As much grief as umpires take - some of it justified - it's important to remember that they are vital to the game of baseball.
About 90 percent of the plays are obvious and don't need an objective party to make the call. However, in the other 10 percent, umpires prevent constant argument and the outbreak of anarchy. Even when every call in a game is clear and easy, the mere presence of an umpire brings credibility to the contest.
Umpires, though, are human (most of them anyway). And this means they're going to make mistakes.
How can coaches and parents best work with an umpire, given that he or she is likely at some point to blow a call (or rule against us) in the game?
All I ask from umpires is to hustle, know the rules, communicate clearly, and maintain a focus on doing what's right for the kids. Nail those and I can live with a blown call from time to time.
Based on my own experience of "wearing the blue" (umpiring) for 10 years, as well as being a player and coach throughout my life, this is my advice for adults:
- Respect the role. Show respect for the role of umpire and the value they bring to the game. It is tough to have a fair game and feel good about the outcome unless you have an objective third party watch the action and make a ruling. Having a dad of the opposing team call your fastest kid out at the plate doesn't sit well when it was obvious he beat the throw and tag.
- Respect the person. The person wearing the uniform is a human being just like the rest of us. Accept in advance that this human is going to make mistakes.
- Respect the game. Umpires love the game too. Respect it and they'll respect you.
- Focus on the kids. You're in trouble if the umpire sees that your ego is larger and more important than the success and happiness of the players. Umpires see your motives clearly. Take the approach that all of the adults on the field (coaches and umpires) are there to promote the enjoyment and development of all the kids . . . no matter the color of the uniform you're rooting for, you're all on the same team, you're just doing different jobs.
- Be reasonable. Don't argue every call (you know who you are!). Don't anticipate perfection. Don't expect to always get your way.
- Be polite. Coaches: don't come running out onto the field with guns blazing, no matter how right you think you are. Parents: stop yelling as you try to climb the chain link fence. An umpire wants - and needs - law and order, not the Wild, Wild West. You should want that too.
- Laugh. Be willing to laugh at the crazy things that happen on the field. Umpires are there to do a job, but they want to enjoy it, too. Having fun is what the game is about. Having a sense of humor shows the umpire that your priorities are straight.
- Downsize your ego. You'll never win points by showing or telling the umpire you know more than he does (even when you do).
- Focus on instructing the kids. No matter how badly the umpire blows a call, there's a learning opportunity for your team. Run all the way through the bag . . . charge the ground ball . . . don't watch so many good pitches go by . . . throw more strikes. Role model a focus on the things you can change (effort and technique) not the things you can't (the call).
If adults make these guidelines part of their approach, they'll have few serious problems with umpires. "Blue" will still blow calls and cause occasional indigestion, but in the long run coaches, parents, and their teams will have a lot more fun.
Dan Clemens is the author of A Perfect Season: A Coach's Journey to Learning, Competing, and Having Fun in Youth Baseball. It is available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and other bookstores. A leadership and communications consultant, he's been a youth baseball coach for 9 years and maintains a website for coaches at www.CoachClemens.com. You can email him at Dan@CoachClemens.com.