What’s Wrong with Travel Ball?

So this installment isn’t really a travel ball only thing. It is really an everywhere, all sports, all ages, everyone is to blame problem.

#10 Everyone Blames the Umpires

Okay, so I know everyone who has ever seen me coach a game is going to say that I have a lot of nerve talking about umpire abuse or blaming the umpire for the outcome of the games because, as I have freely admitted, I might be the worst ever for doing it! As you have heard me say on the Everything Fastpitch podcast several times there is no greater regret than thinking back on the amount of abuse I levied at umpires throughout my career. I used to justify it by saying that I was fighting for my team or trying to protect them from poor umpiring but the reality is that I was a jerk, world class, when it came to the umpires that worked our games. If I had a time machine…

So now that I have come clean lets jump into why this topic is important. We know there is a nationwide shortage of officials for all sports and if we don’t start treating them better we will soon have no one to umpire our games. The one thing that I always messed up was thinking it was personal! The umpire was out to get me or my team or was just so incompetent that they deserved my scorn. How crazy that sounds just writing it down. The bottom line is that umpires are doing the best job they can. Always! And to attack them or question them constantly is just plain wrong.

There is plenty of blame to go around in the discussion of mistreating umpires but let’s cut to the chase. The kids reflect what the adults do. When a coach, is disrespectful or mean spirited, their players assume that it is okay to do the same. When parents are constantly accusing the umpires of incompetence or unfairness then the kids will do the same. We have discussed many times that we want our players to learn life lessons that will set them up for adulthood but unfortunately we often short circuit their ability to learn very much. At least very much positive stuff!!

How many times have you seen or heard a player say something about how they can’t possibly hit a pitch that the umpire called a strike because it’s ________? I know, if you had a nickel for every time you heard it, you could retire and but a Ferrari. And we, as coaches and parents, usually jump on board with that excuse making because it’s so much easier to accuse the umpire of blowing the call than it is to tell our player they are wrong. When we look at the calls from a more objective perspective we start to see that by enabling our players to blame someone else for their failures we are setting them up to continually repeat the same scenario. We all want to support our players and that leads us to setting them up for continual failure.

It was many years ago, but an umpire who has become one of the best umpires working the college game today, and I had a friendly discussion following another game in which he had to toss me out, where he challenged me to do one thing. Go back and look at the video and keep score of how many times I thought he was accurate versus how many times I thought he was wrong. What I had to admit, to myself because of course I was too childish to admit it to him, was that he did do a great job. Almost all of the pitches I barked about were really strikes. The pitches where I thought he was squeezing the strike zone were usually clearly in the river or others batters box. All those times I thought he was incompetent he was really doing a good job. The moral to the story was, after the heat of the battle, it was clear that I was blaming the wrong person. I should have been working harder to coach my players to make the adjustments they needed to make rather than taking the easy road out.

Now I get it, all umpires miss a call from time to time, you know that’s not what we are talking about. We are talking about the constant excuse of “I can’t hit that” or “that pitch is right down the middle” over and over again. Which is almost always followed up with a “come on Blue” from the aggrieved parent or coach. So are the umpires really always bad? Or, always out to get us? Or…?

Or are we blaming the umpires because it is a whole lot easier than accepting our role in the outcome? I can tell you I spent an awful lot of time doing this exact thing and it never made our team better or helped us on down the road. Having the title of the worst coach to umpire for isn’t something anyone else should aspire to. And, I promise, I set the bar pretty high so you’ve got some work to do. Unfortunately, I keep seeing an awful lot of coaches, parents and players who seem to be trying to win the title.

Comments? Questions? Suggestions?