Ugh. I’ve heard too many variations of this post’s title when I ref U9, U11, U13, and U15 boys lacrosse games. I’ve noticed that the new parents shout out what they perceive as incorrect calls and no-calls. Typically, the moms cry “foul!” when their child gets body-checked, and the dads shout “no way!” when their child is called for an illegal body-check. These shout outs indicate a lack of understand of the various youth boys lacrosse rules on proper body contact at each level.
Here is a link to the third edition of the “Youth Rules & Best Practices Guidebook for Boys” from US Lacrosse. Every new parent to boys lacrosse should read this guidebook with their player or players. It is an excellent resource to refer to during the season.
The important thing to remember about body checking in youth boys lacrosse is that each age level is very specific as to what kind of body checking is permitted. Here are the rulebook definitions for youth body checking along with a layman’s explanation:
- U9 & U11 – “No body checking of any kind is permitted.”
- “Legal pushes (Rule 6 Section 9, Pushing) and holds (Rule 6 Section 3, Holding Article 3 a & d) are allowed.”
- “In all loose ball situations players should ‘play the ball,’ but incidental contact, ‘boxing out’, or screening techniques during such play shall not be considered a violation of this rule.”
- NFHS Boys Lacrosse 2013 Rulebook page 100
- Layman’s explanation: Boys lacrosse for the U9 and U11 age levels is essentially basketball with sticks. I explain body checking in this way to give parents a good visual. Players at these two age levels are permitted to push and maneuver players around to gain a strategic advantage, but they cannot try and knock another player to the ground. Just imagine a basketball game and you will have a better idea of how U9 and U11 players can contact other players.
- U13 & U15 – “Body Checking is permitted. To be legal a body check should be delivered in a generally upright position with both hands on the stick and the player initiating the check may not use his lowered head or shoulder to make the initial contact.”
- NFHS Boys Lacrosse 2013 Rulebook page 100
- Layman’s explanation: Body checking is permitted but only in a very defined area. Any body check outside of the defined specifications should be penalized.
With all body checking at the youth level parents, coaches, and players need to keep in mind the following from Rule 5: “US Lacrosse expects stricter enforcement of the Cross Check, Illegal Body Check, Checks Involving The Head/Neck, Slashing, Unnecessary Roughness, and Unsportsmanlike Conduct rules than is common at the high school level.” In other words, this is youth lacrosse and the threshold for personal fouls is considerably lower the younger you go.
This takes me to foul prioritization, which was recently explained by Lucia Perfetti Clark, the officials education and training manager at US Lacrosse, in her post “Not All Fouls Are Created Equal: How Officials Set Priorities“. She writes that, “if there is a potential for safety fouls to occur amongst other, lesser violations, then officials must move that foul to the top. Prioritizing fouls makes the game safer.” Think about what is most important for the officials to call in a U11 game. Should the official call the offsides 40 yards away from the play around the ball or the late body check on the shooter? If both occur near the same time I would much prefer that the official prioritize and catch the safety foul. Lucia explains further that parents have a place in getting the right message to the players:
For safety prioritization to work, coaches, parents and spectators need to support officials. All too often an official makes a big and appropriate safety call, and the next thing you hear from the sideline or the stands is, “That was a great check! Great defense! Keep it up!”
This kind of comment just reinforces bad player behavior and will only serve to escalate the severity and frequency of calls. What works better? Substitute that player so he or she can be coached regarding the call in question or simply has time to cool off before rejoining the game.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve flagged a perfectly illegal body check in a U11 game only to have a parent or even a coach yell to the player, “Great hit!” It was not a great hit, that is why I flagged it. Now the player has two very different messages to put together. I just penalized him for a hit that is not permitted at his age level, but the adults responsible for the player are praising him for the hit. When coaches or parents say things like that my safety radar goes off, and I get even more vigilant for safety violations moving forward. I focus more after hearing those comments because after doing this for so many years I expect the players involved to listen to their coaches and parents more than they will listen to me (the random adult official who they don’t know). Often I am sending the same player off the field for an even more vicious hit.
Officials at every level prioritize calls with safety being the highest priority. The younger the players are the lower the threshold for fouls, and it does not do the player any good to criticize a properly called safety violation for everyone to hear.
Want to learn more about the rules of the game? Check out the US Lacrosse Online Courses!
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