The 4 Major Lacrosse Positions: A Beginner’s Guide

The positions of lacrosse are a fundamental element of the game that is crucial to the overall understanding of the sport. In fact, it is one of the very first aspects that new players and spectators should take the time to learn.

There are four major lacrosse positions:

  • Attacker – Specialized for scoring goals.
  • Midfielder – Intermediaries between the offense and defense.
  • Defender – Prevent opposing scoring opportunities.
  • Goalkeeper – Directly save opposing shots from going into the goal.

Above is a simple summary of these major lacrosse positions and what they generally do. However, there is a substantial amount of underlying elements that will help to make the game of lacrosse easier to grasp in the long run. For this reason, I put together a comprehensive guide to answer all of your questions about the details of lacrosse positions.

We will start by analyzing the position of the attacker.

1.) Attacker

Major Responsibilities

Score Goals: The primary responsibility of the attacker is to put points on the board for their team. It does not matter if they score the points themselves or they set teammates up in a position to score, as long as they continue to manufacture points.

Coordinate the Offense: Attackers must ensure that the offense is running smoothly. This means telling teammates where to position themselves on the field and calling out the best play to counteract the defense.

The most effective way of accomplishing this is for an attacker to identify which matchups to exploit on the defense. For example, if there is a weak defenseman guarding one of the most talented attackers on the team, it is best to isolate this matchup as quickly as possible.

Set the Pace of Play: Possession time is crucial to winning lacrosse games. But feeding off of momentum is important as well.

Attackers need to find a happy medium to satisfy possession time and exploit the opportunities that the defense is giving them.

If the team just finished a long, exhausting stint on defense, it would probably be best to give the defense a breather and slow the game down on offense. However, if there is a 4v3 fast break opportunity, it would probably be best to take advantage of this transitional opportunity.

Not So Obvious Responsibility

Riding: Attackers are also responsible for ‘riding,’ a lacrosse strategy where players attempt to force the opposition to turn the ball over prior to reaching their defensive zone.

Attackers have limited defensive responsibility, but this is the one area where attackers can shine on defense.

As soon as opposing defensemen receive the ball on a clear, it is the responsibility of attackers to press these weak ball carriers. The purpose of this is to get the ball back in the hands of the offense as quickly as possible.

Standard Location on Field

Attackers are positioned on the offensive half of the field for the majority of the lacrosse game.

When the offense establishes the half field set, attackers are typically positioned at or below goal line extended. This is because most of the dodges executed by attackers originate from “the X,” the area that is 5-10 yards directly behind the goal.

Amount of Attackers on the Field

It is standard for a team to have three attackers on the field at any given time.

Special Equipment

Short Stick: Attackers utilize lacrosse sticks that are shorter in length, measuring anywhere from 40-42 inches.

Narrow Lacrosse Head: It is standard for attackers to utilize narrower lacrosse heads that help to promote accuracy and ball retention of their lacrosse pocket.

Although wider lacrosse heads offer improved catching ability, attackers typically have superior stick skills. Thus, a wider lacrosse head is unnecessary. Attackers would rather have the slight advantage of accuracy and hold relative to an improved ability to catch the ball.

Comparable Sports Position – Basketball Point Guard

The position of attack in lacrosse is strikingly similar to the position of a basketball point guard. Some shared characteristics between lacrosse attackers and basketball point guards are illustrated below.

  • In charge of coordinating the offense
  • Most talented ball handlers on the team
  • Must be comfortable in the face of defensive pressure
  • Emphasis on quickness and agility
  • Typically the most celebrated position on the team

Qualities that Make a Great Lacrosse Attacker

First-Rate Stick Skills: Lacrosse attackers need to have a superior set of stick skills in order to succeed. Attackers should have no problem with the offensive fundamentals of passing and catching. For these players, these basic offensive skills should be second nature.

Exceptional Dodging Ability: Great lacrosse attackers are also extremely quick with their acceleration and change of direction.

The success of the offensive hinges upon the ability of attackers to dodge past defenders. The qualities of speed and agility are necessary to get past these top tier defenders. Attackers need to have a complex set of advanced dodges that they can rely upon to move past defenders in an efficient manner.

Eyes Up At All Times: As aforementioned, lacrosse attackers primarily dodge from behind the goal. This provides attackers with a unique perspective as they dodge toward goal line extended. This angle of attack allows these players to easily find cutters and open teammates while dodging.

It is for this reason that attackers must constantly survey the field while charging toward the goal. Attackers are charged with the tough task of not only creating opportunities for themselves, but their teammates as well. This cannot be accomplished if their head is down and they are unable to detect the vulnerabilities in the defense.

2.) Midfielder

The midfielder is a bit of an unconventional position in that there are several different subcategories of the position. Each subcategory specializes toward one particular element of the game. These specializations are discussed further in the following sections.

Short Stick Midfielder (“Middie”)

Major Responsibilities

Ensuring Offense and Defense Are Full Strength: The midfielder is the all around player that plays offense and defense. Their primary job is to travel back and forth to make sure that the team is prepped for whatever game situation is thrown at them.

If the opposition is in possession of the ball, the midfielders must sprint back to the defensive zone to match up against opposing midfielders. On the other hand, midfielders are also tasked with the duty of sprinting back up to the offensive zone once the team takes back possession of the ball.

Clearing the Ball to the Offensive Zone: Midfielders are also responsible for carrying the ball to the offensive zone following a save or turnover by the opposition. This is imperative because teams only have a certain allotted time to bring the ball back up the field.

It is not optimal for defensemen to clear the ball because they have longer poles and are weaker at retaining possession of the ball relative to midfielders.

Forcing Defensive Rotations: In addition, midfielders must dodge with a purpose to force defensive rotations and open up scoring opportunities for the offense.

It is standard for midfielders to dodge against their short stick defenders from above goal line extended. Short stick defenders are typically easier to dodge past compared to long pole defenders. Midfield dodges force the defense to abandon their posts and help out, which makes a defensive breakdown much more likely.

Not So Obvious Responsibility

Creating Opportune Matchups for Attackers: Midfielders are also entrusted with the assignment of creating favorable matchups for attackers.

Since the attackers are generally the most offensively skilled players on the team, it is beneficial to pit them against short stick defenders. The only problem is that short stick defenders regularly match up against opposing midfielders, not attackers.

Thus, these matchups must be created artificially by forcing the defense to switch assignments. This is executed through picks, similar to the ones executed basketball. To put it simply, midfielders that are guarded by short stick defenders must set picks on long pole defensemen to open up the attackers.

Standard Location on Field

Short stick midfielders travel back and forth between the offensive half of the field and defensive half of the field.

Designated offensive short stick midfielders spend the majority of their playing time on the offensive half of the field, particularly above goal line extended. Offensive midfielders gravitate toward this field area since they predominantly operate from the top of the box and above the crease.

Designated defensive short stick midfielders typically play on the defensive half of the field above goal line extended. Defensive midfielders match up against opposing offensive midfielders. For this reason, they hover around the top of the box and above the crease as well.

Amount of Short Stick Midfielders on the Field

It is standard for a team to have two to three short stick midfielders on the field depending on the game circumstances. This number varies depending on whether the team is on offense or defense.

Special Equipment

Short Stick: As the position name suggests, short stick midfielders use shorter lacrosse sticks that measure 40-42 inches in length (the same lacrosse stick length as attackers).

All Around Lacrosse Head: Midfielders tend to use an all around lacrosse head because they need to be equipped for both offense and defense. The lacrosse head must be wide enough to scoop up ground balls efficiently and easily catch oncoming passes. At the same time, the lacrosse head must be narrow enough to offer adequate hold and throwing consistency.

Comparable Sports Position – Soccer Midfielder

The lacrosse midfielder resembles many of the positional characteristics of the soccer midfielder. The most prominent of these characteristics are listed below.

  • Play both offense and defense
  • Emphasis on player stamina
  • Specialized offensive midfielders and specialized defensive midfielders at higher levels
  • Tasked with delivering the ball to the offensive zone

Qualities that Make a Great Lacrosse Short Stick Midfielder

Extreme Stamina: Midfielders run the most out of any other position in lacrosse. They have to sprint to get back to the defensive zone, sprint to clear the ball, and run around according to their offensive and defensive schemes on top of that.

Having to run back and forth between offense and defense is an exhausting endeavor. Players that elect to play midfield need to be in top notch condition in order to properly perform their assigned duties.

High Velocity Outside Shot: It is also beneficial for midfielders to have a cannon of a shot. Lacrosse midfielders typically dodge to areas of the field where a 8-10 yard shot is necessary to reach the goal.

In order to sneak the ball past the goalie, shot velocity is an absolute must. This is especially key for time and room shooting. When a midfielder has the proper angle and adequate space to shoot from 8-10 yards away, they need to make sure they bury the ball in the back of the net with a speedy shot.

Circumstantial Awareness: Knowing what to do in complex game situations is another necessary midfielder quality.

For example, midfielders need to know the optimal times to substitute off the field when they are tired. Performing substitutions when the offense has the ball is the best time to substitute off. This is because the ball carrier can slow down the play and wait for the appropriate players to come onto the field.

On the other hand, substituting off of the field when the other team is in possession of the ball is the worst time to do this. It essentially leaves the defensive in a man down situation that the offense can easily exploit.

Long Stick Midfielder (“LSM”)

Major Responsibilities

Lock Down Most Talented Opposing Midfielder: The long stick midfielder has the benefit of a lengthier lacrosse stick. For this reason, they are more equipped to handle offensively talented midfielders on the opposing side.

Unlike close defensemen, long stick midfielders are more comfortable with defending against players from up top as opposed to behind the goal. The long stick midfielder provides a foundational presence up top that the defense can rely upon.

Organize Short Stick Defenders Up Top: Another primary duty of the LSM is to coordinate the short stick defenders up top. Often times, the short stick defenders are the players that offenses pick on the most to dodge against. As a result, the short stick defenders occasionally get left on an island when the ball carrier is preparing to dodge.

The job of the LSM is to ensure that this does not happen. The LSM should be the on ball defender up top whenever possible to stop offenses from exploiting the short stick defender matchups.

Substitute On For Short Stick Defenders Whenever Possible: When the LSM is on the sidelines, they need to call off a short stick midfielder when it is the appropriate time to do so.

Sometimes, the short stick midfielders may be completely unaware that the LSM has not yet subbed on. As a result, they mindlessly sprint back to the defensive zone. The LSM needs to let the midfielders know when one of them needs to sub off so that they can sub another long pole on and maximize the strength of the defense.

Not So Obvious Responsibility

Snatch Up Ground Balls: One underlying responsibility of the LSM is to snatch up ground balls.

The extra length of the lacrosse stick affords long stick midfielders the opportunity to scoop up ground balls from a distance. It is for this reason that at least one LSM is situated one of the wings during the face-off. There is an extremely high likelihood of a ground ball scrum resulting from the face-off. The LSM should exercise their slight ground ball advantage and earn their team as many extra possessions as possible.

Standard Location on Field

Amount of Long Stick Midfielders on the Field

It is typical for a team to have one long stick midfielder out on the field for defense. On offense, the long stick midfielder regularly substitutes off for a short stick midfielder.

Special Equipment

Long Pole: As the positional name suggests, long stick midfielders are equipped with a lengthier lacrosse stick. This stick legally measures anywhere between 52 to 72 inches.

Comparable Sports Position – Basketball Elite Defender

The LSM is similar to an elite defensive player in basketball. The similarities between these two positions are explained below.

  • Coordinate other players on the defensive end
  • Tasked with shutting down some of the most dangerous threats on the opposing team
  • Aggressively contend for loose balls
  • Emphasis on staying hip to hip with the opposition

Qualities that Make a Great Lacrosse Long Stick Midfielder

Agile Footwork: Long stick midfielders need superior footwork to keep up with shifty offensive midfielders. It is imperative that long stick midfielders match hip to hip with the opposition to disrupt their stick handling ability as much as possible.

It is extremely challenging for long stick midfielders to take their game to the next level if they lack the appropriate footwork to break down and stick with their defensive assignment.

Always Prepared to Help: Furthermore, long stick midfielders should frequently be ready to provide defensive support when the situation calls for it.

As aforementioned, offenses are constantly looking to capitalize on matchups with short stick defenders. The LSM needs to be prepared at all times to hedge over and extinguish any impending danger that the ball carrier may cause.

Keeps the Pressure On: It can be tempting as a LSM to sit back and allow the offense to move the ball around freely when they are setting up the offense.

Great long stick midfielders always keep the pressure on. It is far better to throw in an extra check or two on the ball carrier than to allow them to grow comfortable with the ball. A little bit of extra pressure here or there forces the ball carrier to focus their attention on the on ball defender rather than the actual play itself.

Face Off Get Off (“FOGO”)

Major Responsibilities

Win the Face Off: This is the central premise of the FOGO. Win the face-off at all costs.

The face-off is the event where two players vie for possession of the ball at center field. This occurs after every quarter and after every goal that is scored.

As soon as the referee sets the ball down and blows the whistle, the FOGO must try to quickly snatch up the ball with the back of their stick before their opponent can do so. Once the ball is in the back of their stick, they can whip the ball out to a field area where one of their teammates can scoop up the loose ball.

Scoop Up Ground Balls: Another responsibility of the FOGO is to come out of the ground ball scrum with possession of the ball.

Often times, when a nice clean face-off is out of the question, the play just turns into a massive 3v3 ground ball battle. The face-off man needs to be willing to put their body on the line, scoop up the ground ball, and deliver another possession to the offense.

Not So Obvious Responsibility

Match Up When Stuck on Defense: Once the face-off is over, it is standard for the FOGO to substitute off for a teammate. If a FOGO loses the face-off and cannot substitute off the field for the appropriate defensive personnel, they need to match up on defense.

They cannot simply waltz off the field because it will leave the defense in a man down situation. Instead, the FOGO will just have to trudge through it and find a man to guard until the possession is forfeit.

Standard Location on Field

Amount of FOGOs on the Field

Teams only have one FOGO out on the field exclusively for face-offs.

Special Equipment

Flexible, Durable Lacrosse Head: FOGOs need a flexible lacrosse head that will stand up to the abuse of participating in face-offs game after game.

A stiff lacrosse head will not allow a FOGO to properly direct the ball to teammates to acquire possession of the ball. There needs to be a certain degree of flexibility to the head to adequately hold the ball and whip the ball to specific field areas where teammates are present.

Comparable Sports Position – Hockey Face Off Man:

The closest position to the FOGO in lacrosse is the designated face-off man in hockey. Some shared characteristics between the positions are listed below.

  • Emphasis on reaction speed
  • Employ vast repertoire of face-off moves
  • Communicate which teammate they are playing the ball to
  • Stress low center of gravity

Qualities that Make a Great FOGO

Reaction Speed: Every high-caliber face-off man has an extraordinary reaction speed. As soon as the referee blows the whistle, the FOGO needs to move quickly to beat the opposition to the ball.

Without a solid reaction speed, a FOGO will have an extremely difficult time winning face-offs. They will have to rely on brute physicality alone to push the opposition off the ball and force a 50/50 ground ball scenario.

Player Scrappiness: Another distinct quality of a top notch FOGO is whether or not they play with a chip on their shoulder. Each time that a FOGO steps up to centerfield for a face-off, they have to come in with the mindset that they are going to battle.

They are contending one-on-one to earn their team an extra possession. Every ounce of effort makes a difference. This is why FOGOs must have a particular edge to their personality to continue to feed that aggression.

3.) Defender

Major Responsibilities

Prevent Attackers from Scoring: The overarching purpose of a close defender is to stop attackers from scoring.

To accomplish this, defenders must closely guard attackers on ball and off ball. This done to prevent attackers from establishing themselves in dangerous positions where they can easily score. Although defenders are able to stick check and body check the opposition, it far better to impede the progress of the ball carrier with proper footwork.

Provide Defensive Support When Necessary: Another central responsibility of defenders is to provide defensive support to a teammate that has been beat.

More often than not, offensive players will be able to dodge past the on ball defender. For this reason, defenders must be ready to rotate over to the ball carrier to stop the immediate threat. This rotation prevents the ball carrier from having a clear path to the goal. It also buys time for the on ball defender to recover.

Cause Turnovers: Turning the ball over back to the offense is an additional task that falls upon the shoulders of defenders.

Even if a defense is able to minimize the scoring chances of the opposition, it will not matter if the offense does not get the ball back. I said this before, but possession time is a key element of lacrosse. At one point or another, the defense needs to force the issue and aggressively pressure attackers to compel them to make a mistake.

Not So Obvious Responsibility

Help Clear the Ball to Offensive Zone: Although clearing the ball is a primary responsibility of the midfielders and goalie, defenders also must participate in the clearing effort from time to time.

The midfielders cannot shoulder the burden all by themselves. Eventually the opposing team will catch on and make the necessary adjustments to stall such a one dimensional clearing effort. The defense may have to throw the ball around a bit to allow the clear to develop.

Standard Location on Field

Amount of Defenders on the Field

It is standard for a team to have three defenders on the field at any given time.

Special Equipment

Long Pole: Defenders, like the LSM, are equipped with long poles. A defensive stick ranges between 52 to 72 inches. The discrepancy between a short stick and a long pole is easily discernible with the naked eye.

Comparable Sports Position – Hockey Defenseman

The lacrosse defenseman is extremely similar to the hockey defenseman. Some of the major similarities between the two are shown in the following list.

  • Carry the brunt of the load defensively
  • Use lengthier sticks
  • Emphasis on physical contact
  • Implement technical stick checks
  • Cover most talented offensive players on the opposing team

Qualities that Make a Great Lacrosse Defender

Physical Intangibles: Quality lacrosse defenders are slightly bigger and stronger than the average lacrosse player.

These players need to be able to withstand constant battering from offensive players trying to bully their way to the goal. The extra size will also help deliver some additional force on body checks to push dodgers off of their intended path.

Skilled at Technical Stick Checks: Another characteristic element of superior lacrosse defenders is a superior ability to land pinpoint stick checks.

It is common for opposing attackers to have an uncanny ability to protect their stick under duress. First-rate defenders do not let this fact stop them from causing turnovers. They instead counter the superior stick protection with even more precise and more forceful stick checks of their own.

Proper Defensive Stance: Lastly, defenders must be trained to sit in a fundamental defensive stance at all times.

Whether the ball carrier looks ready to dodge or not, it is important for defenders to always be prepared for the unexpected. Offensive players thrive on deception, especially attackers. Keeping a low center of gravity with the long pole ready to strike is the best way to keep attackers at bay.

4.) Goalkeeper

Major Responsibilities

Making Saves: At the most basic level, the goalkeeper is the last line of defense. When an offensive attacker manages to land a shot on net, the goalkeeper is virtually the only thing standing in the way of a goal.

A few exceptional saves can turn the tide of a lacrosse game, especially when the score is close. Although many spectators may not realize it, the goalkeeper is the most important player on the defense in this respect.

Positioning the Defense: It is also the job of the goalkeeper to keep the defense in line. The goalkeeper needs to communicate with the players as soon as they are on the verge of wandering out of position.

Part of this job is knowing the defensive schemes inside and out. It is difficult to tell a player they are out of position if you do not quite know the defensive plan yourself.

Verbally Initiating the Defensive Rotation: The goalkeeper is also in charge of explicitly alerting players when to provide defensive support.

When the on ball defender has been beat, there needs to be a defensive rotation to the ball. Goalkeepers typically notify a defender to shift to the ball by yelling “Fire! Fire!” This defensive call removes any hesitancy the defender may have and forces them to commit to the ball carrier.

Not So Obvious Responsibility

Jumpstarting Fast Breaks: One underlying responsibility of the goalkeeper is sparking transition opportunities for the team.

As soon as the goalkeeper makes a save, they need to keep their eyes up and search for midfielders streaking downfield in order to grant them a head start on the opposition. The faster the goalkeeper delivers the ball into midfielder hands, the better chance the offense has of catching the opposing defense unawares.

Standard Location on Field

Amount of Goalkeepers on the Field

It is standard for a team to have one goalkeeper on the field at any given time.

Special Equipment

Goalie Stick: Goalies are equipped with a special kind of lacrosse head that is exclusively designed for goalie use only.

This lacrosse head is extremely wide, which results in the lacrosse pocket covering in a much greater degree of surface area. This extra surface area comes in handy when goalkeepers are attempting to make saves.

Comparable Sports Position – Soccer Goaltender

The closest position to a lacrosse goalkeeper is a soccer goaltender. Some shared aspects of these two positions are mentioned below.

  • Command the defense
  • Keeps the defense on the same page
  • Frequently communicating with other defenders
  • Play a fundamental role in delivering the ball to the offensive zone
  • Need a speedy reaction time

Qualities that Make A Great Lacrosse Goalkeeper

Quick Reaction Time: This one is a given, but I will say it anyway.

Goalkeepers absolutely need a quick reaction time to prevent opposing shots from reaching the back of the net. Lacrosse shots are extremely fast. The reflexes of a goalie need to be in top form to make miraculous saves. Without this quality, it is nearly impossible to ever be considered a great goalie.

Always Talking: In addition, an essential quality to any high-caliber lacrosse goalie is constant communication.

For example, the goalkeeper needs to alert defenders every time there is a cutter and identify which defender is in the most favorable position to help. The goalie also needs to frequently remind the defense to keep their heads on a swivel.

Long Distance Passing: Goalkeepers also need to be able to throw the long ball.

A streaking midfielder that is open downfield could lead to an easy fast break goal on the other end if the goalie can deliver an accurate pass to them in stride. These passes are often times extremely challenging to make, especially under duress. Nonetheless, this is what separates the good goalies from the great ones.

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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