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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: