Lacrosse is a team sport of Native American origin played on an open field or in a closed stadium, in which a stick with a net attached to the end is used to propel a small, solid, rubber ball into an opponent's net. Four major forms of lacrosse are played: field lacrosse, women's lacrosse, box lacrosse, and intercrosse.
The goal of lacrosse is to use the netted stick, called a crosse, to pass the target ball back and forth among teammates until one teammate has an opportunity to propel the ball at and into the opponent's net, called the “goal.”
Lacrosse has traditionally been played primarily in eastern parts of the United States and Canada, where the sport originated. Over time, the sport has spread to other parts of the world, so that the Federation of International Lacrosse, the sport's international governing body, consists of 60 nation members, divided into 3 categories. The 33 full member nations include the United States, Canada, the Iroquois nation, a number of northern European nations, and a few Asian countries including Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea. The 24 associate members include additional European teams, Argentina, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Mexico, and Turkey. The three organizations in the “allied members” category include APLU, ELF, and FIIC. The sport is played by both men and women of almost all ages. In the United States and Canada, teams and tournaments have been organized for children as young as five years and are generally divided into age groups designated as U9 (9 years of age and younger), U11 (ages 10–11), U13 (ages 12–13), and so on. Probably the most complete study on lacrosse players is the annual U.S. Lacrosse Participation Survey. According to the most recent data, there were a total of 746,859 lacrosse players in the United States in 2013, 468,425 males and 278,434 females, an increase of 24,654 players from the year before. Over half of all lacrosse players were under the age of 15 (403, 770), and 38.8% were high schoolers (290, 046). The remaining number were college players (36, 515), postcollegiate (16, 288), and professionals (240).
Given the ubiquitous nature of games played with a ball and a stick, it is difficult to say precisely when the sport of lacrosse began. Some historians see signs of a lacrosse-like game being played in Mesoamerica as early as the 12th century. Most authorities agree, however, that the modern sport had its origins among Native American tribes in, primarily, the eastern United States and Canada in more primitive games called baggataway and tewaraathon. Both games involved passing a ball back and forth among contestants with the object of placing the ball into a small net. The games consisted of large numbers of individuals—perhaps as many as a few hundred or few thousand—playing on very large fields, often for the purpose of training young men to become warriors. The name “tewaraathon” itself means “little brother of war.”
Europeans first began receiving detailed news about lacrosse through a series of articles about the game in a Montréal newspaper and a demonstration of play by members of the Caughnawaga tribe in 1834. Interest grew so rapidly that by 1859 the Canadian Parliament had officially declared lacrosse to be Canada's national sport. By 1867, there was enough interest nationwide to justify the formation of the first national governing body for the sport, the National Amateur Lacrosse Association (NALA). NALA lasted two decades before it dissolved and was replaced by in 1887 by the Canadian Lacrosse Association (CLA), the governing body for the sport in Canada. Meanwhile, the sport gained popularity in the United States, where the first college to form a lacrosse team, New York University, did so in 1876. Five years later, the first intercollegiate lacrosse tournament was held at the Westchester Polo Grounds in New York City. A decade later, in 1890, the first women's lacrosse game was played at St. Leonard's School in St. Andrew's, Scotland. In 1904, lacrosse was included for the first time in the summer Olympics game. It was included again four years later, but has never since been recognized as an official Olympics sport.
Field lacrosse is played on a field roughly similar in size and shape to an American football field. It is 100 yd. (91.4 m) long and 60 yd. (55 m) wide, divided in half by a midfield line and in thirds by two restraining lines. One goal net at each end of the field is located in a circle nine feet in diameter called the “crease.” The goal net is 6 ft. (1.8 m) wide and 6 ft. (1.8 m) high. The goal crease is located in the middle of each team's defensive area between its restraining line and end line. Each player carries a stick consisting of three main parts, the shaft, the racket with which a player holds the stick; the head, a plastic head-shaped object at the end of the shaft; and the pocket, a nylon or string mesh with which one catches, maneuvers, and throws the ball. Lacrosse sticks vary slightly in size and shape depending on their specific use. The stick used by defensemen and goalies tends to be about 12 to 30 in. (30.5 to 76.2 cm) longer than those used by offensive players. The ball is a hard rubber sphere about 2.5 in. (6.4 cm) in diameter, weighing about 5 oz. (142 g).
Play begins with two opposing players facing each other at the center of the field (the “faceoff” box), with the ball between their sticks. At the referee's signal, the two players attempt to gain control of the ball and pass it to a teammate. Play continues when one player is able to retrieve the ball with his or her stick, after which he or she will attempt to move the ball down the field towards the opponent's goal. A player can advance the ball in one of two ways, either by carrying it in his or her net, or by throwing the ball to a teammate. The object of the game is to propel the ball into the opponent's net, except that an attacking player is not allowed to enter the goalie's crease. If an attacking player does enter the crease, a foul is called and the ball passes to the opposing team. If the goalie intercepts a shot at the net, he or she has four seconds in which to return the ball to play. If the ball is not returned to play, it is given back to the attacking team.
Specific timing rules ensure that a lacrosse game does not slow down and that a team does not try to “stall” the action. When a team gains possession of the ball, it must pass the midfield line within 20 seconds and must enter the attacking area within another 10 seconds. Failure to do so results in their loss of the ball. Whenever a goal is scored, the game is resumed as it was started, with a faceoff at the center of the field. Teams play four quarters, switching ends of the field at the end of each quarter. Professionals and college teams play 15-minute quarters, high school teams play 12-minute quarters, and youth teams play 8-minute quarters. If a game is tied at the end of regulation time, a sudden death overtime follows to determine the game's winner.
The ten members of a field lacrosse team fall into one of four categories: attackers (three), midfielders (three), defenders (three), and a goalie. Regulations specify the places on the field in which each type of player may or must remain during play, with those positions changing as the game develops. An important feature of the game is the effort by defenders to prevent attackers from holding and advancing the ball. A primary method for achieving this objective is checking, of which there are two types. Stick checking is any effort by a player to use his or her stick to interfere with the stick of an opposing player in an effort to knock the ball out of the pocket. The progress of an attacker can also be interrupted by means of a body check, similar to a block in football, except that it may not be applied from behind, above the shoulder, or below the waist.
Lacrosse is an intense sport that requires a combination of strength, power, speed, agility, and endurance. Most serious players of the sport acknowledge that a participant must remain in top condition not only during the season, but also in the off season. Preparation for a game involves not only maintaining the maximum possible fitness, but also engaging in a nutritious diet throughout the season and especially just prior to a game. Mental fitness and readiness for a competition can also be of almost as much importance as physical conditioning.
In addition to lacrosse sticks and balls, the type of equipment most commonly required or recommended for players includes:
As to be expected, youth players are usually expected to have a more complete set of protective equipment than are older players. In addition, equipment varies somewhat depending on the position played. For example, goalies wear a well-padded chest protector that covers all of their torso. Equipment used in box lacrosse differs somewhat from that for field lacrosse because the former game is often more intense, played at closer range, and generally more dangerous than field hockey.
Arguably the most important type of skill needed in lacrosse (other than sports-specific skills, such as passing and shooting the ball) is sprint running that takes place in short bursts of speed with rapid and abrupt change of direction. Such movements are anaerobic exercises that make use of energy sources other than oxygen. It makes sense, then, that training exercises for lacrosse should focus on activities that increase the body's ability to operate on anaerobic, rather than aerobic, respiration. One of the most effective training programs for this purpose is interval training, in which a person performs some type of exercises, rests briefly, and then begins a second type of exercise, followed by another rest period, and so on. An example of the type of interval training one might use in preparation for lacrosse is the following:
Another approach to anaerobic training is to set up a number of markers on the lacrosse field and alternately sprint and jog from one marker to another.
Another objective of training and conditioning programs is to improve one's overall strength and power. For this objective, classical forms of weight and strength training are appropriate, perhaps conducted in the same form of interval exercise used for anaerobic training. For example, one can use the facilities of a health club or set up a simplified form of the equipment needed and carry out the following series of exercises:
The best available data on lacrosse injuries comes from an extensive survey conducted by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the Injury Surveillance Survey for Lacrosse, conducted between 1983 and 2004. That study found that the most common type of injury incurred by lacrosse players in both games and practice was ligament sprain of the ankle, accounting for 11.3% of all injuries in games and 16.4% of all injuries in practices. The next most common injuries were internal derangement of the knee, concussion of the head, contusions of the upper leg, muscle-tendon strain of the upper leg, acromioclavicular joint injury and ligament sprain of the shoulder, and muscle-tendon strain of the hip. Data for women lacrosse players were remarkably similar to those for me, with the most common injuries being about the same for both genders. One important difference, however, is that the rate of injuries among women players was generally substantially higher than for men players.
The most common cause of injury in men's lacrosse games was contact with another player (45.9% of all injuries), with contact with something else (a stick, ball, or the ground) accounting for a quarter of all injures (26.7%), and no contact for the remainder (26.4%). By contrast, the most common cause of injury in women's lacrosse was no contact at all (44.3%), followed by contact with a stick, ball, or other object (35.9%) and contact with another player (18.6%). A separate NCAA study found that men's lacrosse ranks 8th among 15 sports ranked for injury rate, and women's lacrosse, 12th among those sports, behind sports such as men's football, soccer, wrestling, and ice hockey, and women's soccer, gymnastics, and ice hockey.
Training and conditioning are key in preparing women and men for participation in the sport of lacrosse. It is also necessary to have appropriate first aid materials and workers to deal with on-site injuries during competitions.
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David E. Newton, AB, MA, EdD