here is nothing more beautiful in softball umpiring than watching a crew work together to cover the diamond. When it is a well-oiled machine, it truly is a splendid thing to watch. When it isn’t so well-oiled, it can look very ugly. It takes a lot of things coming together to look seamless, but it isn’t something that magically happens overnight. It can take years of practice, trust, communication, hard work and study in order to gel. One might call it a symphony when done correctly. Often it is simply referred to as crewness. So, how do umpires get to that level where everything looks fluid and easy on the field? Below are some tips on how to maximize the crew experience and get the most out of your crew to elevate your game.
What is crewness?
In order to be good at it, we must first define it. In every game, there are three teams on the field — the home team, the visiting team and the umpiring crew. In order to be successful, you must understand the umpiring crew is a team and while the objective isn’t to “win” the game, it is to work as flawlessly as possible as one cohesive unit to do the best job possible. If you don’t work as a team, you won’t have success.
The essence of crewness is the essential and fundamental ability to communicate and work together seamlessly and unselfishly to serve the game with the purpose and common goal of getting the call right. If we are unable to get calls right, nothing else really matters. We owe it to the participants, no matter the level, to get calls right. And when we work together with our partners, as opposed to working against them, we have a much higher success rate.
Have a plan.
In order to be successful, each crew needs to have a game plan heading into every competition. Whether working two-, three-, four- or six-person mechanics, there must be a footprint of how to work the game in order to be successful. If everyone just jumps on the field with no prior communication, there will be situations that aren’t handled properly because they were not discussed before the game. And all it takes is one missed call to ruin a crew’s reputation and trust.
It is imperative for crews to have a pregame meeting before every matchup. The pregame should be led by the crew chief and there should be a written game plan on what the crew needs to cover. Too often, umpires try to wing the pregame and end up forgetting important elements to cover and it isn’t realized until standing on the field. At that point, it is too late. Just because the pregame meeting is led by the crew chief doesn’t mean every umpire shouldn’t have input. Every umpire should have the opportunity to have a voice and all umpires should be free to express what they are working on in each game. The only way to improve is to write down your goals and share them with the crew so everyone knows what you are working on that game. The goal is to improve every single game and the only way to monitor progress is to compare it to what you have written down and evaluated after the game. Know what each umpire of the crew is working on for that game so you can provide constructive criticism and heap praise after the game. This builds camaraderie which in turn builds crewness.
There are enough outside influences and pressures placed on umpires that can affect success. Don’t allow the crew to cause any additional stress. Put personal agendas and opinions aside and know the crew is only as solid as its weakest link. The goal is to be one cohesive unit knowing you sink or swim as a crew. Build each other up and understand you are working for the game, not for yourself. When you realize you are working for something bigger than yourself, it makes it much easier to get the call right instead of worrying about your ego.
This word should be in all capital letters. Communication is the key for survival as a crew. It can be both verbal and nonverbal and it determines whether a crew is successful or destined to fail. It is essential the crew communicate before, during and after the game. Prior to the game, there should be emails, texts and phone calls to coordinate everything before you ever arrive to the game. This helps build camaraderie and makes everyone feel a part of the crew. Any member of the crew can put together an email chain or group text to send to the crew. This makes it easy to reach out to everyone instead of having to search your assigning site or bug your assigner multiple times to get in contact with your crew.
During the game, use your mechanics and communication to perform your duties at the highest level. Your communication, signals and mechanics are often on what coaches, players and assigners build their impression of the crew off. If they notice everyone communicating and using proper signals and mechanics, that builds trust. This also builds trust within the crew as each member feels involved. It also makes the crew more likely to get the call right. Without communication, members of the crew may feel like they are on an island. This leads to doubt and can lead to missed calls. You must have trust or crewness falls apart.
Ask for help.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It shows character. It shows you want to get the call right and you need additional information in order to get the call right. This doesn’t mean you should ask for help every time a coach disagrees with your call simply to appease a coach. It means you should ask for your crew to provide information when you have doubt and are missing a key piece of the puzzle. Do not miss the opportunity to get help in order to get the call right. Asking for help in the locker room after the game does you no good. Use it as a tool when you need it to get the call right on the field. It can take time and experience to feel comfortable asking for help, but an experienced crew knows when to go for help and is properly prepared to handle these situations when they arise.
Just because the final out has been recorded does not mean the work is over. Take time to reflect on the game you just worked. Talk about any rule challenges you may have had on the field or difficult situations you had to deal with. Talk as a crew to see if you handled everything correctly and in what areas you could improve for the next time you work together.
It is important to be honest during this time. Don’t just brush things off in hopes of getting away from the field early. And be honest with each other. Offering constructive criticism is the only way to improve the crew. This isn’t a time to hurt someone’s feelings, but it is a time to speak up if something needs to be corrected. Honesty is the best policy. The only way to correct something is to speak about it. Ask questions and offer suggestions instead of being accusatory. Ignoring it doesn’t do any good for any member of the crew. Talk about the things you wrote down at the pregame that each crew member planned to work on. Were those goals met? If not, why?
Some of the best bonding experiences happen postgame. And it doesn’t have to happen in the locker room. It can happen while grabbing a bite to eat in a more relaxed atmosphere.
At the end of the day, the goal is to polish the crew for the next time you work together and ultimately improve the game.
Just remember the goal when it comes to crewness is about the we and not the me. Work together for the big picture in serving the game and the rest will take care of itself.
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