The Care and Feeding of Little League Umpires
Umpiring is as important to the successful conduct of a local league program as is managing and coaching. Traditionally, Little League has maintained a high-level standard in this area of the game. While the people who perform this service do so as volunteers, their devotion to the program and their desire to widen the scope of their knowledge and experience has reflected creditably on Little League (From the Umpire in Little League).
Since the advent of baseball, the umpire has occupied a unique role. As the sole judge and jury the umpire’s authority is unquestioned, but the dignity with which each umpire exercises duties, the good judgment and common sense they apply in the interpretation of the rulebook(s) are the hallmarks of an efficient and well-respected official.
Adults who volunteer for service in Little League undertake a difficult, and sometimes, thankless responsibility. Temperament as well technical skill must be considered when selecting umpire candidates. It is not enough to know the rules of the game. Successful candidates must be able to communicate that knowledge in a thoughtful and non-condescending way in those stressful situations. One of the foremost criteria in selecting candidates is the understanding that children at this age will exhibit various levels of skills, temperament, imperfections and limitations. The ability to communicate across a wide spectrum of participants is paramount. This ability must also extend to the umpire’s ability to communicate with adult managers and coaches, for they will also run the gamut of rookie all the way to seasoned veteran. To boil all of this down to one word, what we are talking about is respect. Respect for the players, the coaches and the game itself. Being courteous and respectful on the field is contagious.
Along with rules knowledge, and the proper attitude it is equally important that league umpires be technically proficient on the field. This may be best accomplished by standardized training at the District level for all of the umpires within that district. This type of training will help in ensuring that training is consistent throughout all of the leagues in the district as well as relieve the local leagues of at least one responsibility. It will also allow umpires an excellent opportunity to share experiences and learn from each other. This can be an excellent teaching tool for both new and experienced umpires.
The final point to touch on in this brief narrative is one of the most critical; appearance. An official who arrives at a game site properly attired and equipped will automatically generate an atmosphere of competence. The umpire’s uniform should always be clean, shoes shined and cap worn correctly. When the close play does happen (and it will), it is often easier for players and coaches to deal with a decision that didn’t “go their way,” if the umpire looks like an umpire.
This is not to say that a clean shirt will negate every potential argument, they are after all part of the history and tradition of the game. However proper appearance, and crisp mechanics can go a long way toward keeping the game moving and fun. As for mechanics, each Region Headquarters offers a residence school for umpires as does the Little League International in South Williamsport. These schools are an invaluable resource and should be used by both district and league level umpires. They are an investment in your programs that will repay immediate dividends.
This is admittedly a very brief description of the umpire in Little League as time progresses this synopsis will be expanded to include a variety of topics dealing exclusively with umpiring at all levels of Little League Baseball and Softball. Hopefully, this resource will allow leagues to be successful not only at recruiting new umpires but also retaining their current corps of dedicated volunteers.
Little League Umpire