Hockey is one of the oldest stick-and-ball sports, dating from as far back as the Ancient Greeks but modern field hockey, as we know it today, took shape in the 1800s. The equipment has undergone many changes over the years, especially the hockey ball.
The early forms of the hockey ball
There are elements of the different forms of the hockey ball in many competing hockey nations.
In Australia, early settlers in 1826 saw locals playing hockey using a ball made from hardened sap – a far cry from what we use today! In Indian villages in 1885, hockey balls were made from bamboo and Indian rubber, which gave the balls the smooth exterior needed for use on the dirt fields that the matches were played on.
Club hockey balls
The first hockey clubs were formed in London in 1871, and each had different ideas about what was the best material to use for the ball. One club used a cube of hard black rubber, but the opposing club thought this would make for a difficult game and used cricket balls instead, which made their gameplay smoother and easier.
From grass to AstroTurf
The first modern hockey balls were made of wool or cork as these materials were easily accessible during these times, but in the 1970s, synthetic grass became commonplace in the hockey world and so the equipment evolved with it.
Balls were predominantly made of leather but these balls absorbed water and swelled. The advent of AstroTurf saw these balls leave the hockey field as they made it difficult to play on the water-lined artificial surface.
Modern versions of the hockey ball
Today, hockey balls are made of hard plastic, which makes for smoother maneuvering over AstroTurf and grass alike.
Some of the modern balls we use still have cores of cork, which allow them to bounce. Balls with indentations have become popular as they allow for the ball to travel at consistent speeds over wet surfaces.
Balls used during practice sometimes do not have cores and are simply hollow plastic, which makes them light enough for younger players to practice skills such as speed and agility with.
The next time you are playing, imagine how playing with the old balls would have changed the game and appreciate the evolution of the hockey ball.