What Makes a Lacrosse Stick Illegal: An Illustrated Guide

The rules on determining the legality of a lacrosse stick are complicated to say the least. With so many different rules and regulations, it’s extremely challenging to sort through everything, especially if you are just reading from a boring old rulebook.

For this reason, I took it upon myself to construct an easy to follow, step-by-step guide on how to maneuver through all these rules and regulations to ensure that your lacrosse stick comes out on top. Without further ado, let’s get right into it.

There are four general ways that a lacrosse stick can be deemed illegal:

  1. failure to meet stick measurements
  2. failure to meet pocket legality
  3. failure to meet ball retainment rules
  4. failure to meet miscellaneous lacrosse stick regulations

Within each of these four broad categories are a subset of specific rules that must be followed. If any one of these rules are broken, the stick will be deemed illegal.

1.) Failure to Meet Stick Measurements

When officials conduct stick checks during lacrosse games, the first aspect of the stick that they analyze are its measurements. They must establish that the overall measurements of the lacrosse stick and the particular measurements of the lacrosse head are completely legal. If these stick measurements are not met, the stick is automatically deemed illegal.

Illegal Measurements of Lacrosse Stick

Failure to fall within the legal range of stick length automatically deems the stick illegal. To avoid this, I have organized a chart that lists out the legal stick length of the three different kinds of lacrosse sticks, from the tip of the lacrosse head to the end cap of the shaft.

Type of Lacrosse StickLegal Length of Lacrosse Stick
Attack/Midfield Short Stick40 to 42 inches
Defensive Long Stick52 to 72 inches
Goalie Stick40 to 72 inches

The attack/midfield short stick has the least flexibility in terms of length, whereas the goalie stick has the most flexibility in terms of length. Although I must admit, I have never witnessed a goalie actually play with a 72 inch long stick in game.

Illegal Measurements of Lacrosse Head

The diagram below outlines the various points of the lacrosse head that must adhere to a minimum measurement length. In the event that these minimum measurements are not met, the stick is considered illegal.

There are a couple of different width measurements that a lacrosse head must follow in order to be considered legal. The scoop must have a diameter of at least 6.5 inches. The midline of the lacrosse head, which is 5 inches above the throat, must have a diameter of at least 3.5 inches. At the lowest and narrowest point of the head, the diameter must be at least 3 inches.

As far as head length goes, there is only one real measurement that must be followed. Measuring from the tip of the scoop to the throat, the lacrosse head must be exactly 10 inches.

With new lacrosse heads, complying with these measurements should not be an issue whatsoever. Lacrosse head manufacturers produce their products to specifically observe these minimum measurements.

You could run into issues if your lacrosse head has seen its fair share of lacrosse seasons, especially during the summer. As a lacrosse head undergoes the abuse of multiple lacrosse seasons, the plastic of the head begins to warp. In other words, the head plastic begins to alter its shape by bending or pinching in without you purposefully doing so.

If the head pinches in excessively, then the head will fail to meet the legal measurements and will be deemed illegal. So if your head has been through the ringer, I recommend conducting some measurements yourself to ensure that it is still permissible.

Table Test

The table test is a reliable method of measuring the shaft angle of a lacrosse stick. The lacrosse stick is placed onto a tabletop so that the head is positioned entirely on the table along with the majority of the shaft. Only a small portion of the shaft near the end cap should be hanging off of the tabletop.

From here, you will measure the distance from the tabletop to the edge of the lacrosse head that is farthest away from the tabletop. Keep in mind that you are not measuring to the mesh, you are measuring to the farthest edge of the head plastic. This distance should not surpass 2.75 inches. If it does, then the stick is illegal.

The most probable reason for why a lacrosse stick does not pass the table test is that the shaft is not perfectly straight. With the heavy emphasis on defensive stick checking in lacrosse, shafts can get dented or bent more often than you might think.

The bend in the shaft may not be noticeable unless you take the time to conduct this table test. Even a one or two degree shaft bend could deem your stick illegal.

2.) Failure to Meet Pocket Legality

The next area that officials analyze when it comes to lacrosse stick legality is the pocket. Since lacrosse players are given a tremendous amount of freedom in how they construct their individual pocket, there are several different tests that officials must perform to confidently say that a pocket is legal.

Illegal Pocket Depth

One of the tests performed is the pocket depth test. To do this, hold up your lacrosse stick to eye level and keep the head completely parallel. Next, turn your attention to the sidewall string. If the sidewall string disrupts your view of seeing the entire ball within the pocket, then the stick is legal. Lacrosse officials have coined this phenomenon as sidewall string interference.

On the other hand, if you have a clear view of the entire ball because the sidewall string does not cover up any section of the ball, you have an illegal stick on your hands. A signature characteristic of a pocket that is too deep is a discernible gap between the sidewall string and the ball.

Nailing down pocket depth legality can be a bit tricky, so I would advise you to seek a second opinion from a teammate or a coach if you are unsure on the whether your pocket depth is legal.

Presence of Pull String

The presence of a pull string is a surefire way to draw a flag for an illegal stick. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the term, a pull string is a particular type of bottom string meant to deceive officials into believing that your stick has a shallower pocket than it does. In other words, it is a sneaky tactic to manipulate the pocket depth test.

With the way a pull string is strung, all a player has to do is tug on the pull string to immediately make their pocket shallower than it actually is. The shallow shape holds even when a ball is dropped into the pocket because of how the strings weave through the mesh. Players tug on the string after scoring a goal or at the end of a quarter when they know that the officials will conduct a stick test.

Luckily, lacrosse officials have grown wise to these deceptive stringing tactics over the years, especially at the higher competitive tiers of lacrosse. As a result, pull strings are a figment of the past more than anything else.

Illegal Placement of Shooting Strings

The exact location of the shooting strings on a lacrosse stick must also be placed within a distinct sector of the lacrosse head. Specifically, the shooting strings must fall within 4 inches from the top of the scoop. Any shooting string that goes beyond this 4 inch threshold makes the entire stick illegal.

Prior to the institution of this rule, there were a great deal of lacrosse players that featured a U shooting string setup in their lacrosse pocket, much like the one pictured above. When the NCAA and NFHS issued the 4 inch rule, every single player that was utilizing a U shooting string setup had to change up their shooting string arrangement completely.

So if you see old pictures of lacrosse players featuring a U shooting string setup in their pocket, that is the reason why. It used to be legal, but then became illegal with the passing of the 4 inch rule. Consequently, the only legal shooting string setups currently are ones that are comprised of straight shooters.

To learn more about the reasons why the NCAA and NFHS elected to remove U shooting strings from the game of lacrosse, click over to my article Are U Strings Illegal in Lacrosse? (New Rule Update).

Excessively Long Hanging Strings

When tying off strings, it is common to have a bit of excess string hanging off just in case further adjustments need to be made in the future. However, there is a maximum length of 2 inches for these hanging strings. Anything hanging strings longer than 2 inches is illegal.

Officials do not call this often, but it is within their jurisdiction to do so. It is more humiliating than anything else to called for a penalty of this nature. So do yourself a favor and cut and burn the hanging strings to the appropriate legal length.

Implementing More Than Two Sidewall Strings

Moreover, it is illegal to have more than two sidewall strings to a single head. Only one sidewall string per side of the mesh is allowed.

This is a relatively easy rule to follow given that utilizing more than sidewall strings complicates matters more than anything else. Stringing a solid sidewall pattern with one string is a hard task already. Introducing another sidewall string into the mix would make this undertaking even more challenging.

Deceptive Multi-Colored Mesh

Furthermore, multi-colored mesh that is meant to mislead the opponent is strictly prohibited. The first time I heard about this rule, I was confused at the notion of what multi-colored mesh could possibly qualify as deceiving.

When I read over the NCAA men’s lacrosse rules, I found my answer. The specific example they utilized was “painting a ball into the weaving” of the mesh. After reading through that example, I could see why they included this rule. It would be rather easy to paint a white, spherical looking ball onto black mesh. The person that actually went ahead and tried this was either a genius or truly desperate!

To be clear, regular multi-colored mesh is legal. Only multi-colored mesh that is constructed with the intent to deceive will be deemed illegal.

3.) Failure to Meet Ball Retainment Rules

The third section of stick legality has to do with how the ball is retained within the pocket. Defensemen need to have a fair chance at dislodging the ball from the pocket, otherwise they will be at a severe disadvantage to the offense. These rules were put in place to ensure a level playing field.

Forward Tilt Test

The first ball retainment test is the forward tilt test. This test is exactly as it sounds. You place a ball within the pocket and slowly tilt the stick forward. With a legal stick, the ball should come pop out of the pocket prior to the head becoming parallel with the ground. If the ball gets stuck in the pocket and fails to come out while the head is parallel, the stick is illegal.

Lateral Tilt Test

The second test is the lateral tilt test. Again, the ball is placed back in the pocket. Instead of tilting the head forward, you rotate the stick so that the ball pops out of the side of the head. The same concept applies here. If the ball gets stuck, the stick is deemed illegal. If the ball rolls out of the pocket, the stick is legal.

Perpendicular Tilt Test

The final ball retainment has to do with how well the ball is able to remain in the pocket when the stick is tilted upside down at a perpendicular angle to the ground.

You place the ball so that it is resting at the deepest point in the pocket. From here, slowly lower the head so that the scoop is the closest part of the plastic to the ground. Ideally, the ball should roll out before reaching a 90 degree angle. If the ball is still fixed securely in the pocket even at the 90 degree angle, the stick is illegal.

4.) Failure to Meet Miscellaneous Lacrosse Stick Regulations

Lastly, there are a couple of miscellaneous rules that a stick must follow in order to be considered fully legal for play. These rules are somewhat peculiar compared to other rules in this guide, but they are just as important to observe.

Taping the Throat of the Lacrosse Head

It is illegal for any part of the lacrosse head’s throat to be taped. Officials need to have clear, unimpeded vision of the throat to make sure that ball carriers are not cradling the stick by the base of the head. If you decide to tape near the lacrosse head, make sure to keep the tape material strictly on the shaft.

This rule applies to face off specialists as well. However, it is required that their sticks have multicolored tape at the top of the shaft, just before the throat of the lacrosse head. For example, if the head is white, the tape at the top of the shaft cannot be white as well. In this situation, red tape would suffice.

This aids officials in seeing whether or not a face off player is illegally positioning their hands on the throat of the lacrosse head. With tape that matches the color of the head, it is harder to judge whether a face off player is cheating or not.

Sawing Off the Bottom of the Throat

In the past, some face off specialists have been known to saw off the very bottom the throat of their lacrosse head. This would afford them more leverage over the stick during face-offs since their hands would be positioned closer to the lacrosse head. As a result, these players would have a slight edge over their opponent.

Lacrosse officials quickly caught on and prohibited this practice. In short, don’t saw off the bottom of your lacrosse head. I would provide a picture here of what this looks like but lacrosse heads are expensive! You’ll just have to imagine.

Exposed Metal at Bottom of Shaft

The bottom of a lacrosse stick should not have any bare metal showing at all. The bottom of the shaft should be completely covered to ensure player safety. The last thing that the lacrosse community wants is players trying to check each other with sharp, exposed pieces of metal. That would be a recipe for disaster.

For this reason, the bottom of the lacrosse shaft must be covered with a manufactured end cap. In previous years, players were allowed to cover the bottom of their shaft with bottle caps or tape. This is no longer the case. The end cap must come from a lacrosse manufactured company or the stick will be deemed illegal.

As long as the bottom of the stick is covered with a manufactured end cap, you can still tape a donut around the end cap. This is a regular practice in the lacrosse community that is well within the realm of legality. Just be sure not to cover the very bottom of the end cap with tape. The portion of the end cap that is concealing the hollow part of the shaft needs to be seen.

Lack of Ball Stop for Wooden Lacrosse Heads

Finally, the last aspect of stick legality is the ball stop. For plastic manufactured lacrosse heads, no ball stop is needed. It is perfectly legal to play without a ball stop when equipped with these kinds of heads.

If you play with a wooden lacrosse head, however, a ball stop is required. Plastic manufactured lacrosse heads can withstand a lot more abuse than wooden lacrosse heads, which is why this rule went into effect. Wooden lacrosse heads need the extra cushion of the ball stop to absorb the constant blows of catching. Otherwise, the structural integrity of the wooden lacrosse head will be worn down a lot more quickly, making it far more likely for the head to fracture.

Sources: 1

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.

Recent Posts