Field Hockey Positions Explained

Not too long ago, learning about the roles of the various field hockey positions was pretty simple. Because there hadn't been any significant changes to the rules of hockey for such a long time, the way the game was played had not adapted much either which also meant the positions and their roles stayed more or less the same.

Things were so stagnant you could buy a musty old book on field hockey from a second hand book store and you would be very close up to date with the latest in hockey rules, skills and positioning. 

Then came the development of composite hockey sticks,  as well as changes to the rules to the 11 a side game to make the game faster, and the increased popularity of artificial field hockey fields. These factors all changed the way the game is played there are now many different formations for teams to adopt and adapt to their needs.

The good news is that even though the outdoor hockey game has undergone significant changes, the basic traditional positions (which we will discuss below)  remain as relevant as ever.

What are the basic positions for outdoor hockey?

Simply put, a team is 11 players divided into three groups of field players, being strikers, midfielders and defenders and one goal keeper. The three playing groups can each be summarised as follows:
  1. Strikers – Are the attack weapons of the team. It is their job as the hockey teams offensive players to score goals and spend most of their time in the attacking half of the hockey field and harass the opposing teams goal keeper;
  2. Midfielders – Are the link between strikers and defenders. They play mainly in the middle of the field and are required to both defend and attack, but mainly to get the ball to the strikers. Because of the duality of the role, the midfielder position often demands the most running and highest fitness levels;
  3. Defenders – Are the defensive stronghold of the team. The key responsibilities of a defensive player are to stop the strikers from scoring and ensure their goal keepers have a quiet day at the office, and to get the ball to their mid field and attackers as soon as possible.

Within each of the above three groups are distinct player positions, each of which play similar but different roles within their playing group.
Since the advent of composite stick technology, artificial turf and changes to the rules of hockey which have dramatically increased the speed of the game, there are so many different formations and variations on how you arrive at the mix of strikers, midfielders and defenders. For illustrative purposes we will look at the more traditional formations and the one you will find in the musty old hockey textbooks, the 3-5-2, which consists of three strikers, five midfielders and two defenders.  

The 3-5-2 formation 

Field hockey positions formation 3-5-2

The 3-5-2 formation splits up the 10 field players into two defenders (Fullbacks x 2), five midfielders (Left Half, Right Half, Centre Half, Inside Right and Inside Left), and three strikers (Centre Forward, Right Wing and Left Wing).

Playing positions and their roles in the 3-5-2 formation

Centre Forward (CF)

The central point in attack for the team, the centre forward makes his or her home in their teams attacking half of the field and is a goal scoring machine.

The centre forward also plays an important role defensively. It is their job to put pressure on the fullbacks and centre half of the opposing team and to stop them from moving the ball up the field.

Right and Left Wing (RW / LW)

Similar to a centre forward in almost every way except they are positioned out wide on each sideline of the field hockey field. The come in from the sideline toward the goal as they get into the opposing team's 25 yard line. Defensively the wingers are responsible for marking their opposing outside half and to make it difficult for the opposing team to progress the ball up the field.

Inside Right and Inside Left (IR / LR)

Inside forwards are the absolute engine room of the team and often occupied by the most physically active players. Often referred to as "link" players, the inside forwards are expected to work equally hard in both attack and defence. Inside forwards are a vital link in getting the ball from the defence and midfield to their strikers. They also are expected to work hard in defence and win turnovers from the opposing midfield. For these reasons inside forwards and other midfielders are often the players who have all-round skills for attack and defence.

Centre Half (CH)

The centre half is the conductor of the team. They are the centre point that links the two sides of the field together, allowing the ball to be transferred from the right to the left and vice versa. The centre half also links defensive players to the attacking players, and distributes the ball from defence to the forwards at the opportune moments. Defensively, the centre half holds the middle of the field and is responsible for preventing the opposing team from progressing through.

Right and Left Half (RH / LH)

The left half and right half positions play a similar defensive role to the fullbacks, except they are tasked with defending primarily against the opposing teams wingers. The "outside halves", as they are often called,  have an important role in attack and often push forward well into the attacking half to provide a key link in getting the ball from the centre half and to the inside forwards and wingers on their side of the field.

Fullbacks (FB)

The two fullbacks can either position themselves on the left and right side of the field, or can play as high fullback and a sweeper. The fullbacks are tasked defensively with marking the opposing teams high strikers. In attack, their role is to get the ball out of their defensive half as effortlessly as possible and to support teammates in attack by providing an outlet to transfer the ball from one side to the other.

The 3-4-3 formation

Field hockey positions formation 3-4-3

The 3-4-3 formation splits up the 10 field players into three defenders (Centre Back, Right Back and Left Back), four midfielders (Defensive Midfielders x 2 and Attacking Midfielders x 2), and three strikers (Centre Forward, Right Wing and Left Wing).

The 3-4-3 is a more modern twist on the 3-5-2 formation which has come into popularity since the changes to the rules of hockey suited teams with a more attacking style. 

The 3-3-4 formation

Field hockey positions formation 3-4-4

The 3-3-4 formation splits up the 10 field players into four defenders (Two fullbacks, Right Halfback and Left Halfback), three midfielders (Centre Midfielder,  Left and Right Midfielders), and three strikers (Centre Forward, Right Wing and Left Wing).

Much like the 3-4-3 formation, the 3-3-4 formation is fairly similar to the traditional 3-5-2 formation with some minor tweaks. The key difference is the centre half in the traditional formation gets pushed up higher in the midfield, with the left and right halves pushed back with the fullbacks.

What is the best field hockey position for you?

As you have seen, the best position for you may depend on the formation your team plays with. That being said, most players have some distinct skills or physiological characteristics which lend themselves more to being an attacker, midfielder, or defender.

For example, if you prefer being able to see your team mates in front of you and see the game unfold, and you like organising and communicating with those players in front of you, you may be more suited to a defensive position. 

If you are the type of player who needs a lot of touches of the ball on their stick to feel effective, you would be suited more towards a midfielder or defender.

You might not need to get a heap of touches of the ball, or you might have deadly shot on goal. If either of these is the case you may be more suited to an attacking position.

If you have a favourite formation or position, let us know in the comments.

January 05, 2021 by James Harmon

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