The evolution of high school field hockey continues.
Since 2010, the National Federation State High School Association (NFSHSA), has implemented three particular rule changes that local coaches believe will have significant impact upon how the game is played.
The self-start rule, originated in 2010, has not only increased offensive advancement of the ball, but has also reduced the "stop and go" pace of the game itself, in which in the past a referee might have blown a whistle and stopped play as many as ten times in a minute.
"There's no dispute about the fact that there were too many whistles in a field hockey game," says Northern Lehigh coach Jess Frew. "This in turn would slow the game down and also any tempo that a team might be trying to establish. Now, with the self-start rule, the game can keep a flow to it, and teams can generate more chances to get the ball into the scoring circle."
Before the self-start rule was adopted, whenever a ball would hit a player's foot and not her stick, the whistle would blow and after a stop in action, the player would have to pass the ball. Now when the ball hits a foot, the whistle still blows, but after a very brief pause, the player continues her play with the option of passing or stick handling up the field. In other words, the player makes the decision based on what she sees ahead of her.
"This rule is a great addition to the offensive game," says Northwestern coach, Patty Mengel. "Now defenses do not have the opportunity to set up to block a pass because the offensive player can just go forward on her own."
A more recent rule change allows the offensive player to lift the ball with her stick and pass it over the heads of the defensive players. The rule specifies that the ball must be "scooped, pushed, or flicked" and not hit by an action of the stick that might resemble the swinging of a golf club. This is to prevent injury to defensive players who could be struck in the head area from a forcefully hit ball.
"The rule also states that the defensive players must be at least five yards beyond the lift area, and not directly in front of the ball on a free hit," says Lehighton coach, Lamar Long. "We now put the self-start and lift rules into effect during our practices because they impact offensive strategy. These rules encourage ball possession which is really a key element to winning the game."
"The lift rule means that the offensive player lifts the ball up and over the defense and into an open area," says Mengel. "This is a skill that has to be acquired by individual players through many repetitions during practices."
An additional rule that will begin this season has to do with defensive player movement during corner hits. A whistle will blow and a penalty will be enforced upon a defensive player who "enters the circle before the ball is struck by the offensive player on a corner hit. This defender shall be sent to the centerline and cannot be replaced by another defender." Theoretically, this will give the offensive team an excellent scoring chance with the man advantage.
"I'm not sure this rule is good for the game," says Palmerton coach, Kim Seiler. "First, if the other rules' intent is to speed up the game then this rule will not help because the defender will have to move from the circle all the way to midfield before the corner hit takes place. And furthermore, players who are young and inexperienced will jump the circle because they get nervous or anxious. This could result in several longer stoppages of play which will definitely slow down the game."
Seiler's point may also prove that teams who have more experienced players will now have a distinct advantage because of these three rules. It will be interesting to see how many games this year are decided by the skills of veteran varsity players who utilize these rules to create opportunities that result in more goals scored for their teams.