Learning to Speak Lacrosse

dolphin cartoonThat the game and the rules have their own lingo is not unique to the sport of lacrosse.  In football, while fans, players, coaches and announcers use the terms fumble and muff interchangeably, the terms have radically different meanings and can have major impacts on how you rule on a play. Being a fan or an announcer is not the same as being an official.  For folks new to the game and to those who have been playing lacrosse for some time, becoming an official requires that you learn how to talk about the game. One needs to learn what particular terms mean and how to describe situations, leaving out superfluous information and focusing on key relevant facts. One must essentially learn how speak lacrosse.

2013BoysLAxRBNFHSAs an official you need to know where to look for a rule or a definition.  Be aware of how rules interact and affect one another other.  More often than not a number of rules might have bearing on a situation.   The answer to a question is usually found in a number of places and not just one spot.  What does the mechanics manual have to say about it?   What about mid-season rules memos? Constantly rereading and discussing the rules and how they apply to specific situations is key to improving your understanding of the rules and raising your game.

In lacrosse, there are a wide variety of key terms in the rule book and mechanics manual as well as phrases and expressions used by fans, players and coaches.  It can be a bit intimidating.  All of these terms fall into a number of categories: Key Terms, Personnel and Location.

Key Rules Terms

Possession. Possession is THE MOST IMPORTANT TERM YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND. Possession is defined as “carrying, cradling, passing or shooting.” (Rule 4:5 Art. 2-3).  It is essential to determine whether or not a player was in fact in possession.  As I noted earlier, in football, fans and announcers mistakenly use the terms muff and fumble interchangeably.  In lacrosse, possession is the most misunderstood concept.  It affects how you officiate and administer penalties. The protection a goalie is entitled often hinges on whether or not he has possession.  When a player is in possession can determine whether or not a team will begin a new period with the ball or with a faceoff.  A ball not in possession is a loose ball.

Take for example, this situation.  Goalie A1 clamps the ball outside of the crease and his crosse is checked by B4.  If you rule that the Goalie has possession of the ball, a check of his crosse by B will result in a call of Goalie Interference and Free Clear for A.  You will hear coaches, fans and players all yelling the same thing throughout your career.  But we know that Goalie is not carrying the ball, not cradling the ball and neither passing or shooting the ball.  So Goalie A1 is NOT IN POSSESSION and therefore not entitled to protections outside of the crease.  B4 can legally check his crosse in this case.

Out of Bounds. Rule 4:6 defines what it means to be Out of Bounds.  A player with the ball steps on or beyond, or any part or his body or crosse touches the boundary he loses possession. A loose ball touching on or beyond a boundary line (or breaking plane) is awarded to the team that did not last touch it. On a shot, award the ball to the inbounds player closest to where it went out and when it went out.  The crosse is NOT considered to part of the player despite what everyone at your game will say. Also, note that its when and where the ball crosses the line.  Many still believe that it is the player closest to the end line!

Shot. Another misunderstood term is shot.  Rule 4:5 Art. 9 defines a shot as “A ball thrown, kicked or physically directed towards the goal by the offense.” There is a fair amount of leeway in this definition.  So it is dependent upon the official’s judgment as to whether it was a shot or a pass. The rule goes on to state that a shot remains a shot until one of four things happen: the ball comes to rest, possession is gained, it goes out of bounds, or a player causes it to go out of bounds.

Take this situation.  A15 shoot the ball. The ball hits defenseman B8 in the helmet, deflecting the ball out of bounds on the endline.  A12 is closest to the ball when it crosses the sideline.  In this case the shot has not ended and so the rules on awarding the ball on a shot (the player closest to the ball when and where it goes out of bounds) are in effect. It is A’s ball.  Had player A12 caught, that is GAINED POSSESSION thus ending the shot, and then stepped out of bounds, the ball would be awarded to B.

Goal. What is a goal?  This is very important.  The outcome of a game often hinges on these determinations.  Rule 4:8 states that a goal is scored when “a loose ball completely passes through the front of plane formed at the rear edge of the goal line, goal posts and crossbar. Impetus is irrelevant.” In order to make sense of this definition, you need to understand a few key terms: loose ball, possession, plane of the goal and impetus.  The ball must be loose and so NOT in possession. So a goalie in possession of the ball may place his crosse with the ball in it in the goal. This most often happens as he is making a pass and the crosse enters the goal as part of his throwing motion.  For a goal to be scored, a loose ball MUST pass completely through the front plane formed by the REAR EDGE of the Goal line. So if a part of the ball is one the goal line it is NOT A GOAL.  The entire ball must crosse.

No Goal. As important as what is a goal is what disallows a goal.  Rule 4:9 lists a number of situations that take a goal off the board.  The ball must completely crosse the plane before the period ends, regardless of whether or not a whistle or horn is sounded.  No Attacking player can be in the crease nor can they have more than 10 players on the field (including the Penalty Area).  The Attacking team or both teams may not be off sides.  A granted Time Out or an inadvertent whistle prior to the goal being scored disallows the goal.  If the head comes off the shooters stick or the shooter or a teammate touches the goalie in the crease or the goal or netting, the goal is disallowed.  A flag down slow whistle (FDSW) or play on situation on the scoring team (remember, a loose ball goal can be scored, e.g. by kicking the ball). If a player releases earlier from the penalty area and his team scored, the goal is disallowed.  If after the goal, the player adjusts the strings of his crosse before the official requests it, or adjusts the crosse after he has requested it or it found to be illegal.  A player may not deliberately leave his feet by jumping or diving and land in the crease.

In addition, situation can change the way you rule on play.  Rule 7-8 Art 2 (d) states “During a slow whistle, a shot remains a shot until: (d) after hitting the goalkeeper, goal posts or crossbar, the ball is touched by any player of either team other than the defending goalkeeper, or an official. So, while in a normal situation, i.e. no FDSW, a player can catch the rebound and shot and score, in a FDSW you get one shot and after the shot no longer has a chance to cross the plane (misses, or rebounds from the pipe/goalie ), the play is dead.

Airborne Player.  The location of an airborne player is the same as the time the player was last in contact with the field or an extension of the field. So, you are where you were last on the ground.  Thus, a player who gets knocked out of bounds can not leap into the air and catch as pass as he has not reestablished himself in bounds prior to the catch.  So it is a turnover.

Be aware of how rules interact and affect one another other.  The answer to a question is usually found in a number of places and not just one spot.  Constantly rereading and discussing the rules and how they apply to specific situations is key to improving your understanding of the rules and raising your game.


When identifying someone, it is important to know if they are associated with a particular team.  If so, it is customary to use their team color to identify them.  If you are referring to a player from Duke or Michigan, you would call them blue.  Please note, that teams are very serious about their colors.  While it might be easier to say red in lieu of orange, red is not the color of Syracuse, orange is.

Coaches. There are a number of key distinctions to be made regarding coaches.  While the layman might see all coaches as essentially equal, they are not.  While is always a good policy to keep open lines of communication with everyone, the only coach recognized in the rule book as having the authority to communicate with you is the head coach.  Be clear when describing who you were speaking to when it comes to coaches.

Players. Players are identified by color, just as coaches are, as well by their number.  While position, that is whether a player is a midfielder, defenseman, long stick middie, attackman, fogo or goalie may be important to fans and coaches, it is less so to officials except for one very important case, the goalie.  For the most part, officials identify players by the identifying team has possession of the ball and jersey number or when describing a play, using the terms A and B.  For example: “A13 passes and A6 when B16 defects the ball out of bounds.” The A refers to the team in possession of the ball, either on offense or clearing the ball, in a particular situation.  This is how situation are described in the rule book.  That being said, during a game, officials will describe the same sequence of events using team colors. For example: “Red13 passes and Red6 when Orange16 defects the ball out of bounds.”

Officials. Fans may well see all officials as being equal and for the most part they are.  While any official on the field, be it the Referee, Umpire or Field Judge, can make any call during a game and most crews work diligently to come to a consensus when out what a ruling should be, it is the Referee that has the final say.  You will often see the roles abbreviated as the R and the U (and the FJ in a three man game).  In some instances a Chief Bench Official (CBO) is assigned to a game to work in the Table Area.  Their role is limited by rule as to what authority they have and what penalties they can call.

But rather than referring to officials by their title, you will refer to officials by their position on the field during the play.  The official covering the goal being attacked is the Lead (L), the official covering the other goal is the Trail (T). The official responsible for the player with the ball is the On official, while any other official is the Off official.  Thus, one can be the Lead and On official or the Lead and Off official just as you can be the Trail On and Trail Off official.  In a three man game, the official on the far side of the field is referred to as the Single (S).  During a faceoff (F), officials are referred to by their possession on the play, either as the Faceoff official who is administering the faceoff, or as the wing (W) official.  These terms help you to clarify where you were on the field and what your responsibilities were during a play.


When describing where a play occurred or where you or your partner was positioned, it is imperative that you use the proper terms. Were they at “x” (behind the goal) or at faceoff x at the midfield line?  Were you at Goal Line Extended (GLE) or on the End Line?  Bench Side of Far Side?  Top of the Box or coming in from the cone at the Special Substitution Area? Was the Ball in the Far Side Alley or in “The Box?”  Did an incident occur in the Table Area, the Special Substitution Area (also known as “The Box”), the Coaches Area or the Bench Area?

If you are doing a game on a field lined for football, know that the endline will be located 5 yards into the end zone and the top of the restraining line will be the 30 yard line.

Location often determines how you rule on a play.  The closer to the goal or a line can help determine whether contact from the rear is a push from behind or a no call.  A play closer to the crease or a line can result in a turnover.  Understanding the Principle of Advantage Disadvantage (TPOAD) is tied to your understanding of where and when play takes place on the field.  Review these terms and phrases so that you can say what you mean and mean what you say.

In order to become an official you need to pass your rules test.  In order to become a great official, you must master these definitions, terms and ways of speaking about the game.  Read your rule book and mechanics manual and discuss situtaions that have come up in games you have officiated and watched with older more experienced officials.  Join a lacrosse rules forum; reading the threads will help immensely and with time you can join in the discussion..  With practice, advice and experience on the field your grasp of the rules and fluency with the lingo will improve.

I invite you to visit the Glossary page that we have compiled on the ALO site.  Should you come across a term you are unfamiliar with, please feel free to contact us and we will do our best to answer your question and add the term or phrase to the page.





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