Denver City Lax works to create opportunities for inner-city youth in the Denver area.
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The Basics of the Game

Boys’ lacrosse is fast paced game played by ten players:  a goalkeeper, three defensemen, three midfielders and three attackmen. The object of the game is to shoot the ball into the opponent's goal.  The team scoring the most goals wins.

 * Each team must keep at least four players, including the goalie, on its defensive half of the field and three on its offensive half.  Three players (midfielders) may roam the entire field.

 * Generally, youth lacrosse games are 48 minutes long, with 12 minute quarters. We use a running clock, so the clock runs during out of bounds situations etc.  Each team is given a two minute break between the first and second quarters, and the third and fourth quarters. Half-time is ten minutes long.

* Teams change sides between periods.  Each team is permitted two time-outs each half. The team winning the coin toss chooses the end of the field it wants to defend first.

* Boy's lacrosse begins with a face-off at the beginning of each half and after each goal. The ball is placed between the sticks of two players at the center of the field.  The official blows the whistle to begin play.  Each face-off player tries to control the ball.  The players in the wing areas can release; the other players must wait until one player has gained possession of the ball or the ball has crossed the goal line. 

* Center face-offs are also used after a goal and at the start of each quarter. 

* Players may run with the ball in the crosse, pass and catch the ball.  Only the goalkeeper may touch the ball with his hands. 

* A player may gain possession of the ball by dislodging it from an opponent's crosse with a stick check, which includes the controlled poking and slapping of the stick and gloved hands of the player in possession of the ball. 

* Body checking is permitted if the opponent has the ball.  However, all contact must occur from the front or side, above the waist and below the shoulders.  An opponent's crosse may also be stick checked if it is within five yards of a loose ball or ball in the air. 

* If the ball or a player in possession of the ball goes out of bounds, the other team is awarded possession of the ball.  If the ball goes out of bounds after an unsuccessful shot on goal, the player nearest to the ball when and where it goes out of bounds is awarded possession. 

* An attacking player cannot enter the crease around the goal, but may reach in with his stick to scoop a loose ball.

Two teams of ten players are on the field at one time.  Teams usually line up with one goalkeeper, three defenders, three midfielders, and three attackers.  On face-offs, players must remain in their respective playing zones until one team gains possession of the ball.

Also, teams must have at least four players in their defending half and three players in their attacking half of the field at all times of the game.  A maximum of 4 ‘long sticks’ for defense are allowed on the field at any time. 

Any player may score a goal and every player must contribute on defense when necessary.  Substitutions may take place any time during the game.  Players must enter and exit the field through the penalty area, or ‘box’.


Midfielders (or Middies) - As the main ball carriers on the team, middies cover the entire length of the field playing both offense and defense. Their responsibilities are to bring the ball up the field into the attack zone to set up offensive plays and scoring opportunities with their attackers. Ideally a team will have at least 3 midfield ‘sides’ or groups of 3, who rotate on and off as they get tired.

LSM (Long Stick Midfielder) The rules of lacrosse allow for 4 defensive long sticks to be on the field at any time. Therefore some teams use a specialized defending midfielder who carries a d stick. Often this player starts as a wing at a face off. If we win the ball, he will come to the sidelines and be replaced by a middie. If we lose the ball he stays on and defends.  LSM's are typically used by youth teams as they move closer to high school age. 

Attackmen - Positioned in the opposing goal area, they are typically the best stick handlers and are the primary goal scorers on the team. Together with the middies, the attackers work the ball offensively to set up scoring opportunities. Our attackmen MUST love to play defense during ‘rides’. We will score at least one goal per game that was created by attackmen riding aggressively.

Defenders - Play in the defending goal area around their goal crease. These players use longer sticks (shafts up to 72 inches) that enable them to better “poke check” the sticks of opposing ball carriers. Defenders constantly check attacking players to prevent them from taking shots on their goal. They also work with their goalie to “clear” the ball from their defensive zone up to the midfielders.

Goalkeeper (or Goalie) - Plays inside the “goal crease” in front of his team’s goal. He uses a larger headed stick (up to 15 inches wide) to best defend against oncoming shots. He is the only player allowed to touch the ball with his hands, but can only do so when blocking shots inside his goal crease. He may not control the ball with his hands, only with the stick. Our team will always direct the highest level of respect to the players who don the goalkeeper’s equipment. After games our players always run to congratulate and ‘bring in’ our goalie and he will often be the first player in our line of players shaking hands.


Lacrosse players love their gear, and lax terminology.  These terms open the door to an understanding of the rules, fundamentals, and tactics of the game.  Here are some terms to get started on building a lacrosse vocabulary that players and serious fans need to learn.

Ball or Ball-down - All players shout ball any time the ball is on the ground. Often this is the first indicator to the player who had it that he has dropped it.  Ball can also signal the intent of a player to go after the ball instead of the man. (See below)

Body Check - Defensively using the body to hit an opposing ball carrier or while contesting an opponent for a player a loose ball. The body check must always be done above the waist and from the front or side.

Change planes – When a shooter has a close in shot, the goalie must respect where the ball carrier starts his shot. If the shooter holds his stick high, the keeper does the same. Therefore it is most effective for the shooter to start high and shoot low, or vice versa. This is ‘changing planes’.

Clearing - Moving the ball from the defensive end of the field to the offensive end of the field. Clearing is best done along the sidelines, away from the front of the goal.

Cradling - In order to maintain control of the ball when moving along the field, players turn their wrists and arms to cradle the ball in the stick pocket.

Crease - The eighteen-foot diameter circle surrounding each team’s goal. Only defenders are allowed to set foot in this area. Crease also refers to the area directly in front of the goal, as in “look to the crease”.

Cutting - A player without the ball cuts around a defender in order to receive a “feed pass.” A cutting player is a cutter.

Dodging—A purposeful move by the player with the ball intended to create space / shake off their defender. All dodges involve a change in direction, speed, and depth.

Face-off - Takes place at the start of each quarter and after every goal. Two opposing players crouch down at midfield and hold their sticks flat on the ground.  The ball is then placed between the two players pockets and, when signaled to start, the players “rake” or clamp the ball in order to get control.

Face Dodge - A player with the ball cradles the stick across his face in an attempt to dodge a stick-poking defender.

Fast Break - When an offensive team quickly mounts a scoring attack enabling them to gain a man advantage over the opposing defense.

Feed Pass - An offensive play in which one player passes the ball to a cutting teammate for a shot on goal.

Flag Down – Tells our team that a penalty will be called.

Gilman – In some rare clearing situations, the best move for the goalie or other player possessing the ball is throw the ball all the way down to the other end of the field. Most always it will be better to be patient and wait for a hustling player to break hard and get open. Another solid option is to throw the ball ‘wide’ toward the sidelines.

Ground Balls - Players compete for the control of loose ground balls by stick checking opponents away from the ball while simultaneously trying to scoop it up. All Ravens yell ‘ball down’ when the ball is on the ground. See also ‘release’.

GLE (Goal Line Extended) – An imaginary line that extends straight out from the sides of the goal line.

Invert -- An offensive strategy that switches the attack and the middies.  The attack brings the defensive long polls to the top of the offensive area and the middies are able to isolate on a defensive short stick from behind the goal. 

Man Down - When a team plays with one, or more, fewer defenders on the field due to a penalty.

Man Up (Extra Man Offense or EMO) - Describes the team with a player advantage in a penalty situation. The opposite of man down.  In hockey, this is called a power play. Generally this will be a 6 on 5 situation.  Given the fact that one player will be open for a shot, the challenge is to get the ball to that player. Penalties are generally 30 seconds or 1 minute, so it is important to work the ball around quickly and efficiently. Our man up team will be made up of 6 outstanding ball handlers.

Man-to-man defense- A defensive setup in which each defending player guards a specific offensive opponent.

Out-of-bounds – In most cases, the team with the last player to touch the ball will forfeit possession, similar to soccer or basketball. However, when a shot goes out of play, the team whose player is closest to the sideline where the ball went out wins possession of the ball. Therefore it is the responsibility for offensive players behind the goal to back up shots and / or out run defenders to the line.

Pick - An offensive player without the ball positions himself against the body of a defender to allow a teammate to get open and receive a pass or take a shot. Picks must be stationary and ‘passive’.

Pocket - The head of the stick in which the ball is held and carried. The pocket is strung with leather and/or mesh netting. In order to be legal, the top of a ball cannot be seen when looking at the pocket from the side.

Poke Check - A defender jabs his stick at the exposed stick end or hands of an opposing ball carrier in an effort to jar the ball loose. These checks are very effective in that the checking player stays in balance and keeps a cushion of space between himself and the ball carrier.

Quick Stick - When the ball reaches an offensive player’s stick on a feed pass, he catches it and then shoots it toward the goal in one swift motion.

Raking - A face-off move by a player who, in trying to gain possession of a ground ball, places the head of his stick on top of the ball and sweeps it back. Raking is done standing still. This means that often people who rake will be legally hit by an opposing player. Raking is a very bad habit that is difficult to unlearn. EXCEPTION: Goalkeepers can rake or ‘clamp’ a ground ball legally from the crease.

Riding - When an attacking team loses possession of the ball, it must quickly revert to playing defense in order to prevent the ball from being cleared back out. In most ride situations, the goalkeeper will be left un-marked.

Roll Dodge - An offensive move in which a ball carrier, using his body as a shield between a defensive player and the cradled ball, spins around the defender. To provide maximum ball protection, the ball carrier switches hands as he rolls.

Support – When a player without the ball moves into a position where the player with the ball can make a clear pass.

Scooping - The manner in which a player picks up loose ground balls. The player bends his or her knees, slides the pocket of their stick underneath the ball, and lifts it into the netting of the stick.

Screen - An attacking player without possession of the ball positions themselves in front of the opposing goal crease in an effort to block the goalkeeper’s view.

Skip – To pass to a non- adjacent teammate. Also known as a star pass. (like drawing a star) Not advised during man up situations.

Slide- When an offensive player with the ball has gotten past his defender, a defending teammate will shift his position to pick up that advancing player.

Split dodge – Like a face dodge, but adds a change of direction and a changing of hands.

Square Up- To position one’s body in preparation to pass. This means to aim the leading shoulder towards the target.

Stick Check - In an effort to dislodge the ball from the “pocket,” the defending player strikes his stick against the stick of an opposing ball carrier in a controlled manner.

V Cut - When an offensive player without the ball he moves away from the ball carrier and then cuts back to the ball carrier to create space and get open. A critical way that we value possession on offense.

X - The area directly behind a goal. Often times attack players at X will be in a position to ‘feed’ players

Zone Defense - When defenders play in specific areas of their defensive zone, rather than covering man-to-man.

On Field Communication

The following is a brief list of some of the directions that you may hear coaches or teammates direct toward players either in a game, practice, or scrimmage.

“Unlucky” -- Perhaps the most frequent call from the sideline. This means many things. “Oh well”…”nice try”…“try again”… “No worries”

“Ball down” -- Perhaps the most frequent call from players. This means that the ball is down on the ground. Now is the time to become aggressive and gain or regain possession.

“Man / ball” --Lacrosse is unusual in that the first person to reach a loose ball should not always be the one to make the first play for it. Often it is better to take ‘man’ which means the first player impedes the ability of the nearest opponent to scoop up the ball. A trailing teammate will then take ‘ball’, and once the ball is scooped, he calls ‘release’. (See release)

“Release “ – Players shout release when they succeed in scooping a ground ball. This indicates to teammates that they can no longer make contact with the opponents to drive them away from the ball. Doing so is a penalty.

“Back hand down” --When scooping a ground ball, players will often hold their stick in too much of a vertical position. This makes it impossible for the ball to enter the pocket of their stick. Hence ‘back hand down’ tells the player to hold their stick in a more vertical position. This mandates an athletic, flexed body position.

“Use both hands” or “2 hands” --Players at all levels tend to attempt to scoop ground balls using only one hand. It is normally a bad idea because the chances of an effective scoop decrease greatly and because a one handed scoop puts the player in a vulnerable position in terms of being checked by an opponent. This also applies to defensive players stick checking opponents. One-handed checks are much more difficult to control.

“Run through it “–-Encouraging players to run through as they attempt to scoop a ground ball. Often times even if the ball is missed, running through give the player a chance to kick the ball clear.

“Goose it” When competing for a ground ball in a crowd, a teammate in open space may call for the ball to be ‘goosed’, which means flip or kick it in his direction

When we possess the ball

“Value Possession” -- Strong lacrosse teams work hard to get the ball, and when they have the ball, to have a VALUE POSSESSION.  Passes are made that are high percentage, to a teammate who is open.  If there is no one to pass to, move around with the ball until someone is open.  It is CRITICAL that players away from the ball MOVE to get open. This often involves making a V Cut.

“Explode out of your dodge” -- Players need to remember to use a change of speed in a dodge, in order to create space.

“Move it” -- A passed ball moves much faster than a person can run. Players should always look up field to pass the ball ahead to a wide-open player when possible. When we are set up in our offense by the goal, this also means that the players away from the ball need to move to create space and get open.

“Switch it” -- The defense often over-shifts to the side of the field where the ball is located. Switching the ball is when we pass it quickly to the opposite side of the field.

“Stay Tall” or “Stay Vertical” -- Players with the ball, especially in traffic, tend to crouch down, focusing their eyes on the ground. Players should stand tall, with their eyes up, looking for opportunities to pass or shoot.

Here’s your help” -- This means that I am open and ready for a pass. I am one of your options for ‘moving the ball’.

“RIGHT AWAY” -- This means I am open and you need to pass it to me IMMEDIATELY. I am either wide open for a shot, or I can see that you are about to lose the ball to a double or triple team. Please use this call sparingly, but when it is needed, shout it out.

“Stick side” or “Hit him on the stick side” – Passes should always be aimed for the stick side of the catching teammate. We call the area marked on two sides by the shoulder and helmet of the catching player ‘the box’. Passes thrown into this target area are by far the easiest to handle.

“Hold” -- This is called at times when we are in possession and we want to maintain control of the ball. Often we may be looking to complete substitutions on the fly. Other times we may be man down and looking to take some time off of the clock. The player with the ball should find space and avoid passing or shooting.

“Who’s that to?” -- Sometimes players have a tendency to throw the ball without choosing a teammate as a target. It is much better to keep moving, often away from pressure, in order to give a teammate a chance to get into a supporting position.

“Change planes” -- Goalkeepers must always respond first to the position of a shooters stick. Hence if the ball is held high, the keeper will respond by preparing to block a high shot. Changing planes means that shooters should start high and shoot low.

"Settle it" --Let's slow the ball down and set up in our offense. There is no rush. There will be plenty of times when we prefer to take our time with the ball and run our set offense rather than run all over the field. This will often be called in a situation where we want to burn some time off of the clock if we possess the ball in a man down situation.

“Move to space” --See also support above. All offensive field players need to be aware of open spaces on the field. Being in a cluster, or ‘bunched up’ generally helps the defense. Moving to space means to find a position where you can make a clean catch, preferably in a shooting position.

"Get it behind" or "Get it to the attack" --This means we want to start up our offense from behind the goal. IT DOES NOT MEAN YOU MUST THROW THE BALL DIRECTLY TO AN ATTACKMAN. Pass the ball to teammates along the perimeter of the offense and down to the attack, or carry the ball to the side of the field so you can get an easy pass to an attackman.

When we are on defense

“Double the ball” -- When the opponent has possession and we are man up, we have an extra defender. This enables us to put two defenders on the ball. This may also be called in the latter stages of a game where we are down by a goal or two and the opponent stalls or ‘holds’ to let the clock wind down.

“Sticks up” --This is directed toward the defense, especially in a man down situation. Holding their sticks high makes passes, especially skips, more difficult.

"Match up" or “Numbers” (or "Get a man") when you first get on defense. Everyone needs to find a man; when you hear me say this, call out the number of the guy you are covering. If you aren't covering someone --or if two of you call out the same number --somebody is open. Find that player and make sure that you or a teammate goes to cover him. Middies should look for middies and defensemen should look for an attackman.

"Drop in" --We play defense all over the field, but we play tight man-for-man only within our defensive zone, where you have teammates who can slide over and help out if you get beaten. If you hear me yelling this, you are playing too far out from the goal.

"Just run with him " – On defense, don't try to strip your opponent, just stay stride- for-stride with him. Prevent the player from dodging or running by you toward the goal. Delay him and allow the rest of the defense to get into position. Force him to pass. Many times, that is all it will take to cover an opponent; trying to do more may be costly.

"Stay back" or "Stay onside" or ‘Middie Back” --For midfielders, always tied to your name, as in "Jim, stay onside." It means that if you cross the midfield line, we will be offsides (a teammate who normally stays either in the offensive or defensive zone has crossed the midfield ahead of you). Generally this will be the trailing midfielder, or the one who is furthest from the goal we are attacking.

“Barnyard” -- This is a call made by the keeper any time that the defense is not communicating. When called, all six defending players need to shout some sort of barnyard animal sound. Then they need to continue to ‘talk’, communicating with each other about slides, cuts, picks, etc.

“You are D Middie” or "You've got the break" --for midfielders on a face-off, this is the person whose primary job is to make sure the other team does not come up with a fast break. If you can't come up with the ball, you must slow down the other team so that they won’t have a fast break opportunity. SPRINT FULL SPEED into a position where you can impede the opponent’s face off player.

"You have the point" --For defensemen, this means you have the first slide on the fast break, the responsibility to stop the man carrying the ball up field. Stop the break at the top of our defensive zone, never outside of it. For attackmen, it means that you play up high if we get a fast break, and that you will be the player most likely to get the first pass from the guy carrying the ball up field. Your job will then be to look for the feed to someone near the goal or to shoot yourself."

“Wide” – To move the ball towards the sidelines, away from the middle of the field. Especially important in the case of a clearing pass. Throwing the ball up the middle, often into the teeth of the defense, can have very bad results.

Thanks for taking the time to read the "basics" - a whole lot of information. 

City Lax thanks Jim Anderson and the Lake Washington Kangaroo Lacrosse Team for allowing us to share the above information.