The words “requires excellent communication skills” are part of virtually every job description in today’s market, to the point where they’ve become meaningless jargon. When it comes to umpiring, however, outstanding communication skills are essential. Effective umpiring communication will:
Enhance your credibility
Partners, coaches, players and spectators will gain confidence in you when they witness effective communication practiced among crewmembers. Those efforts to communicate with your partners will force you not only to focus on your personal responsibilities, but anticipate your partner’s duties, thereby coordinating your work with the other people you depend upon on the field.
Effective communicating leads to the crew being in the right places at the right times, moving about the field more efficiently, covering appropriate responsibilities and making the right calls. Furthermore, a little bit of credibility goes a long way in the event of a “train wreck,” bang-banger or other tough judgment.
Keep you in the game
By making regular eye contact with partners, exchanging non-verbal signals for dropped third strikes, catch/no-catch, a potential infield fly and timing plays and verbally indicating clearly when you are chasing a fly ball or have third base covered, you’ll increase your concentration and be prepared for a variety of situations. Like a good fielder, anticipate what you’ll do if the ball is hit in your area. Eye contact with your partner also will help ensure that at least one of you is watching for a possible play before transitioning to the proper position for the next batter.
Provide more information
Umpires who communicate well result in more information being available to make proper rulings. By working as a unit, there inherently is a better chance that another set of eyes will help determine if the runner was picked off, the ball hit the batter in the batter’s box, a throw was bobbled, the foot was pulled, a swipe tag was made, a swing was checked, etc. If there’s a collision, your odds of applying the correct ruling will be much improved. Was it interference, obstruction or a wreck? Did it involve possession of the ball or the act of making a play?
Communicating with partners may lead to an interpretation that didn’t occur to you or assist in application of a rule with which you’re not familiar. Your partner may have experienced an unusual situation that you haven’t encountered or may have read/heard about an obscure caseplay. In addition, partners often can help defuse or salvage ugly situations with irate participants. Pregame and postgame communication will help achieve positive future results, perhaps as soon as the next game. Communicate by sharing information and preparing for the unexpected and unusual. Use the time when traveling with partners to assignments to improve your game.
Umpires will lose track of the count or number of outs from time to time. If you’re unsure — before the next pitch — simply ask your partner. He or she should verbalize the information in return. If there’s doubt, refer to the official scorer. By communicating with partners, you also will be on the same page to rule on appeals for runners missing bases, leaving too soon, timing plays, etc. Before ruling on an appeal or making a call when my partner and I are at the same play, we quickly make eye contact. Whoever is confident about what happened signals by tapping his or her chest and makes the call. If we both signal, whoever has primary responsibility takes charge to avoid more than one of us making a ruling (or worse) conflicting rulings. Before the end of the game, we talk about our route of departure at game’s end and leave the field together on the path of least resistance, usually on the winning side.
Proper communication will enhance your coverage of the field. In your pregame, discuss covering fly balls, as well as base coverage when the field umpire chases or is trapped at first base. When the base umpire chases, he or she should shout, “I’m going,” or signal with a hand on top of the cap. Communication also should result in better calling of illegal pitches by clarifying the elements on which each umpire will focus. Bracketing rundowns and short foul flies will be more efficient. Talk about how you will handle the tag up at third if the plate umpire has a close call on a catch or fair/foul down the right-field line. Agree how you’ll cover third base on the second play in the infield or when the runner steals second and advances to third on an overthrow by the catcher. Ask new partners if they strictly follow the manual or deviate under certain circumstances.
Make you a better umpire
Put all together, communication will make you a better umpire. By communicating, you’ll develop rapport, camaraderie and a comfort level with partners, making the experience more enjoyable and allowing you to work more confidently as a unit because you’ll know what to expect. Prepare. Don’t hesitate to ask questions or talk to your partner, which does not mean getting together to shoot the breeze between innings or to discuss controversial calls soon after they occurred.
Be professional. Be loud enough to be understood on the field. Use the proper mechanics. Make eye contact and play off your partner as a team member. If a coach calls time to question a ruling, you should have a pretty good idea what will be asked. Prepare a brief, professional response while he or she is en route.
Listen. It’s not an embarrassment or sign of weakness to seek help or conference with your partner away from participants when appropriate. Just make the call and then go for help if you need it. Tell your partner what you saw and ask if he or she has any other information to make the correct ruling. Then return to the coach to give a brief final determination. Take advantage of all the resources and information available to you. Evaluate your work, personally and as a crew.
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Note: This article is archival in nature. Rules, interpretations, mechanics, philosophies and other information may or may not be correct for the current year.
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