You've watched the game, you've taken copious notes, videos and photos. Now the game is over and it's actually time to begin your debrief.
You should already have a location selected for this discussion, and it wouldn't hurt to have an alternate location as a backup. For example, you might do your discussion in the locker room usually, but this time it's being used by other umpires. Or you have an isolated table set up, but it's starting to rain or someone else has taken over the table.
A backup site shows you're prepared, and it also shows you've put some thought into this debrief thing, and that it's important to you.
Whatever site you choose, it should be relatively isolated. You don't want your umpires to be distracted by people going by and maybe saying hello to them, or having your critique being heard by other people.
Your space should also allow you to move around to each umpire, so you can easily show them diagrams or videos. You also want to be able to watch each umpire to see if they're actually engaged in the discussion.
Your space should also be somewhere you can easily communicate. If you have to shout or talk loudly because of traffic or people nearby, that's not going to go over well. In addition, if your space is outside, make sure your umpires don't have to squint to see because the sun is in their eyes, and make sure they don't have to huddle in because it's cold or raining.
In short, your location should be somewhere all participants can be comfortable, private and not distracted.
Now it's actually time to go over the issues you want to talk about. Remember, keep it positive. Whatever their shortcomings, you want these guys to stay keen, stay engaged and stay umpiring. You don't lie to them, but you wrap everything in a positive note. If they did something wrong, focus on the proper way to do it, not on what they did wrong. They're not dumb people and they're probably adults if you're supervising and not mentoring. So they know when they messed up.
For that reason, it's probably best not to start with a line similar to "How do you guys think you did?"
I know some people are big fans of that start, but it can lead to trouble.
Imagine asking that question to an umpire who thinks he did great, only to find out from you that his performance left a lot to be desired. He'll be deflated and upset, and might not listen to your critique.
And if they did really well, tell them that right off the start. Don't try and be subtle about it.
No matter what their performance was like, tell them the news right off the top that they want to hear. That's really what they're listening for. If you leave the important news until the end, they won't listen as well to your other information, because they need to hear that overall evaluation, and that's what they're focused on.
Depending on where you are and event you're supervising, it could be an overall grade, a move upward or downward, or a spot in a playoff game. Whatever it is, give your umpires that news first.
This is not a murder mystery, where your umpires have to listen to all the clues before the big reveal at the end. So the overall news first.
Whether it's good news or bad news, the rest of your evaluation will explain why you gave them that grade.
If it's good news they'll be pumped and proud and happy, so don't delay that for them, or take it away from them.
If it's bad news, well, probably they know already how they did. If not, it's a good chance to learn from adversity. And umpiring is all about learning from your mistakes.
I remember one game I did at a Senior Men's national tournament. It was my first game of the event and I was U1. And it couldn't have gone any worse. I'm not sure if I missed any calls, but I definitely missed several rotations and generally did not look like I belonged out there.
When my supervisor gave me my evaluation, he couched it in positive terms. He said he knew I was typically a better umpire than that and here are some things you can do in the future to help out.
But man, I was upset. I knew that not only did I mess up, I let my partners down, which is about the worst feeling in the world. As far as I could see, I could go home right then and there. Maybe I didn't deserve to be there. Maybe I really wasn't any good.
Or I could suck it up, work harder and do better. I chose the latter. I'd like to be able to say I ended up doing gold medal plate, but that didn't happen. I did, however, get a positive overall rating at the end of the week, and my supervisor complimented me on sticking with it and not dwelling on past mistakes.
The point is this: If my supervisor had just jumped on me for giving a sub-par performance, nothing good would have come from that. I would've either gone home or continued to dwell on my mistakes and carry them into my next game.
Instead, he knew I was already aware how bad I was that game. He pointed out what I could do in the future to correct the errors and left me with a positive, reassuring message. He wasn't being hard on me; he was showing he was in my corner and together, we can fix it and do better.
CHANCE TO LEARN
When you're talking to your umpires in your debrief, remember it's also a chance for you to learn. Unless what they did is egregious, instead of telling them "Don't do that," instead ask them why they did it.
If a plate umpire stands straight up for every pitch and stands right over the catcher in the middle of the plate, that's egregious and definitely a "Don't do that." But tell them what to do instead, and - just as important - why they should do it the way you're telling them. It's important to have a reason. Once they have a reason, it makes more sense to do it your way.
If they're doing something that's just different than the way you're used to seeing, or different than your manual or rule book says to do it, ask them why they're doing it. If they have a legitimate, good reason that makes sense to you, leave it alone.
Years ago, when our manual said the 3B umpire in a three-umpire system should always set up in foul territory with R3, I supervised an umpire who would sometimes straddle the 3B foul line, a direct violation of our manual.
Instead of saying "Don't do that because the manual says don't do that," I asked him why he did it. He explained that with a left-handed batter, he couldn't see the possible check swing if he stayed in foul, so he moved slightly in, straddling the foul line.
Today, of course, that makes sense and our manual has been updated to allow for that. But back then the manual said stay in foul territory. However, I knew enough to realize what my umpire was saying made sense. So I not only told him to keep doing that, but I gave that information to our other umpires so they had the option of trying it out as well.
Had I just gone in with a "Don't do that because I said so and I'm the supervisor," I would have missed a learning opportunity and a chance to progress. So don't be afraid to ask an umpire why they do something they do. There may very well be a good reason.
Hopefully, you have some videos or photos to show them about their performance.
You say the plate umpire was setting up too close to the middle of the plate and not in the slot? Back it up with a photo.
U1 puts his head down when making an out signal, instead of watching the whole play? Capture it on video and submit it to the umpire as evidence. Seeing is believing.
Try not to go on too long. These guys just finished what may have been a difficult, long, hot game, and they're looking forward to unwinding now. Yes, take all the time you need, but no longer. Let them go.
But before you let them go, finish with a positive. Find something positive about their performance, no matter how overmatched they may have been. And encourage questions. You want it to be a discussion of equals, where they feel safe and comfortable enough to ask you questions about your analysis.
Keep your evaluations as brief as possible; keep them positive; explain why you want them to do a certain mechanic instead of just telling them to do it; ask instead of tell when you don't know why an umpire is doing a specific thing; and let them ask questions of you. Then end with an upbeat note.
Do all that and not only will you be an effective supervisor, but you'll be asked back to supervise again.
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The newly founded American Association hired a permanent umpire staff, paying them $140 a month plus $3 per diem when on the road.
The first four-umpire system was used in an American Association game, when two two-man crews showed up at the same game due to a scheduling mix-up. The next four-umpire crew would not happen until the 1909 World Series.
This Week's Umpire Quote
“Being an umpire wasn't such a tough job. You really have to understand only two things and that's maintaining discipline and knowing the rule book.”
- Cal Hubbard
Hall of Fame umpire
This Week's Quote That Applies To Umpiring
“The most difficult thing is the decision to act; the rest is merely tenacity.”
- Amelia Earhart