A crash course for parents new to lacrosse

If you’re like many parents of children who are new to lacrosse, you might not know the difference between slashing and screening. As you start attending games, interacting with other parents and talking with your child about his new sport, you’ll want to know the most common rules and terminology.

The following is a list of basics you should know as a lacrosse parent.

The aim of the game

Like basketball, soccer and hockey, lacrosse is a game of two goals, with teams trying to score by getting their ball into the opposing team’s net. Players can pass the ball to teammates or run with it in the netting of their sticks. Just as it’s difficult to score from long distances in basketball, soccer and hockey, scoring in lacrosse is easier if shots are taken close to the goal. This means that lacrosse players must learn to work as a team to stop opposing players from moving across the field, and then move the ball to the opponent’s goal by passing to teammates.

The positions

Lacrosse players stay in three main areas of the field, defending their goals, attacking opponents and guarding the middle.


Players who stay near their own goal are defenders. While it might be tempting for young players to chase the ball around the field and get more action, it’s important that they learn to hold their positions. The ball can cross the field quickly, and if defenders have left their positions, they can leave their goalie in trouble.


These players can help on offense and defense and help slow down opponents who are trying to move from a defensive position to an attacking/scoring position.


Players who stay near the opponent’s goal are attackers. These are the players who take shots at the goal, trying to score points. It’s difficult to get a ball past a goalie from a long distance away because the ball slows down and the goalie has more time to react. It takes teamwork to work the ball from the backfield to the midfield to an attacker who can then make a quick shot.


Lacrosse goalies are similar to soccer and hockey goalies, staying in or near the net to defend against an opposing team’s shots.

The equipment

Lacrosse players use sticks with pockets attached to the top to catch, carry and shoot balls. Different players use different types of sticks, based on their positions. Attackers use shorter sticks with shallower pockets so they can quickly catch and shoot balls. Defenders use longer sticks with deeper pockets so they can intercept more of their opponent’s passes and shots. Midfielders use sticks with characteristics in-between those of attackers and defenders.

Lacrosse is played with solid rubber ball (slightly smaller than a baseball) that costs anywhere from $2 to $5, depending on whether it’s a practice or game ball. Players wear team jerseys and practice jerseys. Find out from your coach if the team supplies practice jerseys or if you’ll need to buy one.

Your child should wear a helmet and a variety of pads to reduce the number of cuts, bumps and bruises that come with getting hit by a lacrosse stick. A goalie uses a helmet with a facemask and throat protector. All players wear shoulder pads, except the goalie, who wears a chest protector with shoulder pads build in. Players wear gloves, thigh, shin, arm and rib pads, cup, goggles and mouthpieces. Check with your coach or league to learn what equipment is required for your league.

Lacrosse players can use sneakers or tennis shoes, but serious players use lacrosse shoes with cleats for outdoor play and lacrosse shoes without cleats for indoor play. If your child is trying the sport without lacrosse shoes, put her in tennis shoes instead of running or aerobic shoes. Tennis shoes offer stability during lateral movements.

Basic terms

Play starts with a face-off, similar to a hockey face-off or a basketball tip-off. Face-offs occur at the start of the game and after each score.

Players try to keep the ball in their sticks and pass the ball to teammates who catch it with their sticks. If a player is blocked or a pass is errant, the result is a ground ball, which both teams attempt to pick up. This is where checking often comes into play, as one player tries to block out another while the checking player is trying to pick up the grounder.

Checking is hitting an opponent with your body. For safety reasons, lacrosse limits how and where players can check. The men’s game allows contact, while the women’s game doesn’t. Some youth boy’s leagues don’t allow checking. Sometimes, you’ll see one player hit another player and play will continue. At other times, play is stopped when another player hits an opponent due to an illegal check. Hitting another player with your stick is illegal and is a slashing penalty. Tripping is also illegal.

During a game, each team must have a specific number of players defending and a specific number of players in the forward position, depending on the league rules (mostly varying by boys and girls divisions). When teams don’t keep the correct number of players in each area, this results in an offside penalty.

Some penalties result in a player having to sit out for a temporary period, giving the other team an advantage during the penalty period. Attackers can’t run all the way to the goal and shoot. They must stay outside a marked area in front of the goal called the crease. A specific area where defensive players stand to help a goalie is called the hole.

Your coach will use two main strategies during a lacrosse game. In a zone defense, players take a position and guard that area, even if the player they are defending moves to another side of the field. A teammate will pick up and defend that opposing player, so the original player defending that player doesn’t have to leave his area. In man-to-man defense, a player guards a specific opponent and runs wherever the opponent runs.

This is lacrosse

Lacrosse is a fast-growing sport, with more than 150,000 kids playing at the pre-high school level, and more and more high schools adding the sport. Here is a helpful video from US Lacrosse introducing the sport:

INFOGRAPHIC: A crash course for lacrosse parents new to the game

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Steve Milano

Steve Milano has been writing and lecturing on youth sports for more than 25 years. He ... View Full Bio

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