Posts tagged ‘self-pass’

January 10, 2014

Field Hockey Rules: Free-Ball, Self-pass. Suggestion.

Rules of Hockey. Free-ball. Self-pass. Suggestion.

Edited 25 April, 2014
An examples of the kind of question the present ‘interpretation’ still raises.

Question . I had a debate yesterday with an umpire of similar experience (up to UK regional Div2) and we had a difference of opinion on this one.

If a player is within 5m of a free hit, and is not attempting to play the ball or influencing play (just retreating let’s say), when are they allowed to make a legitimate attempt to play the ball or influence play.

One opinion said when the ball has travelled 5m. The second opinion said not until the defending player had given 5m at some point…so running close to (but not influencing play) for 5m, 10m, 20m…they would still not be allowed to make a challenge legitimately.

Answer. When the ball has travelled 5m. The other interpretation existed when the rule first came in but was changed some time ago.

Really? Who by?

(At one time shortly after the the Self-pass was adopted into FIH Rules there was yet another ‘interpretation’ (invention), which related to the direction in which a retreating defender was permitted to retreat in front of the ball. Thankfully that nonsense, like the other mentioned above, soon disappeared from ‘practice’ – neither were anywhere set out in writing but apparently agreed between umpires or imposed by Umpire Managers 

According to the Rules of Hockey (the UMB is not , by the way, the Rules of Hockey) that ‘interpretation’ is not correct. We quickly get to the point where the meaning – interpretation – of the word ‘interpretation’ and exactly what is being ‘interpreted’ becomes an issue.

‘Common or coached practice’ is not interpretation of Rule wording when, as in this case, there is nothing  given in the Rules of Hockey that can be interpreted in the way Rule is applied.  When ‘practice’ is an ‘interpretation’ created from elsewhere, not from wording given by the FIH Rules Committee in the current published rule book, it is not in fact ‘interpretation’, it’s invention. 

It is not acceptable to have umpires or other officials – of any level – in effect dictating to the FIH Rules Committee what the Rules of Hockey are. One of the reasons for having a printed rule book is so that they cannot do so.But it is not difficult to find examples of senior umpires writing in a dismissive way – when it suites them – about “the black and white” of the rule book, while at the same time promoting “the black and white” of the UMB as if it was ‘Gospel’ – and also superior to and replacing the Rules of Hockey. It’s a pity they don’t instead direct their efforts to seeking improvement of the Rules of Hockey as published by the FIH Rules Committee, instead of undermining both the Rules and the Rules Committee while creating ‘insider rules’.



Here is the current Rule on the taking of a Free Hit (which would more rationally be called a Free-ball), it has become quite complicated.

.13.2 Procedures for taking a free hit, centre pass and putting the  ball back into play after it has been outside the field :

a.   the ball must be stationary

b.   opponents must be at least 5 metres from the ball.

(This means that a free-ball cannot be taken if there are opponents within 5m of the ball, but then that stipulation is overridden by the second sentence in the following paragraph – so that opponents may not use the Rule requirement to waste time and delay the game)

If an opponent is within 5 metres of the ball, they must not interfere with the taking of the free hit or must not play or attempt to play the ball. If this player is not playing the ball, attempting to play the ball or influencing play, the free hit need not be delayed. (my bold and underline)

c.   when a free hit is awarded to the attack within the 23 metres area, all players other than the player taking the free hit must be at least 5 metres from the ball

d.  the ball is moved using a hit, push, flick or scoop. 

e.  the ball may be raised immediately using a push, flick or scoop but must not be raised intentionally using a hit

f.  from a free hit awarded to the attack within the 23 metres area, the ball must not be played into the circle until it has travelled at least 5 metres or has been touched by a player of either team other than the player taking the free hit.

If the player taking the free hit continues to play the ball (ie no other player has yet played it) :
– that player may play the ball any number of times, but
– the ball must travel at least 5 metres, before
– that player plays the ball into the circle by hitting or pushing the ball again.
Alternatively :
– another player of either team who can legitimately play the ball must deflect, hit or push the ball before it enters the circle, or
– after this player has touched the ball, it can be played into the circle by any other player including the player who took the free hit.
(there is nothing in the Rule or explanation of application to suggest that in certain circumstances opponents must allow the taker to move the ball 5m before they attempt to influence the taker’s play)

It is permitted to play the ball high above the attacking circle so that it lands outside the circle subject to Rules related to dangerous play and that the ball is not legitimately playable inside or above the circle by another player during its flight. (The introduction of playing of the ball above shoulder height will have impact here).


I believe that two elements are faulty in the present application of the Self-pass.  The first is an ‘interpretation’ of the explanation clause 13.2.b:-   opponents must be at least 5 metres from the ball.The ‘interpretation’ used is based not just on what is given in Rule explanation but on a quite different explanation given in the UMB which arises from text added to this clause.

If an opponent is within 5 metres of the ball, they must not interfere with the taking of the free hit or must not play or attempt to play the ball. If this player is not playing the ball, attempting to play the ball or influencing play, the free hit need not be delayed.


In all situations – if taken quickly and a player is within 5 metres of the ball but is not playing, attempting to play the ball or influencing play, the taking of the free hit does not need to be delayed; this same player can play, attempt to play the ball or try to influence play, once the ball has travelled 5 metres (my underline and bold)

That addition, the underlined part, which is NOT an interpretation of the existing wording of the Rules of Hockey, suggests that a retreating opponent who has not been given opportunity to retreat the full 5m required because of a quickly taken Self-pass and is ‘caught’ within 5m of a Self-passer is not allowed to influence the playing of the ball until the ball has been moved 5m.(“once the ball has travelled 5malso has multiple meanings, which I will not list here)

The Rule gives the free hit need not be delayed if an opposing player is still within 5m of the ball.


Besides questioning on what authority wording is added to that given in the rulebook, I see a contradiction in the addition and also a misapplication of advantage. Any Free-ball, including a Self-pass, is ‘taken’ as soon as the ball has been moved by the stick of the taker – not only after it has been moved 5m –  and if a Free-ball is taken quickly (immediately) it is obviously not delayed because of any action by opponents.

The difficulties that can arise in umpiring with the invention from the UMB may be illustrated by considering what happens when a Self-pass is taken and, a defender who was a little more than 5m away from the ball when it was moved, immediately closes on the Self-passer. Is the Self-passer going to have 5m of free space in which to travel with the ball? No of course not, the self-passer probably would not get 3m before being challenged. Now rerun that situation with other defenders moving towards the ball from various directions (including possibly from behind the self-passer) and from various distances – and remember – we are considering the difficulties created for umpires in this situation, when the same umpires often declare it “too difficult” to judge where players in the landing zone are in relation to each other at the time an aerial pass is raised, a situation in which  the ‘taker’ is generally a long way from the subsequent action and not involved in it and umpires would usually have considerably more time to reach a decision – maybe as much as a whole second.  


There is no disputing that if an opponent intentionally remains within 5m of the ball i.e. does not immediately retreat from the ball when a Free-ball is awarded, does not attempt to put 5m distance between the ball and themselves, then that opponent may be subject to further penalty – card and “up(to)-10m” (which might incidentally be more usefully amended to “up(to)-23m”) if such failure to retreat does delay the taking of the Free or unfairly influence the taking of it – but to be an illicit action it must occur before the taking of the Free or as it is being taken, to influence or prevent the taking, not after the Free ball has been taken i.e. the ball has been (and is being) moved, because then the taking of the Free-ball has not been delayed. The critical point is:- When has a Free-ball been ‘taken’ by the taker?

A retreating opponent, who has retreated at once and at reasonable speed (a speed commensurate with a need to maintain self-defence – the player may be running backwards so that the stick can be positioned for protection) has done no wrong, even if not 5m from the ball when the taker decides to play the ball. Such a player has done nothing to unfairly influence or delay the taking of the Free – and that, retreat to attempt to get 5m from the ball and not interfere until the Free is taken, is all the Rule actually requires of the players defending a Free-ball.

(Defending players should not be permitted to ‘hang’, rather than retreat from the place of penalty and the ball, when a Free-ball is awarded, that is not Rule compliant)

If the taker of the Free decides not to wait until all opponents (or any opponent) are 5m from the ball, but to take advantage of the time and space and opportunity immediately available, than the taker has played an advantage (one possibly not available if the taker had waited until opponents were the required distance from the ball) That is the choice of the taker. Having made the choice not to wait for defenders to retreat 5m, the taker cannot then, in fairness, also demand (the umpire demand on the taker’s behalf) that 5m free movement with the ball be granted. 

Once the advantage of an immediate ‘take’ has been played, the umpire should not, then insist (be instructed within the UMB) that the original 5m requirement of the Free-ball be maintained while the ball is moved a distance of 5m. To repeat:- the Rule explanation of application states only that the taking of the Free need not be delayed if opponents are still within 5m. The added 5m of ball travel is not an interpretation, there are no words in the Rules of Hockey to interpret in that way, it is pure invention. 


So why is the invention there? It seems to have been added because of another unnecessary addition to the Rules, the prohibition of playing the ball directly into the circle from a Free awarded in the opponent’s 23m area. This Rule requires that a pass be made to a team-mate or if a Self-pass is taken, the ball travel 5m, before it may be played into the circle.

It appears to have been reasoned that if a player taking a Self-pass in the opponent’s 23m area has to move the ball 5m before it may be played into the circle, then opponents must be obliged to let the taker move the ball 5m if they have not retreated 5m from the ball before the self-pass was taken – even if they were given no opportunity to retreat the required 5m. Then for no reason that is apparent to me (to make an already complicated Rule simpler perhaps?), the same conditions have been imposed, wherever on the pitch a Free is awarded and a Self-pass taken – not just within the opponents 23m area.


I have already suggested in another article and for another reason ( Raised Hit ) that this ban on playing the ball directly into circle should be withdrawn. It would then be possible in all circumstances to treat an early taken Self-pass as a simple advantaged played and some very difficult and complicated passages of play to umpire, which umpires have inflicted upon themselves with the interpretation added to the UMB, could be abandoned (as other associated silly ‘interpretations’ – already mentioned above -have been).

Umpires are presently being advised that to award a Free-ball when there is an Offence by the defending team inside the 23m area and especially when close to the circle, may be a greater advantage to the attacking team than allowing play to continue, because of the availability of the Self-pass option. This advice, however, overlooks that in open play – and also when an advantage is allowed following an Offence – the ball may be played directly into the circle at any time: the so called ‘Free Hit’ is very restricted by comparison.  

The result of withdrawing the ban on direct playing of a Free-ball into the circle should be to persuade the taker to take a more considered approach – instead of immediately charging towards retreating opponents as rapidly as possible -(in the hope of ‘winning’ a Penalty Corner) when the Free-ball is awarded in the opponent’s 23m area , there should then be the (restored) option of a direct pass into the circle to consider, as well as the possibility of a Direct Lift of the Free ball and the Self-pass. The ban on a direct pass into the circle (which was put in place for safety reasons) could reasonably be replaced with a ban on any raising of the ball with a hit into the circle in any phase of play and the prohibiting of the raising of a Free ball into the circle with any stroke.

(That would in turn allow the amendment of the Rule concerning intentional raising of a ball with a hit (Rule 9.9), which could reasonably drop the word ‘intentionally’ and the raised ball (using any stroke), with suitable criterion added, could become part of Rule 9.8. Dangerous play. The present Rule 9.8 and Rule 9.9 are a mishmash which requires sorting out).  


Although when I suggested the Self-pass, back in 2000, I did not anticipate the introduction of a Rule prohibiting a direct pass into the circle from a Free-ball awarded in the opponent’s 23m area (or obviously, the ‘inventions’ that would spin-off from that). I did anticipate that a player awarded a Free-ball might be so keen to take advantage of a Self-pass opportunity immediately, that the ball would often be some distance from the correct place and/or not stationary when it was taken, and for that reason I also suggested a second whistle when a Free-ball was awarded.

(There have since been some quite extraordinary incidents in which umpires have penalised defenders with a penalty corner – for not retreating 5m – for example when:- a) the  Self-pass has been taken 10m or more in advance of the place of the Offence for which it was awarded, and/or  b) there was not even an attempt to make the ball stationary before a Self-pass was ‘taken’ and the ball was ‘run into’ retreating defenders – sometimes two or three times in succession with the aim of ‘winning’ a penalty corner. The umpires being either unable or unwilling to take control of the taking of the penalty – and when necessary order a retake or reverse it

The first whistle would stop play and indicate penalty, the second would restart play, when the umpire was satisfied that the ball was in the correct position and stationary (an incentive to the side awarded the Free to comply as rapidly as possible). The second whistle would therefore in most instances follow closely, without delay, on the first one. I am now more convinced, than I was when I first suggested the idea, that a second whistle signal would be a useful, and is possibly now even a necessary, control tool for umpires.


In incidents where an offence has been committed against a player in possession of the ball and that player is able to play on immediately it will usually be the case that umpire intervention was unnecessary anyway, advantage can generally be allowed and the Offence dealt with later, if considered appropriate,with a card.

Umpires seem reluctant at present to award a Free-ball for an offence and then insist that the side awarded the Free comply with Rule requirements concerning placement and the moving ball. They appear to be concerned about appearing pedantic and/or removing any advantage the awarding of the Free-ball may have given the team offended against.

This not only often penalises the team the Free-ball has been awarded against twice or even three times over – which is unfair (especially when, as is often the case, the ‘offences’ have been intentionally forced) – it is also a cause of umpires getting rushed and being unable to keep up with the play they themselves have been a party to creating.

It is not possible to award a Free-ball and at the same time allow ‘advantage’ to be played:  if an advantage could have been played a Free-ball should not have been awarded.

When an advantage is played, instead of a Free-ball being awarded following an Offence by opponents, there is no requirement that opponents retreat from the ball or allow the side in possession to move it 5m without challenge, play just continues. The same should happen if, as defenders are retreating, a Free-ball is quickly taken as a Self-pass to obtain an advantage from the quick take – normal play should resume immediately – that is fair, the choice to take the Free quickly is with the side awarded it.


The ‘selling point’, if I should ‘sell’ these suggestions with argument beyond the promotion of fair and rational play conducted within the published Rules of Hockey, the real ‘clincher’, is that the FIH Rules Committee adopting them would make umpiring of the Free ball a lot easier than it is at the moment.



Related articles. Raised Hit suggestion.            

                         Dangerously Played Ball suggestion.