By Glenn Waggoner.
In any sport the theme for umpires is the physical and mental preparation for each contest. We are often reminded that the athletes are stronger, faster and more agile. So we know that getting in shape with some form of activity will help us endure the challenges we will soon face. But how do we prepare ourselves mentally?
We often hear about mental development; read the rule book, read the mechanics book, review case plays, watch and study videos, go watch a game and watch the officials work their game. How does this help us with our mental status when we take the field? Can we really absorb every mental challenge that we will face in the game?
The other day in a two umpire softball game with runners at 2nd and 3rd, by mechanics I am set between 2nd and 3rd with my position behind the shortstop and not closer than 15’ to second or third base. The batter lays down a beautiful bunt up 1st base line as the runner from 3rd comes home in a squeeze play. The fielder secures the ball and under-hand tosses it to the plate for the tag at home.
My movement with the batted ball was to come inside toward the back of pitching circle to cover the possible play at 1st and a second set of eyes on the play at the plate. Immediately and without hesitation the catcher throws to 3rd base on a back-door pick play as the runner from 2nd advances and rounds 3rd base. With the plate umpire at home and the immediate action of the play, I almost froze in my position; all I was able to do was to pivot making the correct call, but could not move toward the play as it developed. It was truly a work of art by the catcher and I was stuck!
In our post-game, we talked about this play and what could have been done differently? Most umpires would always welcome their view and opinion on how they would handle this situation, but what would have changed the circumstances of these conditions. We spoke about making the two to three quick steps toward the play, but the catcher threw without delay and very quickly. Just enough time to pivot.
Then I thought about the “should of, could of and would of.”
The “should of” was to remind myself of pre-pitch preparation. But how much would that have helped in this scenario? The pre-pitch preparation allows us to run through our minds the many possibilities over a course of seconds in our own mind without anyone to discuss or review the outcomes. However, the pre-pitch preparation sets us up for numerous possibilities, but not all.
The “could of” was to make every effort to adjust my position to make a call with confidence and certainty, even a possible strong sell safe, fighting for the best possible position. Despite having made the right call, was it convincing since I was frozen in time? I could not have asked for help due to the positioning of the ball, runner, base and defender. My partner looked toward me with a wide-eyed stare, while tugging on his collar indicating “good call.” Gratefully, I accepted the outcome, but what could have happened otherwise?
The “would of” was to remind myself the importance of a solid pre-game and post-game meeting. When we have situations such as this, we need to cover them in our discussions and not just talk about better up-man-ship of other games. We must have a solid pre-game and post-game, be honest and use constructive criticism.
We have a great responsibility to prepare ourselves for each game. Despite all the tools in our tool box to better prepare ourselves, it never fails that sometimes we have to make a trip back to the hardware store for more parts.
The mental aspects of the game of softball are challenging for all of us. We celebrate our efforts not our disappointments.