A core rule difference that makes indoor hockey special is that players can't hit the ball. We'll cover everything you need to know to make this call with confidence on this #RuleyTuesday!
Hunting for hints on hitting in the indoor game? Harness your hopes, as we’re here to help. Let’s do this!
Hey friends! I’m Keely of FHumpires back with a hot take on one hockey rule. On this indoor #RuleyTuesday, we’ll dissect another mostly indoor-only rule, although it does appear in outdoor in one limited circumstance. In outdoor, it’s illegal to raise the first shot on a penalty corner if that shot is a hit. The prohibition against hitting applies all over the court in indoor, and we’ll go through the why and how today.
Rule 9.5: Players Must Not Hit The Ball
Rule 9.5 is one of the shortest rules in the book when it says:
9.5 Players must not hit the ball.
However, that succinct clause has to be read with the definition of hitting found at the very start of the rule book:
Hit (which is not permitted in indoor hockey)
Striking or “slap” hitting the ball using a swinging movement of the stick towards the ball.
‘Slap’ hitting the ball, which involves a long pushing or sweeping with the stick before making contact with the ball, is regarded as a hit and is therefore not permitted.
It’s also worth looking at the definition of a push:
Moving the ball along the ground using a pushing movement of the stick after the stick has been placed close to the ball. When a push is made, both the ball and the head of the stick are in contact with the ground.
Why Are We Strict About Hitting In Indoor?
As always, we’ll spend a moment on why we can’t hit in indoor. Much of it is due to the different surface we play on. In order to control the ball on a smaller and faster playing surface with opponents in closer proximity to each other more often, the velocity of the ball needs to be controlled. Hitting is the most powerful ball-playing action in our game, due to the acceleration provided by the long lever of the stick head moving around the fulcrum, or the end of the stick held in the player’s left hand.
The danger is magnified by the another significant indoor-only rule, which prohibits raising the ball. In a small gym with walls and equipment and people close by, the ball really needs to stay on the playing surface. That directly leads to players defending, ideally, with their sticks flat and often, hands also on the court.
The closer distances between players also puts defenders in danger of taking a follow-through in the face. I should know: I've got a lovely dead spot of nerves under one of my nostrils from when I took a stick in the face 20 years ago. To this day, every time I blow my nose I’m reminded of that Bloody Sunday.
How Do We Determine What Is A Hit?
So now we know the why, let’s talk about the how.
Remember that a hit is defined as striking or “slap” hitting the ball using a swinging movement of the stick. Let’s face it, anytime a definition includes the term being defined, you know you’e in some circular kind of trouble. The key term we have to focus on is the “swing”, which is another word for a pendulum that oscillates about the fulcrum point. It’s very difficult to have a short back swing, have the pendulum strike the ball at the equilibrium position (or middle of the swing), and have a long forward trajectory–so by limiting the back swing, the follow-through is naturally limited, keeping sticks away from faces. On the converse, it is possible to have a long back swing and a short follow-through of the pendulum trajectory, but either the restoring force has to be absorbed in a solid surface (like hitting the ball down into the turf in a bopper ball) or countered by the hands to restrain that force.
Some hockey family folks interpret that concept I so nerdily explained as meaning that if the hands are close together on the stick you have a fulcrum and therefore must have a pendulum and therefore a swing. It’s not quite that easy, as we still allow a small swinging motion because, even a push involves a fulcrum: it’s just that it happens after the ball is in extended contact with the stick. Conversely, a player can still hit the ball with two hands apart on the stick without that extended stick to ball contact, as in a slap. That can occur either when the stick moves along the ground, or out of the air down to the ball on the court and up again.
There’s also the implied contrast between a hit and a push. As exclusive terms, one can argue that if a player is pushing the ball, which implies extended contact between stick and ball, they can’t be hitting it, which requires a brief impact of the stick on the ball deflecting it away immediately after the point of impact.
So a hit involves a combination of a definite fulcrum, a lack of a pushing motion, and a big enough backswing. How big is too big? Some hockey jurisdictions have guidelines like a 50cm limit, or a 60cm limit—I have to admit, that’s hard to visualize. I like to frame it as “if it’s1m it’s too much”, as 1m, aka just over a stick length, is a distance we can all picture in our brains without too much pain.
Let’s look at some examples.
In this clip, the overhead angle gives us a great view of exactly how far the stick travels before making contact with the ball. 1m? Without a doubt.
Here’s another example where a deceptive sweep used by the passer, which is a fantastic move in outdoor. However, the stick clearly travels more than a stick length before contacting the ball and pushes it into the corner to the goal-scorer.
A bit of a different one as here an upright reverse shot doesn’t have too big of a backswing but fails to push or flick the ball on target.
In this last clip, we have two examples of hits (we’re not going ignore the ball being played away after the whistle by the fouling team for purposes of this chat). The initial pass out of the defending circle is an example of an upright slap hit which travels around 1m from mid-air down to the ball on the court. The velocity of the pass makes it possible for the goal-scorer to one-time the deflection into the goal very skillfully, but his hands are both together creating that swinging pendulum and the distance of the backswing, although not clearly a metre, is likely more than 50cm as some areas prefer as a limit. In real time, it would be difficult although likely correct to call the goal back for a hit but should never have gotten that far because the initial pass clearly wasn’t legal.
I hope these examples help you when looking for less than a metre backswing plus a pushing motion after contact is made with the ball.
A final note: big thanks to my friend Bernardo and the folks at Self-Pass for posting the last clip we included here on Instagram and creating some amazing discussion on hitting in indoor. If you don’t follow Self-Pass on all your favourite social media platforms already, I’m here to question your life choices. I’ll also add a link to that Instagram post in the description so you can check out the debate yourself.
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Chau for now!
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