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C.8 - Points to Remember When Umpiring at Any Level

C.8 - Points to Remember When Umpiring at Any Level 

Uniform and Equipment
Of utmost importance to the beginner, as well as the experienced umpire, is his or her uniform and equipment. Appearance is a solid attribute to good umpiring. The well-groomed umpire creates an atmosphere of respect and dignity. The approved uniform is light blue or navy blue shirt and the N.C.O.A. patch affixed to the left breast pocket. Additional approved uniform items are: Gray pants, plate cap navy blue or black (short visor), base cap with (longer visor), black belt and shoes with navy blue or black socks.

Standard equipment should include special shoes (for PU) with instep protector and box toe, ball and strike indicator, small broom or brush for cleaning home plate, chest protector, protective cup, shin guards and face mask. The ball bag must also be navy blue, black or gray. Your ball and strike indicator was designed for your left hand not your right, and shin guards should always be worn under your pants leg.

It is very important to shine your shoes before every game and to keep both uniform and equipment immaculately clean. Sloppy dress will give the impression of sloppy work. Your uniform is a reflection of the pride you demonstrate in your umpiring. Proper fit and cleanliness are essential. Generally, the first impression people have of the umpire is his personal appearance. Your decorum is something you can control.

Fraternization
Umpires must not carry on idle conversations with manager, coaches or players during the progress of a game or with other umpires unless proper officiating of the game requires it. Actual conversation and contact between umpires during the game should be minimized; however, there are going to be times when umpires have a legitimate need to get together.

Handling Situations
Compare two umpires with nearly the same ability. One can have more success than the other simply because he is able to react to unusual situations. It is expected that the players, managers and coaches will become emotional. When the umpire also becomes emotional, a critical situation is created. It is possible to keep your poise through trying situations.

In handling and dealing with situations, it is important to recognize the nature of teams and their coaching staffs.  It is also important to understand conflicts, how they generally progress from small to larger events or sometimes just explode into a major problem.  

Personality Types: It is important to have a strategy for handling the personality type of the teams and coaching staffs you will be dealing with. Personality analysis can help you classify and determine common strategies for dealing with individual situations. Each personality type has it own characteristics and common sense methods to deal with them.  They usually fall within the following types or combination of traits:

  • "Intimidation": Users of the intimidation style believe that the more complaining they do the more "close" calls his team will get and gain an advantage. He seeks to embarrass and influence future behavior. His actions are often premeditated and calculated for effect. It's difficult to do, but you must exercise judicious restraint every time you deal with them. Unfortunately, his actions invite the opposing team to even up the score by treating you in a similar manner.  Pick your time to take charge.  He will give you multiple opportunities for action.
  • "Personality Conflict": This person just doesn't like you. There is no chemistry between both of you. He is just waiting for you to err and is ready to condemn you. It's a personality conflict. This relationship could have been caused with a single encounter in which the wrong words were spoken or he could just not like your style.  Unfortunately, one argument can lead to a career of hostile feelings. Avoid all unnecessary association with him and handle him with professionalism and courtesy. Others involved in the contest will be aware of your professional efforts to "get along".
  • "Game Situation": Pressures increase as the end of the game nears and as the count increases. Be aware of the "good guy" who on his first trip to the plate asks about your family. Stay away from the ambassador who likes to visit between innings. Concentrate at all times. Especially be aware of potential problems as the game conditions intensify.
  • "Professional": This personality type is enjoyable to work with yet difficult to deal with. We could all use more of them around because they get their point across in a respectful and constructive manner. But, he doesn't give you an easy ejection to terminate a problem situation. In general, he will speak to you using proper protocol (face-to-face, one-on-one and in a reasonable tone). No obscene language. No outrageous gestures. He let's you know that he thinks you missed it, but doesn't try to show you up. He will give you the benefit of the doubt on the close ones, but finds it too uncomfortable to bite his lip and remain quiet on the play he sincerely thinks you "blew". He voices dissatisfaction in a respectable manner. Officials must deal with this personality in a professional and respectful manner.

Analyzing, recognizing and applying the appropriate strategies described above will help umpires steer through conflicts. Situations usually evolve over a period of time and escalate as frustrations build.  If umpires are perceptive and aware of such actions, many issues may be dealt with before they grow into larger problems and many situations may be avoided.  Learn who you are dealing with.  Use their traits to your advantage.  Finesse your way to managing each game. 

Nature of Managers: Managers tend to be great leaders. They devote huge amounts of time to their program and take pride in their players. They want to win and do well.  Most want to win or lose in an honorable, sporting manner.  Most coaches have a great sense of pride. Officials may use this trait as a method of game management by playing it.  "You are better than this," or "Let's keep the game between the lines," are both great lines to use in many situations.

Self-Police: Many individuals don’t like to be singled out in front of teammates or fans. Show deserving teams proper respect by encouraging them to police themselves.  Instead of an authority figure demanding an action be done, a member of a team can often get the same request performed without objection.  If someone is doing something they should not be, don't confront them by calling time and going over there or yelling from across the field.  When possible, take care of the situation without stopping the game, bringing yourself attention and challenging the offender.  A quiet warning or request from a teammate avoids an embarrassing incident and usually produces a quicker and more desirable result.

As PU, you have representatives from both teams within a whisper of you most of the game.  If you need some thing done without drawing undo attention or assuming the role of a dictator, use the batter, on deck batter or catcher as your helpers.  Examples of this could be: 1. Picking up a stray bat outside of the equipment area. 2. Getting an unneeded player back within the safety of the dugout. 3. Getting spare baseballs when your supply gets low. 4. Encouraging the catcher to exert leadership skills and take charge of possible problems or players which unchecked could grow increasingly worse. Choose your tact wisely and watch your acceptance grow.

Your Perception in others’ Eyes: Think about how you are being perceived on the field. Learn your individual tendencies and attempt to control the unproductive traits. Manage and control emotions to create or form the desired effect. Problems may escalate further as teams feed off your actions or inactions. After laying the proper foundation for the game, umpires need to mold their philosophies and psychological skills to help manage the game. Officials are role players. They act a part on the field. 

Timid officials often are seen as weak.  Everyone’s impression maybe cast by how you are dressed, how you present yourself when you take the field, how you did or didn’t handle some earlier situation.  Officials perceived as “timid” often must take charge of difficult situations to prevent aggressive teams from taking advantage of their passive tendencies. Generally, when it is perceived that one team is gaining advantage from arguing, their opponent will attempt to even things up or escalate them further – either by doing some similar actions or approach you angrily. Gear up and show your conviction and passion when necessary.

Aggressive umpires, on the other hand, must control the urge to blast or lash out. If you hammer participants during an argument, their competitive nature and attempts not to be "shown up" will likely cause escalation in tone and emotion. Blasting a team without proper reason causes them to resent you as "heavy handed" and encourages them to undermine your efforts in an attempt to get even. Control your normal, harsh reactions to preserve the integrity of your game. 

Player and Coaching Staff Relations: Disagreements on the field are as predictable as gravitation returning fly balls to earth. Arguments and confrontations are nearly as old as the game itself. But, they often cause unnecessary and unneeded problems while delaying the game. If they occur too often, they cause frustration, loss of confidence and an inability to control the game. Effective game management encourages umpires avoid pitfalls whenever possible by anticipating potential problems and heading them off before they fester further. It is far more desirable to nip problems in the bud, rather than having to resort to arguments or ejections. Your success as an official depends on knowing rules, mechanics and when to take preventative action.

Unfortunately, team members outnumber the officials many times over. Power is as much a responsibility as right.  There are several tests occurring in games and each is an opportunity to handle it well. When and how you wield the power vested you by the rules is an opportunity for you to earn respect and ability to manage a vast number of participants on the field. Timing is everything.  When you pass the test by taking care of a problem properly, it is noticed by others and will be rewarded by others confidence in your work. Be friendly and pleasant without showing partiality. Develop communication channels and rapport to show everyone you are human and able to be dealt with in a low-key, professional manner. Work at creating a respectful relationship. Always treat others the way you want to be treated in return.

Tone Down Emotional Arguments: When someone is upset, they are not in control of their emotions.  They tend to not be articulate and ramble or repeat themselves as they speak. Many times, if someone is upset, they will burn themselves out if you allow them to. When someone has really lost it as he approaches, he knows and will feel uncomfortable about how out of line he is and feel guilty. All it takes is a reassuring tone that you will listen when he settles down a bit. Maybe don’t speak until he stops speaking or ask him to take a couple of deep breaths. You don't want to yell back at him and add fuel to the fire or squeeze him for time during a period which could be as intense as a hostage crisis. If that coach goes away thinking he has been cheated, his frustration will build and you will pay the price and probably be forced to eject him from the game later.

Techniques: Some of the better known tricks are: If someone is yelling at you, in addition to remaining silent, speak even quieter to them. Often, they will gradually quiet down to a reasonable tone. Another trick when someone is yelling and not making any sense, is to tell them you don't understand what they are trying to tell you. Most of the time they will pause, repackage their thoughts, become quieter, more understandable and more in control.  You could remind them that you are standing right next to them and there is no need to yell.  If they continue yelling, tell them quietly you aren’t going to talk to them until they stop yelling at you. All of these tacks are designed to bring emotions into a reasonable range where participants are less likely to suffer from ejections.

Read situations carefully, firmness may be an appropriate option when an opponent is totally out of line. Strive for the reputation of "fair, but firm". "Fair" denotes that everyone will receive an even shake while "firm" means you will draw the line and require the teams to abide by the rules and sportsmanship standards which honorable participants prefer to win by.

Tone and delivery are just as important as what you actually say. Read the situation and then use words, tone and delivery to best manage the situation. Use of the phrase, "In my judgment…" is always advisable. (Remember - Judgment calls cannot be argued, i.e. balls and strikes, safe or out, catch or no catch, fair or foul.) Attempt to finesse the problem with humor or soft-spoken logic. The key is to build up through beginning and intermediate steps to the point where you needed more strength in your response instead of escalating and hammering away on the first incident.

Conduct yourself in a professional manner. For the most part, try working with the teams while letting them straighten out problems themselves. Your initial response should be non-confrontational. Read their response. Most offenders know better and seeing that you noticed and reminded them of the problem without dropping the ax will usually gain you their respect.

Establish Credibility in Arguments: Generally, when game management techniques fail or a team believes you blew a call, it is time to buckle up and prepare for an argument. Even when you have laid the foundation for a perfect game, the unexpected blow-up may occur and ruin your hard work. Players and coaches usually lack the specialized knowledge needed for our job to interpret plays and issue proper calls.

As the manager approaches with a full head of steam, anticipate what issues will be discussed. Determine what you will say and how you will respond. Proper communication is so essential in the early stages of a discussion. Usually, the initial explanation will determine whether your discussion will smolder out or quickly back-draft to an explosion and a major management problem.

Allow the coach to start the conversation, if possible. Make sure he follows appropriate protocol. The discussion should be: 1. Face-to-face. 2. In a reasonable tone. 3. Without the coach calling you names. 4. Kept within a reasonable time frame (not prolonged or repeating the same issues.) 5. One-on-one (without other players or coaches ganging up on the umpire.) If a team violates this protocol, then stop the discussion until the team complies.

Strive to let the coach have his say on the issue as long as he doesn't get personal, repeat himself continuously, go too far in what he says or come out on every play to discuss every call. As the old saying goes, "You have two ears and one mouth which means you should listen twice as much as you talk."

Let Him Have His Say: Listening is your first line of defense. The manager often gives you a perfect "out" if you listen closely enough. Usually the manager tries to quote a rule or describe the play in a manner where the umpire can answer with the proper rule or a good defense. Let him finish without saying a word. This gives the manager an opportunity to calm down or talk himself out. Show him your interest by maintaining eye contact at all times. Remember, there is an argument only when more than one person is talking, screaming or yelling. The argument is only prolonged if two or more people continue to debate something. In short, stand back, keep your mouth shut, stay calm, listen and then respond.

As the manager is talking, use the time to formulate your answer further. An umpire's goal is to get both sides calmed down. When you are calm, you listen better and can explain yourself with less chance of error because you had additional time to collect your thoughts. When people are yelling, they aren’t listening. Your performance is also perceived and rated better by the manager since there will be real communication being done.  

If the manager begins to repeat himself, it is a good indication he may be running out of steam. This is a critical time in the argument. Don't allow the manager to start over with contentions he has already made.  Tell him, "I have listened to what you have had to say, now allow me to explain my call." Then tell him why you made the call. If he interrupts you while you are giving your explanation, stop and again tell him, "I listened to every word you had to say without interruption. Now, let me finish my explanation."

Conclude the discussion with, "I have told you why I made the call and I have listened to you. Now, let's go to work." Now move to your next umpiring position. If the manager follows you, tell him, "I have already explained my call to you, and I have listened to what you have had to say. But I am not going to delay this game any longer. Either return to your position and let's play ball or you are going to have to go. That's up to you." Knowledgeable managers won't follow. They know following you leads to more trouble.

Notice the non-threatening way the previous discussion was handled. Threats tend to paint you as a heavy, challenges your foe to respond and may cause an argument to inflame and continue further. If the manager is giving you a hard time and you turn to him and say, "Skipper, sit down and shut up," listen closely as the sirens go off all around you. You have probably just caused the equivalent of a nuclear meltdown in the dugout. You have embarrassed the manager in front of his players and fans, while unnecessarily challenging him. If he doesn't sit down and shut up you are going to have to throw him out. But, if you let him know in a firm way that you "have had enough" or "you have had your say, now let's play ball", you have accomplished the same end without the direct challenge. (Here are some additional examples of threats: "Be quiet and get in that dugout." or "One more word and you're gone.")

Wait for the Head Coach to Come to You: Another common problem during an argument is to move at a manager as he comes at you. When a manager comes to discuss something, don't move towards him. Make him come to you. If you go anywhere, move to your next position. Going there could give you the necessary distance to discourage the manager from chasing you or keep others from tongue-lashing you further because of your close proximity. (If the out concludes the half-inning, then BU should head way out into right field and let the manager come track him down. Use the technique in an effort to calm, not inflame the situation. If you handle yourself well, you may have earned the manager's respect for many games to come.

Automatic Ejections: Most ejections are automatic. They involve statements of a personal nature about the umpire. The word which should get a coach ejected immediately is not the dreaded F-word.  It's the Y-word.  You. As in "You are a horrible umpire" or "You are a terrible umpire".  Coaches should talk about the call, not the individual who made it.  "I think that’s the wrong call" or “You missed that one.” are factual statements - "You shouldn’t even be doing tee-ball" is personal.

Once someone is ejected, allow them to have their say as long as it doesn’t get too out of hand.  The other umpire should, while using good judgment, escort the offender off the field. In a way you are attempting to play "good guy, bad guy" with them. Usually, the umpire who ejected the participant will be the focus of the anger. It's wise to keep him at a distance and allow the other partner, the "good guy", come in and finesse the combatant off the field and out of the stadium. The game should not be resumed until the ejected person leaves the ball field and the stands – get them out of “sight and sound”. If the ejected individual reappears, go to the manager or acting manager and tell him that the ejected person has returned and it is his job to have him leave.  If the ejected participant refuses, the game is subject to forfeiture.

Arguments are often used for various reasons. Often a manager comes out as a motivational tool as when he’s standing up for his player.  Sometimes a manager will come out to disrupt the game tempo. They may also be used for distraction. A manager could be out to deflect players’ or parents’ comments as fans think he is doing their bidding while in reality he could just be asking something completely off topic.  Discussions are done for varying reasons.  Sometimes the game on the field is much different than the perception in the stands.

Game management is an art and learned over many games and seasons.

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