The Hardest Lacrosse Position: Settling the Debate At Last


One of the most controversial debates in the lacrosse community is what the hardest position is. Every lacrosse player is a little bit biased toward their own position because they know those hardships firsthand. Few lacrosse players have had the privilege of experiencing multiple lacrosse positions, which is why it is so difficult to establish a reliable basis of comparison.

Most individuals in the lacrosse community believe the position of goalkeeper to be the hardest position in lacrosse. This is according to a recent survey consisting of lacrosse coaches, players, and fans where 81% of the participants voted goalkeeper as the hardest lacrosse position.

Of course, there are many caveats as far as the answer to this question goes. Since this question is largely subjective, there are many lacrosse players that hold contrasting opinions regarding this subject.

Later on in the article, we will break down the arguments for and against each individual lacrosse position on a case by case basis. The purpose behind this latter section of the article is to merely play devil’s advocate and present you with multiple perspectives on this disputed subject. So stay tuned until the end!

As a side note, it is not my objective to press any particular viewpoint onto you. Rather, my intention is to simply present the primary points of reasoning for each viewpoint so that you can formulate your own definitive conclusion on this debate.

The Hardest Lacrosse Position By the Numbers

To delve into the analytics of what the lacrosse community actually had to say about this debate, I conducted a survey with 160 members of the lacrosse community asking the question, “What is the hardest position in lacrosse?” The exact results of this survey are detailed below.

The position of goalkeeper was the outright winner of this survey, collecting 130 votes of the maximum possible 160 votes. To better visualize the sheer magnitude of this discrepancy, I organized the data into the bar graph below.

The survey results clearly indicate that the majority of individuals within the lacrosse sphere believe that the position of goalkeeper claims the title of the hardest position in lacrosse. But why is this so?

In the subsequent discussions, we will address the primary argumentative points for each lacrosse position as well as their possible counterarguments.

The Difficulties of Being a Goalkeeper

There is an assortment of reasons why the position of goalkeeper nabbed the number one spot for the hardest position in lacrosse. The most prominent of these reasons are analyzed below.

Only One Spot on the Field

For one, lacrosse goalkeepers have to contend for one sole position on the field. If there are two or three goalkeepers on one team, a player must beat out the other players to earn the right to playing time. After all, there is only so much playing time to go around.

This puts a colossal amount of pressure on goalkeepers, especially during tryouts.

Unfortunately, the opinion of lacrosse players and coaches can sway at the drop of a dime. If a goalkeeper lets a couple of balls sneak past, the whole team may doubt their capabilities until they prove otherwise. It is for this reason that goalkeepers have to hone in mentally for the entirety of tryouts. They simply cannot afford a slip-up here and there because their playing time depends on it.

Even once a goalkeeper wins the tryout phase, there is still an immense amount of pressure on their shoulders to not have a bad game. At any point during the season, the coach could decide to take their starting spot away in favor of another goalkeeper.

Preserving the ‘Next Play’ Mentality in Spite of Pressure

Another major hardship that falls upon goalkeepers is conserving the ‘next play’ mentality regardless of how many goals they let up.

Goalkeepers cannot save every shot during the season. It is inevitable that a few balls will slip past their defenses into the net. For this reason, it is crucial that a goalkeeper has an ironclad mentality to maintain their composure during games.

It is easy for goalkeepers to blame themselves and grow frustrated with their efforts since all of their failures are magnified. They are quite literally the last line of defense that teams rely upon time and time again.

One mental lapse in the game can shake the very mental foundation of the goalkeeper. The worst enemy that a goalkeeper can have is a lack of self confidence. This is why it is imperative that goalkeepers have a short term memory and operate on a play by play basis.

Staying Composed in the Face of High Velocity Shots

Another element of difficulty for goalkeepers is staying poised while staring down high velocity shots.

Lacrosse balls are not soft whatsoever. These balls are made of a hard, solid rubber. Offensive players hurl these hard rubber lacrosse balls as fast as they can at the net with no regard for the safety of the goalkeepers.

What is even more ludicrous is that goalkeepers wear the least amount of equipment relative to every other field lacrosse position! Most lacrosse goalkeepers do not wear elbow pads because they feel like they cannot afford the limited mobility.

The majority of goalkeepers also refuse to wear shin guards. I have taken a collateral shot in the shin in game before and I had to substitute off the field just to recollect myself. Lacrosse goalkeepers are on the receiving end of multiple shots to the shins every game!

Lacrosse shots have been known to elevate beyond 80 mph to 90 mph. To be honest, I do not know how they uphold their sanity and stay in the net after taking shots like that day after day.

Counterargument Against Goalkeeper Adversity

Remain Fixated in a Single Spot Most of the Game: The main counterargument against goalkeepers as the hardest lacrosse position is that they stay stationary in one location pretty much the entire game.

As opposed to every other field lacrosse position, there is not a whole lot of running involved with the position of goalkeeper. The only time they really have to venture out of the net is for clearing the ball to the offensive zone. Even then, lacrosse goalkeepers usually dump the ball off to a midfielder or defenseman to physically deliver the ball to the other side of the field.

Due to this lack of running, certain individuals in the lacrosse community believe that the position of goalkeeper requires less athleticism relative to other field lacrosse positions. As a result, these individuals conclude that goalkeeper cannot be the hardest position in lacrosse.

The Difficulties of Being a Defender

Next, we will investigate the difficulties of carrying out the duties of a lacrosse defender.

Adapting to Changing Offensive Sets on the Fly

First, lacrosse defenders are tasked with the responsibility of reacting to the ever changing nature of offensive sets on the fly.

This is a tremendous undertaking because the whole premise behind shifting offensive sets is to manipulate the defense into making a mistake. Offensive players are not only constantly looking to deceive defenders, they are also searching for any potential sign of weakness in defenders to exploit.

Thus, the field awareness of defenders is constantly being put on trial. As soon as a defender loses track of the ball or their defensive assignment, there is a heavy price to be paid. This price can come in a variety of forms. A backdoor cut, a spontaneous dodge from the ball carrier, or a sudden outside shot can deal a great deal of damage if a defender is caught unaware.

For this reason, defenders must always keep their head on a swivel and stay mentally alert. One seemingly minor blunder can easily result in a goal for the opposition.

Coordinating with Teammates to Play as a Cohesive Unit

In addition, defenders must coordinate their efforts with the other members of the defense to ensure that the team plays as a collective unit. This may seem like a simple task on paper, but it is a lot harder to realistically implement amidst the chaos of games.

Defenders must talk constantly with their teammates to make sure that everybody is on the same page defensively. This is the most effective means to coordinate the defense and prepare everyone for any extenuating circumstances that the offense poses.

For example, defenders frequently have to be on the lookout for which defensive player is in the most favorable position to provide support. This is known as the ‘hot man’ in defensive lacrosse terminology.

Every time an opposing offensive player cuts or rotates, the ‘hot man’ can potentially change. The ‘hot man’ could also potentially change if the ball moves to a different area on the field. Defenders must continually identify which player is in the most favorable position to help out so that the integrity of the defense does not collapse when the ball carrier finally dodges.

Defenders have enough trouble to deal with regarding individual matchups, let alone coordinating their efforts with everybody else on the field.

Counterargument Against Defender Adversity

Physicality Can Make Up For Lack of Technical Skill: One prominent knock on defenders claiming the title of the hardest position in lacrosse is that defenders can make up for a lack of technical skill with their physical intangibles.

With alternative positions such as midfielder and attacker, it is challenging to mask a lack of stick skills with pure athleticism. In order for these positions to thrive, players must have a thorough grasp over their stick skill fundamentals.

The position of defender does not place as much of an emphasis on stick skills relative to other positions. Players that do not know how to properly throw or catch the ball can make up for this lack of stick skills by outcompeting the opposition with pure athleticism.

If a defender has tenacious speed, solid footwork, and limber agility, they will be able to keep up with most offensive players just by staying one step ahead of them. With these physical intangibles, a defender is more than capable of playing tight against their matchup and contesting any potential shot they might take.

The Difficulties of Being an Attacker

Up next, we will analyze the main arguments that label the position of attacker the hardest position in lacrosse.

Most Teams Play the Starting 3 Attackers All Game

The primary issue with being an attacker is that if you do not crack the starting lineup, you will likely not see the field at all.

Most teams play their best three attackers for the entirety of the game. Unlike midfielders, attackers do not need substitutions because they are not playing both sides of the ball. They can regather their stamina when the team is on defense and be back at full strength by the time the ball reaches the offensive zone.

The other attack lines only really ever see the field in the case of injury or blow out situations. This puts tremendous pressure on attackers to perform at tryouts and earn their right to a starting spot on the field.

This battle may not be quite so intense as the goalkeeper position since there are three spots on the field open instead of just one.

However, members of the lacrosse community go back and forth about this subject. It can also be argued that cracking the lineup for attack may be tougher since it may be the most coveted position on the field.

Not many players aim to be a lacrosse player for the purpose of stepping in front of 80-90 mph shots voluntarily. In contrast, a substantial amount of athletes sign up for lacrosse to specialize in scoring goals and to seize all the glory that comes with it.

Must Have Superior Stick Skills

Furthermore, players must have a high caliber set of stick skills to qualify for the position of attacker. The most exceptional set of skills on the team to be exact.

So much of prospering as an attacker is contingent at how proficient athletes are with their lacrosse stick. An attacker cannot thrive if they are not comfortable with a lacrosse stick in their hands.

To attain this remarkable level of expertise with the lacrosse stick, it demands hours upon hours of training.

Athletes at this position must put in their due diligence playing wall ball, shooting at close quarters, dodging against long pole defenders, and ensuring that their passes are exactly on point. On top of all that, attackers need to be capable of all these skills with both their dominant hand and non-dominant hand.

The success of the offense lies on the shoulders of attackers. To effectively captain the offense side of the ball, attackers need to work endlessly to hone in on their stick skill repertoire.

Counterargument Against Attacker Adversity

Cherrypicking on the Offensive End of the Field: Some members of the lacrosse community argue that attackers simply cherrypick on the offensive end of the field and wait for the ball to come to them.

Attackers do not play a particularly large role in clearing the ball. Midfielders and defenders play a much more substantial role in the clearing effort.

Once the ball reaches the offensive zone, attackers get to do what practically every lacrosse player wants to do: score goals.

Their association with any sort of defensive capacities is limited at best. Individuals argue that attackers essentially get to skimp out on the more laborious sides of lacrosse, such as clearing and defense for example. This fuels them with energy for the more entertaining parts of lacrosse, like sneaking past defenders and burying the ball in the back of the net.

The Difficulties of Being a Midfielder

For our final analysis, we will scrutinize the arguments for and against the position of midfielder as the hardest lacrosse position.

Run the Most Miles Out of Every Other Position

The most notable argument for the position of midfielder as the hardest lacrosse position is the sheer amount of running demanded of these players.

Midfielders are the intermediaries between the offensive and defensive zones. They sprint to the offensive end of the field to clear the ball and sprint back to the defensive end of the field to position themselves for the upcoming possession.

If midfielders cannot keep up with this perpetual cardiovascular activity, they will find themselves gasping on the sidelines instead of taking care of business on the field. It is for this reason that athletes at this position need to be at the peak of cardiovascular fitness.

The most intriguing thing about the cardiovascular fitness demanded from midfielders is that it is not exclusively just stamina. Midfielders need to be speedy as well.

The combination of speed and stamina is hard to come by in any sport. For midfielders, jogging and sprinting at high intensity intervals for the full length of a game is just another day at the office.

Need to Be Proficient at Both Offense and Defense

Moreover, midfielders need to be well versed at both ends of the field.

In recent years, the use of two way midfielders has begun to taper down at the competitive tiers. At the youth and high school level, two way midfielders are still very much a staple of the sport.

Consequently, midfielders need to have an all around lacrosse skill set to adequately perform their duties. Lacrosse coaches ask a great deal from two way midfielders.

Their stick skills need to be up to par so they will not be a liability on offense. They have to be able to physically keep up and play sound fundamental defense against opposing midfielders. Midfielders are also expected to scrap for each and every ground ball on the field, including the loose balls that result from the face-off.

As a result, midfielders always have something that they could improve upon.

Physical intangibles and stick skills aside, midfielders also need a thorough understanding of offensive and defensive concepts. Midfielders must learn the various defensive schemes just like the defenders and the goalkeepers. They then have to venture over to the offensive end and master every single offensive play that could be implemented during the game.

On top of all that, midfielders are also the primary contributors to the clearing effort as well! There are very few lacrosse coaching discussions where the midfielders are not involved.

Counterargument Against Midfielder Adversity

Easy to Get Playing Time: The major obstacle that holds the position of midfielder back from being deemed the hardest lacrosse position is the prospect of playing time.

On the standard lacrosse team, there are typically two to three midfield lines that rotate throughout the game. This is done to ensure that no one midfield line is dog tired by the time the fourth quarter rolls around.

As aforementioned, a tremendous amount of running is asked of the midfielders. Consequently, these players get exhausted extremely quickly. Substituting midfielders on and off the field is a must to prevent any one player from burning out.

This opens up the field to a considerable amount of players that have the desire to get out and play in games immediately. The barrier to entry is not quite as high relative to the position of goalkeeper or attacker for example.

Thus, midfielders do not have to stress nearly as much about losing their spot on the field during games or during tryouts. There is a lot more room for opportunity to move up and down the depth chart for this particular position.

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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