Baseball Umpires’ Learning Blog

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Trained, “Focused” Eyes and The Need for an Additional Official

As a sports official, one the most important skills that we need to develop and constantly maintain is the ability to focus on the player activity that is assigned to us per recommended mechanics. Trained eyes make it possible to see most of what we are supposed to see so we can properly officiate our games.

This following video helps me make my point about “focus” and the need for additional officials. How did you do? Could you count the number of passes by the white team? How aware are you of what happened. Please take time to read the rest of this blog entry after watching the video.


Most officials will agree that at the high school level in most sports, we would benefit greatly by having an additional official. The way that basketball has changed over the years (esp. 3-point line and motion offenses), we can serve the game best by having three (3) officials. In football, officials cannot cover some blocking infractions and actions against receivers without five (5) officials. In baseball, we can cover a game best with three (3) which allows umpires to move into the outfield to rule on catches, accurately rule on base-touching and fair-foul balls, and have the ability to create good angles and be close enough to plays. Hockey also needs to move from two to three (3) officials. When you are focused on a potential off-sides call, you are not capable of seeing the whole play related to a possible penalty call.

However, given the financial times and some resistance to additional officials amongst some of our coaches and athletic administrators, we must try to do our best with one less set of eyes. This makes our pre-game conferences and adherance to prescribed mechanics even more important. We must know our responsibilities and strictly follow required mechanics. These mechanics (positioning, signals, and use of the voice/whistle) determine how we view and rule upon what we see. We all know that we make hundreds or even thousands of rulings during each contest we officiate, only to interrupt games (making calls) at appropriate times.

Some officials quickly and easily learn what to focus on early in their officiating careers. Others take a great deal of time to properly train their eyes. Some never master this part of officiating. “Focus” is very important but we must be careful not to focus our eyes or our mind too much on one or more concerns. Looking for that illegal screen/block or holding (basketball, football, and hockey) can sometimes avert our focus from seeing the entire play that is often necessary. With an additional official, you may be able to focus on one thing (and sometimes the mechanics provides for this).

When we say to ourselves/others that we would like to see that play again, do you think we might have focused in on something a little bit too much? I know that I have been caught by this many times. Now that it has come to my attention, I know that I need to add this comment and thought to my pre-game preparation checklist.

April 25, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Wow, was I embarrassed to miss the bear! I hope that had he waltzed my baseball diamond I would have seen him then. Thanks for the jab, Shawn.

    My partner behind the plate last week caught me doing exactly what your post cautions us not to do. He said, “Steve, what were you doing out there in the B and C slot before the pitch? You hardly ever acknowledged my signals; you seemed to be somewhere else. I thought for a minute it might have been the sun in your eyes, but I don’t think that was it. When do you shift your attention to the pitcher? Is it when he engages? Because if that is what was going on, you were so focused on the possible balk that you missed all the peripheral stuff that was going on, included my trying to communicate with you.”

    When I reflected back on Troy’s words, he was absolutely right. The moment F1 engaged the the rubber, I was all over him like white on rice, to the exclusion of everything else. This is not a situation where an additional official would have made a difference, but rather one of self-reflection. What is it about the possible balk that keeps me riveted on the pitcher to the exclusion of all else? Am I afraid I’ll miss it? Do I lack the confidence in recognizing a balk when it happens? There are ways of dealing with those items, not the least of which is reviewing Jim Evan’s outstanding video on balks. To the extent I get more comfortable with dealing with the balk, I’ll free up more ability to focus on other things. This was quite a revelation for me.

    A most timely post, Shawn. Thanks.

    Comment by Steve Johnson | April 26, 2008 | Reply

  2. My partner and I were SCREAMED AT yesterday for an obstruction that the coach said occured and we did not see. We were watching 3 runners (that were running on the hit, because of 2 outs), and a sinking line drive to the outfield. I was in the C slot – my head was on a swivel, and I had ball responsibility. I saw all of the runners touch the bases and the ball drop in front of the fielder – never saw this ‘obstruction’ by the shortstop. My partner saw the runner that was supposed to be obstructed touch third and called him out on the great throw from the outfield.
    A third official would have made a difference in this play.

    We talked about it in post-game and never saw the obstruction, or even the runner have to do something ‘out of the ordinary’. Looked like the coach was frustrated with his team (getting beat) and tried to take it out on us.
    We were confident in our call, but that 3rd set of eyes would have sealed the deal.

    Comment by Troy | April 26, 2008 | Reply

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