Adaptive Sports: Wheelchair Lacrosse

Considered America’s oldest team sport, lacrosse was started by Haudenosaunee Native Americans in 1100 A.D. The sport combines elements of soccer, basketball, and hockey, and can be played by people with disabilities. For those looking for a thrilling wheelchair contact sport, wheelchair lacrosse may be the perfect fit.

History of Lacrosse

Lacrosse was played amongst Native American tribes for hundreds of years before it was popularized beyond Native reservations. Lacrosse was first played in Montreal, Canada, and later expanded to the U.S. in 1877 when the first collegiate lacrosse game was played between NYU and Manhattan College. Today, the sport includes both traditional and wheelchair adaptations, so athletes with and without disabilities can play the game.

Can People in Wheelchairs Play Lacrosse?

As the name suggests, wheelchair lacrosse is an adapted version of lacrosse played by people who use wheelchairs. Governed by Wheelchair Lacrosse USA (WLUSA), the sport has both similarities and differences to traditional lacrosse which make it possible for athletes in wheelchairs to take part in the game.

What Makes Wheelchair Lacrosse and Standing Lacrosse Similar?

Like traditional lacrosse, the objective of wheelchair lacrosse is to score goals by getting the ball into the opposing teams’ net.

Both tTraditional and wheelchair lacrosse rely on teamwork. Within each team, players are assigned a specific position:

  • Attackers: Stay near the opponents' goal to score points for their team.
  • Defenders: Protect their team's goal.,
  • Midfielders: Play both offense and defense and can be anywhere on the field at any time.
  • Goalies: Position themselves in front of their team’s goal to keep the opposing team from scoring points.

What Makes Wheelchair Lacrosse Different?

Wheelchair lacrosse differs from traditional lacrosse in a few ways to accommodate individuals with mobility impairments. These adaptations include:

Lacrosse Wheelchairs

Like wheelchair basketball, disabled lacrosse athletes use specially designed wheelchairs that allow for greater maneuverability and stability on the field.

Playing Area in Wheelchair Lacrosse

Traditional lacrosse is either played indoors, known as box lacrosse, or played outdoors. This is known as field lacrosse. Wheelchair lacrosse is typically played on a roller hockey rink, or a hard-surface box lacrosse field. The hard surfaces of each playing area allow athletes to easily maneuver their wheelchairs across the field.

A smaller playing area also helps to reduce fatigue for athletes in wheelchairs. The playing surface for wheelchair lacrosse measures 185 feet in length and 85 feet in width. This differs from the lacrosse fields used by standing players, which measure over 300 feet in length.

Number of Players in Wheelchair Lacrosse

Traditional lacrosse is played with 10 people on each team, including one goalie, three defenders, 3 three midfielders, and three attackers.

In wheelchair lacrosse, the number of players is reduced. Wheelchair lacrosse teams each have 8 eight players, including one1 goalie, two2 attackers, two2 defenders, and three3 midfielders. The reduced number of players helps to avoid crowding and injury among athletes.

Wheelchair Lacrosse Goal

In wheelchair lacrosse, the size and placement of the goal are adjusted to accommodate players' needs. Wheelchair lacrosse goals are two2 feet smaller in both width and length than traditional lacrosse goals. This smaller size allows goalies to easily defend their goal, so they don’t have to move their wheelchairs while trying to defend an incoming ball at the same time.

Unlike other sports, both wheelchair and traditional lacrosse athletes can play behind the net. In wheelchair lacrosse, the goals are moved closer to the center line so players have room to maneuver their wheelchairs behind the net.

Wheelchair Lacrosse Bball

While standing lacrosse players use a traditional lacrosse ball, wheelchair athletes use a specific type of ball. Because wheelchair lacrosse is played on a hard surface, traditional lacrosse balls can bounce, making it difficult for players to keep possession of the ball. To accommodate this, wheelchair athletes use heavier balls that do not bounce to allow for better flow in gameplay.

What are the Wheelchair Lacrosse Rules?

If you're interested in playing wheelchair lacrosse, you'll want to keep a few game rules in mind:

  • Wheelchair Contact: Like traditional lacrosse, wheelchair lacrosse is a contact sport, however, in wheelchair lacrosse, limited physical contact is allowed, focusing on chair-to-chair contact rather than player-to-player contact. This ensures player safety and prevents excessive collisions.
  • Chair Fouls: Fouls committed by a player's wheelchair, such as excessive contact or intentional tipping of wheelchairs, can result in penalties.
  • Ground Ball Possession: To accommodate players' limited reach from a seated position, possession of a ground ball is awarded to the player closest to the ball when it goes out of bounds.

Get Involved in Wheelchair Lacrosse

Individuals interested in wheelchair lacrosse can find a local team on the Wheelchair Lacrosse USA website. Local disability organizations, adaptive sports programs, and recreational centers may also offer opportunities to participate in wheelchair lacrosse.

If wheelchair lacrosse isn’t the sport for you, there are plenty of other adaptive sports to choose from. For those who like contact sports, wheelchair rugby is a great option, and if you’re looking for a more relaxed sport, consider wheelchair golf. Our full series on adaptive sports is available in our article library under the accessible living section so you can find the sport that’s right for you.

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