Umpires try their best 99.99 percent of the time. Calling balls and strikes is an incredibly demanding job. Umpires must stand and watch hundreds of pitches in sweltering heat and determine whether pitches catch the corners of the plate, tops of the knees, or cross the height of the belt.
Additionally, youth baseball and softball strike zones are even more difficult to call as they are naturally expanded for pitching with lesser command. There should be no expectation of a pitch being called a ball for being an inch off the plate.
So what happens when a player, coach, or parent takes issue with ball and strike calls? Today, we will discuss how to handle this situation at the youth level with your players’ best interests in mind.
Arguing Balls and Strikes is a No-No
Generally speaking, arguing balls and strikes is against the unwritten rules of baseball. Umpires make hundreds of calls per game, and it should be accepted that they cannot possibly make the correct call all of the time.
This is particularly true at the youth level. Umpires are likely volunteering or being paid a low wage to come out and help our young baseball and softball players enjoy the game we all love.
Youth baseball and softball managers should never argue balls and strikes. Period. If an umpire is performing poorly enough that you believe it is a major problem, you can take that issue up with your league’s governing body after the game. Making a scene in front of the kids is nowhere near worth getting a call right or making your piece heard.
Teaching Youth Players to Speak to Umpires with Respect
In reality, most players will say something to the umpire at some point during their career. Rather than go with a policy of never ever speaking to umpires, many youth baseball coaches also like to teach their young athletes how to interact with umpires or other sports officials in a respectful manner.
Here are some ways to discuss (never argue) balls and strikes with respect:
Never Show the Umpire Up
Most umpires will allow for some discussion as long as the player is not making a scene. Players can have a calm, quiet conversation with the umpire about a pitch without letting the other players or fans know about it. Turning directly towards the umpire, showing visible frustration, or raising one’s voice/using profanity are all grounds for ejection.
Ask Questions Without Making Accusations
“Where was that pitch?” “Was that pitch outside?” These are reasonable questions to ask an umpire without making a scene. Always address the umpire with respect and civility. Addressing an umpire as “blue” or “ump” is one way to do it, but certain umpires will not view this term respectfully. You can never go wrong with sir or ma’am.
Youth Players Should Always Let it Go
It is difficult to ask a youth athlete to be more mature than an adult, but that is exactly what we should be teaching. If a discussion with an umpire starts to take a turn towards hostility of any kind, our youth athletes should be taught to immediately let it go.
If an umpire is behaving with hostility or in an inappropriate manner towards a young player, that is when coaches should intervene and take control. Taking the high road in such a situation is not only smart from a practical standpoint, but it is also a teaching moment for youth players.
Managing a Frustrated Youth Pitcher
Hitters and catchers have the luxury of being within a few feet of the umpire. They can quietly and appropriately discuss a call without making the conversation known to anyone else. Pitchers do not share this luxury.
If a pitcher isn’t getting the calls he or she wants, it is likely they will begin to show visible signs of frustration. They might throw their hands in the air, kick dirt, stomp their feet, or even stare at the umpire. In this situation, managers should pay their pitcher a visit immediately.
Managers will then have a few options:
Pull the pitcher from the game or move him/her to another position.
Bring the infield together for a meeting to calm things down and slow down the game for a moment.
Discuss the situation with your pitcher and give him/her words of encouragement. Tell your youth pitcher to keep throwing and ignore the calls.
Request a brief conversation with the umpire. If you go with this option, it should not be to further complain about the calls, but to calm things down overall.
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