The centerpiece of the sport of lacrosse is the lacrosse ball. For those that are unfamiliar with the game, it’s hard to determine whether all lacrosse balls are the same, given their diversity of colors, brands, and production materials.
Each lacrosse ball must pass the same NOCSAE safety standards. Thus, all lacrosse balls have a near identical circumference, mass, compression deflection, and coefficient of restitution. However, some balls incorporate different materials, come in assorted colors, and have varying durability.
The enforcement of the NOCSAE safety standards is what makes lacrosse balls so similar to one another. With that being said, lacrosse balls are similar to one another, but not identical. Each of the shared characteristics of lacrosse balls will be analyzed in depth in the section below. Afterwards, we will analyze ways that lacrosse balls can be slightly different from one another.
How All Lacrosse Balls Share Certain Commonalities
NOCSAE stands for the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. If you look closely, every single lacrosse ball that is used nowadays has some version of the phrase “Meets NOCSAE standards” engraved into the ball. You can see what this looks like in the image below.
It is mandatory for lacrosse companies to do this to confirm that each and every lacrosse ball is legal for play. It seems petty, but the lacrosse community is always trending toward promoting player safety above everything else. If that means forcing lacrosse companies to inscribe an extra phrase onto their products, that is a price they’re willing to pay.
Now you’re probably wondering what these NOCSAE standards entail. There are four specific stipulations that major lacrosse manufacturers must follow when mass producing lacrosse balls.
That statement is a lot to digest at first glance. For this reason, we will take an in depth look at each individual aspect to uncover the concrete ways in which lacrosse balls are similar to one another.
The first aspect up on the list is the weight of the ball. Lacrosse balls that pass NOCSAE safety standards must fall within the range of 5.0 to 5.25 oz. Thus, every lacrosse ball should theoretically be within a quarter of an ounce in weight.
When you are actually out on the field for a lacrosse game, I can guarantee that you will not be able to detect a quarter of an ounce difference in weight between lacrosse balls. Only a superhuman would be able to detect something like that. So for all intents and purposes, lacrosse balls weigh the same.
Compression Deflection Load
Next up is compression deflection load. I have to admit, I had no idea what this meant the first time I read this. After doing a little research online, I found a way to put this in plain English.
With this test, a heavy amount of pressure is placed onto the lacrosse ball, compressing it. The number that they measure is how much the material of the lacrosse ball pushes back in response to this pressure (source). The resistance of the material to this applied force, otherwise known as the compression deflection load, must fall within a specific range for every lacrosse ball that is produced.
To measure this value, the ball is compressed until the diameter of the ball is one fourth of what it normally is. Once the diameter has reached this level, the compression deflection load value is recorded. The lacrosse ball passes this test if it is able to withstand 180 lbs to 210 lbs of pressure.
Furthermore, the circumference of the ball must fit within a certain value range to pass NOCSAE standards. Unlike the compression deflection load, this test is fairly straightforward. They simply measure the circumference of the ball and ensure that it stays within 7.75 to 8.0 in. Any ball that has a measured circumference outside of these boundaries is considered unfit for play.
Coefficient of Restitution
The last criteria that must be fulfilled is a sufficient coefficient of restitution. Since this criteria involves physics, it sounds intimidating. But after further analysis, it wasn’t as complicated as I initially thought.
The coefficient of restitution is defined as “the ratio of the difference in velocities before and after [a] collision” (source). Essentially, this is measuring how much energy a lacrosse ball retains after it rebounds off of an object.
There is a NOCSAE device that is specially designed for throwing lacrosse balls at the same velocity over and over again. This device throws the ball at a designated strike plate and the ball rebounds off of it. During this process, the velocities before and after the collision are recorded. From here, the coefficient of restitution can be calculated.
In order for a lacrosse ball to be considered legal, the coefficient of restitution must be within the range of 0.60 to 0.70.
Summary of Lacrosse Ball Commonalities
To put it all together, all of the shared characteristics described above have been condensed into the following table (source).
|NOCSAE Criteria||Legal Range|
|Weight||5.0 – 5.25 oz|
|Compression Deflection Load||180 – 210 lbs|
|Circumference||7.75 – 8.0 in|
|Coefficient of Restitution||0.60 – 0.70|
How All Lacrosse Balls are Somewhat Different from One Another
You may have noticed that there is not just one lacrosse manufacturer that monopolizes the lacrosse ball production industry. There are multiple companies that mass produce lacrosse balls. Although each company must manufacture lacrosse balls according to NOCSAE standards, there are still some slight discrepancies that differentiate lacrosse balls from one another.
For one, no two lacrosse companies use the exact same production materials to manufacture their lacrosse balls. The accessory materials that are infused into the lacrosse ball vary slightly between companies. Sometimes, even the main ingredients can differ.
For example, vulcanized rubber is the main ingredient used to produce traditional lacrosse balls. Recently developed lacrosse balls made by Guardian are drifting away from this trend in favor of something different. Instead of vulcanized rubber, Guardian designed a special kind of lacrosse ball called the Pearl. It is made purely from polyurethane (source).
Guardian claims that the incorporation of polyurethane extends the life of the lacrosse ball dramatically, a concept we will investigate further in the next section.
The durability of lacrosse balls has always been a topic of considerable interest in the lacrosse community. Although NOCSAE standards ensure that each lacrosse ball is safe for play, all lacrosse balls have a limited life span. Over time, as lacrosse balls endure exposure to UV rays, heavy rain, and physical wear and tear, they begin to lose their original grippy texture. As a result, overused lacrosse balls devolve into greasers, a generic term for lacrosse balls that have a slick, shiny surface.
The reason that lacrosse balls inevitably lose their original grip is that there are plasticizers and oils infused into the lacrosse balls. With overuse, these plasticizers and oils rise to the surface and solidify. This solid film is what is responsible for making the ball feel slick and slippery, like grease.
Click over to my article What is a Greaser in Lacrosse? (& How Does it Affect Play) to learn more about the digression of normal lacrosse balls into greasers.
Once a ball has reached this point, it’s past its prime. Players should not play with greasers because they throw much higher than a normal lacrosse ball, which can ruin a player’s throwing accuracy.
The reason I’ve provided all this background on greasers is that every lacrosse ball falls somewhere on the spectrum between newly manufactured lacrosse balls and greasers. So in a way, no two lacrosse balls are exactly the same. The surface texture of each lacrosse ball varies as lacrosse balls are used more often, which ultimately causes the grip to dissipate.
This also ties back to the production materials. The experimental developments of Guardian with the Pearl lacrosse ball are extremely novel because polyurethane has minimal need for oil and plasticizers. For this reason, Pearl lacrosse balls do not deteriorate into greasers nearly as fast as traditional lacrosse balls.
The lacrosse community is starting to take notice of this difference in lacrosse ball durability. In fact, US lacrosse recently named the Pearl by Guardian as its official ball (source). This just goes to show that although all lacrosse balls are rather similar, they’re not all perfectly equivalent.
The last difference we will discuss is that lacrosse balls can come in an assortment of colors. Contrary to popular opinion, lacrosse balls do not have to be purely white. They can be orange, yellow, lime green, red, purple, light blue, royal blue… practically any color you could think of!
With that being said, most men’s lacrosse games are played with white lacrosse balls. Women’s lacrosse games, on the other hand, are predominantly played with yellow lacrosse balls. Other than the color, men’s lacrosse balls and women’s lacrosse balls are the same in every respect. This includes size, shape, and weight.
Sometimes, certain exceptions are made where teams opt to play with a lacrosse ball that isn’t white. An example of a situation that warrants this is a lacrosse game being played with heavy snow on the ground. As you can probably imagine, it is exceedingly difficult to locate a white lacrosse ball in the snow. For this occasion, coaches typically agree to use orange lacrosse balls if they’re available.
Swax Lax Training Balls
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about Swax Lax Training Balls. These lacrosse balls are not meant for standardized play at the NFHS or NCAA level. Rather, these lacrosse balls are geared entirely toward practice.
These training balls are much softer than your average lacrosse ball, yet they still retain the same dimensions. This added softness lends itself better to practice because its potential bounce, roll, and ricochet is vastly reduced. It’s particularly appealing to novice youth lacrosse players that are a bit worried about getting hit by a real lacrosse ball.
If you’re curious to see Swax Lax Training Balls in action, check out Greg’s review from East Coast Dyes.
Which Brand of Lacrosse Balls are the Best?
Now that you know every lacrosse ball is somewhat different depending on the company, you likely want to know what brand of lacrosse balls is the best for you.
With the advent of the grease resistant lacrosse balls, I would highly recommend going with Pearl lacrosse balls by Guardian or ECD Mint lacrosse balls from East Coast Dyes. For those of you that don’t know, Guardian actually works with East Coast Dyes to manufacture the ECD Mint lacrosse balls.
I recommend these lacrosse balls over other brands because I’ve had a fair share of my lacrosse balls turn into greasers over the years. To put it bluntly, they’re not fun to deal with. Pearl and ECD Mint lacrosse balls claim to eliminate this problem completely. Ever since US lacrosse named the Pearl as its official ball, I just had to experiment with these innovative lacrosse balls. As of now, I have no reason to deny Guardian’s illustrious claim.
This will definitely save you a great deal of money in the long term. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars trying to replenish my ball supply season after season because of the persistent problem of greasers. I even invested hundreds of dollars into a product called Lax Ball Dr. that was meant to “degrease” lacrosse balls.
Although the product did help to revitalize some greasers back to their former glory, I would’ve rather destroyed the root of the problem as opposed to hacking at the leaves. If I had found Pearl or ECD Mint lacrosse balls sooner, I wouldn’t have run into this problem in the first place.
To see what Greg from East Coast Dyes has to say about the ECD Mint lacrosse balls, check out the video below.
To reiterate, all lacrosse balls are similar, but not identical. NOCSAE has definitely helped to mold lacrosse balls in the same way to help promote safety above all else. However, the issue of greasers has been a persistent problem in the lacrosse community. This is the main source of differentiation between different lacrosse ball brands. As lacrosse companies continue to experiment and innovate, a future where greasers are nonexistent seems to come closer and closer with each passing year.