Field Hockey vs. Lacrosse: The Differences That Matter

Lacrosse and field hockey are both played on fields using sticks. You might be debating joining a field hockey or lacrosse team, but you’re unsure which is better. What are the differences between lacrosse and field hockey?

Here are the differences between field hockey and lacrosse:

  • Lacrosse has shorter periods
  • Field hockey balls are bigger
  • Lacrosse players need more protective gear
  • Field hockey sticks are J-shaped, lacrosse sticks are hook-shaped
  • Lacrosse sticks come in different lengths by player role
  • Field hockey goals are bigger

In this extensive guide, we’ll first talk about the games of field hockey and lacrosse individually, including how they’re played, what you use to play, how you win, etc. Then we’ll delve deeper into the differences above. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll know whether field hockey or lacrosse is the sport for you! 

What Is Field Hockey?

Let’s begin by discussing field hockey, which is in the hockey family but isn’t played quite the same as other hockey games are. 


Although a relief from 510 BC shows the Ancient Greeks playing a game known as keretizein, which might have been a very early version of field hockey, the version of field hockey as it’s played today got its start during the 19th century in England. 

In 1849, a southeastern London field hockey club emerged, but the rules of the game were still not exactly established as we know them now. That wasn’t until Middlesex cricket clubs began playing a field hockey-like game in the wintertime. 

Then the Teddington Hockey Club furthered the game even more, using a sphere to play rather than a rubber cube and adding a striking circle. By 1886, the Hockey Association was established, and by 1895, field hockey was being played internationally.

In the 1908 and the 1920 Summer Olympics, field hockey was an Olympic sport, but then it wasn’t involved in the games in 1924. When the Federation Internationale de Hockey sur Gazon or FIH formed, the organization helped reinstate field hockey as an Olympic sport by 1928. 


A field hockey team has one goalkeeper and 10 field players each. Teams can substitute players in a combination of their choice anytime they wish throughout the game at any point. The only time this cannot occur is if the defending goalkeeper is suspended or injured. 


Players hit the ball with a field hockey stick’s flat side. A field hockey game is split into two periods. Each period lasts approximately 35 minutes. Then there’s a five-minute halftime break. Additional intervals and periods can be added, but this is uncommon. 

Another way of playing field hockey, especially internationally, is four quarters of 15 minutes. Each quarter has a two-minute break before the next starts, except for the time between the second and third quarters. That break lasts 15 minutes.

The team outside of the goalkeeper are attackers if they have the ball and the team without the ball are defenders. A coin toss usually determines who is who at the start of the game. A player begins the game by passing the ball from the center of the field. 

Penalties can be assigned to either team for errors such as raising the ball too high. The game has a three-tier system with penalty cards that a referee will hold up. A green card requires the player to exit the field for at least two minutes. A yellow card means the player has to spend time in the penalty box. If a field hockey player gets hit with a red card, they’re out for the duration of the game. 


How do you score in field hockey? A player should send their ball to the attacking circle. Next, they can flick, push, or hit it towards the goal. If the goalkeeper for the opposing team doesn’t stop the player, then the attacking team scores a goal. 

After an hour, whichever team has the higher score is officially the winner. What if the teams tie? In many cases, then the tie is what it is. If the game requires a tiebreaker, then a penalty shoot-out will occur. 

What Is Lacrosse?

Okay, so that was field hockey, so next, let’s talk about the game of lacrosse. 


Like field hockey, lacrosse’s origins go way, way back. In 1100 AD, Native American communities were believed to play a lacrosse-like game. In the many centuries to follow, some version of lacrosse emerged that became quite popular in the 17th century. 

This version of lacrosse could have had up to 1,000 players. The game started when the sun came up and didn’t end until sunset. Even then, the game wasn’t considered over for two or three days. This aboriginal Canadian lacrosse wasn’t played for fun, but to honor the Master or Creator. 

By the 1830s, Mohawk people in Montreal were playing lacrosse. This version of the game began to catch on, and by 1856, the Montreal Lacrosse Club was established, which shortened both the duration of the game and the number of players. By 1867, Upper Canada College students played the new and improved version of lacrosse. 

Field lacrosse was a featured sport at the Summer Olympics in both 1904 and 1908. Then, between 1928 and 1948, lacrosse was featured as a demonstration sport at the Summer Olympics.  


In field lacrosse, two teams of 10 players participate. Each team has one goalie, three defensive players, three midfield players, and three attackers. The midfielders and attackers use a short stick that’s no more than 42 inches in length. 

Four players can bring a long stick that’s up to 72 inches. Usually, the defensive midfielder and defensive players (up to three of them) will play with a long stick. The goalie has their own stick that’s up to 72 inches long and 12 inches wide. 

Like in field hockey, lacrosse players can substitute as a team sees fit, but not anytime. The players need to be in the substitution area for substitutions to occur. The only exception to this rule is after a goal is scored or after a penalty. 


The average field size for field lacrosse is 110 yards by 60 yards with six-foot by six-foot goals. The goal has a crease or a circular area within the goal with a diameter of 18 feet. The crease is where the goalie wards off stick checks from the opposing team. 

The players on that team cannot put their lacrosse sticks into the crease. Players must also stay within their side of the mid-field line, which splits the defensive and offensive zones. Three players have to stay in the offensive zone on each team, and then four players go into the defensive zone.

Field lacrosse games last for an hour, with four periods in all. Every period is 15 minutes. To start the game, a face-off occurs. This also happens after a player scores a goal. 

When lacrosse players engage in a face-off, they put their sticks parallel to the field’s mid-line on the ground. The heads of the sticks should be on the ball but on opposite sides.

Then, as soon as the ref blows the whistle, it’s time to jockey for control of the ball. When a ball goes out of bounds, the team that last made contact with it gets the ball next, but not when the ball is near the goal. 

Penalties occur in lacrosse as they do in field hockey when a player or team breaks the rules. The team that caused the penalty then loses possession of the ball. Some players have to serve time and cannot play for a limited period. 

The team cannot substitute the penalized player with another one and has to go without that role being filled until the penalized player is allowed to come back into the game. 

Well, we should say if they’re allowed to come back. A non-releasable penalty means the player is out for the rest of the game while a releasable penalty punishes the player for a predetermined period. 


When a field lacrosse player clamps the ball, they can flick it towards another player. Then, by taking the ball to the offensive zone, the player can shoot the ball into the goal and score a point. At the end of the game, the team with the most points is declared the winner. 

The Differences Between Field Hockey and Lacrosse

Now that we’ve explained how field hockey and lacrosse are played, it’s time to examine the differences between the two sports as we highlighted in the intro. 

Lacrosse Has Shorter Periods

Although field hockey is sometimes played with short periods, the standard is two periods that are each 35 minutes. Lacrosse splits an hour-long game into four periods that are 15 minutes apiece. 

For this reason, some people say the energy in a lacrosse period is more frenetic compared to a field hockey game. It’s easier for players to maintain their stamina when they’re only playing in 15-minute bursts compared to periods of 35 minutes.

It’s no wonder that field hockey has started to try shorter periods as well, especially internationally. 

Field Hockey Balls Are Bigger

The size of the ball that field hockey players use might not look all that different from a lacrosse ball at first glance, but they are indeed disparate in several ways. 

For starters, there’s the size of the ball. A field hockey ball is larger, and the texture is slightly rougher. This augments the style of play that field hockey requires. 

Lacrosse balls are smaller and smoother to encourage more bouncing and flying from the ball. The weight of a lacrosse ball is also less compared to a field hockey ball. 

Lacrosse Players Need More Protective Gear

We just wrote an informative post about the gear that field hockey players require, so you should give that a read if you haven’t already. We talked in that article about the need for protective gear and how in sports such as basketball, players wear a lot less protective gear than they do when playing field hockey.

Lacrosse players need more protective gear still. Their helmets have a series of lattices across the front, more so than the protective bars of a field hockey mask. The gloves are thicker, and lacrosse players wear full arm gear, not just elbow pads like field hockey players use. 

Interestingly, lacrosse players forego the shin pads, which are a must in field hockey to protect the legs from an errant ball. Since the ball in lacrosse bounces higher, the players have to protect their upper half more than their lower half. It’s the exact opposite in field hockey. 

Field Hockey Sticks Are J-Shaped, Lacrosse Sticks are Hook-Shaped

As we mentioned earlier, field hockey and lacrosse are both played on a field with sticks, but those sticks are not anything alike. In lacrosse, the players appropriately use lacrosse sticks. These are also known as crosses. 

A lacrosse stick has a wide hook-like opening on the end with a net pocket for easily capturing the ball. 

Field hockey sticks have no such net pockets. The sticks are single pieces and shaped like a J with a flat surface on the face. It’s not only the size and weight of the ball that keeps a field hockey ball lower during a game but the shape of the stick and the way it performs as well.  

Lacrosse Sticks Come in Different Lengths by Player Role 

Another interesting difference between field hockey and lacrosse sticks is the length of said stick. As you’ll recall from earlier, in lacrosse, depending on the player’s role, they might have a shorter stick or a longer one. The length of the stick helps the player fill their role better.

In field hockey, the goalkeeper has a specialized stick, which is true of lacrosse as well. The non-goalkeeping field hockey players carry sticks of the same length though. That’s between 31 and 38 inches long. 

Field Hockey Goals Are Bigger

The last difference between lacrosse and field hockey is the size of the goal. A lacrosse goal is six inches by six inches. In field hockey, the goal is larger, about seven feet by 12 feet. That makes it a lot easier to score!  

Final Thoughts 

Field hockey and lacrosse share similarities, but these are two very different games. We hope this guide helped you decide whether you’re more interested in playing lacrosse or field hockey, or perhaps even both!

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

Recent Posts

outdoortroop-21 outdoortroop-20