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New Standard of Little League® Umpire Training Introduced

Umpire-in-Training, Daniel Magee, left, meets Thomas Haines, Jr., Little League International's Director of Umpire Development, during the recent umpire clinic at the Southwestern Region's George W, Bush Leadership Training Center.

Players spend countless hours practicing to get better. Coaches go to clinics and use training programs to improve. Umpires should take advantage of available resources to make sure they are at their best on the field.

In February, at the Southwestern Region’s George W. Bush Leadership Training Center in Waco, Texas, Thomas Haines, Jr., Little League Director of Umpire Development began to build the foundation for standardized training for all Little League umpires.

Over three days, Mr. Haines, along with a crew of veteran Little League umpires, first trained a group of eight experienced umpires. The following day these new “Instructors-in-Training” hit the field to lead a clinic for a corps of volunteer umpires where Little League started laying out the future of an umpire recruitment and training program.

“We are looking at new ways to develop training so that participants feel more comfortable with, and immediately begin to apply, what they have learned,” said Mr. Haines. “There was a great deal of learning that was done. I came out from the weekend with plenty of takeaways that will be applied to the developing direction of the Little League Umpire Program.”

One of the “Instructors-in-Training” was Albuquerque’s Bruce Dinkel, a 45-year Little League volunteer from New Mexico District 8. Coming into the weekend, he, like most umpires, felt comfortable with his level of knowledge about his craft, yet he went into the training ready to learn.

“I was invited to be a part of this group, and saw this great opportunity to gain additional knowledge and enhance my skills,” said Mr. Dinkel, who has umpired at various levels of Little League, including two World Series (2005 Senior League Baseball World Series; 2012 Little League Baseball® World Series). “At the start, Tom Haines explained the goal is to help the volunteer umpire get better.”

The overarching message of the training was to trust the teaching, as Little League works to set a standard for all umpires.

“The key is taking the idea of standardization back to our states and districts,” said Mr. Dinkel, who is a member of the Southwestern Region Advisory Counsel. “This open-minded approach to teaching and learning is a new frontier for Little League umpiring.”

Kevin Whitaker and his wife, Jennifer, are umpires in Texas District 25. Both said they were excited about the opportunity to attend the Southwestern Region Umpire Clinic, and were intrigued when they were told to expect something different.

“I wondered how different it could really be,” said Mr. Whitaker. “My wife and I talked about what might happen as we drove to Waco. We recalled hearing the phrase, “standardized training” and expected to work hard. We couldn’t imagine what we were about to experience.”

The clinic provided educational experience for both beginners and veterans. Newer umpires were encouraged to be patient, and avoid information overload; the veterans were likewise encouraged to overcome habits to form a crisp, clean, and improved mechanic.

The rigorous three-day experience provided continuous review of clinic objectives and ample practice time to help reinforce those objectives. The volunteers were constantly engaged in an activity.

“The most impressive concept was how the clinic started with a foundation, and every stage of training built upon it in a progressive manner,” said Mr. Whitaker. “Each training station began with a quick recap of what was already learned and what would now be added. Students were then expected to demonstrate the previously-learned concepts with what was newly-added. This allowed the student to see their own progress throughout the entirety of the clinic.”

Mr. Haines focused on standardization and repetition, but Mr. Dinkel said the importance of being open-minded and the willingness to learn was just as powerful a message.

“There are many different ways of umpiring,” said Mr. Dinkel. “We are now looking at everyone being in unison, with Little League having one standard umpiring model.”

Mr. Whitaker added, “We are truly impressed with this new training objective. We can now return to our district and share what we’ve learned, knowing full well this is the ‘standard’ and not an interpretation of a standard. This type of instruction will greatly help the development of volunteer umpires because of this standardization —especially with the instructor-supported training.”

The Little League weekend umpire clinics and week-long umpire school will follow a similar model in the near future. Registration is currently open for both training opportunities. For more information on Little League umpires, visit the Little League website.

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Fairball | March 2015 | URC | Registry