So the next rule change is being able to take the free hit from where the offence occurred inside the 5m line and the edge of the circle.
Again my views are based on discussions, experiences playing and coaching and frustrations with lack of clarity since the introduction at the New Year.

Defensive view point:
It has been discussed, with no real clarity, as to where the first defender can be, it appears that as long as they are inside the circle then as the ball carrier cannot enter the circle until they have travelled 5m with the ball then they are permitted to stand their ground.
Potential problems when adopting this, in my view, high risk strategy.

1. If the defender chooses this option and the ball carrier moves laterally it now becomes a lottery as to when 5m has been covered if the attacker now decides to enter the circle. The attacker thinks he has gone 5m and enters the circle, umpire decides yes or no. The defender thinks the attacker has gone 5m and tackles outside the circle, umpire yes or no. As the attacker moves laterally another defending player moves in from the side when they think they are 5m away, umpire decides yes or no. It has been said that it’s no different from a free hit anywhere. Correction, it is hugely different as defending players are in more of a secure body position and the numbers likely to be increased so players coming in from everywhere, attacking and defending. Let’s be honest we have issues as to whether a player is 5m from a side line or a 16 so hence why it tends to be a bit of a lottery.

2. If the defender takes up the position inside the circle but not 5m away they are susceptible to the attacker moving away from the goal and then following them, once the defender is out of the circle the attacker then makes a line for the circle and defender engages before the attacker has gone 5m. Result, corner and card as defender now preventing attacker moving forward, but still not entering the circle therefore preventing the attacker moving in the direction they want to.

3. The attacker touches the ball and as long as the ball moves and providing the supporting attacking player starts from 5m away then they have every right to enter the circle with the ball. However the defender has never been 5m away. Result, corner plus card.

So, in my view, it makes little or no sense to have a defender within 5m in any circumstances as the problems by far outweigh the advantages, although to be honest I’m struggling to think of an advantage.

Potential solution and to make it easier, less open to interpretation and greater clarity is to insist that all defenders are 5m away irrespective of where the free hit is.

So to summarise, in principle I think it’s a good decision to allow free hits to be taken where the offence was but question the timing. It has caused considerable angst amongst players and officials alike particularly when “guidelines” are so open to interpretation which in itself leads to confusion. After all, it is the players and coaches prerogative to try and gain an advantage with any rule change as long as it’s within the parameters set by the rules. To have “guidelines” really doesn’t help. Black and white is easy and leaves no room for interpretation therefore making things clearer for all concerned. After all it’s hard enough for the umpires as it is!

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Ian Jennings
Ian Jennings is current player/coach at Guildford Hockey Club in the NOW: Pensions West Conference. He has a total of 38 England caps (29 indoor, 9 outdoor). He has been assistant coach for the England men's U16, U18 and U21 sides, as well as assistant coach for the England women's side between 2002-2004. He's a specialist in 1 to 1 coaching of international players and has also consulted for South Africa women, been head coach of Fiji men and Queensland Unniversity women.