Is Lacrosse a Contact Sport?


This is one of the first questions parents and players ask when introduced to the sport of lacrosse. It is a crucial piece of information for players to know prior to stepping onto the field for the first time.

There is an undeniable correlation between increased injury rates and increased physical contact in sports. Players and parents must be aware of whether or not lacrosse is a contact sport to know the potential risk factors that they are getting themselves into. Player safety is of the utmost importance to the lacrosse community.

Legality of contact varies between men’s lacrosse and women’s lacrosse. Men’s lacrosse is a contact sport since it is legal for players to body check and stick check opponents. Women’s lacrosse is a non-contact sport. However, it is legal for players to stick check opponents in a controlled manner.

The exact discrepancies between boys lacrosse and girls lacrosse regarding legality of player contact is outlined below. The implications of these differences in rules are also discussed later on in the article.

Why Boys Lacrosse Is a Contact Sport

The legality of body checks and stick checks is what makes boys lacrosse a contact sport. Physical contact is an absolute necessity in lacrosse. Defensive strategy is founded on sound fundamentals of the body check and the stick check. Without the establishment of these legal forms of contact, defense would be virtually impossible to play in boys lacrosse. The whole purpose behind defense is to physically check offensive players to dislodge the ball from their possession and obstruct them from scoring on their net.

Qualifying Criteria for Contact Sports

Contact sports are classified as athletic activities that require bodily collisions between players. Standard examples of contact sports include football, rugby, and ice hockey.

Player Contact Rules for Boys Lacrosse

As aforementioned, the legality of contact differs between boys lacrosse and girls lacrosse. These lacrosse regulations must be fully understood in their entirety in order to uphold the reasons for why boys lacrosse is classified as a contact sport and why girls lacrosse is classified as non-contact sport.

The specific legalities of player contact in boys lacrosse will be analyzed first.

Body Checking

A lacrosse body check is defined as obstructing an opposing player with the body to weaken their stick handling ability.

Body checks constitute most of the player to player collisions in lacrosse. These collisions must adhere to a distinct set of rules to fall within the realm of legality. The explicit rules regarding legal body checks in boys lacrosse are summarized below.

  • Player being checked must be in possession of or within 5 yards of a loose ball (3 for youth)
  • Body checks must be from the front or the side
  • Body checks must be above the waist and below the neck
  • Both hands of the player applying the check shall remain in contact with the crosse

The legality of body checks at the youth level varies. According to the 2017 rules from US Lacrosse, body checking is illegal for U12 and below.

Stick Checking

A lacrosse stick check is defined as using the crosse to hit the crosse of an opponent to weaken their stick handling ability.

Stick checking is another fundamental type of physical contact in the sport of lacrosse. Much like the body check, these deliberate crosse on crosse collisions must adhere to a particular set of guidelines. These precise guidelines concerning legal stick checking in boys lacrosse are summarized below:

  • Stick checks must be under control
  • Checks must be above the waist and below the neck
  • Checks must be from the front or side

The perception of what a controlled stick check looks like may vary from referee to referee. They ultimately have the final say in what constitutes an illegal slash versus a legal stick check.

*The rules listed above are cited from uslacrosse.org. Visit uslacrosse.org for more information on the boys lacrosse rulebook.

Implications of the Legality of Contact in Boys Lacrosse

There are a number of implications that have resulted from the legality of contact in boys lacrosse.

Additional Protective Equipment

For one, boys lacrosse players must wear far more equipment than girls lacrosse players in order to ensure player safety. It is required for boys lacrosse players to wear the following pieces of protective equipment in formal lacrosse games:

  • Helmet (with face mask)
  • Shoulder pads
  • Elbow guards
  • Gloves
  • Mouthguard
  • Cup

Higher Risk of Injury

The allowance of physical contact in boys lacrosse has correlated with a higher risk of injury relative to girls lacrosse. Improperly performed body checks and stick checks further increase the likelihood of injury.

Common Injuries

Examples of common boys lacrosse injuries include, but are not limited to, the following:

ConcussionTypically arises from violent player to player contact, receiving a shot to the helmet, or forcefully crashing the head to the ground.
Shoulder separation and dislocation Generally caused by violent body checks
Hand, wrist, and arm fracturesGenerally caused by forceful stick checks
ACL injury, hamstring strain, and ankle sprainCommonly considered non-contact injuries

The majority of injuries in boys lacrosse (58.3%) occur in the lower extremities rather than the upper extremities.

Trending in the Right Direction

The concern over the legality of physical contact in lacrosse has spurred the lacrosse community to emphasize player safety above everything else. More and more lacrosse organization are focusing their efforts toward building up proper defensive checking. In addition, lacrosse organizations have continued to institute rule changes that promote player safety.

These efforts have made a real difference in minimizing lacrosse injury rates. According to recent studies, the injury rates in NCAA men’s lacrosse is diminishing:

Conclusions: Our estimated injury rates are lower than those from previous college men’s lacrosse research. This may be due to increased injury awareness, advances in injury exercise programs, or rule changes.

The Epidemiology of NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Injuries, 2009/10-2014/2015 Academic Years

This data is extremely encouraging to the lacrosse community. It is likely that major lacrosse organizations will take further preventative measures to protect players. I have no doubt that this downward injury trend will continue in the coming years.

Why Girls Lacrosse is a Non-Contact Sport

The minimal legality of body contact is the primary reason that girls lacrosse is classified as a non-contact sport. There is an increased emphasis on the disciplined approach and footwork of defenders in girls lacrosse. Dislodging the ball from an offensive player requires far more tactical skill on the part of the defender to be performed correctly. Only controlled stick checks that exclusively contact the crosse of the opponent are allowed. Body checks and rough stick checks are thoroughly illegal and are severely penalized if carried out.

Player Contact Rules for Girls Lacrosse

The rules concerning physical contact in girls lacrosse is vastly different from boys lacrosse. The specific legalities of player to player contact in girls lacrosse are outlined below:

  • Any contact made to the body of the opponent must be safe
  • Extension of the elbows to knock the offensive player off balance is not permitted
  • All checks must be performed with the crosse below shoulder level
  • All stick checks must be crosse to crosse and not contact the body of the opponent

*The rules listed above are cited from uslacrosse.org. Visit uslacrosse.org for more information on the girls lacrosse rulebook.

Implications of the Illegality of Rough Contact in Girls Lacrosse

There are several ramifications that are a direct consequence of these strict rules regarding physical contact in girls lacrosse.

Fewer Pieces of Protective Equipment

An obvious consequence is that girls lacrosse players do not require nearly as much protective gear as boys lacrosse players. In fact, the only protective pieces of equipment that field players require are goggles and a mouthpiece. Goalies, on the other hand, require much of the same protective equipment that boys lacrosse players wear.

Lower Risk of Injury

The minimal legality of contact between opposing players drastically cuts down the injury rates in girls lacrosse. Nonetheless, the potential for illegal contact in girls lacrosse still leaves tremendous room for injury.

Common Injuries

Examples of girls lacrosse injuries include, but are not limited to, the following:

ConcussionTypically arises from ball to player contact or stick to player contact
SprainGenerally considered a non-contact injury
ContusionTypically arises from ball to player contact or stick to player contact

There are a higher amount of injuries to the head and facial areas in girls lacrosse relative to boys lacrosse primarily due to the lack of helmets.

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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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