Aim of the Game
Simple: Score more goals than your opposition.
A goal is scored by getting the ball into your opponents goal. All players use a lacrosse stick to carry and throw the ball. A game is played over 4 x 20 minute quarters with a running clock. Most teams expect to score around 12 goals per game. Low scoring games of say 6-4 are possible if the defensive play is strong. A scoreline of say 20-4 is classed as a stuffing. A really good team against poor opposition could expect to score 30+ goals, but this is rare.
Lacrosse is a squad game like basketball or ice hockey. In the UK, the typical squad size is between 12 and 18 players. While for international events and the big leagues in the States and Canada, squad sizes are 40+ players. A maximum of 10 players from each team can be on the pitch at any one time. Also like ice hockey, rolling substitutions are key to success, more on that later.
Layout of Pitch and Goals
The lacrosse pitch is approximately the size of a football or field hockey pitch on either grass or artificial grass. Goals are set into the pitch like in ice hockey so players can move the ball around behind the goal. The goal nets are 6 feet square in size. The ball is about the size of a tennis ball made from solid rubber.
Equipment – The Stick
A lacrosse stick varies in length (depending on playing position, see below) and head size. A ‘pocket’ formed by the stick net holds the ball in the stick. The basic skills when learning are catching, throwing and running with the ball.
Players in different positions use different style of stick.
- Attack/Midfield – Use a ‘short stick’ of about 3 feet in length. This is the standard lacrosse stick.
- Defence – Use a ‘long-stick’ of about 6 feet in length. The head and pocket is the same as the short stick.
- Goalkeeper – Uses a stick with a much larger head to aid catching and stopping the ball.
Equipment – Protection
Protective body equipment is essential for both the men’s and women’s game.
The minimum by law for men’s lacrosse is a full-face helmet and gloves. Most players additionally wear shoulder pads, elbow pads and a box (to protect the privates!). Also available are pads for the lower torso area which are often worn by attack players who often get hit in the ribs and sides of the stomach.
The goalkeeper wears surprisingly little protection considering how fast the ball can be thrown. In addition to the helmet, gloves and box/cup, a goalie wears a throat guard below the helmet and a chest pad. A lacrosse goalie needs to be agile, highly reactive and able to run, so dressing up like a hockey goalie is not the way forward.
Off-Side and Restricted Pitch Areas
Off-side in lacrosse is controlled by the halfway line. In the half of the pitch where the ball is, there must be no more than 7 players (including the goalie) of the defending team and no more than 6 players of the attacking team. A total of 10 players is on the field per team so it generally means 3 attackers and 3 defenders stay in their own half, with the 3 midfield players from each team roaming everywhere.
A circular 3m radius “crease” surrounds each goal. No attacking player may enter the crease.
At the start of each quarter and to re-start after each goal is the “face-off”. A midfield player from each team competes for the ball on the centre spot. The technique is a bit of a black art, somewhat like front-row scrum play in rugby, a mix of brute strength and technique. A soon as the whistle is blown to face-off, the other two midfield players can run in from the sides to help out. The attack and defence must stay behind the ‘restrainer’ lines until someone has possession of the ball. Then field restrictions for off-side only apply.
In a similar way to basketball, the ball quickly moves from end to end into settled play. An attempt to run directly at goal, shooting and scoring requires some skills, or a very weak defence. The trick is the turn the heads of the defence, use clever off-ball movement with quick, sharp passing of the ball to create a good shooting chance. Most teams play a man-on-man defensive formation but various flavours of zone defence are also used.
The techniques used to win back the ball are;
- “Stick Checking” – When an opponent has the ball you can check (hit) his stick or any hand holding the stick. A well directed stick check should dislodge the ball. The player with the ball can use his body to shield the stick and good ball handling technique can prevent the ball from coming out.
- “Body Checking” – Ignore the stick and just hit them. A body check can only be used on a player with the ball, or a player within a few feet of the ball. Initial contact must be with the hands, held together on the stick, and must be from the front or side, above the waist and below the neck. You cannot push anyone from behind.
You can be fairly aggressive in both attack and defence but there are a few things you are not allowed to do. You cannot;
- Deliberately slash (hit) a player with the ball with your stick, other than striking their stick or their hand holding their stick
- Trip up a player
- Push a player from behind
- Grab or hold a player, or the ball, with your hands, arms or legs
- Poke a player with the butt (non head) end of the stick
- Hit a player with the helmet or directly with a shoulder
- Make contact with an opponent above the shoulders or below the waist.
In most cases, illegal play results in a sin-bin sending off. 30 seconds for a technical foul and 1 minute for a personal foul. For extreme foul play you’ll be off for 2 minutes (i.e. fighting, unsportsmanlike conduct or dangerous play). A team with an extra man has a significant advantage and should create a good goal scoring chance.
Transition Play and Substitutions
The fast pace of the game and the off-side rule means that midfield players do a lot of running! The ‘transition’ is getting the ball from one end to another. Say if the goalie catches the ball, the defenders will get out to the sides of the pitch to find open space and receive the ball. However the goalie is really looking for a midfield player to find space around the halfway line to receive the ball and take it into the attacking half. If no midfield players are open, a long-stick defence player is the next best option.
The transition from defence to attack is the best time for the midfield to substitute. A well organised team can rotate the entire three-man midfield in a matter of seconds. The bench will also contain a couple of extra attack and long-stick defence players. Rotating the attack line-up can give players a breather and set a different challenge to the defence. Likewise with the long-sticks but only a maximum of 4 long-stick players can be on the field at any one time. Often you’ll see teams use all 4 long-stick players at face-off’s and in man-down defensive play.
How to Learn Lacrosse
First go find your local club, starting with us in Milton Keynes.
It will take a couple of training sessions to learn how to throw and catch the ball reliably. Some pick up the basic skills in their first session. Game knowledge comes through listening to coaches and team mates. Most players can get competitive game time after just a couple of weeks. The first game (or any new sport) will be frantic and confusing. Lacrosse is a squad sport so a new player can take turns on the field, only up to 1-2 minutes, then sub off, rest, watch and learn. For many, the lacrosse stick starts to feel natural after 6 weeks. After 3 or 4 games, novice players are feeling more comfortable and ready to take their game to the next level.