Your sport: Lacrosse

Think it sounds a bit soft? Think again. Jonathan Thompson explains the kit, the body armour and the bloody Native American history of lacrosse
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The Independent Online

The birth of lacrosse in England dates back to 1876 when Queen Victoria watched a game between a team of Iroquois Indians and Canadians at Windsor. "The game was very pretty to watch," she said. "It is played with a ball and there is much running." The Queen's observation was recommendation enough for England's larger girls' schools, which took up lacrosse during the 1890s.

But the sport's origins are a world away from school playing fields. Lacrosse was an important part of Native American Indian culture and was played across the country centuries before Europeans landed. It was a multi-purpose sport, used to settle disputes between tribes, celebrate festivals and train men for war. It was believed to have religious potency and a game was often played to bring good weather or cure the sick.

In its early incarnation the game had violent tendencies; the Iroquois called it Tewaarathon, "Little Brother of War". Teams of hundreds of players were often fielded, rules were kept to a minimum and the field of play had no boundaries. Goals, usually a large tree or rock, could be miles apart and games would last for days.

Today, men's and women's lacrosse have evolved into two distinct games, each with about 2,000 adult players in the UK. The men's sport – which is played in teams of 10, as opposed to the women's 12 – is full contact. Players wear helmets and padding and dislodge the ball from opponents' "cradles" by striking the stick or hand.

Teams are divided into defence, midfield and attacking players. It is a fast-paced, passing game and goals are scored by launching the ball into a net at the opponents' end of the pitch – although players can travel behind the goal. The women's game is still, theoretically, played without boundaries. About 30,000 schoolgirls play it but with 150,000 players Pop Lacrosse, a five-a-side game played by eight to 10 year-olds, is even more popular.

The facts
For more information on lacrosse, contact the English Lacrosse Association: 0161 8344582, www.englishlacrosse.co.uk.
In Scotland, contact the Scottish Lacrosse Association: 0131 667 4221, www.scottish-lacrosse.org.uk.
The Welsh Lacrosse Association can be contacted on 012920 708966 and a website, (www.lacrossewales.com) is in development.
Both the main suppliers of lacrosse equipment in the UK are based in Manchester. T.S. Hattersley & Son can be contacted on 0161 789 1374 and Peak Sports on 0161 480 2502.
Other useful websites include www.lacrosse.org.uk and www.lacrosse.com

Padding and clothing
Being hit by a high-speed lacrosse ball can be very painful – so players wear padding. Male lacrosse players wear £50 leather gloves, plastic helmets, mouthguards, and shoulder and arm pads. Goalkeepers also wear throat and chest protectors. Players wear mesh jerseys and shorts over their padding. There's no body contact in women's lacrosse so players wear little padding and pleated skirts. Most wear gumshields and goalkeepers wear chest pads and leg guards.

Stick
Men play with plastic sticks that cost about £55. Sticks are 40-42in long for attackers and midfielders and 52-72in long for defenders. The head of the stick is hooked to form a triangular pocket when netted. Plastic sticks can be strung with either leather or mesh. The heads of men's sticks are between 4in and 10in wide. Most girls play with wooden sticks in school and plastic sticks when they're older. A girl's plastic stick costs about £45 and a wooden stick about £50. They are 35-44in long with a head up to 12in wide. A wooden stick is strung with a leather lattice.

Helmet
Hard plastic helmets are essential. The most popular by far is the American Cascade helmet which has excellent peripheral vision. It costs £110 and is lightest and most comfortable on the market. Other less expensive helmets include the Canadian Bauer H100 (£65) and the Koho helmet (£75), both of which are suitable for junior and women players. Replacement chin straps cost £7.

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