How Long Can You Hold the Ball in Lacrosse?

For newcomers to the sport of lacrosse, learning even the most fundamental rules may seem like a bit of an intimidating task. However, if you break down the rules into understandable chunks, many novices find that grasping the basic concepts of lacrosse is not that hard after all. Knowing how long you can hold on to the ball is definitely a solid place to start.

Lacrosse players can hold onto the ball as long as they want to in most game situations. There are only three real instances where a lacrosse player has a set time limit on how long they can retain possession:

  1. issuing of a stall warning
  2. expiring shot clock (at collegiate and professional level)
  3. goalkeeper possession in crease

Aside from these three game scenarios, lacrosse players are able to possess the ball for as long as they see fit. There are a couple of reasons why this rule is the way it is, which will be discussed later on in the article.

How Long Can Lacrosse Players Hold Onto the Ball Under Normal Circumstances?

In standard game conditions, lacrosse players can generally hold on to the ball as long as they want. Lacrosse ball possession is much like basketball in this respect.

Think of your average middle school basketball game. There is always a diversity of skill sets on the team at that age level. There are players that can dribble the ball easily and players that haven’t quite mastered it yet.

Often times, the players that are more comfortable with dribbling hold onto the ball a lot longer than the other players. The only thing that holds the players from dribbling the ball for as long as they want is their comfortability with the ball and potential defensive pressure.

Lacrosse works very much in the same way. The only stipulations that hold a player back from possessing the ball for as long as they want is ball carrying skills and potential on ball pressure.

It is certainly within the realm of possibility for a player to hold the ball for a minute straight if they are capable of doing so. Whether or not this strategy is recommended or not is a whole different story. The fact remains that one player can carry the ball for an entire possession if that is what they prefer.

Special Rules that Influence How Long Players Can Hold Onto the Ball

As aforementioned, there are three explicit occasions where lacrosse players can only hold onto the ball for a certain length of time. You are probably wondering, “What is so special about these three scenarios?”

Issuing of a Stall Warning

The stall warning is enacted when a lacrosse team is deliberately keeping the ball from play. In other words, they show no intentions of looking to attack the goal.

This is a standard tactic for teams to implement when they are playing in a 5v6 situation due to a prior penalty. Also, in the last two minutes of the game, a stall warning is always called when the winning team has possession.

Referees enact the stall warning rule to force the possessing team to keep the ball in the attack area. For those of you that do not know, the attack area is the confined zone near the goal. Once the stall warning has officially been issued, the possessing team has ten seconds to bring the ball to the attack area and keep it there. Failure to do so results in a turnover.

In this scenario, players cannot hold onto the ball outside of the attack area as long as they want. If they do not reach the offensive zone within the allotted time, they will give the ball back to the other team.

This rule exists at the youth and high school level only. At the upper competitive tiers of lacrosse, stall warnings do not exist. Rather, collegiate and professional level lacrosse teams adhere to the shot clock rule instead. In the next section, we will take a look at the shot clock rule and exactly how it impacts the length of time that players are able to retain possession.

Expiring Shot Clock

In recent years, the shot clock has been introduced into the lacrosse rulebook at the higher rungs of lacrosse. Consequently, players are only able to possess the ball for a specified length of time on offense before they must get a shot on goal.

At the collegiate level, this shot clock lasts 80 seconds. Teams have 20 seconds to clear the ball to the offensive zone and another 60 seconds to get a shot on goal. One player can still hold on to the ball during this entire 80 second timeframe. However, the ball carrier must shoot the ball on goal once the shot clock is about to expire. Otherwise, possession will be forfeited to the other team.

This same concept applies to the professional level of lacrosse. The Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) has a shot clock that lasts 52 seconds. This sets a definitive time limit on how long one player can hold the ball.

Goalkeeper in The Crease

Another special scenario where a lacrosse player cannot hold the ball for as long as they want is when the goalkeeper possesses the ball in the crease.

The crease is the circular area around the net that is reserved for the goalkeeper only. Goalkeepers make saves and scoop up ground balls on the crease all the time. However, once they officially have possession in the crease, they are only allotted four seconds to move the ball from the crease area.

If the ball is not moved out of the crease before these four seconds are up, possession is relinquished back over to the opponent.

The Rationale Behind Loosely Regulated Possession of the Ball

The rules surrounding ball possession were not done haphazardly. There are a couple of calculated reasons as to why lacrosse players are able hold on to the ball for so long.

Freedom of Movement

The number one aspect that the ball possession rules are so loose is to emphasize unrestricted movement.

Lacrosse players do not want to have to worry about getting rid of the ball every time they have possession. They have enough to worry about with just adapting to the shifting circumstances of the game around them. Having to keep track of an internal clock or a personal step count would severely restrict their motion on the field.

With the current rules of ball possession, offenses are able to take advantage of vulnerabilities in the defense as they present themselves. They can focus all of their effort toward the game as opposed to diverting some of their attention away to whether or not they can legally carry the ball.

Up Tempo Style of Play

In addition, this type of loosely regulated ball possession keeps the pace of play up.

Lacrosse has been referred to as the “Fastest Game on Two Feet” because of how quickly players are able to run the ball from one end of the field to the other. Teams would not be able to accomplish this kind of speedy style of play with strict rules governing ball possession.

Players need to have the confidence that they can hold the ball for as long as they want to run freely. The lacrosse community wants this hasty, run and gun style of play. This is why the lacrosse higher-ups have kept this freedom of ball possession around for so long. It is one of the major draws of the sport.

Makes the Game Game More Exciting

Moreover, this phenomenon also adds another layer of unpredictability to the game.

Defenses have a challenging time predicting where the ball will go when a ball carrier has possession. This is because offensive players have so many weapons at their disposal. They can pass, shoot, sprint away, change direction, accelerate, or directly dodge against defenders.

You may have noticed that many of these offensive weapons involve running with the ball. If ball carriers were stripped of the ability to hold on to the ball for as long as they wanted, many of these offensive threats would be thrown out of the window. This makes it a whole lot easier for the defense to stifle any scoring threats.

Like it or not, lacrosse fans like to see offense more than anything else. They want to see high scoring bouts where teams are constantly going back and forth. Freedom of ball possession is a major contributor to this allure and excitement.

Reasons Why Lacrosse Players Don’t Excessively Hold the Ball

So now that you know that lacrosse players can hold on to the ball for extended periods of time, you are likely asking yourself, “Why don’t they just hold the ball, run straight at the goal, and score? Why do they even pass the ball at all?”

I asked this question myself when I was first introduced to the sport. It was in my very first game where I learned the reason as to why players give the ball up. And trust me, I learned the hard way!

Defensive Checks Leave Some Bruises

In my first game, I attempted to take the ball straight toward the goal. Almost immediately I was swarmed with hard stick checks and body checks from all over the place. Needless to say, these checks left some bruises.

This is actually one of the major reasons why ball carriers stray away from taking the ball straight down the middle on a direct path toward the goal. They do not want to get rocked with checks.

Plus, losing possession of the ball in these types of situations is much more likely. From an outside perspective, it seems fairly easy to retain possession of the ball. This may be the case when a ball carrier is left uncontested, but it is a completely different game in the face of heavy defensive pressure.

Lacrosse defenders have a knack for throwing precise checks that dislodge the ball from the lacrosse stick. This should come as no surprise, especially considering that their entire position is founded on the idea of causing turnovers.

Easy for the Defense to Cover One Player

Offenses that are based around one singular playmaker generally do not find very much success.

This is because all lacrosse players have certain tendencies. For example, many ball carriers prefer to dodge to their right side given that they are right hand dominant. Defenses eventually pick up on these little tendencies as they acquire more and more exposure to one particular ball carrier.

If a singular ball carrier is entrusted with making all of the plays on the offensive end, it is much easier for a defense to make the adjustments necessary to shut down any scoring opportunities.

So although lacrosse players can hold the ball for a prolonged period of time, it is not recommended.

Will The Rules Surrounding Ball Possession Change in the Future?

The lacrosse community is persistently trying to make the game faster and more appealing to a broader audience. Therefore, it is possible that we may see the shot clock rules that have been introduced to collegiate lacrosse trickle down the line to the youth and high school level. It would make sense given that more possessions would equate to a much quicker game tempo.

If these rules were instituted, the amount of time that youth and high school lacrosse players would be able to hold the ball would be capped at a certain timeframe. Although this would speed up the game, it is hard to believe that youth lacrosse programs would actually institute a shot clock given that players have yet to really learn how to handle the ball. If anything, the introduction of the shot clock would primarily be geared toward the high school level.

It is hard to say how likely it is that these rules will come into effect. It is definitely a topic of conversation in the lacrosse community. But again, all of this is speculation. Nobody really knows for sure what the future holds.

Sources: 1 2 3

Austin Carmody

I am the owner of Lacrosse Pack. I enjoy hitting the local lacrosse fields and honing in on the craft in my free time.

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