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Riverside Youth Lacrosse

Riverside Youth Lacrosse

Introduction to Boys Lacrosse

Are you a parent of a new boys lacrosse player?

This page will  explain the basics of lacrosse.

What is Lacrosse?

Lacrosse is often called the oldest sport in North America, and was played by Native Americans before Europeans came to the continent.

The sport has many similarities to basketball or hockey, but the simplest way to explain it is as follows:

Two teams, with 10 players on the field at one time, try to score goals.
The team with the most goals at the end of the game wins.

The Field:

Boy's lacrosse is played on a field, 110 yards long, between 53 1/3 and 60 yards wide, with goals placed 80 yards apart.

Boys lacrosse field


You may see larger fields, that are 120 yards long referred to as unified fields. These fields are used for both Girls and Boys Lax.  Young players (K - 4th grade) will play on short sided fields, usually 60 - 70 yards long and 35 - 45 yards wide.

Goal Dimensions:

Field lacrosse goals are squares, six feet high and six feet wide.  4th grade and under teams will play with smaller 4x4  goals.

A goal / point is scored when a loose ball passes completely through the imaginary plane formed by the rear edge of the goal line the goal posts and cross bar.  The shot must be "in the air" before the horn sounds ending a quarter or the game for a goal to count (similar to basketball). If the ball touches the goal line or bounces off  a cross bar that does not mean it was a score. 


Boy's youth games are divided into four periods (quarters) their duration is usually 8 or 10 minutes long;  high school varsity quarters are 12 minutes long.  There are normally 2 minutes between quarters and 10 minutes between halves.

The game clock will stop if:

  • The ball goes out of bounds.
  • When a goal is scored.
  • When a penalty is enforced by the officials.
  • During a time out (called by a coach or an official).

Youth games typically last 60 - 75 minutes.  

On occasion games will be described as "running time".   Those games only have two halves (usually 24 minutes) where the clock does stop. That format is prevalent during fall and summer tournament play.

Some age groups allow for ties, others will have a "next goal wins" overtime.

There is a mercy rule in lacrosse that can take affect during the second half of a game. If the mercy rule is in effect, then the clock only stops for time outs. 

The Teams:

Each team plays with 10 players on the field at one time.

Position # on Field Main Job Where are they
Goalie 1 His job is to prevent the ball from going in the goal, and run the defense. In front of the goal.
Defense 3 The guys with the long poles hanging out with the goalie.
Their main job is to prevent the other team from getting easy shots on the goal and to try to get the ball back from the other team. (Sometimes in youth games the defense will not have long poles.)
In their defensive half of the field near the goal.
Attack 3 Dodge and pass to another player so they can shoot, or they are shooting on goal. Near the other team's goal, on their offensive half of the field.
Midfield 3

These are the guys running up and down the field.
Sometimes referred to as "middies", they play both offense and defense.
Don't be confused, sometimes a middie will carry a long pole like a defenseman. He is often called an LSM (Long Stick Middie).

Everywhere, these guys do a lot of running.
Basic Play

Start of the game and Face-Offs:

Games start with a face-off, between one player from each team, at the center of the field. In addition to those players, each team has two players near midfield (they can be on either their offensive or defensive side of the field).  The referee positions the face-off players, places the ball between them and then blows the whistle to start play.

During a face-off the other 7 players (goalie, attack and defense) must stay behind the "restraining line" until the referee indicates one team has gained possession of the ball. If your team is playing on a football field the restraining line is at "30-yard line".

There is a face-off after each goal, and at the start of each period.

The exception to this is if a period ends and there is an unexpired penalty against a team. Whichever team is in possession of the ball when the period expires is awarded the ball without a face-off. 

Offsides and why are the players not moving?

You will sometimes see a ball role near the middle of the field and the attack or defensive players don't try to get it. The rules state that each team must keep six or fewer players in their offensive end and seven or fewer players in their defensive end at all times (including players in the penalty box). Players should not cross the midfield line to get the ball, if it will result in an offsides penalty. 

If you have too few players, that is not offsides.  a team can have only the goalie in their half of the field. As long as there are not too many players on other side of the field it is not offsides.


Players pass or dodge trying to shoot on the goal. Teams will have set plays to try and get a shot, or just move the ball around until someone gets a good look at the goal.

Stay out of the Crease:

There is a 9-foot radius circle around the goal, called the crease. Offensive players are not allowed in the crease during play for any reason. (They can go in it after a goal is scored.) They are also not allowed to touch the goalie or his stick if he is inside that circle. Defensive players are allowed in the crease, but they cannot carry the ball into the crease. Youth and high school players cannot jump into the crease when shooting.

If the one team violates these rules the ball is turned over to their opponent.

Why are they running after missed shots?

Lacrosse rules give the ball to the inbounds player / team that is closest to the ball when and where it goes out of bounds after a shot. (This rule does not apply to missed passes or dropped balls.) The rule says closest "inbound player's body", their stick does not count.

Saving a goal and clearing:

After a goal is saved or the ball is turned over to the defensive team, they have 20 seconds to get the ball into their half of the field and another 10 seconds to get into their offensive box (the area marked as attack/defensive area in the above field diagram). If your team is playing on a football field the box starts at the 30-yard line, goes to the back end of the field, and is about as wide as the numbers on the field.

Sometimes you will see a defensive player cross the midfield line during a clear. When that happens, the player will shout "Middie Back". He is telling his team that a middie needs to stay away from the offensive side of the field, so they don't get called for an offside penalty. (You will often see a midfielder raise their stick in the air to make it easy for the ref to locate the player and not accidently blow their whistle.)

I see a penalty flag but they are still playing.

When the defensive team violates a rule and a ref throws a flag, the game is allowed to continue.  This is called a "slow whistle". There are a several circumstances where the referee will end the slow whistle and enforce the penalty. The most common of those circumstances are:

  • The defensive team gains possession of the ball.
  • The ball hits the ground or goes out of bounds.
  • The offensive team takes a shot.
  • A goal is scored.

Offensive team penalties are enforced immediately.

Fewer Players after a Penalty

The player who was called for the penalty serves his time in the "box" near the scorer's table. 

When a team has a player in the penalty box it is often referred to as being man down. The other team is said to be man up or in EMO (extra man offense). The person in the penalty box counts for the offside rule. This means the penalized team will need to play with one less middie.

For example:

  • Team A's attack man gets a penalty.
  • Team B has the ball near team A's goal. 
  • When the referee counts to make sure team A has seven players on their defensive side of the field, the penalized attack man will count.
  • That means team A can only have 1 goalie, 3 defensive players and 2 middies. ( 1+3+2  + 1 in the penalty box = seven players).

There are three types of penalties.

  • Technical Fouls - Are 30 second penalties and are not enforced if the offense scores a goal during the slow whistle for a defensive penalty. 
    They expire automatically if the EMO team scores a goal before the 30 seconds expires.
    If no one has possession of the ball, a technical foul will result in the ball being given to the team that was fouled.
  • Personal Fouls - Are usually "safety" fouls, and are 1 - 3 minutes long.   They are enforced even if the opposing team scores during the slow whistle.
    They expire automatically if the EMO team scores a goal before the 60 seconds expires.
  • Personal Non-Releasable Fouls - The referee can declare a penalty non-releasable. This will happen if the action was extreme, such as violent collisions or checks to the head or neck. 
    These penalties are between 1 and 3 minutes long, but do not end when the EMO team scores.
    They last until the entire penalty time is served.
    At the referee's discretion, players can be ejected, from a game, for extremely violent or dangerous hits.

If you want to learn more about lacrosse rules, visit the US Lacrosse web site rules page.

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