Three Man Mechanics: A Primer

2012-20-GHSA-Lacrosse-state-wh_250wAs the high school regular season comes to an end and the playoffs begin, many of you will need to brush up on your three-man mechanics.  The shift can be challenging, even for experienced  officials who do not work three-man games regularly.

Here are a few resources to help you master the mechanics.  Remember, a three-man game  is really a two-man game with help.


The huge advantage of working a three-man game (Referee, Umpire and Field Judge) is the ability to maintain a  wide triangle, one which allows the crew to keep the play in their lines of vision.


There are now three positions: “Lead” (the official running ahead of the ball), “Single” (the far-side official), and “Trail” (the official behind the play).

Both the Lead and the Trail are on the bench-side. The Single controls the midline. Primary offside and ten counts are his.


GLEAs in a two-man game, the Lead’s primary responsibility is  the goal. He should set up on goal line extended and work for the best angle to see the goal line, net and ball. He should stay as close to the goal as possible, moving in and out with the flow of the players and passing lanes.  Do not let players get behind you!

In addition, he has the end line and MUST move to the end line on any shot or contested play.



The Single works in tandem with the Lead. If the Lead is in the corner or at the end line, Single has the goal. If the Lead has the goal, Single has the scrimmage area in front of the goal.

On settled situations, the single sets up  five yards above the goal line on the far side. Like the Lead, he moves in and out of the play. His primary responsibility is in front of the crease. When a shot  is taken, the Single must be watching the shooter or feeder looking for late hits, moving picks and crease violations. He does not signal goal unless he is asked for help by the Lead.  He should move in quickly and focus on the area in front of the crease for violations. The Single’s job is to make sure all players stay reasonably calm after the goal, talking to players to avoid penalties if need be. Be alert for taunting!

Most importantly the Single is in charge of all offensive ten second counts AND 20-second clearing counts. He also makes all calls on the far sideline.


resetBecause the single has all 20-second counts, all officials must communicate when a defensiveness player gains possession of the ball.  When this happens, raise your hand and twirls your fingers while yelling “reset!” Should the riding team regain possession during a clear, this mechanic indicate that the clearing count has ended and a may indicate that a new ten second count has begun.

The official with the best view of the player in possession or a loose ball entering the attack box MUST signal to his partner by raising one hand above their head, and then point down into the box.

Bang Bang Plays at Crease


One of the most difficult plays to officiate  even in a three man game, is the bang- bang play right on the crease.  Whichever official, either the Lead or the Single,  who is looking at the back of the player has the push call.

If there is a push THROW YOUR FLAG! The official watching the front of the player, has the feet and the goal.  If the player scores before entering the crease, signal goal, if not COME IN HARD blowing your whistle and signal a crease violation or waiving off the goal.  Look to your partner to be sure you are both on the same page.


The Trail is closest to the benches,  so his primary role is communicating with the tables and benches, most significantly in relaying all penalties to the table.  The Trail also manages the substitution area. He must stay alert for the time-out call! So be aware of where you are in the game e.g. close games in the fourth quarter or in overtime! 

latehitIn the settled situations, the Trail l has mostly a supporting role and serves as the clean up guy.  Like I said, a three man game is really a two-man game with help.  The Trail is that help. His position is just outside the wing area line extended, and 3-5 yards from the top of the box. When he is not on ball, h should watch the crease area, especially one on one midfield play, and any late hits or cheap hits on passes or shots. 

Trail is also responsible for the midline  BUT he must be ready to move quickly to his own goal when he becomes the new Lead. 

He should NEVER start a 10-second count unless he is settled in his position. The other 2 officials will be responsible for all counts until he is in proper position.

On and Off Officials

In a two man game it is fairly black and white who has the ball and who does not.  This can get a bit more complicated in a three man game.   If the ball is in the Lead’s area, the Center official takes the crease. When the ball moves into the Single’s area, the responsibilities reverse themselves. There will however be overlap. If the ball falls into the “gray area” between officials, a good  rule of thumb is if the ball carrier is facing your direction, you have responsibility for the ball. Your partners should look off the ball to the crease area.

Often the Trail will be slow to get into the play as he works his way up the field. The Trail most often shares being the On Official with the Lead and the Single.  Remember, often one officials angle and positioning allow him to see a foul.  See the foul, make the call!

eyesWith three officials on the field the same principles apply:  we do not need 6 eyes following the ball. Two is all that is required. Watch the rest of the field.


Trail is also responsible to cover the midline for offside or other infractions when a loose ball approaches that area. Center must move up to release the Trail for transition as the new Lead. The most important rule of thumb: the new Lead should ALWAYS beat the ball to the Goal and End Line!

timerAt the change of possession, Single  initiates his 20-second count and breaks out and straddles the midfield line at the far cone .  He has primary offside responsibility. Remember to COUNT FORWARDS! He also has the initial offensive ten second counts once the ball crosses midfield and is possessed. In the event of an obvious fast break, break immediately to the top of the box (two-man trail position) in order to keep a wide angle on the play and then your settled into position five yards above GLE as the new Trail makes his way into your half of the field.

Trail is responsible for the 4-second count on the goalie and is watching for  crease violations and goalkeeper interference. He is primarily responsible for all fouls occurring in the defensive zone. He should stay even or slightly behind the ball as his primary responsibility is still his goal.  The Trail should NEVER follow the flight of a long pass, instead he should remain focused on the defender and the offensive player. Once the ball is cleared, the trail moves up to the substitution area and monitors all subs.

Goal Scored: The Switch

3manpositioningFOThe Lead  will signal the goal and take the ball from the goalie.  The Single moves into the crease area and the two exchange the ball and switch positions.

The Single then moves to Center X, raising the ball above his head to let the Trail now to initiate the 20-second timer, and begins to note the goal on his score card.

Meanwhile, the Lead heads to the far side and sets up on the wing as the new Single.

OBDirectionOnce a goal is scored Trail official moves onto the defensive clearing line all the while keeping his eyes on the entire field. When the ball reaches Center X, he activates his timer, and yells “Timer on!” He then quickly writes the score down. He then holds his hand up until the field and the new Single are ready. When the field and all officials are ready he gives the ready for play signal, pointing at the goal he is to cover and the Face off official

Faceoff: Backing Out

3manpositioningFO back outThe most difficult thing for officials new to three man mechanics is the faceoff.  As the FO official you will back out to the BENCH SIDE away from the Trail official.

A good habit is to look where the trail is lined up and go to that side but away from him.

Both wing officials are responsible for their wing players and follow them in as the play begins.  They each may call a violation on the face off players.  Bench side wing official will become the Lead if the ball heads towards his goal.  The Single will cover the other goal until the FO official can get to the GLE.  Therefore it is important that the FO official stay and officiate the face off.

 Pre Game Responsibilties

What a crew needs to do before a game is the same: coaches certification, check the field and goals, coin toss etc.  There are a few minor differences.  The R handles the coin toss, the Umpire take the Home Team captains out, and usually counts those players during dead balls.  The Field Judge is responsible for the Visiting Team.  The U and FJ escort the captains out to Center X and introduce them to the R.  They then stand away from the R while the coin toss is conducted.  When the captains have been dismissed, the U and FJ check each teams goals.

Equipment Check

Mandated random equipment checks will be done at time outs or at the end of the first and third periods. The bench side officials will select a player from each team and check for legal helmet, stick, gloves, shoulder pads, arm pads, mouthpiece and cleats.

They will take a stick out to the Center X to be measured by the Referee.The Single will secure a ball and meet the other officials at the X. The Referee, with his back to the benches, will measure the sticks, which are held out in front of the Field Judge and Umpire. The Field Judge and Umpire are positioned on either side of the midline facing the benches.

Here is a great video covering the ins and outs of three man mechanics from brother official Wayne Sanford, Chief Referee in Maine and a member of the US Lacrosse Men’s Training Committee.

I hope this helps!  Please let me know if you have any questions and good luck in the playoffs!


Greg Hite

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