What Does Ground Ball Mean in Lacrosse?

The term ‘ground ball’ is tossed around a whole lot in the lacrosse community. Watch any lacrosse game and you will hear lacrosse coaches and players echoing this lacrosse term from the sidelines. This may be a bit of a confusing spectacle to the casual onlooker.

The lacrosse term ‘ground ball’ refers to any loose ball on the field that is not in possession of either team. Ground balls afford players an opportunity to earn their team extra offensive possessions. This is why opposing players compete so vigorously against one another for loose ground balls.

The meaning of the term ‘ground ball’ may be simple, but its importance to winning is undeniable. There are several distinct situations in lacrosse that result in ground balls. Familiarizing yourself with these specific ground ball scenarios will help you be better equipped to snatch up these ground balls come game time. Keep reading further to learn the specifics behind these unique scenarios.

The Meaning of Ground Ball in Lacrosse

Essentially, the term ‘ground ball’ is synonymous with a ‘loose ball’ or ‘free ball’ in lacrosse. The definitive property of a ground ball is that it is not possessed by either team. The ball lies within the field of play and is basically up for grabs.

Players vie for possession of the ground ball by attempting to put themselves in the most optimal position to scoop the ball from the field surface. To accomplish this, players sprint toward the ball, body check opposing players, and stick check opposing players. Not only does this allow a player to get in prime position for the ground ball, it also prevents the other team from acquiring possession.

Thus, ground balls commonly draw in a crowd of people. This is such a standard occurrence that the lacrosse community even labeled it with a name. Lacrosse players and coaches routinely call the chaotic clash for possession of a loose ball a ‘ground ball scrum.’

Ground balls can take a variety of forms depending on the situation.

For one, a ground ball can be resting idly on the field. This is the rarest form that a ground ball can take since players are constantly smacking the ball around when attempting to gain possession.

Secondly, a ground ball can wander freely about the field, bouncing around like a pinball as players continuously disrupt its path. Of all of the states that a ground ball can take, this is the most common.

Finally, the ball is still considered in ground ball form if the ball is moving in and out of lacrosse sticks, but no one player has yet gained possession. This is a direct consequence of stick checks and body checks. Players may nearly possess the ball in their lacrosse stick for a half second prior to being stripped of the ball by another player. This is a prevailing occurrence in ground ball scrums.

A ground ball ceases to be acknowledged as a ground ball as soon as a player scoops up the ball and makes a ‘lacrosse move’ that is indicative of possession. A shot, pass, or cradle constitutes a lacrosse move.

In recording formal ground ball statistics, a player may only be credited with a ground ball pickup if the loose ball was contested by both teams. This means that a player cannot simply drop the ball and scoop it back up again to be awarded with a ground ball pickup.

Game Situations That Result in Ground Balls

There are a couple of unique in game situations that lead to ground balls. These situations are discussed in the subsequent paragraphs to help with your overall field awareness.


The face-off occurs at the beginning of each quarter and after every goal. The purpose of the face-off is to institute a fair means of determining possession. The most effective way to go about establishing fairness is to create a situation where possession is largely determined by the effort of the players.

The face-off does exactly that.

Essentially, the face-off is just a glorified 3v3 ground ball situation. This is because the face-off almost always result in a contested ground ball. The way the face-off procedure is structured, both sides have a fairly equal likelihood of scooping up the loose ball.

Two face-off players are pitted against one another in the center of the field and four wing players are positioned an equal distance from the ball. As soon as the whistle blows, these six players duke it out to earn a possession for their team.

So if you find yourself in the center or on the wing during a face-off, be prepared to get your hands dirty. Scooping up ground balls is no elegant affair.

Stripping the Ball Carrier of Possession

Stripping the ball carrier of possession is another universal cause of ground balls.

As soon as a check dislodges the ball, it is up for grabs. Most of the time, it takes nearby players a half second to even realize that a player no longer retains possession. It is only when a player yells “Ball! Ball!” that players become aware that the ball is out.

This is the central means by which defenseman generate turnovers. They strip the ball carrier with a defensive check and pick up the loose ground ball to turn possession back over to the offense.

The video below is a prime example of how stripping the ball carrier can turn into a contested ground ball.

Errant Pass

Errant passes are another way that ground balls are created.

Inaccurate passes are thrown all the time in the sport of lacrosse, especially at the lower competitive tiers. These errant passes occur regularly during offensive plays and defensive clears.

Often times, these wayward passes just sail out of bounds. Lacrosse players tend to zip their passes to one another, so it is no wonder that the momentum of the ball carries it out of bounds.

When the errant pass does stay in bounds, however, it is a free ball that is ripe for the taking. Generally, the frequency with which ground balls are generated by this method pales in comparison to the amount of ground balls generated by face-offs and defensive strips.

Errant Shot

Furthermore, another source of ground balls is errant shots.

Similar to errant passes, inaccurate shots are just a part of the game of lacrosse. Nearly every errant shot that misses the net flies out of play. Nonetheless, there are a few rare occasions where ground balls result.

For instance, if a shot bounces off a pipe on the goal, it may keep the ball in play so that players can contend for the ground ball.

Another example of this is if the ball ricochets off the goalie and turns into a live ball in front of the net. This sort of ground ball situation usually results in the most nasty hits since the loose ball is in such a high traffic area.

Importance of Ground Balls to Winning Games

Lacrosse coaches always preach about the significance of ground balls. Some coaches even go as far to say that one ground ball could turn the tide of a game. How can ground balls be this important?

Ultimately, fighting tooth and nail for ground balls not only earns your team extra scoring opportunities, it takes any potential scoring opportunities away from the other team.

Possession time is one of the key indicators of whether or not a team will reign victorious. Ask any reputable lacrosse coach and they will say the same.

Teams that lose the ground ball battle often end up growing frustrated with not being able to obtain adequate possession. The extra strain on the defense and the lack of possession by the offense is enough to turn a team against one another.

At the end of the day, lacrosse games come down to which team can put the ball in the net more than the other team. If you do not have the ball, you cannot score. This is why winning the feud on the ground is so imperative to winning games in lacrosse.

Which Players Are Meant to Get Ground Balls?

Certain lacrosse coaches at the higher levels seek out players that have a knack for scooping up ground balls. At the collegiate level, the wingmen during face-offs are extremely skilled at fighting for those loose balls. Their main job is to earn their team an extra possession.

At the youth and high school level of competition, nobody is specialized for the job of scooping up ground balls. Ultimately, the players that end up winning the most ground balls are the players with the most will to win. No one is ever ‘meant’ to get a ground ball in lacrosse.

The following sports analogy may be a bit lengthy, but stay with me.

What ground balls are to lacrosse is equivalent to what rebounds are to basketball. Both ground balls and rebounds are based around a physical contest for possession that is chiefly decided by effort. The shortest guy on the basketball court can box out a big man to get a rebound. Similarly, the smallest guy on the lacrosse field can wriggle into a ground ball scrum and come out with possession.

The beauty of ground ball battles is that anyone can become skilled at winning them. There is not a whole lot of complexity to boxing out the opposition, locating the loose ball, and picking it up.

This is honestly one of the easiest ways for a novice to earn playing time in games. Lacrosse teams are always in need of scrappy players that are willing to put their body on the line to get the ball to the offense.

The bottom line is that nothing is stopping you from becoming the best ground ball scrapper on the team. Continue to master this craft and I can guarantee that lacrosse coaches will reward for your hard work.

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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