Photo Credit: Jim White

Should being consistent be a goal for all officials? The answer is no. Being consistently right is what our goal should be. We always hear from coaches that all they want is for officials to be consistent. What they really mean is that they want them to be consistent in their favor.

Hopefully, what they really want is for officials to make the correct call. Being consistent isn’t good enough. We must be consistently right in our calls.

Umpires are consistent if they call the same location of a pitch, a ball or strike every time. But, that doesn’t make them good. If they are consistently wrong, who cares if they are consistent? Umpires who call strikes on pitches that can’t be hit are putting the hitter in a very bad position. If an umpire calls an outside pitch a strike, the next time the pitch will be a little farther outside to see where the umpire will stop calling strikes. Few will complain if the pitch is a little outside the strike zone, but it has to be a hittable pitch. I always get annoyed when an announcer will say that the pitch was outside but at least the umpire has been consistently calling the same location a strike or a ball the entire game.

In softball, pitchers dominate the game and therefore don’t need any help. Calling strikes that aren’t strikes is giving them too much of an advantage. That is a game that needs more offense and recent rule changes confirm that. High school softball changed the mound distance from 40 to 43 feet to get more offense into the game.

If we are consistently wrong in calling strikes that should be balls, we are going against what high school associations want. More balls being hit. More plays being made. More runs being scored. You will hear people complain that an umpire has a postage stamp strike zone and that is just as bad as having a zone that is too big. We have a strike zone, as defined by the rules, and our goal should be to consistently call it correctly. To be consistent, every bang-bang play doesn’t have to be called an out or safe. Each play calls itself. See it, pause and make the call.

In basketball, a coach will say, “All I want is for officials to call it the same at both ends.” Is he or she questioning the officials’ honesty or does he or she mean if we have a collision at one end and we call it a charge, we have to call it a charge at the other end, if we have a similar collision? I believe that is exactly what they are saying. I say, get it right. If we have a collision at one end of the court and we see the entire play, we must call it a charge or block based on what we see. If we have a similar collision at the other end of the court and we see the entire play, we should have a charge or block depending on what happened. That means we could have a charge on one end of the court and a block at the other end. We are being consistent because we will be calling them right at each end of the court. See the play and call it as you see it.

To be consistent, an official must be constant in how he or she approaches each call. If you set up the same way on each pitch, as an umpire, you should be able to make the same call on every pitch that is thrown in a specific location. If we are consistent in calling a pitch wrong, we can surely be consistent in calling the same pitch correct. Another example is when you set up as the lead in a basketball game and you are watching the defensive player, you are more likely to get the block/charge call right than if you are back and forth with the offensive or defensive player. Also, you will never be consistent in calling traveling if you don’t know which foot is the pivot foot. To do that you must concentrate on watching which foot is the pivot foot when he or she stops dribbling or gains possession of the ball. If you are not concentrating on that element of the game, you will be wrong on traveling, either missing it or calling it when it shouldn’t be called. If you are consistent, with your mechanics, you will be consistently right with that call.

And in soccer, if you are consistently aligned with the second-last defender, you will consistently get the offside call right.

Be consistent, with your mechanics and you will be on your way to a well-officiated game.

While no official will ever be perfect, consistent use of proper mechanics and concentration will increase the number of correct calls and decrease missed calls. A good official strives not just to be consistent but consistently right.

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