Youth lacrosse games are tough to officiate. The ball is on the ground more often, the players (for the most part) are still refining basic skills and the game doesn’t always have the smooth flow seen in higher-level games. Factor in age-appropriate youth rules differences and the game becomes harder to officiate and more confusing for new players, coaches and parents.
Gary Alabaster, a lacrosse official in California and speaker at the 2014 US Lacrosse National Convention, submitted a few rules he feels are the most misunderstood at the youth level. I have also seen and heard about confusion with youth rules while officiating in the southeast, working tournaments in the northeast, observing officials out west, and collecting reports from other trainers.
There are misunderstandings all over the country with those involved in boys’ youth lacrosse—and that includes officials. Here are the three we most commonly encounter.
What We Hear
We as officials frequently hear “That was in the head!” when a spectator sees a stick touch the helmet of an opposing player, and the expectation is that a slash must be called.
How it Really Works
The understanding that “a stick [touching] the helmet of an opposing player” is an automatic slash call is flat-out wrong. The definition of slashing, according to NFHS Rule 5.7 on page 58 of the 2015 rulebook is: “Swinging a crosse at an opponent’s crosse or body with deliberate viciousness or reckless abandon, regardless of whether the opponent’s crosse or body is struck.”
Situation 5.7.1 further states that “B1 (the defender), while playing A1 (the offensive player), makes contact with A1’s head with his crosse. RULING: Contact itself does not constitute a foul. The contact shall be a definite blow or strike. Otherwise, it is considered a brush.”
Brushes still exist at all levels of play. Mere contact or touching of the helmet by the crosse of another player is a brush. If I called every touch to the helmet in a U9 or U11 game, I’d spent more time putting players in the penalty box then actually watching them play. A blow or strike to the helmet (or any vicious or reckless swing, even if it hits nothing) is the requirement for a slash to be called.
Keeping that rule and situation in mind, we must also add the youth rule 5.7.4 on page 106 that states: “Any one-handed check shall be considered a slash, whether or not it makes contact with the opposing player.” There are to be no one-handed stick checks in U15, U13, U11, and U9 games that are played under US Lacrosse youth rules. The majority of players at those age levels do not consistently demonstrate the necessary control to hit stick or glove on one-handed checks. Plus, they’re often out of position when throwing those checks and this rule prohibiting one-handed checks put an emphasis on proper defensive positioning.
Note: A poke check where the top hand comes off the crosse during the check is not considered a slash. Still need deliberate viciousness or reckless abandon for a slash to be called, and the threshold for what is appropriate rises with the ages of the players.
What We Hear
“The red team is offsides if they only have two defensemen back while on offense, or the blue team is offsides if they only have two attackman back while on defense.”
How it Really Works
First, this isn’t a youth-specific rule, but there is a general misunderstanding about this rule at every level. Second, the rulebook does not state “offsides,” it states “offside.” Small detail, but when it comes to officiating, it pays to pay attention to details. I explain offside to coaches and players very matter-of-factly: “I don’t care how many players are behind me.” Rule 4.10.1 on page 39 supports that statement:
“A team is considered offside when it has:
A. More than six players in its offensive half of the field (between the center line and the end line) including players in the penalty box, or
B. More than seven players in its defensive half of the field (between the centerline and the end line) including players in the penalty box.”
Offside should only be called when the offense or defense has too many players on their half of the field.
What We Hear
“It’s illegal for one player to hold another player’s body or crosse with their body or crosse no matter where the ball is.”
How it Really Works
Holding is a tough call at every level of play. New officials have an especially difficult time with this call because there are some times when a legal hold is illegal, and other times where it is perfectly legal to hold, even if the player is not in possession of the ball. So let’s dig into the NFHS rule.
Rule 6.3, Article 2 on page 64 states, “A player may not:
A. Use the portion of the handle that is between his hands to hold an opponent.
B. Step on the crosse of an opponent.
C. Hold an opponent with his crosse.
D. Hold or pin an opponent’s crosse against the body of the opponent with his crosse.
E. Hold an opponent with his free hand that is off the crosse.
F. Hold the crosse of the opponent using any part of his body.
G. Use his crosse to hold or pin an opponent’s crosse on the ground on a faceoff.”
And Article 3 states, “ Holding is permitted under the following conditions:
A. An opponent with possession of the ball or within five (three for youth) yards of a loose ball may be held from the front or side.
B. An opponent in possession of the ball may be played with a hold check from the rear if the hold exerts no more than equal pressure. For (a) and (b), a hold check shall be done with either closed hand, shoulder, or forearm; and both hands shall be on the crosse.
C. A player may hold the crosse of an opponent with his crosse when that opponent has possession of the ball.
D. A player within five (three for youth) yards of a loose ball may hold the crosse of his opponent with his own crosse.”
That’s seven rules on what a player can’t do and four rules on what a player can do in regards to holding an opponent. That’s admittedly pretty complicated, so let’s break it down into three simple takeaways for youth play:
1. A player may, with his crosse, legally hold the crosse of an opponent so long as the opponent is in possession or within three yards of a loose ball.
This is the easy one, just think “stick-on-stick holding is legal within three yards.”
2. A player may legally hold, with his forearm or shoulder but NOT with his crosse, the body of a player in possession or a player within three yards of a loose ball so long as equal pressure is used.
This is the tougher one where official’s judgement comes into play and we are asking ourselves: “Did the player gain an advantage by using more than equal pressure?”
3. A player MAY NOT hold the body or crosse of an opponent who is not in possession and not within three yards of a loose ball (this may also be called as interference).
This is the main reasoning for the “ball down/release!” call that every coach wants every player to shout on every loose ball. Once the ball is more than three yards away, a player may not continue to hold or otherwise impede the movement of an opponent.
Even the simple rules can be a bit complicated, and between the different age levels, there is a lot to be aware of. I hope this breakdown of misunderstood boys’ youth rules helped you gain a firmer grasp on the correct rulings.
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