Philosophy of Umpiring

SPEECH OF YVON LAURENS Director of Umpiring FIPJP, Nice 2015

Yvon began by presenting the history of umpiring and came to what we could call the “philosophy of umpiring” as the FIPJP would like to see it practised everywhere.  That is what guides not only the training or refresher courses that it organises throughout the world, but also the international umpiring examinations. The following are some essential principles: - the umpire is not a passive surveyor, but an active element of the sport - the umpire is the boss on the terrain, but not a policeman; he/she also has the role of trainer and teacher - the umpire must be strict but also diplomatic and courteous - the umpire must show exemplary conduct and behaviour - while he/she must know the rules, the umpire must above all know how to apply them judiciously - the umpire must know how to keep their distance not only from players but also from the organisers and the press. He then developed his understanding of the function of umpire, based around four themes: competence, calmness, firmness and courtesy – four hallmarks of umpiring.
Competence: Vital for all competitions, the umpire must be an expert on the rules. He/she has no right to make mistakes in this area.  The only thing that is tolerated, as in all sports, is an interpretation of the rules according to individual circumstances, without obviously allowing that to turn into deviation of our rules. 
Calmness: In order to gain respect, the umpire must set a good example. He/she must be exempt from criticism of his/her appearance: clean, always impeccably turned out. He/she must also always remain calm and courteous but firm. And, this goes without saying, he/she must display total integrity vis-à-vis the organisers, officials or representatives of the press. Ignoring comments, jeers and even insults from spectators, he/she will never criticise publicly the decisions of his/her peers. Lastly, in the knowledge that he/she is not there to be liked, he/she must, by their conduct before, during and after the competition, deserve the respect that is due to him/her. 
Firmness: An umpire’s presence on the terrains must always be very visible. He/she should not keep a low profile when he/she officiates in a team. The most senior umpire will place trust in his/her colleagues without pointlessly playing the boss. Competence is earned, it is not imposed.  Their interventions will always be carried out calmly, politely and patiently.  It is, in fact, very dangerous to add anger to aggressive behaviour.  Once the decision has been taken, it must appear thought-out and reasonable. Nevertheless, it must not be forgotten that an intervention is not always the same as a sanction. Always start with dialogue. 
Courtesy: Whatever their decision, it must always be announced courteously, without excess, without expressing anger, and without making any disparaging remarks, which adds nothing and can only enflame a situation that might already be quite tense. There is specific advice for umpiring juniors.  Here, the umpire is an adviser; he/she must educate rather than sanction. There must not be any policing; a sanction will be the exception. On the other hand, the umpire must be aware of the behaviour of those watching, particularly parents and coaches. In order to officiate in a juniors match, it is best to entrust the umpiring to someone who is experienced and can teach.
Even if he/she has at their disposal a whole range of adequate sanctions, the umpire may sometimes also call for a jury; it is even recommended in certain difficult circumstances or for particularly severe sanctions. Nevertheless, it must never be forgotten that a jury does not have the role of supplementing the umpire; it must not in any case intervene on questions concerning the regulations. And if a serious incident arises, it is the umpire’s duty to draw up a report that is as complete and precise as possible on the facts. The last point dealt with concerned mistakes by the umpire, prickly question though it is.  In fact our sport is no different from any other.   Mistakes, if they are not an umpiring fault, are possible and excusable, even though they must remain rare.  The implication is that no one should expect themselves to be infallible. In conclusion, the umpire must always be perceived as the person in charge of the competition. The difficulty is how to be respected while remaining accessible. The umpire is an adviser, whose priority must be to educate rather than sanction. Mr Laurens asked all those umpires present to promote and encourage the emergence and blossoming of young talent, for there can only be sport and competition if there are umpires, «these men of the shadows who light up the game», as the well-known saying goes.
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