SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. – Some people are more suited for serving as umpires than others.
“There probably are some common personality traits,” said Director of Umpire Development Tom Rawlings, working in the operations department at Little League International in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Rawlings, who assumed the director position in the summer of 2016, pointed out three such traits.
“One of them is you have to love the game, whether it’s baseball, basketball, hockey; otherwise you wouldn’t put yourself through it,” Rawlings said in an interview soon after taking the job.
A positive attitude helps.
“You have to be able to separate out some of the negative things that people automatically associate with officiating,” he said.
Baseball and softball umpires and other sports officials can benefit from an understanding of where they fit into the contest and/or simply being tolerant of criticism.
“You have to be able to bear in mind that everybody in that contest has a vested interest in who wins and loses except for us,” Rawlings said. “Officials don’t care. You have to be able to set that to the side.
“Whether you refer to that as being thick-skinned or hard-headed or hard-nosed, at the end of the day, we’re there to make sure the kids are able to play ball.”
Rawlings said a quote, somewhat famous among umpires, is, “Without us, it’s nothing but practice.”
While there are certain general personality traits that might help one fit into officiating, Rawlings said there are also specific things that can be done to hone the craft. His primary responsibility is developing quality umpires for Little League baseball and softball on all age levels.
“We have to be there and we want to do the best job that’s possible,” said Rawlings, who worked as an on-field umpire at the 2011 Little League World Series in South Williamsport and the 2007 Junior League World Series in Taylor, Michigan.
There are ways, Rawlings said, that umpires can get better at the skills involved. He said those who enjoy the experience tend to improve.
Although much of youth sports officiating is done by volunteers, Rawlings suggests they also consider committing enough time to become efficient at the task, something that is easier to do if they are having fun.
Officials tend to perform better and be more comfortable in the role the more time they put into it.
“It's all about practice,” he said. “The more games an individual can work, the better official they’re going to become, the more comfortable they’re going to become with it.”
Those who want to continue developing can seek out the training options that Little League and other organizations provide.
“Obviously, as they progress with the craft, they want to start looking at some sort of formalized training, whether it’s at the Little League district level or the regional level, or here at headquarters, the schools, and clinics,” said Rawlings, who has worked at those schools and clinics and now is responsible for planning their structure. “At some point, I would strongly advise everyone who is officiating to avail themselves to whatever training is feasible to attend.
“Travel and time off work become factors to people being able to get to a regional headquarters or the international headquarters here, so I’d strongly advise they reach out to the people at their district who are responsible for training, recruiting, and retention and see what’s on the local agenda and how can they get to that training.”