If you are a member of the National Federation of High Schools, an online, searchable PDF version of the rules is available on the NFHS Officiating Central Hub through the Arbiter Sports website.
This summary of the rules of lacrosse was adapted from a document created by Eric Evans. It has been updated to reflect the most recent rules changes.
Boys’ lacrosse is played by two teams of ten players each. The purpose of each team is to score by causing the ball to enter the goal of its opponent and to prevent the other team from securing the ball and scoring. The winning team is the team scoring the most goals in the game. The ball is kept in play by being carried, thrown, or batted with the crosse (stick), or rolled or kicked in any direction.
The rules for youth lacrosse differ significantly; specifics include timing differences, limited or no counts, severely restricted checking.
Each player must wear a helmet, mouthguard, gloves, shoes, jersey, and shorts. All players except the goalie must wear shoulder and arm pads. Goalies are required to wear a throat protector and a chest protector.
Each player uses a crosse. Short crosses, 40-42”, are used by attackmen and middies. A team may have no more than four long crosses, 50-72”, on the field and they are used by the defense. The goalie’s crosse has an extra wide head
The ten players on each team are listed as Attack (3), Midfield (3), Defense (3) and Goalie (1). A full roster for a team usually includes at least 15-20 players for subs.
Each team has a Head Coach and usually several assistant coaches.
Two or three Officials or Referees control the game with their whistles and penalty flags.
The home team provides the table personnel who control the game clock, record statistics and penalties, and sound an air horn for substitutions.
Four periods of 12 minutes each for varisty contests (10 for sub varsity).
Between periods is a 2-minute intermission while halftime is 10 minutes.
In the last two minutes of the game, stalling rules are in affect for the winning team. They must keep the ball in their attack area, even if they are a man down.
Overtime. Each sudden-victory overtime period is four minutes in duration.
Play of the Game
Occurs 5 minutes before the game. The visitors call it and choose direction of goal or alternating possession arrow (AP arrow).
Before the opening face-off, teams face each-other with their left shoulder toward the goal they are defending. The officials give final directions and opponents shake hands.
A Faceoff starts each period and occurs after goals. The official puts the ball on the centerline X. Faceoff midfielders face the goal they are attacking. Crosses are set on the 4” line, parallel to each other, but they can not touch the ball. Once down, players may not back-out, stand or re-set. The crosse heads are to evenly match, perpendicular to the ground. The hands and fingers are wrapped around the crosse, touching the ground. It is legal to lean over the center line. The official declares “set” once facers assume positions-both must remain motionless until the whistle. After the whistle, players may attempt to direct the course of the ball with their crosses but it is illegal to step on or kick an opponent’s crosse.
Faceoff positions of other players. 3 attackers, 3 defenders, and 1 goalie in Zones 1 & 4. Two face-off men at X, “wingers” behind the wing line from each team. On the whistle, the wingers are released. Zone 1 & 4 players are released upon possession, when the ball goes out of bounds, or the ball goes into Zone 1 or 4.
Play of the Ball Definitions
Free play ball is awarded to A, no player of either team may be within 5 yards of him on the restart.
Player possession control by carrying, cradling, passing or shooting.
Team possession possession stays with team who last had player possession.
Loose ball is a ball not in player possession.
Pass throwing or bouncing ball to a teammate.
Clear ball movement from a team’s defensive end to it’s offensive end.
Shot propelled ball toward goal, by being thrown, raked, kicked or pushed. A shot ends when the ball goes out of bounds, it comes to rest in-bounds, a player gets possession or a player causes the ball to go out of bounds.
Out of Bounds
When a player with possession of the ball steps on or beyond a boundary line. When a loose ball touches a boundary line or the ground outside a boundary line. For shots, award the ball to the team who had a player inbounds closest to the spot where and when the ball crossed the end/sideline. The stick does not count, only the player’s body. It’s not closest to the end-line, rather closest to the place where the ball crossed the line out of bounds.
When the ball crosses the goal line and rear edges of the goal pipes completely, regardless of who supplied the impetus.
Goal Not Scored
The ball crosses after the horn; a period has ended; A’s body is in the crease when the ball crosses; there are more than 10 A players; A is offside or both teams are offside; ball crosses after whistle is blown; any A player touches goalie who’s within (touching) crease; A touches the goal or net before the ball crosses the goal line; a foul by A occurs before the ball crosses the goal line; a time-out is called before ball crosses goal-line, even if the official has not blown the whistle yet; A deliberately (player must be grounded throughout the shot with possession outside the crease) jumps or dives into the crease, even if the ball has already crossed the goal line.
A team may not have more than 6 players on the offensive end nor 7 on the defensive end including players in the penalty box; having too few is not a penalty.
Defensive 20-Second Clear
When B possesses the ball on its defensive side of the field (Zone 1 or 2), they have :20 sec. to clear the ball across the center line.
Advancing the Ball 10-Second Count
When A enters Zone 3, they must touch or get the ball into the goal area (not alley) into Zone 4 within :10 sec. They are free to exit the attack area so long as the officials do not deem the team to be stalling in which case they may issue a “Get it in/Keep it in” command.
Over and Back
Once the initial ten count is satisfied, the offense may not allow the ball to cross the midline unless this is the result of a shot or a deflection by the defense. Similar to a back court violation in basketball.
Legal within 5 yards of a loose ball, from the front or side, above waist and below the neck. Intent should be to dislodge ball.
Checking with the Crosse
Legal when the opponent has possession of the ball, the ball is within 5 yards of the opponent or when a ball is in flight within 5 yards of an opponent. Gloved hand on crosse is considered part of crosse.
Player setting the “pick” must be stationary and motionless to be legal. Feet may be no wider than the shoulder.
Goal Crease Privileges
The goalie can stop or block a shot in any manner with his crosse or body. He may bat or block the ball away with his hand, but can not catch or pick the ball up. If the ball is outside the crease, he can’t touch it with his hand, even if he is within (touching) the crease. The goalie and teammates may receive passes in crease. Team A players shall not contact the goalie or his crosse if he is in the crease (touching is in crease), and the ball is loose in the crease. Yet, if the ball is in the crease and is loose, A can try to possess it as long as he doesn’t contact the goalie or his crosse in the crease.
Goal Crease Prohibitions
If A dives or jumps and his momentum puts him into B’s crease on a shot, no goal, even if the ball crosses the goal line before he lands. No A player can be in B’s crease at any time. B players in possession may not carry the ball into their own crease. B’s goalie must clear the ball from their crease within 4 sec. after gaining possession. The goalie is considered completely out of the crease when he is 100% out of the crease.
Special Substitutions on the Fly
These substitutions occur during live ball plays, end-line out of bounds plays and when horn substitutions are not allowed. The sub shall: be equipped/ready to play; wait to enter the “box” until the substitution is imminent; the exiting player exits the field completely through the box; after the replaced player is 100% off the field, then the sub enters immediately
Change Goals after Each Period
Teams switch ends of the field after each quarter.
An official may suspend play at his discretion for equipment loss, injuries, or for any other reason pertaining to the safe, fair operation of the game.
During a dead ball, on-field players and the Head Coach can call a time-out. During live ball play, the team in possession may call a time-out or their Head Coach may call a time-out. Teams have 2 time-outs per half, but can’t be used consecutively.
Alternate Possession (AP)
If officials can not determine who should get the ball, AP arrow.
Are of a serious nature. The penalty is 1-3 min. time serving, depending on the official’s judgement of the severity and perceived intent. The ball is awarded to the offended team.
Crosse Check The handle of the crosse between the players hands is the point of contact, and the player thrusts it or holds it extended away from his body.
Illegal Body Check Contacting a non-ball-carrier who isn’t within 5 yards of a loose ball; avoidable contact on a shooter or passer; checking an opponent from behind or low; contact above the shoulders; checking an opponent touching the ground with anything other than his feet; blocking an opponent with the head/initiating contact with the head (spearing). Contacting an opponent above the shoulders is an illegal body check.
Illegal Crossse A crosse that does not conform to measurement specifications.
Illegal Equipment Not wearing required equipment or wearing illegal equipment.
Slashing Swinging the crosse at an opponent’s crosse or body with reckless abandon, even if the swing misses; a defensive player hitting an opponent’s body. except when it is the passer/shooter/scooper who causes the contact; the glove is part of the crosse. Contact alone is not a slash. It shall be a blow or strike, not a brush.
Tripping A player shall not trip an opponent with his body or crosse. You cannot trip a player with your stick when attempting to scoop a ground ball, nor can a stationary defender trip a player.
Unnecessary Roughness Any avoidable act that is deliberate and excessively violent with the body or crosse, even a legal body check.
Unsportsmanlike Conduct These rules apply to players, subs, non-players, coaches or anyone officially connected with a team.
Fouling Out 5 minutes of personal fouls. This is not an ejection, but rather a disqualification of the player.
Ejection Deliberately striking an opponent or leaving the bench during an altercation; any flagrant misconduct.
These are of a less severe nature than personal fouls. The penalty is :30 if the foul is committed while the opponent has possession of the ball or a turnover if their team has the ball or it’s loose.
Crease Violations A’s body may not touch B’s crease. If A has the ball and touches the crease, turnover. If the goalie has possession or if the ball is in the crease, play-on, if the pass is incomplete or the ball doesn’t leave the crease=free clear, center X. If the ball is loose, A touches the crease, then the goalie gets possession, the play-on is over.
Holding Players shall not impede opponents except if the opponents have possession of the ball or are within five yards of a loose ball. Holding is allowed against the ball carrier from the front or side. The ball carrier’s crosse may be held and when a ball is loose, crosses within 5 yards of the loose ball may be held by another crosse.
Illegal Screen Moving into and contacting a defensive player in an attempt to block his pursuit. The screener can not extend his crosse into the defensive man. He must be stationary if contact occurs. There must be contact to have an illegal screen.
Illegal Procedure Any action by a sub or player that is a technical foul and isn’t defined. This includes: touching the ball with the hand (except goalie); throwing the crosse; playing without crosse; delay of game; not being in restraining area at face-off; not giving 5 yds. for re-starts; substitution violations; goal crease violations; calling too many time-outs; having more than 10 players on the field; face-off violations;
Conduct Foul No one shall object to an official’s decision by arguing or gesturing.
Interference Players shall not interfere with the free movement of an opponent unless they are the ball carrier or the ball is loose (pass, shot, ground ball) in a 5 yd. circle around that loose ball.
Offsides There must be 3 attackers and 4 defenders on each side of the center line.
Push No player shall thrust or shove an opponent from the rear. Pushing from the front or side is legal against the ball carrier and against players within 5 yds. of a loose ball.
Stalling A “stall warning” is put on when A is not attacking the goal. Once the warning is given, they have 10 seconds to “Get it in” the box, if there they must “keep it in” their attack goal area. The stall warning is automatically on the last two minutes of the game for the winning team. The warning can be applied at any time during the game.
Warding Off The ball carrier shall not use his free hand or arm or other part of his body to hold, push off or control the direction or movement of the crosse or body of an opponent applying a check
Withholding A loose ball shall not be laid upon or trapped with the crosse longer than necessary to control it, or pick it up with one motion. Players shall not withhold the ball from play. Ball stuck in front or back of crosse is withholding.
Over and Back Once a team has gained the attack box, they may not take the ball over the midline. This is similar to a back court violation in basketball.
Player who committed a foul shall leave the field immediately, stay in the table area “box” until released.
Penalty time starts and stops on the whistle and ends when the time expires. Penalty time carried over into subsequent periods.
Goals score by opponents of team serving penalty ends the time if it was a releasable penalty. Non-releasable (NR) fouls do not end until the time expires.
Slow Whistle Technique
A has possession, B fouls, flag down, A gets the advantage to try to score until they: score; the ball goes out of bounds; B gets possession; a missed shot; the ball exits the goal area; the ball hits the ground; or if A fouls.
Slow Whistle Enforcement. Personal fouls, even if a goal is scored, are time-serving. For B technical fouls where A scores, the penalty is wiped out, face-off. For B technical fouls where A doesn’t score (ball is out or grounded), B serves, A’s ball again.
Play On Technique
When a player commits a loose ball foul, line, goalie interference or crease violation and the offended team has a chance to pick up the lose ball cleanly officials physically and verbally indicate “play-on” and the whistle is held. If the offended team gains possession, the play-on ends. If the fouling team gets the ball, whistle, turnover. This is very similar to the “play on” technique used in soccer.
The rules for youth boys’ lacrosse are written by US Lacrosse and while based upon the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) rule book, they are now a separate document.
Many youth leagues around the country use modifications to the rules. US Lacrosse strongly endorses that the uniform youth lacrosse rules included in the NFHS rule book (boys). Check with your league for the specific modifications.
A key component of US Lacrosse’s effort to to improve the quality of experience in youth lacrosse is the development of consistent national rules based on the physical, cognitive and psychological development stages of children.
This guidebook, developed in conjunction with the US Lacrosse Sports Science and Safety Committee, is intended as educational tools for players, parents, coaches, officials and administrators to help explain the rules and the rationale behind the rules.