Lacrosse: The Dynamic Team Sport with Rich Cultural Heritage

Lacrosse is a team sport where players use a  lacrosse stick and lacrosse ball. It’s one of the oldest sports in North America, starting with the indigenous people of North America centuries ago. The game changed over time, especially when European settlers came and made it less rough.

In lacrosse, players use their sticks to carry, throw, catch, and shoot the ball to score goals. There are five kinds of lacrosse: field lacrosse, women’s lacrosse, box lacrosse, lacrosse sixes, and intercrosse. Each type has different sticks, fields, rules, and equipment for playing. Men’s lacrosse has two main types: field lacrosse, which is played outside, and box lacrosse, played inside. These are contact sports, so players wear helmets, gloves, shoulder pads, and elbow pads for protection. Women’s lacrosse is different – it’s played outside and is less rough. Women players mostly wear protective eyewear. Lacrosse Sixes is a faster game played on a smaller field. Both men and women play this type. Intercrosse is for everyone, a non-contact sport that uses plastic sticks and a softer ball.

A group called World Lacrosse looks after the sport. They recognize Native American groups as important members. World Lacrosse organizes big tournaments like the World Lacrosse Championship and the Women’s Lacrosse World Cup. These happen every four years.

Lacrosse was in the Olympics long ago and will be back in the 2028 Olympics. It’s a sport that mixes old traditions with exciting gameplay, and people all over the world enjoy it.

History of Lacrosse

Lacrosse originated from games played by numerous Native American groups, and some by plains indians dating back to at least 1100 AD. It was a big game for tribes in the eastern woods and some plains. Later, people from Europe changed the game to how we know it now, like in schools and professional sports.

In the old days, lots of Native American men played lacrosse together. They used sticks and started the game by throwing a ball up in the air. Then, everyone ran to get the ball. There were so many players that it looked like a huge crowd moving slowly on the field. Back then, throwing the ball to someone else was not common. People thought you should not avoid an opponent.

Today, many people around the world still play lacrosse. In the past, players just wore their normal clothes and used wooden sticks. The teams were really big, with hundreds of players on each side! They played on fields that were really long, like 1 to 2 kilometres.

Indigenous North American Game

See also: Indigenous North American stickball

Lacrosse is a sport that has its roots in games played by Native American communities. Different tribes had their own names for it, like “they bump hips” in Oee, “little brother of war” in Mohawk and Choctaw, and “bump hips” in Ojibwe.

It’s one of the oldest team sports in North America, starting in what’s now Canada in the 17th century. Native Americans played it mainly around the Great Lakes, the Mid-Atlantic, and the American South.

The game was a big deal, sometimes lasting several days with up to 1,000 men playing. They played on large fields with goals that were really far apart. The rules were simple: no touching the ball with hands and no out-of-bounds. Goals were rocks, trees, or, later, wooden posts. They played from sunrise to sunset.

In some versions, like the Southeastern two-stick game, players scored by hitting different parts of a pole with the ball. The higher the hit, the more points they got. Scoring was casual, often tracked by spectators.

The game started by throwing the ball in the air, and players would swarm around it. Passing the ball was rare, and avoiding opponents was seen as cowardly.

Medicine men were like coaches, and women supported by caring for players and cheering. There were also women’s versions of lacrosse with different rules and equipment.

Lacrosse had many purposes: settling disputes, preparing warriors, for fun, in festivals, for betting, and for religious reasons like pleasing the Creator or praying together.


The game was steeped in rituals. Medicine men acted as coaches, and pregame ceremonies were similar to those associated with war. Players would decorate their bodies and sticks with symbolic paint and objects. Strict dietary taboos were observed, and special dances and sacrifices were performed to solicit divine support. The night before a game, players wore ceremonial regalia and engaged in dances to intimidate opponents.


Early lacrosse equipment was rudimentary but culturally significant. Balls were made from wood or deerskin stuffed with hair, and the first sticks were essentially giant wooden spoons without netting. Sticks were often elaborately carved, and so treasured that players would be buried with them. Different tribes had variations in stick designs, with no protective equipment used in the traditional game.

The Involvement of Europeans

French Jesuit missionaries were the first Westerners to come across lacrosse in the 1630s. Despite their initial opposition to the game, many European colonists became intrigued and started participating. The game underwent significant modifications, leading to today’s collegiate and professional forms. The first recorded European description of lacrosse was by missionary Jean de Brébeuf in 1637. By the 19th century, lacrosse had become Canada’s national summer game, with the first overseas exhibition games played in 1867.

Lacrosse Today

Modern lacrosse has grown significantly in popularity, particularly in Canada and the United States, with increasing interest in the United Kingdom and Australia. US Lacrosse reports a 47% increase in boys’ lacrosse and a 43.1% increase in girls’ lacrosse. The NCAA has seen a substantial increase in lacrosse programs, with a 24% rise in men’s programs and a 65% increase in women’s programs between 1998-2008. Professional leagues like the MLL and PLL have further popularized the sport, with the PLL experiencing notable success in attendance and viewership. Despite some challenges, such as reduced attendance at MLL games and limited TV coverage, lacrosse continues to grow, blending its rich indigenous heritage with modern sporting culture.

Different Forms of Lacrosse

Field Lacrosse Simplified

Field lacrosse is an outdoor sport played by men. Each team has ten players: three attackers, three midfielders, three defenders, and a goalie. Players use lacrosse sticks of different lengths. The field measures 110 by 60 yards, with goals at each end. The match consists of four quarters, each lasting 15 minutes. The game starts and restarts after each goal with a face-off. Teams must keep a certain number of players in specific zones. The game has specific rules for ball possession, substitutions, and penalties.

Box Lacrosse Explained

Box lacrosse is played indoors on a hockey rink or soccer field. Each team has five runners and a goalie. The goals are smaller, and the goalie wears more protective gear. The game is fast-paced, with a 30-second shot clock. Physical contact is more common, and players wear more protective equipment. Penalties result in the offending player being temporarily removed from the game.

Women’s Lacrosse Overview

Women’s lacrosse differs significantly from men’s, especially in terms of equipment and physical contact. The game has 12 players per team and specific field boundaries. Women’s lacrosse emphasizes safety, with limited contact and protective gear like mouth guards and eye guards. The game starts with a “draw” and has specific rules for play around the goal area.

Lacrosse Sixes Introduction

Lacrosse sixes is a newer, faster version of lacrosse with six players per side. It was created to help lacrosse become an Olympic sport. The field is smaller, and the game has shorter quarters. There are no face-offs after goals, and a 30-second shot clock is used. The game is played with shorter sticks and has a mix of men’s and women’s rules.

Intercrosse Basics

Intercrosse, or soft stick lacrosse, is a non-contact version of the sport. It uses plastic sticks and a softer, hollow ball. Popular in Quebec and Europe, it’s played by teams of five on a smaller field. The goals are the same size as in box lacrosse. Intercrosse is governed internationally and has a World Championship. It’s also used to introduce young people to lacrosse.

International Lacrosse: A Comprehensive Overview

Lacrosse, traditionally popular in Canada and the United States, has seen significant growth internationally, especially in Europe and East Asia. This expansion is evident in the establishment of national lacrosse organizations worldwide.

World Lacrosse Organization

  • Formation: In August 2008, the International Lacrosse Federation (men’s) merged with the International Federation of Women’s Lacrosse Associations to create the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL), which was renamed World Lacrosse in May 2019.
  • Membership: As of now, World Lacrosse boasts 62 member nations.

Major Tournaments

World Lacrosse sponsors five key world championship tournaments, each held every four years:

  1. World Lacrosse Championship (Men’s Field)
  2. Women’s Lacrosse World Championship
  3. World Indoor Lacrosse Championship (Box Lacrosse)
  4. Men’s Under-20 World Lacrosse Championships
  5. Women’s Under-20 World Lacrosse Championships

Historical Highlights

  • World Lacrosse Championship (WLC): Started in 1968, initially with four teams. The United States has been the most successful, winning 11 of the 14 titles.
  • Women’s Lacrosse World Cup (WLWC): Began in 1982, with the United States winning 9 of the 11 championships.
  • World Indoor Lacrosse Championship (WILC): First held in 2003, dominated by Canada, which has won all five editions.
  • Iroquois Nationals: This team, symbolizing the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, has consistently been a formidable competitor in both field and indoor lacrosse.

Lacrosse in the Olympics

  • Early Years: Lacrosse was a medal sport in the 1904 and 1908 Summer Olympics.
  • Demonstration Sport: Featured as a demonstration sport in 1928, 1932, and 1948.
  • Recent Developments: Efforts to reintroduce lacrosse in the Olympics have been ongoing. In 2023, lacrosse was approved for inclusion in the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Regional Growth

  • European Lacrosse Federation (ELF): Established in 1995, it organizes the European Lacrosse Championships every four years. England has been particularly successful in these tournaments.
  • Asia Pacific Lacrosse Union: Founded in 2004, it conducts the Asia Pacific Championship biennially for both men’s and women’s teams.

Lacrosse in the World Games

  • 2017 World Games: Lacrosse made its debut with women’s teams participating. The United States won the gold medal.
  • 2022 World Games: Featured 6v6 tournaments for both men and women.

This overview highlights the significant strides lacrosse has made internationally, evolving from a sport primarily played in North America to one with a growing global footprint.

Lacrosse in the United States

Lacrosse is a sport that has been played by Native Americans in the United States long before Europeans arrived. It’s most popular in the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions, but it’s becoming a popular team sport nationwide for both men and women.

U.S. National Teams

The United States fields five international lacrosse teams every year: a men’s indoor team and four outdoor teams (men’s, women’s, and under-19 teams for both genders). The U.S. teams have won thirty world championships since the men’s World Lacrosse Championship started in 1967.

Professional Lacrosse

  • Premier Lacrosse League (PLL): Founded in 2018 by lacrosse star Paul Rabil and his brother Mike, the PLL features eight teams and has a broadcasting deal with NBC Sports. The league introduced shorter fields and new rules to speed up the game, offers higher salaries than Major League Lacrosse, and provides health-care and company stakes to players. The teams are not city-based and travel for games.
  • Major League Lacrosse (MLL): Started in 2001, the MLL is a six-team professional league mainly in the Northeastern U.S. It’s known for its two-point line and a sixty-second shot clock. In 2020, MLL merged with the PLL.
  • National Lacrosse League (NLL): This is a box lacrosse league played indoors from January to June. It features thirteen teams and differs from traditional lacrosse, with six players per team and goalies wearing hockey-like pads.
  • United Women’s Lacrosse League: Launched in 2016, this league has teams in the northern east coast. Players aren’t salaried but have travel expenses covered.
  • Women’s Professional Lacrosse League (WPLL): Started in 2018, the WPLL has five teams and focuses on women’s lacrosse.

Game Structure

Lacrosse is a 10 vs 10 contact sport, with each team having a goalie, three defenders, three midfielders, and three attackers. The objective is to score goals using sticks to shoot the ball into the opponent’s goal. The game duration varies by level: fifteen-minute quarters in college, twelve in high school, and ten in little league. Teams must balance their players between offense and defense; substitutions are made on the fly, like in hockey.


Lacrosse began as a tribal ritual among Native Americans and was known as stickball. It was a collision sport, with passing and dodging initially seen as undesirable. Europeans later modified the game to its current form.


Lacrosse is one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S., with significant increases in high school and college participation. It’s expanding beyond the east coast, with Denver being the first non-east coast team to reach the NCAA Division 1 finals in 2015.

Lacrosse Equipment


  • What is it? A lacrosse stick consists of two primary components: the head and the shaft.
  • Head Parts:
    • Scoop: The top part helps pick up the ball, pass, and shoot.
    • Sidewall: The side part affects the head’s depth and stiffness.
    • Pocket: Made of leather or nylon mesh, attached to the sidewall and scoop. A wider pocket makes catching easier but reduces ball control. A narrower pocket offers more control but makes catching harder.
  • Shaft: Usually a hollow metal, often octagonal for better grip. Made from materials like aluminum, titanium, scandium, alloys, or sometimes wood, plastic, carbon fiber, or fiberglass.
  • Length Rules:
    • Men: Offensive players’ sticks are 40-42 inches long, defensemen’s are 52-72 inches, goalies’ are 40-72 inches.
    • Women: Overall length is 35.5-43.25 inches. Goalkeeper’s stick can be 35.5-48 inches long, with a wider head.


  • Material: Solid rubber.
  • Colors: Usually white for men’s and yellow for women’s lacrosse, but available in various colors.

Men’s Field Protective Equipment

  • Includes Gloves, elbow pads, shoulder pads, helmet, mouthguard, and cleats.
  • Variations: Depends on player’s position, ability, and preference. Attack players often have larger elbow pads, defenders have smaller ones, and goalies usually don’t wear elbow pads but need a chest pad and neck guard.
  • Goalkeeper Extras: A large chest pad, neck guard, and protective cup.

Men’s Box Protective Equipment

  • Difference: More protective gear than field players due to more physical contact and rules.
  • Includes Larger and heavier elbow pads, strong shoulder pads, and often rib pads.
  • Goalie Gear: Similar to ice hockey goalies but with some differences in the size of pads.

Women’s Field Protective Equipment

  • Basic Requirement: Only eyewear and a mouthguard are mandatory.
  • Eyewear: A metal cage covering the eyes.
  • Goalkeeper Gear: A helmet, gloves, and chest protector.
  • Possible Changes: Discussions about padded headgear for concussion protection are ongoing.


Lacrosse is a sport with a really interesting story. It started as a special game for Native American tribes like the Iroquois. They didn’t just play it for fun; it was a big part of their culture. Now, lacrosse is popular all over the world.

Here’s how lacrosse grew:

  • Native American Beginnings: Lacrosse was very important in Native American culture. It was more than just a game to them.
  • Going Global: The sport got big around the world. Groups like the Federation of International Lacrosse helped it grow. It’s even going to be in the 2028 Olympics, which is a big deal because it shows how popular it has become.
  • Different Ways to Play: Lacrosse has changed over time. Now, there are different types, like field lacrosse and box lacrosse. Each type has its own rules.
  • Rules and Styles: As more people played lacrosse, they made clear rules for how to play, including different rules for men’s and women’s lacrosse.
  • Pro and College Teams: Professional leagues like the National Lacrosse League and college teams, especially in the USA, have made the sport more popular. They help find and train new players.
  • Remembering its Roots: People are now paying more attention to lacrosse’s Native American history. This is important because it respects where the sport came from.
  • Modern Changes: Lacrosse keeps changing. The way it’s played, the equipment and the safety rules are all getting updated to fit today’s sports world.

In short, lacrosse has come a long way from its early days with Native Americans. It’s now a big sport all over the world. It’s cool because it keeps its old traditions but also changes to stay modern and exciting. Lacrosse is not just a sport; it’s a way to connect the past with the present and bring people together worldwide.

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