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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 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 ultimately hurling the ball into an opponent's goal. Defensively, the objective is to keep the opposing team from scoring and to depossess them of the ball through the use of stick checking and body contact or positioning. There are three main versions of the sport: men's lacrosse, women's lacrosse and box lacrosse.


Lacrosse originated in the Native American nations of the United States and Canada, mainly among the Huron and Iroquois Tribes. In many Native American societies/tribes, the ball sport was often part of religious ritual, played to resolve conflicts, heal the sick, develop strong, virile men and prepare for war. Legend tells of games with more than 100 players from different tribes taking turns to play.It could be played on a field many miles in length and width; sometimes the game could last for days. Early lacrosse balls were made of deerskin, clay, stone, and sometimes wood.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".

Lacrosse, one of the oldest team sports in the Americas, may have developed as early as the 12th century, but since then has undergone many modifications. In the traditional Native American version, each team consisted of about 100 to 1,000 men on a field that stretched from about 500 yards to a couple of miles long. These lacrosse games lasted from sunup to sundown for two to three days straight. These games were played as part of ceremonial ritual to give thanks to the Creator. The modern Ojibway verb 'to play Lacrosse' is baaga'adowe (Baggataway [sic]).

The Frenchmarker Jesuit missionary, Jean de Brébeuf, saw Iroquois tribesmen play it in 1637 and was the first European to write about the game. He called it lacrosse. Some say the name originated from the French term for field hockey, le jeu de la crosse. Others suggest that it was named after the crosier, a staff carried by bishops.

In 1856, Dr. William George Beers, a Canadianmarker dentist, founded the Montreal Lacrosse Club. In 1867 he codified the game, shortening the length of each game and reducing the number of players to twelve per team. The first game played under Beers' rules was at Upper Canada Collegemarker 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. Lacrosse was contested as a demonstration sport in the 1928 and 1932 Olympics. On each occasion, a playoff was held to determine the American representative to the Olympics and on each occasion the playoffs were won by the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays.

In the United Statesmarker, lacrosse had primarily been a regional sport centered in and around Marylandmarker, New Englandmarker, upstate New Yorkmarker, Long Islandmarker, and mid-Atlantic states. In recent years, its popularity has started to spread south to Georgiamarker, North Carolinamarker Alabamamarker and Floridamarker, as well as west to Coloradomarker, Californiamarker, Texasmarker, and the Midwest. The sport has gained increasing visibility in the media, with a growth of college, high school, and youth programs throughout the country. The NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championship has the highest attendance of any NCAA Championship, outdrawing the Final Four of men's basketball. The growth of lacrosse was also facilitated by the introduction of plastic stick heads in the 1970s by Baltimoremarker-based STX. This innovation reduced the weight and cost of the lacrosse stick. It also allowed for faster passes and game play than traditional wooden sticks.

Up until the 1930s, all lacrosse was played on large fields outdoors. The owners of Canadian hockey arenas invented a reduced version of the game, called box lacrosse, as a means to make more profit from their arena investments. In a relatively short period of time, box lacrosse became the dominant form of the sport in Canada, in part due to the severe winter weather that limited outdoor play. More recently, field lacrosse has witnessed a revival in Canada as the Canadian University Field Lacrosse Association (CUFLA) began operating a collegiate men's league in 1985. It now includes 12 varsity teams. In 1994 Canada declared lacrosse its National Summer Sport with the passage of the National Sports Act .

In 1987 a professional box lacrosse league was started, called the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League. This league changed its name to the Major Indoor Lacrosse League, then later to the National Lacrosse League and grew to encompass lacrosse clubs in twelve cities throughout the United States and Canada. In the summer of 2001, a professional field lacrosse league, known as Major League Lacrosse (MLL), was inaugurated. Initially starting with six teams, the MLL has grown to a total of ten clubs located in major metropolitan areas in the United States. On July 4, 2008, Major League Lacrosse set the professional lacrosse attendance record: 20,116 fans attended a game at Invesco Fieldmarker in Denver, Colorado. In 2006 a field lacrosse league was developed in Quebec, Canada. Composed of the English colleges, this league came together to become the first official college field lacrosse league in Quebec.

Types of play

Field 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 Dr. William George Beers in 1867. The game has evolved from that time to include the protective equipment and lacrosse sticks made from synthetic materials.

Diagram of a men's college lacrosse field.
Each player carries a lacrosse stick (or crosse). A "short crosse" (sometimes called a "short stick") measures between and 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 to long. The head of the crosse on both long and short crosses must be 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 to ) long and the head of a goalkeeper's crosse may measure up to wide, significantly larger than field players' heads to assist in blocking shots.

A face-off.
The field of play is long and wide. The goals are by . The goal sits inside a circular "crease", measuring 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 and his team has to play without him and with one less player for a short amount of time. Most penalties last for 30 to 60 seconds. Occasionally a longer penalty may be assessed for more severe infractions. 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 six players (three midfielders/three attackmen or three midfielders/three defensemen) on one half of the field. The zones are separated by the midfield line. Defensemen and attackmen can cross the midfield line, however the team must assure that a midfielder "stays back" in order to avoid an offsides penalty (a midfielder will raise his crosse to signify they are staying back).

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 Universitymarker 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 Statesmarker, Canadamarker, 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

A National Lacrosse League game.

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 wide by tall in box, and wide by 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 penalty box 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. Fighting is illegal in box lacrosse, however what separates box lacrosse (and ice hockey) from other sport 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 Canadamarker, Iroquois Nationals and the United Statesmarker have finished in the most coveted 1st, 2nd and 3rd places at these events.

Women's lacrosse

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.

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 Scotlandmarker 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 Parkmarker 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 Universitymarker'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 Britishmarker 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 next Women's World Cup will be played in 2009 hosted by Prague, Czech Republicmarker.

College lacrosse

Lacrosse in the United Statesmarker is played at the collegiate level in both the club and sanctioned team sport. There are currently 59 NCAA sanctioned Division I men's lacrosse teams, 35 Division II men's lacrosse teams, and 131 Division III men's lacrosse teams. There are also currently 88 Division I women's lacrosse teams, 37 Division II women's lacrosse Teams, and 154 Division III women's lacrosse teams. Almost 200 collegiate men's club teams compete at the Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association level, including most major universities in the United States. Another 100 schools have club teams in the National College Lacrosse League.

The first U. S. intercollegiate game was played on November 22, 1877 between New York Universitymarker and Manhattan Collegemarker. Lacrosse had been introduced in upstate New York in the 1860s. Lacrosse was further introducedto the Baltimore area in the 1890s. These two areas continue to be the hotbeds of college lacrosse in the U.S. The first intercollegiate lacrosse tournament was held in 1881, with Harvardmarker beating Princetonmarker, 3-0, in the championship game.

International lacrosse

Lacrosse has been played for the most part in Canadamarker and the United Statesmarker, with small but dedicated lacrosse communities in the United Kingdommarker and Australia. Recently, however, lacrosse has begun to flourish 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 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 Statesmarker, Canadamarker, Englandmarker and Australia, with Scotlandmarker and Walesmarker also competing in the women's edition. The expansion of the game internationally saw the 2006 Men's World Championship contested by 21 countries, and the 2009 Women's World Cup competed for by 16 nations.

In 2003, the first World Indoor Lacrosse Championship was contested by six nations at four sites in Ontario, Canada. Canada won the championship in a final game against the Iroquois, 21-4. The 2007 WILC was held in Halifax, Canada on from May 14-20, and also won by Canada. Teams from Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, England, Ireland, Iroquois Nationals, Scotland and the United States competed.

The next largest international field lacrosse competition is the European Lacrosse Championships. Held for both men and women, the European Lacrosse Federation (ELF) has been running the European Championships since 1995. Before 2001 the Championships were an annual event, but in 2001 the ELF changed the format to every four years between the World Championship. Before 2004, only 7 nations had ever participated, but in 2004 there was a record number of participating countries, with 12 men's and 6 women's, which made it the largest international lacrosse event of 2004. The last European Lacrosse Championships were held in Lahti, Finland in 2008, with 18 competing countries. England placed first with the Netherlands and Germany placing second and third, respectively.
A player taking a "dive shot".

The World Lacrosse 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 six under 19 men's tournaments to date. The next Men's World Lacrosse Championships will be held in Manchester, England, in 2010.

In the women's game, Australia have provided stiffer competition, having won 6 of 14 games against the USA at senior world championships, including one draw. The USA has won 6 of the 8 senior women's and 2 of the 3 under 19 women's tournaments to date, with the other world championships won by Australia.

Kenyansmarker, while being somewhat obscure in the lacrosse world, do have a team of their own. Along with most other African lacrosse teams, Kenya is ranked among the top 25 teams in the world, and has a vivid history. The sport grew there from children hitting balls back and forth with wooden sticks for a sustained period of time. This, unexpectedly, evolved into lacrosse.

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. The Nationals placed fourth in the 1998, 2002 and 2006 World Lacrosse Championships. In 2008, the Iroquois were admitted as the Haudenosunee Nation to the International Federation of Women's Lacrosse Associations (IFWLA) as one of that governing body's final acts.

One obstacle to the international development of lacrosse had been the existence of separate governing bodies for the men's and women's versions of the sport, with men's lacrosse being governed by ILF and the women's version by IFWLA. In August 2008, after four years of negotiation, the two bodies merged to form a single unified body, the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL). All championships previously operated by the ILF and IFWLA will be taken over by the FIL.

See also

  • Intercrosse, a version of lacrosse popular in physical education classes is played with sticks made completely out of plastic and hollow balls.
  • Polocrosse, a version of lacrosse played on horseback.


  1. Vennum, Thomas. American Indian Lacrosse: Little Brother of War. (Smithsonian Institution, 1994) SBN 978-1560983026.
  2. Liss, Howard. Lacrosse (Funk & Wagnalls, 1970) pg 13.
  3. Lacrosse: E-Lacrosse Lacrosse History, Links and Sources
  4. STX Lacrosse
  5. Scott, p. 8
  6. Fisher, p. 157
  7. Fisher, p. 120
  8. Vennum, p. 287
  9. 2007 IWWLA Women's Lacrosse Rules, International Federation of Women's Lacrosse Associations

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