What lacrosse is today, and what it was about say 500 years ago is vastly different, though the basics have been retained over such a vast span of time. It was initially a tribal game enjoyed by the Native Americans of eastern Woodlands, and the Plain Indian tribes that now constitute Canada. Though this game is now played and enjoyed for pure entertainment, back then, it was played in order to resolve conflicts and even heal those who were ill. Referred to as 'the Creator's game', lacrosse was later believed to have been created by the Almighty for entertainment. It is still called by this name by the Native Americans. Let's look at a brief history of this game, and find out how it originated and transformed into what it is today.
Native American tribes played this game as a test of skill and held great spiritual significance with it. Considered to be a national pastime by historians, it would also be referred to as the 'little brother of war'. It would often be used as a method of training warriors. The rules and rituals associated with it were largely different from what they are now. The game went about in the following manner :
The Beginning of the Game
Just like before war, the players of the game would paint their bodies and decorate their sticks. These decorations were usually objects that were symbolic of the qualities that were demanded while playing the game. There were rules about what could be eaten before the game, and several rituals were performed by a medicine man (also the coach) to protect and prepare the men and their sticks for the game. A special dance was performed by the players on the night before the game, along with performing sacrifices and yelling sacred expressions. It is interesting to know that players would also bet while playing the game, and the objects, animals, or persons (wives and kids) that were on bet were put on display before the spectators.
The Equipment Used
The equipment used was mostly made out of wood. This included the balls and the sticks. The earlier versions of lacrosse sticks did not have nets. They were plain, large wooden spoons. Over time, the ends were bent into circles which had netting. The length of each stick ranged from 2 feet to 5 feet, depending on the comfort of the player. The players back then did not wear any protective gear while playing the game.
Men in the number of 100 to 1000 would engage in this ferocious game. The games would last for days, and were played from dawn to dusk. Open fields formed the game stadium, and goals were miles and miles apart. No one was allowed to touch the ball, and as soon as the ball was hit, large mobs would try to get to it. This slowed down the game considerably, and sticks were often used as weapons to defend oneself. There were no specific positions followed at that time.
In the early part of the 17th century, this game was noticed by the French. Though intriguing, it was initially opposed by them as a game of violence. Further, the fact that betting was a part of the game was simply scandalizing. However, over time, the nature of the game could not be resisted by them, and they soon began engaging in it. It is believed that the name of this game originated from the term 'jeu de la crosse', a term used to describe field hockey in French.
Soon, this game was modified into a game played with lesser number of people (only 12-15 in number) and with smaller defined boundaries. The goals were set at a distance of about a hundred feet from each other. In the early part of the 19th century, people in Canada started organizing clubs to enjoy this game, which soon developed a huge fan following. Following these developments, the British Commonwealth also started developing a liking for the game, which resulted in the popularity of this game in Europe. The increasing popularity resulted in its inclusion in the Olympics conducted in St. Louis in 1904, and the Olympics conducted in London in 1908.
Lacrosse has now been diversified into:
- Box lacrosse - Played with 6 players in each team
- Mini-lacrosse - Played to introduce it to beginners
- Men's field lacrosse - Played with 10 players in each team on a field, the size of a football field
- Women's field lacrosse - Played with 12 players in each team.
As mentioned earlier, the basics of this game have been maintained, but a lot of modifications have been made in terms of style, equipment, and rules. A game created by the Native American tribes to resolve conflict and entertain themselves has now become a game that is enjoyed world over.