Lacrosse appeals to a broad athletic audience because it is the intersection of a multitude of different sports. It takes certain elements from some of the most popular sports and combines them into one single game.
Lacrosse is the most similar to the sport of basketball in terms of strategic tactics and style of play. However, lacrosse draws many parallels with other popular sports as well. Certain aspects of hockey, soccer, and football are also clearly reflected in the game of lacrosse.
You might be thinking to yourself, “How is lacrosse anything like basketball?” In my experience, that was the first thought that popped into my head the first time I heard someone say that. But the more I delved into it, the more similarities that I discovered.
Needless to say, I was shocked with my research findings. These exact shared elements between lacrosse and other popular sports are outlined in the subsequent paragraphs.
At first glance, it is hard to imagine that lacrosse and basketball could be anything alike. To the untrained eye, all that can be seen is that these sports are played in opposite environments with contradictory equipment. Nonetheless, there is a lot more than meets the eye.
Similar Offensive Strategies
The sports of lacrosse and basketball are based on nearly identical offensive strategies. Don’t believe me? Then let’s take a look at the nitty gritty, behind the scenes stratagems that drive both of these offenses.
Forcing the Defense to Rotate: Both lacrosse teams and basketball teams aim to pressure the opposition into shifting their setup to expose the cracks in the defense.
It is difficult to pick apart the opposition when the entire defense is set and ready to take on the challenge. Offenses thrive on defensive miscommunication and oversight. The only way to do this is to force the defense into moving around, which ultimately causes confusion on the defensive end.
Most offenses in lacrosse and basketball provoke defensive rotations by isolating opposing players and driving past them in one-on-one situations. Once a defender has been beat, the rest of the defense must react or the ball carrier will have an open shot.
Player rotations routinely leave defenses in disarray, typically resulting in at least one offensive player being open. In lacrosse and basketball, this is usually the man farthest away from the ball. This is why offenses swing the ball along the perimeter so quickly when a basketball player or a lacrosse player draws help. Their intentions are to deliver the ball to the open man before the defense can recover.
Exploiting Favorable One-on-One Matchups: Furthermore, lacrosse and basketball offenses tend to isolate one-on-one matchups that work in their favor.
When a lacrosse dodging speedster is matched up against a slow, hulking on ball defender, this is a green light situation. In basketball, this is the equivalent of a towering center posted up against a shorter point guard. In both of these scenarios, you want to get the ball to these players as quickly as possible.
Lacrosse and basketball offenses are at their best when they attack the weak links in the defensive chain. It makes sense that offenses would want to isolate their most talented ball handlers against the least skilled defenders.
Setting Pick and Rolls: These two sports even use the exact same mechanics to free up players on ball and off ball.
You probably are already aware that basketball teams use the pick and roll to create space on offense. What you may not know is that lacrosse also features the pick and roll.
Both sports use this method to create favorable matchups and generate adequate room for the ball handler to operate. The pick and roll makes it troublesome on defenses to cover their initial defensive assignment and simultaneously keep track of the whereabouts of the ball.
Spreading the Field with Outside Shooters: The basketball world is continually trending toward spreading the floor with sharpshooters on the three point line. Lacrosse implements this same concept by scattering powerful outside shooters across the field.
Defenses have to respect the threat that outside shooters present. It is for this reason that defenders are reluctant to help out, even when a fellow defender is beat. This helps keep the lane toward the goal or the basket from clogging up.
In the future, lacrosse might even follow the lead of basketball and implement the equivalent of a three point line. The Premiere Lacrosse League has already taken up the trend by rewarding players that shoot from the 16 yard arc with two points. Maybe the two point line will span across every competitive year of lacrosse in the coming years.
Similar Defensive Strategies
Lacrosse and basketball not only share similar offensive tactics, but similar defensive tactics as well.
Providing Defensive Support When Necessary: In basketball, defenders get beat by ball handlers all the time. Consequently, nearby teammates have to leave their defensive assignment to prevent the ball handler from having a free lane to the basket. In the basketball world, this concept is called help.
Lacrosse defenses must also apply this defensive support strategy. Unfortunately, on ball defenders cannot stick with shifty ball carriers all the time. Once the on ball defender has been beat, other defensive players must shift over to provide support to stop the impending threat. This fundamental defensive notion is called sliding in lacrosse.
The concept of help and sliding is essentially one and the same. Both game plans involve shifting to the ball and thwarting the progress of the ball handler to a more dangerous position. Both schemes also share the same overarching goal of delaying the ball handler just enough for the on ball defender to recover and scramble back in position.
Matching Hips with the Ball Handler: Furthermore, lacrosse and basketball coaches always preach about matching hips with the ball handler.
Offensive players explore any means where they can potentially deceive the defender. Lacrosse players use head fakes, shoulder fakes, stick fakes, and jukes to drive past the opposition. Basketball players use similar deceptive movements, such as head fakes, shoulder fakes and jab steps to blow by opposing players.
This is why defenders in both of these sports concentrate their efforts on the hips of the ball handler. The hips cannot be manipulated into baiting defenders to go the wrong way. They always reveal where the ball handler intends to go.
In summary, matching the hips of the ball handler is a staple concept of defensive strategy in both lacrosse and basketball.
Another popular sport that lacrosse is similar to is hockey. Lacrosse shares several characteristics with hockey, which is why a great deal of hockey players flock to the game of lacrosse.
Related Playing Equipment
The most notable resemblance between lacrosse and hockey is the playing equipment. Both sports require a hefty amount of gear in order for players to safely participate.
Heavy Emphasis on the Use of Sticks: The most striking equipment similarity is the use of sticks.
Lacrosse and hockey players never physically touch the puck or the ball. Instead, they use their sticks as a means of handling possession. This is immensely different from most other sports. In sports like basketball, football, and baseball, players use their hands to directly control the ball.
Learning how to properly wield a hockey stick and a lacrosse stick takes a rigorous amount of time and effort. It takes a tremendous volume of repetitions to fully get comfortable with this piece of equipment on the field or on the rink.
The hockey stick and lacrosse stick essentially needs to be an extension of the player’s body. Players need to be so in tune with their stick that it needs to feel like second nature to them.
Substantial Amount of Protective Gear: Moreover, lacrosse and hockey players wear similar gear to protect themselves in the event of a collision.
In both sports, players require a helmet, elbow pads, and gloves. Hockey players also commonly wear shoulder pads and a mouthguard for further protection.
This equipment comes in handy when it comes to absorbing body checks and stick checks from the opposition. It provides players with the feeling of safety and security that they need to focus in during games. Without this protective equipment, the injury rates of both of these sports would skyrocket.
Fast Paced Style of Play
In addition, lacrosse and hockey have an uncommonly rapid pace of play. Players are repeatedly traveling back and forth from the offensive zone to the defensive zone. This is because possession is constantly bouncing between the teams as the defenses makes saves and forces turnovers.
Furthermore, players are searching for any opportunity they can to push the fast break. It is much easier to score when the defense has yet to set up shop. In lacrosse, ball carriers can move the ball down the field in what seems like the blink of an eye. The same goes for hockey. Hockey players can skate remarkably fast and bring the puck down the rink in a hurry.
Not to mention that players and fans cherish the run and gun mentality. There is a certain thrill to careening down the length of the floor while your rivals give chase from behind like rabid dogs.
Playing Behind the Goal
Another component that both lacrosse and hockey share is the ability to play behind the goal.
There are not many other sports where players are able to attack from behind. Soccer players only have access to the space in front of the goal. The territory behind the goal is out of the field of play. Likewise, basketball players cannot attack the basket from behind the hoop.
Lacrosse and hockey is unparalleled in that the point of an offensive attack could originate directly behind the goal. There is a considerable amount of area present for players to operate fully from behind.
This athletic facet adds an entirely new layer to the ball game. It provides players with a unique offensive perspective as well as an unorthodox angle of attack. Lacrosse and hockey offenses use this extra room to their advantage, causing further chaos on the defensive end and opening up additional scoring opportunities.
Power Play Situations
The power play situation is also present in both lacrosse and hockey.
When a player is penalized, they must serve out a certain duration of time in the penalty box. Until the penalty term has been served, their team must play in a man down situation. The other team has the advantage of an extra player during this timeframe, which makes it much easier to score on the opposition.
The power play situation in lacrosse is a 6v5 scenario, whereas the power play situation in hockey is a 5v4 scenario. Although the exact player count differs between the two sports, the premise remains the same.
Offensive players pass the ball around until they pinpoint a situation where one defender is forced to guard two offensive players. The offense then continually works this 2v1 matchup, exhausting the defense and generating a high quality, uncontested shot in the process.
The power play is a fresh, unorthodox way to spice up the game. The dynamic nature of both hockey and lacrosse benefit enormously from its addition.
The sports of lacrosse and soccer also draw many parallels. There are several distinct aspects of soccer that clearly cross over to the lacrosse field.
Emphasis on Running Stamina and Speed
Lacrosse and soccer are run heavy sports. Players log in multiple miles every single outing because they are forced to run up and down the field so often.
The typical lacrosse player runs anywhere from 3 to 5 miles on average. A standard soccer player puts up similar numbers, running within the range of 5 to 7 miles. Although soccer players do run slightly more than lacrosse players, both of these sports demand superior muscular endurance to tolerate this stress game after game.
Stamina is not even the only running facet that is tested. Speed is also of the utmost necessity.
These sports require players to interchange between sprinting and jogging just to keep up with the ball. The ball is regularly moving along the field and players need to constantly adapt in order to avoid putting their team in a precarious position.
To put it simply, the combination of running speed and stamina is needed to thrive on both the soccer pitch and the lacrosse field.
Similar Player Positions
The positions in lacrosse and soccer also resemble one another.
In lacrosse, there are four major player positions: attacker, midfielder, defender, and goalkeeper. Soccer features a similar general set up with forwards, midfielders, defenders, and a goaltender.
The lacrosse attackers resemble soccer forwards in that both of these positions are specialized toward scoring goals. They are the leaders of the offense and are expected to be the most talented ball handlers on the team.
Lacrosse midfielders perform related duties to that of soccer midfielders. Players at the midfield position need to be proficient at both ends of the field. They are the intermediary players that follow wherever the ball moves. If they need to play offense, they play offense. If their number is called for defense, they find a player to match up against.
The overarching responsibility of lacrosse and soccer defenders is the same. They function to protect the goal at all costs. Despite the differences in sport, the central defensive tenets that players follow are identical. Defenders need to stay in between the ball and the goal, break down with their feet, and practice solid body positioning.
Both sports even showcase a goalkeeper. These players do not simply just make saves. They captain the defense with their field awareness and constant communication. They are also entrusted with the clearing effort.
It is evident that each individual position in lacrosse is mirrored by a similar position in soccer.
Analogous Field Conditions and Boundaries
Furthermore, the field of play in lacrosse shares plenty of characteristics with the field of play in soccer.
There is no shortage of field space in either of these sports. A regulation size lacrosse field is 110 yards in length and 60 yards in width. The minimum length and width for a soccer field is 100 yards long by 55 yards across, but most soccer fields expand beyond these minimum dimensions.
Not only do these sports share a sizable playing field, the conditions of the field itself are also strikingly similar. At the youth and high school level, many lacrosse teams actually play on the same exact field as soccer teams. Thus, players prep for the field conditions in nearly identical ways.
For example, lacrosse and soccer players almost always wear cleats to have superior traction on the field. They even deal with related weather conditions since both sports are predominantly played in the spring for the youth and high school season.
Lastly, the popular American sport of football contains elements that are very much like particular facets of lacrosse. It is no wonder that so many football players transition over to lacrosse during the offseason.
Element of Physical Contact
The most glaring connection between these two sports is the legality of aggressive physical contact.
The game of football is founded on the concept of physicality above all else. Football players are blocking, hitting, and tackling one another with every play. Lacrosse does not showcase quite as much physicality as football, but it is a close second.
The sport of lacrosse may not allow full fledged tackling, but it does permit body checking and stick checking. These checks can have some explosive results given the right circumstances. If you want to see what I am talking about, click on the video below!
You can see how there are some flashes of football contact present in lacrosse. Although there is a bit more stipulations involved with how players can contact one another in lacrosse, this sport is about as close as you can get to the realm of football physicality.
Unrestricted Movement with the Ball
When a football player acquires possession, there is hardly anything that the ball does to stop them from accelerating to maximum velocity. The ball does not interrupt their speed and momentum whatsoever.
Ball carriers in lacrosse also get to enjoy this luxury. Players rarely have to think about the ball when they have possession. They can channel all of their concentration and effort toward speeding past the opposition as fast as they can.
This unrestricted movement is a remarkable factor that many sports fans overlook. Without this freedom of movement, lacrosse and football would not be nearly as dynamic as they are. Lucky for us, players in both sports can put their full speed on display, even when they are “burdened” with the ball.
The Bottom Line
In summary, lacrosse is the paragon of quite a few sports that are extremely popular worldwide. Players thrive at this sport because of how easy it is to shift their prior sports knowledge to the realm of lacrosse. If you are curious as to whether lacrosse might be the next sport for you, just go ahead and try it out! You won’t know if you like it until you try it.