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Some thoughts on .... In-Service Training and Recertification by Brent McLaren

Everyone, here are some good thoughts on how to develop a re-certification program for the upper-half of our group. While the specifics aren't exactly where we need them, it does shed light in the direction we have been discussing in the last couple of years.

Please read this piece and see what you think ...

Since data doesn't persent well in this format (tables don't line up well), a .pdf copy of this article is attached for your convenience...

Some thoughts on .... In-Service Training and Recertification

By Brent McLaren

In the February 1997 Edition of "It's Official," the monthly newsletter of the National Association Of Sports Officials, Ron Foxcroft writes,
"The proliferation of sports demands the best officiating possible officials at all levels. Young men and women who want to become officials also have dozens of sports to select from. The race to attract officials to any given sport will soon become very competitive. No sport will survive with mediocre officiating; the competition is just too great. We must continue to strive for improvement, to develop our skills with the same firm resolve and dedication as the athlete." (Foxcroft, 1997, p.2)

"Seen it, done it" just does not cut it in baseball. Few umpires could ever honestly admit that their experience is so vast that no situation on or off the diamond could not contain some new element, new twist, new application of the intent of the rules of baseball. Despite the admittance of the life-long nature of umpire development few leagues and associations have developed a process to accommodate ongoing development and evaluation.

What is the current practice for many umpires? Somewhere in the past the umpire took a course: 1/2, 1, 2 maybe more days. After that very few umpires return to any formal instruction. Many pick up a discussion here, an article there, perhaps attend a meeting or two. Without a formal process for ongoing development there is only personal motivation to learn, develop and grow.

More daunting is the structure of many umpiring groups; recognizing years of experience over demonstrated competence or abilities. Often a young umpire with training in a professional school is routinely passed assignments at the beginner level while umpires with little formal training work senior games because they have been there for a few more years. Countless organizations, magazines and newsletters set out to justify the supremacy of the 'experience factor' because "that is the way it is."

Ongoing training and recertification are not to belay the importance of experience in the proper training of an umpire, in fact, it recognizes, supports and rewards this facet of what must be a complete program for the umpire.

"Learning" isn't just "Learning"
In another article on the web site (On Learning and "Turning Out Better Refs": A Response) I responded to a magazine article that argued "Learning is just learning." That author advanced one of the oldest concepts of instruction, behaviour modification, as the way an official develops. Essentially it was the author's contention that you get out there and do it. Over time the mistakes you make are corrected and you become a better umpire, referee etc. etc. This has long been falsely held, as I argued in the article, as the reason why promotion within an association or league was dependent more on years experience than an measurement of ability.

It would be foolish if not impossible to go into learning characteristics in depth here. Generations of learning specialists have advanced our knowledge of why and how we learn far beyond the modify/reward system that time holds. The best officials do not make a single move because they have "been trained to do so." The best officials move because they know why they must move.

In a presentation called "True Colors," a workshops that looks at how people learn, the presenter, Michael Tudor from Toronto, advanced many ways in which four different groups respond to life situations. (Tudor, 1994) The chart below gives only a few of these responses that could be related to umpires. (The colors are arbitrary and do not have any hidden meanings.)

Area of Life Blue Green Gold Orange

core need self competency to belong freedom

overall mood enthusiasm cool, calm. concerned excitable

in management the catalyst the visionary the the
traditionalist troubleshooter

when disturbed hysterical compulsive complain punitive

irritated by being treated illogical not using rules told how
impersonally /regulations to do things

searches for roles problems security stimulation

While these outline only a few of the many generalizations that could be drawn about learners and the way they approach a situation clearly no two groups will acquire, process and retain information in the same way. The diversity that exists in our circles of friends, cohorts and fellow officials must be considered in designing any program of development. Our chart tells us that if disturbed by the idea of recertification some umpires will be upset at being treated impersonally, others find it illogical, some feel that rules and regulations are not strict enough while others feel they are too strict. You can never fully win, but you can completely succeed.

Testing, not always the indicator
Everything we know about tests clearly shows that they are often a poor measure of knowledge and ability. Yes, the content-oriented multiple choice, "true-false," or "place the runners" questions so prevalent on umpiring examinations are easy to scrutinized in terms of fairness. More than that, the instructor can adjust the goals and objectives of the instruction towards the stated questions on the test, giving a false measure of "success." So can the test results be considered accurate? Clear measurable, test-question outcomes do not necessarily mean quality umpires.

Teachers have been wrestling with strategies for learning and evaluation for decades. The debates about testing and teaching models rages on. In Dr. Alan King's "The Numbers Game" he notes:

"Very simply, tests are considered valid if they measure what they are designed to measure, but the concept can be extended to include the requirement that what is measured by the test is worthwhile. A language test may indeed measure a student's vocabulary, but not his/her ability to use language, for example. It is one thing to set a standard and measure performance against it; it is another to determine the worth of the standard." (King, 1994, p.265)

More we know that for many the very process of taking a "test" breaks into the safety of the world we all build around us. The finality of this intrusive evaluative tool is viewed as a potentially large weapon designed to cut down those who fail to meet some shifting standard. Worse the evaluative tool is viewed by many as a maxim, some vague norm that once you go beyond you are protected until next time. Still others, "radical activists," invite the process realizing that they are already exceeding the evaluative process. Programs that emphasize only this democratic testing serve to alienate all but the few centralists within a system.

"Another assumption held by liberal educators in that the best practical solution is the one that serves all people equally. This argument is sometimes faulty. The premise that 'all people should be treated equally" assumes that all people have similar needs." (Loken,1973,p.76)

To approach the process of in-service training, retesting and recertification from the single model, so prominent in our umpiring systems, is to potentially do a great harm to our officials. To be truly effective ongoing umpire development must take a multifaceted approach to its existence. It must recognize that not everyone learns the same or can be evaluated using a single summative system.

Towards A Humanitarian Model
There are several premises that this model develops from:
1. It is desirable that all umpires continue to grow and develop in their skills and understanding to the game.
2. No two umpires have the same needs and therefore require the same training.
3. No single system or form of evaluation can be used to successfully assess every umpire.

Only when we have bound ourselves to accept the simple truisms of these premises we can begin to make forward movement in defining our goals for ongoing development..

Dealing with the first premise
Your association must recognize and be committed to the concept of ongoing development. Each umpire must recognize the benefits that will accrue to them personally and ultimately to the association.

The problem is not attaining agreement on the "strive to improve" credo, the problem is skepticism in what we really mean by that. To often it will produce an immediate and violent reaction: not to the premise of growth but to the absolutes of assessment. We have recognized the need for a multi-faceted evaluation system. If we can define an effective system of evaluating growth and development it will be possible for everyone to agree with this premise.

Dealing with the second premise
The development model must include a large range of activities which can be easily tailored to the individual umpire. There must be extreme freedom in the structure and definitions of the model. Moreover the model must encourage self-realization and assessment as part of the process. This is key to success. Very quickly our model could develop into a bureaucratic nightmare of paper, tests, meetings. In its desire to do what is right our model could simply bury itself in a sea of procedures. Accepting the second premise means we must recognize that any and all learning is good, and, that it does not necessarily need to be "measured" by some test.

Dealing with the final premise leads to the development of:

A Hypothetical Point-System Model
The "XYZ Officials' Association" recognizes the need to continuously upgrade the qualifications of its umpires. In a heated association meeting, after looking at needs of the association, it is agreed that every umpire should be examined and recertified at least every three years. There are serious concerns however; some long-term members don't like having to attend "a course" and pass "a test" to continue. Others are concerned about the paperwork the executive will now be assuming. Still others fear that there may be bias and favoritism on the part of the committee.

A model is proposed as follows:
• all activities that contribute to an umpire's ongoing development shall be worth an agreed upon amount of points.
• an umpire must accumulate a minimum 24 points in 3 years. (In the phase in years this could be varied. An umpire up for recertification next season would only require 8 points, 16 in two years.)
• umpires who fail to meet this goal shall be required to take the two-session recertification course and successfully pass the course's test.
• umpire's who achieve beyond 12 points, not including points for local work, each year will be recognized
• game assignments shall have no bearing on recertification. No points are awarded because an umpire worked at "this game" or "that level."
• activities which are not already listed can be submitted for point consideration to the recertification team. It is recommended that no more that 18 points be accumulated from activities that are "outside of baseball." Including more than 18 points will be at the discretion of the recertification team (and noted so in writing.)
• activities do not have to be specifically "umpire" in nature. For example: attending a workshop on crisis management as part of ones normal job duties could qualify.
• each umpire shall personally maintain a file, kept at the office, which contains documentation and the recertification tally sheet. This file may be reviewed at any time by the recertification team.

The following activities and their suggested points are some of the items already decided upon:

Activity Points Description

Recertification Course 24 Two days.
Test passed with a grade of 80% or better.

Onfield Evaluations 6 Work with an evaluator.
Max of once per year

Attend Meetings 2 Each meeting has training session.
(max. four meetings per year)

Meeting Training 4 Leading a meeting training session.
(n/a for Executive or Instructors)

Umpire Schools 6 per day. Attendance documentation required.

Local Work
- Executive 8 per year. Total in this area shall not exceed
- Instructors 8 8 points per year.
- Assistants 6 This recognizes contributions to the local
- Newsletter 6 association/league.
- Web Site 6

Newsletter articles 3 rules, mechanics, philosophy related.
Related Courses 6 per day. Must be pre-approved by
recertification team
Related Conferences 6 per day. Must be pre-approved by
recertification team
NASO Membership 6 per year. Photocopy of card must be on file
Other Activities TBA Refer to recertification team. Pre-rating is
strongly suggested.

The Model's Mechanics
A simple file was established for each umpire. On the tag of each file was the umpire's name and a colored dot. The three colors of dots allowed the recertification committee to quickly see who was up for recertification each year. In the file folder was a tally sheet. Umpires were initially invited to list activities they had participated in the last two years so that approximately 1/3 of the umpires would be in each season. A colored clip on the folder indicated the umpire had recertified.

All record keeping was the responsibility of the individual umpire and not the recertification team. Umpires were encouraged to only place copies of records in this file, retaining originals for their own records. Points for meeting attendance would be awarded from the group's attendance register. This was handled by the team at the end of each season.

Communication would be an essential part of the model. Umpires were informed one season in advance of their recertification season and their point tally to date confirmed. Umpires who achieved over and above 12 points, not counting points for local work, each season had their names published in the newsletter. Umpires who, from the information in their file, did not meet the 24 point requirement by the Annual General Meeting date would be required to attend successfully attend the recertification course prior to the start of the next season.

Finally, it was decided that any and all activities should be recognized. A minimum of 3 points per half-day activity would be awarded provided the umpire could make a case for its inclusion. There would be no arguments. The final decision on relevancy would be the umpires and not the recertification team. A maximum of 18 points could be achieved this way unless, in writing, the recertification team accepted additional points.

For associations and leagues looking for a system to insure growth and improvement this may provide some insights. Perfect? No, that would be impossible. Successful? Given the proper working environment and commitment, maybe. Better? That is your final decision.

akalsey's picture

Nice model to start from

The model is a good starting point. The number of points required, the categories, and the points earned for each category could certainly be adjusted to meet our needs.

For instance, we want to encourage our umpires to volunteer at local youth leagues. We could give one point for each volunteer game, with a max of 3 or 4 points.

This system also helps with new umpires. A new umpire joining the group receives 24 points for attending the three day clinic and receiving a passing grade. This immediately makes them a certified member. It would be possible, but difficult to become certified without taking the three day course.

What this model doesn't address, however, is how the point system effects what games you work. It starts by describing the problem with assigning games based on experience alone, but then doesn't solve that problem.

It might be worthwhile to discuss replacing elements of our points-based evaluation system with a training-focused system like this. On-field evals and years with the group would still count for something, but points given for attendance and the rules test could be woven into the certification model instead.

This would give better games to umpires who are new to the group but have vast experience and ability. Under the current model, an umpire who has been to Pro school ends up with mostly JV games, simply because they are new to the group. Perhaps tenure should count for something, but not everything.


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