Photo Credit: Daniel Kelly

As an umpire, even we get nervous once and a while or you start to focus on a previous play. Maybe as the field umpire, your mind might start to wander. We all have to work to try and stay “present” so we can be effective.

A college sports psychology class that I took gave me some keys to help me through many of these situations. Back when I was a pitcher and also on the tennis court I would take a moment when things got hectic to just look down and focus on a little twig, pebble, scrap of paper or whatever caught my eye. Then I would pick it up and either flick it away or put it in my pocket. That distraction seemed to calm me and also bring me back to the present time and I would relax and get back to the game. I do that now as an umpire, especially when I am behind the plate.

That little routine takes all the external “noise” of coaches, teams, fans, past plays or calls and big situations out of my head so I can prepitch (plan) and get ready for the next play. Like many umpires, I use the routine of brushing the plate before each half inning and after critical plays or timeouts to refresh and regain my focus. I laughed once on a big postgame evaluation when I was criticized for brushing the plate too slow and too often.

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Another technique I use is to concentrate on my breathing. Thinking of the air going in and out of my nose brings me right to the present time besides giving my brain some needed oxygen. I really use this technique at the plate. To start each half inning and after a play or delay, I stay out from behind the catcher before I put my mask on and take a deep breath and refresh and focus on what is in front of me. Is there a coach coming? Something I have to proactively deal with (for example, a ball or equipment on the field, a field or uniform issue, the scoreboard is wrong, etc.). I look at the runners and out situations and check my indicator. Then prepitch, give my umpire-to-umpire signals if needed, put my mask on and go.

I have found it is much easier to stay focused behind the plate than out in the field. In the field during some games my mind starts to wander. There was one field I hated to work because, as I took my position at first base, I could see a big clock at a bank across the street. Noticing the time, I started to figure how long each half inning would take along with how long the game would last. I’ve done and have heard others talk about needing 39 or 42 outs (depending if the home team was winning) and subtracting outs as the game went along and even figuring what percentages were done and left. Those trains of thought are definitely not good for you as an umpire. For me, that happens less in a three-umpire game as I have more things to prepitch and be aware of. I really have to work while in the field to stay in the present and be an alert and effective umpire.

A good mentor got on me after a long and chilly day with me making some bad calls to remind me to get ample food and drink before and during games to keep my body and brain fueled so I could maintain focus. As far as cold weather, I am never cold behind the plate but found I needed a lot more clothing out in the field so I didn’t think about the conditions. Again it’s all about staying in the “here and now.”

What about when you’ve called a borderline “ball” with two strikes and the next pitch is hit for a home run? Or an obstruction play at the plate with two outs and the next thing you know four more runs cross the plate? Decisions you make sometimes turn out to be controversial and critical. That is part of the game and really what you get paid for. Most gut strikes or terrible balls, routine fair-foul, catch-no catch, safe-out anyone at the park could make without you even being on the field. It is your responsibility after you make any call to remain focused while umpiring the game.

I’ve caught myself rehashing in my mind pitches, plays, conversations and other aspects of the game. It is really hard when you know you are working a big game or being evaluated or working with an established superior umpire. On other occasions it is when I am mentoring or doing an evaluation when I am on the field. I have solved those issues by having something to write on, take notes and then forget about it till after the game.

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It probably would not hurt all umpires to take notes to help do a better job of postgaming. Taking a moment during a game to reflect is fine but you need to put it away and get back to the job at hand. Find ways to stay in the “here and now” no matter what happens to make yourself a better umpire. Paul Jacoby is a longtime college,

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