An umpire must be able to make the easy and the difficult calls to have a successful game. But there are a number of other guidelines to be accomplished before and during the game. All are equally important and will help an umpire gain respect and move up the ladder.


(A) Proper Preparation Prevents Potential Problems. There is no better start than with the five “P’s.” Preparing for the game does not start the day of the game. For an umpire to feel at the top of his/her game, it begins with good training, a good knowledge of the rules, with proper positioning, using good signals, utilizing good techniques in game management, control and consistency, good communication with partners and with the players and their managers, and maintaining the right attitude throughout the game.


(B) Always give an impression of poise and confidence. From the moment you walk onto the field. During your pre-game with the managers. From your first to last call. In all discussions with players and managers. In your movement to proper positions for making any call. With your arm and vocal communication and signals. When enforcing game management. And, when you leave the field and the game with your partner.


(C) During discussions, don’t become emotional, even if the coach does. You must control yourself and the game. When the discussion occurs, listen to the coach’s comments, prepare yourself with the answer and respond with confidence. Be courteous even if questions are rude. Never react to the situation or lower yourself to a screaming coach. Don’t do anything which appears to be a challenge. Look the coach straight in the eye and keep your hands behind you during your comments and theirs. You will soon gain respect in how you handle difficult situations.


(D) Have a good mental attitude the entire game. It goes to say, “If you go to a game with a good attitude, you’ll have a good game. If you go with a bad attitude, you’ll have a bad game.” Treat each game as a new experience, regardless of if you’ve had problems with either the team or manager in recent games. Leave any bad experiences of the day at the office or at home. Arrive in plenty of time so you can have a good pre-game with your partner.


(E) Don’t be a spectator on the field. Treat your assignment as if it was the championship game. Be sure to get into the flow of the game from the start, regardless of the level of teams that are playing. Never stand in one spot the entire game. I once heard expressions which refer to this – “I thought only horses slept standing up!” and “Move blue, you’re killing the grass!” Hopefully neither of these has been labeled at your umpiring. If so, correct them now, and if not, don’t let these words be directed to you in future games.


(F) You learn from mistakes – especially your own. If you made a call you were not sure of, a) consult with your partner, b) look it up after the game, or c) call your training officer when the game is over. If you do not follow up when you’re not sure, the next time it happens you will make the same call. And, if you were wrong the first time, you’ll be wrong again. If you check it out and find you were wrong, you will never forget and whenever the situation occurs again, you will be correct with the call, and will make it with confidence. An umpire who hasn’t made a mistake hasn’t officiated long.


 (G) The only friends you have on the field are the other umpires. Promote teamwork! Prepare and review together. Enter the field together. Check bats together. Communicate together through arm and vocal signals, and use vocal comments when covering bases. Assist in keeping players away from your partner during discussions, so he/she can be one-on-one with the manager. Never degrade your partner to players when you don’t agree with a call. Leave the field together. Make your experience an enjoyable one, so your partner will want to umpire with you again – any time, any place.


(H) If fans and coaches don’t know your name, you’ve worked a great game. The best umpires come, work their game, and leave without problems. They have gained respect. They are requested back. They are confident, but not cocky. They are on top of every play; have great timing; give clear, distinct and meaningful signals; and hustle on and off the field.


Respect is earned and the results are from an ever increasing effort to do the job right. Always BE THE BEST YOU CAN BE! Only you are the person who can carry yourself to the highest level. Regardless of the sport you are officiating, this list of guidelines can help you reach your goals.



Merle Butler is the ISF’s Director of Umpires and a member of the ISF Hall of Fame.


(This article appeared in the Sep.-Dec. 2006 issue of World Softball magazine, Volume 34, Number 3.)