Rules are written for players to play by, for coaches to coach by, and for umpires to enforce. One team is not supposed to take advantage of the other by misusing a rule, and that is the role of the umpire – to keep teams from abusing the rules. In recent years we have had teams use communication devices between the dugout and/or coach’s box, and the stands. We have seen offensive coaches call conferences, bringing all runners together, and following the conference, send runners to different bases in order to have more speed at second or third, when it was necessary to score.


I often wonder if coaches stay awake at night thinking of ways to take advantage of the rules. And then when coaches start manipulating the rules, the ISF has to introduce yet another rule prohibiting or counterbalancing what the coaches have dreamed up. But I congratulate the umpires who use common sense on the field to overcome situations they have not seen before.


Unlike officials in sports where judging is prevalent (i.e. boxing, gymnastics, figure skating, etc.), softball’s arbiters must be prepared to keep the game on an even scale, without one team taking advantage of a rule in order to win.


And just as coaches want to win a league championship or a tournament, umpires want to officiate at the highest level possible, and be assigned to the championship game for every league or tournament they umpire in.


Little girls dream of playing softball in the Olympic Games, and umpires have the same aspiration. Only their dream is umpiring for that little girl playing in the Olympics.


Coaches and umpires are very much alike. Coaches should understand that


·         Umpires are human beings, just like they are!

·         Umpires want authority, just like they do!

·         Umpires have an ego, just like they do! And

·         Umpires put their pants on one leg at a time, just like they do!


If the coach understands the umpire and what his or her responsibilities are, they will better understand how to approach the umpire during a game. This will help make their job as a coach easier, and the game much more enjoyable.


Listed below are five tips that can make the umpire’s game go smoother and be more enjoyable for all, including the umpire:


1.      Umpires should expect that there will be arguments during the course of a ball game. The closer the call, the more likely that a player or coach will have something to say


·         Umpires should learn to respond. Never react. When an umpire reacts to a coach’s comment, he/she has lost control of the situation and quickly loses respect.

·         Speak to the coach in a manner you wish to be spoken to in.

·         If the coach is screaming, you should respond in a calm tone. Bring the conversation to your level, not his/hers.

·         While the coach is stating his/her opening remarks, the umpire can be preparing his/her response.

·         If the coach changes the subject, quickly remind him/her what is being discussed and nothing else needs to be brought up at this time.

·         Never threaten a coach either verbally, with body signals, or pointing fingers.


2.      If the coach feels that you may have missed a call due to the angle you were at, or you may have missed a rule interpretation, and he/she asks you to check with your partner, do it! If the decision has to be changed, change it! The bottom line is for the umpire crew to be correct in their final decision. This is where you gain respect.


3.      Be firm, but not overbearing; positive but not rude; dignified, but never cocky. Remember the good umpire doesn’t have to have the last word. And, never tell the players how to play their position or the coach, how to coach his/her team. Your job is to umpire and attend to that only.


4.      Exercise patience and common sense in the ejection of players. Don’t order them out except for good cause. Ejection of players for trivial offenses is indefensible and reflects badly upon the umpire. Ejections too quickly could mean you have a chip on your shoulder, or too late means you are someone who can be pushed around. Ejections should be made at just the right time for control.


5.      Keep in mind that the game is more important than the wishes of any individual player or coach, or the ambitions of any individual umpire.


Yes, umpires are necessary for the game; are important to the teams, coaches, and all involved in the game of softball; and should not be on the field to impact the final result of the competition.


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


(This article appeared in the May-Aug. 2006 issue of World Softball magazine, Volume 34, Number 2.)