This post is part of a multi-part series breaking down personal fouls in youth and high school boys lacrosse. Quotes and explanations below are specific to NFHS and US Lacrosse Boys’ Youth Rules. The post has been reviewed by Walt Munze, the national NFHS rules interpreter.

To understand illegal body checking, we first need to establish the requirements for a legal body check:

  • Player being checked must be in possession of or within 5 yards of a loose ball (3 for youth)
  • Contact must be from the front or the side
  • Contact must be above the waist and below the neck
  • Both hands of the player applying the check shall remain in contact with the crosse

All of the above must be true in order for a body check to be legal, and Rule 5.3 covers when the official should and should not throw the flag when looking at a body check.

Illegal Body Check: The Rule

Rule 5.3.1: Body-checking of an opponent who is not in possession of the ball or within five yards of a loose ball.

We must dispel the myth that a certain amount of steps makes a hit legal or illegal. There is no rule that states a minimum number of steps before contact should result in a flag. To be hit legally, a player has to possess the ball or be within 5 yards (3 for youth) of a loose ball or ball in flight. The illegal body check penalty is most often seen after shots because the ball goes beyond 5 yards very quickly.

A shot at 75mph travels 110 feet per second. One hundred ten feet converts to about 36 yards. The ball is, for all practical purposes, well beyond 5 yards at a fraction of a second. For a hit to be legal on a shot, the player must be hit as he is shooting, or the moment the ball leaves his crosse. It’s a small window that defenders must be aware of in order to not draw a penalty.

Rule 5.3.2: Body-checking of an opponent from the rear or at or below the waist.

This is not a push, but a body check from behind where safety is a concern. This is most commonly seen in scrums when a player runs into the pile and blows up a player from behind.

The official throws the flag, and the coach wonders how a flag can be thrown for a loose-ball push. The simple answer is it isn’t a push—it’s an illegal body check.

Rule 5.3.3: Body-checking of an opponent who has any part of his body other than his feet on the ground.

Stick checking an opponent on the ground is legal. Body checking a downed opponent is not. If a player has more than just his two feet on the ground (one hand getting up, laying on his hip, etc.) he is considered on the ground and may not be body checked.

Rule 5.3.4: If a player who is about to be body-checked turns his back, jumps or moves in such a manner to make what started out to be a legal check appear illegal, no foul is committed by the player applying the check.

There are two types of situations that this rule applies to:

A player turns, jumps, or otherwise moves his body, and the defender has absolutely no time to change where he is hitting.

A player turns, jumps, or otherwise moves his body, and the defender has ample time to change his point of attack, decides not to, and plows into his opponent.

The difference between 1 and 2 is the official judging whether or not the defender can adjust.

Illegal Body Check: The Penalty

The penalty for violating Articles 1-4 is a personal foul. 1, 2, or 3 minutes releasable.

Defenseless Players: The Rule

Article 5 was added a few years ago to cover the defenseless player because research indicated that, “players were most often injured when contact was unanticipated or players were defenseless.” I understand the need for players to be aware at all times on the lacrosse field, which is why I am one of thousands of coaches who preach the “head on a swivel” concept. But players are not omniscient, and officials are encouraged to err on the side of safety when judging these hits.

Rule 5.3.5: A body check that targets a player in a defenseless position. This includes but is not limited to: (i) body checking a player from his “blind side”; (ii) body checking a player who has his head down in an attempt to play a loose ball; and (iii) body checking a player whose head is turned away to receive a pass, even if that player turns toward the contact immediately before the body check.

All three of the above definitions are considered a player in a defenseless position. Let’s dig into each of them.

1. Body checking a player from his “blind side”

This rule does not outlaw man/ball or slides from the side. As a personal foul, the body check has to be a safety concern in and of itself first. This rule is for a devastating body check that a player does not see coming.

2. Body checking a player who has his head down in an attempt to play a loose ball

This rule does not mean a player can't push, shove, or direct a player who is looking down to scoop up a loose ball. It means a player can't come in and blow up a player whose head is down. It’s a matter of the player not being able to see where the hit is coming from plus the force of the hit.

3. Body checking a player whose head is turned away to receive a pass, even if that player turns toward the contact immediately before the body check.

This rule is the same as the earlier one just for a ball in flight and adds the caveat that a penalty may still be called even if the player turns towards the contact. Does it mean that a player can't make contact with a player catching a pass? No, just that a defender cannot knock a player into next week whom the official judges can't see the impending collision.

Defenseless Players: The Penalty

The penalty for violating Article 5 is a personal foul, 2 or 3 minutes non-releasable, with the possibility of an ejection if excessively violent.

Youth Modifications

There are several youth rules to add onto the NFHS rules on illegal body checks. I will cover them in detail in a separate article to follow.

Gordon Corsetti is manager for men's officials education for US Lacrosse. Still have questions about how tripping works? Leave a comment below or submit a question here.