Hockey

It's not all jolly ? everyone needs to get a bit of stick sometimes. Bill Colwill sizes up all the latest hockey gear
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The Independent Online

Hockey was given a big boost when Great Britain's men won Olympic gold in the 1988 Games in Seoul. Although that success has yet to be repeated,ever-increasing numbers are taking up the game, playingcompetitively from under-10 to over-60 levels. Two teams of 11 players compete and, like football, the object is to put the ball – which in hockey's case is small and hard – into the opponents' goal. Each player has a stick with a curved end, and only the stick's playing area can be used to move the ball. Goalkeepers are the exception: they can kick the ball, and use their hands and body to stop shots. Unlike football, there is no offside, rolling substitutes are allowed, and goals can be scored only from shots made within a 16-yard semi-circle in front of goal. Hockey is a fast-moving, highly skilled game, officially a non-contact sport – although watching, you might find that difficult to believe. It is usually played over two periods of 35 minutes.

Hockey was given a big boost when Great Britain's men won Olympic gold in the 1988 Games in Seoul. Although that success has yet to be repeated,ever-increasing numbers are taking up the game, playingcompetitively from under-10 to over-60 levels. Two teams of 11 players compete and, like football, the object is to put the ball – which in hockey's case is small and hard – into the opponents' goal. Each player has a stick with a curved end, and only the stick's playing area can be used to move the ball. Goalkeepers are the exception: they can kick the ball, and use their hands and body to stop shots. Unlike football, there is no offside, rolling substitutes are allowed, and goals can be scored only from shots made within a 16-yard semi-circle in front of goal. Hockey is a fast-moving, highly skilled game, officially a non-contact sport – although watching, you might find that difficult to believe. It is usually played over two periods of 35 minutes.

To find a club near you, contact the appropriate national association:

English Hockey Association (01908 544 644, www.hockeyonline.co.uk).

Scottish Hockey Union (0131 453 9070, www.scottish-hockey.org.uk).

Welsh Hockey Union (02920 233 257, www.welsh-hockey.co.uk).

For the latest news on the domestic and international scene, read "Hockey Sport" and "World Hockey" magazines (01733 891 679).

The International Hockey Federation website, www.fihockey.org, carries up-to-date details of major tournaments, and has live internet text commentary from the 16-team Men's World Cup qualifying tournament taking place in Scotland from 17-29 July.

As for retailers, try: www.mercianhockey.com; www.hockeyheaven.co.uk

Stick

Sticks come in a variety of types, sizes and costs. The Mercian Black Widow, a carbon-fibre stick, is around £100, the Piranha, a well-balanced school stick, a little over £10. The average club player would expect to pay about £50. A stick must feel comfortable and easy to manipulate. Sticks for juniors should be the right size and weight for each stage of their development.

Gumshield

Not obligatory but advisable, because oral and dental injuries are fairly common. Prevention is much better than cure; hockey balls are hard, and teeth can be lost. A mouthguard can be bought in a sports shop for as little as £10, but it is far better for the guard to be made and fitted by the player's dentist. For a custom-made gumshield like this, expect to pay about £50.

Clothing

The requirements are much the same as for football. Shorts cost around £15, socks £3 to £5 and shirts between £20 and £25, depending on how complicated the design of club colours and logo is. Women usually wear skirts rather than shorts, which cost around £25. At least one women's club have followed the Olympic gold medallists, Australia, in wearing an all-in-one dress.

Shinguards

Don't leave home without them, their use is virtually compulsory, and with good reason – sticks and balls will serious damage your lower leg. Many models have extensions giving some protection to the ankle. Shinguards start at around £10, moving up to the Anatomic Shin Pad, shaped to the lower leg with a moulded outer hard shell and foam lining, at £25 or so.

Boots

Most players used to wear conventional football boots; nowadays, with much hockey played on artificial surfaces, the preference is for rubber-soled boots with a combination of studs and blades. Costs range from around £40 to £100 or more for the sophisticated "astro" boots, with special toe and heel protection. Buy the best you can afford; cheap footwear is a false economy.

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