To be honest, almost every game I umpire, supervise or mentor, I'm scared to death. And I think that's a good thing.
To be clear, I have decades of experience in all of the above. But I am still afraid of screwing up, of making a key mistake. But I think it's what makes me prepared to do a good job. Because I'm concerned about failure, I work hard to make sure that doesn't happen.
If I didn't worry about messing up, my attitude might be "No big deal" and therefore I wouldn't need to hustle, study, practice, and learn.
I have, I think (and hope), the right amount of confidence. I work hard to make sure I'm prepared, but I'm not over-confident, which is just as much a danger as having a lack of confidence (and is the topic for Part 2 next week).
Let's be clear: I'm not saying I'm the best umpire ever to walk on the diamond. I'm saying I've worked hard enough and studied hard enough to be able to provide quality umpiring at the levels I officiate.
Confidence can be defined as believing that you can successfully perform a desired behavior. Such as umpire a baseball game. Or give helpful and valuable feedback to an umpire you're mentoring or supervising.
How important is confidence? The Journal of Sports Psychology says it's the one factor that separates highly successful officials from less successful performers.
(By the way, in a survey many top officials ranked confidence second in importance, behind rules and positioning knowledge. You can't really have one without the other. Without the knowledge, you can't have the confidence, unless it's false confidence, and you can't have justified confidence if you don't have the knowledge.)
Now let's go back to the JSP for a second. You want to move up and become a high-level umpire? You've probably studied and worked hard. Good. But, according to the JSP, which is no lightweight publication, what you need more than anything is confidence.
Great, you're thinking. I'll just go out and be confident, and the umpiring world will beat a path to my door. Well, unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. Confidence doesn't come in a can. But if you want to develop more confidence, here are some suggestions:
KEYS TO CONFIDENCE
Knowing that you've "been there, done that" helps you relax and handle the situation. The more times you've dealt with a certain issue, the better you become at handling it.
Ah, but what do you do if you don't have experience?
Practice your skills and techniques to build confidence for actual game situations.
Work on your weaknesses as well as your strengths. Just because you have bad timing, for example, doesn't mean you work extra hard on something you're already good at, such as signals or using your voice.
Try to work games in low-pressure situations so you can work on issues. Also, take each and every game you can, even if it's at a lower level than you're used to. Bad baseball teaches you lots of things. Strange situations, such as two runners on a base, or interference, happen a lot more at the lower levels than they do at high-level baseball. Deal with them at lower levels so you'll know how to handle them when they do happen at higher levels.
Go to clinics and workshops so you can learn and also use them as practice opportunities.
If you do some research you'll find most top athletes are big on visualization - seeing themselves succeed. No reason why umpires can't do it as well.
In your mind, go over potential situations you're not confident about. If it's the plate meeting, for example, "see" yourself acting confidently as you go through your plate presentation.
When you're on the field, visualize possible scenarios and how you'll handle them. They could be close calls, arguments, positioning, etc. Last night I was going over in my head what I would do if there was a ground ball to first base where the first baseman threw to the pitcher covering. Two pitches later it actually happened and I was ready to deal with it confidently, staying in proper position so I was out of everyone's way but could still see the touches of the base.
3. Think confidently
Confidence is thinking you can and will do what you set out to do, and that you will have success doing it. So practice thinking confidently because it makes self-talk more positive.
Get rid of negative thoughts such as "I'll never get it" or "What a stupid call" and replace them with positive thoughts such as "That will be my last bad call this game" or "I'll take my time next time."
When you expect to succeed and believe in your ability, you're creating a self-fulfilling prophesy - expecting something to happen can actually help cause it to happen.
But similarly, negative self-fulfilling prophesies can also happen and generate a vicious cycle where expectations of failure lead to actual failure, which can lower your self-image and make future failures even more likely to happen.
You're nervous and missing calls, but don't know why. You need to have a fundamentals checklist. Learn it. Then keep going over it until it becomes natural. There's a reason why we teach fundamentals. They work.
5. Walk the walk
Project an appearance of confidence and you'll start to feel it. Pay attention, hustle, look sharp, keep a good posture, and look relaxed. Keep up that appearance and soon you'll be believing in yourself.
You demonstrate confidence by making decisive calls, even when you're not sure you made the correct decision (of course, the more correct decisions you make, the more your reputation will be enhanced and the more confident you will become).
Balls near the foul line, for example, should be called with conviction even if you're not sure if it was fair or foul. Decisive action reflects certainty and conveys a sense of control.
The dangers of over-confidence
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Umpires in both Major Leagues started rubbing mud into the baseballs before each game to remove the gloss.
Bill Klem, 68, the oldest umpire in MLB history, retired from umpiring after 37 seasons. He then became the National League's first modern chief of umpires.
This Week's Umpire Quote
“The public wouldn't like the perfect umpire in every game. It would kill off baseball's greatest alibi - 'We was robbed.' ”
- Billy Evans
Hall of Fame umpire
This Week's Quote That Applies To Umpiring
“Confidence is a lot of this game or any game. If you don't think you can, you won't.”
- Jerry West
NBA Hall of Fame player