Women’s lacrosse is a non-contact “invasion” game (like soccer, basketball, field hockey, etc.) where the team in possession of the ball “invades” the defending team’s territory and attempts to score by shooting the ball into the defending team’s goal. Even as the style of play has changed over the years, the game highlights athlete speed and finesse. A diagram of a regulation field (used for 12v12 games) is shown below, highlighting:
- the “restraining lines” which divide the field roughly into thirds and provide the landmarks for offsides penalties;
- the “center circle”, where play is started with a “draw” at the start of each half and after each goal;
- the goal “crease”, which defines the area around the goal that, in the youth game, only the goalie may enter; and
- the “critical scoring areas”, each defined by a “12m fan” that surrounds an “8m arc”
The field for “small ball”, the format in which our 3rd/4th grade program and our Fall Ball teams play, is a smaller, simplified version of the regulation field, typically ~60m long and ~30m wide, marked with a portable crease around the goals and cones marking the midfield line (which is the landmark for the offsides foul in small ball games).
Play is started with a draw in the center circle of the field – starting with the ball trapped between the sticks of opposing midfielders, the players taking the draw attempt to flip the ball into the air and into their own stick or the stick of a teammate. The team that “controls” the draw (achieves possession of the ball) works to move the ball to the opposing team’s goal and score.
At the youth level, games are played in two halves, each 20 (for younger players) or 25 minutes in length (running time). Teams are allowed unlimited substitutions, which can be “on the fly” (as in hockey) or in the time between a goal and the restart of play.
System of Play
There are four basic positions in the womens’ game:
- Goalie: the last line of defense - generally plays inside the crease, but may leave the crease to go after a ball or move the ball upfield. There is one goalie from each team on the field.
- Defender: dedicated defenders that generally play the defensive half of the field (in small ball) or the defending and middle third of the field (in 12v12). There are two defenders from each team on the field in small ball, and four defenders from each team in 12v12.
- Midfielder: “all-in-one” players – midfielders (“middies”) play the full length of the field, joining with the defenders when the ball is in the defensive half of the field and joining with the attackers in the attacking half of the field. For the draw, one middie from each team takes the draw, and the other two are on the edge of the center circle. There are three middies from each team on the field.
- Attacker: dedicated offensive players – generally play the attacking half of the field in small ball or the attacking and middle third of the field in 12v12. There are two attackers from each team on the field in small ball, and four attackers on the field in 12v12.
Defense is generally played “girl-to-girl” at the youth level (league rules prohibit zone defense for 3rd/4th grade teams) and focuses on the area near the goal (the Critical Scoring Area, and particularly the 8m arc, in 12v12 games), very similar to defending the paint in basketball. Players on defense should strive to be “goal side” (closer to the goal than the girl they are marking) and be able to see both the girl they are marking and the ball, allowing them to cover drives on goal and defend the passing lanes.
Attack is all about moving the ball to find an open shot on goal. For younger players, this is generally takes the form of the ball carrier running with the ball and attempting to “beat” her defender with speed or a dodge. More advanced offense focuses on ball movement to find/create weaknesses in the defense and/or taking advantage of favorable matchups in a 1v1 drive to goal.
Women’s lacrosse is a highly regulated game, with official rules updated and published by US Lacrosse each year. Additionally, the league in which we play (Founders League) sometimes modifies or adds rules. Fouls are identified by the referee with hand signals (a guide to hand signals is here).
Coaches: Only 3 coaches are allowed on the team sideline, and all must be registered as coaches with US Lacrosse and NGYL. As part of the registration process, coaches subjected to state (CORI) and national (NCSI) background checks and must also take additional training.
Equipment: All players must use a mouthguard while on the field, in addition to goggles (field players) or helmet/chest protector/gloves/goalie pants/shin guards (goalies). Each field player’s stick must have a “legal pocket” (when placed in the head, some portion of the ball must be visible above the head sidewalls) – this rule is not enforced in the 3rd/4th grade program.
Offsides: In a full field (12v12) game, no more than seven players from the attacking team may be in the offensive third of the field (and no more than eight players from the defending team may be in that same third of the field). As a practical matter in the youth game, this means that the attack players cannot come back into the defensive third when their team is defending, and defenders cannot cross into the offensive third of the field when their team is attacking. For small ball games (8v8) , midfield is the restraining line so no more than 5 players from the attacking team can play in the offensive half of the field and no more than 6 players from the defending team may be in the defensive half of the field.
Minor Fouls: Minor fouls are generally violations of rules directed to how the game is played. The fouled player is awarded an indirect free position (all players must move 4m away and the fouled player is given possession of the ball at the spot of the foul unless the foul is committed in the Critical Scoring Area). Commonly called minor fouls include:
Body/Hand Ball: A player may not direct the ball with her body or hand (goalies in the crease excepted), except that it is legal to kick the ball to move it into space (a goal cannot be scored by kicking the ball into the goal).
Covering: A player may not cover the ball with her stick or foot to prevent another player from accessing the ball.
Early Entry on the Draw: Entry into the center circle before the referee’s whistle by a midfielder not taking the draw or stepping into the middle third by an attacker or defender before the referee signals possession.
Empty Stick Check: A player may not check an opponent’s stick if the opponent’s stick is not in contact with the ball when the opponent could have otherwise received or possessed the ball (incidental contact while playing for the ball excepted).
Major Fouls: Major fouls are generally violations of safety-related rules. The fouled player is awarded a free position (all players must move 4m away, with the fouling player moving 4m behind the fouled player, and the fouled player is given possession of the ball at the spot of the foul unless the foul is committed in the Critical Scoring Area). Violations of certain safety rules require issuance of a yellow card (two minute penalty; a 2nd yellow card will result in the player’s suspension from the rest of the game), and it is within the referee’s discretion to issue a red card (ejection).
Illegal Stick Check: Stick checks (where a defender strikes the ball carrier’s stick in a quick motion angled away from the body to dislodge the ball from the ball carrier’s stick) is not allowed in our 3rd/4th or travel program. Modified checking (a defender may perform a legal check if the entirety of the ball carrier’s stick is below her shoulders) is permitted in the 5th/6th and 7th/8th grade travel programs and our 5th/6th and 7th/8th grade Select team program.
Illegal Stick to Body Contact: Stick to body contact where (a) the stick is horizontal, or (b) the stick is used to push or displace the opponent.
Check to The Head: Hitting an opponent in the head with her stick, or causing the opponent’s stick to hit the opponent’s head. This is a mandatory card.
Slash: A reckless/dangerous swing of the stick at an opponent’s stick or body (this foul may be called even if there was no contact). This is a mandatory card.
Dangerous Propel/Follow-Through: A dangerous/uncontrolled shot or follow-through with the stick. This is a mandatory card.
Dangerous Shot: A dangerous/uncontrolled shot on goal. In practice, this foul is generally called when a shot hits the goalie in the helmet or neck (unless the goalie moves into the shot).
Shooting Space: Within the Critical Scoring Area, a defender’s body may not be in the triangular space defined by the ball carrier and the edges of the crease when the ball carrier is able to shoot unless the defender is tightly marking (within ~1m) an attacker (this is generally considered one of, if not the most, difficult rule to understand in the womens' game).