When athletes look into the prospect of lacrosse as a potential sport, some individuals may have concerns about whether or not the sport is inherently violent. This is particularly true of parents of young athletes that have no desire to see their children get mixed up in something that may do them more harm than good.
Lacrosse is a contact sport, but not a violent sport. Players are allowed to use their physicality to gain an advantage over an opponent, but this contact is regulated to ensure player safety. These rules, combined with advances in protective equipment, have steadily decreased lacrosse injury rates.
Although lacrosse has occasionally received a bad wrap for being too violent, the lacrosse community is doing everything within its power to remove this unfavorable element from the game. We will uncover the explicit reasons as to why lacrosse is not a violent sport and why so many individuals wrongly presume that lacrosse is violent by nature.
Why Lacrosse is Considered a Contact Sport and Not a Violent Sport
On multiple instances, I have referred to this distinction between a contact sport and a violent sport. By definition, a contact sport is a sport whereby players are legally allowed to collide with one another to put themselves in the best position to make a play. A violent sport, on the other hand, is a sport whereby the participants engage in acts of unnecessary brutality, typically resulting in severe injury.
This is an important difference to make, as contact sports do not condone such cruel behavior. With that being said, let’s take at some of the specific ways in which lacrosse has taken steps to dissociate itself from being violently perceived.
Heavily Regulated Body Checks
The regulation of body checks has been a considerable point of emphasis in the most recent rule changes instituted by the lacrosse rules committee. The lacrosse community has made it their primary mission to root out any and all injury concerns over body checks completely.
They have done this by making the rules regarding body checks as clear as possible to interpret. For example, not only has US Lacrosse further clarified the body checking rules by spelling it out easily in the rulebook, they have provided referees with example videos of illegal body checks during their training to know what to look for (source).
This way, player can develop solid habits of how to body check early to minimize the potential risk of injury for themselves as well as other players. These straightforward rules also help coaches to instill proper body checking technique into younger players so they can avoid falling into bad habits. Referees even benefit in that they can keep some semblance of consistency in their penalty calls during games.
For example, US lacrosse actually created an exclusive penalty specifically meant to punish “targeting” at the youth level (source).
Players that deliberately aim to harm a defenseless player via an illegal body check, particularly to the head and neck area, are issued a three minute, unreleasable penalty. For reference, this is the harshest penalty in lacrosse, aside from disqualification. US Lacrosse is making a definitive stand against this type of vicious behavior in lacrosse in an attempt to pave a brighter future for the sport.
In light of all the glaring concerns that have arisen over helmet to helmet contact in football, this is a very smart move on the part of the lacrosse rules committee. By setting the precedent now, any foreseeable injury problems that may have come up in the future have been greatly minimized.
Precise, Controlled Stick Checks
The lacrosse community has also taken the same efforts to monitor the safety of defensive stick checks.
Contrary to popular opinion, defensive players are not allowed to endlessly whack opponents with no real intention of stripping the ball away. This may have been the case in the early days of lacrosse, but not now.
Defenseman are meant to use stick checks in a controlled, calculated manner to generate turnovers. They’re not intended to maim the other player. They’re intended to disrupt their stick handling ability. As players accrue more experience, this difference becomes abundantly clear.
The lacrosse rules committee has handled the issue of illegal stick checks much in the same way that it has handled the issue of illegal body checks. They’ve taken great pains to rewrite the rules regarding illegal stick checks to make them crystal clear. They also employed the tactic of releasing videos of how referees can differentiate between an illegal defensive stick check and a legal defensive stick check (source).
Not to beat a dead horse here, but these seemingly insignificant actions have done wonders for the safety of lacrosse. Openly defining the line of what is legal versus illegal helps all lacrosse players to know how to properly conduct themselves on the field. This supports a safer environment for players and decreases the risk of any violent deeds from potentially taking place in the future.
Superior Protective Equipment
Moreover, the stipulations for what constitutes as safe protective equipment in lacrosse has gone up over the years.
For one, lacrosse players wear a considerable amount of protective equipment. It’s mandatory for players to wear the following protective equipment in order to even be admitted into the game:
- Shoulder Pads
- Arm Pads
Lacrosse officials conduct spontaneous equipment checks throughout the game to ensure that every player is wearing the appropriate gear. They do this not just because the rulebook says to do so, but because they genuinely care about the health and safety of the players.
Keep in mind that the items listed above are only the required pieces of equipment. There are plenty of players that wear other protective accessories, such as rib pads and bicep pads. The majority of lacrosse players also wear a protective cup. If you don’t wear a cup, you’re playing with fire my friend. Trust me, that’s one risk you don’t want to tangle with.
Even with all of these equipment necessities, the lacrosse community has even take player safety a step further by instituting more stringent guidelines regarding what equipment is and isn’t allowed during gameplay.
The most extensive rule modification has to do with the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, otherwise known as NOCSAE.
As of late, NOCSAE has upped their standards for what qualifies as safe protective equipment for lacrosse. This major change in equipment standards deemed two popular lacrosse helmets illegal, forcing manufacturers to go back to the drawing board and devise a completely new line of safe, secure helmets (source).
Although this abrupt transition was met with backlash from players and manufacturers alike, it has helped to further dispel the notion of lacrosse being considered as a violent game. NOCSAE has demonstrated that they’re willing to change the narrative and make lacrosse a safer sport, even if they take a bit of fire because of it.
It seems as though this trend is likely only to continue in the coming years. Now, all lacrosse balls must be stamped with a NOCSAE certification to be considered safe for play. Starting in 2022, lacrosse players will also have to wear shoulder pads that are NOCSAE certified at the NCAA level (source). To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if this NOCSAE certification requirement progressed to the arm pads and gloves as well.
Even in the absence of these recent rule modifications, I still believe that protective equipment would be heading in the right direction given all of the technological innovations that lacrosse manufacturers are presenting year after year. With each passing season, the equipment only seems like it’s getting more lightweight, more durable, and, most importantly, more safe.
Dwindling Injury Rates Among Players
With all of these ruling clarifications and advances in equipment, there has been a marked decrease in injury rates.
In a study conducted from 1988 to 2004, injury rates among college lacrosse players were recorded by calculating the amount of injuries per 1,000 athlete-exposures. An athlete exposure was defined as a player that participated directly in a lacrosse practice or game. After collecting all of the data and crunching all of the numbers, the injury rate was 12.58 injuries per 1,000 athlete-exposures (source).
There was then a related study where injury data was documented from the years 2009 to 2015. A similar method of monitoring lacrosse injury rates was put into practice for this study. Once all of the data was finalized, the injury rate came in at 5.29 per 1,000 athlete-exposures, a noticeable drop-off from the decade prior (source).
This further illustrates that lacrosse is trending away from the violent mantra that was initially linked with the sport. As lacrosse has continued to be refined and reworked, it has evolved into a far safer sport for young athletes to partake in.
Reasons Why People Mistakenly Believe that Lacrosse is a Violent Sport
Now that we’ve presented the evidence for why lacrosse is not a violent sport, I think it’s best to take a look at the opposing perspective to understand why some people refuse to believe that lacrosse is safe.
Malicious Body and Stick Checks
Some of the major contributors to the perspective that lacrosse is a violent sport are the videos circulating online that present lacrosse in a negative light, featuring clips of players performing particularly vicious or reckless defensive checks.
Although these clips are not an accurate representation of the sport, it’s hard for people to know this, especially if they’ve only ever been exposed to these clips. Contact is undoubtedly an integral part of lacrosse and most players know how to go about it in the right way. But with every contact sport, there are bound to be a few instances where players take the contact too far. Unfortunately, these few instances can be portrayed as the norm if they’re blasted across all media platforms.
If these same people only took the time to watch a lacrosse game in its entirety, I strongly believe that their perception of lacrosse would change completely.
Extracurricular Fighting After the Play
The can also be said of extracurricular fighting after a play. Although the lacrosse community does not condone these actions at the youth, high school, or collegiate level, it does happen once in a blue moon, just like every other sport.
At times, tensions can flare up during a lacrosse game, particularly in a tightly contested matchup. Occasionally, there are players that don’t know to handle their emotions. Instead of using their emotions to elevate their level of play, they allow their emotions to take control of them and end up initiating a physical altercation with the other team.
Some of these lacrosse fights have gone viral in the past, but what people fail to realize is that the lacrosse officials have a zero tolerance policy for this kind of behavior. It’s standard for players that engage in fighting to be met with a three minute, unreleasable penalty or even a complete disqualification from the game. Obviously, the specifics of the penalty are contingent on the severity of the fighting.
In short, fighting is a rarity at the youth and high school level of lacrosse and it’s not something that the lacrosse community supports.
How the Lacrosse Community is Working to Promote Player Safety
Although lacrosse will never be a gentle sport, everybody involved in the lacrosse community is taking extreme measures to make the sport as safe as possible. They’re also looking to eliminate any potential pretense of violence that could be associated with lacrosse while doing so.
The Center for Sport Science
We’ve already discussed how the recent rule clarifications and advances in equipment have had a positive impact on player safety, but what we haven’t talked about is how US Lacrosse has created a Center for Sport Science solely dedicated toward “the study and improvement of safety and performance in lacrosse” (source).
The Center for Sport Science has issued position statements and best practices for youth lacrosse players, recorded valuable research on lacrosse injuries to better promote player safety, and has even acted as a worthwhile resource on how to support lacrosse players that have substance abuse problems.
To date, US lacrosse has raised roughly one million dollars in funds toward discovering ways to make lacrosse a better, safer environment for players.
Furthermore, US lacrosse has also made a considerable effort toward concussion prevention.
Unfortunately, there are still players every year that are diagnosed with concussions as a result of lacrosse-related incidents. Concussion rates have plummeted in recent years, but it’s not time to take the foot off the gas pedal just yet. US Lacrosse is attacking the issue of concussions just as vigorously as it did years ago when lacrosse was first bursting onto the scene.
They have submitted some extreme contributions to the concussion awareness effort by providing various resources as to how youth players should best avoid head injuries on the field. They also offer valuable information on how to go about handling a concussion related injury during the recovery process (source).
Injury Prevention and Conditioning
Lastly, US Lacrosse has made remarkable efforts to help teach players how to take proper precautionary measures against injury.
Typically, youth lacrosse players are not the most knowledgable in this department. In fact, I remember skipping over this area entirely as a kid. Needless to say, I was never the best at maintaining a strict training regiment as a child.
Regardless, US Lacrosse teaches youth players valuable lessons about lacrosse-specific training methods to strengthen the body for the standard rigor of games.
They also touch on the danger of overtraining. Many youth lacrosse players fail to realize that training excessively can actually do more harm than good. If youth players don’t allow themselves a break every once in a while, serious injury could result. Not to mention that this also helps to prevent burnout.
At some point, every young player has to come to grips with the hard truth that their body is not invincible. Rather than learn this lesson the hard way, US Lacrosse is doing their very best to eliminate this issue before it ever even has a chance to manifest itself.
There are definitely still people out there that regard as lacrosse as a violent sport. Although they’re entitled to their opinion, I myself have to respectfully disagree. After sifting through all the recent news and research, everything supports that lacrosse is merely guilty of being a contact sport. Nothing more.
Lacrosse has tightened up the rules regarding contact and elevated the safety standards of equipment across the board. The injury rates reflect positively on these efforts by showing a stark drop-off.
Finally, US Lacrosse has made tremendous strides toward promoting player safety through the avenues of research and informational distribution. The magnitude of these efforts can never be quantified, but they’re definitely helping to point lacrosse in the right direction.