Learning the in’s and the out’s of an unfamiliar sport can be a challenge. To fully understand everything, you need to start off with the basics. When people are first trying to grasp the fundamental concepts of lacrosse, one of the very first things they ask is whether lacrosse is for boys or for girls.
Lacrosse is a sport for both boys and girls. However, the rules for boys lacrosse drastically differ from girls lacrosse, to the point that they’re practically considered two distinct sports. Both versions of lacrosse are steadily growing in participation from year to year.
Since boys lacrosse and girls lacrosse have such different rules, we will analyze each of these sports individually to understand how they’re played. Then, we will have all the necessary knowledge to properly discuss the primary differences between boys and girls lacrosse. Read until the end to view some promising statistical trends that prove that lacrosse is on the rise.
How Boys Lacrosse is Played
The Object of the Game
The object of boys lacrosse is to score more goals than the opposing team. The team with the most amount of goals at the end of regulation time wins the game.
How Offense Works
The main objective of the offense is to put the ball into the back of the net. To do this, players must use their lacrosse stick to shoot the ball past the goalie and into the goal. A goal is only counted once the ball completely passes the goal line.
In addition to shooting, players also use their lacrosse stick to carry and pass the ball on offense. Players are allowed to pass the ball to teammates to set them up in a good position to score. Players may also keep the ball themselves and try to dodge past defenders to put themselves in scoring position.
In boys lacrosse, a team is permitted to have six players in the offensive zone, but no more. It is in a team’s best interest to utilize all six offensive players on the field in an effective manner to manipulate the defense and create scoring opportunities.
How Defense Works
The primary objective of the defense is to prevent the opposing team from scoring and to get the ball back to the offense so that their team can score themselves.
Defensive players are allowed to use physical contact to stop opposing offensive players from scoring. There are two main ways that defensive players guard against opponents: body checks and stick checks.
Body checking is a means by which defensive players physically push opposing ball carriers off of their intended path, which impedes their opponent’s ability to make plays on offense. Stick checking is a maneuver where defensive players hit an opponent’s stick and gloves in an attempt to obstruct their stick handling ability.
Each of these tactics has the potential to generate turnovers so that the defense can deliver possession back to the offense.
How Girls Lacrosse is Played
The Object of the Game
The object of girls lacrosse is identical to that of boys lacrosse—to score more goals than the opposing team by the end of the game.
How Offense Works
The ultimate goal of the offense is to put the ball in the back of the net. Players accomplish this by putting themselves in solid scoring position and shooting toward exposed areas on the net that the goalie cannot cover.
The lacrosse stick is also used for the purposes of carrying the ball and passing the ball. Just like boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse players do their best to move the ball to open spots on the field where they can get off a high percentage shot.
In girls lacrosse, teams are granted seven players on the offensive end of the field. The offense use every one of these players to spread the field and create openings for potential scoring opportunities.
How Defense Works
The main objective of the defense is to stop the opposing team from putting the ball in the back of the net by shutting down all of their scoring opportunities.
Unlike boys lacrosse, rough physical contact is not allowed. Players are only allowed to apply light, technical stick checks on an opponent’s lacrosse stick to dislodge the ball.
Since rough physical contact is not an option, girls lacrosse players must guard opposing ball carriers with their footwork. By staying in front of the opponent and pressuring them toward one side of the field, the ball carrier is not left with many scoring options. Of course, staying in front of shifty ball carriers is a lot easier said than done.
The Main Differences Between Boys and Girls Lacrosse
Now that you have a basic understanding of how boys and girls lacrosse works, let’s take a look at some of the major differences between these two versions of lacrosse. Knowing these prominent distinctions will ultimately increase your lacrosse IQ and help you learn the more subtle aspects of the sport.
Boys lacrosse features three different stick sizes:
- Short Stick (40 – 42″): This type of stick is geared more toward the offensive player, as players are better able to protect a shorter stick from defensive checks.
- Long Stick (52 – 72″): This type of stick is specialized for defenders. The extended reach allows defenders to throw stick checks while remaining a comfortable distance away from the ball carrier.
- Goalie Stick (40 – 72″): This type of stick is designed for saving oncoming shots, which explains the larger surface area of the top portion of the stick (the lacrosse head).
In contrast, girls lacrosse only features two different stick sizes:
- Field Player Stick (35.50 – 43.25″): This type of stick is used by every other player except the goalie. It only comes in one size, so players don’t have to worry about choosing between a short pole and a long pole like boys lacrosse players.
- Goalie Stick (35.50 – 48″): This type is reserved for goalies. It is fitted with a lacrosse head that has a considerable surface area so that goalies can more easily stop opposing shots from going into the goal.
Boys lacrosse pockets are considerably deeper than girls lacrosse pockets. A standard boys lacrosse pocket is slightly less than one ball deep. In contrast, the ball barely sits below the stringing holes in a standard girls lacrosse pocket, with little to no pocket depression.
When conducting a legal stick test in boys lacrosse, officials hold the lacrosse head so that their eyes are level with the string holes on the head. The head is held parallel to the ground. From here, the officials must discern whether the sidewall string interferes with their ability to see the entirety of the ball as it rests within the pocket.
If the sidewall string obstructs a portion of the ball from view, then the pocket depth is legal. On the other hand, if the whole ball can be viewed as it sits in the pocket, the pocket is deemed illegal.
In girls lacrosse, referees hold the stick to eye level like they do in boys lacrosse, but the way they conduct the legal stick test is completely different. Rather than analyzing the sidewall string, like in boys lacrosse, referees look at the top portion of the ball and where it sits relative to the head’s plastic sidewall.
In order for a girls lacrosse pocket to be legal, the top of the ball must sit above the head’s plastic sidewall. If not, the pocket will be deemed illegal.
Pocket Stringing Materials
If you look closely in the image under the pocket depth section, you may notice that the pockets are also constructed out of different materials.
Boys lacrosse pockets feature mesh. Lacrosse mesh is a factory produced stringing material that’s pre-woven with multiple stringing threads in a diamond configuration. It forms the foundation for the boys lacrosse pocket, taking away the need for players to meticulously lace the diamond configuration themselves. The mesh is manually latched to the plastic head by way of sturdy nylon threads.
Mesh is not allowed in girls lacrosse, so a boys lacrosse pocket would actually be considered illegal in girls lacrosse. Consequently, all girls lacrosse pockets are modeled after the traditional route, with each pocket strung by hand. Instead of mesh, a combination of leathers and crosslace make up the foundation of the pocket.
Another point of differentiation is the protective equipment. Since these two versions of lacrosse have different stances regarding rules of contact, the amount of protective equipment required reflects this difference in ruling.
A side-by-side comparison of the protective equipment is provided below.
|Boys Lacrosse||Girls Lacrosse|
It is evident from the chart above that boys lacrosse players must wear considerably more protective gear than girls lacrosse players.
Rules Concerning Defensive Checking
There is also a marked distinction in how defensive checks are performed in these two versions of lacrosse.
We touched on this a bit earlier, but boys lacrosse players have the ability to aggressively stick check and body check opponents as a means of defensive pressure.
Rough contact is illegal in girls lacrosse, so much of their defensive prowess stems from quick footwork and matching sticks with opponents. They can only lightly check opponents on their stick to dislodge the ball.
Face-Off versus Draw
To establish a fair means of possession at the beginning of a quarter or following a goal, the face-off and draw are used. Although these procedures share the same overarching goal of offering teams an opportunity to fight for possession, the face-off and draw differ in a lot of ways.
The face-off is a staple aspect of boys lacrosse. Two players crouch down across from each other at center field with the ball placed directly between them. As soon as the whistle blows, these two players vie for possession with their reaction speed and strength. The boys lacrosse face-off is a highly physical endeavor.
Girls lacrosse uses the draw to establish fair possession. Two players stand at center field across from each other and hold their sticks out horizontally. The referee places the ball between these horizontally held sticks. Once the whistle blows, the players fling their sticks up and away so that ball is thrust high into the air. The players then attempt to scoop up the loose ball into their sticks.
Number of Players on the Field
The maximum number of players allowed on the field at any given time is also a point of distinction.
A boys lacrosse is permitted to have a maximum of 10 players on the field. The positional breakdown of these players is as follows:
- 3 midfielders
- 3 attackers
- 3 defenders
- 1 goalie
In contrast, a girls lacrosse team is permitted to have a maximum of 12 players on the field. There are two additional midfielders are allowed on the field in girls lacrosse:
- 5 midfielders
- 3 attackers
- 3 defenders
- 1 goalie
The size of the field is also slightly different, given that girls lacrosse has more players on the field compared to boys lacrosse. There must be additional field space to accommodate these extra players.
- Field Dimensions of Boys Lacrosse: 110 yards long by 60 yards wide
- Field Dimensions of Girls Lacrosse: 120 yards long by 70 yards wide
The additional field players and more spacious field dimensions of girls lacrosse makes the particulars of offensive and defensive strategy vastly different from boys lacrosse.
Lastly, the specific markings in boys lacrosse and girls lacrosse contrast from one another. The exact field design for each sport is outlined below:
|Boys Lacrosse||Girls Lacrosse|
|2 Creases||2 Creases|
|Half Field Line||Half Field Line|
|2 Restraining Boxes||2 Restraining Lines|
|2 Arcs (8 Meters from Crease)|
|2 Arcs (12 Meters from Crease)|
In boys lacrosse, each side of the field is marked off with restraining boxes. These restraining boxes confine attackmen and defensemen to one specific area while possession is being established during the face-off.
Instead of restraining boxes, girls lacrosse has restraining lines. The restraining lines breaks the field into thirds. Only 7 players are ever allowed into the offensive zone and only 8 players are ever allowed into the defensive zone (including the goalie). This prevents crowding, creating space for offenses to operate and score goals.
The presence of field arcs in girls lacrosse is another difference. These arcs assist in officials in the administration of fouls, as players are positioned at 8 or 12 meters from the crease depending on the severity of the violation.
Why are Boys Lacrosse and Girls Lacrosse so Different from One Another?
The main source of all of these differences between boys lacrosse and girls lacrosse is the contrasting views on physical contact. Had both versions of lacrosse held similar views regarding physical contact, many of these difference in ruling would fail to manifest.
For example, since boys lacrosse is heavily contact oriented, the mandatory equipment is strongly influenced. Boys lacrosse players must wear more protective equipment so that they’re safe on the field. If girls lacrosse players shared similar views on physical contact, they would have to wear identical gear to that of boys lacrosse players.
Another example is pocket depth. Since girls lacrosse players aren’t allowed to roughly stick check each other, the lacrosse pockets are shallower to even the playing field between the offense and defense. This way, it’s much more difficult for players to carry the ball endlessly around the field. If boys lacrosse followed this same model of little to no contact, their pockets would be shallow as well.
Put simply, if you trace the roots of all the individual differences between boys lacrosse and girls lacrosse listed above, you will find that most of the rule changes are linked to the divergent attitudes concerning physical contact.
The Growing Popularity of Boys and Girls Lacrosse
Although boys lacrosse and girls lacrosse do have their differences, they’re both growing steadily in participation with each passing year.
US Lacrosse holds an annual survey to track lacrosse participation and compare the current statistics to previous years. Both male and female participation is recorded, offering an approximate estimate of how many players are actively playing lacrosse today.
The first ever annual survey that US Lacrosse held was in 2001. This 2001 survey indicated that there were only 253,931 active lacrosse players—both male and female combined (source). That means that total participation has risen 227% over this 18 year span!
This trend only looks as if it will continue in the future, which is a good sign for the lacrosse community. Hopefully, the game will continue to innovate and push in the right direction.
The Bottom Line
Lacrosse is a sport for both girls and boys. Although both of these sports center around the lacrosse stick, they’re a lot different from each other. This is mainly because physical contact is legal in boys lacrosse and illegal in girls lacrosse.
Regardless, lacrosse continues to grow and prosper every year. So if you’re interested in joining lacrosse, give it a try! There are many other athletes just like you that are picking up a lacrosse stick for their very first time.