Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

Oct. 25, 2018 — What a basketball coach (even a disgraced one) can teach the people who run high school field hockey

As the story goes, Rick Pitino was coaching the University of Louisville in an early-season matchup in 2001, and he noticed that the opponent had started to seize the momentum in the first half. His first instinct was to walk towards the scorer’s table and tap both of his shoulders with the tips of his fingers. By force of habit from his previous tenure in the NBA with the Knicks and Celtics, he was asking for a 20-second timeout.

Only the referees didn’t have any 20-second timeouts to give. The NCAA didn’t have 20-second timeouts at the time, only full timeouts at the usual four-minute intervals for every televised game and a handful of discretionary timeouts to hoard for the end of the game.

Shortly thereafter, the NCAA added two 20-second timeouts per team, one per half, for coaches to use at their discretion.

Last night, there was a similar situation to what Pitino faced, but this time, it was in a win-or-go-home tournament field hockey game. The time was under five minutes to go in regulation, and the coach of a team trailing by a goal asked the umpire for a timeout.

The intention of the coach was to shift the momentum of the game by replacing the goalkeeper with an 11th outfield player — something which seemingly was always an option because the coach was from an environment where the FIH Rules of Hockey were in force.

There’s one problem, however. This was a high-school game under the rules of the National Federation of State High School Associations. These rules clearly state that a fully-equipped goalkeeper must be on the pitch at all times. Indeed, there have been some states (Pennsylvania comes to mind) which require two goalkeepers on the gameday roster at all times.

Now, I can understand why the NFHS goalkeeping mandate exists. It forces high-school programs (and the rec programs that feed into them) to develop goalkeepers from a young age as integral parts of the team. This, I can understand, seeing the number of occasions in which adult club leagues are seeking volunteers from their ranks to play goal.

And I can also understand the need to develop a surfeit of goalkeepers, given the number of times I am seeing U.S. college teams having to play a full 70-minute game with 11 outfielders because the goalies are under concussion protocol.

But I think the NFHS is missing an opportunity to create excitement for its product by allowing an 11-on-10 outfield situation in the dying minutes of a close match. I don’t believe there would be a conflict to mandate that a field hockey team must have a fully-kitted goalkeeper in its starting eleven, but then allow the coaches to pull that goalkeeper for a kicking back or an 11th outfielder.

Certainly, there is risk for that 11th field player on penalty corners, especially if a second shot on a corner results in a raised ball. That’s why college and international players have a chest protector and a helmet at the ready for just these occasions.

Perhaps the NFHS needs to revisit the cumbersome eyewear rules that have has been mandatory since 2011. Why shouldn’t the 11th player be allowed to wear the molded plastic face masks that are used for defensive penalty corner units? Or, for that matter, the other four players in the goal cage? Especially when the current evidence shows that some of the current mandated eyewear causes more injuries than they prevent?

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