When introduced to the sport of lacrosse, there can be an overwhelming number of questions that course through your head. The best way to get familiar with the sport of lacrosse is to start from the ground up, like learning what shape the ball is.
Lacrosse is played with a spherical, rubber ball that is completely solid throughout. A spherical ball is required because the ball must be able to roll effortlessly in and out of the lacrosse pocket and move smoothly along the ground.
The modern lacrosse ball wasn’t made spherical on a whim. The paragraph above provides a brief explanation as to why the sport of lacrosse uses a rounded ball opposed to some other shape. In the sections below, we will dive into these reasons in greater depth and discuss the prospect of whether or not it is possible to use a non-spherical ball in the sport of lacrosse.
Why Lacrosse Uses a Spherical Ball
From the image above, you can see that a lacrosse ball is perfectly spherical. There are no edges or corners that can be found on a legal lacrosse ball. Why is that?
The Ball Needs to Roll Out of the Pocket Easily
First and foremost, the ball must have the capacity to roll out of the pocket on a consistent basis. For those of you that do not know, the lacrosse pocket is the collection of stringing material where the ball physically rests on a lacrosse stick.
To learn what the essential parts of a lacrosse stick are, click over to my article The Parts of a Lacrosse Stick: An Illustrated Guide.
Since there are no edges or corners on a spherical ball, the ball never gets caught within the strings. This is an extremely important point to note because this is what makes executing accurate shots and passes possible. The ball can simply roll out of the pocket without encountering any hitch along the way.
If the ball were in the shape of a cube or an oval, the flight path of the ball would be hard to control. All it would take is one edge or corner to snag in the pocket and the whole throwing trajectory would be off kilter.
The fundamental offensive strategy of lacrosse is founded upon the idea of precise shots and passes from players. Rounded balls are the best option to promote this kind of reliable play style. The added unpredictability presented by balls of other shapes would make this sport extremely frustrating. Players have a hard enough time being accurate with a rounded ball. Introducing another variable into the throwing motion would only push people away from the sport, not bring more people in.
The Ball Needs to Be Easy to Catch
In addition, the ball must possess the capacity to be absorbed into a lacrosse pocket with relative ease. If passing plays an integral part of lacrosse, then you know that catching is equally as important.
Rounded balls do not have any protrusions within their structure. This favors the catching process because every point of the ball contacts the pocket equally. Consequently, the pocket is better equipped to absorb the force of the pass and render the ball motionless within the stick.
Other shapes are guilty of having pointed edges. The presence of these pointed edges makes it hard for a player to blunt the force of the pass. If a pointed edge makes first contact with the pocket, it is more likely that the ball will ricochet out of the pocket than nestle within the confines of the stick.
For your reference, I included a dramatic representation of what the difference would look like below.
Even a rounded shape like an oval pales in comparison to a spherical shape. Oval shapes simply do not fit the mold of a lacrosse pocket nearly as well as a spherical shape. This is because the surface area of a spherical ball remains constant no matter how it is thrown. With an oval shaped ball, the surface area can vary depending on how the ball enters the lacrosse pocket. Not to mention that the framework of the plastic head and the pocket is designed exclusively to accept a spherical ball.
The Ball Needs to Freely Move Along the Ground
Furthermore, the ball must be capable of running fluidly along the surface of the ground.
Watch a lacrosse game and you’ll see that the ball is on the ground a whole lot. If you’re watching a youth lacrosse game, the ball is practically on the ground every other play!
When the ball is loose on the ground in lacrosse, it is completely up for grabs. Both teams have the opportunity to duke it out for possession. Each player tries to outmaneuver one another to scoop up the loose ball and earn their team an extra scoring opportunity. In lacrosse, these loose balls are more commonly referred to as ground balls.
Check out my article What Does Ground Ball Mean in Lacrosse? to learn more about what ground balls are and why they’re so important.
So how do ground balls relate to why the ball is spherical?
It is crucial that the ball be able to navigate liberally around the ground surface because it levels the playing field between both teams. Possession time is key to winning lacrosse games. After all, if you don’t have the ball, you can’t score.
If you’ve ever witnessed a ground ball scrum, you have likely seen the ball being knocked around like it’s in a pinball machine. As players vie for possession, the ball is rarely ever in one place. The random movement of the ball truly makes it a 50/50 tossup for who gets possession, which makes the sport both fair and intriguing.
Plus, it is much more convenient to scoop a spherical ball up off the ground compared to other shapes. With a spherical ball, you could actually get under it and gravity will roll the ball down into the pocket. Other shapes do not offer this level of ease.
Take a cube for example. Even if you do manage to get under the cube in one motion, gravity will not do the rest of the work for you. You will have to wiggle your pocket around for that cube to even have a chance of settling in. More often than not, that cube is going to pop out back onto the ground.
Would a Non-Spherical Ball Work in the Game of Lacrosse?
With all of this information supporting why a spherical ball is the ideal choice for lacrosse, you are probably curious as to whether a non-spherical ball is even possible to use.
To answer this question, we must first take a little detour and go back in time to the origins of the lacrosse ball.
In the early days of lacrosse, Native Americans had to handcraft lacrosse balls from scratch. Originally, balls were wooden. Eventually, these wooden balls evolved into deerskin balls that were loaded with fur (source). It is hardly likely that these balls were perfectly spherical. Although the Native Americans did the best they could to make the ball resemble a sphere, handcrafting can only take you so far.
Thus, it is likely that some of the earliest lacrosse balls were somewhat lopsided and featured minor imperfections. Although all of these original lacrosse balls were rounded, some of them may have been more ovular in nature due to a combination of minor handcrafting flaws and wear and tear over time.
An oval shaped ball would present many complications with basic lacrosse skills, like throwing, catching, shooting, and even cradling. The scoring would take a considerable hit, but I still think that some talented lacrosse players would be able to pull it off.
I’ve actually tried throwing around an “oval shaped ball” myself. In my first year of lacrosse, I went to a local summer lacrosse camp that was coached by a bunch of high school kids. To try and make the camp as fun as possible, they were always pitching out new and exciting ideas for us to do. As a direct result of this, we ended up having a contest to see which pair of players could catch and throw an egg for the longest period of time without breaking it.
Eggs are definitely round, but by no means are they spherical. Yet, my partner and I were still able to toss that egg back and forth a decent amount of times before the yolk splattered all over my stick. This goes to show that playing with an oval shaped ball is inconvenient, but doable.
Now that you’ve reached the end of the article, you have likely taken one of your first steps into the world of lacrosse. If you’ve recently taken an interest in lacrosse, I highly recommend you check out some of the other posts on my website to discover how great this sport really is.