Where are all the
Every year local leagues have elections,
organizational meetings, registrations, drafts, etc.. Then, a week
before the season starts someone asks, “What about umpires?”
Below are some items leagues should think about
in building a viable volunteer umpire program. The information
provided will give each league a way to build a successful volunteer
umpire program: From the need to have a league umpire-in-chief on
the board of directors to how to keep them once you get them in the
program and trained to be efficient, competent umpires.
Local League Umpire-In-Chief
It is highly recommended that each league should have a League
umpire-in-chief (UIC) on its board of directors.
This umpire-in-chief should be, as a minimum, a role
model to the children, and should have basic rule knowledge as well as being
able to recruit, teach or train volunteer umpires and interpret rules.
His/her duties should be to:
Train new umpires and/or managers/coaches for base
Schedule umpires in all or most divisions of league
play and should umpire as well.
Establish a dress code for the volunteer umpires that
will be umpiring in the local league.
Interface with the local league board of directors as
it relates to game situation, manager/coach situations, etc.
Be available to debrief after games if asked by
those volunteer umpires that want an evaluation.
Local League Umpire Program
The local league must have a member of the board of directors at games to
ensure safety, sportsmanship and game control when required.
Make a prepared announcement before games that
unsportsmanlike conduct from players, managers/coaches, and fans will not be
If you live near a military base or post, approach military personnel about
volunteering a little of their time to umpire some games for your league.
Military personnel are always looking for community involvement activities
to list on their fitness reports or on their annual evaluations.
Contact other associations, such as fire departments,
search and rescues, etc. Those type of community based organizations can and
sometimes will be able to put you in contact with some volunteers who are
willing to umpire.
Create a code of conduct for all players, managers,
coaches and fans that will remove some pressures from the volunteer umpires.
Have parents, manages, coaches and players sign the code of conduct.
When umpire meetings are scheduled, ask all those who
plan to attend to bring someone along with them, especially a manager/coach.
A league may chose to use manages and or coaches to
umpire in divisions in which they do not manager or coach. If the local
league chooses to use managers/coaches, they should umpire with a qualified
Each team should recruit one or two parents to umpire.
Many local newspapers will offer public service
advertisements to youth groups. Many radio stations and TV stations have
avenues for public announcements for non-profit organizations. The local
leagues should contact these venues and advertise the need for volunteer
umpires, clinic dates, etc.
During the local league registration periods, volunteer
forms are used to ask parents and others what they would volunteer to do to
help the league. Make sure the UIC or board member personally ask those who
volunteer to umpire and get a possible commitment from that individual. The
UIC should attend these registration periods in uniform whenever possible
and try to put together a CALL list from the volunteers that attend.
Many high schools around the country require their
students to perform some type of community service before they are allowed
to graduate. Get the UIC or board member to the high school and interact
with the guidance counselors to get names of those who may be willing to
help with umpiring.
Use basketball, football or other sport officials. While
attending a game at a high school event or another sport event contact the
officials after the game and ask them if they would be willing to give to
the Little League program one or two nights a week.
Training, Training, Training
Use the district umpire consultant to offer and schedule clinics during the
pre-season. Districts can also “share” district umpire consultants to
conduct clinics in neighboring districts. The old saying of an expert is
anyone who lives fifty miles away is very true and gives the local umpires a
new prospective and creates additional interest. It also reinforces
everything the local district umpire consultant has been saying in his/her
The UIC can video tape games, to help as a training aid for both new and old
umpires. The theory is that you can’t hide from the camera.
Use pre-game, in-game, and post-game critiques as a training tool. However,
you must be careful how you present critiques. Often you can run into
someone who doesn’t understand constructive criticism or doesn’t want to
hear criticism of any kind.
Develop a mentor program where senior or more experienced umpires umpire
with those that are less experienced.
Conduct rules training in multiple sessions, not just a two hour session,
and include managers/coaches in those training sessions. Advertise your
training sessions to everyone, not just umpires. Managers/coaches will be
surprised how much strategy they can learn from the rules of the game.
Also, offer training on field mechanics to include plate mechanics as well
as base mechanics. More than one volunteer umpire has left the program
because of being out of position and getting a call wrong.
Utilize Little League manuals, books, magazines, etc., for those training
Use e-mail/website to disseminate rules questions/answers, and develop an
Internet-based training program. Use of e-mail will eliminate a lot of
telephone calls when it comes to unexpected holes in game assignments.
If the local league decides to utilize parents as umpires, make sure each
team provides two parents as umpires as a minimum and give them shirts and
hats to wear while they umpire.
Umpires must be reasonable, and not the type of individual with a chip on
their shoulders. They should understand how to deal with other volunteers
and, most importantly, how to deal with children.
Expand the use of your umpires, exposing more of them to more games during
the course of the regular season.
An umpire training fund should be started by the local league or district to
send those volunteer umpires who desire more training to go to Williamsport
or one of the regions for weekend or weeklong training.
Ask managers for input on their thoughts about any players who may want to
Fall umpire meetings should be scheduled to keep your volunteers interested
and abreast of the latest changes in rules, league policies, to organize for
Be a friend to your umpires or other umpires. More than one game has been a
bad experience for an umpire, and it’s always nice to have someone to talk
with about the situation.
Develop some type of three-year or five-year award, such as a pin, for
umpires, and give it to them at closing ceremonies or end of the season
banquets, picnics, etc.
If your league has been selected to host upper level tournaments, i.e.,
sections, states, etc., don’t just use host umpires during tournament.
Invite umpires from neighboring districts to give others an opportunity to
work in these great games.
Conduct local seminars on what it takes to be a volunteer Little League
umpire and ask those in attendance to get involved just one or two nights a
Inform all that are involved that you will ensure that they will be assigned
to some tournament games. This incentive is sometimes very exciting for the
Establish a reward or recognition program such as: The Rhino Award, given to
the volunteer umpire with thick skin; The Golden Boot Award for the least
amount of calls that were not correct during a season (humor award); and The
Iron Man Award for the most games umpired in a season.
Keep new umpires’ costs down by supplying some or all the equipment they
need. Don’t make them buy a bunch of equipment and uniforms at the beginning
of their career.
Contact the local schools to get on community involvement lists that are
provided to the students to aid the student in completing their graduation
Provide rule books, patches, equipment, etc., for umpires. Start with a
community set of equipment that everyone uses. Then progress to those that
return or agree to umpire so many games will get a mask, more games will get
a chest protector, etc.
Provide every volunteer a league umpire shirt and umpire hat to wear when
they umpire. This will go along way in establishing loyalties and ties with
Acknowledge umpires at end of year through dinners, picnics, or get together
after the season for awards, show of appreciation, etc. Recognize your
umpires….make them feel important!
Move umpires up, meaning use them for tournament games in at least district
play, utilizing different umpires in championship games from year to year.
District UIC should approach each league to ascertain who is available for
tournament games and what their availability actually will be as far as
travel, open nights, etc.
Leagues, districts and umpires should understand that they should continue
training. Rules change; interpretations change, mechanics change and
everyone should realize this and conduct training or get to sessions for
Little League umpire shirts with the name of the league on them or just a
shirt with a patch and Little League above the pocket will pay dividends on
retaining umpires in your program.
Keep your foot in the door during the winter. Make contact at least monthly
with your volunteer umpires.
On the local league web site, have an umpire section. On this section list
schedules, rule interpretations, questions and answers and have a feedback
area just for umpires, and talk to each other about weird plays or
Local leagues should implement guidelines and procedures for keeping
managers and coaches under control.
Ensure that your concession stand workers understand that it is permissible
to allow volunteer umpires concessions after the game. Give them the hot dog
and soda treatment after a game with a big smile and heartfelt “Thank you!”
Set up a program where volunteer umpires work at different leagues during
regular season to keep them interested and to share the wealth with each
other. An umpire who works in just one league can get stale and develop bad
habits that he/she doesn’t realize he/she is developing. Also, try to umpire
with different partners during the season. By umpiring in other leagues it
will sometimes force that umpire to concentrate more on proper mechanics and
make him/her a better umpire.
Recognize the umpires’ families. Say “thank you” to the spouse for
encouraging the umpire to get involved and to be away from home four, five
or six nights a week. The umpires will appreciate the support.
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