Hockey5s : our Frankenstein’s monster

Frankenstein's monster

In 2013 the FIH gave birth to hockey’s own Frankenstein’s monster. Contrary to the monster created by dr. Frankenstein this one has a name. We call it Hockey5s.
Very much parallel to the fictional character from book and movies, I’m convinced some of you will have grown to like the monster. As I’m sure the monster will do some good along the way. Though I fear, as in the story, in the end the monster will come back to destroy its creator.
And about Hockey5s being as ugly as Frankenstein’s monster… Well, let’s just say “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” 😉


It started after the Singapore Youth Olympic Games

SingaporeSome 10 years ago the marketeers from the IOC, supposedly the organisation guarding the Olympic movement, thought they needed another event. They invented the Youth Olympic Games (YOG). The first edition was in 2010 in Singapore and hockey got invited to join the party. Twelve U18 teams (6 boy + 6 girls) participated in our traditional 11-a-side game. Following Singapore however the IOC declared they wanted more nations to be in the next edition of the YOG. However the allotted quota of players involved could not be raised. So they asked the FIH to come up with a so-called “short format” of the game (= less players/team) to allow for more nations involved without having to accommodate more athletes.
Nanjing

The FIH considered the existing short format we today call indoor hockey. But in the end, for whatever reason, they preferred to go for a new outdoor format. Without much consultation with those involved in playing the game (players, coaches, umpires) the FIH administrators created hockey’s very own Frankenstein’s monster. They introduced it as Hockey5s to the 2014 YOG in China’s Nanjing. Following the Nanjing YOG the administrators of IOC and FIH padded each other on the back for a job well done. They had more nations involved with 10 boys and 10 girls teams. The stadiums were full – it’s China, so I doubt these were paying spectators. And the public did not needed to know anything about hockey in order to follow the game. But, apart from the administrators, a lot of coaches, players and hockey-media were less enthusiastic about the newly invented Hockey5s.

Next came the Buenos Aires YOG

Following Nanjing the FIH staged a technical review of the format together with their partner Loughborough University. At a two-day workshop in 2015 elite junior players (international and England Hockey League level) participated in a series of scenarios using different variations of field size (width & depth), ball size, number of players, shooting zones, challenges and officiating. International officials, coaches and participating players were surveyed after each scenario. The outcome of the review was to reduce the size of the field to encourage more tactical construction of play – 1v1, 2v1, pressing, principles of play etc. It was felt the previous pitch size was encouraging too much long ball passing and long shots.
Buenos Aires

Additionally the IOC allowed for extra teams at the Buenos Aires YOG in 2016, in order to guarantee the host nations participation. So we had 12 teams for boys and the same for girls participating in Argentina. Contrary to China, Argentina is a country with a lot of love for and tradition in hockey. Combine this with their passion for sports and free admission to the games and you will not be surprised the hockey event was a successful one in Buenos Aires. I doubt it’s because of the choice for 5s.
The review afterwards of this event reintroduces the consideration for a defined shooting zone, such as the D or circle as we know it in the traditional game of hockey. Though here it would most likely become the halfway line.

Some Hockey5s facts

Field/court sizes

Some consideration to the size was made at the initial design stage – the size of the Hockey5s pitch for the Nanjing YOG was 45.5m x 55m (half a full size pitch). It changed to 48m x 31.76m. I can’t help but wonder why people need to make these things so complicated. Just go for the same pitch size as the standard size for indoor hockey you would think.

pitch sizes

Elements similar to Indoor hockey

Structure: sideboards, short format (space, time and players), even though with 2x 10 minutes 5s is even shorter.

Gameplay: similar game structures to when indoor was briefly 5v5 and in moments of 6v6 when a player is suspended, use of boards for closing space and deflected passing.

Elements similar to 11-a-side outdoor

Structure: environment (outdoor), surface (artificial turf, grass, tarmac, concrete…), ball, all playing equipment (stick, type of glove)

Gameplay: hits, lifts, drags, flicks allowed.

Differences to both indoor and 11-a-side

Structure: End boards, space (48m x 32m), less space per player than 11s (228.5 sqm/pp) but more than indoor (80 sqm/pp) – Hockey5s has 152 sqm/pp, time of play is only 2x 10 minutes

Gameplay: Shoot from anywhere, challenges rather than PC’s or PS’s. High rebound, particularly the end boards, can create unique patterns of play. The game has less build up, with a higher number of turnovers. The type of boards used will affect the tactical options available – high vs low rebound.

Where has Frankenstein’s monster been seen?

nations playing hockey5s

According to the FIH, out of 137 hockey playing nations affiliated, 67 (= 100% in the pie chart) reported domestic and/or international participation for Hockey5s in their survey from 2018. Almost 40% of these 67 nations were European.
The number of participants in each nation is unknown. Nor do we know if any of these leagues or events are structural or just a couple of one-off events. We have no idea of knowing if any of these players introduced to Hockey5s made the transition to 11-a-side hockey, stayed in Hockey5s or has moved on to yet another sport. Nor do we know how many dedicated Hockey5s pitches exist around the world.
So basically, apart from the number of nations who dabbled with Hockey5s at one time or another – a rather meaningless statistic – we know very little on how this new format has contributed to hockey so far.

So until the FIH starts collecting more useful and reliable information from their national associations, we’re just guessing and making decisions based upon assumptions and personal impressions… But as a part of the Hockey2024 plan this should be improving soon… We hope.

One of the most surprising elements in the story of this particular Frankenstein’s monster was the decision by the FIH to have some of their FIH Open Series events in 2018 being played as Hockey5s. The FIH Open Series is one of the official pathways to the Olympic Games or World Cup. Serious stuff, not just some invitational or promotional event. So now we have countries, without the means to set up our standard game of hockey, first play Hockey5s as a part of an official 11-a-side event. While following this they will either have to forfeit or change everything. Because the next step, the FIH Series Finals, is the direct route towards the Olympic or World Cup Qualifiers, still an 11-a-side event… At least for now…

SWOT
A short SWOT analysis of Hockey5s today

So where do we go following the recent YOG in Buenos Aires? What will be the future of Hockey5s and its impact on hockey? I guess nobody really knows but here is my short version of a SWOT analysis for Hockey5s. SWOT is the acronym for “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats”. Obviously this is just my take on things, based upon many talks with coaches, players, officials, administrators and all kinds of hockey followers. Feel free to agree or disagree and I’m looking forward to your thoughts & arguments about this. Leave us your comment below…

StrengthsStrengths

  • Less players needed
  • Less space needed
  • More flexibility… in rules, pitch surfaces & sizes, etc…
  • More adapted to the possibility of mixed gender events
  • Shorter “bite-sized” content for media aiming at a public with a short attention spam
  • Possibly – depending upon exact rules – more goals to celebrate which would make it a more social-media-friendly format

WeaknessesWeaknesses

  • Boarding all around the pitch is more expensive and more difficult to copy if you have no access to existing infrastructure
  • More dangerous if hitting is allowed in this smaller pitch and there is no designated scoring zone
  • Not a real valid pathway to 11-a-side hockey because not enough transferrable skills, especially tactical
  • Enabling “short attention span” problems, instead of teaching us to remain focused for a longer time
  • Easier for individuals to make the difference, instead of learning the merit of teamwork

OpportunitiesOpportunities

  • Promotion : using a short format is easier to promote hockey in for example inner cities or at bigger non-sport-related events
  • Development : using a short format in regions or situations where it’s more difficult to play the real game because of facilities, climate or number of players
  • Teaching certain technical skills to the youngest players, who benefit from smaller teams in training and games

ThreatsThreats

  • If played at a competitive international level it becomes easier for the IOC the replace 11-a-side hockey at the Olympic Games because we will now offer them the same amount of medals or even more if you add a mixed format, with less resources (athletes, time and infrastructure) needed
  • Resources (financial and other) for FIH, continental and national federations now have to be divided among more formats instead of everything focused on our 1 true sport
  • Risk of losing funding by governments for 11-a-side hockey projects, now to be divided over multiple formats
  • Risk of losing media attention and general sports fans because no singular focus on 1 format, the message gets too complex
  • Risk of losing sponsors for existing hockey events because budgets get diverted to the new (cheaper) kid on the block

So I guess all strengths and opportunities would have been just as valid for the existing short format we today call indoor hockey, instead of Hockey5s…

KISS: keep it simple stupid

So for me… Yes there is value in having a short format of the game. But only when used for promotion, for development and education. It becomes a problem if the short format goes competitive. Even though the indoor short format has created its own niche as a competitive format as well.

So, if you must, bring on the development programs for those regions where Hockey5s is easier to implement. Bring on the commercial entities wishing to organise exhibition events on a local, national or international scale. But when an official sporting body, such as the FIH, starts promoting it as a recognised (inter)national competitive format, the shit 💩 will hit the fan…

Today we know and promote two formats around the world of sport. The standard Olympic format of 11-a-side outdoor and the indoor short format. Adding a third competitive format will only add to the confusion. Let’s not complicate things…
The indoor variation for the short format, or Super Sixes (6s), already has a lot of tradition and legacy around the world. It has proven added value and offers other countries a taste of success. Think Iran taking home a bronze medal in the most recent indoor world cup.

Where is the added value of adding a third format to the mix? Can anyone tell me one thing Hockey5s accomplished that could not have been done with both existing formats? Let’s keep things simple and only make changes that add value…

Change + progress = innovation
Change – progress = mistake

I understand change is inevitable in the world today. Sports and hockey are no exception to the rule. I do also believe there is merit in preserving tradition. Making sure the original values and unique properties of the sport are respected throughout these changes.

Possibly in 10 years time I will have become a copy/paste of the old Indian or Pakistani hockey fans who still mourn the demise of hockey on natural grass. Moaning and whining about the so-called loss of hockey skills due to artificial turf and in my case the loss of 11-a-side hockey.
Another possibility is my love for sports will by then move on to another sport and I will have lost interest in the game of hockey played as 5s.
You can also never rule out the very slim possibility I will have grown accustomed to this Frankenstein’s monster we call Hockey5s. But in all honesty I doubt it… Because when change does not provide progress, it’s just a mistake! Let’s kill Frankenstein’s monster before it comes back to kill us…

Frankenstein monster is coming
The writing has always been on the wall

Have you read some of our other thoughts on the future of hockey? Here are some of our suggestions from last year, related to this topic for you:

In case you prefer to listen to all of this instead of reading about it, check out our podcasts. Search for “Studio Hockey” in your favourite podcast app (Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, ….) or click here to visit this podcast at StudioHockey.com.

Hockey5s : our Frankenstein's monster