Lacrosse in the United States is an extremely popular field sport, and thousands of children and adults enjoy the game as players or spectators throughout the season or enjoy training with a lacrosse rebounder like this one in the offseason. But what is the real extent of your knowledge about the game? We’ve gathered five interesting facts about lacrosse, which you can impress your friends with next time you meet up for a game.
1. Nobody knows precisely how or when lacrosse began
Although we know that lacrosse developed from sports played by Native Americans, no one knows exactly when those games were first developed or who invented them. We don’t even know which tribe was responsible for coming up with the forerunner of lacrosse, and we certainly don’t know the name of the inventor.
We do know that the game, as played by Native American tribes, was quite different from the modern game played today in many respects. For starters, it involved a lot more people. And by a lot, we mean hundreds or even thousands. Basically, every male member of a tribe or village would play against every member of the opposing group. And the field was vast too. They would play across all of the land between where they each lived.
2. Lacrosse has been used as a military tactic
The Native American origins of the game are related to preparation for war. Young men from different tribes would play lacrosse as a form of training, and you can see why, as the game promotes fitness, stamina, and speed as well as quick thinking and accurate hand to eye coordination. The massive games mentioned above were a way for tribes to test out their best men against each other without risking serious injury so that if the time did come to fight, they would be well prepared.
The game of lacrosse was even once used strategically to take over a British fort by a group of Native Americans. During the summer of 1763, two Native American teams went head to head for an exhibition game, which was billed as an afternoon of entertainment for British soldiers from the nearby garrison. The British were big fans of the sport, and would often gather to watch games between two tribes.
On this occasion, though, the game was planned as a cover for a military operation by the Native Americans. While the soldiers were distracted by the fast-moving game, members of the tribe were able to sneak into and occupy the nearby Michilimackinac fort!
3. Lacrosse is the most fast-moving sport played on foot
Compared to football, basketball, or even ice hockey, lacrosse is a much faster game, which is principally due to the rapidity with which the ball moves around the field. Because the players use lacrosse sticks to pass and shoot the ball, they can launch it across the field at far higher speeds than are possible by throwing or kicking.
And because the ball is moving around so fast, every player has to move up and down the field rapidly too, switching positions, dodging opposing players, moving into space, and running back to defend. For the spectator, it can sometimes be hard to follow precisely what is going on, or who has the ball at any one time. Referees have to be extremely experienced to be able to monitor the plays and assess whether the rules are being followed with split-second timing.
Lacrosse shots have been measured at an average of between eighty and one hundred miles per hour, but the fastest shooters often exceed this. In recent years records have been set and broken pretty regularly. Paul Rabil’s 111mph shot set a record, but this was broken again by Mike Sawyer in 2013 with a blistering 114mph shot.
Right now, the record holder is Patrick Luehrsen, who fired off a 119mph shot during a 2015 game in Libertyville, Illinois. Still, the record will likely be broken again as training, technique and stick technology continues to advance.
4. The modern version of lacrosse is a French invention
Although lacrosse is most widely played across the United States and Canada as we’ve seen, the game’s historical origins are firmly rooted in the traditions of Native Americans. You might be surprised to know that the modern rules of the game were first codified by a French man, a Jesuit missionary known as Jean de Brebeuf.
Brebeuf was one of the earliest people from a non-native background to experience a lacrosse game first hand when in 1600, he witnessed a game played by the Huron tribe and later wrote about his experience.
It was in that written account that Brebeuf gave the game the name that we still use today – the French “la crosse” meaning “the cross,” presumably from viewing the players crossing and weaving from one side of the playing field to the other.
Over time “la crosse” became the single word “lacrosse,” which we use to refer to the game today. By the 1800s, the game was becoming widely popular with settlers in the area of Montreal, and later, the East Coast of the United States.
5. There’s more than one type of lacrosse
We often think of lacrosse as a single sport, but there are four separate versions of the game, and each one has different rules and playing styles.
The most popular type is field lacrosse, which is split into both men’s and women’s rules. Unlike other sports, where women and men play the same game, in lacrosse, the rules, positions, and contact differ significantly between the two versions.
The third type is box lacrosse, which, as the name suggests, is played in a closed arena, a little like hockey, which makes for a more tactical game with much higher levels of contact due to the more restricted nature of the space in which it is played.
For younger players, the fourth version of lacrosse, soft-stick lacrosse, is available. As you might expect, the name refers to the lacrosse sticks, which are manufactured from soft, bendable materials to avoid the possibility of injuries that may occur in the adult game, to protect children as they learn the tactics and positions of the game.