Updated: Jan 26, 2022
So you're putting on an umpire clinic. Good for you, and good luck.
Now, assuming it's a clinic for beginning umpires and umpires with little experience, here's the $64,000 question: What are you going to include in your clinic?
Before you answer that, let me give you some more information. First of all, you only have a limited amount of time, so you can't just select an endless list of items to teach at your clinic, because you'll never be able to get to them all.
In addition, most students, no matter how keen, will forget two-thirds of what you taught them before the end of the day, and up to three-quarters of it by the end of the week, according to some studies.
So there are two keys here:
Make sure you focus on and stress the items you have determined as essential, so they have a better chance of retaining them.
Images help people retain memories. So instead of just telling them what a foul ball is, show them.
Other ways to help them remember what you teach at the clinic:
- Interact with the students, don't just talk at them. A lot of these young umpires already go to school and spend a lot of time in the classroom, being talked to. So if you can, get them up and moving, and interacting with you.
- Have them learn by doing. If you just told them how to improve their timing, for example, they'd never get it. Set up some simulations so they learn proper timing by actually doing it.
- Go back to your important points later in the day and review them.
Now back to the original question: What are you going to include in your clinic?
Well, the answer to that really depends on your goal. For example, if you're just trying to give them the very basics that day, then you should spend almost all your time on things that happen frequently on the diamond at lower levels (since that's where these new umpires will mostly be starting out) - things like the strike zone, fair and foul, catch/no catch, and so on.
They're only starting out, you think. So just give them the basics, enough to get them started on the field, and hopefully they'll retain enough of it to survive and come back again so they can learn more.
There's nothing wrong with that, especially if they have support through an association, such as mentoring or supervising. If the new umpire knows someone is watching them, cares about them and has their back, there's a better chance they'll return next year, and tough it out when they're getting yelled at by players, coaches or fans.
But may I suggest you add just a little more to your clinic? It takes less than half an hour and it can prove to be very valuable.
When I teach clinics for newer umpires, yes, I spend a lot of time on the basics we mentioned already. Those are important, and it's what they're going to be dealing with most of the time.
But I also tell them this: Our association is a proud association. When you're out on the field umpiring, you're also representing our association. Therefore, we want you to be the best you can possibly be out there.
Sure, we'll teach you the basics so you can go out on the field tomorrow and umpire.
But if you want to become a really good umpire, and represent our association with pride, here's how you do that:
The KATCH System
Then I teach them an easily-remembered acronym, KATCH. Yes, I know it's not spelled correctly, but that also helps it to be remembered better. It sticks in their heads.
So, I tell them, to become a better umpire who knows more than just balls and strikes and safes and outs, all you have to do is remember what each letter in KATCH stands for. (Of course, there's more to it than that - you actually have to learn and be able to use the teachings in KATCH, but this gets them started).
When I tell newer umpires about pride in the association and how we have an extra teaching method to make them not just umpires but good umpires, they lean forward in their seats and pay full attention. This is something they didn't expect - a secret, a way to excel.
So what do the letters in KATCH stand for?
K - The K is for KNOWLEDGE. To be a good umpire, you have to know the basics of the rule book and the positioning manual your association uses. You may not need to know about the advantageous fourth out in your first year of umpiring, but you better know what your responsibilities are as a base umpire when the bases are loaded with no out and there's a fly ball.
A - APPEARANCE. Interestingly, this is one of the few things you have full control over as an umpire. You can look like a slob, or you can look like an umpire who cares and knows what they're doing. Like it or not, people judge us on our appearance. If your shirt is untucked and dirty, you don't have umpire pants and your shoes are old, white tennis sneakers that are falling apart, it says to people that you're an umpire who doesn't really care much about the game. That might be a wrong judgment, but it's the message you're sending.
It's easily fixed. For starters, invest in a proper umpire shirt and pants that fit. If you can't get umpire shoes, at least get black running shoes, and keep them clean.
If you show you care about your appearance, it also implies that you care about your umpiring.
T - TIMING. I often tell newer umpires that if they remember only one thing from the clinic - I hope they retain many, many things, if not all - but if they can retain only one thing, it's this: Timing will make or break you as an umpire. Maybe not right away, but soon. It's not about when you make your safe/out call or ball/strike call, but when you determine when it's a safe or out, ball or strike. Make up your mind too soon and you'll look like you already had your mind made up before the play. Too late and you look unsure. But if you have good timing, many times it will keep you from making the wrong call, and you will look confident and sure. And, of course, I tell them that since timing is so important, we will definitely be teaching them at the clinic how to get good timing on all your calls.
C - Consistency. Ask any advanced player and they'll tell you what they want from an umpire is consistency. As plate umpire, you might call strikes a little lower than they're used to. But if both batters and pitchers know that, and know you're going to to be consistent with that call, the smart ones can and will adjust to it. The trouble comes when you call that low strike all day and then, in the 9th inning with two out and the bases loaded, all of a sudden you don't call it a strike any more.
But there's more to consistency than just balls and strikes. Your demeanor and attitude on the field should also be consistent. Deal politely with players and coaches. Look like you want to be there. Every time. Don't be an umpire teams hate to have work their games.
H - HUSTLE. Again, something that's in your control. And hustle doesn't mean you have to sprint everywhere on the field when you have to go somewhere. It means be where you're supposed to be, when you're supposed to be there. And look like you're trying. Between innings, if you're a base umpire, jog to your position in shallow right field. Don't wander there with your hands in your pockets. If you have to go talk to your partner between innings, jog there; don't walk.
Perhaps when you played baseball you had a coach who told you baseball players, with the exception of the pitcher, never walk when they're on the field. The same applies to umpires.
During a senior men's national tournament a few years ago, my crew chief, who is not a spring chicken, had the plate and had to make a fair/foul call down the left-field line. Instead of taking a step or two down the third-base line, he sprinted past the third-base dugout, almost to third base, stopping before the ball landed so he could make the call, which was foul. Then he turned and jogged back to the plate. But his hustle was not lost on the players in the dugout, who yelled out to him "Nice hustle, Blue!" He smiled at them and said "I'm doin' it for you guys."
There were several messages there. First, he set an example for his crew, and inspired me, at least. If he can hustle like that, so can I, I thought.
Second, the teams noticed, and it showed them he is working hard for them, giving his best.
Third, because of his hustle, he got to build a small rapport with the players. They might not agree with all his calls, but they now know he's a good guy and he's working hard, doing his best.
Teach your newer umpires the basics, yes. But you can give them more than that. Give them a goal, give them pride. And train them not to be just umpires, but good umpires.
The UMPIRE MENTORS book is now out! 422 pages of advice, tips, secrets and stories from 100 of the world's best umpire mentors. To have a look or get your copy, go to https://www.amazon.com/Umpire-Mentors-Secrets-Stories-Baseball/dp/1777689104/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3HYVKSKIVO6LJ&keywords=umpire+mentors&qid=1643221626&s=books&sprefix=umpire+mentors%2Cstripbooks-intl-ship%2C99&sr=1-1
This Week's Umpire Quote
“Continue to work hard regardless of the score of the game. Someone is always watching. You need to treat each game like it’s the biggest game you’ve had.”
- MLB Umpire Gerry Davis, Crew Chief #12
This Week's Quote That Applies To Umpiring
"What you lack in talent can be made up with desire, hustle, and giving 110% all the time."
- Don Zimmer
- Calling for high and low pitches was abolished.
- Five balls became a base on balls.
- Four "called strikes" were adopted for this season only.
- Bases on balls were recorded as hits for this season only.