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Reading Material ... What is a Practical Application of a Written Rule?

How does "literal" versus "spirit" of the rule interpretation affect game flow? Read the following article and explore some thoughts on these issues ...

By Emily Alexander

Rule books are written to cover the rules of the game and usually devote scant attention to who may be playing the game. Most rule books dictate the rules for virtually any division, skill level, age or gender while others are more specific.

For instance the High School Federation rule book covers boys and girls in the high school age range and a college rule book covers a college player playing the game whether it be at the junior college level or division 1.

Even though some books are more specific than others, the range of caliber of play governed by any given rule book is usually quite broad. Because of this, league rules, which always supersede the book rule, are often incorporated to try to account for the special needs of a particular level or division of play. Lacking a league rule the game itself will dictate the special desires of each type of play.

For instance, in pee wee ball there is rarely any written exception to the obstruction rule and minor obstructions occur continually because the players simply do not know where to go or how to move. These are generally overlooked by the umpire and not penalized unless they have a distinct impact on the game. In some games the uniform rule might need to be ignored. In other games the substitution rule will have to be stretched.

How an umpire recognizes these types of nuances in the various levels of play is vital to the flow and enjoyment of the game. Umpiring can make or destroy the interest in a game. Therefore an umpire must be able to practically apply the written rule to the particular game he/she is umpiring.

Umpires are taught to enforce the spirit and intent of a rule rather than rely on literal translation. The intent of nearly all rules is to create fair play by balancing advantage, rewarding adherence to the rule and punishing violation of the rule. The spirit of a rule is more elusive and usually becomes apparent by discerning the expectations and tolerances of any given game.

Anyone who has ever watched a youth game, a men’s game, a division 3 game, a high school game, a sandlot game or a division 1 game has probably noticed that there seems to be different strike zones being used in each of these games. Yet in the three main rule books governing fast pitch softball the definition of the strike zone in each book is all but identical.

Anyone who has ever watched the aforementioned games has also probably noticed that each of these games flows along with little, if any, attention paid to any deviance from the literal definition of the strike zone. This is because, over the years, at any given caliber or level of play, the desired and thus accepted strike zone, has evolved that allows players to participate and function in the manner they prefer to.

Thus, a practical application of a written rule is an application that allows the game to flow and to be played in a way that the players playing the game have decided through years of tradition.


This brings to mind how in

This brings to mind how in my game I want to adjust for the level, and how difficult this is to accomplish. When working many different levels my goal is to think of the game a day in advance and go over things relating to that level. Also during the game to adjust if it is needed, which I go over during the game itself as it progresses. One last thought is " let the game play itself ", this for me works up to a point.

Larry Loeffler


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