Lacrosse is a team sport of Native American origin played using a small rubber ball and a long-handled stick called a crosse or lacrosse stick. It is a contact sport which requires padding, except in the women's version. The head of the lacrosse stick is strung with loose mesh designed to catch and hold the lacrosse ball. Offensively, the objective of the game is to score by shooting the ball into an opponent's goal, using the lacrosse stick to catch, carry, and pass the ball to do so. Defensively, the objective is to keep the opposing team from scoring and to gain the ball through the use of stick checking and body contact or positioning. The sport has four major types: men's field lacrosse, women's lacrosse, box lacrosse and intercrosse.
Lacrosse, today a relatively popular team sport in North America, may have developed as early as 1100 AD among indigenous peoples on the continent. By the seventeenth century, it was well-established. It was documented by Jesuit missionary priests in the territory of present-day Canada. The game has undergone many modifications since that time.
In the traditional aboriginal Canadian version, each team consisted of about 100 to 1,000 men on a field that stretched from about 500 meters to 3 kilometers long. These lacrosse games lasted from sunup to sundown for two to three days straight. These games were played as part of ceremonial ritual, a kind of symbolic warfare, 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 Brebeuf saw Iroquois tribesmen play the game during 1637 in present-day New York. He was the first European to write about the game. He called it la crosse ("the stick"). 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 that bears a similarity to the sticks used in the sport.
In 1856, William George Beers, a Canadian dentist, founded the Montreal Lacrosse Club. In 1867, 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. By the 20th century, teams in high schools, colleges, and universities in Canada and the United States began playing the game.
Lacrosse was contested for medals in the 1904 and 1908 Olympics with teams from Canada, the United States, and Great Britain. It was contested as a demonstration sport in the 1928 and 1932 Olympics. On each occasion, a playoff was held in the United States to determine what team would go to the Olympics; each time the playoffs were won by the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays of the university in Baltimore, Maryland.
In the United States, lacrosse during the 1900s was primarily a regional sport centered around the East Coast, including states such as the following: Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. In the last half of the 20th century, the sport has continued growth west of this region, including the Midwest, Oklahoma and Texas, as well as the West of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, California, Oregon, and Washington.
In other countries, the sport 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.
In 1998, a number of national lacrosse organizations in the United States merged to create US Lacrosse, a unified national governing body for men's and women's lacrosse in the United States. Headquartered in Baltimore, US Lacrosse seeks to provide a leadership role in virtually every aspect of the game.
In the summer of 2001, a men's professional field lacrosse league, known as Major League Lacrosse (MLL), was inaugurated in the United States. Initially starting with three teams, the MLL has grown to a current total of eight 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 Field in Denver, Colorado.
There are ten players on each team: three attackers, three midfielders, four defenders. Each player carries a lacrosse stick (or crosse). A "short crosse" (or "short stick") measures between 40 inches (1.0 m) and 42 inches (1.1 m) long (head and shaft together) and is typically used by attackers or midfielders. A maximum of four players per team may carry a "long crosse" (sometimes called "long pole", "long stick" or "d-pole") which is 52 inches (1.3 m) to 72 inches (1.8 m) long; typically used by defenders or midfielders.
The head of the crosse on both long and short crosses must be 6.5 inches (17 cm) or larger at its widest point. The throat of the lacrosse head for college must be at least 3 inches wide. For high school play, 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 40 inches (1.0 m) to 72 inches (1.8 m) long and the head of a goalkeeper's crosse may measure up to 12 inches (30 cm) wide, significantly larger than field players' heads, to assist in blocking shots.
The field of play is 110 yards (100 m) long and 60 yards (55 m) wide. The goals are 6 feet (1.8 m) by 6 feet (1.8 m). The goal sits inside a circular "crease", measuring 18 feet (5.5 m) 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 awarding possession 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 (often called "the box") in order to be legal.
For most penalties, the offending player is sent to the penalty box, which is located between each team's bench. His team must play without the player for a designated amount of time based upon the foul. (Most penalties are "releasable", that is, the penalty ends when a goal is scored by the non-offending team.) Technical fouls (such as offsides and holding) result in either a turnover or a player's suspension of 30 seconds, while personal fouls are generally penalized one minute. (Some infractions, such as playing with a stick that does not meet the specifications of the designated level of play, may serve non-releasable penalties of up to three minutes). 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 7 players on the defensive side of the field (three midfielders/three defensemen/one goalkeeper), or more than 6 players from one team on the offensive side of the field (three midfielders/three attack). The zones are separated by the midfield line.
Up until the 1930s, all lacrosse was played on large fields outdoors. The owners of Canadian hockey arenas invented a reduced-size version of the game, called box lacrosse, as a means to make more profit from their arena investments, and because severe winter weather in many areas limits outdoor play.
In 1987, a men's 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. It grew to encompass men's lacrosse clubs in 14 cities throughout the United States and Canada.
The goals in box lacrosse are much smaller than field lacrosse, traditionally 4 feet (1.2 m) wide by 4 feet (1.2 m) tall in box, and 4.6 feet (1.4 m) wide by 4 feet (1.2 m) 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 measurement 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. This makes Box Lacrosse faster and rougher than the traditional Field Lacrosse.
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. In addition, players must advance the ball from their own defensive end to the offensive side of the floor within 10 seconds.
Box lacrosse is also a much more physical game. Since cross checking is legal in box lacrosse, players wear rib pads in addition to the shoulder and elbow pads that field lacrosse players wear. Box lacrosse players wear a different type of helmet as well, a hockey helmet with a box lacrosse cage.
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, or FIL, rules. Women's lacrosse does not promote physical contact, primarily because the only protective equipment worn for this sport is a mouth guard sometimes and face guard (mandatory in the United States, optional internationally) and thin gloves. Stick checking (with several rules applied), and not body checking as in men's lacrosse, is permitted in the women's game, but only in certain levels of play. Sometimes checking can lead to body checking; while this is still not permitted in a women's game, some referees will allow limited body checking. Women's lacrosse also does not allow players to have a pocket, or loose net, on the lacrosse stick.
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.
Lacrosse in the United States is played at the collegiate level in both the club and sanctioned team sport. 209 collegiate men's club teams compete at the Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association level, including most major universities in the United States. Another 107 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 University and Manhattan College. Lacrosse had been introduced in upstate New York in the 1860s. Lacrosse was further introduced to 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 Harvard beating Princeton, 3-0, in the championship game.