Where are all the volunteer umpires?
Every year local leagues have elections, organizational meetings, registrations, drafts, etc.. Then, a week before the season starts someone asks, “What about umpires?”
Below are some items leagues should think about in building a viable volunteer umpire program. The information provided will give each league a way to build a successful volunteer umpire program: From the need to have a league umpire-in-chief on the board of directors to how to keep them once you get them in the program and trained to be efficient, competent umpires.
Local League Umpire-In-Chief
It is highly recommended that each league should have a League umpire-in-chief (UIC) on its board of directors.
This umpire-in-chief should be, as a minimum, a role model to the children, and should have basic rule knowledge as well as being able to recruit, teach or train volunteer umpires and interpret rules.
His/her duties should be to:
- Train new umpires and/or managers/coaches for base umpires.
- Schedule umpires in all or most divisions of league play and should umpire as well.
- Establish a dress code for the volunteer umpires that will be umpiring in the local league.
- Interface with the local league board of directors as it relates to game situation, manager/coach situations, etc.
- Be available to debrief after games if asked by those volunteer umpires that want an evaluation.
Local League Umpire Program
The local league must have a member of the board of directors at games to ensure safety, sportsmanship and game control when required.
Make a prepared announcement before games that unsportsmanlike conduct from players, managers/coaches, and fans will not be tolerated.
If you live near a military base or post, approach military personnel about volunteering a little of their time to umpire some games for your league. Military personnel are always looking for community involvement activities to list on their fitness reports or on their annual evaluations.
Contact other associations, such as fire departments, search and rescues, etc. Those type of community based organizations can and sometimes will be able to put you in contact with some volunteers who are willing to umpire.
Create a code of conduct for all players, managers, coaches and fans that will remove some pressures from the volunteer umpires. Have parents, manages, coaches and players sign the code of conduct
When umpire meetings are scheduled, ask all those who plan to attend to bring someone along with them, especially a manager/coach.
A league may chose to use manages and or coaches to umpire in divisions in which they do not manager or coach. If the local league chooses to use managers/coaches, they should umpire with a qualified umpire.
Each team should recruit one or two parents to umpire.
Many local newspapers will offer public service advertisements to youth groups. Many radio stations and TV stations have avenues for public announcements for non-profit organizations. The local leagues should contact these venues and advertise the need for volunteer umpires, clinic dates, etc.
During the local league registration periods, volunteer forms are used to ask parents and others what they would volunteer to do to help the league. Make sure the UIC or board member personally ask those who volunteer to umpire and get a possible commitment from that individual. The UIC should attend these registration periods in uniform whenever possible and try to put together a CALL list from the volunteers that attend.
Many high schools around the country require their students to perform some type of community service before they are allowed to graduate. Get the UIC or board member to the high school and interact with the guidance counselors to get names of those who may be willing to help with umpiring.
Use basketball, football or other sport officials. While attending a game at a high school event or another sport event contact the officials after the game and ask them if they would be willing to give to the Little League program one or two nights a week.
Training, Training, Training
Use the district umpire consultant to offer and schedule clinics during the pre-season. Districts can also “share” district umpire consultants to conduct clinics in neighboring districts. The old saying of an expert is anyone who lives fifty miles away is very true and gives the local umpires a new prospective and creates additional interest. It also reinforces everything the local district umpire consultant has been saying in his/her clinics.
The UIC can video tape games, to help as a training aid for both new and old umpires. The theory is that you can’t hide from the camera.
Use pre-game, in-game, and post-game critiques as a training tool. However, you must be careful how you present critiques. Often you can run into someone who doesn’t understand constructive criticism or doesn’t want to hear criticism of any kind.
Develop a mentor program where senior or more experienced umpires umpire with those that are less experienced.
Conduct rules training in multiple sessions, not just a two hour session, and include managers/coaches in those training sessions. Advertise your training sessions to everyone, not just umpires. Managers/coaches will be surprised how much strategy they can learn from the rules of the game.
Also, offer training on field mechanics to include plate mechanics as well as base mechanics. More than one volunteer umpire has left the program because of being out of position and getting a call wrong.
Utilize Little League manuals, books, magazines, etc., for those training sessions.
Use e-mail/website to disseminate rules questions/answers, and develop an Internet-based training program. Use of e-mail will eliminate a lot of telephone calls when it comes to unexpected holes in game assignments.
If the local league decides to utilize parents as umpires, make sure each team provides two parents as umpires as a minimum and give them shirts and hats to wear while they umpire.
Umpires must be reasonable, and not the type of individual with a chip on their shoulders. They should understand how to deal with other volunteers and, most importantly, how to deal with children.
Expand the use of your umpires, exposing more of them to more games during the course of the regular season.
An umpire training fund should be started by the local league or district to send those volunteer umpires who desire more training to go to Williamsport or one of the regions for weekend or weeklong training.
Ask managers for input on their thoughts about any players who may want to be umpires.
Fall umpire meetings should be scheduled to keep your volunteers interested and abreast of the latest changes in rules, league policies, to organize for spring, etc.
Be a friend to your umpires or other umpires. More than one game has been a bad experience for an umpire, and it’s always nice to have someone to talk with about the situation.
Develop some type of three-year or five-year award, such as a pin, for umpires, and give it to them at closing ceremonies or end of the season banquets, picnics, etc.
If your league has been selected to host upper level tournaments, i.e., sections, states, etc., don’t just use host umpires during tournament. Invite umpires from neighboring districts to give others an opportunity to work in these great games.
Conduct local seminars on what it takes to be a volunteer Little League umpire and ask those in attendance to get involved just one or two nights a week.
Inform all that are involved that you will ensure that they will be assigned to some tournament games. This incentive is sometimes very exciting for the volunteer umpires.
Establish a reward or recognition program such as: The Rhino Award, given to the volunteer umpire with thick skin; The Golden Boot Award for the least amount of calls that were not correct during a season (humor award); and The Iron Man Award for the most games umpired in a season.
Keep new umpires’ costs down by supplying some or all the equipment they need. Don’t make them buy a bunch of equipment and uniforms at the beginning of their career.
Contact the local schools to get on community involvement lists that are provided to the students to aid the student in completing their graduation requirements.
Provide rule books, patches, equipment, etc., for umpires. Start with a community set of equipment that everyone uses. Then progress to those that return or agree to umpire so many games will get a mask, more games will get a chest protector, etc.
Provide every volunteer a league umpire shirt and umpire hat to wear when they umpire. This will go along way in establishing loyalties and ties with your league.
Acknowledge umpires at end of year through dinners, picnics, or get together after the season for awards, show of appreciation, etc. Recognize your umpires….make them feel important!
Move umpires up, meaning use them for tournament games in at least district play, utilizing different umpires in championship games from year to year.
District UIC should approach each league to ascertain who is available for tournament games and what their availability actually will be as far as travel, open nights, etc.
Leagues, districts and umpires should understand that they should continue training. Rules change; interpretations change, mechanics change and everyone should realize this and conduct training or get to sessions for those updates.
Little League umpire shirts with the name of the league on them or just a shirt with a patch and Little League above the pocket will pay dividends on retaining umpires in your program.
Keep your foot in the door during the winter. Make contact at least monthly with your volunteer umpires.
On the local league web site, have an umpire section. On this section list schedules, rule interpretations, questions and answers and have a feedback area just for umpires, and talk to each other about weird plays or situations.
Local leagues should implement guidelines and procedures for keeping managers and coaches under control.
Ensure that your concession stand workers understand that it is permissible to allow volunteer umpires concessions after the game. Give them the hot dog and soda treatment after a game with a big smile and heartfelt “Thank you!”
Set up a program where volunteer umpires work at different leagues during regular season to keep them interested and to share the wealth with each other. An umpire who works in just one league can get stale and develop bad habits that he/she doesn’t realize he/she is developing. Also, try to umpire with different partners during the season. By umpiring in other leagues it will sometimes force that umpire to concentrate more on proper mechanics and make him/her a better umpire.
Recognize the umpires’ families. Say “thank you” to the spouse for encouraging the umpire to get involved and to be away from home four, five or six nights a week. The umpires will appreciate the support.