Hockey Vocabulary

This page covers the vocabulary and language of hockey by looking at its background, equipment and people. Check your understanding with the vocabulary quiz and comprehension quiz.

hockeyThere are many games in which two teams compete to get control of a ball (or a puck) by using a stick, and then shoot it into their opponents' net to score a goal. Some of these games are played on a pitch, some on ice, and some on a road or in an empty parking lot. In some of them players wear running shoes, and in others they wear ice skates, roller skates or flippers. In one form players ride unicycles, and in an underwater version called "Octopush" players hit a puck along the bottom of a swimming pool. All of these games have one thing in common; they are all forms of hockey. But only one of them is played in the Summer Olympic Games, and that's the one you'll read about here. Its full name is "field hockey", though it's usually just called hockey.


The first sport we know of that seems similar to hockey was played in Ancient Egypt over 4,000 years ago. There are no records of the modern form of the game until its appearance in English schools in the 18th century, and the formation of hockey clubs in the 19th century, the first of which was formed in 1849 at Blackheath in south-east London. During this time the game became popular among British military officers and soldiers, and they introduced it to many of the countries Britain was then colonizing. To this day, field hockey is popular in places that were once part of the British Empire, and it is even the National Game of two such countries; India and Pakistan. The game is also a popular sport for men and women in parts of Europe, South Africa, and Australia, but in North America and Northern Europe, including Russia and the Scandinavian countries, field hockey's "cousin" ice hockey is a much more popular game.

How the Game Works

hockey fieldField hockey is played on a pitch that is 100 yards long and 60 yards wide, divided by a center line and two 25 yard lines (see diagram at right). Synthetic surfaces are often used these days, but grass was the traditional surface. Players use hooked hockey sticks to hit, push, pass or dribble a small, hard ball, with the aim of scoring by getting the ball into their opponents' goal. Each team has up to 16 players, of which 11 can be on the pitch at any one time. These include a goalkeeper plus 10 "field players", including attackers, defenders and midfielders. Players can run with the ball (called dribbling) by controlling it with their stick, or they can pass the ball to a teammate, or score a goal, by hitting it with their stick.

A hockey stick has a rounded side (the right-hand side) and a flat side (the left-hand side), and only the flat, left-hand side, and its edges, can be used to play the ball. Field players must not use their feet, or any other part of the body, to control the ball. Only goalkeepers can use their hands, feet, etc. to block or hit the ball when they're inside their own shooting circle. Players can lift the ball into the air with a scoop, a long pushing action of the stick, as long as doing so doesn't endanger other players. When the ball is in the air, a player must not play it if it's above shoulder height unless they're using their stick to block a shot on goal.

Goals can be scored from general play or from penalty corners or penalty strokes. A goal from general play has to be scored from inside the shooting circle in front of goal. A penalty corner can be awarded by an umpire if a defending player commits a foul inside the shooting circle, or in any other part of the pitch between the back line and the 25 yard line. To take a penalty corner, one of the attackers stands with the ball on the back line while the other attackers wait at the top of the shooting circle. Up to four defenders, plus the goalkeeper, stand near the goal in defensive positions. The defenders’ teammates must stand beyond the centre line until the corner is taken. The player taking the penalty corner “pushes out” the ball and the waiting attackers then try to score a goal.

hockeyA penalty stroke is a free shot on goal from a spot 7 yards out, and only the goalkeeper can try to stop it. A penalty stroke may be awarded for any of several serious fouls, including illegally stopping an attacker from scoring a goal.

A hockey match usually lasts 70 minutes, with two 35-minute halves. The team with the most goals at the end of the game is the winner. Games can end in a draw, but if a winner must be found, such as in the World Cup or at the Olympics, a tied match will go into extra time, with the first team to score in extra time being the winner. If neither team scores in extra time, the result is decided by a penalty stroke competition, which is similar to a "penalty shoot-out" in soccer.


The most important competitions for field hockey are the Olympic Games, the Hockey World Cup, and the Commonwealth Games. All of these competitions are held once every four years. In the men's game, India and Pakistan were the strongest teams until the 1980’s, but since then the Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand, Australia and Spain have also fielded strong teams. In the women's game, the Netherlands were the strongest team until the 1990’s, but Australia, Argentina, China, Korea, Germany and South Africa have also fielded strong teams since then.

The biggest of hockey's annual tournaments are the Champions Trophy for the year's six top-ranked national teams, and the Sultan Azlan Shah Hockey Tournament. The latter has been held in Malaysia every year since 1983 and has become one of the sport's most popular events, with teams coming from all over the world to participate.

Hockey Vocabulary List

word example sentence meaning
attacker Our attackers spend at least an hour a day practising shots at goal. player who plays in the forward or offensive zone and tries to score goals
back line A penalty corner is taken from a spot on the back line. one of two shorter sides of the pitch on which the goals are located
bully Players must not touch the ball in a bully until they've tapped their sticks together three times. re-start to play in which two players, one from each team, compete for the ball after tapping their sticks three times
centre line Wait until after the centre pass has been hit before crossing the centre line. line that divides the pitch into two halves
centre pass A centre pass is used to restart the game after a goal has been scored. a pass from the center of the field used to start or restart the game
dangerous play Jack was penalized for dangerous play after he scooped the ball into the air and it hit another player. play that could cause injury
defender Our team has let in too many goals recently so we're looking for some better defenders. player whose main role is to prevent the other team from scoring
dribble Jenny got the ball in the centre of the pitch and dribbled it towards the shooting circle. run while controlling the ball with the stick
flick Today at training we're going to practise pushes and flicks. movement of the stick that lifts the ball off the ground
goalkeeper Our goalkeeper was in good form and stopped some really good shots. player who wears protective gear and defends the goalmouth
hit You can only hit the ball with the flat side of the stick. contact the ball with a swinging stick in order to pass it or shoot for goal
midfielder Midfielders have to be able to pass the ball quickly and accurately. player who plays mostly in the central area of the pitch
obstruction Ann blocked a player from getting to the ball and was penalized for obstruction. offence of shielding the ball from an opponent with one's body or stick
pass Try to look up while you're dribbling so you can see the players you can pass the ball to. to hit the ball to a teammate
penalty corner Their team is good at taking penalty corners, and they usually score from them. free hit taken from a point on the back line
penalty stroke They got the winning goal when they were awarded a penalty stroke. free shot taken from a spot 7 yards directly in front of the goalmouth
pitch Many schools are building hockey pitches now that the game is getting more popular. field especially made for playing hockey
puck Field hockey is played with a small white ball, while ice hockey is played with a disc-shaped black puck. a disc-shaped object made of hardened rubber used in ice hockey as a ball is used in field hockey
push You need to use your wrists to move the stick from side to side while pushing. move the ball along the ground with a pushing movement of the stick
scoop At training tonight the coach is going to teach us more about scooping the ball. lift the ball off the ground by placing the head of the stick under the ball and shoveling it forward
shoot If another player is in a better position to shoot for goal, pass the ball to her. try to score a goal by hitting the ball with the stick
stick Players must be careful not to hit one another with their sticks. long piece of wood, curved at one end, that each player carries and uses to hit the ball
shooting circle If a player hits the ball into the net from outside the shooting circle, it doesn't count as a goal. semicircle around each goalmouth from within which all goals must be scored
time wasting Ann was penalized for time wasting because she hit the ball away after the whistle had been blown. any action that prevents play from starting or continuing quickly

Contributor: Matt Errey creator of Word Up