Umpiring a softball game is no easy feat. There will always be someone griping about your calls, simply because it’s tough to call an entire game without displeasing at least one person. Don’t let this stand in your way! If you have what it takes — comprehensive knowledge of the game, patience, and poise — you can be one of best umps around.
Before donning that powdered blue umpire shirt, you have to be certified. Certifications offer several benefits — classes, training, and shadowing, to name a few. USA Softball, the governing body that Alaska leagues participate in, offers certification courses for any aspiring umpire. Pass the test and you’re in.
Umpires have the opportunity to travel within the state as well as outside for tournaments.
On the field, there can be one or two umpires depending on whether it’s a league game or tourney. They are called plate umpire and field umpire. The plate umpire calls the pitches, and the field umpire calls the plays around the bases. Once the game starts, their responsibility is foremost to work together to call a fair game. However, it’s not that easy.
To be able to call a fair game, an umpire needs to know the rules and regulations, and he needs to know how to apply them to every situation. Below are some of the main attributes an umpire will need to be successful:
- Knowledge: Every umpire needs to be well-versed in the rules and regulations in order to be able to make immediate decisions without any hesitation.
- Good judgment: A good umpire must have sound judgment and the ability to make calls without faltering. An umpire should not be biased, but should be calm, cool, and collected.
- Physical fitness: It’s easy to understand why umpires need to be fit. They have to crouch down with every single pitch and, more importantly, they need to be able to keep up with the fast-paced game and athletes.
- Promptness: Every umpire needs to be prompt in everything he does — show up to the game, start the game, make calls, and make decisions. An umpire needs to be polite, yet firm.
- Respect: The old saying goes, “treat others as you would want to be treated.” It works in softball, too. As an umpire, you need to be respectful of everyone: Coaches, players, fans, and fellow umpires. It’s best to avoid joking around with a player or getting too buddy-buddy with a coach. Be respectful and you’ll gain respect.
- Unaffected: An umpire has to realize that he can’t make everyone happy. There is absolutely no way to make every coach, player, and fan happy with every call — but you can call a fair game and believe in every call you make. An umpire must remain unaffected by the remarks of any other person on the field. Understanding that, an umpire cannot make a call out of malice to “get back” at someone. Learn to keep your composure no matter what, and you’ll be able to keep the game fair.
- Be loud & clear: When calling a pitch or making a call on the field, an umpire needs to be loud and clear. There should be no hesitation in the tone, nor should anyone have to second guess what was called.
You argue with the umpire because there is nothing else you can do about it.
— Leo Durocher
Former Major League Baseball player and manager
There needs to be ample communication before and during the game. Prior to the coin toss, for example, the plate umpire needs to make sure everyone is introduced at the plate: Coaches, umpires, and team captains. The umpires should cover all field rules and conditions. It would also benefit the pre-game conference if both umpires walk the field beforehand to find the dead-ball areas — such as under a tarp roller or a hole in the fence — so that it’s easier to discuss in the conference.
Call a Fair Game
Above all, just remember two things. The first is that umpiring is a job; you should act friendly, but you aren’t there to make friends. The second is that coaches know their stuff; they’re not always wrong, which means you won’t always be right, either! Everyone is capable of error on the field — mistakes are part of the game. You can only help what you control — and that’s calling the game as honestly as you can.
Be decisive and unbiased, and never play favorites. Likewise, never hold grudges — against teams, coaches, or individual players. You can never let a disagreement on the field get personal.