The Discourse of a High School Field Hockey Player


Throughout this paper I will be analyzing the Discourse of field hockey. Field hockey is a sport primary played by females in the United States.

It is played on a 100-yard field, with marks at the 25-yard mark on either side as well as the 50-yard line. The goal is to score more goals than the opposing team. This is done with 11 players (Rules 2.1).

To approach this Discourse Analysis I will be using James Gee’s use of Discourse, where he sets the stage for interpretations of groups of people and the values they have.

I will also use Darcy Fiano’s Discourse Analysis of kindergarten students where the seven building tasks of Gee are highlighted, these include significance, practices, identities, relationships, politics, connections, and sign systems and knowledge.

With these academic pieces, I will be using three artifacts from field hockey to assist me in the explanation of the Discourse.

The Player:

These artifacts are the International Hockey Federation Rules of Hockey 2015, New Hampshire high school game footage (Berlin vs Mascoma 10/05/2015), and an e-mail interview of a New Hampshire field hockey coach.

This analysis is intended to give insight and description of the defensive portion of field hockey through Gee’s seven building tasks as well as examples.

Sports are complex entities, although the rule of the game may be a big part of the actual sport, the most interesting part may be the tension among those in the Discourse.

Each aspect of the game, coaching, umpiring, spectating, or playing comes with a unique identity that is in conflict with the others.

In field hockey there are often problems with the coaches and umpires disagreeing on calls. Even though rules are set in stone, they do not cover every scenario. This allows for dispute within the game.

Players have to juggle each of the value systems in a unique way. When they step on the field they are working with coaches, other players, and umpires whose value systems are all different.

When they step off the field they deal with the other aspect of spectators who have different values.

Being part of a sport means being about to deal with all of these aspects of the game, aside from the actual playing.

A lot of times the viewing or playing of a sport is accompanied by a saying, doing, believing, and valuing combination.

For example, being a Boston Red Sox fan one may be a part of “Red Sox Nation”, many people who watch the games on television have “rituals” they perform prior to the game that they believe help the team in some way, they value the team and atmosphere of the game as a Discourse.

The Discourse:

As Gee describes it on page 6 of his “Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: Introduction” published in the Journal of Education,

“Discourse is a way of being in the world”

He goes on to say it is “to take part on a particular role that others will recognize”.

They shape who you are as a person, and provide either a base (primary Discourse), confirmation in a social group (secondary non-dominant Discourse, high school field hockey), or money and status (secondary dominant Discourse, professional field hockey).

Each helps us create social norms and groups in society.

Non-dominant Discourses allow us to focus on what we enjoy doing. In field hockey, the practice of a player is a role that other people recognize.

It comes with a say, doing, believing combination just like any other Discourse. This secondary non-dominant Discourse brings athletes together in a high school setting to engage in the hard work and dedication that comes with all sports.

Field hockey in particular also comes with a set of terms, actions, and skills one must learn to participate.

In an email conversation with a high school field hockey coach, Judy Hazlett (who has coached and been a part of field hockey for over 25 years) said,

“to play field hockey in general, one must learn the dialect of the game. Words like “flat” and “long” are terms every player should know”

Words used in a Discourse are very important, they often expose the inexperienced or athletes who have not yet become part of the Discourse among other things.

Being able to hit (or drive) the ball in the proper way, or being able to dribble down the field are both giveaways of being a part of this group. They come with practice and game experience that enables players to fake their way through it, until the actions become second nature.

Within this Discourse there is tension. The black and white rule book does not touch the grey area created by the value of winning.

Into the Grey Area:

This grey area bigger or smaller depending on the coach. Telling you to “play to the whistle” (Hazlett) is a way of saying play through your fouls, even if you know you did something wrong keep going.

Even if it is bending the rules. During times where you “bend” the rules it is important not to show your intent. Umpires reserve the right to give cards when they feel necessary.

One can get carded for kicking the ball repeatedly, hacking, or even intentionally hitting another player with the ball.

“When you need to slow down the play in the field, the experienced athletes will hit the ball into the feet of the other team” (Hazlett).

This is an important part of the Discourse, although the intention of doing this action is there, one must act as if they did not mean to. The umpires have to see that one did not mean to and it was a result of the play, not the player’s intention.

This can be seen in the Berlin vs Mascoma game as the offense attacks the goal, there are a lot of defenders in the way, the player passes the ball right into the defender’s foot and draws the corner (20:58).

Building Blocks:

This can be tied to the seven building blocks as practice, politics, and knowledge. It is a general practice to make this play, all teams do this when they are in a pinch, however politically it is against the rules and frowned upon.

Regardless of what sport one is playing or watching, knowledge of the game is so important. In baseball they need to know when to steal a base. In field hockey, one needs to know the game enough to recognize opportunities to capitalize on these “grey areas” of the rules.

Many of the value systems within the Discourse itself are in direct conflict with one another. Politics are “what is taken to be “normal”, “right”, “good”, “correct”, “proper”, “appropriate”, “valuable”…” (Fiano 83).

What is valued as right and appropriate differs with each aspect of the game. When looking at the the Rules of Hockey, on page 25 “field players must not step, kick, propel, pick-up, throw or carry the ball with any part of the body” (9.11).

To play “properly” in the eyes of the rules means not making contact with the ball with anything but the stick, this seems black and white. During the game, things seem to have more grey area.

“Defenders need to do anything they can to prevent a goal. If you have to kick the ball to draw a corner, it is their job to do that” (Hazlett). In this instance, what is “appropriate” or “good” is different than the rules.

To people not in the Discourse of field hockey, a player intentionally kicking the ball might not seem valuable. However, when the game is slowed by having a penalty corner called, it gives the defense a chance to regroup and stops the offencive momentum.

During a break away (a long run with the ball down the field) the Mascoma, New Hampshire field hockey team slows down the game by a defensive player obstructing (an illegal action) the offensive Berlin, New Hampshire player (Mascoma vs Berlin, 1:06:18 ). This action resulted in a corner (the result of an illegal action in the: circle), which allowed the Mascoma team to get the ball away from their own goal.

The politics of the game differ with situations that come along, the field hockey Discourse has many opportunities to expose those not in the Discourse.

Each opportunity to prove oneself in this secondary non-dominant Discourse is more then likely to happen when playing in a game or at practice. This is to say that not just anyone can prove themselves a field hockey player.

To actually be this, one would have to be a part of a team. This is typical among Discourses, as many have tests along the way to being part of it.

This sport does require the “saying-doing-being-valuing-believing combinations” (Gee 6) evident in proving something as a Discourse, words said, actions taken, the person who walks out onto the field, the value of a goal, and the belief in the team or oneself are all seen within field hockey.

Although this paper does not highlight many of the interesting aspects of the sport, it does provide a taste of what it means to play in the grey area of high school field hockey.

Works Cited

Fiano, Darcy. “Primary Discourse and Expressive Oral Language in a Kindergarten Student.”

Reading Research Quarterly 49.1 (2013): 61–84. Print.

Gee, James. “Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: Introduction.” Journal of Education 171.1

(1989): 5–17. Print.

Hazlett, Judy. “Field Hockey.” Message to the Author. 11 Oct. 2015. E-mail.

“Mascoma vs Berlin- Field Hockey”. Northeast Sports Network. 4 Oct. 2015. Web. 10 Oct.


The Rules of Hockey. International Hockey Federation. Lausanne, Switzerland: 2015. PDF.