Tag Archives: Rule


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Full disclaimer: I have no idea why this pass rule is called hippo. Ever since I was a little kid anytime in practice or in games that our coach wanted us to pass the ball within a set period of time it was called hippo. I don’t think about the name that much, I just go with it.

U9 games are an experience for players, coaches, officials, parents, and other fans. Usually the U9 game is played on a field with smaller dimensions and there are a lot of age-specific rules guiding the game for the younger players. Couple the smaller area and age-specific rules with the fact that most U9 players take a few seconds to figure out what is going on each possession and the U9 game generally becomes an exercise in herding cats.

This isn’t a knock on U9 players. Far from it. I know those players are trying very hard to figure out a complex and fast game while wearing unfamiliar equipment and manipulating a lacrosse stick. Oh, and they’re learning all this while playing an opponent. Imagine how difficult it would be to learn how to ride a bike as a kid if you were being chased by opposing bike riders. It’s tough stuff, and I don’t like making the game any harder for these young players to figure out. That is why AYL tested out the U9-hippo rule this past fall.

In past seasons AYL followed many other programs in Georgia and around in the country in requiring two attempted passes in a team’s offensive half of the field before a shot in the U9 game. This rule makes a lot of sense at this age level as many times one player can run the length of the field and score one-on-one against the goalkeeper. The two pass attempt rule was adopted by AYL to encourage U9 players to look for the extra pass, and while it did teach the young players to look for another pass it had some unintended consequences:

  1. Pass it to you and pass it back to me – This was probably the most common issue. Two players well away from the goal and the opposing defenders would pass the ball to each other to reach the two required passes. Then the player with the ball would go one-on-one. The other players on the team didn’t do much and generally stood around, not getting spread or learning how to move off ball.
  2. I’ve got two passes, no more needed – Another odd consequence was that after two passes were achieved some players would never, ever pass the ball. They’d run through traffic, drop the ball, and a giant scrum would result. The required two passes actively discouraged additional passes after the second pass was attempted.
  3. How many passes? – The two pass rule put a lot of pressure on new adult and youth officials who generally officiate U9 games across the country to keep track of each pass attempt and put two fingers in the air to notify the team with the ball that they could go to the goal for a shot. Many of these officials were rightly focused on safety and occasionally forgot to count or signal the number of attempted passes. This led to frustrated coaches who didn’t know when their team had the green light to go to the goal.
  4. Passes were poorly chosen – Many times after the first pass a player would get defended well and, knowing a second pass was needed for a goal, chose to make an ill-advised pass in traffic that usually got knocked down and another big scrum would develop. The drive to attempt a second pass overrode the player’s natural instinct of holding the ball, running to space, and then looking for a better pass that was further away from the defenders.

Coach Lou and I saw this over two seasons and knew there had to be a better way to still encourage U9 players to pass the ball, but learn how to pass it more effectively and at the most opportune times. So we resurrected hippo.

Hippo is a practice drill where the offensive player must move the ball within three seconds or the whistle is blown and the ball is turned over to the defense. This encourages the offense to stay spread, cut off ball to get open, and make the player with possession understand the importance of moving the ball. As Coach Lou says to our older players, we know you can cradle so try passing the ball.

Now the U9 players are still learning to cradle and get comfortable with having possession of the ball during a game so we lengthened the time to pass the ball to five seconds early in this spring season. As the players get more comfortable on the field we’ll knock it down to four seconds, and if they’re really getting the hang of it we’ll knock it down to three seconds.

With the hippo rule in place there is no attempted pass requirement before shooting, but if a player does not attempt a pass within five seconds of gaining possession then the official will blow his whistle, signal Failure to Advance, and award possession to the opposing team at the spot the play was whistled dead. We used the hippo rule this fall and it cleared up the unintended consequences of the two pass attempts rule.

What I found even more impressive was that by the end of the fall U9 season players were getting the ball out of their sticks within two seconds, and at least moving the ball to an open area of the field if they were under pressure and couldn’t get a clean pass off. The game spread out, scrums (very prevalent at the U9 level) were still present but decreased in frequency, and the players showcased a much improved sense of how to move the ball on offense.

AYL started this past Sunday with a 5-second Hippo count and will likely keep it for this coming Sunday. Once the players have gotten over most of their pre-season jitters, we’ll move the Hippo count down to 4-seconds for most of the season. I still don’t know why it’s called Hippo, but I do know it works very well as long as it’s applied properly.


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.


Cannot Fill The Wing Anymore

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new rules for 2014

One rule change I am particularly happy about is that teams cannot put an attackman or defenseman on the open wing during a man-down face off. Otherwise known as “filling” the wing, that attackman or defenseman was known to officials as the hot man because we needed to identify the player who was behind the midline on the whistle to start the face off.

I hated the old rule for two reasons. One, a team committed a foul forcing them to play six on five during a settled possession, but if the foul was non-releasable and a goal was scored then the next face off was three on three with the filled wing. Two, this situation took forever for most youth teams to figure out. Here is what I heard most times a man-down face off was pending in a youth game:

“#16, #16! Mark! Mark I want you on the wing line! I know you’re an attackman, but I need you to fill the wing. Yes, you can come out of the box. No, not that wing! Go to the far wing! Not on that side of the field, go to the other side of the field! Phew, okay ref thanks for letting me take care of that.”

In youth games I was a little flexible the first time or two this happened early in the season because it was a peculiar situation for youth teams to get down. Fortunately I don’t have to worry this year as this situation is completely gone for 2014 and here is the diagram to show how it’s going to go down:


The above image shows two teams properly set up for a man-down face off using 2014 rules. The red midfielder in the box is serving a non-releasable penalty and blue scored a goal. The officials set up the face off, but the red midfielder is still in the penalty box for the non-releasable penalty. No red attackman or defenseman is permitted to fill the open wing on the bench side of the field. The face off is conducted with three blue midfielders and two red midfielders.

Also notice the upper right corner of the diagram. The red attackman is outside of the box but below the restraining line. This is completely legal. The players are not locked into the box to start the face off. They are locked behind the restraining line until “possession” is called or the ball crosses the restraining line while loose (in that situation the officials will shout “play,” which releases all players).

Major Point On Releasing Penalties During A Man-Down Face Off:

When one or more players are in the penalty box during a man-down face off they are not released until possession is called or the ball crosses the restraining lines and the officials yell “play.” If the red player above has 3-seconds on his penalty and the face off battle lasts for 25 seconds before possession is gained then the red player in the box will spend an additional 22 seconds in the penalty box even though his time has expired.

This is a safety issue for the players trying to gain possession. If this rule didn’t exist then the red player could be released during the face off battle, run out of the box, and level an unexpected body check at a player who is trying to pick up the ball near the penalty box. Look at it this way – if you are not on the wing lines or taking the face you don’t get to participate in the face off until possession is declared or the ball crosses the restraining lines and the officials call “play.”

This rule change makes man-down face offs easier to officiate and easier to coach, but it does mean that live-ball personal fouls and non-releasable fouls carry into the face off. That gives those penalties more teeth as the team who is in the penalty box is always playing man-down no matter what the situation.