The Rules of Lacrosse
It should come as no surprise that when lacrosse has featured as a full Olympic event – at the games of 1904 and 1908 – the Canadian team has walked away with the gold medal. Because it was from North America that the sport originated, reputably used by the Native Americans to stir the emotions of warriors before battle.
An outsider watching their first men’s match would see echoes of these physical undertones – after all, players must be wearing protective helmets and padded gear for a very good reason. However, it should be remembered that this equipment is very much there for protection rather than as a reflection of a violent undercurrent. Lacrosse players like to play hard, but that doesn’t mean their sport of choice isn’t underpinned by the spirit of fair play.
Pace and ExcitementThe fast pace and excitement of the sport has seen it slowly increase in popularity, and there are now many clubs across the globe that are offering succeeding generations of competitors the opportunity to enjoy the game. Simply visit the homepage of a national association, such as the English Lacrosse Association (www.englishlacrosse.co.uk) or Lacrosse Scotland (lacrossescotland.com), and you’ll discover plenty of facilities aimed at a range of age groups and skill levels.
At international level, the sport is governed by two associations serving, respectively, the men’s and women’s game: the International Lacrosse Federation (www.intlaxfed.org) and the International Federation of Women’s Lacrosse Associations (www.womenslacrosse.org). Why this division of the sexes? Well, fundamentally because the two games differ, with the result that they each have their own rulebook. The most visible difference between the two codes is the absence of contact in the women’s game, which negates the need for the aforementioned body protection seen on the men’s field of play.
Back of the Opponents' NetHowever both sexes face the same challenge, either on an indoor or outdoor surface: to hit the back of the opponents’net with the rubber ball as many times as possible using their lacrosse stick, a hockey-style implement sporting a “pocket” at the playing end that allows a competitor to carry the ball. Male teams consist of 10 players (goalkeeper and three defenders, three midfielders and three attackers), while there are up to 12 players in a women’s team.
In common with many sports, lacrosse has not been slow to understand the importance of young people in ensuring its continuing popularity. For the under 11s, for example, Pop Lacrosse involves teams of five, often mixed sex, playing with plastic sticks and a ball that is considerably softer than the one used in the adult game. Pop is a non-contact discipline, and the same is true of another sub-category aimed at older children and young adults seeking an introduction to the game. Known as Lax, teams can be either single- or mixed-sex, but in order to bridge the gap between junior and adult codes, the plastic sticks are replaced by their senior equivalent.
Unfortunately, lacrosse remains absent from the list of disciplines at the Olympic games, but while spectators won’t be able to enjoy the excitement of the sport in Beijing this summer, there is no doubt that its appeal is spreading. Increased investment in facilities should ensure that one day, a king, queen or president will once again be handing out medals to a new golden generation of lacrosse players.