Nine Mental Skills for Successful Umpires

From NFCA Fastpitch Delivery, May 2017, by Joseph Maniscalco

Maintaining a positive attitude

This important skill can make the difference between advancing to the highest levels of softball umpiring and staying at the level you are at right now. Successful umpires realize that attitude is a choice. That choice is something that defines your character, the person you are, and how you display yourself to the world.

Being motivated to achieve results

Motivation is something that many talk about, but few truly understand. Motivation depends in large part on goal setting. Without goals, it is difficult to be motivated. Successful umpires are aware of the rewards that come with hard work and can persist when times get tough and failure is present. Successful umpires realize that rewards to not come immediately – that occurs through motivation and a deep desire to succeed.

Goals and commitment to the task

Goals are the cornerstones of successful umpires. They set goals that are realistic, measurable, and time-oriented. These three components are absolutely necessary for productive goal setting. They trigger motivation. Without a proper commitment, a goal is nothing more than a fantasy. Successful umpires are committed to their goals and willing to carry out the necessary demands – study the rule book and mechanics manuals on a regular basis year-round, watch other umpires work, watch TV games to see how the top umpires work.

Good communications and people skills

This cannot be overlooked, especially as an umpire moves up to higher levels. College coaches demand and deserve respect when dealing with umpires. Successful umpires realize that they are a cog in a wheel – a piece of a larger picture that includes the players, coaches, and the game itself. In understanding this, successful umpires eliminate or minimize drama, and understand conflict compromise solutions They are usually part of the solution, not part of the problem.


Self-talk is an inner peace and can be non-verbal. It allows an umpire to embrace those inner thoughts and feelings which cannot be controlled. Successful umpires maintain confidence and understand that they cannot control the result, but they can control their confidence. They do not focus on the negative or the future that has not yet arrived. Instead, self-talk is used to regulate and maintain balance their inner thoughts and feelings. In doing so, it creates a mental state of confidence and feelling that ability to accomplish something is reachable.

Mental imagery to visualize success

Mental imagery is a critical component to mental training. Successful umpires consistently prepare themselves for the game by imagining successful results for game situations – from unusual plays to confrontations. If you cannot visualize yourself in these situations, how can you ever get there? Create specific, identifiable and realistic mental images. This can be used before, during and after the game.

Dealing effectively with anxiety

Anxiety and worrying are like a rocking chair -it gives you something to do, but gets you nowhere. Successful umpires accept that anxiety is part of the process as an umpire. Anxiety can be used either as fuel to ignite good performance or as a sword preventing the umpire from achieving gmaximum performance. Successful umpire do not shy away from anxiety; they channel its benefits and minimize its weaknesses to be in a controlled environment.

Dealing effectively with emotions

Umpires cannot allow emotions to obscure your presence on the field. Successful umpires embrace emotions that include excitement and disappointment as part of the experience of working a game. These emotions can be used to positively influence umpires in a direction of success, rather than interfere with high-level performance. When dealing with emotions of the field, successful umpires regulate the emotions to fit the situation to make sure not to allow emotions to distract from the performance.


Concentration is difficult to teach, but easy to speak about. Concentration is mental effort placed on sensory or mental events; a person’s ability to exert deliberate mental effort on wha tis most important in any given situation. Successful umpires understand the game situation and look for important cues during competition. Looking for cues, however, can only be accomplished with concentration, focus and deliberate sense of knowing where you are at all times. Successful umpires do this well and have a “sixth sense.” Successful umpires learn how to maintain focus and resist distractions, whether they come from the environment or from within themselves. Many times during a game, distractions are prevalent. One common distraction for umpires is thinking about a possible missed call after it has happened. Successful umpires can regain their focus when concentration is lost during a game.


These nine mental skills should give you a better understanding of mental training and the benefits it offers. Many of these skills can be taught, cultivated and practiced achieving peak performance. Let’s close with a great quote from martial artist and actor Bruce Lee, who sums up mental training and should allow you to think past this article. He said, “Defeat is a state of mind; no one is defeated until defeat has been accepted as a reality.”