ABC. It’s easy as three by three.

From the team lineup to the final whistle, I count players.

I count for two reasons. One, it keeps me engaged in the game. Anytime my mind drifts, I count. My attention returns to the players. Two, if there is an extra player, he stands out because I already counted six. It’s like a neon sign is flashing over his head.

Counting to six is far too slow, so I prefer to count in groups of three. Looking for three players with the same color jersey, my inner dialogue goes like this:

Three white, three white, good on offense. Three blue, three blue, two shorties, goalkeeper, good on defense.

Always count the offensive team first, because if that team is offside and scores, you’ll have to come crashing in to wipe off the goal. If the defense is offside while the opposing team has possession, then you’ll need to throw the flag. Also, you get a bit more time to spot the extra defender as he notices he is offside and tries to sneak back across the midfield line.

When checking for the right number of long poles, I count the short stick defenders first. If there are two, then there can’t be more than four long poles on defense. If there is only one short-stick defender and there were a bunch of substitutions earlier, your radar should be going off for too many long poles.

Whether or not a team is offside depends on having too many players, not too few, on their offensive or defensive half of the field. During transition, I modify my inner dialogue slightly and identify how many players each team can either substitute for or if a player is staying back for a teammate along the midline.

Two blue can go, one white can go. Two blue can go, one white can go.

I already know the blue team has three players near the goal on offense and white has three defenders plus their goalkeeper on defense, so I don’t have to count those numbers again in transition. I just worry about the three players for each team that are permitted to cross the midline. If there is one too many, it’s an easy offside call.

It takes time to make this a habit, but if you count every time you get the opportunity, you’ll find yourself getting much more engaged in the game then you ever thought you could be.

Gordon Corsetti is an officials education manager at US Lacrosse. Suggest topics for future officiating blog posts in the comments section.

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