If you’re a fan of basketball, football or hockey, then odds are you will like lacrosse. The game play is similar to basketball in terms of offensive and defensive schemes. The shooting and scoring reminds many people of hockey, and the open-field running and hitting is reminiscent of football. Lacrosse actually predates all of those sports, in regards to how long it has been played. To the casual fan, however, it may seem like it has taken or borrowed rules and game play from other popular sports.
Here is a basic overview of the rules and regulations of lacrosse:
Lacrosse is played on a field that is 110 yards long and 60 yards wide. The surface must be of either grass or artificial turf.
The lacrosse field is divided into two halves by the midfield line, which extends 60 yards directly across the middle of the field, from sideline to sideline. In the center of the midfield line is the faceoff X. The X is where face-offs take place at the beginning of each quarter, as well as after a goal is scored.
Each team has an offensive and defensive half of the field. The offensive half of the field is where a team attempts to score goals. The defensive half is where teams must protect their goal so the opposition does not score.
There is one goal on each half of the field. These goals are 6 feet high and wide. Both goals are surrounded by a crease, into which no player from the opposing team may enter under any circumstances.
Offensive players are allowed to use their sticks to reach into the crease, but no parts of their body may enter. The crease is circular, with a diameter of 18 feet. Players on the defensive team may enter the crease, but only if they do not have possession of the ball at the time of entry. There is no limit to how many players from the defense may be in the crease at one time. No player may enter the crease with possession of the ball. With 15 yards between the plane of the goal line and the end line on the field, players have plenty of space to operate behind the goals. In turn, this frees up more space for other players to move around in front of the goal.
Both halves of the field have what is known as a “restraining box.” This box is used to ensure that teams do not stall (waste time unnecessarily) on offense, and forces teams to quickly advance the ball down the field and into the offensive zone.
Once a team gains possession of the ball in the restraining box on its defensive half of the field, it has 20 seconds to advance the ball past the midfield line into the offensive half. Exiting and subsequently re-entering the defensive restraining box with possession of the ball results in a change of possession. In the offensive half of the field, a team is allowed to possess the ball outside of the restraining box for a maximum of 10 seconds. Failure to enter or re-enter the restraining box on offense within the 10-second time frame results in a change of possession.
The team that is winning in the final two minutes of a game must keep the ball in the restraining box once it has entered the box with possession. Should the ball leave the box under any circumstances, the trailing team will be granted possession in its offensive half of the field.
There is no limit on the number of players on a team, but there is a limit as to how many players are on the field at one time. Each team has 10 players on the field at once (barring a penalty), at four different positions. The position breakdown is as follows:
- One goalie
- Three defensemen
- Three midfielders
- Three attackmen
The job of a goalie is to defend his team’s goal against shots by the other team’s offense. Goalies use sticks with a head about four to five times larger than a normal stick head, enabling them to catch or block shots with greater ease. The shaft of a goalie stick is normally about six inches longer than that of a regular field player. Goalies also wear a chest pad, helmet, gloves and throat guard to protect them from injury by hard shots.
Defensemen are charged with the task of guarding the opposing team’s attackmen around the goal area. They play almost exclusively on the defensive half of the field, though they are permitted to enter the offensive half. Defensemen are allowed to use sticks that are about twice as long as those of midfielders and attackmen, giving them an advantage when closely defending a skilled offensive player.
Midfielders operate mostly in between the restraining boxes, hence the name midfielders. They play both offense and defense, and frequently run up and down the field. Midfielders are substituted in and out of the game often, as running up and down the field in full pads is very tiring.
Attackmen have the job of creating the majority of their team’s offense. They operate near or behind the opponent’s goal, and exclusively look to initiate offense through passing, dodging and shooting. Attackmen generally have the best stick skills on the team, and are normally the best passers and shooters. Attackmen play the majority of the game on the offensive half of the field, though they may enter their team’s defensive half.
Teams are permitted to have up to four players on the field carrying long sticks, which are normally used by the defense. Many teams will employ what is known as a “long-stick midfielder” or “LSM.” These players normally occupy the midfield position on defense and for faceoffs, and substitute out of the game when their team gains possession of the ball in the offensive end. However, some are skilled ball-handlers and look to initiate the transition game for their team by pushing the ball up the field and into the offensive end.
All players on the field must wear a uniform with a number unique to them, as well as matching team shorts. The uniform number may be any single or two digit number from 1 to 99.
Lacrosse sticks must adhere to regulations regarding length and width. Attackmen and midfielders must use a stick between 40 and 42 inches long. Defensemen are permitted to use a stick up to 72 inches long. Goalies also may use a stick up to 72 inches long.
Protective equipment is standardized for all positions, save goalies. In addition to their stick, field players must wear the following equipment:
- Helmet with mouth guard and chin strap
- Shoulder pads
- Arm pads
Goalies have a different set of equipment, as their physical contact on the field is slightly different from the rest of the players. They are required to use the following equipment:
- Helmet with mouth guard, chin strap and throat guard covering the neck
- Chest protector
Goalies are allowed to wear pants, while other players on the field are not.
Though it is not technically required, a protective cup is highly recommended for all players.
Penalties and Fouls
There are two different kinds of fouls in lacrosse: Personal and technical. Fouls and infractions are enforced by removal of the offending player from the field of play, and/or awarding possession to the opposing team.
A personal foul generally involves an infraction that has a malicious intent, such as slashing or unnecessary roughness. Personal fouls are punishable by penalties of one to three minutes in length. These fouls give the fouled team a “man-up” situation, where it has an extra player on the field, as well as possession of the ball at the beginning of the penalty.
Most penalties allow the offending player to be released from the penalty box if the opposing team scores a goal before the penalty time has expired. However, some personal fouls carry an “unreleaseable” penalty, where the offending player must serve the entirety of his penalty in the box, regardless of how many goals are scored.
Technical fouls usually involve a moving or time violation, like an illegal screen, offsides or interference. They result in a 30-second penalty if the fouling team does not have possession of the ball at the time of the foul. If there was no possession or the fouling team had the ball when the foul was committed, then the ball is awarded to the team that was fouled.
Lacrosse games are divided up by four quarters of equal time. Collegiate and professional games last a total of 60 minutes (15 minutes per quarter), and most scholastic-level games last 48 minutes (12 minutes per quarter). If the score is tied at the end of the four quarters, “sudden death” five-minute overtime periods are be played until a goal is scored to win the game. All overtimes begin with a faceoff.
Every game begins with a faceoff, which also occur at the beginning of each quarter and after each goal that is scored.
Teams usually have one or more players designated as faceoff specialists. During a faceoff, these players crouch down on their respective team’s side of the midfield X, sticks resting parallel to the midfield line on the ground, and with the back of their stick heads and pockets facing each other. The ball is placed between the two heads, and the players must remain still until the referee blows the whistle and gives the signal to begin.
At this point, each player attempts to use his stick and body to gain control of the ball. Faceoff specialists employ various techniques for manipulating the ball, including sweeps, clamps, pushes, and “plunger” moves, in which the player uses the back of the stick head to push the ball forward. During a faceoff, only midfielders are allowed to roam the field to try to secure the ball for their team. Attackmen and defensemen must stay inside their respective restraining boxes until someone picks up the loose ball and “possession” is called by the referee. If the ball enters the restraining box before possession is called, attackmen and defensemen are permitted to pick it up, but they still may not leave the box until there is possession.
With the exception of the goalie, no players on the field may purposely touch the ball with their hands. Kicking the ball is allowed, however, and players may legally kick the ball into the goal to score.
Body checking is legal in lacrosse. However, areas on the body where a player may body check another player is limited. Any contact on the front or side of the body, below the neck and above the waist, is legal. The checking player must have both hands on his stick, and may not cross-check (only legal in some indoor leagues, a cross-check occurs when a player has both hands on the shaft of the stick and hits another player with the section of the shaft between the hands). The player being checked must have possession of the ball, or be within five yards of a ball on the ground or in the air at the time of the check. Players may not lead with their head/helmet, and are not allowed to have more than a 10-yard running start when delivering a check, or they will be assessed a personal foul for unnecessary roughness penalty.
The Professional Game (Outdoor)
When Major League Lacrosse (MLL) began play in 2001, league organizers were looking for ways to make the game more appealing to the casual sports fan. For the most part, game play is the same as in the lower levels of the sport. Just the same, MLL founders borrowed from the sport of basketball, taking the ideas of a shot-clock and two-point shot line and applying them to lacrosse.
The restraining box was removed from each half of the field, giving the midfield line much more significance. The idea was to make the game more offensively oriented and played at a faster pace, thus creating more shots, scoring chances, and goals. MLL games routinely see teams score 20 or more points in a game, and much of the offense is geared toward transition and fast-break scoring.
Here is a more detailed description of the MLL’s two most distinct rules:
Shot clock: The shot clock in the MLL is a 60-second timer that begins when a team gains possession of the ball in its offensive half of the field. The team playing offense has 60 seconds to take a shot at the cage. The shot must either go in the net or make contact with the goal or goalie in any manner. If the shot clock expires during an offensive possession, the opposing team is given possession at midfield.
Two-Point line: The two-point-line is an arc that extends out from the exact center of the goal with a radius of 16 yards. Like the three-point line in basketball, a shot that goes in the goal from beyond the two-point line counts for two points on the scoreboard, instead of the usual one point. A shooter must have both feet completely beyond the line at the release of the ball, but any other part of his body or stick may be crossing the line at the time of release.
The Professional Game (Indoor)
The National Lacrosse League (NLL) is an 11-team indoor league featuring teams from the United States and Canada. The indoor game is slightly different from the field game, with the biggest difference being the size of the field.
Indoor lacrosse is played in buildings that regularly house hockey games. For these lacrosse games, the ice surface for hockey is simply covered with artificial turf. The hockey boards are in play, making it unlikely that a ball would go out of bounds. The smaller field size means that teams only have six players (five runners and one goalie) on the field at a time. No players may use a stick longer than 42 inches.
The goals in the indoor game are much smaller than the field lacrosse goals, measuring 4 feet high by 4 feet, 9 inches wide. With the smaller goals making the goalies much more likely to be hit by shots, goalies wear very large leg pads. They are reminiscent of a baseball catcher’s leg pads, only slightly larger. Each goal is surrounded by a crease measuring 9 feet, 3 inches in diameter. No offensive player may intentionally enter the crease.
With a field and set of rules that are highly reminiscent of those in other major sports, lacrosse is quickly gaining popularity among casual sports fans. Overall, the fast-paced action and physicality of the game make lacrosse a very easy sport to play or enjoy as a spectator.