Lacrosse is a game that is entirely North American in its origins. The native peoples of the continent played the game known variously as baggataway, and the "little brother of war" for thousands of years prior to the arrival of European explorers in the mid-1500s. For the native people, lacrosse was a game that was entirely preparatory for the battles of warfare. Lacrosse took its present name from the French missionaries. They gave the sport its name by virtue of the resemblance between the game's distinctive hooked wooden stick and the crosier, or crosse, carried by church bishops.
The native North American version of lacrosse was played over distances spanning village to village, with contests lasting for a number of days. The games were extremely violent and serious injury and death to the participants was a common occurrence. Modern lacrosse is not a deadly sport, but it does reflect a measure of the physicality and the athleticism required in the native game.
Modern lacrosse has two distinct variants. The best-known version on a worldwide basis is field lacrosse, a game played by both men and women on a field the approximate size and dimensions of a soccer field. The men's and women's games have significant rule differences however. Each team has ten players on the field at any time. Each player also has a stick, with a netted pocket at the end with which to catch the lacrosse ball. The ball is constructed of hard Indian rubber, and the object of the game is to throw the ball into the opposing goal. The goal is 6 ft2 (0.5 m2), and it is situated in a crease that is a 9-ft (0.8 m) radius around the goal. Each team plays with a goalkeeper, defensemen (sometimes known as "long sticks," by virtue of their specialized sticks used to assist in keeping attackers from the goal), midfielders, and attack players. The defense and the attack must each remain on that half of the field, while the midfielders are permitted to roam the entire field.
A shot fired by a lacrosse player may exceed 100 mph (160 km/h); the game is fast paced and the men's game is a physical one. The players wear a protective helmet with a full face, shoulder pads that include a protective girdle, padded gloves, and cleats suited to the playing surface, which is either natural grass or an artificial surface. Players are allowed to use their shoulder to body check an opponent who is within 9 ft (2.74 m) of the ball. Players are permitted to use their sticks to check the stick of the ball carrier. The defense players are permitted to use their longer sticks to jab at an opponent. In the women's version, any physical contact other than that incidental to the play is illegal; the stick check is the prime defensive tactic in the women's game.
The basic tactics of field lacrosse are similar to aspects of both basketball and soccer. The spacing of the players and the use of teammates to screen opposing defenders to create advantageous passing angles are important. Lacrosse is one of the quintessential team games, and it is rare for a single player to dominate. Noted field lacrosse players include Jim Brown, the legendary football star who was an All-American collegiate lacrosse player while at Syracuse University in the late 1950s, and the twin brothers, Gary and Paul Gait, who dominated play in both collegiate lacrosse and a number of senior level and professional leagues for 20 years.
The United States is the preeminent nation in the relatively small world of international field lacrosse. The game is a prominent sport at the collegiate level, particularly in the eastern United States, and there is a national championship convened by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) each year. The U.S. has dominated the international field lacrosse championships; other prominent nations are Canada, Australia, and Great Britain.
The second lacrosse variant is box lacrosse, a game that evolved in Canada during the late 1800s. Using hockey rinks that were generally unused in the summer months, box lacrosse is played on a surface approximately 200 ft (60 m) long, by 85 ft (25 m) in width, six players per side—five runners and a goal-tender. The same ball as that used in field lacrosse is employed in the box game; the players, with the exception of the goaltender, wear similar equipment as their field counterparts. The chief distinctions between the two games are the manner in which the opposing player can be hit, and the dimensions of the goal crease. The 6-ft (1.8 m), semicircular crease in box lacrosse permits the offensive players to get much closer to the goaltender, who wears full body equipment as a result of being exposed to very hard shots delivered at close range. The goaltender must possess significant hand-eye coordination and also make long passes from the crease to initiate offense by way of the fast break. Box lacrosse games are typically high scoring encounters.
The significant tactical difference between box and field lacrosse is the ability of a defensive player to check the opposition player who possesses the ball with a cross check, delivered with two hands on the stick, anywhere between the opponent's shoulders and waist, except for a blow to the back. Box lacrosse is a very physical game for this reason, but as all players are flat footed on the playing surface and in a relatively balanced position when the check is delivered, the forces of the check do not often tend to result in serious injury to the recipient player, when contrasted with other contact sports such as ice hockey or football.
Long the virtually exclusive domain of Canada, box lacrosse is now played professionally in the National Lacrosse League with 12 teams based in various American and Canadian cities. The professional players come from both the field and the box lacrosse traditions. The World Indoor Lacrosse championship, with teams from eight countries was first contested in 2003.
la·crosse / lə ˈkrôs; ˈkräs/ • n. a team game, originally played by North American Indians, in which the ball is thrown, caught, and carried with a long-handled stick having a curved L-shaped or triangular frame at one end with a piece of shallow netting in the angle.