Get 20 players and two goalies running around on a field, and collisions are bound to happen. With everyone carrying wooden sticks and hitting a hard plastic ball, you can see why field hockey players face a risk of getting hurt.
To keep things as safe as possible while playing field hockey, follow these tips.
Why Is Field Hockey Safety Important?
Because field hockey is a contact sport, injuries are common. While most of these injuries are minor, serious mishaps like broken bones and concussions can happen.
Ankle sprains are the most common field hockey injury. Other frequent injuries include knee sprains, muscle strains, muscle tears, ligament tears, and overuse injuries (RSIs), such as tendonitis, lower back pain, and stress fractures.
Contact with a stick or the ball can fracture (break) or sprain fingers, hands, or wrists. And if a stick or the ball hits someone in the face, it can break teeth or injure the eyes.
The right protective gear is important for any sport, and field hockey is no exception. Here are some things to think about when it comes to safety gear:
Cleats. Choose a pair of shoes with molded cleats or ribbed soles. Shoes with screw-in cleats may carry a higher risk of injury, so only use them when you need extra traction, such as on a wet field. Make sure your cleats fit properly and lace them tightly every time you practice or play.
Shin guards. Field hockey shin guards, which are made of plastic and foam, wrap farther around the lower leg and offer more ankle protection than soccer shin guards. Some players like to wear thin socks under their shin guards to make them more comfortable.
Goggles. Since 2011, U.S. high school field hockey players have been required to wear eye protection. Most goggles are made of steel cages that protect the eyes, but some players choose plastic goggles that interfere less with their peripheral vision.
Mouthguards. Mouthguards are a good way to protect your teeth and prevent them from hitting your lips, cheeks, and tongue. Experts recommend mouthguards for all field hockey players, so lots of leagues require that players wear them.
Gloves. Many players don't use them, but field hockey gloves can reduce the risk of broken fingers and help keep hands warm in cold weather.
Masks. During short corner plays, defenders may choose to wear protective masks to reduce their risk of facial injuries. Rules governing the use of masks vary from league to league, but they should be fitted close to the face.
At the highest levels of field hockey, players can shoot the ball nearly 100 mph. Even when it's not moving that fast, a field hockey ball is very hard. In addition to courage, goalies need head-to-toe protective gear:
Head protection. Helmets are required for all goalies and should have a cage or mask that fully covers the face. Mouthguards and throat protectors are usually required, too.
Leg and foot protection. Goalies should wear padded goalie pants, pelvic protectors, leg guards that fully cover the lower legs and allow freedom of movement, and the correct size kickers (foam guards that go over the cleats).
Upper body and arm protection. Goalies should wear chest pads, arm guards, and elbow protectors, which are usually all connected. These should all be the correct size to prevent them from slipping or not offering enough protection.
Hand protection. Right- and left-hand protectors should be the correct size and offer plenty of padding to stop hard shots.
Before You Play
Getting yourself in good shape before field hockey season starts will help make you a better player and go a long way toward preventing injuries. Start working out and eating right a few months before the season is set to begin. Better yet, get regular exercise and eat a healthy diet year-round, and then you won't need to worry about being in shape for the season.
Here are some other things to keep in mind before you start practicing or playing:
Inspect the field to make sure there are no holes or other obstacles, including debris and broken glass. Store extra sticks, balls, and other equipment well off to the sides of the field.
Always warm up and stretch. Do jumping jacks or run in place for a few minutes to get the blood flowing, and then slowly and gently stretch, paying particular attention to your ankles, calves, knees, and hamstrings. Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds before moving on to the next one.
Have a pre-season physical exam. Many schools won't let athletes play unless they've had a sports physical. If your school doesn't require or schedule an exam for you, have your parents take you to your own doctor. He or she will make sure you're physically able to play and can review sports safety with you.
While You Play
Know and obey the rules of field hockey, especially rules that have to do with how sticks may be used and when the ball can be lifted in the air. Unsafe play is a major cause of injuries and will get you carded. Red cards will get you kicked out of a game, and many leagues will suspend you for additional games for dangerous play.
Keep your head up and be aware of your teammates and opposing players at all times. Collisions are more likely if you go charging blindly down the field and don't pay attention to other players.
Learn and use proper techniques, particularly when it comes to stickhandling, tackling, and shooting. Illegal use of the stick and lifting the ball when other players are near are common causes of injuries.
If you get a cramp or feel pain while playing, ask to come out of the game and don't start playing again until the pain goes away. Playing through pain might seem brave, but it can increase the severity of an injury and possibly keep you on the sidelines for longer stretches of time.
A Few Other Reminders
Make sure first aid is available at the fields where you practice and play. There also should be an adult around who knows how to give first aid.
Be ready for emergencies. Have a responsible adult on hand when you play or have a plan to contact medical personnel so they can quickly treat concussions, fractures, or dislocations.
Stay hydrated, particularly on hot, sunny days. Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after practices and games.
If you have any piercings or jewelry, take them off before playing.
If an opposing player collides with you or does something you disagree with, don't take it personally. Let the referees handle the situation.
There's nothing particularly dangerous about field hockey, and it's been played for thousands of years. But injuries can happen if people don't pay attention to what's going on around them or play in an unsafe manner. Follow the rules and some basic precautions and be aware of other players, and you should be able to avoid most injuries.