

One change, which has been significant, at least as measured by the range of views about it, is allowing the edge of the stick to be used to play the ball. This change was introduced as a mandatory experiment in 1999 and was continuously reviewed. Views about it ranged from a welcome for an action which gave players more options and which in particular could be used for exciting shots at goal, to concern that it might lead to danger or could damage sticks. Making a decision involved a delicate and careful balance of these issues,with the HRB deciding that the experiment should run for a third year but that, with effect from 2002, the change would be incorporated as a formal rule.

I had by 2002 been advocating for some years, the abolition of the back-sticks Rule. Usually to a chorus of abuse from hockey forum contributors who made ribald comments comparing my suggestion to ice hockey and saying that stick-work would disappear. I still believe the abolition of back-sticks would have been a wiser move than the introduction of edge hitting (with a back-sticks Rule still in place).

I have posted a picture of an Internet hockey forum post below; in the same topic thread contributors write of edge hitting being snuck in via the back door – an amazing attitude considering it had a three year Mandatory Experiment. What I think they mean is that edge hitting was imposed, despite widespread protest, which was just ignored. But the upending of this 2001 change (below) in 2011, apparently had full approval despite much objection to the deletion of the stand alone Forcing Rule. I certainly objected to it because it was obvious where it would lead (which it has)

Another change, which deserves comment, was the introduction in 2001 of a rule, which explicitly makes manufacturing a foul an offence. This reflects an ongoing concern by the HRB to protect skill and encourage attractive hockey by reducing negative and destructive actions.

The forgiving phrase “finding a foot” is the term currently used for what is now, by television commentators, called a skill, rather than cheating and a foul, which it still is (another forgotten part of Rule history). Forcing is now supposed to be “dealt with under other Rules” but the FIH Rules Committee have overlooked their own announcement ever since it was made, and most umpires are completely unaware of it, which is of course no surprise. It was unreasonable to make an announcement in a 2011 rule-book and then not bother to include it in subsequent rule-books, unless of course there was another formal deletion, but that never happened. There was an initial transfer to “other Rules” in 2011, and nothing has been published by the FIH RC in a rule-book or elsewhere on the matter since then – not even note of what the “other Rules” might be.

The first forgotten Rule promise I came across when researching past Rules, related to the final deletion of Off-side in 1997 (a huge advantage gifted to attackers with no compensation at all offered to the defending team). At the time the HRB wrote that measures would be put in place to constrain the actions of attackers close to the goal (to protect defenders). They then promptly ‘forgot’ about that undertaking. In fact they have since removed the few safeguards that were in place in 1997.

Forbidding players to play or play at an above shoulder height ball when in the opponent’s circle and the introduction of a *Goal Zone could go some way towards fulfilling the now distant obligation of the Rules Committee to honour their word in this area.


The 2008 forum post pictured below refers to the removal of the “old system of Obstruction” which was a very strange phrasing. But then in 2009 a clause extension which considerably strengthened the existing interpretation, by prohibiting a player in possession of the ball moving to position between the ball and an opponent who was attempting to play at it, was introduced. It was the last amendment made to the Obstruction Rule, and it remains part of the current Rule. It made no difference at all to the strange idea that a previous ‘system’ had been removed when it had in fact been reinforced. Umpires behaved and still behave as if the Obstruction Rule had been -as one put it – “deconstructed years ago”.

One of the major problems of personal ‘interpretations’ is that they tend to confirm beliefs that are already held, no matter what the wording of them may be, confirmation bias just ignores the meaning of words or attempts to find a way around them. There is no recognition of cognitive dissidence.

A study of the history of the ball-body contact Rule makes that clear, even when (in 1992) the criteria for an ball body contact offence was deliberate use of the body to stop or deflect the ball and advantage gained (note not or advantage gained), umpires blithely continued to penalise just because a ball body contact was made, exactly as they usually do now even when there is neither clear intent seen (contact is obviously accidental or even deliberately (and unavoidably) forced by an opponent) or any tangible advantaged gained because of such a contact.

The ‘system’ of interpretation of the Obstruction Rule which was put in place in a time beyond living memory, was not altered by the 1993 receiving exception (the so called ‘new interpretation’, which was nothing of the sort, the criteria for obstruction outside of the receiving situation did not change at all) or changed by any of several word alterations (called ‘housekeeping’) prior to 2009 (the last prior to the 2004 Rules of Hockey rewrite, in 2001), or by the 2009 clause expansion. The criteria for obstruction remained exactly as they always were. Shielding the ball to prevent an opponent (who would otherwise have been able to do so) from attempting to play directly the ball, is now and has been for many decades an offence. But several contributors to the forum were content with the declaration that the Obstruction Rule was (in their view correctly) no longer applied – no one disagreed.

I was in 2009 banned from this forum for persistently pointing out the text of the Rules to Keely Dunn and her followers, who did not think Rule wording relevant to umpiring practice. They wrote with scorn of “the black and white of the written Rules” which they thought of as a straight-jacket and of ‘grey areas’ that require personal interpretation (ignoring that most Rule breach is perfectly clear). I agree that the writing of the Rules could be much improved, but no suggested improvement ever came from these people, just their own very varied umpiring ‘practice’, which they regarded as being as good in each case (no matter how different) as an official replacement of Rule. The notion, for example, that a high deflection which was falling onto a contested position or a lob shot at the goal, could NOT be treated as a falling a ball, (i.e. Rule 9.10 did not apply), were Dunn inventions which she insisted were correct interpretation. She used her status as an FIH Umpire and a declaration of universal support and consensus among umpires concerning her views, to bully anyone who dared to disagree with her.

There has been no improvement in application of the Obstruction Rule in the intervening ten or more years, quite the contrary. If some of the body blocking actions that are now routinely carried out by ball holders appeared in the early 1990’s the FIH might have stepped in to prevent the total collapse of the Rule and runaway ‘interpretation’ – but maybe not. The late George Croft the former Hon.Sec. of the HRB wrote, in some desperation I think, in the preface of the 1998 Rules of Hockey “Despite what some people think there still is an Obstruction Rule”. The destruction of this Rule has taken place over a long period with the destroyers getting more brazen year on year.

Here is a typical 2019 example of non-application of Rule and the type of play that it has encouraged. The attacker breaches every one of the obstructive play clauses and the defender does not even realize that the attacker has fouled him. The comments made below the video by an individual umpire give a good insight into the current attitude to Rule interpretation and application among certain umpiring groups.