HELP! I want to become an umpire but….

Q:

I played softball in high school and enjoyed it. I always thought Umpiring would be a neat way to get some outdoor exercise, earn a bit of extra cash, and be involved with people in the community. It has been a while though, 10 years since I last played softball and while I still know the rules, I would probably be a bit nervous to umpire my first game. After the classroom clinic , and the subsequent field practice, is there further help available?  Do you job shadow an experienced umpire? How does the process work after you are carded? Do you get assigned to games randomly and will I have to travel long distances to games? I am curious about what happens after the clinic.

A:

Thank you for your inquiry!  We are happy to hear about your love of softball and your interest in becoming an umpire.

Please let me address your concerns:

  • Yes.  It is great exercise.  Especially since you don't get to go sit on a bench every 1/2 inning like the players.  Also, on a tournament day, you could do up to 3 games per day.
  • We are paying currently $35/game which lasts approx 90 minutes.  We do not provide you a tax slip for these.
  • You are never too old (or young) to Umpire.  Our umpires vary in age from 15 years old to 70ish.  Each umpire is carefully matched with the right level of ball and the right support mechanisms to ensure success.
  • It is great to hear you know the rules.  Learning to umpire includes learning the rules even better.  You will get even better at the rules each year, and to be honest after 10 years I don't even "have them all" perfectly.  The best part of learning to umpire is the "unwritten" rules.  This is teaching you where to be to make the best call, how to prevent controversy, etc.  These rules are again a continuous learning experience and ALL of our umpires learn something new all the time.
  • Being nervous for the first game is normal.  New adult umpires have likely unofficially umpired in the past, so is it really your first game?  Being properly trained and looking the part should reduce your nerves.  In our leagues, the coaches will know immediately who are the new umpires.  They also know that umpires, like players, make mistakes and improve each game.  Being your first game, coaches will act properly.  They understand that without umpires they can't have a game.
  • Your first game will be a lower level division and early in the year where the game "means nothing" to the players.  As you get more comfortable, we can challenge you with better opportunities.
  • Until you are comfortable, you will be assigned a Mentor (Senior Umpire) to be at your games.  This Mentor will work with you to improve your game and comfort level.  You can't learn to be an umpire by sitting in a class.  This is the period where you will gain the most.   This umpire will usually be on the diamond with you for a few games, and then they will watch from off the diamond and de-brief you between every 1/2 inning.
  • Additionally, you are assigned a single Mentor who is yours for the entire year.  The Mentor will keep in touch with you and the umpires who have helped you to see how you are doing.  This person will be your single point of contact on any of your concerns, whether it is your pay check, your assignments, what umpires you work with, or any complaints/feedback.  This person's primary role is to be your advocate.
  • Our league has spent significant time ensuring coaches/parents and players understand the role of the umpire.  We have a zero tolerance policy of any abuse.   We know our umpires are doing this for the love of the game, and want to also have "fun".  These policies rarely are an issue as we have a strong community of umpires who work closely with all aspects of the fastball community, and have developed a strong bond.  You may hear of referees in certain sports such as Hockey which take a lot of heat.  Softball is NOT at all like this mostly due to advanced training on game management.  We are honest with ourselves and very approachable with any feedback/concerns.  We realize that players aren't expected to be perfect, and umpires also make mistakes.  As long as we take these mistakes and turn them into a learning experience, then the mistake isn't really a bad thing.
  • You will be a carded umpire (Level 1) after completing the course and doing some games.  Gaining addition levels is done by experience (length of time at a level) and by evaluations (umpires at all levels continue to get evaluations to continue to improve or achieve the next level).
    As you advance, you will have opportunity to travel outside of Calgary to provincials or other tournaments.
  • Games are assigned using a balancing act of proximity to the diamond, sending senior umpires to higher level games or to Mentor a new umpire, matching the experience of the umpire to the level of ball.  The only way that the "right" games can be assigned to you is by providing feedback as to what is working and what isn't.  Most games which we umpire are played at Vista Heights diamonds (27th Avenue & 16th Street NE), but there are various games which are located all around the city.  When you register, we put your home address into our assigning software.   This software will attempt to assign you firstly to locations close to your home.  You will have a calendar which you maintain on when you are available to umpire, and it can be updated at any time to pick up last-minute games.  All assignments are published to you, and you have the opportunity to accept/decline them within 3 days of the publication.  If you decline a game, please be specific why you have done so.  This allows the assignor to avoid assigning games which you don't want.
  • At the clinic, you will be given some loaner equipment.  Bring that with you to your first assignment, and meet up with your mentor at the diamond prior to the game.  They will prepare you for your first game, and be there the entire time to support you.
  • Towards the end of the season, the feedback will move from "informal" to a written formal evaluation.  This allows you to have a written record of your progress and areas of focus.
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