Are you a parent of a new lacrosse player?

This page will explain the basics of lacrosse.

What is Lacrosse?

Lacrosse is often called the America's First Sport, because it was played by Native Americans before Europeans came to the continent.

The sports has many similarities to basketball, soccer and hockey, but the simplest way to explain it is as follows:

Two teams, with 10 players on the field at one time, try to score goals.
The team with the most goals at the end of the game wins.

The Field:

Boy's high school lacrosse is played on a field, 110 yards long, between 53 1/3 and 60 yards wide, with goals placed 80 yards apart.


High school boy's games are divided into four 10 or 12 minute periods (quarters) depending if the game is "JV" or varsity.

The game clock will stop if:

  • The ball goes out of bounds.
  • When a goal is scored.
  • When a penalty is enforced by the officials.
  • During a time out (called by a coach or an official).

Typically games will last between 90 and 120 minutes.

Games cannot end in ties and will have an overtime. The first team to score in overtime wins.

The Teams:

Each team plays with 10 players on the field at one time.

Position # on Field Main Job Where are they
Goalie 1 His job is to prevent the ball from going in the goal, and run the defense. In front of the goal.
Defense 3 The guys with the long poles hanging out with the goalie.
Their main job is to prevent the other team from getting easy shots on the goal and to try to get the ball back from the other team.
In their defensive half of the field near the goal.
Attack 3 Dodge and pass to another player so they can shoot or they are shooting on goal. Near the other team's goal, on their offensive half of the field.
Midfield 3 These are the guys running up and down the field.
Sometimes referred to as "middies", they play both offense and defense.
Don't be confused, sometimes a middie will carry a long pole like a defenseman. He is often called an LSM (Long Stick Middie).
Everywhere, these guys do a lot of running.
Basic Play

Start of the game and Face-Offs:

Games start with a face-off, between one player from each team, at the center of the field. In addition to those players, each team has two players near midfield (they can be on either their offensive or defensive side of the field).  The referee positions the face-off players, places the ball between them and then blows the whistle to start play.

During a face-off the other 7 players (goalie, attack and defense) must stay in a "restraining box" until the referee indicates one team has gained possession of the ball. (If your team is playing on a football field the box starts at the 30 yard line, goes to the back end of the field, and is about as wide as the numbers on the field.)

There is a face-off after each goal, and at the start of each period.

The exception to this is if a period ends and there is an unexpired penalty against a team and the other team is in possession of the ball. At the start of the next period the ball is awarded to the other team without a face-off.

Off-Sides and why are the players not moving?

You will sometimes see a ball role near the middle of the field and the attack or defensive players don't try to get it. The rules state that each team must have six or fewer players on their offensive end of the field and seven or fewer players in their defensive end at all times (including players in the penalty box).

If a ball is close to midfield and the defense cannot reach it from the defensive side of the field, then they are not allowed across the midfield line if that would result in seven players on the offensive side of the field. Sticks can cross the line, but if a part of their body (ex: foot or hand) touches the offensive field then that is a "technical" penalty.


Midfield and attack players pass or dodge trying to shoot on the goal. Teams will have set plays to try and get a shot, or just move the ball around until someone gets a good look at the goal.

Stay out of the Crease:

There is a 9 foot radius circle around the goal, called the crease. Offensive players are not allowed in the crease during play for any reason. (The can go in it after a goal is scored.) They are also not allowed to touch the goalie or his stick if he is inside that circle. Defensive players are allowed in the crease.

If the offense violates these rules the ball is turned over to the defense.

Why are they running after missed shots?

Lacrosse rules give the ball to the inbounds player / team that is closest to the ball when it goes out of bounds after a shot. (This rule does not apply to missed passes or dropped balls.)

Saving a goal and clearing:

After a goal is saved (or the ball is turned over to the defensive team) they have 20 seconds to get the ball into their half of the field and another 10 seconds to get into their offensive box. (The area where the attack started during the face-off.) If your team is playing on a football field the box starts at the 30 yard line, goes to the back end of the field, and is about as wide as the numbers on the field.

Sometimes you will see a defensive player cross the midfield line during a clear. When that happens the player will shout "Middie Back". He is telling his team that a middie needs to stay in the defensive side of the field, so that there are 4 players there and they don't get called for an offside penalty. (The midfielder that is staying should raise their stick in the air to make it easy for the ref to locate the player and not accidently blow their whistle.)

I see a penalty flag but the players are still playing.

When the defensive team violates a rule and a ref throws a flag, the game is allowed to continue.  This is called a "slow whistle". There are a dozen circumstances where the referee will end the slow whistle and enforce the penalty. The most common of those circumstances are:

  • The defensive team gains possession of the ball.
  • The ball hits the ground or goes out of bounds.
  • The offensive team takes a shot.
  • A goal is scored.

Offensive team penalties are enforced immediately.

Fewer Players after a Penalty

The player who was called for the penalty serves his time in the "box" near the scorer's table. 

When a team has a player in the penalty box it is often referred to as being man down. The other team is said to be man up or in EMO (extra man offense). The person in the penalty box counts for the offside rule. This means the penalized team will need to play with one less middie.

For example:

  • Team A's attack man gets a penalty.
  • Team B has the ball near team A's goal. 
  • When the referee counts to make sure team A has seven players on their defensive side of the field, the penalized attack man will count.
  • That means team A can only have 1 goalie, 3 defensive players and 2 middies. ( 1+3+2  + 1 in the penalty box = seven players).

There are three types of penalties.

  • Technical Fouls - Are 30 second penalties and are not enforced if the offense scores a goal during the slow whistle.
    They expire automatically if the EMO team scores a goal before the 30 seconds run out.
    If the defense or no one has possession of the ball, a technical foul will result in the ball being given to the team that was fouled.
  • Personal Fouls - Are 1 minute long and are enforced even if the team scores during the slow whistle.
    They expire automatically if the EMO team scores a goal before the 60 seconds run out.
  • Personal Non-Releasable Fouls - These fouls involve player safety (cross checking, slashing, illegal body check...) or use of illegal equipment.
    They are between 1 and 3 minutes long, but do not end when the EMO team scores.
    They last until the entire penalty time is served.
    At the referee's discretion, players can be ejected, from a game, for extremely violent or dangerous hits.

If you want to learn more about lacrosse rules, visit the US Lacrosse web site rules page.