At a glance, field hockey and lacrosse can appear quite similar. They involve teams of players passing and maneuvering a small ball down a field with stick-like implements trying to score goals. But upon closer inspection, these two fast-paced sports have many differences when it comes to rules, equipment, gameplay, and more.
This article will break down the key differences between field hockey and lacrosse to better understand what sets each sport apart.
The equipment involved in each sport reveals some clear differences right off the bat.
Field hockey sticks have a flat face and are made of wood, fiberglass, or a composite material. Players only use the flat side of the stick to control, dribble, pass, and shoot the ball.
In lacrosse, players use a lacrosse stick which has a basket or pocket at the end. This allows for catching, cradling, and throwing the ball in the air. Lacrosse stick heads are strung with netting.
The balls are also different. Field hockey uses a solid plastic ball while lacrosse utilizes a rubber solid-core ball covered in leather or other material.
In lacrosse, players wear protective gear including helmets with face masks, padded gloves, and shoulder pads due to the higher physical contact. Field hockey does not involve protective padding or helmets even though contact does occur.
Finally, the goalkeeper equipment differs significantly. Field hockey goalies wear extensive padding on their legs plus a kicker that fully blocks the goal when extended. Lacrosse goalies have larger chest and arm padding plus a larger head helmet.
Number of Players
The team size on the field is another clear difference. A field hockey team consists of 11 players on the field per team. In lacrosse, each team has 10 players on the field.
Having one less player on the field can create more open space in lacrosse. Positions in lacrosse are also more specialized with distinct offensive, defensive, and midfield roles. In field hockey, positions and responsibilities are less rigid.
Rules of Play
Some other major differences come in the rules and flow of gameplay.
In field hockey, no player other than the goalie can use their body to stop the ball. All players must maneuver the ball with their stick. Lacrosse allows using the stick or body to block balls.
Field hockey has unlimited substitutions while lacrosse has limited substitutions per game.
The ball can only be intentionally lifted into the air in lacrosse via a shot on goal. In field hockey, players can intentionally lift the ball high with their sticks during general play.
In lacrosse, direct stick-to-stick contact is permitted when defending. In field hockey, stick contact is extremely limited when tackling an opponent.
Finally, field hockey has penalty corners and strokes that lacrosse does not. And lacrosse has faceoffs after goals that are unique to the sport.
Overall Pace and Physicality
The pace and physical nature of each game also differs. Lacrosse tends to be a faster-paced game with more transitions up and down the field. Possession changes happen faster compared to field hockey.
Lacrosse also involves more physical checking, collisions, and stick contact between players. The protective gear in lacrosse facilitates more physical defensive play. Field hockey limits overt physical contact and stick-on-stick contact to promote a cleaner game.
Goals are a bit harder to come by in lacrosse compared to field hockey. The average combined score of a lacrosse game is around 15-20 goals. Field hockey games often have more scoring with averages around 5-10 goals per team.
The lower scoring in lacrosse results from goalies being better protected and the ball being harder to control one-handed with sticks. In field hockey, accessing passing lanes is easier with two-sided sticks and kick saves limit goalies.
Men’s and Women’s Variations
Women’s lacrosse prohibits all stick-to-stick and body contact. This makes the women’s game more fluid with less physicality. Men’s lacrosse allows body checking and some stick contact.
In field hockey, the rules are essentially the same for both men’s and women’s competitions. There are no major differences in contact or gameplay.
From a global participation perspective, field hockey enjoys more worldwide popularity, especially in Europe and Asia. Lacrosse remains more concentrated in the U.S. and Canada.
Field hockey is an Olympic competition for both men and women. Lacrosse has only held exhibition Olympic matches to date.
While field hockey and lacrosse share some surface similarities, they are distinct sports with differences in equipment, rules, physicality, and more. Lacrosse tends to be faster, higher scoring, and more physical thanks to protective padding. Field hockey promotes more fluid play by limiting contact.
Understanding the nuances of each sport helps fans appreciate what makes field hockey and lacrosse unique. Both offer exciting showcases of athleticism, finesse, and skill. And they provide alternatives for enthusiasts of fast-paced team sports centered around maneuvering a ball into a goal with stick skills.