The greatest sport is obviously something that is completely opinion-based and is probably impossible to agree on.
I’m not saying that I think everyone agrees with me, but I'll give my reasons as to why I think field hockey should be everybody’s favourite sport and leave it open to the jury.
I'll start by explaining why I rule out other sports before going into more specific detail about why field hockey is great.
The best sports for the masses to enjoy are the simplest ones—those in which the aim of the game is simply to get the ball into a net or to the other side of the pitch. Everyone understands this and immediately knows what is happening in the match and what everybody is trying to do.
(Having said this, my other favourite sport is cricket, which does not fit into this category.)
Racing sports are a little too one-dimensional and racket sports also lack the variety of team sports, leaving few other forms of sport to be the greatest. The simple sports that I can think of that fit into this category are football, American football, Aussie rules, rugby, handball, netball, basketball, and hockey (ice and field).
The next thing that makes a game great is that scoring has to be special. Games where teams score every other minute demean the art of scoring and don’t give fans the joyful feeling that rare goals in low-scoring sports provide. This rules out basketball, netball, handball, and Aussie rules.
The next thing is that, like the aim, the game itself has to be simple. In football, everyone kicks a ball around; that's simple.
American football, on the other hand, stops and starts a lot, and uneducated people don’t understand that. The majority of players can’t touch the ball (What?!?) and everyone has a different role which most people will not be able to pick up on without others explaining it to them.
Therefore we are left with football, rugby, and hockey.
The next thing that is important is that the game needs to have an element of physicality. All four of these sports are physical. Rugby can be brutal. Football and field hockey are based on endurance and speed, with the added odd collision.
Field hockey also has the hardest sports ball in use, to which my broken eye socket can attest. Ice hockey has more than enough contact in it and also has very quick gameplay.
The next important factor is that games need to be skill-based. This rules out rugby, as throwing and catching a ball aren’t particularly difficult, even when doing it whilst running quickly.
Ice hockey isn’t highly skill-based either, aside from the skating. Large stick blades make controlling the puck easy. Using both sides of the stick makes puck manipulation easy and the fact that the goals are so small, and the keepers so big in comparison, shows that scoring isn’t that difficult, given the amount of goals scored.
This leaves only football and field hockey. Football is a very skill-based, touch sport, and field hockey is perhaps the most difficult of sports to master all the skills involved.
These two sports are very similar in theory but with vastly different popularity and amounts of viewers. Football is obviously a bigger game but I feel the differences should be in favour of field hockey.
The distinction between the two sports is based on one major fact—that there is no long ball option in Junior Hockey. This is brought about because the aerial ball in field hockey is a very difficult skill to master when having just started playing. This means that all players are encouraged to pass the ball along the ground to one another.
This may sound exceedingly basic but I remember Junior Football, which involved getting the ball at the back and thumping it up field over as many of the opposition’s heads as possible. No one ever passed the ball up field at a beginners level.
This means that as field hockey players get older, they have had more experience playing good passing hockey and therefore play with a better technical ability than footballers do.
This leads to better retention of the ball (along with less sloppy play) and therefore more organised and attractive team moves. Also, the small, hard ball moves more quickly than a football which aids fast passing as long as control of the ball is good.
The second important difference is that there is no offside rule in hockey, which leads to the play being more spread out. This leads to quicker and more deliberate passing—not passing just to keep possession, but to manipulate the ball to a position best for the next attempted attack.
Defenders are key to starting up attacks with their quick switching passes, showing that all the players have this technical ability whereas in football a lot of defenders' possession is purely to keep possession and slow down play.
Additionally, footballers frequently still lump the ball up to the strikers in a direct manner instead of the more cultured hockey moves.
The restriction of not being able to score from outside the D also adds to the enforced ability to work the ball around cleverly to produce an opening and forces teams to have to take the opportunity quickly and precisely when one does occur.
Admittedly, long-range shots are great to watch in football. But the overall clever movement in hockey and the well-worked goals often ending in pre-planned, deft deflections are very easy on the eye and would be highlighted in a football match in a very positive manner.
Lastly, the rules of field hockey are mainly there to aid the flow of the game more so than in football (although safety is the key theme throughout the rule book). This is so that there is as little stopping and starting as possible during matches.
The playing of advantages is of major importance to umpires because it allows the game to flow. The fact that play doesn’t have to start exactly where fouls occurred gives more fluidity to the games by minimising stopped play.
The cards system works better than football’s, as there are fewer breaks of play due to players abusing officials.
The warning card and sin bin system calm players down to give officials more respect. And with respect for officials comes players concentrating more on the quality and getting on with the game.
I doubt hockey will ever reverse the popularities of these two sports, but I'd like a lot of people to watch the upcoming hockey at the Olympics and appreciate how skillful and technically excellent the games are. After this, I'd like people to keep an interest in the sport and help give it as strong a following as it can possibly get.
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