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The History Of Lacrosse As The Sport

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Knowing the history of the sport I love to play intrigues me. Knowing how the game was played when it first was created. What types of equipment they used to play with. Was there any rules set in place for the sport. The differences and similarities between the game back then and now. Those are just a few of the many things I would love to learn about. Lacrosse is the oldest team sport in North America, having been played by Native American tribes first. Lacrosse grew from a savage game that resembled war, into a recreational sport played by many in America and other countries.

Lacrosse was one of many varieties of indigenous stickball games being played by American Indians during the time of European contact. Lacrosse was played in the eastern half of North America and around the great lakes by the Iroquois people. It is different from the games like field hockey because of thee use of a netted racquet that was used “to pick the ball off the ground, throw, catch and convey it into or past a goal to score a point. The cardinal rule in all varieties of lacrosse was that the ball, with few exceptions, must not be touched with the hands” (Vennum).

The name of the game they played, lacrosse, came from early French settlers. It was a generic name for any game played with a curved stick and a ball. The meaning for a curved stick was crosse, hence the name lacrosse. (Vennum)

A chronicler of the Virginia Indians, William Strachey, compared lacrosse to “a kind of exercise much like that which boys call Bandy in English” (Strachey). Bandy is an old form of field hockey played on ice. Strachey said that the objective of the game was to drive a ball “between two trees appointed for their goal”(Strachey) by hitting the ball with a stick. Some Powhatan variants on the stickball game included a kick-the-ball version played mostly by women and boys, or drop-kicking the ball and seeing who could kick it the farthest (Aveni).

Lacrosse was a major event and would take place over several days. It would be played over a huge space of open land and they would use natural landmarks as goals. The area of land they played on ranged from five hundred yards to several miles apart from goal to goal. The players involved could range from one hundred to one hundred thousand people at any given time. Compared to now, a standard lacrosse field is 110 yards in length from each endline, and 60 yards in width from the sidelines. Also, now there are 12 players per team, so only 24 players on the field at once. (Origin)

Unlike now, back then there were various versions of goals. Some versions were, a single pole, tree, or rock. Sometimes two goal posts were used. In order to score, you had to hit the single post or shoot between the two posts. Since games lasted days, ending at sundown and beginning at sunup, the scores of games would sometimes reach a hundred points or more.

Each tribe had their own versions of the goals they used for Lacrosse. For example, the Choctaws used two 25 feet high stakes for each goal that ended up being 6 feet apart. The Creeks in Alabama used two stakes that were 6 feet high and 6 feet apart. (Beers)

Similar to now, the rules for the game stated that no one was allowed to touch the ball with their hands. Unlike now, back then they had a rule that there were no boundaries. The lacrosse balls were made of wood but then were later were replaced by deerskin balls filled with deer fur. Lacrosse sticks were made out of hand carved and water bent wood. The netting was made out of deer sinews. (Origin) Now the balls are made of vulcanized rubber while the sticks were made out of aluminum, titanium, scandium, alloys or carbon fiber composite and the netting is made out of mesh, nylon.

William Beers is considered to be the “father of modern lacrosse”. He established the first set of standardized modern rules for the game. His motivation for developing rules was to make the game more “scientific”, and to allow less well-conditioned white Canadians the opportunity to play the sport without settling on half-mile long fields, which were traditional for the Native American tribes to play on. (Beers)

There ended up being 22 rules for lacrosse. These set of rules were revised and adopted by the National Lacrosse Association of Canada on September 25th and 26th, 1868. Some of the rules included, the ball must be between 8 and 9 inches in circumference. There has to be 2 empires at each goal where one stands on each side of the goal. The positions for players were goal-keeper, point, cover-point, centre, home, and fielders. Now the positions are called goal-keeper, attacker, mid fielder, defender, center. (Beers)

Some other rules are, you play 5 games and whoever wins 3 out of the 5 games is the overall winner. After each game the 2 teams must switch sides. Players weren’t allowed to switch out, sort of like subs, unless there was an accident or an injury. Spiked soles were strictly prohibited. Any player who looks like he is going to hurt another player, will be ruled out of the match immediately. (Beers)

There are many reasons as to why this game was invented and what its purpose was. One of the reasons is that it was considered a sport that would toughen up the young warriors for war. Another reason is that it was played for recreation and also played for religious reasons. During this time, some would even place bets on the outcome of the winners. (Origin)

They had Pregame rituals that were similar to the ones they would have before the war. Before the game, players would use paint and charcoal to decorate their bodies. Players also decorated their sticks with objects representing qualities desired in the game. Strict taboos were held on what the players were allowed to eat before a game, and the medicine man performed rituals on the players and their sticks in order to prepare them for the game. (Culin)

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On the night before a game, the players wore ceremonial regalia and performed a special dance. Sacrifices were held, and sacred expressions were yelled to intimidate opponents.Then on the day of the game, teams walked to the field and were slowed by constant rituals. One of the ceremonies was called ‘going to water’. Players were to dunk their sticks in water and the shaman gave a spiritual and strategic pep talk. Sometimes players would receive ceremonial scratches on their arms or torso. (Culin)

Right before the game, every player was required to place a wager. Items such as handkerchiefs, knives, trinkets and horses were part of the wager. The bets would be displayed on a rack near the spectators, and the items would be awarded proportionally to the winner of each quarter. Once the game was over, a ceremonial dance and a large feast took place for the hungry players. (Culin)

It wasn’t common, but men and women sometimes played lacrosse against one another. Lacrosse was seen more as a male activities and the women mostly were seen as vociferous spectators while watched and cheered on the men to help encourage their performance during the game. (Fisher) There was a game director who made a speech to the team before the game. It was usually the best player on the team. They also had umpires who was the old medicine man of the tribe. (Beers)

There were 2 different types of versions played by the Indians. The two types of lacrosse are similar but they differ between players having one stick in the northeastern game style as the southeastern style plays with two sticks.There was a doubled stick version of lacrosse that was played by the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, and Yuchi tribes. The Iroquois played with the single stick called the southeastern stick. The northeastern version was played by the Ojibwa, Menominee, Fox, Winnebago, Santee Dakota, Miami, Sauk, and Potawatomi people. (Vennum)

In the southeastern stick game, players use two sticks, one in each hand. In the southeastern stick ball game, if the player gets heavily defended, the player will toss the ball in the general direction of their teammates, praying that their teammates would get the ball before the other team swopes in. Passing to each other was unrealistic because the doubled sticks could not carry the ball in its netting. The players would have to clamp the sticks together to carry the ball so it wouldn’t fall out. There is no way to “shovel” the ball like the northeastern game since they had two sticks instead of one. (Vennum)

The northeastern game was played with one stick that was 3 feet long. The head of the stick was rounded and was three to four inches in diameter so it would be slightly larger than the ball. The sticks are made of wood and then were charred and scraped to create its shape. (Vennum)

The end of the stick had a hoop to hold the ball. During special occasions, the Indians would decorate their sticks by adding small feathers or tufts of hair to the hoop of the stick. They also would paint of dye it with various colors. (Beers)

Primitive Indian players only wore a tight breech cloth. Sometimes they painted their faces and bodies. They also decorated themselves with ornamental bead work, feathers, and a range of colors. The players wore a tail that was made out of white horse hair or even sometimes out of dyed quills from the Canada porcupine. They wore a mane or neck from horse hair that was first dyed in multiple colors. (Beers)

It wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century where they finally saw a sign of evidence of a Non-Native American playing the sport. First hearing about the game, French and English settlers were shocked by the game.English speaking Canadians, that were familiar with the Akwesasne and Caughnawauga people, decided to take on the game. They wanted to “civilize” the game so in order to do so, they started setting new rules and creating nonprofessional clubs. The first non-Indian team was formed in Montreal, Canada in 1856. Between the Canadians, the game of lacrosse started to expand fairly swiftly. Lacrosse ended up being exported throughout the commonwealth. Iroquois players would play against the Non-Native teams as they traveled to Europe for matches. (Vennum)

Lacrosse games within the native people was a way to ensure the survival of their nation by reinforcing communalism, gender roles and chieftain authority. Lacrosse reinforced egalitarian order and conformity within the nation and the players. Before a game, the men players would separate from them women spheres of life to achieve purity. (Fisher)

Woodland communities in the east would have their men and women provide different types of nutrients for the players to consume. Women are the farmers of the community and the men are hunters. Women would grow the “three sisters” which were, corn, beans, and squash. They were used as a form of carbohydrates. Men would hunt in order to bring in some fat and protein. (Fisher)

It was believed by Natives that in mythical times, animals and humans would intermix and one way they did that was by playing games with each other. In Native American legends, humans and animals would take switch roles. Animals would talk and behave as humans, and humans would obtain animal features like the ability to fly. The oldest known legend about lacrosse is the “Great Game” between the land animals and birds. It may be implicit that at some point the creatures taught the Native Americans how to play lacrosse. (Vennum)

It was believed that gambling on a game would stabilize social life since it would promote economic equality. Hunting rights to certain territories, articles of personal value, items found in nature or even things made by hand were just a few of the things that were used for betting. This was valuable to other cultures since they could use the opponent’s objects technology to help themselves create a more advanced object from that design. (Fisher)

Native American lacrosse may be influenced by nature, but it also serves as an influence to the French, Europeans and Canadians. Animals have influenced the game and actually could of inspired Native American to begin playing the sport if not actually taught them how to play. Lacrosse is played for different reasons; gambling, war, and recreation. I learned many new things about the sport I love and I now know where it all began.

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The History Of Lacrosse As The Sport. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 30, 2023, from
“The History Of Lacrosse As The Sport.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
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