A field game played by two opposing teams, with a ball and a special netted stick, or crosse, with which the ball is caught, carried, and thrown. The game, originally played as training for warfare by the Native Americans of North America, and called baggataway, was adopted by the French-Canadians. They called the head of the stick used in the game la crosse because it resembles a bishop's crosier or cross. The National Lacrosse Association (now the Canadian Lacrosse Association) was formed in 1867 to govern the sport. Since then, lacrosse has, by reason of culture, tradition, and popularity, become the Canadian national game.
Men's teams include a goalkeeper, three attack players, three midfield players, and three defence players. Women's teams are composed of six defensive and six offensive players. The goalkeeper, like the other players, is equipped with a crosse, but may defend with hands and body as well. Substitutions are permissible. The uniforms commonly worn are jerseys and shorts and studded shoes, and protective equipment for the men includes helmets with steel wire face guards, light shoulder and arm padding, and gloves similar to those worn in ice hockey.
The object of lacrosse is to send the ball, using the crosse, through the goalposts of the opposing team. In general, the rules are as follows: Each goal counts 1 point, and the team scoring the most goals is the winner. If men's teams are tied at the end of 60 minutes, they play four-minute sudden-death overtime periods until a goal is scored. If women's teams are tied, they play two three-minute overtime periods. The team scoring more goals in that time wins. If the score is still tied, the game continues in sudden-death format.
The game is started by facing: in the men's game, two opposing players in the centre of the field, their backs to their own goals, hold their crosses on the ground, with the ball placed on the ground between them. At a signal from the referee, they draw their crosses towards themselves, the faster of the two picking up the ball. The women's game begins differently, with the ball held between the sticks of two opposing players. At the referee's signal, the players try to gain possession of the ball.
The ball, which is never to be touched with the hand, but caught, carried, and thrown with the crosse, may be passed in any direction, backwards, forwards, or sideways. Long throws, although permissible, are seldom tried; the player usually runs with the ball until it can be passed to a nearby member of the team. A player may jar another player out of position or stop that player from running by a so-called body check, if the latter is about to receive the ball or is carrying it. A body check may not be made from behind, and players making the check must not hurl their bodies through the air, but must keep one foot on the ground in thrusting their bodies against another player. A player may also use the crosse as a tool to dislodge the ball from the crosse of an opponent. No physical contact is permitted in the women's game.
The ball is in play anywhere within the confines of the field and in the clear space behind the goals. If the ball is thrown out of bounds, or if a player in possession of the ball steps on or over a boundary, a free throw is given to an opposing player at that point-that is, the opposing player receives the ball in his or her crosse, and play is started when the referee whistles. Free throws are not given within 20 yd (18 m) of either goal. Technical fouls (minor infractions of the rules of the game) are punished by suspension of the offending player from the game for 30 seconds, or by awarding a free throw to the opponent. Personal fouls, which are infractions of a more serious nature, such as tripping or pushing an opponent, an illegal body check, or unnecessary roughness, are punished by suspension from the game for, from 1 to 3 minutes. The penalty for fouls in the women's game is a free position. Defenders must be 3 yd (2.7 m) behind the player with a free position. That player may then attempt a shot on goal or pass to a teammate. No time penalties are assessed under the rules for the women's game.