The sport has four versions that have different sticks, fields, rules and equipment: field lacrosse, women's lacrosse, box lacrosse and intercrosse. The men's games, field lacrosse (outdoor) and box lacrosse (indoor), are contact sports and all players wear protective gear: helmet, gloves, shoulder pads, and elbow pads. The women's game does not allow body contact but does allow stick to stick contact. The only protective gear required for women players is eyegear, while goalies wear helmets and protective pads. Intercrosse is a mixed-gender non-contact sport that uses an all-plastic stick and a softer ball.
Lacrosse is part of the cultural tradition of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) people, inhabiting what is now New York and Pennsylvania. Lacrosse may have been developed as early as 1100 CE among indigenous peoples on Turtle Island (North America). By the seventeenth century, it was well-established and was documented by Jesuit missionary priests in the territory of present-day Canada.
In the traditional aboriginal Canadian version, each team consisted of about 100 to 1,000 men on a field that stretched from about 500 m (1,600 ft) to 3 km (1.9 mi) long. These games lasted from sunup to sundown for two to three days straight and were played as part of ceremonial ritual, a kind of symbolic warfare, or to give thanks to the Creator or Master.
Lacrosse 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. The game was said to be played "for the Creator" or was referred to as "The Creator's Game."
The French Jesuit missionary Jean de Brébeuf saw Huron tribesmen play the game during 1637 in present-day Ontario. He called it la crosse, "the stick" in French. The name seems to be originated from the French term for field hockey, le jeu de la crosse.
James Smith described in some detail a game being played in 1757 by Mohawk people "wherein now they used a wooden ball, about 7.6 cm (3 in) in diameter, and the instrument they moved it with was a strong staff about 1.5 m (5 ft) long, with a hoop net on the end of it, large enough to contain the ball."
Anglophones from Montreal noticed the game being played by Mohawk people and started playing themselves in the 1830s. In 1856, William George Beers, a Canadian dentist, founded the Montreal Lacrosse Club. In 1860, Beers codified the game, shortening the length of each game and reducing the number of players to 12 per team. The first game played under Beers' rules was at Upper Canada College in 1867; they lost to the Toronto Cricket Club by a score of 3–1.
The new sport proved to be very popular and spread across the English-speaking world, by 1900 there were dozens of men's clubs in Canada, the United States, England, Australia, and New Zealand. The women's game was introduced by Louisa Lumsden in Scotland in 1890. The first women's club in the United States was started by Rosabelle Sinclair at Bryn Mawr School in 1926.
In the United States, lacrosse during the late 1800s and first half of the 1900s was primarily a regional sport centered around the Mid-Atlantic states, especially New York and Maryland. However, in the last half of the 20th century, the sport has spread outside this region, and can be currently found in most of the United States. According to a survey conducted by US Lacrosse in 2016, there are over 825,000 lacrosse participants nationwide and lacrosse is the fastest-growing team sport among NFHS member schools.
Field lacrosse is the men's outdoor version of the sport. There are ten players on each team: three attackmen, three midfielders, three defensemen, and one goalie. Each player carries a lacrosse stick. A short stick measures between 40 and 42 inches (about 1 meter) long and is used by attackmen and midfielders. A maximum of four players on the field per team may carry a long stick which is between 52 and 72 inches (1.3 to 1.8 meters) long and is used by the three defensemen and sometimes one defensive midfielder. The goalie uses a stick with a head as wide as 12 inches (30 centimeters) that can be between 40 and 72 inches long.
The field of play is 110 by 60 yards (100 by 55 meters). The goals are 6 ft by 6 ft (1.8 m) and are 80 yd (73 m) apart. Each goal sits inside a circular "crease", measuring 18 ft (5.5 m) in diameter. The goalie has special privileges within the crease to avoid opponents' stick checks. Offensive players or their sticks may not enter into the crease at any time. The mid-field line separates the field into an offensive and defensive zone for each team. Each team must keep four players in its defensive zone and three players in its offensive zone at all times. It does not matter which positional players satisfy the requirement, although usually the three attackmen stay in the offensive zone, the three defensemen and the goalie stay in the defensive zone, and the three middies play in both zones. A team that violates this rule is offsides and either loses possession of the ball if they have it or incurs a technical foul if they do not.
The regulation playing time of a game is 60 minutes, divided into four periods of 15 minutes each. Play is started at the beginning of each quarter and after each goal with a face-off. During a face-off, two players lay their sticks on the ground parallel to the mid-line, the two heads of their sticks on opposite sides of the ball. At the whistle, the face-off-men scrap for the ball, often by "clamping" it under their stick and flicking it out to their teammates. When one of the teams has possession of the ball, they bring it into their offensive zone and try to score a goal. Due to the offsides rule, settled play involves six offensive players versus six defensive players and a goalie.
If the ball goes out of bounds, possession is awarded to the team that did not touch it last. The exception is when the ball is shot towards the goal. Missed shots that go out of bounds are awarded to the team that has the player who is the closest to the ball when and where the ball goes out. During play, teams may substitute players in and out if they leave and enter the field through the substitution area, sometimes referred to as "on the fly". After penalties and goals, players may freely substitute and do not have to go through the substitution area.
Penalties are either technical or personal fouls. Personal fouls such as cross-checking, illegal body check or slashing, are about player safety. These fouls draw 1-minute or longer penalties; the offending player must leave the field and stay in the substitution area for the length of the penalty. His team plays with nine players for the duration. Because of the offsides rule, this means the opponent plays with six attackers versus five defenders plus the goalie. Technical fouls, such as offsides, pushing, and holding, result in either a turnover or a 30-second penalty, depending on which team has the ball.
Box lacrosse is played by teams of five runners plus a goalie on a hockey rink where the ice has been removed or covered by artificial turf, or in an indoor soccer field. 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 Canada in the 1930s to promote business for hockey arenas outside of the ice hockey season.(p157) Within several years it had nearly supplanted field lacrosse in Canada.(p120)
The goals in box lacrosse are smaller than field lacrosse, traditionally 4 ft (1.2 m) wide and tall. 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 measurement guidelines), and ice hockey-style goalie masks.
The style of the game is quick, 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. Box lacrosse is also a much more physical game. Since cross checking is legal in box lacrosse, players wear rib pads and the shoulder and elbow pads are bigger and stronger than what field lacrosse players wear. Box lacrosse players wear a hockey helmet with a box lacrosse cage. There is no offsides in box lacrosse, the players substitute freely from their bench areas as in hockey. However, most players specialize in offense or defense, so usually all five runners substitute for teammates as their team transitions between offense and defense.
For penalties, the offending player is sent to the penalty box and his team has to play without him, or man-down, for the length of the penalty. Most fouls are minor penalties and last for two minutes, major penalties for serious offenses last five minutes. What separates box lacrosse (and ice hockey) from other sports is that at the top levels of professional and junior lacrosse, participating in a fight does not automatically cause an ejection, but a five-minute major penalty is given.
Box lacrosse is played at the highest level in the National Lacrosse League and by the Senior A divisions of the Canadian Lacrosse Association. The National Lacrosse League (NLL) employs some minor rule changes from the Canadian Lacrosse Association (CLA) rules. Notably, the goals are 4’9” wide instead of 4 ft and the games are played during the winter. The NLL games consist of four fifteen-minute quarters compared with three periods of twenty minutes each in CLA games. NLL players may only use sticks with hollow shafts, while CLA permits solid wooden sticks.
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 rules also differ significantly between the US and all other countries, who play by the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) rules. Women's lacrosse does not allow physical contact, the only protective equipment worn is a mouth guard and eye-guard. Recently,[when?] there has been discussion of requiring headgear to prevent concussions. Stick checking is permitted in the women's game, but only in certain levels of play and within strict rules. Women's lacrosse also does not allow players to have a pocket, or loose net, on the lacrosse stick. Women start the game with a "draw" instead of a face-off. The two players stand up and the ball is placed between their stick heads while their sticks are horizontal at waist-height. At the whistle, the players lift their sticks into the air, trying to control where the ball goes.
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 Quebec, where she saw it played. 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.
Both the number of players and the lines on the field differ from men's lacrosse. There are 12 players in women's lacrosse and players must abide by certain boundaries that do not exist in men's play. The three specific boundaries are the 8-meter "fan" in front of the goal (11 meters internationally), the 12-meter (15 meters internationally) half circle that surrounds the 8-meter fan, and the draw circle in the center of the field, which is used for draws to start quarters and after goals. The goal circle is also positioned slightly closer to the end line in women's lacrosse compared to men's. In women's lacrosse on either the offensive or defensive end, the players besides the goaltender are not able to step inside the goal circle; this becomes a "goal-circle violation". However, at the women's collegiate level, a new rule has been established that allows defenders to pass through the goal circle.
The 8-meter fan that is in front of the goal circle has a few restrictions in it. Defenders cannot stand inside the 8-meter fan longer than 3 seconds without being a stick-length away from the offensive player they are guarding. This is very similar to the three-second rule in basketball. A three seconds violation results in a player from the other team taking a free shot against the goalie. If you are an attacker trying to shoot the ball into the goal, you are not supposed to take a shot while a defender is in "shooting space." To make sure that you, the defender, are being safe, you want to lead with your lacrosse stick and once you are a sticks-length away, you can be in front of her.
Intercrosse, or soft stick lacrosse, is a non-contact form of lacrosse with a standardized set of rules using modified lacrosse equipment. An intercrosse stick is different from a normal lacrosse stick, the head is made completely of plastic instead of leather or nylon pockets in traditional lacrosse sticks. The ball is larger, softer and hollow, unlike a lacrosse ball, which is solid rubber.
Intercrosse as a competitive adult sport is popular in Quebec, Canada, as well as in many European countries, particularly in the Czech Republic. Generally, teams consist of five players per side, and the field size is 20 m wide and 40 m long (65 by 130 feet). Goals for adults are the same size as box lacrosse, 4 feet in height and width (1.2 x 1.2 m). The international governing body, the Fédération Internationale d'Inter-Crosse, hosts a World Championship bi-annually.
Soft stick lacrosse is a popular way to introduce youth to the sport. It can be played outdoors or indoors and has a developed curriculum for physical education classes. Youth goals are often small, semi-circular portable nets, as there is no goalie.
Collegiate lacrosse in the United States is played at the NCAA, NAIA and club levels. There are currently 71 NCAA Division I men's lacrosse teams, 93 Division II teams, and 236 Division III teams. Thirty-two schools participate at the NAIA level. 184 men's club teams compete in the Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association, including most universities and colleges outside the northeastern United States. The National College Lacrosse League and Great Lakes Lacrosse League are two other lower-division club leagues. In Canada, 14 teams from Ontario and Quebec play field lacrosse in the fall in the Canadian University Field Lacrosse Association.
The first U. S. intercollegiate men's lacrosse game was played on November 22, 1877 between New York University and Manhattan College. An organizing body for the sport, the U. S. National Lacrosse Association, was founded in 1879 and the first intercollegiate lacrosse tournament was held in 1881, with Harvard beating Princeton 3–0 in the championship game. Annual post-season championships were awarded by a variety of early lacrosse associations through the 1930s. From 1936 to 1972, the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association awarded the Wingate Memorial Trophy to the best college lacrosse team each year.
The NCAA began sponsoring a men's lacrosse championship in 1971, when Cornell took the first title over Maryland, 12–6. Syracuse has 10 Division I titles, Johns Hopkins 9, and Princeton 6. The NCAA national championship weekend tournament draws over 80,000 fans.
There are currently 112 Division I women's lacrosse teams, 109 Division II teams, and 282 Division III teams. There are 36 NAIA women's lacrosse teams. The NCAA started sponsoring a women's lacrosse championship in 1982. Maryland has traditionally dominated women's intercollegiate play, producing many head coaches and U.S. national team players. The Terrapins won seven consecutive NCAA championships from 1995 through 2001. Princeton'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 has become a force, winning the national championship from 2005 through 2009. Maryland ended Northwestern's streak by defeating the Wildcats in the 2010 final, however, Northwestern won the next two titles in 2011 and 2012. Maryland again claimed the national championship in 2014, 2015, and 2017.
Lacrosse has historically been played for the most part in Canada and the United States, with small but dedicated lacrosse communities in the United Kingdom and Australia. Recently, however, lacrosse has begun to flourish at the international level, with teams being established around the world, particularly in Europe and east Asia.
Field lacrosse was a medal sport in the 1904 and the 1908 Summer Olympics. In 1904, three teams competed in the games held in Saint Louis, Missouri. Two Canadian teams, the Winnipeg Shamrocks and a team of Mohawk people from the Iroquois Confederacy, plus the local St. Louis Amateur Athletic Association team representing the United States participated. The Winnipeg Shamrocks captured the gold medal. The 1908 games held in London, England, featured only two teams, representing Canada and Great Britain. The Canadians again won the gold medal in a single championship match by a score of 14–10.
In the 1928, 1932, and the 1948 Summer Olympics, lacrosse was a demonstration sport. The 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam featured three teams: the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. The 1932 games in Los Angeles featured a three-game exhibition between a Canadian all-star team and the United States. The United States was represented by Johns Hopkins in both the 1928 and 1932 Olympics. The 1948 games featured an exhibition by an "All-England" team organized by the English Lacrosse Union and the collegiate lacrosse team from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute representing the United States. This exhibition match ended in a 5–5 tie.
An obstacle for lacrosse to return to the Olympics is insufficient international participation. To be considered for the Olympics, a sport must be played on four continents and by at least 75 countries. Lacrosse is played on all six continents, but the most recent world championships have involved 38 men's teams and 25 women's teams.
In August 2008, the men's international governing body, the International Lacrosse Federation, merged with the women's, the International Federation of Women's Lacrosse Associations, to form the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL). There are currently 59 members of the FIL. The FIL sponsors five world championship tournaments: the World Lacrosse Championship for men's field, the Women's Lacrosse World Cup for women's, the World Indoor Lacrosse Championship for box lacrosse, and the Under-19 World Lacrosse Championships for men and women. Each is held every four years.
The World Lacrosse Championship (WLC) began in 1968 as a four-team invitational tournament sponsored by the International Lacrosse Federation. Until 1990, only the United States, Canada, England, and Australia had entered. With the expansion of the game internationally, the 2014 World Lacrosse Championship was contested by 38 countries. The WLC has been dominated by the United States. Team USA has won 9 of the 12 titles, with Canada winning the other three.
The Women's Lacrosse World Cup (WLWC) began in 1982. The United States has won 8 of the 10 titles, with Australia winning the other two. Canada and England have always finished in the top five. The 2017 tournament was held in England and featured 25 countries.
The first World Indoor Lacrosse Championship (WILC) was contested by six nations at four sites in Ontario. Canada won the championship by beating the Iroquois Nationals 21–4 in the final. The 2007 championship hosted by the Onondaga Nation included 13 teams. Canada has dominated the competition, winning all four gold medals and never losing a game.
The Iroquois Nationals are the men's national team representing the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy in international field lacrosse competition. The team was admitted to the FIL in 1987. It is the only First Nations team sanctioned for international competition in any sport. The Nationals placed fourth in the 1998, 2002 and 2006 World Lacrosse Championships and third in 2014. The indoor team won the silver medal in all four World Indoor Lacrosse Championships. In 2008, the Iroquois women's team was admitted to the FIL as the Haudenosaunee Nationals. They placed 7th at the 2013 Women's Lacrosse World Cup.
The European Lacrosse Federation (ELF) was established in 1995 and held the first European Lacrosse Championships that year. Originally an annual event, it is now held every four years, in between FIL's men's and women's championships. In 2004, 12 men's and 6 women's teams played in the tournament, making it the largest international lacrosse event of the year. The last men's tournament was in 2016, when 24 countries participated. England won its ninth gold medal out of the ten tournaments played. 2015 was the last women's tournament, when 17 teams participated in the Czech Republic. England won its sixth gold medal, with Wales earning silver and Scotland bronze. These three countries from Great Britain have dominated the women's championships, earning all but three medals since the tournament began in 1996. There are currently 29 members of the ELF, they make up the majority of nations in the FIL.
The Asia Pacific Lacrosse Union was founded in 2004 by Australia, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan. It currently has 12 members and holds the Asia Pacific Championship for both men's and women's teams every two years.
Lacrosse was played in the World Games for the first time at the 2017 World Games held in Poland. Only women's teams took part in the competition. The United States won the gold medal defeating Canada in the finals. Australia won the bronze medal match. The Haudenosaunee Nationals women's lacrosse team could not participate.
Major League Lacrosse (MLL) is a semi-professional field lacrosse league started in 2001 with six teams in the Northeastern United States. The league currently has nine teams in the Eastern United States and Denver playing a 14-game season from April to August. MLL rules are based on NCAA men's rules with several exceptions, such as a 16-yard 2-point line and a 60-second shot clock.
MLL venues range from small stadiums with under 10,000 capacity to an NFL stadium in Denver that seats 76,000. Overall league average attendance is around 4,000 per game, but Denver has averaged around 10,000 per game since its founding in 2006. The rookie salary is $7,000 per season and most players make between $10,000 and $20,000 per season. Therefore, players have other jobs, often non-lacrosse related, and travel to games on the weekends.
The Chesapeake Bayhawks, who have played in the Annapolis–Baltimore–Washington, DC area since 2001, are the most successful franchise with 5 championships.
The National Lacrosse League (NLL) is a men's semi-professional box lacrosse league in North America. The NLL currently has nine teams, five in the United States and four in Canada. The 18-game regular season runs from December to April; games are always on the weekends. The champion is awarded the Champion's Cup in early June.
Games are played in ice rinks with artificial turf covering the ice. Venues range from NHL arenas seating 19,000 to smaller arenas with under 10,000 capacity. In 2017, average attendance ranged from 3,200 per game in Vancouver to over 15,000 in Buffalo. Overall, the league averaged 9,500 people per game.
With an average salary around $20,000 per season, players have regular jobs, mostly non-lacrosse related, and live in different cities, flying into town for games. Canadians and Native Americans make up over 90% of the players.
The NLL started in 1987 as the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League. Teams in Philadelphia, New Jersey, Baltimore and Washington, DC, played a 6-game season. The league operated as the Major Indoor Lacrosse League from 1989 to 1997, when there were 6 teams playing a 10-game schedule. The current NLL name began in the 1998 season, which included the first Canadian team.
The United Women's Lacrosse League (UWLX), a four-team women's professional lacrosse league, was launched in 2016. The teams are the Baltimore Ride, Boston Storm, Long Island Sound and Philadelphia Force. Long Island won the first two championships.
The lacrosse stick has two parts, the head and the shaft.
There are three parts to the head: the scoop, sidewall, and pocket. The scoop is the top of the stick that affects picking up ground ball as well as passing and shooting. The sidewall is the side of the head that affects the depth of the head and the stiffness. The pocket is the leather or nylon mesh attached to the sidewalll and scoop. A wider pocket allows an easier time catching balls, but will also cause less ball control. A narrower pocket makes catching harder, but allows more ball retention and accuracy.
Shafts are usually made of hollow metal. They are octagonal, instead of round, in order to provide a better grip. Most are made of aluminum, titanium, scandium, or alloys, but some shafts are made from other materials, including wood, plastic, carbon fiber, or fiberglass.
Stick length, both shaft and head together, is governed by NCAA regulations, which require that men's sticks be from 40 to 42 inches long for offensive players, 52 to 72 inches long for defensemen, and 40 to 72 inches long for goalies.
Women's sticks must be an overall length of 35.5 - 43.25 inches. The head must be seven to nine inches wide and the top of the ball must remain above the side walls when dropped in the pocket. The goalkeeper's stick must be 35.5 - 48 inches long. The head of the goalie's stick can up to 12 inches wide and the pocket may be mesh.
Men's field lacrosse protective equipment contains a pair of gloves, elbow pads, shoulder pads, helmet, and mouthguard. Pads differ in size and protection from player to player based on position, ability, comfort and preference. For example, many attack players wear larger and more protective elbow pads to protect themselves from checks thrown at them while defenders typically wear smaller and less protective pads due to their smaller possibility of being checked. A goalkeeper must also wear a large protective chest pad to cover their stomach and chest and a plastic neck guard that connects to the chin of their helmet to protect them from shots hitting their windpipe. In addition, male goalkeepers are required to wear a protective cup.
Men's box players wear more protective gear than field players due to the increased physical contact and more permissive checking rules. Cross-checking in the back is allowed by the rules. Runners wear larger and heavier elbow pads and stronger shoulder pads that extend down the back of the player. Most players wear rib pads as well. Box goalies wear equipment very similar to ice hockey goalies, the leg blockers are somewhat smaller, although the shoulder pads are bigger than ice hockey pads.
Women's field players are not required to wear protective equipment besides eyegear. Eyegear is a metal cage covering the eyes attached with a strap around the back of the head. In recent years, there has been discussion about allowing or requiring padded headgear to protect against concussions. Women goalies wear a helmet, gloves, and chest protector.
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