By Jean Fitch
As a goalkeeper, any suggestion that I should stand in the line of fire of a shot on goal without my full body, face and head protected would seem, to me, absolutely absurd. So why do the rules of the game expect out-field players to do just that? Furthermore, the ruling that previously permitted a nominated ‘kicking-back’ has been removed for a reason – safety.
What I find even more astounding, is the number of defenders who fail to utilise even the modest protection that the rules permit and, yet, it’s keepers who tend to assume the reputation for being just a little bit crazy.
In terms of male armour, it’s ironic that few men will defend a short corner without the protection of a box, but a large number elect to forego any shield for their face. In cricket, the first testicular guard was used in 1874, whilst it took 100 years for the men to realise the brain is, also, quite important, the first head protection being worn in 1974. It would seem that not all hockey players are quite so enlightened.
Following Bedford HC’s success in the #watchyour1s competition, and in an attempt to address safety concerns, the club opted to use the £500 Hockey Pro Shop prize money to purchase face protection masks for use throughout members.
One player who has felt the full effect of failing to wear a mask is Tracy. Earlier in the season, Tracy sustained a broken nose running out at a short corner, after taking a ball straight to her face. Things could have been a whole lot worse. Thankfully, six weeks later, she is back playing, and has been wearing one of the masks purchased. Tracy’s reluctance to utilise a mask is due to the challenge of wearing a face-guard with spectacles, which is uncomfortable and, the most commonly used style of protection steams the glasses up, obscuring her vision. In her experience it is increasing the risk when running out.
— Read our Safety in Hockey coverage
Is the danger to players defending short corners a risk too far? If they are to continue in their current form, bring in compulsory wearing of face masks when defending short corners. And manufacturers should increase the range of affordable and well-designed face, and possibly head, protection to encourage player use.
Face masks: a duty of care
It’s important now that players and teams begin to consider the care of the product. It’s natural to copy what they see on TV where players throw masks away indiscriminately but while international pitches have large astro areas behind the goal, providing a soft landing spot, many lower level facilities have a shorter run off and concrete surrounds.
A mask that is continually thrown high to land on concrete runs the risk of unseen micro-fractures and damage that may compromise the structure and therefore performance of the product. Add to that the masks being stored in the bottom of the goalkeeper’s bag or with hockey balls and those bags being thrown around and again products are getting damaged outside of use. These are important pieces of equipment and players need to accept that their use extends to beyond actually wearing them if they want protection and longevity. Not to mention allowing products to air naturally after use to preserve the adhesive in foam padding.