Lacrosse is a team sport of Native American origin that is played using a small solid rubber ball and a long-handled racquet called a crosse or lacrosse stick. The head of the lacrosse stick is strung with loose netting (mesh) that is designed to hold the lacrosse ball. Offensively, the objective of the game is to use the lacrosse stick to catch, carry, and pass the ball in an effort to score by shooting the ball into an opponent's goal. Defensively, the objective is to keep the opposing team from scoring and to dispossess them of the ball through the use of stick checking and body contact or positioning.
The sport has three major types: men's field lacrosse, women's lacrosse and box lacrosse.
Lacrosse is a very physically demanding sport that requires not only fitness but also good stick work. Men's field lacrosse is played with ten players on each team: a goalkeeper; three defenders in the defensive end; three midfielders (often called "middies") free to roam the whole field; and three attackers attempting to score goals in the offensive end. It is the most common version of lacrosse played internationally. The modern game was codified in Canada by William George Beers in 1867. The game has evolved from that time to include the protective equipment and lacrosse sticks made from synthetic materials.
Each player carries a lacrosse stick (or crosse). A "short crosse" (sometimes called a "short stick") measures between 40 inches and 42 inches long (head and shaft together) is typically used by attackers or midfield. A total of four players per team may carry a "long crosse" (sometimes called "long pole," "long stick" or "d-pole") that are 52 inches to 72 inches long. The head of the crosse on both long and short crosses must be 6.5 inches or larger at its widest point. There is no minimum width at its narrowest point, the only provision is that the ball must roll out unimpeded. The designated goalkeeper is allowed to have a stick from 40 inches to 72 inches long and the head of a goalkeeper's crosse may measure up to 12 inches wide, significantly larger than field players' heads to assist in blocking shots.
The field of play is 110 yards long and 60 yards wide. The goals are 6 feet by 6 feet. The goal sits inside a circular "crease," measuring 18 feet in diameter. Each offensive and defensive area is surrounded by a "restraining box." Each quarter, and after each goal scored, play is restarted with a face-off. During a face-off, two players lay their stick horizontally next to the ball, head of the stick inches from the ball and the butt-end pointing down the midfield line. Face-off-men scrap for the ball, often by “clamping” it under their stick and flicking it out to their teammates. Attackers and defenders cannot cross their “restraining line” until one player from the midfield takes possession of the ball or the ball crosses the restraining line. If a member of one team touches the ball and it travels outside of the playing area, play is restarted by possession being awarded to the opposing team. During play, teams may substitute players in and out freely. Sometimes this is referred to as "on the fly" substitution. Substitution must occur within the designated exchange area in order to be legal.
For most penalties, the offending player is sent to the penalty box which is located between each team's bench. His team then must play without the player for a designated amount of time based upon the foul. (Although most penalties are "releasable," that is, the penalty ends when a goal is scored by the non-offending team.) Technical fouls (such as offsides and holding) result in either a turnover or a player's suspension of 30 seconds, while personal fouls are generally penalized one minute (although some infractions, such as playing with a stick that does not meet the specifications of their designated level of play, may serve non-releasable penalties of up to three minutes). The team that has taken the penalty is said to be playing man down while the other team is on the man up. Teams will use various lacrosse strategies to attack and defend while a player is being penalized. Offsides is penalized by a 30 second penalty. It occurs when there are more than 7 players on the defensive side of the field (three midfielders/three defensemen/one goalkeeper). The zones are separated by the midfield line.
At the highest level it is represented by the professional Major League Lacrosse (MLL) and on the collegiate level by the NCAA Division I in the United States. The first collegiate lacrosse program was established by New York University in 1877, and the 1971 tournament was the first Men's Lacrosse Championship sponsored by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). It is also played at a high level on the amateur level by the Australian Lacrosse League, the Canadian University Field Lacrosse Association, and club lacrosse leagues internationally.
Internationally, there are twenty two total members of the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL), only United States, Canada, Australia, and the Iroquois Nationals have finished in the top three places at the World Lacrosse Championships. The World Lacrosse Championship began as a four-team invitational tournament in 1968 sanctioned by the International Lacrosse Federation. Lacrosse at the Olympics was a medal-earning sport in the 1904 Summer Olympics and the 1908 Summer Olympics. Lacrosse was a demonstration sport in the 1928 Summer Olympics, 1932 Summer Olympics, and the 1948 Summer Olympics.
The professional Major League Lacrosse strayed from some of the established field lacrosse rules of international, college, and high school programs. With intentions to increase scoring, the league employed a sixty second shot clock and a two–point goal for shots taken outside a designated perimeter. The MLL has been bolstered by a ten year television contract with ESPN in 2007.
Box lacrosse (or indoor lacrosse) is an indoor version of the game played by teams of six on ice hockey rinks where the ice has been removed or covered by artificial turf. The enclosed playing area is called a box, in contrast to the open playing field of the traditional game. This version of the game was introduced in the 1930s to promote business for hockey arenas, and within several years had nearly supplanted field lacrosse in Canada.
Box lacrosse is played at the highest level by the Senior A divisions of the Canadian Lacrosse Association and the National Lacrosse League (NLL). The National Lacrosse League employs some minor rule changes from the Canadian Lacrosse Association (CLA) rules. Notably, the games are played during the winter, the NLL games consist of four fifteen-minute quarters compared with three periods of twenty minutes each (similar to ice hockey) in CLA games, and that NLL players may use only sticks with hollow shafts, while CLA permits solid wooden sticks.
The goals in box lacrosse are much smaller than field lacrosse, traditionally 4 feet wide by 4 feet tall in box, and 4.6 feet wide by 4 feet tall in the NLL. Also, the goaltender wears much more protective padding, including a massive chest protector and armguard combination known as "uppers," large shin guards known as leg pads (both of which must follow strict measurment guidelines), and ice hockey-style masks or lacrosse helmets. Also, at the professional level, box lacrosse goaltenders often use traditional wooden sticks outside of the NLL, which does not allow wooden sticks.
The style of the game is fast, accelerated by the close confines of the floor and a shot clock. The shot clock requires the attacking team to take a shot on goal within 30 seconds of gaining possession of the ball. In addition, players must advance the ball from their own defensive end to the offensive side of the floor within 10 seconds.
For most penalties, the offending player is sent to the and his team has to play without him and with one less player for a short amount of time. Most penalties last for two minutes, unless a five minute major penalty has been assessed. What separates box lacrosse (and ice hockey) from other sports is that at the top levels of professional and junior lacrosse, a five-minute major penalty is given and the players are not ejected for participating in a fight.
Internationally, the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships are held every four years and are sponsored by the Federation of International Lacrosse. Only eight nations have competed in these competitions, and only Canada, Iroquois Nationals and the United States have finished in the most coveted 1st, 2nd and 3rd places at these events.
The rules of women's lacrosse differ significantly from men's lacrosse, most notably by equipment and the degree of allowable physical contact. Women's lacrosse does not promote physical contact. The only protective equipment worn for this sport is a mouth guard and face guard and sometimes thin gloves. Although women's lacrosse does not allow much physical contact, it does allow stick to stick contact when in the right body position. Players are able to hit the opponent's stick to try and obtain possession of the ball. This is commonly known as checking. Players are able to lightly push the player if their stick is a certain angle on the oppositions body. Women's lacrosse also differs from men's because of the field it is played on. Although the same overall size, the lines of the playing field are different, which help to structure the different rules of the games, such as how many players can go over the "restraining line" to play attack or defense at one end of the field.
In younger groups, no checking or limited checking is permitted. (For instance, in the USA, no checking is permitted below 7th grade, while in 7th grade to 8th grade checking is only permitted if the opponent's stick is below the shoulders).
The first modern women's lacrosse game was held at St Leonards School in Scotland in 1890. It was introduced by the school's headmistress Louisa Lumsden after a visit to Canada. The first women's lacrosse team in the United States was established at Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, Maryland in 1926. Men’s and women’s lacrosse were played under virtually the same rules, with no protective equipment, until the mid-1930s.
NCAA women's Lacrosse Division I began play in 1982. The University of Maryland, College Park has traditionally dominated the women's intercollegiate play, producing many head coaches across the country and many U.S. national team players. The Lady Terps won seven consecutive NCAA championships, from 1995 through 2001. Princeton University's women's teams have made it to the final game seven times since 1993 and have won three NCAA titles, in 1993, 2002, and 2003. In recent years, Northwestern University has become a force, winning the national championship from 2005 through 2009.
Internationally, the game is commonly played in British girls' independent schools, and while only a minor sport in Australia, it is played to a very high standard at the elite level, where its national squad won the 2005 Women's Lacrosse World Cup. The last Women's World Cup was played in 2009 hosted by Prague, Czech Republic.