This guide will break down each player position in the game of field hockey, as well as briefly cover common lineups. The 5-3-2-1 and the 3-3-3-1-1 are two of the most popular lineups we'll go over, in addition to elaborating on the roles within each formation. This guide makes playing, coaching, and watching field hockey a lot less confusing for beginners.
Forwards in field hockey are the offensive players. Forwards need to be explosive, able to pass quickly, and shoot. A 5-3-2-1 lineup consists of a right, center, and left forward and two inners. A 3-3-3-1-1 lineup consists of a right, center, and left forward. However, positioning varies by team.
Right Forward: The right forward is responsible for getting into open space to receive passes from the midfielders and carry the ball up the right side of the field. They must have strong stick skills and good ball handling abilities. The right forward also crosses the ball into the shooting circle for the inner or left forward to receive and shoot.
Left Forward: The left forward is responsible for covering the left side of the field and supporting the other forwards, as well as receiving passes in the shooting circle from either the top of the circle or the left post to shoot. The left forward typically does not carry the ball up the left side of the field, since the ball is positioned on the weak side of the stick. However, they should still have strong reverse stick skills.
Center Forward/Striker: The center forward, sometimes referred to as the striker, is responsible for taking shots on goal. They also support the left and right forwards and cover the middle of the field. If the right forward is carrying the ball up the right side of the field then the center forward is responsible for pinching in closer to support them, and same goes for supporting the left forward. The center forward often receives passes in the shooting circle from the right forward and must be ready to deflect the pass into the goal.
Inner: In a 5-3-2-1 formation, there are two inners. Their role is to drop behind the center forward for support.
Midfielders must be dynamic athletes that are skilled offensively and defensively. They are responsible for protecting the neutral zone, passing the ball up to the forwards, winning 50/50 balls, and supporting the defense. Midfielders are typically the most physically fit players on the field, since they cover the entire field.
Right Midfielder: The right midfielder works closely with the right defender and right forward. They are responsible for passing the ball into open space where the right forward can receive it and carry it down the field. However, if the ball is being carried up the field by the left forward then the right midfielder must pinch in to cover the open space toward the center of the field.
Left Midfielder: The left midfielder supports the left defender and left forward. They help move the ball up to the left forward. The left midfielder must be skilled in reverse stick skills, since the ball is positioned on the weak side of their stick.
Center Midfielder: The center midfielder is almost always involved in every play of the game. They are often the most skilled player on the field because they are responsible for initiating plays and supporting every other position on the field.
Defenders are strong athletes that are responsible for marking, channeling, and tackling the opposition. A 5-3-2-1 lineup has a right and left defender, often referred to as fullbacks. A 3-3-3-1-1 lineup consists of a right, center, and left defender, as well as a sweeper.
Right Defender: The right defender is responsible for defending the opposing team’s left forward and inner. They must have a strong tackle and be able to channel the opposition away from the goal. The right defender also supports the right midfielder and forward if they have possession of the ball.
Left Defender: The left defender’s role is to defend the opposing team’s right forward and inner. The opposition will mostly attack with their right forward, so the left defender must have a strong tackle and be able to maintain speed with the opposition to channel them away from the goal.
Center Defender: The center defender always supports the right and left defenders, depending on which side the opposing team is attacking from. They also help defend the defensive zone from break-away players.
Sweeper: The sweeper is a crucial player in the 3-3-3-1-1 lineup because they are the last defender before the goalkeeper. They support the right, center, and left defenders by defending unmarked players and getting the ball out of the shooting circle.
The goalkeeper is the last line of defense. They must have good hand-eye coordination and be able to move quickly to cover the entire goal. The goalkeeper can defend the ball with their whole body as well as a goalie stick. It is essential for the goalkeeper to communicate with the field players, since the goalie has vision of the entire field.