The Top 10 Rules Of Lacrosse

Lacrosse is an up and coming sport centered mostly in the United States and Canada. It was first played by Native Americans as far back as the 17th century, but was modernly adopted by western society in the early 20th century.

The game is played on a grass field; players use “sticks” (a metal shaft with a mesh net at the top) to scoop, pass, and shoot the small rubber ball into the 6ft by 6ft goals. Lacrosse permits a moderate amount of stick and body contact, with restrictions placed on excessively aggressive checks. Teams use elaborate plays, individual isolation dodges, or fast break opportunities to set up an open shot for a player.

Currently, the Major League Lacrosse or “MLL” is the largest professional lacrosse league, hosting 6 teams across the United States (Major League Lacrosse, 2020). However, the Premier Lacrosse League or “PLL” was founded in 2018 and hosts 6 teams of its own (Premier Lacrosse League, 2020). Both leagues are continuously growing and will likely merge in the future.

What are the top 10 rules of lacrosse? (Based off of the 2019 NCAA rulebook)

  1. Equipment
  2. The Field
  3. Time
  4. Substitutions
  5. Offsides
  6. Stick Checks
  7. Body Checks
  8. Basic Offensive Sets
  9. Use of Free Hand
  10. Goalkeeping

1. Equipment

Lacrosse is a sport that requires a wide variety of equipment in order for the game to be played. All players must wear a helmet, chest protector, and gloves. Goalies have the option to wear elbow pads, but usually choose not to in order to move more freely; all other players on the field must wear elbow pads.

The ball is smooth, rubber, and usually white. It must measure between 7.75 and 8.00 inches in circumference and weigh between 5 and 5.25 ounces.

The shaft of the stick must have a circumference of no more than 3.5 inches. The length of the entire stick must be 40-42 inches for short stick players and 52-72 inches for long stick players.

The head of a stick must be a minimum of 6 inches wide at the widest point, a minimum of 3 inches wide at the bottom, and a minimum of 3.5 inches wide 5 inches from the bottom.

The pocket of the lacrosse stick has many specifications to ensure that a player does not have too much hold in their stick. First, a pocket cannot be deeper than the diameter of the ball. Secondly, if a pocket is held 90 degrees facing the ground and the ball does not fall out, it is illegal.

2. The Field

The lacrosse field is 110 yards long by 60 yards wide.

If a ball goes out of bounds off of a pass or loose ball, possession is returned to whichever team did not touch it last. However, if a ball goes out of bounds off of a shot, whichever team has a player closest to the ball earns possession.

In the middle of the field, there is a midline separating the two 55 yard halves. 20 yards from the midline on each half there is a restraining line; perpendicular to this line, there are two lines 10 yards from each sideline that run from the restraining line to the end line. This creates the restraining box, in which attackmen and defenders must stay inside until one team gains possession from the faceoff. Once a team retains possession in the opposing team's restraining box, the ball may not move back to their half of the field. If it does, that will result in a dead ball and a change of possession.

3. Time

The game is divided into four 15 minute periods. If the game is tied after the four periods, the teams shall play a sudden death overtime, repeating 4 minute periods until one team scores.

When possession is changed, either by a turnover, save, or penalty; the team with the ball has 20 seconds to advance it over the midline. After that, they have 10 seconds to move the ball into the restraining box. If they fail to do this, it is a dead ball and possession is changed.

In college lacrosse, there is an 80 second shot clock, however in all lower level leagues there is no shot clock.

Penalties are also enforced through time in the penalty box. There are two types of penalties: personal fouls and technical fouls.

Personal fouls are fouls that concern a player’s safety, and they result in a minimum of 1 minute, but can be more depending on the severity of the penalty.

Technical fouls are fouls concerning an unfair advantage to one team. Fouls like this include too many men on the field, using a free hand to grab a player or the ball, etc. These penalties are 30 seconds.

4. Substitution

The substitution box is 20 yards long and sits in between the bench of each team. Any player substituting in or out, dead ball or not, must go through the substitution box.

Teams are free to substitute whenever they want throughout the game, so long as the incoming player steps on after the outgoing player steps off.

Usually, teams begin the faceoff with a long stick midfielder and a faceoff midfielder, both of them substitutes off if they win the faceoff, and stay on if they lose.

In transition, players running upfield near the sideline of the substitution box will run out on one side, and the incoming player will sub in from the other side of the substitution box, essentially giving them a 20 yard head start on the fast break.

5. Offsides

Offsides is a penalty that prevents either side of the field from being too crowded. There are 10 players on the field from each team, but that does not mean that all 10 players can go wherever they want on the field. Out of those 10 players, a team can have a maximum of 6 players on their offensive side and a maximum of 7 players on their defensive side.

If a team has too many players on either side of the field, this results in an offsides penalty. If a team commits an offsides penalty with possession, a whistle blows to signal a dead ball and the opposing team receives the ball at midfield. If a team commits an offsides penalty without possession, a midfielder must serve 30 seconds in the penalty box for a technical foul.

6. Stick Checks

Players may use their sticks to dislodge the ball from an offensive player.

There are a variety of different checks that defensive players use, some examples are:

  • Poke Check: Jabbing the head of the stick like a spear at a ball carrier’s stick.
  • Slap Check: Swinging the head or shaft of the stick into the head or shaft of the ball carrier’s stick (pictured).
  • Lift Check: Using the head of one’s stick to lift up the bottom of the ball carrier's stick, usually used to disrupt a pass or shot.

If a defensive player checks an offensive player in the helmet, or commits a check that the officials deem excessively forceful, they are penalized with a slash, which results with them serving 1 minute in the penalty box.

7. Body Checks

Body checks are attempts to hit the ball carrier, either dislodge the ball or to hinder their path to the goal. Body can either be done by putting the hands together on the stick and shoving the ball carrier, or by hitting the ball carrier with a lowered shoulder.

Body checks must be very disciplined, or they will likely result in a penalty. There are two penalties regarding body checks:

  • Cross-Check: Having hands spread on the stick and checking the ball carrier with the part of the shaft in between one’s hands.
  • Illegal Body Check: If a player lowers their shoulder and collides with the head or neck of a player on the other team.

Body checks are very restricted in the modern game, and due to the relatively light protection of lacrosse equipment, penalties are called on most body checks.

8. Basic Offensive Sets

Settled offense in lacrosse has several different formations, the variety of which have different strengths and weaknesses, depending on the defense a team is playing.

3-2-1: 3 midfielders at the top, 2 attackmen on the wings a few yards up from the goal line, and 1 attackmen behind the goal. This offense is taught at youth levels and is sometimes referred to as an “open set.” The objective of an open set is to keep the heart  of the defense vacant so that there is less help when a defender gets beat 1 on 1.

2-1-2-1: 2 midfielders at the top at each side, 1 midfielder in the middle about 5 yards in front of the goal, 2 attackmen on the wings, and 1 attackmen behind the goal. The objective of this offense is to create 2 triangles of rotation. When 1 player initiates a dodge, cutters rotate in the same or opposite direction of the dodger.

1-2-1-2: 1 midfielder at the top center, 2 midfielders about 5 yards below from him on each side of the field, 1 attackmen about 5 yards in front of the goal, and 2 attackmen on the wings. This formation is more complicated, and involves quick cutting and off-ball picks.

9. Use of the Free Hand

The free hand is defined as the hand that is not on the stick. Lacrosse allows a very limited use of the free hand.

A player is only permitted to hold their arm out in a still position that offers them protection from stick checks.A player may not:

  • Touch the ball in any way
  • Push off of an opposing player or stick
  • Use their arm to obstruct or hold another player
  • Face guard or hold the arm in any position that is not natural to the running form

If a player violates these rules with possession of the ball, the official will call a ward, and award possession to the other team.

10. Goalkeeping

The lacrosse goalkeeper has a very different role than the rest of the team. First of all, their stick must be 52-72 inches long, and the head must be 10-12 inches wide at the widest point, giving them a better chance to save shots.

The Lacrosse goalkeeper stands inside, but is not limited to, “the crease.” This circle has a 9 foot radius around the middle of the goal line, and no player from the opposing team may step inside it.

When the goalkeeper makes a save, he has 4 seconds to either step out of the crease, or throw the ball out of the crease. If he does not, possession is awarded to the other team. If he steps out and back in with the ball, possession is awarded to the other team. If any player touches the goalkeeper while he is in the crease, that is a goalie interference and will result in the goalkeeper’s team receiving the ball at the midline.