Underwater hockey is a very fast moving game that quickly builds swimming and free diving capability. It is played on the bottom of a swimming pool by two teams of six. Players wear fins, mask, snorkel, and a protective glove and headgear. The stick is short, approximately 1 foot long, the puck is heavy, around 3 lb., and the goal is 3 meters (9) long.
The rules are "non-contact" and players generally cover "zones" around the puck. Success (scoring) ultimately depends on teamwork, since no single person can hold their breath forever. Individual strength is less of an advantage than it is in many other sports. The water nullifies pure mass advantage and emphasizes clever use of torque.
In competition, games are two 15 minute halves, and teams can have up to 4 substitutes on the deck who can enter play on the fly.
The rules of the game inhibit the use of brute force and allow small people to compete effectively and equally with larger people. Play is solely on the bottom of the pool so your effectiveness is also governed by how much time you spend on the bottom ... the air is, of course, on the top. In the game, exertion usually shortens bottom time to less than 30 seconds.
The sport is defined as non-contact in the same way basketball is considered non-contact. The person in control of the puck can not be physically pushed but also may not charge into set opponents.
Rules are simple - no body contact unless your stick is on the puck (i.e., no forechecking or moving screens), no touching the puck with anything but your stick, and no detaining or obstructing another player (even if you do have the puck) by pulling off their mask or fins or holding on to them.
Passing is very possible and is done by throwing the puck off your stick with a flick of your wrist. This is very difficult to learn without help, but can be used to sail the puck more than 10 feet across the bottom and up to 2 feet above it. This technique allows you to break the puck out of a tight spot and send it by opponents.
This sport can be played at many levels from casual pick-up fun to serious competition. It is an incredible work-out, and one that will specifically improve your free-diving skills and diving muscles. Underwater Hockey also provides an instant conversation starter at dull parties!
Each player uses the following equipment:
Mask - small volume free diving masks are best, but any diving mask will work fine. Swim goggles are not recommended. A mask doubles as a nose plug and face shield and doesn't fog as much as goggles.
Snorkel - you want to be able to breathe while scanning the bottom of the pool for the puck and your next position. Large bore (to get air quickly), streamlined designs are best.
Ear protectors - required at tournaments. Getting hit in the ear with a fin may pop your eardrum if done right. Water polo caps work well.
Fins - softer free diving fins allow you to maneuver quickly and with speed. Heavy scuba fins are okay, but will beat up other people and your feet.
Swimsuit - optional : ), but recommended.
Glove - standard practice is to buy a heavyweight gardening glove and cover it with aquaseal (c), shoegoo, hot-melt glue or some other hard glue. This also pads your hand when someone hits your hand instead of the puck (OOPS).
Stick - about 12 inches long, made of wood and painted black or white to
distinguish the teams. It has a dog bone shape at one end with one straight
side. It is usually about 2 cm or less thick and up to 12 cm wide at the tip. It
narrows to a handle 2-5 cm wide and 1-4 cm thick.
The pool should be 25m x 15m and 2m deep all the way across, but anything will do, even slopes (just change ends at half-time). Lead weights and 3 meters of rope can be used as goals, though the sound of the puck thunking into the back of a metal goal is very satisfying and should be experienced!
Start with the puck in the middle of the pool and the teams lined up at either end (play also starts this way after a goal is scored). "Teams ready, go" starts the designated players racing to get possession of the puck.
Teams generally play zones, as in basketball, with forward offensive players and back defensive players.
Center: Tries to get initial possession of the puck. Is an offensive player and generally positioned directly on or in front of the play.
Wings (right and left): Score goals and steal the puck from the other team's defense. Both are offensive players that stay in front of the play for forward passes. When stopped from advancing, they pass backward to the halfbacks. Watch that the weak side wing (on the side the puck isn't) doesn't drift too far onto the strong side - your halfbacks will be trying to feed the puck up the weak side (where the other teams defense isn't) and need someone to score the goal.
Halfbacks (right and left): Stop the other team and feed the wings. Strong side (the side the puck is on) follows behind the play closely, weak side is last man back, guarding the goal. Careful - strong and weak side can switch quickly so halfbacks have to do a lot of swimming up and down the pool to stay in position.
Swingback: Defensive player, second to last player back. Backs up the halfbacks especially when the play is moving from one side of the pool to the other. Plays the "pivot point" that the whole defense is based on.
This is a sport dedicated primarily to having fun in the water. Anyone can play and play very effectively, and all that are willing to try will be welcomed with open arms.
For people who are interested in competition, there are three nationally sanctioned tournaments each year, as well as international competitions. At US Nationals, admission is open, allowing any USA interested team to attend although Society dues and fees are required!
Typically the teams form around dive stores, dive clubs and swim teams. Underwater hockey in the United States includes people of all ages & shapes, and hockey players, while they may take their sport very seriously, are always willing to help rookies.
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