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Lacrosse is a team sport played outdoors by ten players (men) or twelve players (women), each of whom uses a netted stick (the crosse) in order to pass and catch a very hard rubber ball with the aim of scoring goals (each worth one point traditionally, but also two in Major League Lacrosse) by propelling the ball into the opponent's goal. The team scoring the most points after 2 halves, of varying length from competition to competition, and overtime if necessary, wins[1][2][3]. Indoor versions of the game are also popular, particularly in Canada.

Most popular in North America, lacrosse is Canada's official national summer sport[4] and the fastest growing sport in the United States of America [5].

In its modern form, men's lacrosse is played on a field of grass or artificial turf. Each team is composed of a 10 players on the field at a time: three attackmen, three midfielders, three defenders and one goaltender. In men's lacrosse, players wear protective equipment on their heads, shoulders, arms, and hands, as body-checking is an integral part of the game, and stick checks to the arms and hands are considered legal. Women's lacrosse is played in a similar manner except with two additional midfielders per team. Players of women's lacrosse need only wear protective eyewear (except for the goaltender, who wears additional padding, usually consisting of a helmet, shin guards, and chest pad, and most goalies do not wear arm pads), as contact is not permitted apart from minor stick-checks.

The sport was invented by Native North Americans. Its name was dehuntshigwa'es in Onondaga ("men hit a rounded object"), da-nah-wah'uwsdi in Eastern Cherokee ("little war"), Tewaarathon in Mohawk language ("little brother of war"), and baaga'adowe in Ojibwe ("bump hips"). The game was named lacrosse by early French observers. It is commonly assumed that the name stems from the French term "crosse", for the shepherd's crooklike crosier carried by bishops as a symbol of office. Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix noted the resemblance between the crosier and the shape of the racket stick in 1719. However, the term crosse, which also translates as bat, was applied to the Native playing stick by the Jesuit fathers nearly a century before. Since there was only one ball, early players concentrated on first injuring their opponents with their sticks, and then moving easily to the goal. Games could be played on a pitch over a mile wide and sometimes lasted for days. Often players were gravely injured or even killed. Early balls were made out of the heads of the enemy, deerskin, clay, stone, and sometimes wood. Lacrosse has played a significant role in the community and religious life of tribes across the continent for many years. Early lacrosse was characterized by deep spiritual involvement, befitting the spirit of combat in which it was undertaken. Those who took part did so in the role of warriors, with the goal of bringing glory and honor to themselves and their tribes, and as a religious ritual[6]. The game was said to be played "for the pleasure of the Creator."

Evolution of the game

Lacrosse has witnessed great modifications since its origins in the 1400s, but many aspects of the sport remain the same. In the Native North American version, each team consisted of about 100 to 1,000 men on a field that stretched from about 500 to 800 yards with some fields being a couple of miles long. Rather than having traditional goals where the ball has to pass through goal posts, many of the Native teams used a large rock or tree as their goal. They would hit the deerskin ball against the goal to earn points. If the ball was somehow destroyed during gameplay, the lowest-ranking member of the tribe would be sacrificed and his head was used as the ball. The medicine-men acted as umpires, and the women urged on the men by beating them with switches. These lacrosse games lasted from sun up to sun down for two to three days. These games were played to settle inter-tribal disputes and also used to toughen young braves in preparation for future combat.

The game became known to Westerners when a French Jesuit Missionary, Jean de Brébeuf, saw the Iroquois Natives play it in 1636. In 1763, after Canada had become British, the game was used by the Natives to carry out an ingenious military deception during Pontiac's Rebellion. On June 2, a group of Ojibwe Indians, led by Matchekewis, invited the British garrison to witness a game of "baggataway" in honor of the King's birthday (which was really June 4). The players gradually worked their way close to the gates, when, throwing aside their crosses and seizing their tomahawks which the women suddenly produced from under their blankets, they rushed into the fort and massacred 20 of the 37 inhabitants.[7]

By the 1800s, lacrosse evolved to become less violent and more of a sport as French pioneers began competing. In 1867, W. George Beers, a Canadian dentist, codified the game, shortening the length of each game and reducing the number of players to ten per team. The first game played under Beers' rules was at Upper Canada College in 1867, with Upper Canada College losing to the Toronto Cricket Club by a score of 3-1. By the 1900s, high schools, colleges, and universities began playing the game, and lacrosse was contested as a medal sport in the 1904 and 1908 Olympics.

In the 1930s, an indoor version of the game, box lacrosse (see below), was introduced in Canada. It quickly became, and remains, the dominant form of the sport in that country. A later version of box lacrosse, indoor lacrosse, is played professionally in both Canada and the United States.

In the United States of America, the sport is popular in Maryland (where it became the official team sport in 2004), New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New England and other areas along the east coast. In addition, its popularity has started spreading to the west coast spurred by the sport's increasing visibility in the media as well as the growth of college and high school programs and "pee wee" leagues throughout the country. This explosion has been facilitated by the introduction of plastic heads invented by Baltimore-based stick maker STX in the 1970s. This innovation reduced the weight and cost of the stick, and allowed for faster passes and gameplay. The plastic head is now universally used, and while wooden sticks remain legal, they are far outclassed.

At the collegiate level, there are currently 57 NCAA Division I men's lacrosse teams, 31 Division II men's lacrosse teams, and 130 Division III men's lacrosse teams. There are also currently 82 Division I women's lacrosse teams, 35 Division II women's lacrosse Teams, and 154 Division III women's lacrosse Teams. US Lacrosse also recognizes over 200 collegiate lacrosse teams at the USLIA level, including most major universities in the United States.

At the professional level, there are 13 National Lacrosse League (indoor) teams; 10 in the United States of America and 3 in Canada. In Major League Lacrosse, there are 10 teams, all of which are based in the United States, and 2 more expansion teams are set to play in the 2008 season. The Australian Lacrosse League has 3 teams; 1 for each of Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.

The highest level of box lacrosse (Senior A) has two leagues in Canada: the Western Lacrosse Association for British Columbia, and Major Series Lacrosse (sanctioned by the OLA) for Ontario; both with 7 teams each.

Field lacrosse

Outdoor men's lacrosse involves two teams of 10 players each competing to project a small ball of solid rubber into the opposing team's goal. The field of play is 110 yards (100 m) long and 60 yards (54 m) wide. The goals are 6 feet (1.8 m) by 6 feet and contain a mesh netting similar to an ice hockey goal. The goal sits inside a circular "crease", measuring 18 feet (5.5 m) in diameter.

Players line up with 3 offensive players called "attackmen", 3 "midfielders" or "middies", 3 "defensemen", and 1 designated goaltender, or "goalie". Each player carries a stick (the French settlers, upon seeing the Native Americans using the stick, called it la cross (the crosier); hence the name "Lacrosse"). Lacrosse sticks may measure between 40 inches (101.6 centimeters) and 42 inches (106.68 centimeters) long (a "short crosse"), or 52 inches (132.08 centimeters) to 72 (182.88 centimeters) long (a "long crosse"). The designated goalkeeper is allowed to have a stick from 40 inches (101.6 centimeters) to 72 inches (182.88 centimeters) long. The head of the crosse on both long and short crosses must be larger than 6 inches at its widest point. The head of a goaltender's crosse may measure up to 15 inches (38.1 centimeters) wide. Although most of the time attackmen and midfielders use short crosses, defensemen, along with one midfielder when his team is on defense, carry long crosses, some teams choose to distribute their sticks differently; this is not uncommon because a team may only have 4 long crosses on the field during live play, excluding the benches and penalty boxes. Most modern sticks have a metal shaft, made usually of aluminium or titanium, while the head is made of hard plastic. Metal shafts must have a plastic or wood plug ("butt") at the end, and it must be adequately taped to avoid injury. The heads are strung with string and leather or mesh. This forms a basket called the "pocket".[2]

Goaltender's sticks vary in length but are typically between 50 inches (1.27 m) and 60 inches (1.52 m) long, and their heads are significantly larger than field players' heads to help in blocking shots.

Players scoop the ball off the ground and throw the ball in the air to other players. Players are allowed to run carrying the ball with their stick. Unlike in women's lacrosse, players may kick the ball, as well as covering it with their sticks, provided they do not withhold it from play. Play is typically quite fast. Players are permitted to hit each others sticks and gloved hands, and deliver body checks, although rules govern the manner in which this may be done. For NCAA play, games consist of four fifteen minute periods, while at the youth and high school levels games are typically shorter. Considerably more goals are scored than in soccer or hockey, with typical games totaling ten to twenty goals.


In men's lacrosse, players can be awarded penalties of two types by the referee for rule infractions. Personal fouls always result in the player serving time in the penalty box, located at the side of the field between the opposing teams' interchange benches. These penalties can last one, two, or three minutes at the referee's discretion. Two and three minute penalties are usually reserved for the most serious slashing or unsportsmanlike conduct fouls. Technical fouls are less severe and result in 30 seconds being served only if the foul was committed while the opposing team was in possession of the ball. If there was a loose ball situation or the player's team was in possession at the time of the foul, they only result in a turnover. Technical fouls are "releasable," meaning that a player may return to the game without spending the entire duration of his penalty in the box if the opposing team scores during the penalty. Fouls form an important part of men's lacrosse as while a player is serving time, his team is 'man down'. At this time his defence must play a 'zone' while they wait for the penalty to expire while the attacking team has its best opportunity to score. A list of the fouls in men's lacrosse is as follows:

Personal Fouls

  • Slashing: Occurs when a player's stick viciously contacts an opponent in any area other than the stick or gloved hand on the stick.
  • Tripping: Occurs when a player obstructs his opponent at or below the waist with the crosse, hands, arms, feet or legs.
  • Cross Checking: Occurs when a player uses the handle of his crosse between his hands to make contact with an opponent.
  • Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Occurs when any player or coach commits an act which is considered unsportsmanlike by an official, including taunting, arguing, or obscene language or gestures.
  • Unnecessary Roughness: Occurs when a player strikes an opponent with his stick or body using excessive or violent force.
  • Illegal Crosse: Occurs when a player uses a crosse that does not conform to required specifications. A crosse may be found illegal if the pocket is too deep or if any other part of the crosse was altered to gain an advantage.
  • Illegal Body Checking: Occurs when any of the following actions takes place:
    • a. body checking an opponent who is not in possession of the ball or within five yards of a loose ball.
    • b. avoidable body check of an opponent after he has passed or shot the ball.
    • c. body checking an opponent from the rear or at or below the waist.
    • d. body checking an opponent above the shoulders. A body check must be below the shoulders and above the waist, and both hands of the player applying the body check must remain in contact with his crosse.
  • Illegal Gloves: Occurs when a player uses gloves that do not conform to required specifications. A glove will be found illegal if the fingers and palms are cut out of the gloves, or if the glove has been altered in a way that compromises its protective features.
  • Other Illegal equipment: not having a mouthgaurd, or not having it in the mouth, no shoulder pads, no arm pads (in most leagues, goalies do not have to wear arm pads so they can move their arms faster to block shots).

Technical Fouls

  • Holding: Occurs when a player impedes the movement of an opponent or an opponent's crosse, or a player has his crosse in between the arm pads and the players body.
  • Interference: Occurs when a player interferes in any manner with the free movement of an opponent, except when that opponent has possession of the ball, the ball is in flight and within five yards of the player, or both players are within five yards of a loose ball.
  • Offsides: Occurs when a team does not have at least four players on its defensive side of the midfield line or at least three players on its offensive side of the midfield line.
  • Pushing: Occurs when a player thrusts or shoves a player from behind.
  • Moving Pick: Occurs when an offensive player moves into and makes contact with a defensive player with the purpose of blocking him from the man he is defending, as opposed to a legal pick, standing next to a defensive player, blocking him from the player he is covering.
  • Stalling: Occurs when a team intentionally holds the ball, without conducting normal offensive play, with the intent of running time off the clock. This is called if no attempt is made to get in the box.
  • Warding Off: Occurs when a player in possession of the ball uses his free hand or arm to hold, push or control the direction of an opponent this includes pushing him off.

Box lacrosse

For more information, see: Box lacrosse.

Canadians most commonly play box lacrosse, 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 the 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 a few years had almost entirely supplanted field lacrosse in Canada.

In box lacrosse the goal is smaller (4' X 4') than in outdoor lacrosse, and the goaltender is usually bigger, with considerably more padding. The attacking team must take a shot on goal within 30 seconds of gaining possession of the ball, and play is rougher than in the field game (see below).

Indoor lacrosse is a version of box lacrosse with slight rule changes — the games are played during the winter, not only in regions where summer lacrosse is popular but also in regions where lacrosse is rarely played in summer. This version of the game was intended to be less violent than box lacrosse, although changes in box lacrosse rules have reduced some of its violent play and a change in indoor lacrosse rules to permit crosschecking (hitting another player with the stick with one's hands apart on the shaft) have made it more violent. The chief differences between the two forms of the indoor game now are that indoor lacrosse games consist of 4 x 15 minute quarters compared with 3 x 20 minute periods in box lacrosse, and that indoor lacrosse players may use only sticks with hollow shafts, while box lacrosse permits solid wooden sticks. Indoor lacrosse is always played on a carpet, while box lacrosse is usually played on bare concrete. Comparably, field lacrosse is played on a standard size field.

Women's lacrosse

For more information, see: Women's lacrosse.

The rules of women's lacrosse differ significantly from men's lacrosse and are specifically designed to allow less physical contact between players. As a result of the lack of contact, the only protective equipment required is eyewear and a mouthguard. Although these are the only protective equipment, there are still many injuries due to accidental checks to the head. The pockets of women's sticks are shallower than those of the men, making the ball harder to catch and more difficult to shoot at high speed. Women play with three attackers (or "homes"), five midfielders (or "middies"), three defenders (starting from the back, called "point", "cover point", and "third man"), and one goalie. Seven players play attack at one time and seven defenders are present. There is a restraining line that keeps the other four players (plus the goalie) from going into the attack. If those players cross the line, they are considered offsides.

Women's games are played in two 25-minute halves. These 25 minutes are running time, except for the last two minutes, during which time stops when the whistle is blown. While the whistle is blown, players are not allowed to move. In women's lacrosse, players are not allowed to touch the ball with their body or cover the ball with their stick in order to scoop it into their stick or protect the ball from picked up by an opponent.

The women's lacrosse game has been modified significantly over the past ten years.[8] Modifications include limiting the amount of players allowed between the two restraining lines on the draw to five players per team. Stick modifications have lead to offset heads, which allow the women's game to move faster and makes stick moves and tricks easier. In 2002, goggles became mandatory equipment in the United States (but not a requirement in international rules). In 2006, hard boundaries were adopted.

Penalties for women's lacrosse are assessed with the following cards:

  • The green card, given to the team captain, is for a delay of game.
  • The yellow card is for a first-time penalty and results in the player being removed from the field for five minutes (three minutes in high school competition).
  • The red card is the result either of two yellow cards or one unsportsmanlike behavior ruling, and causes the player to be ejected from the game. If the red card is for unsportsmanlike behavior, the player is also not permitted to play in the following game.

The University of Maryland, College Park has traditionally dominated the women's intercollegiate play, producing innumerable head coaches across the country and many U.S. national team players. The Lady Terps won seven consecutive NCAA championships, from 1995 through 2001. The game is also 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 World Cup.

Women's intercollegiate lacrosse stars have included University of Maryland, College Park standouts Kelly Amonte-Hiller, coach of the 2005, 2006 national championship team from Northwestern University, and all-time scoring leader Australian Jen Adams.

International lacrosse

While modern lacrosse has been around for well over a century, until about 20 years ago it had only been played for the most part in Canada and the United States of America, with small but dedicated lacrosse communities in Great Britain and Australia. Since then however, lacrosse has flourished at an international level with the sport establishing itself in many new and far-reaching countries, particularly in Europe and east Asia.

With lacrosse not having been an official Olympic sport since 1908, the pinnacle of international lacrosse competition consists of the four quadrennial World Championships. Currently, there are world championships for lacrosse at senior men, senior women, under 19 men and under 19 women level. Until 1986, lacrosse world championships had only been contested by the United States of America, Canada, England and Australia, with Scotland and Wales also competing in the women's edition. The expansion of the game internationally has seen the 2004 Women's World Championships competed for by ten nations, and the 2006 Men's World Championships was contested by 21 countries.

Lacrosse world championships have been dominated by the United States, particularly in the men's game, where the only world championship game losses at either level was in the 1978 final to Canada and 2006 final to Canada. The USA has won 8 of the 10 senior men's and all five under 19 men's tournaments to date. In the women's game, Australia have provided stiffer competition, even holding a winning record against the USA of 6 wins to 5 at senior world championships, plus one draw. Despite this, the USA has won 5 of the 7 senior women's and 2 of the 3 under 19 women's tournaments to date, with the other world championships won by Australia, including the 2005 senior women's trophy.

Despite overall North American success, the highest scoring teams in international competition are not from the United States or Canada. In the women's game, a collaboration of Great Britain and Ireland defeated a team from Long Island, N.Y. by a score of 40-0 in 1967. [1] For the men, the highest scoring team was Scotland over Germany, 34-3 in 1994. [2]

The Iroquois Nationals are a team consisting of members of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. The team was admitted to the International Lacrosse Federation (ILF) in 1990. It is the only Native American team sanctioned to compete in any sport internationally.[9] The Nationals placed fourth in the 1998, 2002 and 2006 World Lacrosse Championships. In 2006, the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Program signed a partnership with Nike, Inc.[9]

Lacrosse is even becoming popular in the cold, snowcovered land of Norway. In 2004 Norway's first Lacrosse team was established by the Norwegian Business School in Bergen. The other major business school in Norway, BI, soon followed. BI Lions was established in 2005. The first Lacrosse game on Norwegian soil took place in April 2006. Although both teams were relatively new and made up of rookies the game was full of hard tackles and nice goals. The Norsemen from Bergen won the game.

Governing bodies of lacrosse

See also