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Getting the Most From Your Clinics

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:

  1. Make sure you focus on and stress the items you have determined as essential, so they have a better chance of retaining them.

  2. 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.