By Gordon Corsetti

That’s a Ward! Stick Protection 101 for Boys Lacrosse

A US Lacrosse YouTube video came out a couple weeks ago with Steele Stanwick explaining the benefits of a higher free-arm position when protecting the crosse from stick checks. Take a look at the 0:40 mark in the video below.

I watched the video, and from a coaching and officiating perspective, I found nothing wrong with it. However, many viewers made comments on social media such as:

  • “Ward”
  • “Warding”
  • “Not warding in the MLL, but college, high school and youth that’s a definite ward.”
  • “The arm is moving, so it’s a ward.”

All of these comments on the video are incorrect, and they point to a lack of understanding of both the coaching points in video and the rule on warding. When coaching stick protection, I demonstrate the exact same free-arm position as Stanwick does in the video. To make the lesson stick, the coach has to move his arm to show the players how much more space is created between the defender’s stick and the ball-carrier’s stick when the arm is held away from the body. Stanwick was not coaching how to ward, he was showing the difference between the arm held close to the body and the arm held away from the body.

Now let’s move onto the rule and some game clips.

The direct text from the NFHS Boys Lacrosse rule book on pages 73-74 is quoted below. When reading the rulebook, Team A is the team in or entitled to possession and Team B is the defensive team.

Rule 6.11: Warding Off

“A player in possession of the ball shall not use his free hand or arm or any other part of his body to hold, push or control the direction of the movement of the crosse or body of the player applying the check. A player in possession of the ball may protect his crosse with his hand, arm or other part of his body when his opponent makes a play to check his crosse.”

Let’s break it down.

The first key point in the rule is, “shall not use his free hand or arm or any other part of his body.” The offensive player can be called for warding if he holds, pushes, or controls with his hand, arm or any part of his body. I repeat the rule to emphasize the “any other part of his body” part. Lowering the helmet into a defender could be spearing at worst, or warding at least, and warding could also be called on a player with two hands on the crosse while driving into a defender and shoving out an elbow to gain space.

The second key point is that contact is required. If the offensive player never touches the defender’s body or crosse, then it is physically impossible for him to “hold, push or control the movement of the crosse or body of the player applying the check.” The offensive player can move his arm all he wants, but if there is no contact, then there is no ward.

Rule 6.11 Situation A

“B1 swings at A1’s crosse. A1 pulls his crosse back with one hand and with the other arm absorbs blow by B1. A1 continues around B1, holding off B1’s crosse with his protecting arm. RULING: Technical foul against A1. A1 may not use his arm to hold, push or control the crosse or body of the player applying the check.”

In this situation, the arm could be either stationary or moving. The key part to judge is whether A1 gains an advantage by using his free arm while driving against the crosse of B1. Check out the video below and see what you would call on Black #10.

That video is a great example of a grey area play where the officials could make or not make a call and be completely right. In a scrum, the officials generally don’t want to find a ward because it’s a scrum. Bodies are bumping into other bodies and the movement you see in the video above will generally not be called because the movement did not create an advantage for the ball carrier. Plus, if the officials made a ward call that did not have definitive contact, then the crew would be stuck making that call on both sides of the field for the rest of the game and that would not be a fun game to play in or watch.

Rule 6.11 Situation B

A1, advancing toward B1, pulls his crosse back with one hand and protects his crosse with the other arm. A1 contacts B1’s crosse with protecting arm and continues to drive against B1 and his crosse. RULING: Technical foul against A1.”

The key part of this situation is the phrase “drive against B1 and his crosse.” This situation assumes that the free arm is not moving, but A1 is still gaining an advantage with that free arm by driving into the body or crosse of B1 with it. With this rule in mind watch the video below.

Here the offensive player dodges and his one free arm is moving a lot, but he never holds, pushes, or controls with his free arm. The player attempts to reach his crosse with his free hand, and not calling a ward here is the right call, because even though there is a ton of movement, the movement does not disadvantage the defenseman.

For me as a ref, I don’t want to call a ward on a player that didn’t earn it. Otherwise, I’ll be blowing my whistle all game for every minor arm adjustment that occurs in traffic. I want the big shove, the clear push off, the hand grasping the defender’s crosse, or the hand leveraging space by pressing down on the defender’s shoulder on a swim dodge.

Gordon Corsetti is the manager of men’s officials education at USLacrosse. 

US Lacrosse