Updated: Feb 24, 2022
Allen Iverson didn't have it right. It's not only practice. Practice is important.
Practice makes perfect, they say, but how do you practice if you're an umpire?
Generally, there's no practice time for umpires. Unlike baseball teams, no umpire group I'm aware of schedules regular practices for umpires so they can work on individual issues.
Sure, you can go to a clinic, and they might be able to identify issues you should work on to improve your umpiring. But it's unlikely they'll provide the time and individual attention needed for you to work on it right then and there.
But just because there isn't a set practice time doesn't mean you can't find ways to work on improving, no matter what the issue is.
But let's back up here for a second. You've identified something you feel you need to work on, and you've determined that the only way to practice it is to find a way by yourself.
That's putting the cart before the horse. Most of us, if left to our own devices, will choose comfort over work any day. In other words, maybe what you've identified that you need to work on isn't what you really need to work on. You might be choosing something that's easy to work on instead of something you need to work on.
You might think you need to improve your timing, for example, but in reality maybe your timing isn't that bad; it's your stance that really needs work.
One of the best ways to figure out what you need is to ask a good, experienced umpire.
Finding a Mentor
And how do you find them, you ask? If you don't already know a good umpire, go to a game that features the best caliber of baseball available in your area. That's where the good umpires will be.
OK, granted, if the highest level in your area is Minor League or D1 College Baseball, you probably won't be able to just walk up and introduce yourself.
But there are other levels of high-quality baseball available - lower-division college, men's leagues, high school, etc. Those games require top umpires, and you should be able to approach those guys.
If you don't want to just walk up to them after their game and ask for help, use a friend, someone who already knows these umpires, as a go-between. Or use the phone, text or social media. But you shouldn't be afraid of approaching an umpire - at a convenient time, such as after a game - if they can give you some help.
Generally, these quality umpires are more than happy to lend a hand. Ask them to work a game with you, watch one of your games or even watch a video of one of your games.
They should quickly be able to identify areas you need to work on, and even give you some tips on how to do it.
Then it's up to you. Depending on what it is will determine how you practice it and how you improve it.
But a good first step would be to have someone video you in a game so you can see for yourself what it is that needs fixing.
Finding a way
And believe me, where there's a will, there's a way. If it's something like the aforementioned timing, that doesn't require a whole baseball diamond and two teams to work on. You can work on your timing just by watching a game on TV, getting into your stance and calling the pitches with a focus on timing.
If it's something like getting a good angle at third base when you have to cover from home plate, that's not so easy. You're going to have to go to the backyard, or a park, or even an empty ballfield.
If your goal is to become better at having discussions with irate coaches, you're going to need some simulated arguments with your mentor or another umpire.
Whatever it is, what you need above all is commitment.
I know a young umpire who went to one of the five-week schools in Florida and was promptly given a hard time by several instructors for his poor mechanics fundamentals.
The instructors, of course, weren't being deliberately mean. They were testing him, to see if he had the resolve umpires need.
“There may be people with more talent than you, but there are no excuses for anyone to work harder than you.”
- Derek Jeter
He spent many nights after school was over for the day watching games on TV, working on his timing, voice and mechanics, driving his roommate crazy at the same time. When he wasn't watching games on TV he was practicing in the mirror.
That summer I supervised him at a tournament for college prospects, where he was head and shoulders above the other umpires in talent, but you could see him between innings whipping out a notepad to write questions down or something he had just learned. He continued to work hard.
He didn't get a pro job out of school that first year, but he went back and was successful his second year, getting an assignment to the Rookie League in Florida. His pro career may not fully work out - simply because there are just too many good umpires ahead of him - but it's obvious whatever field he chooses, he has a good chance of being successful if he continues to show that level of commitment.
When you've identified what you need to work on, don't be afraid to work on it during a game, depending, of course, what it is. If it's the aforementioned discussions with coaches, you can't be picking an argument on purpose during an actual game just so you can practice it.
Consider taking a game that's a level or two below what you usually do so you can experiment with your stance, timing, or mechanics. You don't want to be working a D1 College game and decide to experiment with a different stance. You'll need something a little easier, so you can still make accurate ball and strike calls even though you're perhaps looking at the pitches from a different angle.
And whatever you've decided to work on, work on one thing at a time. If you're practicing taking your mask off properly each time, using better timing and projecting confidence - all in the same game - you're going to do none of them well and your overall game will suffer as well, because you're thinking too much about too many things, and not just reacting instinctively.
Work on one thing at a time, for however long it takes. Once you feel you've mastered it and it becomes second nature, then you can move on to the next one.
Practice may not be important to people with the talent of Allen Iverson, but for the rest of us, as former pro basketball player Ed MacAuley used to say, "When you are not practicing, remember, someone somewhere is practicing, and when you meet him, he will win."
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
“Appearance, behaviour, enthusiasm, teachability and leadership aptitude are just as important as anything else.”
- MLB Umpire Supervisor Larry Young
This Week's Quote That Applies To Umpiring
"What to do with a mistake: recognize it, admit it, learn from it, forget it."
- College basketball coach Dean Smith
- Pitching slab was enlarged to 24 inches by 6 inches
- Bats were permitted to be 2 3/4 inches in diameter and not to exceed 42 inches
- Infield-fly rule was adopted
- A held foul tip was classified as a strike