Field Hockey History
Written by USAFH
One of the oldest of competitive pastimes, the sport of field hockey dates back well before the Ancient Olympic Games. Although the exact origin of the game remains unknown, 4,000-year-old drawings found in the tomb at Beni-Hasen in the Nile Valley of Egypt depicted men playing the sport. Throughout the following centuries, variations of the game were played by a spectrum of cultures ranging from Greeks and Romans to Ethiopians and Aztecs.
The modern game of field hockey evolved in England in the mid-19th century. The first men’s hockey club, Blackheath, was formed in 1849, and led to the establishment of the Hockey Association in London in 1886. The British army introduced the game to India and throughout the British colonies, leading to the first international competition in 1895.
Hockey first appeared on the Olympic program at the 1908 London Games and again in 1920 at Antwerp. The sport was again featured on the program at Amsterdam in 1928 and has been an Olympic sport ever since. Women’s hockey became a fixture on the Olympic program in Moscow in 1980.
Originally considered far too dangerous for female participation, field hockey quickly became popular with women whose previous introduction to sport included the “socially acceptable” outdoor activities of croquette and lawn tennis. With more and more women becoming active in the sport, the liberating game of field hockey earned the dubious title as the only team sport considered proper for women.
By 1887, the first women’s hockey club appeared in East Mosley, England, and was quickly followed by the creation of the All-England Women’s Hockey Association in 1889. The sport spread across the Atlantic in 1901 when English physical education instructor Constance Applebee introduced the sport to the U.S. while attending a seminar at Harvard.
Appalled at the parlor games passing for exercise among young American women, Applebee borrowed some sticks and a ball and staged the first hockey exhibition in the United States behind the Harvard gymnasium. The game received an enthusiastic response, and Applebee quickly spread the sport to some of the region’s most prestigious women’s schools.
By the early 1920’s, several colleges and clubs sponsored field hockey teams for women. The U.S. women’s touring field hockey team participated in its first international competition in 1920, and two years later the United States Field Hockey Association was founded for the purpose of promoting and generating enthusiasm for the sport.
With the increasing popularity of the sport, and through the pioneering efforts of the Association’s early touring teams, the U.S. continued its rise to international prominence. In 1975, the U.S. appeared in the first I.F.W.H.A. World Championship of women’s hockey in Edinburgh, Scotland (10th), and five years later earned an invitation to the first women’s Olympic Games tournament in Moscow. The U.S. boycott of the 1980 Games prevented the team from competing in Moscow. Under legendary coach Vonnie Gros, the USA captured the bronze medal four years later at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. The team would continue its Olympic tradition with appearances in Seoul in 1988 and Atlanta in 1996.
After the FIH conducted the first women’s World Cup in 1975, the U.S. team began an impressive string of successive trips to the prestigious tournament in 1983. The U.S. would qualify for each of the ensuing World Cup tournaments including a bronze medal finish in Dublin in 1994.
USA Field Hockey currently seeks to foster and develop the amateur sport of field hockey by providing participation opportunities for players, coaches, officials, and administrators and preparing teams to represent the United States in international competitions. USA Field Hockey provides players, coaches, officials, and administrators educational and participation opportunities while supplying support and resources essential to the development and enjoyment of the game.