Lacrosse is a field team sport played using a ball and lacrosse stick. A lacrosse ball is a solid rubber ball, which is a bit smaller than a baseball, and fits in a netted pocket at the end of the stick. Lacrosse is a fast-paced game that requires agility, speed, and strategy from its players.
Below, we’ll cover the different variations of lacrosse, its history, and the modern rules and strategies of the game.
Lacrosse Playing Surfaces
Variations of lacrosse include field lacrosse, box lacrosse, and intercrosse. Outdoor lacrosse fields are smaller than soccer fields, at 110 yards in length and 60 yards wide. Each team has ten players on the field at a time, consisting of one goalie, three defensive players, three midfielders, and three offensive players. Box lacrosse and intercrosse are played on indoor courts. In box lacrosse, teams are limited to six players on the field at a time.
History of Field Lacrosse
Lacrosse is the oldest field sport in the Americas. Early versions were played by Native Americans in the Great Plains and eastern Woodlands. The game was played both for leisure and in training for war and was often intertwined with religious rituals and ceremonies. Early games were large events involving whole tribes, with as many as 1,000 players participating in a game.
When European colonizers arrived in the Americas, they took note of the game and sometimes participated by placing bets on the outcomes. The game spread throughout the colonies in the late 1600s and 1700s. The first regulations were set down in 1867, when the Montreal Lacrosse Club was founded in Canada. Its modern name likely derives from the French word for field hockey, “le jeu de la crosse.”
Rules and Regulations of Lacrosse
The object of the game is to score a goal by getting the ball into one of the nets at either end of the court. One point is scored for each goal made in the opposite team’s net. Here are some basic rules that govern play in most varieties of lacrosse:
- The game is played in four quarters, with teams switching sides of the field each quarter.
- Players are limited to certain areas of the lacrosse field based on their position. Attackers are required to remain in the third of the field nearest the opposite team's goal, and defense remains in the third of the field nearest their own goal.
- Midfielders may roam the field.
- Goalies must remain in the “crease,” the circular area surrounding the goal. The crease usually has a radius of 3 yards.
- Players, except for the goalie, cannot use their handles to touch the ball. The goalie may block the ball with their hands, but cannot control the ball - i.e. catch the ball or pick it up using their hands.
- Players may carry the ball in their sticks for an unlimited time but must remain in motion.
- Contact with the goalie is off-limits while the goalie is within the crease.
- In men’s lacrosse, play is initiated with a face-off, where the ball is placed on the ground between two players in the middle of the field. The players must use their sticks to race to capture the ball and pass it to their teammates.
- When the ball goes out of bounds, it is put back in play in possession of the player nearest the ball at the time.
- “Body checking” or player-to-player contact is allowed only above the waist or below the shoulders. The player must be within five yards of the ball.
- If the game goes into overtime, a four-minute sudden death round is initiated, where the first team to score wins.
If the rules are violated, it may result in a foul or a penalty. Fouls may be personal or technical, with common examples including:
- Tripping: A player is inhibited by contact made below the waist.
- Cross checking: Occurs when contact is made with a player's body using an opposing player's stick.
- Unnecessary roughness: A player uses unneeded or excessive force when interacting with an opponent.
- Unsportsmanlike conduct: A player engages in conduct such as taunting, insulting, and arguing with other players.
- Interference and holding: Occurs when a player interferes with the free movement of another player while they are in possession of the ball.
- Stalling: Occurs when a team intentionally maintains possession of the ball without attempting to score or move across the field.
Fouls may result in a thirty-second to three-minute suspension of a player who commits the foul, while possession of the ball is awarded to the team that was fouled.
Is Lacrosse Considered a Contact Sport?
Men’s field lacrosse is considered a contact sport. Physical contact is allowed between players, as well as stick-to-stick contact.
There is also a non-contact variation of the sport known as intercrosse. It is a mixed-gender sport, played indoors using a softer ball and a stick made entirely of plastic.
Is Lacrosse Safe?
Like any sport, lacrosse has its dangers. It is bound to result in a few accidents and injuries in testing the physical limits of its players. Because field lacrosse is a contact sport, the possibility for injury is higher. This is why men’s field lacrosse players wear protective gear to prevent injuries, including helmets, elbow pads, shoulder pads, and gloves.
Strategy and dexterity in handling the lacrosse stick are prized qualities in the game. Unnecessary force and dangerous play is penalized, and maneuvers such as tackling are not allowed. As a result, lacrosse is typically less dangerous than high-impact sports such as rugby or football.
Is Lacrosse Difficult?
Lacrosse is a challenging sport. Players must exercise dexterity in picking up and controlling the lacrosse ball with their sticks. They have to successfully complete passes to other players and guard the ball from the other team.
Useful skills in lacrosse include cradling, in which the player rocks the ball in their net in order to maintain control while traveling, and checking, where they use a targeted hit with their stick to dislodge the ball from an opponent’s net.
Lacrosse also demands that its players be in top physical condition, as they must frequently spring the length of the field to dash after the ball, and jump and dive to make catches and intercept the other team’s throws. Most lacrosse games see final scores in the tens or twenties, making the pacing closer to that of basketball than it is to games like soccer or baseball. Speed is of the essence for the typical lacrosse player.
While lacrosse is a difficult sport, it can still be played by any age and level. Amateur lacrosse can be a great way to develop speed, strength, and hand-eye coordination. This is part of the reason that youth lacrosse is becoming increasingly popular across the US and Canada.
Is Lacrosse in the Olympics?
No, field lacrosse is not currently an Olympic sport. However, it may be part of the games in the near future, and has been invited by the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles to make its case for inclusion. The World Lacrosse organization is expected to submit a formal proposal for consideration in late 2022.
For now, the highest level of competition that lacrosse club players can compete in is the lacrosse World Games, most recently held in Birmingham, Alabama.
Do I Need a Lacrosse Stick to Play Lacrosse?
Having the right lacrosse equipment is an essential part of the sport. All lacrosse players, including the goalie, use a lacrosse stick (also known as a crosse) when playing the game. Lacrosse sticks are typically made from wood or aluminum, with a mesh or string pocket.
The size of a lacrosse stick is governed by league rules and varies based on the position of the player. In men’s lacrosse, offensive players may carry sticks 40 to 42 inches in length, while defense players have longer sticks, ranging from 52 to 72 inches. A goalie’s stick may range from 40 to 72 inches, and has a slightly larger pocket.
Women’s lacrosse equipment varies slightly. Sticks may range from 35.5 to 43.25 inches for field players and 35.5 to 52 inches for goalies. The pockets are typically shallower than those found on men’s lacrosse sticks.
What Is Lacrosse for Women?
Women’s lacrosse differs from men’s in a few ways. Physical contact between players is not allowed, though contact between sticks is. For this reason, women’s lacrosse teams wear only protective eye gear and mouth guards, aside from the goalie, who wears a helmet and gloves.
Women’s lacrosse is also played in teams of twelve, rather than ten, and involves no face-off. Instead, a draw is used, where the ball is thrown in the air to initiate play. Women’s equipment also differs slightly from men’s, and comes in smaller dimensions.
Field lacrosse is a fun and challenging game that’s growing in popularity. The number of players has actually more than tripled between 2001 and 2018. If you’re interested in lacrosse, it’s never too late to start playing. This is a great thing about lacrosse—anyone can take part, with a little knowledge of the game and a willingness to learn more.
So hopefully, your question “what is lacrosse?” has been answered, and you can now get started enjoying the sport!