fieldhockey-d1 flag

Spencer Parlier | | July 27, 2022

College field hockey rules, explained

Watch Laura van der Doorn set herself up perfectly for this goal

With the 2022 fall sports season just around the corner, there is no better time to get familiar with college field hockey rules than now. 

(Note: NCAA field hockey follows the International Hockey Federation’s field hockey rule book.)

The Field 

The dimensions of a standard field hockey field are similar to soccer, with a few variances that are very specific to the sport. The pitch is about 100 yards (91.4 meters) long and 60 yards (55 meters) wide. 

There is a halfway line, as well as two lines that sit at about the 25-yard (23 meters) mark from each end of the pitch. 

Wikimedia Commons field hockey pitch

Field hockey goals are 7¬†feet¬†high and 12 feet¬†wide. There are shooting circles that surround the goals ‚ÄĒ¬†a semi-circle extending from the goal line, out to about 16¬†yards (15 meters), and then back to the goal line. These circles are the only area players are allowed to shoot the ball from. Any shot that goes in the goal outside of these semi-circles does not count. There is also a dashed circle that runs parallel to the shooting circle, which runs about 5 meters outside of the shooting circle.¬†

Other proponents that make up the pitch include the penalty spot, a mark 7 yards (6.4 meters) from the goal, the penalty corner marks, two foot-long dashes about 5.5 yards (5 meters) and 11 yards (10 meters) from the center of the backline for offensive and defensive players and the long corner mark, a foot-long dash on the sideline about 5.5 yards (5 meters) from the backline. It's important to note that in NCAA field hockey the long corner mark is no longer used. It may still appear on the field, but it is not utilized in any way. 

Field hockey is typically played on water-based astroturf. The sport can also be played on regular astroturf.


The goal of each field hockey match is to score more goals than your opponent before time runs out. The game is broken up into four quarters, each being 15 minutes long. If the game is tied after time runs out in the fourth quarter, it results in a draw. Extra time, overtime and shootout specifics, and when they would take place, differ from match to match and tournament to tournament. 

When a shootout does take place, a single offensive player is put up against a goalie, similar to ice hockey. The offensive player then has eight seconds to try and score the goal. They can shoot as many times as they want as long as they have possession and as long as it is within the eight seconds. 

To start a match, 11 players from each team take the pitch, as play begins when one team starts with the ball at the halfway line. 

The team in possession of the ball will try to move the ball towards the opposing team‚Äôs goal via a variety of moves ‚ÄĒ¬†passing, lifting or dribbling.

Passing is a direct transfer of the ball between two teammates, lifting is an airborne pass typically directed towards another teammate and dribbling is light touches to oneself to move the ball downfield. 

NCAA Photos Field hockey rules

One key difference between dribbling a puck in ice hockey and dribbling a ball in field hockey is that in field hockey the player is only allowed to touch the ball with one side of their stick ‚ÄĒ¬†the flat side. The other side of the stick is known as the rounded side. If a player touches the ball with the rounded side, the other team is rewarded possession.¬†

Defensive play is quite similar to soccer or ice hockey, with a few exceptions. Defenders are allowed to try to steal the ball with their stick from either the side or the front of an offensive player. Defenders are not allowed to try and steal the ball, also known as tackling, from behind. 


Substitution is another important aspect of field hockey any potential fan should know. Unlike soccer, field hockey is allowed an unlimited amount of substitutions. As long as the substitute comes on the field after the player being substituted comes off, the moves can happen at any time. 


Severe penalties are divided up into three categories ‚ÄĒ¬†green cards, yellow cards and red cards. These penalties are typically given out when a player commits a dangerous play foul. Sometimes green cards are distributed for more common fouls such as substitution violations, intentionally delaying the game¬†or being within a five-meter radius of the ball when attempting to defend a free hit.¬†

Dangerous play fouls include excessive body contact with another player, misuse of the stick in a dangerous manner, lifting the ball within five meters of another player or playing the ball above shoulder height when perceived as dangerous. 

  • Green cards:¬†Once a player receives a green card, they are suspended from playing for two¬†minutes.¬†
  • Yellow cards:¬†Once a player receives a yellow card, they are suspended from playing between five¬†minutes and ten minutes depending on what the umpire decides.¬†
  • Red cards:¬†Once a player receives a red card, they are permanently suspended from the game without substitution.¬†

Another way field hockey distinguishes smaller penalties is through free hits. Free hits are awarded to a team when a player on the opposing team hits the ball with anything that is not the flat part of the stick, including kicking and hitting the ball with other body parts. 

Free hits are also rewarded if a team commits third-party obstruction. Third-party obstruction is similar to a pick or screen in basketball and football ‚ÄĒ¬†something that is illegal in field hockey. A player is not allowed to use their body to shield the ball from another player.¬†

Corners & Penalty Strokes

There are two types of corners in field hockey ‚ÄĒ¬†long corner and penalty/short corner.

Instead of taking place at the long-corner mark, long corners in the NCAA take place on the 25-yard/23-meter line in line with where the ball crossed the goal line. This happens when a defender unintentionally hits the ball behind their own goal line.

NCAA Photos field hockey penalty corner Defenders lined up ready to defend a penalty corner

Penalty corners, also known as short corners, take place on the penalty corner mark on the goal line. These take place when a defender intentionally hits the ball behind their own goal line or commits a foul that isn't stopping a legitimate chance of a goal inside the shooting circle. All offensive players and defensive players must be out of the shooting circle until the ball is put back into play. The ball is typically hit to a player close to the top of the shooting circle, stopped and then shot onto goal. 

Penalty strokes, which are much different than what happens in a penalty shootout mentioned earlier, takes place when a defender commits a foul against a player who has a legitimate chance to score in the shooting circle. The ball is placed at the penalty spot in the shooting circle and the shooter, similar to soccer and ice hockey, only has one shot to sneak it past the goalie. 

Middlebury wins 2023 NCAA DIII field hockey national championship

For the sixth-straight season, Middlebury won the NCAA Division III field hockey title. See the final bracket, stats and scores right here from the 2023 tournament.

Kutztown wins the 2023 NCAA DII field hockey championship

Coverage of the 2023 NCAA DII field hockey championship, including bracket, live stream, schedules, highlights, scores and news.

2023 NCAA DI field hockey championship: Final bracket, scores en route to UNC's 11th title

The bracket, schedule and results for the 2023 NCAA DI field hockey championship.

Subscribe To Email Updates

Enter your information to receive emails about offers, promotions from and our partners