Men’s and women’s lacrosse have a lot in common. Both are fast, intense games that rely on physical stamina and exceptional hand-eye coordination. And the main objective is identical, of course – to get that little rubber ball in the net as many times as you can. That said, there are significant differences between the two games. Differences that affect the style of play and the type of gear you’ll need. Let’s break them down.
Checking Vs. No-Checking
When it comes to gear, here’s the most important differentiator: men’s lacrosse allows checking, while the women’s game doesn’t. This means that male players have to face the constant threat of getting bumped or poked with a stick. Like hockey, there are rules that disqualify especially violent checking. But that doesn’t mean legal checks don’t carry a risk of injury, which makes protective gear a must. Helmets, mouth guards, shoulder and elbow pads, and gloves are all standard in men’s lacrosse.
In women’s lacrosse, any kind of body checks or stick checks that hit the player will result in a penalty, so the gear requirements are significantly smaller. Most female players are required to wear goggles and mouth guards while helmets and protective padding are reserved for goalies.
Heads, Mesh & Stick Sizes
Women’s lacrosse players have an easier time picking out a stick because the game has one size range for all positions except goalie – between 35.5” and 43.25”. The mesh on women’s lacrosse sticks mimics the traditional style with thick shooting strings called leathers running lengthwise and tends to be tied tighter with less of an actual pocket. In fact, the pockets used in the men’s game would be illegal in the women’s game. This combined with a shallower sidewall makes ball handling significantly more difficult compared to men’s sticks.
In the men’s game, stick length varies by position. Shorter lengths are for offensive players (40-42”); longer sticks are for defenders and goal keepers (52-72”).
But the biggest difference between the men’s stick and women’s stick is the mesh. Men’s lacrosse sticks have pretty much done away with traditional stringing in favor of mesh netting that holds a nice, soft pocket that makes it easier to hold a ball in spite of checking attempts by opposing players.
Interestingly enough, the different checking rules along with the existence of a pocket affect the most basic movement on the lacrosse field – the cradle.
Both men and women employ the cradle to keep the ball securely in their stick with centrifugal force, but because no body checks are allowed in the women’s game, it makes more sense to maintain a tight cradle motion between the ear and the shoulder.
Men, however, tend to keep their sticks a little farther out for a greater range of motion and to better absorb the body checks of their game.
Make no mistake, though, regardless of gender, a properly performed cradle keeps the ball in the best positon to shoot or pass.
Playing Field & Roster Size
The other differences between the games are numeric. Men’s lacrosse has 10 players on the field – three at each of the field positions of attacker, midfielder and defense; and one goalie. The women’s game has 12 players: five offensive players (first home, second home and third home, as well as two attackers); six defensive (center, point, cover point and third man, along with two wings); and the goalie.
Women’s lacrosse also has a larger standard playing area – a 120×70-yard surface, as opposed to the 110×60-yard fields that men play on. In some cases women may play on a field up to 140 yards long – thirty yards longer than a standard men’s field.
Another notable difference is how games are started or how play is resumed following a score. In the men’s game they have a faceoff where a player from each team fight for control of the ball from a crouched position. In the women’s game, they perform a draw where the ball is placed between the centers from each team who stand toe to toe and throw the ball into the air at the whistle.
Once the ball is in play, only certain players are allowed in the offensive and defensive zones for both men and women.
In the men’s game, three attackers must remain on the offensive side of the field, three defendsemen must remain on the defensive side of the field and three midfielders can roam the entire field. In certain situations, defenders can enter the offensive zone if a midfielder remains in the defensive zone.
In the women’s game, similar restrictions occur. Of their 12 players, only seven of them are allowed below the restraining line in their offensive end of the field. This number jumps to eight players allowed below the restraining line in their defensive end of the field, ostensibly because of the goal keeper.
While these distinctions make an impact on the two games and establish them as noticeably different, both contain the same elements of what makes lacrosse great. Sure, the men’s game has more contact and the women’s game has a larger scale. But the rush you feel when you’re racing down the field, looking for an opening, is just the same.