There is a familiar scene throughout the sports world. During the game, a call is made that upsets the other team. A coach goes to the official for an explanation and either walks away dissatisfied or a yelling match ensues. The funny part is that even though we watch the games on TV and there is no sound on the coach or the official, it’s still pretty easy to guess what they are saying especially if you can read lips. I’ve been on both sides of this argument as a player and an official and there are some things that I have definitely learned.
Sports officials have “the viewpoint.” That’s the official viewpoint and as a player and/or coach there is nothing that can be said to change that. No two views are alike. Through softball I’ve experienced that firsthand. I’ve been a pitcher, batter, umpire and a fan. Each view is different.
The umpire has by far the trickiest task of all of these views. As a pitcher, you can see every inch of the plate. As a batter, you focus more on the pitcher’s hand and how the ball is moving towards the plate. As a fan, you’re just watching the game. As an umpire, you have to watch the pitcher’s windup, where the ball crosses the plate, if the ball is in the strike zone, if the batter swings the bat all while maneuvering around a catcher who blocks part of your view. It’s not the easiest job in the world. I used to complain about umpires a lot. We would go to tournaments and I would think they made a terrible call like a pitch at my head that was called a strike. After I umpired my first softball game, I realized that
I could never talk bad about another umpire or sports official ever again. Being on a field behind a plate is way harder than sitting on a couch watching the game.
Another lesson I learned is that officials need to have tough skin. Every official dreams of always having perfect games with no problems but the reality is that’s never go- ing to happen. When I first started umpiring, I was the youngest one in our association by a good 15 years. I was 18 when I started umpiring high school games. During my first game, a coach came out and questioned me about a call. It just ate at me until I finally made my peace with the call. The more games I called, the more confident I got in my calling abilities until coaches questioning my calls didn’t bother me anymore and I was able to stand up for myself.
Some coaches have made themselves look foolish by questioning calls and throwing these huge temper tantrums that make you wonder if they were ever disciplined as children. I had just finished calling my first season of summer league softball and was asked to umpire in the 12 and under district softball tournament in Troup. I was behind the plate for one of the games when a girl hit the ball close to the left field foul line. It hung in the air before it hit in the grass on the foul side of the line. Her coach came out of the dugout furious and starting yelling and cursing at me like a sailor. For every complaint he made, I calmly explained how I saw it and that obviously didn’t satisfy him so I stood there until he stopped talking. I asked if he was done and when he said “yes” I told him to go back and sit on his bucket in the dugout, which he did. He tried complaining to the tournament director who was sitting behind the fence. The tournament director told him to leave me alone because I had done a great job all weekend and he was the only coach I’ve had problems with. It felt good to be backed up on something and told I was right.
Few people realize the amount of work that goes into being a sports official. As umpires, we have to take yearly tests as well as quizzes during certain meetings. There is also extra training for those who want to umpire in playoffs. As a sports official, it’s not enough to just love the sport. You have to know everything about it. You have to eat, sleep and breathe the rules and know every intricacy or possible situation that could arise.
Sports officials are paid but it’s not enough to make a living. They do more than just call games. I know officials who are teachers, delivery men, students and plumbers. Their calls may not be right all the time but they deserve a little respect.
Each sport comes with its own set of challenges. Baseball umpires have to learn lots of technical rules, basketball referees have to be physically fit because they run up and down the court the whole game and football referees have to be brave because very few people would willingly be on a field where all the players are bigger than you and half the team’s job is to tackle other people.
Sports officials also make the sport world go around. What would the Superbowl be without someone to call holding? What would the sports world be without officials?