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History of Sports, Part VI: Field Hockey

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Hockey during the Middle AgesField hockey is one of the oldest team games in existence. There have been drawings of a game resembling hockey dating back all the way to 1272 BC. It has also been recorded as being played in places like Greece, all around Europe in the Middle Ages, and even by some Native American tribes, all with their own variations of the game. It was a very popular sport throughout the Middle Ages, but Edward III and Richard II tried to ban it, saying that it interfered with archery practice. However, they were said to have played it for their own leisure.

There have been so many stick and ball games throughout the history of man that we haven't been able to pinpoint exactly where hockey started, but we know that the modern game of field hockey started being played in English public schools in the 19th century. The modern game is known to have been developed by Middlesex Cricket Club. The members of the clubs were supposedly looking for something to keep in shape in the winter but didn't care for soccer too much. So they began to experiment with stick and ball games with rules based loosely on the rules of soccer. They used a cricket ball to allow for better control. By 1874, they began to make some of the common rules we see today, like not being able to raise the stick above one's head or that a shot on goal must take place within the circle in front of the goal.

The first step towards internationalizing the game was in 1909, when England and Belgium began to play exhibition games against each other, soon to be joined by France. Then in 1924, the International Hockey Federation (IHF) was founded by Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Hungary, Spain, and Switzerland. IHF kept the game alive even after World War II, where many men went off to fight in the war and gave up their lives. In 1885, the game was taken to India by British soldiers who played it during their R&R. Within 10 years, there were tournaments set up, and the game grew exponentially in popularity.

In 1970, the use of synthetic grass became mandatory for all international play. Grass was still used for some local fields, but the majority of fields had been replaced. The replacement of grass by the synthetic field caused an unexpected evolution of the game. It because much faster, and some say caused player's skill to be reduced. New techniques and tactics were developed, and with that came new rules and regulations to help shape the game, all due to a new field. Also, the shape of the club changed to a stubbier and smaller knob, instead of the 15 cm long end. The extra length was not necessary because the ball traveled much straighter on the flat surface, and using the back hand became much easier as well. The synthetic grass also made the technique of trapping possible, and this technique has become a big part of the game. The ball used in the game has also changed from a leather ball similar to a cricket ball to a heavy and hard plastic ball. This change has also caused a change in the equipment which the goalkeeper wears. The goalkeeper now wears a helmet with much more padding and shock absorbability, along with padding all over the body. It's interesting to see a change in field type can cause such a significant change in how the game is played.

Author of this article: Mohammad Rizvi
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