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Richard Vargas, Virginia Beach, Va., knows it is important to look sharp and show confidence when taking the field to build trust with partners, coaches and players. (Photo Courtesy of USA Softball)

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fellow brother in blue, who passed away much too soon, had a mantra he used both in life and on the field. That mantra was simple: “Handle business.”

As umpires, when we step on the field, it is a job. Yes, it is an avocation and something we love to do as well, but at the end of the day we are being paid to perform a service. And it is our job to protect the game and treat the game with the respect it deserves. Work each game like you would treat your full-time employment and follow these steps to take your game to the next level.

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Prepare, prepare, prepare.

If you had an important meeting at your job, you wouldn’t go into it without some sort of preparation. The same holds true as an umpire. The more information you can find out on teams, the better off you will be. This isn’t a reminder to study the rules and mechanics; that should be a given. This is more in-depth. Have the teams faced each other already this season? Was it a close contest or a blowout? Did anything happen in a previous encounter that could spill over into this one? Don’t be afraid to find out and contact whomever worked a previous matchup and find out anything you can. If you know one team likes to play small ball, you can be alert to bunt situations or delayed steals and not be taken by surprise. As you move up the ranks, you will quickly find out that teams scout the umpires working upcoming games. You should, in turn, scout the teams and get as much information as you can so you don’t walk onto the field blind. Whether that entails watching video, going online and checking out scores from previous matchups or talking to umpires who have worked previous games depends on what level you are working and what all is available. Even a cursory look at the schedule will put you further ahead than if you just showed up and walked on the field.

Be professional.

Treat every game like it is the most important game of the day. Why? Because it is to those athletes and coaches on the field. Act like you want to be there. Take pride in your uniform and appearance and treat the moment you walk onto the field like a job interview. You wouldn’t show up to a job interview with a stained, untucked shirt, wrinkled pants and dirty shoes. Don’t walk onto the ballfield that way either. Your appearance is the first impression a team gets of you and in order to instill confidence, you need to look the part. Take the time to clean and shine your shoes, make sure your uniforms are cleaned and pressed and your hat is the shade of blue it is supposed to be. The old adage, “You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression,” holds true and you will be judged before you ever make your first call on the field.

Be confident, not cocky.

Confidence instills trust, not only in your partners but also the players and the coaches. If you walk on the field with confidence and show you belong, that will go a long way with those who entrust you to work the game. Show good posture, have confidence in your work and trust in your calls. Sharp, crisp signals and positive body language go a long way. If you constantly hang your head, put your hands in your pockets, shrug your shoulders or have a dour look on your face, it will give the impression you don’t want to be there. On the other hand, don’t go to the extreme and walk on the field with a cocky attitude. That attitude will turn off players and coaches and can get you into a lot of trouble. Have an air of confidence, but don’t act like a know-it-all or be unapproachable to coaches. They may have a legitimate question or concern and if you brush them off, it will lead to more issues later in the game.

Be a leader, not a follower.

When something happens on the field, deal with it. Step up and lead your crew. Being shy on the field won’t get you very far. If you are the veteran on the crew, use your experience to lead new umpires and show them the way. Use the wisdom you have gained and impart it to new umpires who are still learning the ropes. They most likely will look to you to see how you do things and try to emulate you. You never know who is watching from the stands or on TV. By the same token, if you are a newer umpire and you know something isn’t right, don’t be afraid to step up and correct something. It is better to speak up on the field than to wait until after the game to say something. Don’t just follow along to get along. Sometimes, veteran umpires may do something the way it has always been done and not realize a rule or mechanic has changed. Newer umpires sometimes are better on the new rules and mechanics because those are the only ones they have been taught. At the end of the day, the important thing is to get the call right.

Handle business.

It is two simple words, but it means so much and perfectly sums up what umpires should do when they step on the field. If you do your job and take care of the things you need to take care of, things will run more smoothly. If you just go through the motions and don’t take care of things early, it will make for a long game and will make you an umpire coaches and players don’t want to see working their games. It isn’t our job to be liked; it is our job to be respected. By handling business and doing our jobs, we earn respect. And I use that term earn for a reason. It isn’t automatically given just because we put on the uniform. We need to earn it by hustling, by knowing the rules and interpretations, by being a good listener and communicator, and by stepping up when necessary. There is no higher compliment to receive than stepping on the field and both coaches say, “I’m glad this umpire is on our game. I know there won’t be issues today.” It takes time to earn that respect and isn’t generated after one game. However, if you handle business from the start, you will get to that level much quicker than if you don’t show the respect to the game that it deserves.

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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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