Verbal communications are very important for umpires, but that is not the subject of this article. Before we list the different forms of non-verbal communications, let’s quickly review the key points of verbal communications.
Clarity of speech
Stress on words
Remaining calm and focused
Following basic rules of etiquette
Non-verbal Communications (Body Language)
Non-verbal communication comprises 80-90% of our interactions with coaches, players, partners and fans. Its purpose is to transmit information relevant to the game without using spoken words – appearance, uniform cleanliness, body language, signals, pointing, stop signs, etc.
Our professional character is closely scrutinized from the time we appear at the site until we depart. Our decisions and how we relay them during the game are frequently judged on our non-verbal communication skills. Consider our methods of communication pre-game, during the game and post-game. We are not infallible, but we are often expected to call the perfect game even when the play is not perfect. Officials must project the image of a well-trained, confident and reticent professional. Umpires must become masters of the unspoken signals in the rulebook.
Posture is vital in transmitting confidence and knowledge. Making eye contact with those directly involved with the game shows respect. When we do communicate verbally with coaches or players, we should always strive to face them, look them in the eye and speak with a quiet authority and transmit self-assurance that we are knowledgeable and comfortable in our roles.
Paying attention to detail is important during our assignments. Our interactions with our partners, game administrators, official scorekeepers and announcers is closely scrutinized by others. Umpires should present a cohesive front while executing their duties. Signals need to be crisp and. A weak or late signal indicates a lack of decisiveness or knowledge. Our focus must remain sharp, especially during warm-ups and non-action times such as timeouts and between innings. We must anticipate substitutions and timeout requests from coaches. At times, we are expected to “read the minds” of coaches and players, and how we present ourselves can assist us in alleviating unforeseen problems. Staying engaged in the game is vital to being perceived as qualified.
Always support your working partner(s), even if there are items that need to be discussed post-game. When working with less-experienced officials, our body language often communicates our support or disdain for the assigned working partner. There is nothing wrong with some occasional quick thumbs up or smile.
We must be approachable without being manipulated or allowing coaches or players to cause distractions or delays. We must enforce all the rules, including those concerning conduct. Proximity can also be an issue when discussing items with those associated with the game. Where we stand, how we stand and what we do with our arms transmit a welcoming or a “do not approach” signal, like standing with arms folded across the chest. Failure to make eye contact can indicate lying or a lack of interest in the conversation.
Communications with coaches, players and your partner are a big part of every game. How we are perceived as officials is judged, more often than not, by not only what we say, but how we officiate and communicate non-verbally.
(Excerpts from Dr. Ross Flowers. Presented at the NCAA/SUP Clinic, Palo Alto, Jan. 17, 2016)
Posture – strong versus slouching
Appearance – neat versus untidiness
Head movements – nodding versus “no”
Hand movements – still and calm versus waving
Eye movement – looking into person’s eye versus winking or avoiding eye contact
Facial expression – smile versus frown
Body contact – moving away from person, staying close for a conversation, or moving into personal space
Interest level – attentive or bored
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