Push with Possession: When is a push a not a push?


The push with possession call: it is one of the most important and misunderstood calls in lacrosse. But it appears as if pushes with possession are a different story. Why do so many go seemingly uncalled? A relatively soft nudge in the back that pushes a player out of bounds gets a flag, while a hard shove from behind in the middle of the field gets a free pass.  Coaches and fans start yelling “You gotta call it both ways ref!” So when is a push a push. What gives?  Four factors come into play when determining whether a push really is a push:  the rule, the principle of advantage/disadvantage (TPOAD), location and level of play.

The Rule

Rule 6:9 states a player “shall not thrust or shove an opponent form the rear. A push is exerting pressure after contact and is not a violent blow. Pushing is permitted from the front or side when an opponent has possession of the ball or is within five yards of a loose ball. In this case pushing shall be done with either closed hand, shoulder or forearm, and both hands shall be on the crosse.” And finally a push is not a push if the offended player turns at the last second causing a legal play to become illegal (Rule 5:4 article 4).

A push is a technical foul, which by definition is a foul of a less serious nature than personal fouls (Rule 6). This is NOT a safety issue but rather one of advantage/disadvantage. If the play is violent, with the head, you have a personal foul, either an Illegal Body Check or Unnecessary Roughness. The key factors in determining whether or not a push should be called is not how hard or soft it is but whether or not it was in the back AND, whether or not by doing so, a player gained an advantage. All of this means there is quite a bit of leeway officials have when making a ruling.


The principal of advantage/disadvantage (TPOAD) states that you should not call a foul if it does not give an advantage to the team committing it or disadvantage the team on the receiving. What happens to the ball carrier or player about to gain possession: are they forcefully redirected, forced out of over a line, do they stumble or lose momentum, do they have to go around or alter their path as a result, is the ability to gain possession taken away, etc., are all examples.


It does not apply to cases where judgment isn’t really  involved (e.g line calls: crease, offsides or out of bounds). Line calls are black and white: you either stepped on or over the line or you did not. And it NEVER applies to  safety calls. The concept is in the Rules Book in a few  instance (e.g. a play-on situations such as those for goalie interference, or a GIKI situation where team B has a potential fast break opportunity when the ball leaves the attack area) but for the most part is primarily addressed in training sessions.

Location, Location, Location

pushWhere the action happens has a lot of bearing on what you call: midfield, fast break, on the crease, at the sideline, midline or endline on a contested play? Where the push occurs is also important, a nudge from behind by a player forcing someone out of bounds or into the crease is a big play so it should result in a flag. You are taking away a possession or a goal. But a shove from behind by a trailing middy at midfield, even if the player stumbles, can be a no call. In the later case, its not a safety issue and there was no disadvantage. No call.

In the NFL, Someone holds on every play. 

The primary reason for TPOAD is that it keeps the game moving along.   If you were to stop play and award the ball or assess a foul EVERY time there was a technical violation of the rules even if there was no advantage gained an NFHS high school game would take three  hours. I like to make the analogy with football: holding in the NFL occurs on every play. But it is called only when the action has a direct bearing on the play.

NFL Vice-President of  Officiating Dean Blandino noted,  “Part of our philosophy is that if it (holding) has no affect on the outcome of the play and it’s away from the point of attack, maybe if it was at the point of attack we would call it. But since it wasn’t, we’re going to let that go. No one wants to have a flag thrown on every play. That wouldn’t be good for the game.” (CBS Radio 93.9 The Fan Interview, 8/20/2013)

Coaches and players often complain that all they want is consistency! Just call the pushes the same way. If we did, flags would be raining down on the field and they would be yelling “let the kids play.  The question officials have to ask themselves is when calling or not calling a push in lacrosse is: did the act affect the outcome of the play. Advantage or disadvantage.

 Level of Play

youth_lacrosse_small-2Another factor that makes a huge difference is level of play. A small bump in a U11 game may be a huge disadvantage, the same bump in a high school varsity game may have little effect. In addition, I prefer not to use play-on and TPOAD at the lower level as I want to let the younger plays know what they did illegally right after they did it.

Even at a particular level of play, the same contact can be called a push in one instance and not in another. It isn’t as much about the action as it is about what happened. An example of this is a small push in the middle of the field will go uncalled but if the same action happens on the sideline and the pushed player goes out of bounds (and is thus disadvantaged by losing the ball) it  draws a flag.

“That was from the side!”

“That was from the side!” his is what I often here as i throw my flag and yell “flag Down!!” So how do I know? The feet of the defender are a good key. If he’s coming in from the side and contacts the player on the shoulder, it’s legal. If his feet are behind the player with the ball, he’s beat, and there’s a good chance that contact will be in the back. If contact is made between the shoulder blades it’s definitely in the back. Wider than that is a judgment call, but I typically don’t look to see where his head is. As always, good positioning will allow you to see if this happens.


In the video above, what the series of possible pushes.  At 03 seconds, white makes contact with black’s crosse as he is trying to scoop the ball.  Looks awful!  Listen to the crow, everyone wants a push.  Good no call.

At 05 seconds, black gains possession and runs to the sidelines and is pushed out of bounds from behind by white.

Remember the four factors that come into play when determining whether a push really is a push:

push withposs

Rule: this is clearly from behind.  Look at the feet in this still.  White’s feet are clearly behind the black player.

Advantage/Disadvantage:  If you don’t call this, you must give the ball to white and reward them for disadvantaging black.

Location: Right on the sidelines!

Level of Play: High School Varsity.

This is one of the hardest calls to get a feel for as an official.  experience is the best teacher.  Look at video, watch games, work games and most importantly talk with your mentors, partners and trainers.

Play on!

Greg Hite

Comments are closed.