Rewrite: Rule 13.2. Procedure for the taking of a free hit. Self-pass



A suggested rewrite of the Rules of Hockey

Free Ball     self-pass      second whistle     flick or scoop  into circle


Current clause 13.2.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.

Action. Amendment, removing same team player 5m requirement.

Reason. Requiring all players to be 5m from a free ball disadvantages the team awarded the penalty. That was proven in 1997 when a similar provision was applied to a free ball taken anywhere on the pitch. The change did not last into 1998 before being abandoned. There is no reason to suppose the results will be any different this time around – the Rule was being ‘adjusted’ and ‘bent’ (ignored) within two weeks of being imposed.

(The only good thing to come out of the 1997 Rule requirement that all players be 5m from the ball at a free ball was that it got me thinking about the difficulties of the isolated taker of a free ball and I thought of a self-pass. By the year 2000 I had mulled over the pros and cons of the idea sufficiently to begin advocating, on George Brink’s hockey forum, the adoption of the self pass as a means of taking a free ball or re-start, even though by that time the 5m restriction on same team players had been long withdrawn – this restriction was not reintroduced until the mess it created when first introduced had been forgotten).

It is necessary only for opponents to be or to immediately retreat to attempt to be, 5m from the ball when a free-ball is awarded. Requiring same team players to be 5m from the ball often nullifies any advantage that the award of a free-ball might have given or may compel the use of a self-pass in unfavourable circumstances (as it usually did when a corner was awarded before the introduction of the 23m restart).


Current clause 13.2.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.


The following Rule clause was added via an FIH Circular issued on 23rd. May 2015.

A player within 5 metres of the ball at the taking of the free hit is not allowed to engage with play prior to the ball having travelled at least 5 metres.

This is an example of the Rule following the text of the interpretation of the Rule given in the UMB. The expressions “cart before the horse” or “tail wagging the dog” don’t fully capture the absurdity of that.            

The same circular also adds clauses about defenders moving and positioning within the circle and describes in which cases they can defend to the edge of the circle and shadow attackers and in which cases cannot do so. I don’t fully understand the need for these requirements and nor, I believe do many other people. 

(I don’t like them because I don’t understand why they have been introduced, but more so because they are clearly tied to, an extension of, the weird 5m restrictions which have dogged the free ball, particular when taken as a self-pass, since 2009).

I have posted a link to the document and leave it to the reader to work out the purpose and application of the new clauses. Good luck.


Action Deletion.


The 5m restrictions and requirements for ball travel complicate the game and unnecessarily slow it down in a critical area of the field.

Exception. That a free ball awarded for an offence by a defender between the shooting circle and the hash circle should be taken from outside the hash-circle, is a measure that the FIH Rules Committee have recently deleted. It is the only one of the crop of 5m restrictions introduced in 2009 that made good sense. I propose it be restored because, if it is once again permitted to play a free-ball awarded within the opponent’s 23m area directly into the circle (which I here propose) and same team players are not required to be 5m from the ball (two big ‘ifs’ at the moment, but two reversions that would much improve the game), a free awarded close to the circle line could be of greater advantage than the award of a penalty corner. 


The final clause of 13.2.f is an oddity. I can’t see why it was placed in this Rule nor understand the reason for the Rule that is given. It is not illegal to raise the ball to fall into the circle with a scoop not even from a free-ball, (it would be a good idea if it was made illegal) but this rule is written as if it is an automatic dangerous play offence – and also an offence to raise a scoop pass from a free ball in a way that will allow it to be intercepted by players inside the circle – very strange.    

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.


I have suggested several Rule amendments and the introduction of new Rules concerning various aspects of raising the ball and the playing of the ball above shoulder height in this later article 

The term ‘Free Hit’ has been replaced with ‘Free-ball’.



Useful comment and suggestion welcome.


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

All parts of this Rule apply as appropriate to a free-ball , centre pass and putting the ball back into play after it has been outside the field.

a    the ball must be stationary

b.   the ball must be placed where (within playing distance of – 2m) the offence for which it was awarded occurred (unless an offence occurs within a shooting circle).

c.  When the offence for which a free-ball is awarded occurs between the hash circle and the shooting circle the ball must be taken back out side the hash-circle and placed opposite to where the incident occurred.  

d.   when a free-ball is awarded all players of the opposing team who are not 5m from the ball must move without delay to attempt to get to be at least 5 metres from the ball.

If an opponent is within 5 metres of the ball, they must not interfere with the taking of the free-ball nor can they play or attempt to play the ball. If an opposing player is within 5 metres of the ball but is not playing the ball, attempting to play the ball or influencing play, the taking of free-ball need not be delayed.

The free-ball need not be delayed even if an opponent is attempting to play at the ball or to influence play. Play can continue if the side taking the free are not disadvantaged or have an advantage from the taken free,  but in such cases the umpire should award a personal penalty to the offender at the first opportunity presented. 


e   the ball may be moved with any legal stroke.

f   the ball may be raised immediately using a flick or scoop stroke, but it must not be raised using a hit (a reason not to call a free-ball a free-hit – avoiding “a free hit can be raised with any stroke except a hit”).

g    If the player taking the free-ball, having made the ball stationary, then makes a ‘pass’ to himself or herself – an action known as a self-pass – normal play resumes immediately, just as it would, now that the 1m requirement has been deleted, immediately the ball was moved,  if that player had made a pass towards a team mate with a push or hit or flick or scoop (or propelled the ball away in any direction),

h.   in the event of a self-pass, a properly retreating opponent who is ‘caught’ within 5m of the ball by the speed at which the self-pass is taken, is not obliged to continue to retreat to be 5m from the place the self-pass was taken, but can immediately seek to engage the pass taker (self-passer) and challenge for the ball.

The reason for this is that the decision to take the self-pass before properly retreating opponents have been given the opportunity to get to be 5m from the ball is the choice of the taker and is treated as an advantage played – the self-passer taking advantage of the opportunity to make the self-pass as quickly as possible and begin to dribble with the ball.

Whether or not it is wise, a tactically sound decision, to take a self-pass as rapidly as possible after the umpire has blown the second whistle* ( see ) or instead to wait for a second as he or she would probably do if making a pass to a team-mate, is a decision for the taker of the free-ball to make and it has no bearing whatsoever on the legality of the subsequent actions of opponents.

However, if an opponent is within 5m of the ball when a self-pass is made and this is because that opponent has made no or insufficient effort to get to be 5m from the ball, despite having had opportunity to do so – and that player then engages with a self-passer when the self-pass is made, the umpire should penalise that player, either immediately or if that would disadvantage the side awarded the free-ball, at the first opportunity presented. 

Committing an offence that effects the taking of a penalty awarded against the same team for a previous offence will usually warrant the award of a personal penalty and, if the incident occurs within the 23m area, a penalty corner as well. 


 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.

There is reason to limit the raising of the ball into the circle with a flick or a scoop, particularly from a free ball, perhaps with a height limit, but it is not current Rule, see for further suggestions on limiting the raising of the ball.


*Second Whistle see.



18 Comments to “Rewrite: Rule 13.2. Procedure for the taking of a free hit. Self-pass”

  1. Two points:
    Firstly a fh just outside the top of the D is now more valuable than a pc and will result in players getting seriously injured as teams get a FH 5cm from the top of the D, tap it 6cm into the D and attempt to wail the ball at the net, and incidentally also whoever is between them and the net, really safe idea.

    Secondly: if an attacker is on breakaway and a defender falls over while accidentally gives away a fh does that attacker then only have the option of waiting for the defense to get back or take the self pass and be tackled by the defender who is on the ground but can still tackle. This rewrite seems to make a self pass a disadvantage to the team recieving it.

    What reason would a defender have to attempt avoiding giving away a FH? If they do so the attacker must wait for them to retreat, or they can immediately re-engage anyway?

    • David,
      Thank you, I have neglected to mention that the taking of the ball back outside the hash circle line when a free ball for an incident within it needs to restored/retained – as I mention elsewhere it was the only sensible measure added in this area in 2009. I have edited the article.

      The second point, a defender can take no action that will prevent or delay the taking of a free ball and must retreat if still within 5m of the ball, falling over and having to get up again does not prevent that – but I think that if a player did fall in such a way the umpire would ensure he or she was not injured before allowing play to continue, so you make a mute point.

  2. So in the second point, a player who falls over in front of the ball would in fact delay the attack?

    And as i said, what reason would the defense have to attempt to avoid giving away FHs? As they are continually allowed the retreat and re-engage, teams defense would simply be based on giving away constant FHs to slow down the attack.

  3. A personal penalty and a penalty corner whenever a defender falls over?

    Or are you talking about giving personal penalties for the “accidental” obstructions, feet etc that defenders would start doing in order to slow down the attack?

    • David,

      No you wrote about a defender continually and deliberately falling into the path of an attacker.

      Are you beginning to wonder how anyone managed to play or umpire hockey at all before these 5m restrictions were introduced in 2009 ? Were you playing hockey before 2009?

  4. No, I never said continually or deliberately. I talked about defenders continually allowing themselves to give away FH’s by not trying as hard to avoid obstructions or the ball hitting their feet etc.

    Yes I played hockey before 2009. I specifically remember then that if a player chose to take a FH early and hit it past a defender who was caught inside the 5m the defender was expected to let the ball go past them, however your new rule means that if a defender is clumsy enough to give away a FH then the attacker is expected to wait for the defender to get in position, or simply be tackled again 1 second later.

    • David,
      Quote”I specifically remember then that if a player chose to take a FH early and hit it past a defender who was caught inside the 5m the defender was expected to let the ball go past them”

      I see, so you weren’t playing to the published FIH Rules then.

      I haven’t made a new Rule I have only proposed changes to the current Rules, much of of what I have suggested was previously Rule.

  5. Actually that was the FIH rulebook. Im fairly sure that your reading of what the rule expected of players was what was incorrect. As you were told multiple times by various different people(on forums that I saw, Im guessing a similar thing would have happened if you ever brought it up in person to somebody from the FIH.

    In the last 20 years I cannot remember a time when a player who was within 5m of a FH was allowed to re-engage in play the moment the FH was taken.

    As I have said multiple times that you have refused to address, it allows to much benefit to the defence, and slows down attack for the defence’s mistakes, which will of course lead to defenders being more clumsy and allowing themselves to give away FHs in order to slow down attackers.

    • Go back to my article and read what I have written about the obligation on a defender to immediately attempt to move away to be 5m from the ball – so as not to interfere with the taking of the free or to delay it.

      Once the ball is moved by the taker the free is taken, normal play should then resume immediately.

      The imposition of 5m ball movement when a properly retreating defender has been caught by a very quickly taken self-pass is both unfair and unnecessary and is an umpiring nightmare. The prohibition on playing the ball into the circle is also unnecessary and could in my opinion be better replaced with a prohibition, in all phases of play, on raising the ball with a hit to fall directly into the circle.

      I am not much interested in people telling me that the current Rule is better than what I have proposed. The self-pass – which was my proposal – has never been used in any circumstances except under the present restrictions – if it had been and a comparison could be made between the two different sets of circumstances, then I would be prepared to listen to the respective pros and cons. but at present argument against my advantage played proposal is being made based on nothing more than guesswork and supposition – along with a big dose of “Don’t change anything.”

  6. Ok, so i went back to your article and read it. Now can you answer my question:
    “If a defender falls over, or is caught in some other position where they are unable to move away quickly/immediately, is the attacker expected to either wait for the defender to get 5m or immediately be tackled?”

    • If the free can be taken it should be taken. If it cannot be taken because of the actions of an opponent, but those actions are clearly accidental, I would expect the umpire to intervene and reset the penalty. If there is intentional interference then further penalty should be applied.

  7. So if the attacker can take the FH then they should? and basically be immediately tackled by the defender who is standing next to them?

    Anyway, under this rule, I feel that a lot of defenders are going to be carded. Obviously in order to be fair the defenders are expected to retreat as fast as they are (realistically) capable of. If a defender is not retreating with as much haste as the umpire feels that they should, and then the attacker takes a FH and the defender engages, you state it should be a card. On the other hand most defenders will get used to retreating at some speed and then immediately engaging if the attacker takes the FH, which means that defenders who actually shouldn’t be engaging will have the natural instinct to engage the player which will lead to excess cards

  8. Hi I have a question whichbi have been trying to find answer.

    When in the 23mtr attacking and their is a foul for the attacking side. Does everyone need to be at least 5mtr?? I mean if there is a foul on a player, the ball is left stationery and a team mate comes collects the ball runs 5mtrs and enters the D. Did his team mate do a foul since not in the 5 mtr area??

    • John,

      The answer is yes that is an offence. The Rule is 13.2.c states:_
      ” 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”
      It is a silly Rule, one of a number of silly 5m restrictions imposed on the taking of a “free” hit in 2009.

      It was previously imposed in 1997 when the 5m restriction was applied in the same way to a free hit taken anywhere on the field of play, not just in the opponent’s 23m area. When previous mistakes are forgotten they are repeated. The present rule is not consistently applied, umpires tend to ignore it unless opponents are obviously disadvantaged – and sometimes not even then.

  9. “A player within 5 metres of the ball at the taking of the free hit is not allowed to engage with play prior to the ball having travelled at least 5 metres.”
    Have been on a break for 6-8mths and this is what we get? Sounds like the FIH stuffed up and got words wrong – The player shouldn’t have to wait for the ball to move 5, he/she should only have to be 5mt from WHERE the ball was played (like the rule was before 2015)

    Don’t mind most of the rule changes.

    The rule that the ‘properly retreating’ defender can tackle would remove an annoying foul that clubs use of running DIRECTLY at the opponent on a self-pass (and getting huffy when THEY get a card for manufacturing)

    • I believe the introduction of the ban on playing a free ball awarded in the opponents 23m area directly into the circle, in 2009, was a mistake. The other 5m restrictions, particularly those placed on the taking of a self pass and the challenging an opponent who has taken a self pass, flow from this prohibition. The whole lot needs scrapping.

      A second whistle needs to be introduced to signal the resumption of play when the ball is stationary for the free in a place that satisfies the umpire – this is not dependant on the positioning of defenders.

      Defenders who do not retreat immediately on the first whistle to attempt to get 5m from the ball and then attempt to influence play (or otherwise cause the umpire to delay the second whistle) should be further penalised.

      A self passer who chooses to move the ball before opponents have managed to get 5m from the ball should be considered to have played an advantage (why else would he or she play the ball early?) and the moment the ball is moved by the taker normal play should resume – the game regains the flow it has lost.

      The present prohibition on the free ball awarded in the opponents 23m area should be replaced with a prohibition on raising the ball into the circle with a hit in any phase of play (other strokes being height limited).

      • Your comment is a perfect addition and clarification of the rules in my opinion… And would save my poor knees from hits directly into the circle.

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