As spring sports seasons start across the country for collegiate, high school, and youth athletes, this is an opportunity to reflect on the health of our game: girls’ and women’s lacrosse. It’s time for a state of the union, so to speak.  

From my seat, it looks like the game is at a crossroads. Women’s lacrosse is facing a challenge to maintain the integrity of its game while still keeping players safe. The heart of the women’s game, I would argue, is based on finesse, flow, speed, and agility. And, I would further contend that in order to protect those pieces of the game, we need to shore up our rules and our commitment to safe play. 

To begin, the rules are in place to protect players, but in the women’s lacrosse community, we need to recommit to these rules and educate those who are new to the game on the intent and reality of the rules. 

The rules, as they are written, are not always as they are played, coached, or officiated.  So over the next few weeks, through the spring season, US Lacrosse will be putting out some articles to provide an in depth look at the safety rules of our game and the challenges we face to preserve the heart of the game as it evolves.  

The USL rules subcommittee and the NFHS rules subcommittee have committed years to the development, understanding, and oversight of the safety needs of the game. The points of emphasis (POE) published every year in the front of the rulebook are a signpost from them to harken to the immediate concerns and needs of the game. The 2018 POEs include Illegal Defensive Positioning; Contact in the Midfield; and Crosse in the Sphere/Check to the Head, all statements that revolve around safety rules.

I want to start the conversation about safety in the game with the last POE from the 2018 Rulebook: Crosse in the Sphere/Check to the Head and what I believe is the foundational component of safety and this POE, the sphere. 

In women’s lacrosse, the sphere is defined as an imaginary area, or bubble, of 7 inches surrounding the player’s head, in all directions. At the high school and youth level, an opponent cannot put their stick in another player’s sphere. If this was truly enforced and adhered to we would never have a check to the head in the youth or high school game, but we do and that is a symptom that suggests that we need to reexamine and reeducate about the reality of the sphere. 

Those 7 inches are from all sides of the head: front, back, sides, and both above and below. The rules subcommittee’s emphasis on the language about the stick near the neck and in front of the face is a reminder that these areas also are within the 7-inch sphere. 

 

Should we evolve our notion of the sphere and how can we make it a more enforceable safety boundary for play? The rule exists but I often see it not enforced.  

As a high school and youth coach, many times I have witnessed a player running down the field with her stick reaching across the neck or face of the opponent. Her feet may be in front and often the official is behind and cannot see the proximity of the stick to the face. If no contact is made, these moments many times go uncorrected.  

I believe, as coaches, we have to be more mindful of our role in safety. An official cannot see every angle. As coaches, what are we teaching our players? Are we teaching what is safe or what they can get away with? Do we consistently talk about the sphere, demonstrate the sphere and enforce it in our practices?  

The sphere and compliance to this safety zone is just one small example of how I would contend the current play of the game, as it is coached and officiated, has strayed from the safety intent of the rules. We can do better as coaches, players, officials and spectators.

At the end of the day, it is important to remember the concept of sportsmanship, founded on respect for opponents and a commitment to fairness, even as you strive to win. There is no place sportsmanship for the desire to cheat or hurt an opponent.

Getting away with something illegal on the field that intentionally hurts another player is not respecting the game and honoring an opponent. The intent of the rules is to keep everyone safe. Every coach, official and player should commit to that when they step on the field.  

As the game gets faster and more physical, the awareness and reality of injuries grow.  Equipment changes are not a panacea. The education of coaches, officials and players on the rules must be part of the solution. We are all guardians of this game and that must begin with a commitment to sportsmanship and the rules.   

Caitlin Kelley serves as senior manager of the women’s game at US Lacrosse. She can be reached at [email protected]. Questions or drills you would like to share that help teach the sphere and checking in the women's game may be directed to her attention. 
 

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