One of the most exciting facets of lacrosse is the physicality. However, the legality of contact between players is a hotly contested topic, especially when it comes to lowering the shoulder against defenders, otherwise known as trucking.
The legality of trucking varies depending on the level of competition. It is largely deemed illegal at the youth level due to safety concerns. At the high school level, trucking is questionable at best and a penalty at worst. Trucking is generally permitted at the collegiate and professional level.
You are likely wondering why there is such a discrepancy in ruling from one competitive tier of lacrosse to the next. It seems a bit puzzling why trucking would not have a universal rule interpretation across the entire sport. There are a few reasons as to why this is. All of which will be explained below.
The Controversial Legality of Trucking
To fully understand the reasoning for why trucking is prohibited at some levels and authorized in others, it is necessary to investigate each competitive tier on its own, completely separate from the others. Only by conducting individual analyses on a case-by-case basis are we able to get the full picture on the ruling disparities surrounding trucking.
Generally Considered Illegal at the Youth Level
With youth players, coaches and officials want to promote player safety over anything else. For this reason, any questionable or unnecessary contact is squashed immediately with penalties. Trucking falls into this bucket.
Although contact is a necessary part of lacrosse, it is meant to be technically sound. The lacrosse community wants to teach young players that they should rely on their speed, agility, and quickness rather than brute physicality alone. This is because lacrosse is considered a finesse sport, not a disorganized, chaotic mess of players hitting each other.
By deeming trucking illegal at this level, younger players are forced to hone in on the finesse aspects of their game, which helps them considerably in the long run.
In addition, due to the size discrepancy at that age, the lacrosse community wishes to level the playing field between those that have hit their growth spurt and those who haven’t. If trucking were allowed, players who have already reached their full development would wreak havoc on their underdeveloped peers. This would suck the fun out the game like a vacuum.
It is the goal of the lacrosse higher-ups to draw more younger players to the game, not scare them away. Doing away with trucking is a necessary sacrifice to keep the growing popularity of the sport intact.
50/50 at High School Level
As these younger players transition into high school, the rules concerning trucking get a bit more lenient. Players cannot fully deliver the hammer on defenders by lowering their shoulder, but they can dig into defenders with their body weight with little risk of drawing a penalty. As a matter of fact, this specific type of dodge is so prevalent that it even earned a nickname: the bull dodge.
At this point in time, player safety is still important. That does not change. However, with high schoolers beginning to physically grow and mature, it makes sense to allow players to use their strength and size accordingly. Defenders can withstand additional force now that they have some muscle packed onto their frame. They no longer shy away from the prospect of contact.
Plus, it ups the excitement of the game. At the youth level, the dangers of player safety outweigh the excitement factor of trucking. The combination of growth discrepancies and fragile bodies make the prospect of trucking too dangerous. With high school, players are thrilled at finally having the chance at putting their size and strength on display. After all, big hits are one of the main attractions of the sport.
Consequently, officials are taught to loosen up the rules around trucking. They still call penalties when ball carriers lower their shoulder every now and again. However, they do not call nearly as many penalties compared to the youth level because initiating contact is an indispensable part of the game.
Legal at the Collegiate Lacrosse Level
If you thought the rules about trucking at the high school level were lenient, then you will be surprised at how charitable the officials are at the collegiate level.
With collegiate lacrosse players, we are no longer dealing with kids. We are dealing with full grown men and the rules surrounding trucking reflect this fact. Players are permitted to initiate a considerable amount of contact with defenders. Unless there is an obvious intent to purposefully injure the opposing defender, officials let this contact slide for the most part.
The NCAA wants to offer collegiate lacrosse players all the tools necessary to put their full skill set on display. They do not want to rob certain players of their strongest attributes. If a player thrives on using their physical gifts to their advantage, it is not the intention of the NCAA to take that away from them. In fact, they want them to use their special physical talent.
At the end of the day, featuring superior physical prowess draws in more viewers and makes the NCAA more money. How could they refuse that?
Legal at the Professional Lacrosse Level
The legality of trucking is even more pronounced at the professional level of lacrosse. Professional level lacrosse has only really burst onto the scene in the past decade or so with Major League Lacrosse and Premier Lacrosse League. Consequently, professional level lacrosse is still trying to gain viewership from the general public.
To make the sport as spectator friendly as possible, professional lacrosse athletes try to brainstorm as many ways as possible to make the sport more compelling to watch. One of the ideas that sprung up was legalizing trucking completely. Every professional lacrosse athlete jumped on board this plan, solidifying it as a staple aspect of the professional level.
This made the game more explosive, more dynamic, and substantially more appealing to watch. There is something about witnessing big collisions that riles up fans. Even I have to admit that I applaud this change in the sport.
One of the players that is taking full advantage of the legality of trucking at the professional level of lacrosse is Myles Jones. Standing at 6ft 5in and weight in at 260 lbs, he is resemblant of a human wrecking ball when he trucks into defenders. To see what I mean, all you need to see is the first clip in his highlight video below!
Potential Penalties That Can Be Issued for Trucking a Defender
Sometimes officials let trucking go, while other times officials toss out the yellow flag. There are a few penalties that are commonly associated with the trucking maneuver. Each of which is explained below.
By this rule, trucking is technically illegal because the ball carriers uses another part of their body (the shoulder) to push away the body of the player applying the check. For those that argue against the legality of trucking, this is the rule they reference to the most. They certainly have a valid point.
In most contexts, warding off is typically called when the free hand or free arm is used to push away the opponent’s lacrosse stick or body. This is the most blatant form of warding out there.
Officials only feel compelled to issue a warding penalty if a player trucks over a defender with excessive and deliberate force. In short, drawing a distinct line between which “trucking” scenarios are considered legal and which “trucking” scenarios are considered wards is still hazy.
To get an accurate gauge of the legality of trucking before a game, ask the officials of their thoughts on the matter and how they call it out on the field. As whacky as it sounds, they are the ones issuing the penalties, not the rulebook.
Illegal Body Check
Another penalty that could possibly be issued is an illegal body check. Although this penalty is typically reserved for defenders, it can be applied to ball carriers as well if they contact a defender in an illegal manner.
If a ball carrier trucks over a defender from his back side, the official is in the right to issue an illegal body checking penalty. The same rule applies for a ball carrier that trucks a defender and primarily contacts them above the neck region.
These rules have been put in place to monitor physical contact between lacrosse players on both offense and defense. It is the goal of the lacrosse community to minimize the risk of injury wherever possible, which is why the illegal body checking rules have been instituted.
Lastly, a ball carrier may be penalized for spearing a defender in an attempt to lower their shoulder against a defender.
Much like football, spearing is defined as the illegal act of leading with the helmet when contacting an opponent. Spearing is not as much of a prevalent issue in the sport of lacrosse as compared to football. However, it is a point to address.
Occasionally, when a ball carrier aims to truck a defender out of their way, they use their helmet instead of their shoulder to clear a path to the goal. This is an easy call for the official to make. As soon as they witness a ball carrier drive into a defender with their helmet, the yellow laundry is coming out.
Spearing is a recipe for concussions in any sport. With the increasing popularity of lacrosse, the lacrosse committee wants to extinguish this issue before it even becomes a real problem. For this reason, officials are stringent when it comes to this rule in particular. So although spearing and trucking do not coincide often, it does occasionally get called.
Should You Use Trucking to Get By Defenders?
All of this information boils down to one question, “Should you use trucking to get by defenders?”
Like most things, the answer to this question is that it depends. Obviously, if you are on the smaller end of the physical spectrum matched up against a defensive behemoth, it is not an ideal situation for you to try trucking. On the other hand, if you have a tremendous size advantage over the competition, trucking may be a maneuver that works in your favor. In summary, size is definitely something that you’re going to want to take into consideration before electing to use this stunt in game.
In addition, it is to your benefit to get a feel for how referees in your local area treat the prospect of trucking. Some referees reach for their yellow flag as soon as they witness an offensive player lower their shoulder. Other referees simply let the boys play. Once you have a definitive grasp of whether or not trucking is legal, you can make an informed decision on implementing bull dodging into your offensive repertoire.
The Future of Trucking in Lacrosse
As far as what the future holds for trucking, nobody really knows for sure. I think I can safely say that the youth level is not going to see a change in the legality of trucking anytime soon.
However, it seems that collegiate and professional lacrosse continue to trend in the direction of integrating trucking into the very fabric of the game. With its breathtaking thrill and spectator friendly nature, it is hard to argue against this evolving trend in the sport.
I do still believe that lacrosse is a finesse sport beyond anything else. In my opinion, brute physicality will never fully eclipse speed, agility and quickness in terms of importance. After all, lacrosse is still called The Fastest Sport on Two Feet. Last time I checked, it isn’t called The Most Physical Sport on Two Feet.
I think the best indicator to predict the future of trucking is to see how it is treated at the high school level. As of now, it is still a point of contention in the NFHS. They have followed the trends of the NCAA before, like when they banned U shooting setups for instance. However, since this aspect of the game touches on player safety, it is difficult to speculate what action the NFHS will take.
I suppose we will just have to wait and see what the lacrosse community has in store for us when the time comes.