"Continuing educations shows, and it is only as you improve that you will ascend the ladder of umpiring." - Tony Thompson
Are you a novice umpire? Or do you remember when you were a "rookie?" Maybe you worked enough recreation or Little League games to know that you really had an interest in officiating baseball. You find yourself watching the umpires instead of players at games you attend and on TV when you really never noticed them before. You try to learn from what you see, a little here and a little there. And you feel you are getting somewhat better.
However, you know something is missing. You want to learn from the umpires you see on television…you want to learn from the best. Your thought process goes something like this, "If I want to be the best I can be at umpiring, how can I settle for learning from anyone but the best, and in person?"
Even if you are a veteran, if you don't have this urge to improve yourself you can bet you are stagnating as an official. That means you are doing a disservice to yourself, your colleagues, and the game of baseball.
What is the answer? Well, you start to dig and you find out that there are two umpire schools that are taught by the best instructors in professional baseball. Great! Except that they cost $1,500 plus room and board, flights, and six weeks away from home in Florida. That's not so great! Furthermore, you are an amateur umpire and you want to remain so; you have no aspirations to do the job professionally. Now what?
If you dig further, you will see that there are some options. Weekend or day-long clinics and one-week-or-so camps for umpires exist in nearly every corner of the U.S and Canada. Instructors can vary from local, regional, and state amateur leaders to minor league and major league professionals.
For instance, we've been running the Southern Umpires Camp in Atlanta for a few decades. Here's a time and place where you can meet and learn from big league legends like Ed Vargo and Satch Davidson and active major league umpires like Jerry Crawford and Paul Nauert. Not to mention there's a supporting cast of some of the top amateur coordinators, individuals responsible for NCAA baseball. And attendees might be those who would be local leaders. Everyone is attending to become better at what they do.
Of course not every clinic will be staffed to the hilt like we are in Atlanta. But that's not to say you won't find a quality clinic in your own state or region. The number of clinics and camps has exploded over the years. And it would be my contention that about any gathering of officials will offer you something you can use.
The question will invariably rise: Are camps really valid learning tools or just gathering places for umpires to be seen or to talk their way up the ladder? You may have had a critic tell you that camps are not worth it, that they are political arenas. So your bottom line is, "Will a camp really benefit me?"
I think that camps and clinics are not only beneficial but invaluable to umpires. How much can you learn? My experience as a student and then instructor is that the learning experience is unlimited. You must simply attend with an open mind and positive attitude. If you can't go in to a camp situation and come away with several great tips, then it is my educated guess that you missed something. And I mean this for every umpire, regardless of experience level. From what I have seen the overwhelming majority of umpires who come to camps are eager to learn, ask questions and improve themselves game after game.
But let's say you learned only one mechanic, or one common sense tip, or one rule interpretation. In my book, if you learn one thing you can use, then your money and time have been well spent. I firmly believe however, that you will come away from any clinic with a host of things to work on and think about.
Umpires are no different than any other professional sector. Umpires must continue to learn and improve. Players learn every day at every level; Little League, high school, college and professional. We as umpires owe it to ourselves to improve every day for the betterment of the game and for our personal growth and satisfaction. Certainly camps and clinics afford us this opportunity at a fraction of the cost of a professional umpire's school. Major League and top amateur umpires are making themselves readily available for local camps or clinics. Even if a student is with them for only a few hours the opportunity is there to learn. You may pick up just as much - probably even more - watching the professional instruct your fellow camp attendees. Keep your eyes, ears, and mind open and don't miss an opportunity to learn.
Let me put it this way: during the past year, for the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to see things from another perspective. My daughter played softball and I attended the games. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy watching her play, but I of course enjoyed casually observing the umpires. Now, I do not profess to know anything about ASA softball rules or mechanics. However, I do know umpires and can instantly tell who takes pride in being there, knowing their trade, improving themselves, and working hard. These umpires are in contrast to the ones who simply show up, who walk when they should jog, jog when they should run, hold ongoing conversations with coaches, etc., etc. I would venture to say that the former umpires are the kind that attend clinics, pay attention, and improve, while the latter umpires probably have decided they don't have time for such things. Camp and clinic attendance will show, even if you are not sure of it from your own vantage point.
Do camps and clinics cost money? Sure. If camp or clinic instructors take time away from their families to give back to the game, then they deserve to be compensated. Do you learn from these experts? Absolutely, just like they learned from someone else, which you can bet is the main reason they are there instructing. I have been very fortunate to have instructed with many umpiring greats, men from whom I have learned a great deal. To borrow a line from one of them, retired National League umpire Doug Harvey, "A good umpire learns every day!"
At camps I am often asked, "Will this camp get me more games, or better games? Will it help me advance?" I sincerely believe that simply attending the camp will not get you more games. But I also sincerely believe that your advancement will be directly proportional to how much you knowledge you absorb at the camp. You can't help but apply what you have learned the next time you are on the field. And it is my contention that these efforts will show. Apply your newfound knowledge and you will catch the eye of association assigners, of veteran umpires, of anyone who is watching the officiating. Even coaches, players, and spectators will be able to tell that you are proud to be an umpire. Continuing educations shows, and it is only as you improve that you will ascend the ladder of umpiring.
In this day and age, educational resources are quickly becoming prevalent. You'll find umpire publications, instructional DVD's, videos, internet materials, and the list goes on. These are great tools, but never underestimate the power of the camp and clinic to learn in person; to exchange thoughts and ideas, meet umpires from around the world, and build a great bank of memories.
Reprinted with permission from Excel Sports Officiating.