Often when people ask me to teach them the game of lacrosse or describe how it is played, I like to reference other sports to explain it better. This is because lacrosse is not as widely understood as other sports.
But which sports is lacrosse most similar to?
Lacrosse contains many elements of basketball, soccer and hockey. It shares many positions with these sports, as well as also containing a similar pitch, scoring system, and team play.
Lacrosse is an ancient game, and it has actually influenced the crafting of several different sports. This is probably why so many elements of other sports are found in lacrosse.
In this article, I will be comparing and contrasting lacrosse to show how it combines the attributes and skills of other sports. I’ll give you the full lowdown of similarities and differences.
If you’re a fan of both lacrosse and basketball you will immediately see the similarities and patterns between the two. These similarities extend more than just the fact that both games involve putting a ball into a net.
In fact, the inventor of basketball James Naismith was from Canada where the national sport is lacrosse.
Many of the skills required in one sport carry over to the other.
Like lacrosse, basketball also gives the freedom to make plays on the fly and demands consistent action, hand-eye coordination, speed, agility, footwork, intellect, and good vision.
Here are some of the similarities and differences between the two games on the field:
In offensive positions, basketball and lacrosse advance the ball almost identically. Furthermore, basketball concepts like spacing, passing, moving, and cutting are also common.
The following offensive plays crossover from one sport to another:
2. Double Mumbo
This is a classic 1-4-1 formation where the midfielder is up the top, two midfielders are on the crease, two attackmen are on the wings, and one attackman is behind the goal. Basketball fans will recognize this formation as the High Stack which is similar to the double mumbo except there is no striker behind the basket.
This offensive play in which a player sets up a screen for a teammate in possession of the ball and then moves towards the goal/basket to take the pass is commonly a huge part of both sports.
Although not as frequent in basketball, isolation plays where the most talented scorer gets the ball against an inferior defender while his teammates prevent the remaining defenders from joining the play is common in both sports.
In terms of defense, concepts like help side and rotations are very common between the two sports. Defensive plays like zone defense where a player is responsible for defending against any player in a specific area are often seen in both games.
1. Team Size
Basketball is played with 5 players in each team on the court whereas in lacrosse you will find twice the number of players in a team.
No contact is allowed in basketball which is not the case with lacrosse.
3. Playing Field
The indoor basketball court is much smaller than a lacrosse field which is why lesser stamina is required in basketball and a lot less running is involved.
The tempo and flow of the two games are very different.
Unlike lacrosse, basketball is a back-and-forth game where there is a shot clock and you only have 35 seconds to shoot, whereas lacrosse isn’t as fast where the ball can be in a team’s possession for several minutes.
5. Equipment & Gear
Lacrosse players use sticks and protective pads whereas basketball is more of a lightweight game.
This comes as no surprise that many lacrosse players have a background in soccer considering they have the same basic layout. Because of the similar layout of the field, soccer is a popular crossover sport for lacrosse players in the off-season who are looking to develop stamina and maintain fitness.
Qualities like good footwork and excellent stamina translate well on both lacrosse and soccer fields.
Let’s compare and contrast the two sports in detail.
Both the sports have the same playing positions i.e goalie, forwards, midfielders, and defenders. Forwards are known as attackmen in lacrosse.
2. Field of Play
The field of play of lacrosse resembles the most with soccer except that lacrosse fields are a bit longer than soccer fields but are not as wide as one.
3. Team Size
The team size of both games is almost the same. There are 10 players in lacrosse and 11 in soccer.
Both the games move at a fast pace and require much stamina to run up and down the field,
Soccer is a non-contact sport where a player gets a penalty for pushing their opponent, something which is appreciated in lacrosse.
2. Equipment, Ball, and Gear
Soccer players only wear shin guards whereas lacrosse players wear helmets and shoulder pads and also use a stick, something which is not common in soccer. The lacrosse ball is also much smaller and denser.
Only the goalie is allowed to touch the ball in soccer whereas, in lacrosse, anyone can hold the ball with their stick.
Advancement down the field and passing are very different between the two sports because unlike lacrosse, the ball is mostly passed on the ground in soccer.
5. Goal Size
The goal is much smaller in lacrosse than in soccer.
6. Head Impact
Unlike lacrosse, in soccer, head impacts with the ball are both legal and common.
Often called the cousin of hockey, lacrosse goes hand in hand with it, like peanut butter and jelly. In fact, they are Canada’s national sports and many players tend to play both of them.
For lacrosse players, hockey is a great cross-training sport that develops their endurance, stick skills, and hand-eye coordination.
Both fast-paced sports have four positions: midfielders, goalies, strikers, and defenders. Both sport’s players are also allowed to go behind the net, something which is unique to the two.
2. Equipment and Gear
Both hockey and lacrosse players have to wear heavy gear and pads and use a stick. However, the lacrosse stick is netted whereas the hockey stick is curved at the end with no nets.
Lacrosse and hockey players can be substituted at any point in the game.
Both hockey and lacrosse are sports with much physical contact.
In hockey, the ball is moved with sticks on the ground whereas, in lacrosse, players advance the ball by swirling it in the stick and jetting it in the air.
When it comes to football, you can’t deny that they are both highly similar and require speed, stamina, and skill which makes for an easy transition from one sport to another.
1. Dodging and Defenses
The use of angles, dodges, and cuts are very common between the two sports.
Both lacrosse and football players have to wear heavy protective equipment.
The physicality that goes into these rough and intense sports is quite similar. However, football is more focused on blocking and tackling whereas, lacrosse is more centered on dodging and passing.
Lacrosse is played with a stick and a small spherical ball whereas, football is played with a larger hollow ball in your hands.
The lack of a net in football is one of the biggest differences between the two sports. Football players have to carry a ball over a goal line.
3. Field of Play
The field is more open in lacrosse with more running involved.
Lacrosse-The Perfect Crossover Sport
For an athlete, it’s extremely important to be versatile and play several sports to gain a multitude of lifetime sports skills. The most successful elite athletes with the most productive and healthy careers were multi-sport athletes during their prime (source). If you’re looking for a second sport to play, lacrosse or one of its cousin sports are the best options because they require similar skillsets on the field.
There are also other sports like wrestling, volleyball, golf, and baseball whose elements come close to that of lacrosse which is what makes lacrosse such a remarkable game. It uses the best elements of every sport and combines them beautifully.
- Calder, A.R. Physical Profiling In Lacrosse: A Brief Review. Sport Sci Health 14, 475–483 (2018).
- Rugg C, Kadoor A, Feeley BT, Pandya NK. The Effects of Playing Multiple High School Sports on National Basketball Association Players’ Propensity for Injury and Athletic Performance. The American Journal of Sports Medicine.