Save the Children! Spectator Safety at a Lacrosse Game

Post date: Aug 16, 2017 5:16:09 AM

Save the Children! Spectator Safety at a Lacrosse Game

By Sean Connally | August 15, 2017

The lacrosse field is more dangerous than it looks

While lacrosse may not be the first sport your child has played, it is arguable more dangerous for spectators than they realize. Baseball diamonds have standard fencing and backstops to keep stray balls from spectators. Hockey has rinks and netting to keep the puck away. Soccer, basketball and football have few safety barriers for spectators but they play with a much larger and softer ball than lacrosse, which is easier to see and dodge since it travels much slower. If your child has already played these sports then you may be operating with a false sense of security at lacrosse games. Many fans do not realize how fast the lacrosse ball can travel and how dangerous it can be for unprepared spectators.

Figure 1: Spectators and the media need to stay in the yellow areas per Rule 1-11b.

As lacrosse officials we see this all the time from parents setting their chairs right next to the sideline to pushing baby strollers directly behind the goal area, the most dangerous place on the entire field. This article highlights how spectators can keep safe while enjoying watching their child or grandchild play the great game of lacrosse.

End lines (Behind the Goals)

NFHS Rule 1-11a: Spectators and media (including photographers) are not allowed behind the end lines except in stadium structures where permanent seats exist.

On most youth lacrosse fields you will be lucky to see fencing behind the goal area, and if you do, its purpose is more to keep the ball from rolling astray than keeping people safe. Under no circumstances should spectators, parents, grandparents, and especially small children, be walking in these danger zones during live play. Spectators should make sure that they sit according to the safe areas defined in Figure 1.

Usually in big high school games, the home team will allow ball retrievers around the field to help replace endline balls after they are shot. This is a great way to keep young aspiring lacrosse players in the game and to help the game move quickly. Make sure that if your player is going to be the ball retriever in the endline area, that they are properly equipped with a helmet per rule.

Figure 2: Warning signs such as this one behind the endline do a good job of reminding spectators the risks in watching a lacrosse game. Venue directors, Tournament directors, coaches, and officials need make sure that spectators have a safe place to view the games and move spectators when necessary.

Bench Area/Table Area

NFHS Rule 1-11b: Spectators and media (including photographers) are not allowed immed­iately behind the bench area, or within or immediately behind the table area.

There is a lot going on during a lacrosse game and while some spectators like being part of the action, their presence may cause disruption in the team area. While some spectators might have good intentions like appropriately cheering for their respective teams, some may feel inclined to “advise” the coach, official, or table personnel on how to properly do their job. Because of this, the National Federation of High School Sports (NFHS) has made a rule that spectators and media are not allowed behind the table and bench areas (Rule 1-11b). Following this rule is easier in high school football stadiums that already have defined spectator bleacher areas, but regular open grass fields have more problems providing safe accommodations for spectators. In these type of fields, coaches and officials should make sure that spectators sit on the sideline opposite the team areas and should only behind the team areas if the opposite sideline is full of spectators or is a hazardous area.


NFHS Rule 1-11c: Spectators and media (including photographers) are not allowed within the limit lines at any time during a contest.

The sideline where spectators are permitted to sit is the long side of the field opposite the team benches. Always stay at least 6 yards from the sideline of the lacrosse field behind an imaginary line called the “limit line.” This sideline rule is the most difficult to enforce for referees because many spectators are not aware of this rule and want to get as close as possible to see their player in action. This proves problematic for both players and spectators as it puts both parties in danger of injury. Many unaware fans not only sit too close the sideline but will place blankets and have picnics with small children right next to the sideline. Boy’s lacrosse allows body checking which can push players outside of the playing area and into spectators that are sitting too close to the sideline.

Figure 3: Spectators and the media need to be at least 6 yards away from the field of play per Rule 1-11b. Venue Directors and Tournament directors need to make sure that field spacing allows for a safe and legal viewing distance for spectators. In addition, spectators need to make sure that they never enter the field of play even if Live Play is temporarily suspended.

Figure 4: Not only does NFHS rules require spectators and media to be at minimum of 6 yards from the sideline. Spare balls placed around the field need to be at least 6 yards as well by rule. This is done to keep players from tripping on balls that are too close to the field of play.

Stray Shots can really hurt spectators

Not only are body checks and stray players falling on spectators hazardous, but the lacrosse ball itself can really hurt spectators if they are not careful. Professional lacrosse players can thrown the ball as hard as 110 mph and as you can see from the table below, your high school player is not that far behind. If you are behind the goal area then that ball is coming at you very fast. The lacrosse ball is made of solid rubber between 7.75 and 8 inches in circumference, between 5 and 5.5 ounces in weight. A baseball is slightly larger at 9 to 9.25 inches in circumference but weighs slightly less from 5.00 to 5.25 ounces. Both balls would hurt very much if they hit a spectator at any of the speeds listed below, but at least every baseball field has a backstop to protect spectators and lacrosse does not. Just look up lacrosse ball bruises to see the possible result of being hit with a lacrosse ball. Do not let this be you or your child.

Watch out for the Pre-game Warm-Ups

There is a common tendency for spectators to be inattentive during the pregame warm-ups. The player has just been dropped off and now the attention of the spectator is devoted to finding the best place to watch the game whether it is a spot with the best view or near fellow parents with which they can converse. Regardless, safety is not usually at the forefront of their minds and they may be taking for granted the fact that youth players do not catch or throw very well and now their line drills have made the sideline spectators a living backstop. Because of this many stray balls have injured spectators before the game has even begun. As a spectator make sure that you and your family are watching the field at all times when the teams are playing the game as well as warming up before the game or even during halftime.

Special Note for Photographers

No matter how great you want your next shot to be, it is not worth risking your personal safety. All photographers (professional or amateur) need to stay at least 6 yards from the sidelines of the lacrosse field and are not permitted behind the end lines and the team/table area per Rule 1-11b. Please read the Lacrosse Photographer Safety article for more clarification.


Now that you have a better understanding of the rules and safety involved in watching a lacrosse game, here are some practical tips to help keep you safe:

  • Make sure you and your children are always at least 6 yards away from the outer lines of the lacrosse field.

  • NEVER walk directly behind the goal area during LIVE PLAY and under no circumstance should you sit there.

  • If the sidelines are unsafe in anyway, take it upon yourself to let the coaches and officials know.

  • Do not let your children play behind the goal area at any time.

  • Enjoy your picnics far away from the sideline (and endline) to keep your family safe.

  • Always pay attention to the field of play, especially during LIVE PLAY and pre-game warm-ups.

Sean Connally is a US Lacrosse Certified Boy’s Referee Trainer and Observer as well a Level 2 National Clinician for the US Lacrosse Coaches Development Program. He currently serves as the USL Sub-District Trainer in Orange County, CA for District 10, and is the President of the Southern California Lacrosse Officials Association. He referees MCLA Division I college games and has experience coaching at the middle school and MCLA College Club level.

The Southern California Lacrosse Officials Association is a public charity non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation based in Southern California and is committed to providing the highest rated boys’ lacrosse officials in Southern California leagues, tournaments, schools and other competitions, as well as educating the public on lacrosse rules and safety.