How It Works: Illegal Body-Checking Rule in Youth Lacrosse
In the last “How It Works” post, I explained the illegal body check penalty and how it is enforced under NFHS rules at the high school level. Before going into the adjustments and additions to the rule for youth play, I want to point out an overarching concept for all personal foul calls in the youth game.
“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.”
— 2016 NFHS Rulebook, page 108
Because of the lower threshold for personal fouls in the youth game, there will usually be flags for body checks in those games that would probably be legal in a high school game.
Additionally, the flags thrown for those hits may be a second or two late because of the added time it takes for a high school official to apply the youth rule in his head and make the correct call for the right age group. I have been in more youth games than I can count where I initially think “that hit was clean” in my head, only to remember that it’s a U11 game and body checking is not permitted.
Knowing that officials are expected to call personal fouls tighter at the youth level is critical to understanding the rationale behind the youth adjustments. The major change is that it is only legal to stick or body check a player within three yards of a loose ball on the ground or in flight. This change from five yards was made to lessen the likelihood of huge hits away from the ball. When properly enforced, the players develop a reaction to go for the ball first and the player second.
This is also another reason a flag may be late in a youth game. Conceptualizing five yards is pretty easy, but visualizing three yards is more difficult. It takes time for an official to calibrate the distance for legal body contact when working a youth game, especially if they recently officiated a high school game.
The major addition to the illegal body check rule for youth play is Article 6:
Take-Out Check/Excessive Body-Check
“Take-Out Checks or Excessive Body-Checks are prohibited at every age level. A Take-Out Check/Excessive Body-Check is defined as:
A. Any body-check in which the player lowers his head or shoulder with the force and intent to put the other player on the ground.
B. Any body-check considered more aggressive or more physical than necessary to stop the advancement of the player carrying the ball or to keep or move a player away from a loose ball. This includes but is not limited to: (i) any check in which a player makes contact with sufficient force and intent to knock down the opposing player; (ii) any check in which a player makes contact with sufficient force and intent to injure the opposing player; and (iii) any check made in a reckless or intimidating manner.”
Two- or three-minute non-releasable foul, at the official’s discretion. An excessively violent violation of this rule may result in an ejection.
The definition of a take-out check is crystal clear. What trips people up is the proper application.
Any body check that is delivered with a lowered head or shoulder and knocks a player to the ground is a takeout check for 2-3 minutes non-releasable. Why the emphasis? Because the overarching principles of youth lacrosse are individual stick skills, team play, player safety, and sportsmanship. I believe all coaches, parents, and officials can agree on that, which is why the penalty time for severe body checks starts higher.
The second part of the definition is more subjective as one official may have a different interpretation of “more aggressive/physical than necessary” than another. Much of this definition depends on the game. A U15 game should permit more physical play than a U13 game. As players grow older, the threshold for illegal-versus-legal play rises up in a manner that is commensurate with the level of skill on display.
The final adjustment to the youth body-checking rule defines the age levels that permit body checking. Here is the rule for each age level and the translation:
U15/U13: Limited body checking is permitted
Translation: From the front or side, not blindside or excessive, on a player with possession or within three yards of a loose ball, both hands on the crosse, below the neck and above the waist.
U11/U9: No body checking of any kind is permitted
Translation: Body checks are not allowed. Legal pushes (man/ball) and legal holds (riding a player out of bounds or away from the goal) are permitted. Think of U11/U9 lacrosse as “basketball with sticks” and you get a pretty good idea of the permissible level of body contact.
If you ever need a refresher on the youth rules and appropriate level of body contact for each age level please check out the annual rules interpretation video:
Gordon Corsetti is manager for men’s officials education for US Lacrosse. Still have questions about how tripping works? Leave a comment below or submit a question here. This post is specific to the US Lacrosse Boys’ Youth Rules, and has been reviewed by Walt Munze, NFHS rules interpreter, and Eric Rudolph, Youth Rules Subcommittee Chair.