Five Characteristics of a Great Umpire

When young umpires get started in the game, the focus of most in trying to improve their craft is to master the mechanics of good umpiring. The self-talk that goes on inside the umpire’s head goes like this:

“a good umpire is always in position, anticipating the proper rotation and finding the best angles to see approaching plays. I’ll be judged on whether I have a consistent strike zone.  Keep my head height the same, track the ball with my eyes to the mitt and remember to have good timing. Let the play happen, see the play.  What is it? Now call it”

That kind of self-talk is essential to the development of an umpire. However, with experience, those concepts begin to become ingrained. That’s when the focus needs to shift. There are a lot of good umpires who can get the calls right and follow all the prescribed mechanics of good umpiring. An umpire who ‘wants to advance his or her career needs to realize what characteristics separate the best umpires from the rest. Most of those great umpires display qualities that go beyond calling balls and strikes or safes and outs.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the traits that great umpire possess.


One of the most important characteristics is presence. Like a lot of the intangibles of good umpiring, it is a quality that is a little hard to define. It starts with looking the part Appearance, as it relates to good physical form and a sharp uniform, is a part of that However, it goes further. How an umpire stands on the field prior to the start of the game and between innings, shoulders upright with head held high, never folding the arms in front of the body, gives an air of confidence and approachability that is noticed by players and coaches.

Base umpires who are in a good athletic position at the time of each pitch display a strong presence. Presence
involves looking people in the eye while communicating with them. It also involves keeping your cool in the middle
of a visit from an angry coach with the crowd calling for your head from the stands.

Grace under fire

Related to the last point is grace under fire combined with loyalty to your partners. We all want to work with the kind of partner who is easy to find when problems arise on the diamond.  Most of us have been in situations where we needed to get help from our partners on a rules situation, or to get more information on a call that might need to be overturned. Great umpires step up in those situations and show the courage that is needed to provide the required help. They also don’t throw their partners under the bus during the ensuing argument.


Discernment involves things like knowing when to let a complaint go and when to address it. Umpires need to know where that line is drawn. The situation in the game, who is making the complaint, how the complaint is lodged, tone of voice, etc., are all factors that go into making that judgment. Another degree of discernment involves how and when selling a call is in order. Not every close call needs to be sold with the same degree of intensity. Umpires don’t like to be shown up by players, and players feel the same way regarding umpires. For example, a hard sell on a strike three call when the batter is obviously fooled by a pitch down the middle won’t win you many friends for the remainder of the game.


There are a lot of things that can go on during a baseball game that aren’t necessarily a part of the game of baseball. Nonetheless, they fall under the jurisdiction of umpires. Usually, those issues involve sportsmanship, and umpire
awareness of what is going on is necessary for keeping order on the diamond.

Keeping a close eye on the behavior of players might mean taking your eyes momentarily off the ball. A player who just hit a home run might decide to make some gesture directed toward the opposing team’s dugout while rounding the bases. Or the player may decide to stand and admire the flight of the ball for a while before running the bases. An umpire who has great awareness will recognize that and address it with that player. A base umpire who sees something similar will let the plate umpire know about it between innings.

Consequently, the next time that hitter is up, if a pitch comes in under his chin, the umpire will be prepared to deal
with it properly. Or similarly, after an unnecessarily hard slide on the bases, or a hard tag that was uncalled for, awareness of who the perpetrator was will allow the plate umpire to attempt some preventive officiating. When the guilty party gets ready to hit next time, the plate umpire can inform the pitcher that throwing at the hitter won’t be tolerated. Those situations can be dealt with much more effectively when the plate umpire is prepared for them.


With all of those positive traits, an umpire may still not rise above the rest if he doesn’t have a sense of his own style in making calls. Style doesn’t mean putting on a show. However, how you look when making calls sometimes has as much to do with how you are judged than whether you got the call right or not. That is true of casual obvious calls, as well as those you have to sell with enthusiasm. Umpires who look like a robot or mechanical doll when making calls are usually subject to harsher judgment from players, coaches and fans.  Many umpiring clinicians suggest making calls in front of the mirror to see how you look in an attempt to find your own personal style.

GHSA Umpire Development

Six Common Report Errors

By Brent Killackey

When events of the day’s game require additional paperwork as part of officiating duties — whether there is an issue with game management, an ejection or a serious player injury — it’s wise to give the task the attention it deserves.

Done right, a report will enhance an official’s credibility. Done wrong, a report can leave an official with fewer assignments — or worse, called into a court of law. Here are six common report errors to teach your members to avoid:

1. Too vague. Certain words and phrases used on the field or court trigger an ejection and shouldn’t be used in polite company, but they belong in the report. Saying Coach John Smith used “foul language” doesn’t provide enough detail. Each person’s definition of foul language can be different. Best to be specific and reflect the actual words. Quote exactly what the coach or player said.

2. Too much. You’re writing a game report, not a novel. You don’t need to detail the whole game. Stick to the incident. If something happened that led to an ejection, that’s what the report should cover. You don’t need to get into earlier matters that didn’t result in a warning or other official reprimand. Anything beyond that risks that the important details get lost, and you could inadvertently include details that make the ejection look “soft,” especially if it raises questions about how earlier situations were handled.

3. Goes beyond the facts. Whatever you do, don’t embellish the situation. Far worse for a supervisor to find out your details didn’t match the video that turns up, than to find out you were a little quick on the ejection. The latter is understandable; the former is unacceptable and leaves you with no credibility. What happened, happened. Officials often feel worse about an ejection than they should. Some feel it was a failure of game management — sometimes, however, it’s necessary for officials to deal with a situation with an ejection. Stick to the facts. A good supervisor will have your back.

4. Use slang and colloquial speech. Straight-forward, professional language will ensure your report is taken seriously. Talking about how the coach had you in the “crosshairs” that night, and after the ejection, he “wouldn’t immediately hit the showers” and assistants had to drag him away “kicking and screaming,” doesn’t lend credibility to the report. Keep the wording professional and stick to the facts without resorting to creative language.

5. Speculate. It doesn’t matter that you think the coach was upset that day because his pitcher was struggling or his starting quarterback was out. That doesn’t matter in a report that should stick to the facts. Just tell what happened. And don’t make accusations either — noting that you think there was no hot water after the game because the coach shut it off doesn’t belong in the report. Now if the coach’s post-ejection tirade included, “You’ll have no hot water after the game,” and that’s what happened, that’s a fact you can share.

6. Failing to file it. Sometimes officials think filing the report could impact their career. After they cool off, they think they’re doing everyone a favor to let it go. But an incident will come to light, and the lack of a report will make the official look bad. Supervisors prefer to hear about a situation from an official, even if it’s minor.

After your officials write a report, encourage them as a last step to check with crewmates and run it past a leader in the association (maybe your group has a person whose position involves reviewing game reports to ensure officials provide what’s needed and nothing more).

Brent Killackey is Referee’s managing editor and a high school baseball umpire.

Officials: Two Ways to Advance, One Common Key

By Freddy Krieger on June 05, 2017

Some officials consider “advancement” strictly in terms of going from a lower to a higher level – striving for the striped brass ring of officiating competition at the highest levels, with the right stuff along the way they progress to their ultimate goal. These ever-improving fellow officials deserve the awe and admiration of both their peers and those cohorts looking up from the lower levels. From them there is a lot to learn. They have a lot to show and share.

An aspiring, hard-working official starts out working middle school ball and develops there. He or she advances in experience, rules knowledge, mechanics awareness and judgment, then progresses to be assigned at the junior varsity level. Then from JV to the varsity level. Then varsity to college . . . and beyond. Advancement of this sort yields a level always higher than the one mastered previously. But there’s one key thing that gets this official there: development. No one advances to any higher level without developing.

This kind of official has a lot to show, and a lot to share. How beneficial it is when those on their way up invest time and effort for the benefit of others: mentoring newer officials, serving as clinicians at camps, motivating in others that same passion for development that got them to the level they’re at. Regardless of status, all developing officials have benefitted from some who have advanced or are still advancing to levels higher than they’ve yet to attain.

However, others are fine examples of those on another route. Some might incorrectly consider this alternative a “route to nowhere,” but it really isn’t. This other way to advance merits the regard and admiration of those on their way up. If properly recognized this can be a satisfying alternative for those not so “brass ring-minded.” There is a way to advance while remaining at the same level. Both approaches and outlooks deserve the respect and encouragement of fellow officials, regardless which track they themselves have chosen or has been chosen for them.

This other track taken is equally admirable. The lights might be not as bright, the game checks not as fat, and the notoriety not as pronounced, yet this too is a loyal track to be trod. Advancing can also mean developing at the same level without moving up.

For sure, little is admirable about an official who stagnates at a certain level. With little hope of going higher, he or she just gives up and ceases getting better while remaining at the highest level he or she could progress. This isn’t good for anyone, neither coaches, players, assignors, fellow officials, nor fans. Officiating, it’s been said, is like being a fruit on a tree; either you’re ripening or you’re rotting. Let’s consider the why’s and how’s of advancing while remaining at the same level.

It could be by choice or by circumstances out of an official’s control (age? family or work schedule? physical limitations? been there/done that?) that an official stays where he or she is at, pursues development and excellence at that certain level, choosing not to accept either the opportunity or invitation to “step up.” Yet through continuing development, that official advances while remaining at the same level.

When done right, this track has that one important element in common with the first: development. It takes continuing development and enrichment on the part of this official to advance while remaining at the same level. It requires real progression in rules knowledge, mechanics, judgment, confidence, communication skills. Experience, rather than resulting in stagnation, leads to excellence at that level. The level may not change, but the passion for continued development is always at a high point.

For many this alternative has its own set of rewards. Advancement is realized in ways other than brighter lights, bigger checks and more notoriety. It might mean working with a better crew on more significant games. It might mean becoming the assignor’s “go to person” who is capable to handle the tougher contests that arise during a season, requiring special assigning consideration. It might manifest itself with accepting local association roles and activity instead of more games and a more taxing travel schedule. It might mean dedicating effort and time to mentor newer officials or to observe and constructively critique peers. While staying at the same level, one can help others advance while savoring the satisfaction of knowing that one is right where he or she is needed most, advancing while remaining at the same level. It’s not stagnation, it’s development. That official hasn’t reached the end of the road; he or she is still progressing.

When an official sets his or her goals, advancement should always somehow be represented on the list. If it is, continued development ought surely accompany advancement on the visionary agenda. But advancement doesn’t always mean getting to a high level. If it does for you, know that you’ve got many fellow officials who are there to support, encourage, and assist you while you’re on the way up. But while on that track, be sure also to take the time and effort to support, encourage and assist your fellow officials who, whether by choice or not, are on a different course. They’re likewise developing and advancing, but they are content and confident at the level they’re at.

When advancement is accompanied by development, regardless the road chosen and travelled, everybody benefits.

From <>