Tag Archives: changes

The Defenseless Player

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Everyone got introduced to “Targeting A Defenseless Receiver Above The Shoulder” in college football this past season. That rule change made waves in the college football community and there was no shortage of controversy because the penalty for targeting was severe: a 15-yard penalty and the ejection of the player leveling the hit.

The rules for lacrosse are changing for the 2014 season regarding defenseless players. Hitting a defenseless player, and I’ll get to the definition in a bit, carries a more severe penalty. As I’ve been explaining to coaches since this rule change was announced:

“What was a legal hit last year might not be a legal hit this year.”

I also remind coaches that this rule has existed for a while as the “Buddy Pass” rule:

2013 NFHS 5.9.3 Situation B: A1 is receiving a pass and is in a vulnerable position, “Buddy Pass.” B1 body checks A1. Ruling: Unnecessary roughness if the check was avoidable.

In past years officials could call a 1, 2 or 3 minute unnecessary roughness (UR) penalty against the player putting a hit on a player who could not protect themselves. Generally a flag would fly on a “Buddy Pass” hit if the officials thought that the player didn’t need to hit with such force or hit at all in order to properly defend. It’s a huge judgment call that varies with the officiating crew, because that is the nature of how the rule is written. It’s called unnecessary roughness because the official judged the hit to be unnecessary.

This brings us to new terminology and definitions in the 2014 NFHS Boys Lacrosse rulebook. Specifically the language related to illegal body checking (IBC). A new article was added explaining the defenseless player and it was added to the IBC rule because any body check that isn’t a legal body check is, by definition, an illegal body check.

NFHS Rule 5.3.5: A body check that targets a player in a defenseless position. This includes but is not limited to: (i) body checking a player from his “blind side”; (ii) body checking a player who has his head down in an attempt to play a loose ball; and (iii) body checking a player whose head is turned away to receive a pass, even if that player turns toward the contact immediately before the body check.
PENALTY: Penalty for violation of Article 5 is a two- or three-minute non-releasable foul, at the official’s discretion. An excessively violent violent of this rule may result in an ejection.

Then Situation B in the UR rule was updated to match the addition to the IBC rule:

NFHS Rule 5.9.3 Situation B: A1 is receiving a pass and is in a vulnerable position, “Buddy Pass.” B1 body checks A1. Ruling: Unnecessary roughness if the check was avoidable. However, if in the official’s judgment, B1 was targeting a defenseless player, the penalty shall be a two-to-three minute non-releasable. (See Rule 5-3-5)

*Note – Unnecessary Roughness penalties in youth lacrosse are always non-releasable (page 103 in the NFHS Boys Lacrosse Rulebook)

In my last post, “Checks To The Head Or Neck,” I explained that the penalty starts at a minimum of 2 or 3 minutes non-releasable. Hitting a defenseless player regardless of whether or not the player is hit in the head or neck carries the same penalty. This is what I meant earlier when I said a what was a legal hit last year might not be a legal hit this year. For example, Red 10 has his head down in an attempt to pick up a loose ball. Blue 22 violently body checks Red 10 from the side and the official judges that Red 10 never saw the hit coming (blind side hit) and throws the flag. Blue 22 will sit in the penalty box for at least 2-minutes non-releasable. The rules committee has not taken good man/ball plays out of the game, but they have made it clear that body checking a player in a defenseless position should be called and will carry the same penalty as a hit to the head or neck.

As I did in my earlier post, let’s watch some videos to further drive this new penalty home.

Buddy pass hit, or hitting a player who just caught a pass and turned immediately before the body check

Penalty administration: Either a two- or three-minute non-releasable unnecessary roughness penalty, or a two- or three-minute non-releasable illegal body check penalty.

Blind side hit where player turns right before contact

Penalty administration: Either a two- or three-minute non-releasable illegal body check penalty. Fair warning, this one is going to be tough for officials at every level to call. The rule effectively requires the official to determine from their vantage point whether or not the player getting hit saw the hit. Because of this there is going to be variability in how this is called across the country and across age groups. Although the hit in the video above should always be called at the youth level as a takeout check.

Body checking a player who has his head down for a loose ball

Penalty administration: Probably a three-minute non-releasable illegal body check penalty at the youth and high school level, possible ejection foul as well. This is a blind side hit while the player had his head down to play a loose ball. He is hit while looking down and the hit starts and finishes at his head/neck.

Clear blind side hit

Penalty Administration: Minimum 2-minute non-releasable illegal body check penalty. I use this video in adult and youth officials training classes to show a clear blind side hit. The player with the ball was looking across the field to make a pass and gets body checked. Even under last year’s rule I’d probably call a 2-minute unnecessary roughness penalty. This year officials who flag this as a blind side hit will go at least 2-minutes non-releasable.

These changes have been in the works for years as more research comes out on the damaging effects of concussions and that these types of hits unnecessary in lacrosse. As I said in my last post it takes very little skill to blow up a player who has no clue you are coming.

As Jim Carboneau, 2002 New England Lacrosse Hall of Fame, World Game Referee, and current Chair of the US Lacrosse Men’s Officials Training Group, said at this year’s convention: “You can’t referee in the present if you’re stuck in the past.” He meant the rules were changing and all officials must adapt. I’ll add to his quote: “You can’t play or coach in the present if you’re stuck in the past.” Everyone should update their mental rulebooks, this year is going to be a bit different.


The Really Big Box

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new rules for 2014

My last post detailed how to coach without substitution horns, but that is only answering half of the new sub rules. This season the substitution box was widened from 10 yards to 20 yards wide at all age levels. An extra five yards on either side of the midline, or the same width as the wing lines. This was done to facilitate quicker and cleaner substitutions with the absence of the sideline horn.


It doesn’t seem like a lot of extra space, but believe me, it feels awkward the first few times. Coaches have to stand five yards to the side of where they used to stand. Players have to get comfortable using the entire box when substituting during transition. Even officials have to look out when coming up the field as players can now run in and out from an unfamiliar area and potentially run into the ref!

Rules of the Substitution Box:

  1. Keep the box clear
    • Coaches this is on you at the youth level. If both teams want to take advantage of the bigger box they must also assume responsibility of keeping it clear of players who are not substituting and just want a better view.
    • The only people permitted in the sub box are: The table personnel, players serving penalties, and players who are imminently ready to substitute. No one gets to just hang out in the box, and while the referees are supposed to keep the box clear I’d rather they watch the on field action instead of worrying about the box. Coaches take it upon yourselves to keep the players out of the box.
  2. Go to the cone
    • When subbing on transition from your defensive end to your offensive end tell your substitutes to go all the way down to the cone of the sub box that is on your offensive half. That’s 10, 15, or 20 yards that the players don’t have to run while on the field. By subbing at or near the cones in transition you speed up your break, and you can effectively teleport a player twenty yards forward by having the defensive player sub off at the cone on your defensive end, and the new offensive player sub on at the cone of your offensive end.
  3. The player coming off the field has right of way
    • In lacrosse the player subbing off the field has the right of way and should be provided a clear lane into the box by players waiting in the sub box. This is an often overlooked part of subbing but it makes sense. Often the player coming off the field is running at or near full speed. If a player from the box moves to block his clear exit from the field and a collision happens, then it is the fault of the player in the box. Not the fault of the player coming off the field.
    • To use a driving analogy, if you fail to yield on a marked merge and the other driver crashes into you then the collision is your fault. Everybody wants to get onto the field fast, but the rules are clear that the players in the box must make way for those coming off.
  4. “On the fly” means the players have to wait
    • I see and correct too many youth teams who run their three fresh midfielders immediately onto the field when they go on a quick transition after their goalie makes a save. Suddenly the games goes to 10 vs. 13 because the coach said, “Go, go, go!”. On the fly means one for one. If three players come off the field one at a time, then only one player may go on the field at a time. If three players running shoulder to shoulder run off the field at the same time, then three players may sub on immediately.
    • Personal pet peeve – Coaches please don’t ask me during the game when you are allowed to sub. Ask me before the game when I’m not watching twenty players running after a small rubber ball while wearing miniaturized versions of riot gear. Also, all of these rules are in the rulebook!
  5. Take a knee
    • Players, be courteous to the individuals working the table and take a knee anytime you are in the box. Stand up right as you are ready to sub onto the field.
    • This also applies anytime you are serving a penalty, but make sure you watch the game. If you release and you are going on defense then kneel down by the cone on your defensive end. If you are kneeling and the ball transitions to your offensive end then move to the other cone, take a knee, and wait to be released.

I’m a big believer that extra space can calm things down. So don’t be intimidated by the larger box. Work on substituting using the above rules in practice and when you’re in a game make it the job of one assistant coach or parent volunteer to keep players out of the box until it is time to sub.


What Happened To My Horn?

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Yesterday I promised to dig into how to coach with the new 2014 rules that will most effect youth teams. I think one of the biggest hurdles for youth coaches this season will be handling the new substitution rules.

Coaches and players in U13 and U15 youth divisions across the country need to start planning how to substitute without the use of the sideline horn. My old post, “When Can I Call For A Horn?” is somewhat outdated with the new 2014 High School and Boys Youth Lacrosse rules.

Rule 4-22 in the 2014 NFHS Boys Lacrosse Rulebook now states: “All substitutions during play will be ‘on the fly.’ Coaches will no longer be able to request a horn for a ball out of bounds on the sideline. Teams may substitute freely when play is suspended for end of a period, goal, time-out and after a time-serving penalty.” That means there is no more calling for a horn when the ball goes out of bounds along the sideline during a game. With the exception of subbing at the end of a period, goal, time-out, or a time-serving penalty, all other substitutions is through the box while “on the fly.”

No more horns at all for U13 and U15 players

No more horns at all for U13 and U15 players

I specified that U13 and U15 players have to get used to this because this rule will always be enforced at these age levels if a league or tournament is following USL Boys Youth Rules. U9 and U11 teams may or may not have horns during a game depending on what their league says according to this rule note:

US Lacrosse Youth Rules NOTE—U9 & U11 Horn Substitution Option: For U9 and/or U11 play, Leagues may authorize substitutions when play has been suspended by the officials after the ball has gone out of bounds on the sidelines. For such substitutions, the timer shall sound a horn upon the request of a coach indicating to the officials that a substitution is desired. All other rules with respect to substitutions during suspension of play shall apply.”

A Horn is Only Allowed on the Sideline in U9 and U11 games when specified by a league

A Horn is Only Allowed on the Sideline in U9 and U11 games when specified by a league

Just to be clear:

  • U13 and U15 – No Horns
  • U9 and U11 – There can be horns only if the league the teams are playing in decides to use them for these age levels.

This rule change was designed to speed up the game, but the unintended consequence is now many coaches are going to have an additional headache trying to sub players on the fly. Before you could remember: “Ball out on the sideline means I can call a horn and get my players switched off.” Most subs at the youth level happen every 4-6 minutes in a quarter or half, and ball goes out of bounds frequently enough at the youth level that most coaches could anticipate being able to sub according to their stopwatch. Which means it is time to get away from the stopwatch crutch and start getting into the flow of the game.

Here are some simple rules to live by now that horns are no more:

  1. 3 full-field sprints maximum for youth midfielders. Quick transitions happen all the time in youth lacrosse due to poor passes or just chucking the ball up the field. Your assistant coach with the stopwatch last year should now be focused on how many times your midfielders have run the length of the field, and how tired each midfielder is individually. This is where it pays to have the player’s names on the front and back of their helmet early in the season, until you can recall their names.
  2. 5-6 minutes for attackmen and defenseman. I think this rule of thumb still holds true. Remember you still get to do whole-sale substitution of players after goals, after time outs, and after time serving penalties are reported.
  3. Don’t sub on defense. This is a lesson youth players need to learn because it is practically a commandment at higher levels of play. Subbing on defense is a cardinal sin. If one of your players is so tired that he needs to come out while on defense, then tell that player to stay in front of the crease. He won’t be much help defensively because he is tired, but at least he is clogging up the crease area with his body. Once the ball transitions over to the other side of the field then get the player off through the sub box “on the fly.”
  4. Please don’t yell for a horn. Okay, this is a selfish request as an official. There were early college games I did last season and the coaches were screaming for a horn until I told them the horn was removed (college got rid of the horn in 2013). I understand the occasional slip up, but if you are the home team make your table personnel’s life easier by putting the horn on the ground. That way an overanxious mom or dad won’t blow the horn when a mistaken coach yells for it on a ball out of bounds along the sideline. You still need a horn to signal end of periods, and to double-toot the horn if there is an issue that the referees need to address.

This is going to take some getting use to for everyone involved. Be patient in your early games and work on noticing when your players are tired and get them off the field through the box as soon as possible. Next post will be how to effectively use the new 20-yard wide substitution box!