Ask a Ref: Quick vs. Slow Restarts


 Blow the whistle! Blow the whistle! Come on, blow the whistle we’re ready!” – Coach

“Coach your player hasn’t picked up the ball yet…” – Ref

Coaches and players have always wanted a quick whistle because no team wants their opponent to get set on defense. Referees want quick restarts because they keep the game flowing, but we do not want an unclean restart that disadvantages one team or provides an advantage for the other.

In this “Ask A Ref” post, Mark and Gordon are covering how officials restart play and administer the game without horns, a larger substitution box, and the emphasis on speeding up the game.

Let’s cover restarts first. A restart by definition:

Rule 4-5-1 Restart – Whenever a player has been awarded the ball for any reason. Under such conditions, no player may take a position closer to him than five yards.

There are two types of restarts in lacrosse: slow restarts and quick restarts.

Slow Restarts

Slow Restarts happen after time outs, goals, reporting time serving penalties, and the end of a period or half. They require:

  • One player in possession of the ball
  • The player in possession must be in bounds and stationary
  • No player from either team within five yards of the player in possession
  • The field must be set for the situation (10v10, 10v9, 9v9)
  • The officials must communicate to one another that they are ready to restart play

*Note – the exception here is on a face off. It’s a slow restart without possession

gordon2 gordon1

Signal Ready Signal                                                                   Dead Ball (Not-ready)

Quick Restarts

Quick Restarts happen after sideline and end line out of bounds, and after play-ons are whistled dead. They require:

  • One player in possession of the ball
  • The player in possession must be in bounds and stationary
  • No player from either team within five yards of the player in possession

The quote to start this post is not a joke.

I’ve awarded possession a few times on a sideline out of bounds this season and he coaches have been good about not asking for a horn, but a few demand a near-immediate whistle even though none of their players have possession yet. As a former coach I’m familiar with the desire for a fast restart, but coaches must realize that a quick restart is not a rushed restart.

For example, Red causes the ball to go out of bounds following a contested play on the far sideline. I stop play with my whistle and award possession to the White team. A White player picks up an available ball along the sideline and steps onto the field right where the ball exited the field of play. His coach is screaming for a quick restart, but I do not restart play because a Red defender is standing one yard away. Keep in mind that only two seconds have elapsed from the whistle to stop play to the White player stepping in bounds. The Red defender is not holding up the restart intentionally so I loudly inform the defender to back up five yards. Once he gets five yards away I blow the play in. Total time is about four seconds.


A lot of coaches may read that example and think I should blow the play in anyway. That is because it’s a quick restart, but it’s not a college quick restart.

Under NFHS rules the offensive and defensive players are given the opportunity to get five yards away from the player in possession. If the offensive team holds up the quick restart then the officials can turn the ball over to the opposing team. If the defensive team holds up the quick restart than the officials can flag the defensive team for Delay of Game (30-second technical foul), and the play will restart after the penalty is assessed.

I do not want to blow the play in for White with a Red defender one yard away and have the White player get checked and lose the ball immediately. I will take the coach yelling at me for a quick restart over the coach yelling at me for not backing up the defender after his player gets stripped. Again, it is a quick restart not a rushed restart.

The only other time I’m holding up a quick restart for a beat is if my partner is not in position for the restart. This typically happens on a turnover on a busted clear. While the players may be properly set for a quick restart my partner could be well out of position. I’ll give a quick check to my partner and if he is giving me the ready signal I’ll restart play and trust him to hustle. If I see him out of position for the restart I may hold up the restart slightly.

Officials are on the field for safety and fairness. A quick restart held up briefly so the official can be in position to view a possible safety violation is a small price for refs to pay to make sure the players are safe. Still, I prize hustle in my top three qualities of any sports official and I’d want my partner busting butt to get into position so we can restart play quickly.


Having covered the differences between slow and quick restarts let’s dig into the benefits of no horns and a wider substitution box.

When horns were removed at the college level there was a good amount of applause at the COC meeting at the US Lacrosse National Convention in 2013. During the 2014 NFHS rules interpretation meeting the officials who attended gave an even greater round of applause when horns were removed. In past years once a ball went out of bounds along the sideline the officials would signal “Horn” with two hands in the air. If either coach wanted a horn, they would call for it and the table personnel would blast the horn. Both teams then had 20-seconds to sub whoever they wanted.

I think the NFHS rules interpreters saw how much faster and better the college game flowed after removing horns in 2013 that they felt compelled to remove them in the NFHS rulebook. As a referee I can tell you unequivocally that not having horns is awesome. I’ve wrapped up competitive high school games in one hour and forty minutes, and games with a running clock can be done in under an hour and twenty. Removing horns cut out a huge swath of dead ball time that inflated game times and officials in every sport know that the longer a game goes on the greater the potential for bad things happening.

What does no horns mean for players and coaches? Well, no more sounding the horn on sideline out of bounds. It’s a quick restart for any ball out of bounds. It puts the teams that push the ball in transition at a definite advantage, but it also requires a greater amount of stamina for players and officials. The 20-second breaks were a nice time for players and refs to catch their breath, but with horns gone everyone on the field better be in good shape.

To compensate for no horns the box was widened to twenty yards total (10 yards on either side of the midline). For those of you who want a quick visual the substitution box is now the exact width of the wing lines. The box rules still operate the same as they have been in the past, but players now have extra space to work with. Coaches are not permitted in the box at any time, and the only players permitted in the box are the ones serving penalty time or just about to substitute on.

The teams I’ve officiated so far have gotten the hang of the bigger box, but I’m still having trouble maneuvering around it as an official in a two-man crew. Three-man crews have less trouble keeping an eye on the box and not getting run over by players, but in a two-man crew on a quick transition the bench-side official running towards his goal has to keep his head on a swivel and make sure a player isn’t going to crush him sprinting out of the box. Last point on the bigger box, it is incredibly hard to focus on both the play and the many substitution changes over the bigger area in a two-man officiating crew. I’ve had a few coaches yell, “He left early” and I never saw it because I had a contested play in front of me. Delayed substitutions or illegal substitutions are just hard to pick up with two officials splitting the field, and I’d rather miss a delayed substitution than a late hit.

These are major changes to the high school game and it will take some getting used to for all parties involved. From what I’ve seen in the televised college games and the college games I’ve worked not having horns, widening the box, and emphasizing quick restarts (not rushed!) really showcases our sport’s description as the fastest game on two feet.

Rule 1-2 The Field (Substitution Box)

Art. 7 – Where physically possible, the scorer’s table should be placed at least 6 yards from the sideline at the center line. Two lines shall be drawn on their side of the center line 10 yards from the center line and extending past the scorer’s table. The area bounded by the sideline, the two lines perpendicular to the sideline and the scorer’s table shall be referred to as the table area. Only players serving penalty time, players ready to substitute on the fly, the chief bench official, and the official scorers and timers are allowed in the table area.

Art.8/9 Summarized– The coaches/bench area now only extends 15 yards from the table area. Since the box is 5 yards wider on each side, it removed 5 yards from the team bench area, including the coach’s box.

Rule 4-6 Out Of Bounds

Art.2 – Player in possession – When a player with the ball in his possession steps on or beyond a boundary line, or any part of his body or crosse touches the ground on or beyond a boundary line, the ball is out of bounds, and the player shall lose possession. The ball shall be immediately awarded to any player of the opposing team who is ready immediately to resume at the point where the ball was declared out of bounds. On any restart, no player may be within five yards of the player with the ball.

Rule 4-22 Restarts When Regular Substitution Is Prohibited

Art. 1 – Once the official has signaled the ball ready for play, the official shall resume play within five seconds. Play may be resumed immediately after the ball is signaled ready for play if a player of the team awarded the ball outside the goal area and officials are in position to officiate the restart.

Art.2 – Any violation that occurs while the ball is in the goal area will result in the ball being awarded to the offended team laterally outside the goal area.

Art. 3 – The goalkeeper shall be given a maximum of five seconds to re-enter the crease on any restart.


Our friend James wrote us, he asked a common question we get a lot!

I have recently noticed an increase of players in lacrosse wearing visors. I looked in the 2013 electronic copy that I have of the rules and I can not find any mention of visors. And in the(Ask a Ref) article for the 2014 changes I see no mention either.

I really would like to know what is the official rule that is published. Any help would be great as there is definitely a conflicting opinion out at the moment.

ANSWER (Gordon): Good question. There wasn’t any mention of visors in our article as those rules have not changed in a while. The 2013 NFHS rulebook lists visor rules in Rule 1-9-2-d, as well as Situations B, C, and D.

The major disqualifying element of a visor is it not being 100% clear. No smokey visor, no shaded visors, no dark visors are permitted. Only visors (can be any brand or designed for any sport) that permit 100% light transmission, i.e. clear, and are molded and non-rigid are allowed for play.

So a visor designed for a lacrosse helmet that is dark is not permitted. But a visor that is designed for a football helmet and is completely clear is okay.

The rationale behind this is in the construction of the helmets. Football helmets are designed for the facemask to be quickly removed in the event of injury so doctors can see the eyes. Lacrosse helmets are not designed with that same quick removal feature. The lacrosse visor must be clear so that trainers/doctors can check an injured player’s eyes.

Tinted glasses are permitted only if a visor is not worn. Again, the rationale is back to safety. Glasses can be nudged down or removed easily, but a trainer can’t move the tinted glasses if a clear visor is being worn. If both are to be worn then both must be clear.