What's Going On?

Updated Thursday April 9, 2015 by Lovejoy Leopards Lacrosse.

For parents new to the game, lacrosse can seem confusing.  The fast paced nature of the game and unique rules often have parents asking or saying to themselves: “What’s going on?”  The following are the top 10 questions most often asked during a game by parents and others in the stands new to the game.  We hope these answers help everyone better understand the play and rules of the game.  ENJOY!


“At the beginning of the game and after a goal is scored, how come after they do that funny thing in the middle of the field, the only people that run around after the ball are the players in the center part of the field?  Everyone else is just standing around.  What’s going on?”

That “funny thing in the middle of the field” is called a face-off. The face-off takes place at the start of each quarter, after every goal, and after certain dead balls. On face-offs, only the midfielders (3 midfielders on each team) are allowed to fight for and try to gain possession of the ball. All other players on the field must remain behind their respective restraining lines until the referee yells “possession”.  Possession is called after one player gains control of the ball. The referee will also point in the direction of the goal that the ball is being pushed toward. After “possession” is called the rest of the players on the field are then “released” and can now cross the restraining lines and join in the play. 


“One of the players on the other team shot the ball at our goal and missed, then the ball went out of bounds.  But then the referee said it was still the other team’s ball and let a player from the other team bring the ball inbounds.  How come they got to keep the ball?  Should it not have been our ball since the other team threw it out of bounds? What’s going on?”

Lacrosse is a possession based game. One of the unique rules of lacrosse is that when a player takes an unsuccessful shot on goal and the ball travels out of bounds the team that is closest to the line where the ball went out of bounds gets possession of the ball. Often the offense will position a player behind the goal so that when a shot is made they will be closest to the spot where the ball went out of bounds when the ball goes out of bounds. Often times you will also see the goalie sprint toward the back end line when a shot is made to try to be the closest to the line so that the defensive team will gain possession. The key to this rule is the position of WHERE the inbounds player is on the field WHEN the ball goes out of bounds. The player closet to the ball where it went out when it went out. For example, if the ball goes out of bounds at X, and there is a player at one of the corner pylons close to the end line and a player directly behind the goal but 5 yards away from the end line, the player directly behind the goal is awarded possession because he is the player closest to the ball where the ball went out.


“My son had the ball and had an open shot at the goal, but before he was about to shoot the ball, the coaches and players all yelled at him to pass the ball and go through “X”.  I know our team was already winning by 7 goals, but I really wanted my son to score a goal.  What’s going on?”

At the youth level, when a team has a lead of five or more goals the “advantage rule” takes effect. The team with the lead is required to complete one pass through the “X” area of the field while in their offensive half of the field before that team can attempt or take a shot on the goal.  “X” is defined as the area directly behind the goal.  This is known as the “one pass rule” or the “advantage rule” and is commonly called “going through X”. Often times you will hear the referee yell out “player’s hot,” which indicates that the ball has gone through “X” and the team can now take a shot on goal. This requirement is reset with a change of possession, if the ball is dropped after a pass, or when there is a whistle.  If the team does not “go through X,” shoots the ball, and scores a goal, the goal will be disallowed and possession will be given to the other team.


“My son plays defense. After he scooped up a loose ball he started running toward the other team’s goal, but as soon as he crossed mid-field the referee blew the whistle and said he was off-sides.  Earlier in the game, one of the defenders on the other team did the same thing, but the referee did not call him for being off-sides and that player ran all the way down the field and actually took a shot on goal.  What’s going on?”

For each team, the field is split into an offensive and defensive end (by the midfield line). Off-sides occurs when a team does not have at least four players on its defensive side of the midfield line or at least three players on its offensive side of the midfield line. Each team is never allowed to have more than seven players on its defensive side of the field, and never allowed to have more than six players on its offensive end. Normally, each team will have 3 defensemen, 3 midfielders, and 1 goalie in the defensive end. The typical offensive setup is to have 3 midfielders and 3 attackmen on that half of the field. If a defenseman or the goalie (yes, the goalie can run the entire length of the field if he wants) decide to carry the ball over the midfield line, then a midfielder must stay back behind the midfield line in place of the defenseman so that there are 4 total players from that team in the defensive area of the field. Once the defenseman crosses back over the midfield line, the midfielder can advance to the offensive side of the midfield line. If the team who goes off-sides has possession of the ball, it will be a turnover and the other team gets the ball. However, if they do not have possession of the ball, it will result in a releasable penalty to be served by the player who went off-sides.


“A player from the other team was called for a penalty and had to go to the sideline in front of the scorer’s table.  After our team scored, the player who was called for a penalty came back on the field to play.  But, when my son was called for a penalty and the other team scored, my son did not come back into the game right away.  He had to stay on the sideline in the penalty area for a few more seconds.  What’s going on?”

There are two types of timed penalties in lacrosse, “releasable” and “non-releasable” penalties. A timed penalty is where a player must leave the field of play and wait in the table / penalty area prior to re-entering play. A “releasable” penalty means that regardless of how much time is left on the penalty, the player is released when the opposing team scores and can return to the field of play. A “non-releasable” penalty means the player must remain in the penalty area box regardless of the number of times the opposing team scores. Teams may not replace the player who receives the penalty, resulting in a man-down situation. Penalties vary in length from 30 seconds to 3 minutes depending on the severity of the foul. “Non-releasable” penalties often include unsportsmanlike conduct, an illegal stick, or illegal contact to the head.


“While going after a loose ball, my son got pushed in the back.  The referee blew the whistle and gave the ball to our team and play resumed.  Later in the game, my son pushed a player on the other team in the back.  But this time, the referee overreacted and threw his flag up in the air and then sent my son to the penalty area for 1 minute.  What’s going on?”

Pushing is permitted in lacrosse if the push is from the front or side and occurs above the waist and below the neck. Pushing is allowed when an opponent has possession of the ball or is within three yards (or five yards in High School) of a loose ball. In lacrosse, there are two kinds of “pushing” penalties/fouls and each is dependent on whether the player that was pushed had possession of the ball. A push when the player does not have possession of the ball is sometimes referred to as a “loose ball push.” A loose ball push is when a player on one team pushes another player from behind when the ball is loose on the ground (neither team has possession). A push when the player does have possession of the ball is referred to as a “push with possession.” A push with possession brings a 30-second penalty. A push without possession brings a change of possession.


“Sometimes when everyone is going after and fighting for a loose ball, players push other players to the ground, but the referee does not call anything and lets them play.  But other times, the referee does blow the whistle and calls a foul / penalty.  What’s going on?”

Pushing is permitted in lacrosse if the push is from the front or side and occurs above the waist and below the neck. When there is a loose ball on the ground and players from both teams are fighting for possession, the players are allowed to push (a legal push from the front or side) or stick check other players if the opposing player is within 3 yards (or 5 yards in high school) of the loose ball. All stick checks, body checks, legal holds, and legal pushes must be on a player within 3 yards (or 5 yards in high school) of a loose ball or ball in flight. If the referee sees an illegal push, stick check, or other violation during a loose ball, the resulting penalty will be a change of possession.


“After our goalie stopped a shot, he ran behind his goal and starting walking around the field looking for someone to throw it to.  Out of nowhere, a player from the other team came up to our goalie and hit him, knocking him to the ground.  The referee did not call a penalty.  I thought the goalie was protected from being hit.  What’s going on?”

Inside the crease, the goalie has utter protection and cannot be touched by an opposing player. The crease is the 18 foot diameter circle on the field surrounding the goal. But, when the goalie steps outside of the crease in an attempt to get the ball or to clear or advance the ball, he is fair game and is just like any other player on the field. If the goalie has possession of the ball or is trying to get possession of the ball while he is physically outside of the crease, an opposing player is allowed to sweep underneath the goalie’s stick to dislocate the ball, can stick check the goalie, or can body check the goalie. Also, “in-and-out” is not allowed in lacrosse, meaning once the goalie leaves the crease with possession of the ball, he is not allowed to reenter the crease if he still has possession of the ball.


“While my son had the ball, he was holding his stick in one hand and trying to fend off the player on the other team with his free hand. The referee blew his whistle, called a “warding” foul, and then gave possession of the ball to the other team.  What’s going on?”

Unlike in football and basketball, where the offense player can “stiff arm” or knock the opposing player’s hand away with his free hand, this tactic is not allowed in lacrosse. A player in possession of the ball may not use his free hand or arm, or any other part of his body, to hold, push or control the direction of the movement of the stick or body of an opponent. If done, a “warding” foul will be called and possession of the ball will go to the other team. A warding call will not be called if the player in possession of the ball is holding his free arm out in a protective position and not trying to hold, push, or control the opposing player’s stick. 


“The referee called a penalty on the goalie on my son’s team, but for some reason my son had to serve the penalty.  What’s going on?”

Before the game, each team is asked by the referees to designate a player who will serve as the “In-Home” player. The “In-Home” player will then be the player that takes and serves the penalty when a penalty is called against: (1) the goalie in certain situations; (2) the coach; (3) a player on the sideline and not in the game; or (4) when a penalty is called for a violation that is not against any specific player (for example, too many men on the field).