lacrosse rules

Lacrosse is an exciting sport, but even basic lacrosse rules can be confusing to those trying to learn to play the game for the first time. Due to the unique nature of the sport, understanding lacrosse rules for beginners can greatly enhance the learning experience and make the game more enjoyable.

While there are differences between men’s lacrosse rules and women’s rules, and adult and youth lacrosse rules have different variations, there are fundamental similarities that exist in lacrosse rules on every level. The following rules of lacrosse are generally observed during every game.

  • Number of Players on the Field: The basic rules of lacrosse call for 10 players on each team on the field at a time, unless there’s a penalty causing a player to sit out for a time. According to the lacrosse rulebook, the rules for lacrosse include: there must be 4 players in the defensive zone, 3 in the attacking zone and 3 are allowed to go wherever they want according to the lacrosse rulebook. Some women’s lacrosse rules may call for added players.
  • Touching the Ball with Hands: The rules of lacrosse state that players can only use their sticks to handle the ball. However, lacrosse rules provide an exception for the goalkeeper when they’re in the goal crease.
  • Start of Play: The start of play begins with a face-off, according to the basic lacrosse rules. The referee places the ball on the ground in the center of the field and players can attempt to take possession as soon as the whistle is blown.
  • The Goal Crease: The marked area around the goal is called the goal crease. Lacrosse rules and regulations state that no opposing player can enter the other team's goal crease.
  • Possession after a Ball Goes Out of Bounds: If the lacrosse ball goes out of bounds after a shot, basic lacrosse rules give the ball to the team who had the player closest to the ball when it left the field of play. However, if the ball goes out of play in any other circumstance, rules of lacrosse award the ball to the team that did not touch the ball last.

While basic youth lacrosse rules don’t change the nature of the game, there are some notable differences between men’s lacrosse rules and youth rules. The most noticeable difference is that younger age groups are not allowed to body check, keeping the lacrosse rules for physical contact to minimum in the youngest divisions. 

Some other youth lacrosse rules vary and may change from league to league. Game periods, quarters or halves may be shortened in some leagues' youth lacrosse rules, and the youngest players will play with fewer players on shorter fields to give them more opportunity to learn basic lacrosse rules and gameplay.

High school lacrosse rules will generally resemble the same lacrosse rulebook as the college lacrosse rules. Many high school lacrosse rules call for a slightly shorter game as quarters will be (4) 12-minute stop time quarters rather than the full 15 minute quarters stated in the NCAA lacrosse rules and regulations. 

Some high school lacrosse rules may be slightly altered from league to league, but some other differences include variances in field dimensions within parameters outlined in the basic lacrosse rules.

Women’s lacrosse rules vary quite a bit from men’s lacrosse rules in the way the game is played. The first major rule difference is that women’s lacrosse rules allow for up to 12 players on the field at once rather than the 10 of the men’s game. 

Women’s lacrosse rules also outlaw checking and most physical contact. The start of the game doesn’t always begin with a face off, due to potential contact involved, however. Instead, the captains of the 2 women’s lacrosse teams meet at midfield and draw for first possession.

Due to the difference in gameplay women’s lacrosse rules, the lacrosse regulations for equipment are also different from men’s lacrosse league’s rules. For the most part, women’s lacrosse padding is smaller and in many leagues only goalkeepers are required to wear helmets. In order to encourage a faster pace of passing and shooting, the pockets of the head of the stick are shallower according to men’s lacrosse rules, and every player besides the goalie must use the same size stick outlined in the leagues women’s lacrosse rules.

College lacrosse rules resemble the standard lacrosse rules in most respects. NCAA lacrosse rules call for a 60 second shot clock to prevent stalling when one team is in the lead, but some smaller college lacrosse rules enforce an 80 second shot clock. NCAA lacrosse only allows 4 long sticked defensemen, and field dimensions can be altered if signed off by coaches ahead of time.

The Professional Lacrosse League’s rules vary only slightly from college lacrosse rules. 

PLL rules require their field to be slightly shorter at 100 yards long and 60 yards wide. They also outline a 2-point shot where players can score an extra point for hitting shots outside a 15-yard marker. 

Similar to the NCAA, PLL rules call for a 52-second shot clock, but unlike college rules, they allow diving shots and do not require a restraining box. PLL rules also call for four 12-minute quarters, instead of the 15-minute quarters found in the NCAA.

What equipment do you need to play lacrosse?

In order to abide by lacrosse rules, men’s and youth lacrosse rules require helmets, shoulder pads, gloves and a lacrosse stick. Mouth guards and other equipment may be required based on age group and specific lacrosse rules for the league. Women’s lacrosse rules allow for lighter equipment due to the no-contact lacrosse rules and regulations.

Are rules for women’s lacrosse different?

Yes. Women’s lacrosse rules do not allow the physical contact that’s allowed under men’s lacrosse rules. There are also equipment differences in the amount of padding required and the length of the stick allowed.

Are there penalties in lacrosse?

Basic lacrosse rules outline many different penalties, but enforcement and types of penalties vary by age group and are different in men’s and women’s lacrosse rules. If called for a penalty, lacrosse rules dictate a player must sit out for a small amount of time, resulting in a short-handed situation. Some rules for lacrosse call for a player to sit out the rest of the game after committing five penalties.

How many players are on a lacrosse field?

Men’s lacrosse rules allow for 10 players on the field and women’s lacrosse rules may allow for up to 12. Youngest divisions, usually under 12 years old, in youth leagues often play with less players in order to allow young players to learn a less complicated version of the game.


This article was originally published on April 18, 2022, and has been updated with new information.