How Does Substitution Work in Lacrosse: A Comprehensive Guide for Beginners

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Are you a lacrosse rookie and find yourself overwhelmed by the rules of the sport?

From time limits to the number of substitutions allowed during a game, it can be challenging to understand how substitution works with all of the regulations associated with competitive lacrosse. If this sounds like you, don't worry!

Read on for our comprehensive guide on how does substitution work in lacrosse – from man-up situations to defensive midfielder replacements - we'll cover it all!


Take Away Key Points:

  • Substitution in lacrosse is an important part of the game. It allows all the players to take breaks and move fresh players onto the field.
  • During substitution, each team has a designated restraining line which the incoming player must stay behind until the outgoing player crosses it.
  • For middies, substitution typically occurs when the ball changes hands or when they need a water break. Attackers and defenders are substituted less often as they run less and can take a breather on the other half of the field.
  • Communication between teammates is essential for successful substitutions, as all players need to be on the same page about who is entering and exiting the field.

How Does Substitution Work?

how does subbing work in lacrosse

Understanding substitution in lacrosse is crucial for success. However, as a newcomer to the game, substitution can be one of the most challenging aspects to grasp.

Quick on-the-fly changes can be made without taking a timeout, similar to hockey but different from basketball. Players must act quickly when subbing, as there is no time to spare. This is done by bringing players in and out of the field through the designated area, usually switching only one player at a time or multiple players simultaneously if necessary.

Substitution plays a vital role in a team's strategy, and having a good understanding of when and how to substitute can give coaches an edge over their opponents. As aspiring players, it pays to have a good grasp on substitution to stay caught up.

Basic Substitution Rules in Lacrosse

1. Respecting the substitution box

When making substitutions, teams have a designated area at the center of one of the sidelines to conduct their player transactions, commonly referred to as the substitution box.

The substitution box in lacrosse is an essential part of the lacrosse game as it ensures fair play between players.

The substitution box allows lacrosse teams to make substitutions of players safely and without disrupting the game's flow. Therefore, respect for the rules of the substitution box is essential for maintaining the fairness of lacrosse competitions and preserving sportsmanship among all lacrosse players. The players are expected to be mindful of their safety and that of their teammates when substituting.

By strictly following and respecting its rules, lacrosse teams can ensure games remain safe and exciting for everyone involved.

2. How does subbing occur?

Basic substitution procedure subbing happens quickly and without interruption, with the coaches calling the shots for their players to come on and off the field.

The full length of the substitution box can be utilized for offense and defense, allowing for a smooth changeover as one player enters from one side of the box while another exits from the other. This rapid transition allows for a seamless switch between attack and defense strategies.

Keeping track of personnel changes is essential - teams must abide by a maximum of ten players on the field at all times. Coach-submitted subs must wait until their predecessor has fully entered the substitution box before taking over to avoid exceeding player limits.

If too many players crowded in the box, referees will issue a warning and penalize those who do not comply. Unfortunately, some mishaps occur during the process due to too many or too few players on the field, but with proper understanding and knowledge, these can be avoided altogether.

how do substitutions work in lacrosse

3. Length of the substitution field

Lacrosse players have standardized sizes to play lacrosse depending on their gender and level of lacrosse.

As outlined by the NCAA regulations, a Men's Lacrosse field should have a width of 60 yards between its sidelines and 110 yards from one end to another.

On the other hand, an NCAA Women's lacrosse field can be anywhere from 110 to 120 yards long, with a width range of 60 to 70 yards from each sideline.

Additionally, unified lacrosse fields measure 110 yards long, with 53 1/3 to 60 yards wide between the sidelines. These varying lengths and widths ensure that lacrosse players can adapt on and off the field accordingly for game-time competition.

Advanced Substitution Strategy Rules

Midline lacrosse substitution procedures

To accomplish midline subbing, you can exchange a lacrosse player from the defensive zone with a player crossing to the midline.

Subbing through the midline in lacrosse involves a three-step process.

  • First, a defensive player is quickly replaced with an offensive middie as a defensive middie carries the ball into the offensive area zone. Still, the rule of four players in the defensive middies area means that this midfielder cannot yet cross over to the other side.
  • Next, the D-middie who passes the ball to someone else runs fast across the midline, allowing them to switch with a defender in the substitution box.
  • Finally, if an attack needs to be removed for a defender to come on instead, this can also be facilitated; there must be four players in the defensive zone at all times.

How to Line Up in a Substitution Field?

Lacrosse is a sport filled with energy and intensity, making proper lining up in a substitution game field particularly important.

In lacrosse, the substitutions happen quickly, with players hustling from one spot to another in their predetermined pattern. Lacrosse players must be aware of this pattern and follow it correctly, as any minor mistake could disrupt the game.

At the beginning of a lacrosse game, each team must have a total of ten players dispersed among three zones: Defensive half (four players), Offensive half(three players) and Midfield (three players).

The defensive four usually consists of three d-poles and a goalie, while the offensive midfielder line-up typically contains short sticks.

In the midfield, two short sticks and one d-pole is the norm with an LSM. Teams are only allotted four d-poles during the game. Although, they can be placed in any zone to create strategic positioning - such as placing two at the faceoff for a greater chance of obtaining possession or defending against strong mids.

At the onset of lacrosse games, most players start behind the 30-yard restraining line - three in the offensive zone and four in the defensive.

Before the faceoff, two players line up on each wing (20 yards long) while the rest are held back until possession has been gained.

The wings stretch 10 yards from the midline and 10 yards off the sideline. One player from each team is allowed on a wing if they are within that line or have passed it. After a successful faceoff, all players can move freely past the restraining line.

Substitution Tips for Beginners

When playing lacrosse, there are a few essential tips to keep in mind concerning boundaries and substitutions.

  • Make sure you stay behind the restraining line on a faceoff and don't touch the ground past the line with your body. If you have four players in the defensive zone, you can step off for a drink. If a goalie crosses over the midline, ensure another player stays back for them.
  • When clearing through the substitution area box, try to get it done across from all of the subbing activities to avoid overcrowding.
  • Keep your stick close to the sideline so no one can reach it when carrying the ball into space. As soon as possession is gained at a faceoff, any player can move to any side as long as three are in an offensive middie zone and four are in a defensive zone.
  • When subbing, always run so you can stay caught up on numbers; if someone is trailing you, attempt to trick them by stopping suddenly or continuing ahead when they pause. If there is any confusion or possibility of a penalty during substitution, pay attention and listen to your coach - if they tell you to sub, then follow their instructions; getting wrongfully punished should not occur if you are obediently executing what has been said to you.
  • It is essential for players to communicate with each other during the substitution process to avoid costly penalties. Look for communication cues between teammates to identify which players work best together. On top of this, always plan and prepare a few backup approaches if the situation changes drastically.
  • Subbing during a lacrosse game requires quick decision-making and skillful execution. It is important to be aggressive while subbing and stay within the game's rules. Doing so could give your team a key advantage and help it win.
  • To ensure a successful subbing experience, remember that timing and communication are critical. Make sure to alert teammates that you're coming in, so they don't make any unintended infractions when they are called in to switch with you. When you are called upon, try to time your run behind the net with that of the player next to you who is switching out so that both of you arrive at the same time.
  • Finally, when running onto the field, keep an eye on open space so that your teammate on the other side can know where you intend to go, even if it may vary from pre-planned. With these tips, anyone can be an effective sub during a lacrosse game.

2023 Update of Substitution Rules

To create a more dynamic and spectator-friendly style of play, the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Committee has recently implemented new rules regarding substitution, which reduce the size of the substitution box from twenty yards to ten yards and maximizes the substitution efficiency.

This may open up more chances for transition plays and add to the excitement of the game, as per their statement.

By reducing the size of the substitution box from twenty yards to ten yards, the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Committee has weakened the defense's ability to catch up with the offense during transition play, giving opportunities for fast breaks.

How Often Do Lacrosse Teams Substitute?

Midfielders typically make the most substitutions due to their greater running demands, while attackmen and defensemen can take breaks when the ball is at the other end of the field.

Teams with specialized offensive midfielders and defensive midfielders will be subbed out whenever the ball is turned over. If there are less-specialized middies, they may stay on the field longer unless it is for water breaks.

Attackers and defenders, meanwhile, only need a break if it is midline substitution - since they don't run as much and can take a breather when the ball is in the other half of the field.

Goalkeepers are rarely substituted. Substitution frequency depends on how vigorously a team plays, affecting positional specialization; teams requiring specialized positions require more substitution than those not.

However, many lacrosse players wonder:

Is there a limit for substitution?

While teams can make unlimited substitutions per game, it is not beneficial for them to substitute after every ball shift. Instead, teams must take advantage of potential fast break opportunities when defensive personnel quickly move the ball down the field.

Teams are also encouraged to diversify their skill sets by implementing a shot clock rule, making it necessary for players on the field to improvise.


How many substitutions are allowed in lacrosse?

In lacrosse, there is no limit to the number of substitutions teams can make per game. They can substitute as often as possible to get the desired personnel on the field.

What is an illegal substitution in lacrosse?

An illegal substitution in lacrosse occurs when a team brings players in and out of the game without the referee's approval. This can include substituting while the ball is still in play or substituting too many players simultaneously.

women's lacrosse substitution rules

What is a substitution called when it is made during the play in lacrosse?

A substitution made during the play in lacrosse is called a 'live substitution.' This way, teams can make changes quickly and efficiently without calling a timeout.

What's different about substitution rules between lacrosse men and women?

The substitution area rules for men's and women's lacrosse differ in a few ways. First, men's lacrosse allows for unlimited substitutions, while female lacrosse game allows for substitution only once the possession of the ball is gained.

How does subbing work in lacrosse?

In lacrosse, substitution is conducted on-the-fly without any timeout. Therefore, players must act quickly and legally when subbing, and they can only enter or exit through the designated substitution area.

Generally, a single player is switched at a time, but multiple players can be substituted simultaneously.


All in all, the substitution procedure is a complex but important part of the lacrosse game.

It requires focus, fast footwork from the subbing player, and good communication and coordination with their teammates. With practice, however, it becomes second nature and an essential tool for any team looking to win.

Freddy Woods

Freddy is the heart and soul of Lacrosse Runner. As a former athlete, Freddy is very passionate about Lacrosse. He keeps up with the sport's changes and innovations and often tests the new equipment released by the leading manufacturers. Read more here