Practice makes you better
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.