Respecting an Umpire's Call
In the thousands of workshops we conduct nationwide each year for youth and high school sports coaches, parents, student-athletes and administrators, one of the major principles Positive Coaching Alliance shares is an advanced form of sportsmanship called "Honoring the Game." We explain "Honoring the Game" through an acronym, ROOTS, which stands for respecting Rules, Opponents, Officials, Teammates and Self.
Of course, one of the hot buttons for baseball managers and coaches is how to handle an umpire's unfavorable calls. For generations, baseball fans have winked and smiled at the cultural meme of the manager and umpire jaw-to-jaw, eyes and neck veins bulging, caps turned backward, kicked dirt and loose bases flying around the field. It is easy enough to understand why youth coaches would emulate that behavior, seeing it so often on TV and thinking "that's just the way things are done" and that "it's a manager's job to protect the players."
Fortunately, Major League Baseball's replay rules have eliminated much of that behavior, but too many youth coaches still view umpires as obstacles to be worked around (or worked over!) in pursuit of scoreboard wins. Intentionally or not, managers and coaches who argue with umpires -- or otherwise share their disagreement with calls -- send messages to players and fans that can degrade the youth baseball experience.
Even without "arguing balls and strikes," the manager's well-placed whistle or groan can divert fan focus from the players, distract the players themselves, and start to incite a crowd in ways that too often escalate into ugly incidents. Instead, managers and coaches can turn questionable calls into teachable moments for their players.
If a player is called out on strikes and returns to the dugout complaining the pitch was outside, and you agree, tend to the player first before the umpire. For example: "I thought that pitch was a ball, too. But the umpire saw it differently, and we have to respect them for doing their best at a difficult job. Try to take something from this. In your next at-bat, be more aggressive early in the count. If you get two strikes on you, focus on shortening up your swing and protecting the whole plate."
If you still want to discuss the call with the umpire, wait until between innings, request permission to approach the umpire, and calmly, quietly and privately explain your point of view. This sets a much better example for your players and fans and keeps everyone focused on what matters most -- the players.
For more perspective on the topic, watch this video of a former MLB player and manager: Jerry Manuel's Tips On Working With Umpires.
More free resources for youth- and high-school-sports coaches, parents, administrators and student-athletes from Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) are available at www.PCADevZone.org. Information on partnering your local youth baseball team with PCA for workshops and other training is available at www.PositiveCoach.org.