Lacrosse is often referred to as the "fastest game on two feet," and for good reason. It's played between two teams with each team having 10 players on the field at a time. The team who scores the most goals wins the game, so the primary object of the game is to advance the ball into the offensive end of the field and get off a shot and score a goal.
The game begins with a face-off which takes place at the center of the midfield line. There is also a face-off to start each quarter, and after each goal. During the face-off, the referee places the ball in between the sticks of two opposing midfielders and, when he blows the whistle, two guys facing off fight for the ball. At the same time, each face-off guy has two teammates, sometimes called "wingmen," who start on the wings on either side of the center of the midfield line and come in on the whistle to help their team gain possession of the ball. The wingmen try to get in position to get the ball once it is released from the face-off; they are not allow to check the opposing face-off player while he is still engaged in the face-off. All of the other players on the field have to wait until one player has gained possession and the referee yells "possession."
The ball is most often moved up and down and across the field by one player passing to another, but in boys lacrosse, the ball can also be kicked or swatted at with the stick. Players can carry and run with the ball their stick, technically known as the "crosse," and to maintain possession of the ball while running or being checked by an opposing player, the ball carrier will "cradle" the ball in the pocket of his stick. Cradling forces the ball through centrifugal force to the back of the pocket, thereby making it more difficult to for the ball to fall or be checked out. The only player who is allowed to touch the ball with his hand is the goalie.
Depending on the age and/or skill level of the players, the ball will be on the ground a certain amount of time, and groundball play sometimes provides the most exciting moments of a game. Players try to get possession of a groundball by scooping it up into the pocket of their sticks, and usually that player has to do that while in the process of being checked by players from the other teams. Once a player has possession of the ball, the opposing team will try to dislodge it and take it away by checking the ball carrier with slap, poke or other checks or by controlled body checks. As a general rule, a player can only body check the player who has the ball and, in most leagues, can only take one or two steps before body checking. Although in some leagues and summer tournaments, a game will be divided into two 20 or 25-minute halves, most lacrosse games have four quarters as well as a halftime. Different times apply to different age levels, with some youth leagues playing 8-minute quarters, and most older guys playing 12 minute quarters. As a general rule, lacrosse games usually last about one hour, but the length of the game is affected by the number of time outs each team can take, with leagues allowing anywhere from one to two per half.
One of the rules that makes lacrosse different is possession after a shot. When a shot is taken and misses the cage or is deflected away from the goal and goes out of bounds, possession is awarded to whichever player is closest to the ball when and where it went out of bounds.