What Does AP Mean in Lacrosse?


At certain points during a lacrosse game, officials reference this term called “AP” when making decisions out on the field. There are plenty of lacrosse players out there that are completely unaware of what this rulebook lingo actually means.

AP is an abbreviation for alternate possession. AP is used as a last resort to determine which team will have possession when the officials have no clear indication of who the ball should be awarded to. For the coin toss, captains must choose between first AP or their preferred defensive area.

AP seems like a tricky concept to understand at first, but it really isn’t. However, AP can occasionally be responsible for major turning points during lacrosse games. For this reason, it is imperative that you understand the exact meaning behind AP and the repercussions it may have on how a lacrosse game plays out.

The Meaning of AP in Lacrosse

There are times in lacrosse where the officials have no definitive judgment as to which team should receive the ball following a particular play. It would be unfair of them to grant the ball to a team on a whim with no basis in the lacrosse rulebook.

If the referees can come to no concrete consensus as to which team should be awarded with possession, they should have a reliable source to refer back to when randomly issuing possession. This is where AP comes into play.

AP, or alternate possession, is the means by which referees fairly distribute possession between teams when they are unable to make an informed decision on the field.

In this scenario where possession cannot be accurately determined, referees consider which direction that the alternate possession arrow points and give the ball to the appropriate team. Thus, if the arrow points to the home team, the home team receives possession. The same method applies for the away team.

As soon as one team is awarded possession by AP, the AP arrow changes to reflect that the other team will receive the ball next time that the officials must resort to AP. In essence, there is a complete flip flop of which team has the right to AP every time that it is used.

The inclusion of AP takes away from the pressure of lacrosse officials always having to be on top of every play. There are going to be times where the referees fail to have the right viewing angle on a certain play or are distracted by another element of the game. The lacrosse community is well aware of this, which is why they input AP into the rulebook.

It is important to note that the scorer’s table does not keep tabs on AP. This duty technically falls to the officials themselves. As the alternate possession arrow changes, they must take note of this change.

In addition, it should be pointed out that the alternate possession arrow does not change when a lacrosse game enters overtime. The alternate possession arrow should remain the same as it did at the very end of regulation time.

When the officials must resort to AP, they signal it by pointing to the side of the team that will receive the ball with one of their arms. They award the ball to a player on that specific team, blow the whistle, and play once again resumes.

Specific Circumstances Where Lacrosse Officials Turn to AP

To help better solidify this concept, I have provided a couple examples of real game situations where AP is used. It is easy to overlook these situations in the actual game, but once you grasp the concept, you will notice that AP pops up a lot more than you would think.

Example #1: The Mad Ground Ball Scramble on Face-Offs

We have all witnessed the chaotic dash for possession during face-offs. If two face-off players are evenly matched, it is almost as if every face-off contest turns into a 50/50 ground ball. Trying to sort through the mess of players and figure out which team has possession is a tall task. Half the time, I’m not even sure the players in the ground ball scrum know where the ball is.

Sometimes, the ball pinballs around so much that it crosses out of bounds or crosses over the defensive area line. In this situation, the referees need to determine which team touched the ball last in order to award possession to the correct team.

But, as we all know, this is much easier said than done. As bodies collide and stick checks fly, identifying which player touched the ball last is a challenging endeavor. It’s not as though the players can be relied upon either. Each player will only vouch for their own team.

In the event that the ball does roll out of play during the face-off, officials commonly utilize AP to randomly, yet fairly, establish possession.

Example #2: The Race for the End Line Following a Shot

Furthermore, the sport of lacrosse is peculiar in that the team that is closest to where the ball flew out of bounds immediately following a shot is awarded possession of the ball. For instance, if the ball flies over the goal, both the offense and defense are in a dead sprint towards the end line to be the one nearest to where the ball crossed out of bounds.

There are times where an offensive player and a defensive player reach the end line at the exact same point in time, so that even the officials do not know how to rule possession. In this case, the officials want to avoid making an inaccurate judgment call, so they take advantage of alternate possession.

You would be surprised at how many times these neck and neck races actually come up. I know back during my high school lacrosse days, it seemed like every sprint for the end line ended up as a tie. All I can say is that I was glad to not be a referee when those situations popped up!

Example #3: Injury on the Field During a Loose Ball

The last scenario we will analyze is the event of player injury. Unfortunately, injury is a part of the game of lacrosse. Given that it is a contact sport, there are times where a player is at the wrong place at the wrong time and gets hurt.

Sometimes, these injuries occur when no team has definitive possession. The ball is simply loose on the field, with both teams fighting tooth and nail to earn their team an extra possession.

If a player goes down with an injury while the ball is unpossessed, the officials still have to stop play. Once play resumes, there comes the problem of determining which team should be awarded with possession. Since neither team had the ball at the time play was stopped, the only way to reasonably allocate possession is AP.

How AP Impacts the Course of a Lacrosse Game

AP is peculiar in that there are games where it may never be referenced once. If referees are super on top of every play, there may be no need whatsoever to resort to AP. However, there are other games where AP is referred to constantly. This happens when there is an overabundance of strange game incidents regarding possession.

When officials do resort to AP, it has the potential to swing the momentum of the game completely. Possession is key to winning lacrosse games. To put it simply, if you don’t have the ball a lot, you can’t score a lot. In a tight game where both teams are level in scoring, every possession counts. If one team is awarded an extra possession by AP, this could provide the little spark they desperately needed to acquire an edge over their opponent.

So although AP seems to be of negligible importance, it can act as a major reason for victory in a game where the margin for error is extremely slim.

Should You Select First AP If Your Team Wins the Coin Toss?

If you’re extremely observant, you may have noticed that the referees always present the team that won the pregame coin toss with two options: first AP or a preferred defensive end of the field. This is a universal aspect of the lacrosse coin toss. However, a great deal of lacrosse players fail to understand its exact significance. They simply choose one option because their coach told them to do so.

The first thing that you should know is that you should not choose between first AP and your team’s preferred defensive area randomly. You should base your decision on the present field conditions and the tendencies of your goalkeeper.

On certain lacrosse fields, there is a noticeable advantage to playing defense on one end of the field compared to the other. For example, one end of the field may be extremely wet and swampy, while the other end of the field may be solid and dry.

In this case, picking which side of the field you choose to defend first may have significant implications to how the game plays out. Say you want your offense to get off to a hot start. It would work in your favor to choose to defend the wet, swampy side first to keep the playmaking the ability of your opponent at bay. By the time you switch sides, your opponent will already be too demoralized by the hefty goal deficit to make a serious run.

In addition, you should also consult with your goalkeeper about the effects of the sun’s glare. Periodically, a game is scheduled in the early morning or the late afternoon when the sun sits low in the sky. At these times, the sun could be positioned directly in the goalkeeper’s line of vision, making it virtually impossible to make any saves.

If you win the coin toss and the sun is presenting an extreme glare to one end of the lacrosse field, it is to your advantage to choose the defensive area opposite this side.

This way, the rival goalkeeper will have to stare directly into the sun while it is still positioned low in the sky. The hope is that the sun will already have moved out of harm’s way by the time your team switches sides.

In the event that the field conditions are pristine and the sun is not an issue, it makes logical sense to select first AP. Your first priority should be optimizing the field conditions and the sun’s glare to your advantage. AP does offer a slight edge, but nothing compared to selecting your preferred defensive area when the field conditions and the sun’s glare will have a crucial effect on the outcome of the game.

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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