The sport of field hockey — or just “hockey,” as it’s known in most of the 112 countries it is played — is widely considered one of the top six sports in the world. Field Hockey’s origins are ancient. Proof can be found in the simplicity of the game: Teams use a stick to hit a ball into a goal.
Ancient Field Hockey
The exact origins of the sport are unknown. However, archeologists found 4,000-year-old drawings of men playing a simplistic version of the game in the Beni Hasan tombs in the Nile Valley, Egypt. Other historical records show that various versions of the sport were played in the Persian, Roman, Ethiopian, and Aztec civilizations.
The Middle Ages
A new era was defined in the Middle Ages, when variations of hockey-like games began popping up in various European countries. The game of “cambuca” was played in England, while “shinty” was played in Scotland, “jeu de mail” was played in France, and “het kolven” was played in the Netherlands.
The sport became popular among English Royalty in the 1300s. Yet, not all of the royals were fond of the game. In 1363, King Edward III of England issued the proclamation: “Moreover, we ordain that you prohibit under penalty of imprisonment all and sundry from such stone, wood and iron throwing; handball, football, or hockey; coursing and cock-fighting, or other such idle games.” This proclamation is proof that a semi-organized version of hockey was being played over 1,500 years ago.
In the mid – 19th century, English public schools adopted the modern game of field hockey. Playing a much rougher version of the game, the first hockey club, Blackheath, was formed in 1849. A few decades later, the Middlesex cricket clubs developed the modern game. A club called “Teddington” was especially known for its part in molding the game. The cricket players were looking for something to play during winter and began drawing up rules for their new game. This led to the first field hockey association: Hockey Association in London, established in 1886.
Olympic Field Hockey
The British Army had spread the game throughout the British Empire. In 1895, field hockey had its first international competition. The game was between Ireland and Wales. Ireland won, 3-0. Hockey first appeared in the 1908 Olympic Games in London with only three teams: England, Ireland, and Scotland. The sport was permanently adopted into the Olympics at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam. Women’s field hockey made its debut and became an Olympic fixture at the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow, Russia.
International Body is Formed
International structuring for the sport in Europe began when England and Belgium agreed to play against each other. These countries would later join the French federation in 1924 to create the International Hockey Federation (or the FIH, standing for “Fédération International de Hockey” in French). To this day, the FIH is the sport’s international governing body. The original members were Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Hungary, Spain, and Switzerland. The FIH now consists of 112 member associations, spread across five continents.
Women in Field Hockey
Field hockey was originally considered too dangerous a sport for female participants. This notion later changed when women who enjoyed outdoor activities, such as croquette and lawn tennis, adopted field hockey as a socially acceptable outdoor activity. It was later considered as the only team sport proper for women.
Women’s field hockey was first introduced to British Universities and schools in the 1880s. The first field hockey club, Molesey Ladies Hockey Club, was founded in 1887. This club led to the formation of the International Federation of Women’s Hockey Associations (IFWHA) in 1927. Following the establishment of this association, women’s field hockey grew rapidly around the world. It spread in many continental European countries and later to the USA.
Women’s field hockey arrived in the United States before men’s field hockey. It was introduced by an English physical education instructor named Constance Applebee. She brought the game into the U.S. while attending a seminar in 1901 at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The sport quickly grew in popularity and spread through several colleges and clubs by the early 1920s. The United States appeared in the first World Championship of women’s field hockey in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1975 and later played in the 1980 Olympic Games.
The Men’s Game in the United States
Men in the United States officially began playing the sport in 1928. The first official match was between the Westchester Field Hockey Club (of Rye, New York) and the Germantown Cricket Club (of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). The Field Hockey Association of America was also formed in 1928. Five years later, the FHAA merged with the United States Field Hockey Association to form the sport’s official governing body, the USA Field Hockey Association. This was done after urging from the Olympic committee.
The U.S. men first competed in the Olympics at the 1932 Games in Los Angeles, California. The team earned the bronze medal after losing to eventual silver medalist Japan, 9-2, and eventual gold-medal winner India, 24-1.
India Leads in Olympic Medals
India was introduced to field hockey in 1885 by British servicemen. Within ten years, the country was hosting the Beighton Cup and the Aga Khan tournament. India entered the Olympic Games in 1928 and the men’s team won all five of its games without giving up a single goal. The men’s team then went on to win the gold medal in every Olympics from 1932 until 1956, and then again in 1964 and 1980. Pakistan won gold in 1960, 1968, and 1984.
Field hockey is the national sport of India, a country that owns eight Olympic gold medals in men’s competition. India leads the Olympics with the highest number of field hockey gold medals among all national teams.
Field hockey was originally played on grass surfaces. That changed in the 1970s, when artificial turf became a replacement on many fields. The game has changed significantly with this innovation.
The Indian dribble is one of the many new tactics and techniques used for the faster field. Also, since the application of turf, Indian and Pakistani domination ended. Wealthier European countries have since dominated the Olympics. Synthetic fields are now mandatory for all national and international tournaments.
Field Hockey is continually growing in popularity throughout the world. In most countries there is an even balance between men and women who play the sport. In the United States, however, it is predominantly a female sport. This may be because there are very few clubs in the United States at the junior and adult level. Most teams are at the high school or collegiate levels and are entirely female. The strength of men’s college hockey in the United States reflects the impact of Title IX, which mandated that colleges put forth equal funding toward men’s and women’s sports.
A game that started with a simple stick and ball has become one of the most popular sports in the world. Its popularity continues to grow on a global spectrum. So the next time you’re feeling adventurous, pick up a stick and ball and start playing some field hockey like many of the people in 112 countries around the world!