lacrosse sticks in air

If you’ve ever wondered about the rules of lacrosse and how it’s played, you’ve come to the right place. Before jumping into it, the first thing you should learn is that the rules of men’s and women’s lacrosse share as many differences as similarities. The next thing you should know is that there are two types of lacrosse–field and box–and each has its own set of rules.

The last thing you should know is the rules of lacrosse are constantly changing, so you might see slight variations from league to league.

While it might seem overwhelming, we’ll break down our explanation of the rules of lacrosse into bite-sized pieces to make it easier for you to understand. Once you’ve got the rules down, you can jump over to our post on how to play lacrosse as a beginner. The game of lacrosse is certainly an exciting choice for any adult athlete!

Lacrosse Game Objective

Regardless of whether you’re playing women’s or men’s lacrosse, box or field, the basic objective of the game is the same: score more goals than the opposing team. Players use a stick, also called a crosse, which has a net at the end, called a head, to catch, carry, and pass a small rubber ball with the aim of shooting it into the opponent’s goal. The team with the most goals at the end of the game wins. Lacrosse combines elements of basketball, soccer, and hockey and requires a mix of speed, skill, teamwork, and strategy.

To keep the offense from scoring, the defense will employ strategies such as blocking shots or stealing the ball.

Field and Box Lacrosse Explained

The difference between field and box lacrosse is pretty simple and essentially spelled out in their names. Field lacrosse is played on a large field (grass or turf), similar to a football or soccer field. Box lacrosse is played in a contained space with walls, hence the term box. Box is similar to a hockey rink’s walls or an indoor soccer field’s walls.

Because field lacrosse has more field space, it’s not as fast-paced as box lacrosse, where a tighter play area allows for quicker play. There are also differences in the amount of players, game length, and equipment, but more on that later.

overhead view of lacrosse field

Lacrosse Game Format

Field Lacrosse

Men

  • Game play is 60 minutes, broken into four 15-minute quarters
  • There is a two-minute break between quarters and a 10-minute halftime
  • Field size is 110 yards long by 60 yards wide
  • Length of field is known as the sidelines; width of field is known as the end lines
  • Center field is marked by an X and midfield line; games start here with a face off
  • Restraining lines are marked 20 yards from the midfield line and run the width of the field
  • Wing area designated by 10-yard line that extends from the midfield line toward the restraining line
  • The goal is marked with a 9-foot radius circle, known as the crease
  • Two-inch wide goal line to indicate a goal where the ball crosses
  • Ten field players: three attackers, three midfielders, three defenders, goalie
  • 60-second shot clock rule
  • Body checking is allowed

Women

  • Game play is 60 minutes, broken into four 15-minute quarters (recently changed from two 30-minute halves)
  • There is a two-minute break between quarters and a 10-minute halftime
  • Field size is 120 yards long by 70 yards wide
  • Length of field is known as the sidelines; width of field is known as the end lines
  • Center field is marked with a circle and center line; games start with a draw at the line
  • Restraining lines are marked 20 yards from the center line and run the width of the field
  • The goal is marked with a 9-foot radius circle, known as the crease
  • Goal line is marked with two semicircles in front: 8-meter arc and 12-meter fan
  • Two-inch wide goal line to indicate a goal where the ball crosses
  • 8-meter arc is ticked with hashmarks and closest to the goal
  • 12-meter fan is past the 8-meter arc
  • Twelve field players: four attackers, three midfielders, four defenders, goalie
  • 60-second shot clock rule
  • Body checking is not allowed; stick checking is allowed

For full visual of field markings, check the diagrams at USA Lacrosse.

Box Lacrosse

In box lacrosse, the same rules apply to men and women.

  • Game play is three 15 to 20-minute periods, with a two-minute break between each period
  • Field size is 180-200 feet long by 85 feet wide
  • A centerline splits the field, a circle is in the middle and its center is marked by an X or O; game play begins here with a face off
  • Field is made up of three zones: defensive, neutral, and offensive
  • Goal is marked with a 9-foot radius semicircle called a crease
  • A dotted semicircle 24-feet beyond the goal is known as the defensive zone
  • Six players: five runners, goalie
  • 30-second shot clock rule
  • Body checking is allowed

Game Start

Men’s Field

The game begins at the midfield line on the X with a face-off. The ball is placed on the X, and one player from each team places their stick as close to the line as they can without touching it. When the referee blows the whistle, the players battle for possession of the ball.

Face-offs also scoring a goal to restart the game.

Women’s Field

For women, games begin with a draw. Two opposing players meet at the center line. Each holds their stick waist high and parallel with each other, and the pocket of their sticks back-to-back. The ref places the ball between the pockets. At the whistle, players will push off to try to get the ball near them so their team can gain possession.

Box

Box lacrosse begins with a face-off similar to men’s field.

box lacrosse goal

Game Play

Field

After the draw or face-off, offensive players must wait until possession is established before crossing the restraining line.

Men’s

During play, attackers have to stay on the offensive side and defenders have to stay on the defensive side of the field. Midfielders can play on either side of the field.

Offsides is called when there are more than six players on the offensive side of the field or, conversely, more than seven players on the defensive side, which would include the goalie.

Women’s

During play, there can be seven attackers and seven defenders below the restraining line. On the defensive side, one more player is allowed to account for the goalie.

Offsides is called when the players exceed those numbers.

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Box

As mentioned earlier, there are five runners on the field, and while they don’t have designated positions like in field, certain players will play more defensively while others are more prone to attack. Some players are transition players, similar to field midfielders. There are also no offsides in box.

There is a 10-second count in box, which means teams who gain possession of the ball in the defensive zone have 10 seconds to get the ball across the center line of the field.

If a ball goes out of the box, the referee will restart the game at the point where the ball went out of bounds.

Scoring

womens lacrosse players raising sticks

To score in lacrosse, players must propel the ball into the opponent’s goal by crossing the goal line. This applies to field and box lacrosse and to both genders. Each goal is worth one point.

Typically, the midfielders and attackers work together to move the ball down field toward the opponents goal.

Field Lacrosse

Something to keep in mind is that offensive players cannot enter the crease area. This area is restricted to defensive players and their goalie. Goalies have four seconds to get rid of the ball after possession inside the crease. They are allowed to leave the crease with the ball but may not re-enter with the ball after stepping out. Defensive players can only enter the crease to pick up a loose ball or receive a pass, but they cannot remain.

Box Lacrosse

In box, offensive players can enter the crease–as long as they don’t have the ball.

Shot Clock

The shot clock rules in lacrosse have evolved. Today, women’s and men’s field lacrosse align, and both recognize a 60-second shot clock rule. When offensive possession of the ball begins, so does the shot clock. Players then have one minute to shoot on goal. Failure to take a shot within this timeframe means a loss of possession.

Box lacrosse also has a shot clock, but the time is reduced to 30 seconds.

Contact

mens field lacrosse players in game
Image by Keith Johnston from Pixabay

Men’s Field

Both stick and body checking are allowed in men’s lacrosse. Body checking is considered anything below the shoulder, avoiding the head and neck, and above the waist.

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Stick checking is when a player uses their stick to hit the opponent’s stick in an attempt to dislodge the ball.

Checks are used for several reasons, which include trying to dislodge the ball from an opponent, trying to halt an attacking player, or trying to block a player from picking up a ground ball.

Women’s Field

Stick checking is allowed, but body checking is not. Incidental physical contact is allowed.

Box

Cross-checking is allowed in box lacrosse. That means it is legal to strike an opponent’s stick with your own if it is from the front, between the shoulders and waist, and done to a player inside the defensive zone with or without the ball.

Substitutions

Field

Substitutions can take place on stopped play like after a goal or during a timeout. They may also be taken on the fly during live play, when a ball is out of bounds, after a shot clock violation, a change of possession or during a technical penalty.

Box

Substitutions are done on the fly, often with a full swap of defensive versus offensive players, and vice versa.

Tie Games

Tie game are decided by sudden death overtime play. This is a continuation of the game for an additional four minutes until a team scores to break the tie. If there is no score after four minutes, there will be a two minute break and the process restarts until someone scores.

In women’s lacrosse, it’s six minutes of play with three minute breaks in between until someone scores a golden goal.

In box, sudden death overtime is five minutes or until a team scores.

Lacrosse Fouls & Penalties

Now that you understand what you are supposed to do, let’s dig into what you’re not supposed to do in lacrosse, and what the consequences are for breaking the rules.

mens field lacrosse players going for ball
Image by Keith Johnston from Pixabay

Men’s Field Lacrosse Fouls & Penalties

There are two types of fouls in men’s field lacrosse: personal and technical.

Personal fouls are the most dangerous penalties since they can cause harm to other players. If you commit a personal foul, your punishment will be a one to three minute penalty. You’ll serve time in the penalty box and play with one less player during that time, giving your opponent an advantage.

Technical fouls are considered less severe than personal fouls. Committing technical fouls will earn you a 30 second to one minute penalty, depending on the infraction.

Penalties can be releasable or non-releasable, meaning if a player on the field scores while you are in the penalty box, you can either be released back to play or not released back to play.

A player who racks up five personal fouls faces ejection from the game.

Personal Fouls

  • Cross-checking: Holding your stick between both hands and using it to hit/push your opponent
  • Slashing: Forcefully swinging your stick at your opponent
  • Tripping: Using your stick or body to trip your opponent
  • Unnecessary roughness: Using excessive force

Technical Fouls

  • Holding: Impeding an opponent’s body or crosse movement
  • Interference: Interfering with an opponent’s movement when that player doesn’t have ball possession or isn’t in a possession play
  • Offsides: Incorrect amount of players on one side of the field
  • Pushing: Shoving an opponent from behind
  • Screening: When an offensive player makes contact with a defensive opponent to block them from defending your defensive player
  • Warding: When a player in possession of the ball uses a free hand or arm to hold or push an opponent’s stick

Women’s Field Lacrosse Fouls & Penalties

Penalties between the men’s and women’s version of the game differ greatly. In the women’s game, there are what’s considered minor and major fouls. Things like offsides are minor fouls, while major fouls will earn you time in the penalty box.

For fouls inside the 8-meter arc, play is stopped and the player who was fouled moves to the nearest hash mark to shoot or pass the ball.

For fouls inside the 12-meter fan, lay is stopped and the player is moved to the nearest spot on the fan to continue play (but not shoot).

Women’s lacrosse also employs the use of colored cards to signify penalties. They are:

  • Green: Issuance means a one-minute releasable penalty for minor fouls and delay of game
  • Yellow: Issuance is given for aggressive fouls/major penalties and usually mean a two-minute releasable or non-releasable penalty
  • Red: A five-minute (changed from two) non-releasable penalty for serious infractions; player is ejected from game but can be replaced by another after the five minutes; player not permitted to play in the next game

Green Card Penalties

  • Blocking: Defender moves into an opponent’s bath while they have the ball and not giving them a chance to stop or change direction
  • Charging: Charging or pushing into into an opponent who has established their position
  • Cross-checking: Holding your stick between both hands and using it to hit/push your opponent
  • Holding: Impeding an opponent’s body or crosse movement
  • Forcing through: Forcing your stick through an opponent’s stick when you have possession
  • Illegal use of the stick: Using your stick dangerously
  • Tripping: Using your stick or body to trip your opponent
  • Pushing: Shoving an opponent from behind

Yellow Card Penalties

  • Dangerous contact: Any type of dangerous physical contact
  • Dangerous propelling: Forceful and dangerous throwing of the ball
  • Unsportsmanlike conduct: Includes rough or dangerous play, or reckless disregard of the rules
  • Slashing: Swinging a stick at the opponent’s body or stick in a dangerous manner
  • Three seconds: Standing within the 8-meter arc for more than three seconds if not marking a player
  • Obstruction of free space: Using your body to obstruct the free space between the goal circle and the goal while not marking a player, essentially blocking the offensive player from shooting

Red Card Penalties

Red cards are issued for particularly egregious fouls or behavior. Players who receive red cards are immediately ejected from the game and must sit out the next game as well.

Box Lacrosse Fouls & Penalties

Box lacrosse breaks down their fouls and penalties into these categories: technical, minor, major

Technical Penalties

Technical penalties are non-serious penalties and minor violations of the games rules beyond those defined as minor or major penalties.

Minor Penalties

Minor penalties earn two-minutes in the penalty box. Things like delay of game, holding, illegal cross-checks, slashing, and tripping are considered minor penalties.

Major Penalties

For infractions like fighting, high sticking, slamming someone into the boards, face masking, you’ll get a five-minute trip to the penalty box.

Gear

Men’s Field

Since the men’s game allows for physical contact, there is more protective gear than what the women wear.

Typical gear for a men’s field lacrosse player includes:

  • Helmet
  • Stick (short or long ranging from 40″ to 72″)
  • Gloves
  • Cleats
  • Protective Cup
  • Arm Pads
  • Shoulder Pads
  • Elbow Pads
  • Mouthguard
  • Optional: Rib Pads, Throat Guard
  • Chest Protector (Goalie)

Women’s Field

  • Stick
  • Goggles
  • Cleats
  • Mouthguard
  • Optional: Gloves, Head Protection
  • Helmet (Goalie)
  • Throat Guard (Goalie)
  • Gloves (Goalie)
  • Chest Protector (Goalie)

Box

  • Helmet
  • Stick
  • Indoor shoes
  • Shoulder Pads
  • Mouthguard
  • Gloves
  • Arm Pads
  • Elbow Pads
  • Protective Cup
  • Kidney/Rib Guard
  • Bicep Pads
  • Chest Protector (Goalie)
  • Leg Guards (Goalie)
  • Throat Guard (Goalie)

Lacrosse Terminology (Just A Few Terms!)

  • Attack: Offensive scoring players
  • Ball/ball down: You’ll hear players shout “ball” or “ball down” when the ball drops to the ground; this is meant to either alert the player who dropped it so they can pick it back up or to alert the opponent so they can gain possession
  • Check: Using your body to hit an opponent; legal in men’s field and box when above the waist and below the shoulders
  • Clear: Clearing the ball from the defensive to the offensive end
  • Cradle: Rocking the ball back and forth in the pocket to maintain control
  • Crease: Circular area around the goal; meant only for the goalie
  • Cut: Moving without the ball in anticipation of a pass
  • Dodge: Quickly shifting directions to avoid an opponent
  • Draw: How women’s field lacrosse games start; ball starts in center of two opponents’ sticks and gets pushed off at the whistle
  • Face-off: How men’s field and box lacrosse games start; ball is placed in center of field and opponent’s vie for possession at the whistle
  • Fogo: Face off get off
  • Goal line extended (GLE): Imaginary line at the sides of the goal
  • Head: Top portion of the stick where the pocket attaches
  • Man up/man down: When a player is in the penalty box one team plays man up, the other man down
  • Out of bounds: Area outside the field; if ball is out of bounds, play stops and restarts to get back in bounds of play
  • Pick: A play where an opponent is blocked to give advantage to your player
  • Pocket: Net portion of the lacrosse stick used to carry and cradle the ball
  • Slashing: Checking above the shoulder
  • Tripping: Checking below the waist