Developing A Volunteer Umpire Program
OBJECTIVE: To develop a core of volunteers that have a desire to follow the mission of the Little League Program of being an all Volunteer Program by providing a service to the Local League in a way that provides a safe and fun environment for the children while at the same time being cost effective for the league.
• Set up an umpire sign-up table at player sign-ups.
• Review lists, and contact prior years’ umpires and invite them back to umpire for another year.
• Require each team manager to provide one parent (not a manager or coach) to be a member of the league’s umpire crew for one year. The Chief Umpire should network with team managers to try to develop names of potential umpires. Leagues are discouraged from requiring/permitting managers and coaches to serve as umpires. It may be necessary as an interim step until other adults are recruited to serve as umpires.
• In converting from paid umpires, do not try to do it all at once. Make the shift one level or two levels at a time. It’s probably best to start with the lower levels.
• When asking for a commitment to umpire in the league, make the request in the form of average number of games per week. Two games a week does not sound too bad, and it is difficult to decline such a modest request. When first asked, some people may think that the request is for every game, every day, all season. That is an easy one to decline, but twice a week is a reasonable request.
• Some high schools, or classes within high schools, require that students complete a minimum number of hours of community service work. This is a good way to start young adults into the volunteer program.
• Local umpires’ associations may be willing to donate one or two games a week to your league. If you use umpires from an outside association, make sure the umpires assigned to your league have a thorough understanding of Little League rules and procedures as well as the unique standards that you have established in your league.
• Advertize in a local neighborhood paper for volunteers.
• Volunteer umpires should receive snack shack privileges following games they work.
• Umpires AND their spouses should be exempted from snack shack duty during the season, as long as at least one of them, umpires a minimum of two games a week (getting off snack shack duty may be the single best incentive you can give anyone).
• Offer a reduction or full refund of annual league player fees and/or exemption from fundraising responsibilities for players whose parent(s) umpire regularly.
• Purchasing umpire equipment after he/she has umpired a specified number of games.
B. SUPPORT AND RETENTION
• The Board of Directors, compellingly led by the President, must continually emphasize that umpires deserve respect from all game participants as well as from all spectators, both during games and after games. The Board must make and enforce a strong statement that it will not tolerate any harassment of umpires. This item is the single most important item of this program. It is probably as important as all the other items put together. The league simply must not tolerate adults who act in an inappropriate manner when they are around children. Adults who cannot act properly must answer to the Board promptly, and the action taken by the Board must send a clear and consistent message that the league is serious about enforcing its standards of conduct.) The Board must support the actions of the Chief Umpire.
• A Board member, easily identified by a distinctive hat/shirt, etc., should be at EVERY game to assist with asserting the league’s standards whenever necessary (Board members must remember that they are not permitted to assert their authority on any matters that occur on the field; that authority is vested solely in the Umpire-in-Chief of that game.)
• The Chief Umpire should develop a budget for the umpire program.
• Create a sponsorship for their umpire program. The sponsorship fee should be used to purchase recognition items (see Section D below), umpire equipment, and umpire clothing.
• Set up weekly or bi-weekly meetings with the Chief Umpire (and perhaps the President) during the season to discuss common concerns and problems. The league should also consider providing umpires with an indicator and a plate brush.
• At minimum, the league should provide each volunteer umpire with a shirt, cap, brush, and indicator.
• Provide the proper umpire gear at each field location. Make sure it is in good repair and safe.
C. TRAINING AND EVALUATION
• New umpires should start with field assignments at low levels of play. A sure way to discourage prospective umpires is to assign them to games for which they are not qualified. Once they develop some experience, they will be anxious to move to higher levels and to try a plate assignment. Do not rush it.
• The Chief Umpire needs to plan, organize, and conduct clinics on rules and mechanics prior to the beginning of the season. The league should consider sending one or several umpires to the Regional Headquarters to participate in any of the several umpire clinics.
• The Chief Umpire should arrange for “scrimmage/practice” games where umpires are rotated in and out of a game for training purposes. Evaluations and feedback on their umpiring skills are given to each umpire upon completion of the session.
• Evaluations on umpire skills and performance should be given occasionally during the regular season to provide feedback and positive reinforcement.
• Umpires should be taught how to have a meaningful pre-game conference as well as a post-game conference to critique what they did right and what they could have done better.
• The league must provide all umpires with the Little League rulebooks, “The Right Call”, “The Umpire in Little League”, and a copy of the league’s ground rules and local rules.
• The President and Chief Umpire should routinely and regularly express their thanks to their volunteer umpires, both verbally, and/or in writing. Also, thank spouses of umpires. Umpires should be introduced and recognized at the league’s opening and closing ceremonies as part of the recognition of all of the league’s volunteers.
• At minimum, the league should provide each volunteer umpire with a shirt, cap, brush, and indicator.
• A list of all the umpires should be posted at the snack shack.
• When teams are introduced at the field, also introduce the umpires as the volunteer umpires for the game are…
• The league’s information officer should prepare articles for local community based newspapers and website featuring the volunteers who make the league operate successfully and efficiently (i.e. team managers, snack shack managers and workers, player agents, league officers, and of course the umpires).
• The league should host an end-of-season breakfast, barbecue, or dinner to recognize all volunteers and their contributions during the season. Pins, plaques, or a thank you letter from the President to thank each volunteer for their efforts.
• The President and Chief Umpire will recommend the deserving and qualified umpires to the District and post-season tournaments.
Developing a Volunteer Umpire Program is not an easy task, but with hard work and support from the Board of Directors, anything is possible. These ideas are just a few ideas that have worked for several leagues in the past. Be creative, you may see an idea that might work in your league with a little different twist than is presented here. Don’t be afraid to experiment or try to find the best approach for your league.
Positive changes will occur only if the President and the Board are willing to take a proactive approach toward adopting some changes that will improve the league and its umpiring program.
Don’t expect that it will all happen in one season, it may or may not.. You might want to start on a smaller scale with only one or two divisions. Whatever you do, get started. The benefits from having an all-volunteer league are enormous and certainly cost effective.
Bill Carter WR UIC
“All games will have an umpire. All umpires will be volunteers.”
One of the toughest calls for an umpire is deciding whether a pitch hit the batter or the bat. However, by following some guidelines, umpires can considerably increase their accuracy in getting the call correct.
1) LISTEN - Usually, a ball hitting the bat will have a sharp sound, whereas a ball hitting a batter will have somewhat of a duller sound.
2) DON’T CALL IT TOO SOON - The best thing to do is to just raise both hands slightly more than head high and announce, “Time” At this point you have not committed yourself to anything. If you are sure the ball hit the batter, point the batter to first base. (Left hand is preferred). If you are not sure the ball hit the batter then:
3) OBSERVE - Watch the IMMEDIATE reaction of the batter. If the batter has been hit, they will usually react (especially facially) immediately without thinking. If the batter does not react, or there is a noticeable delay in the batter’s reaction, it is quite likely the batter was not hit by the ball.
4) INSPECT - Look at the batter’s hand. Ask him/her to show you where the ball hit him. A ball hitting a batter’s hand will usually leave some sort of a mark, whether he is wearing a batter’s glove or not.
5) CONSULT - As a last resort, don’t be afraid to ask your partner(s). Although a considerable distance away, sometimes a base umpire has a perfect angle to see what happened. A base umpire must be 100% sure of what they saw before offering information to the plate umpire.
6) TAKING ONE FOR THE TEAM—Be aware of the game situation. Note the speed of the pitch and what the batter does, if anything, to avoid the pitch. Many times, it is the batter who causes the contact by leaning or turning into the pitch. Sometimes batters will extend an elbow. Don’t be afraid to call a strike, or ball, and award first base, if the batter sticks a knee out and the pitch hits him/her on the knee. A good response to a coach, when appropriate, is to say, “Coach the ball was over the plate when it hit your batter.” Or, “Coach it was your batter who caused the contact with the ball.”
Remember that on a fastball, or wild pitch, the batter may not have time to react. Very few batters are willing to take a fastball in the ribs. Use good judgment here and if you believe it is justified, award the batter first base even if he makes no effort to avoid the pitch.
By following the above steps umpires, more likely than not, you will get the hit batter play right.
Western Region Umpire in Chief