Getting Started Umpiring


I’m often asked, Just how do I get into umpiring? How do I get started? Who do I talk to? What do I need to know?

Let’s be clear that we’re talking about amateur baseball. We’re talking about organized baseball for kids. Youth leagues. So where do these guys (and women, too), where do they get started? Just how did they get on the field?

I’m going to answer these questions, and then I’m going to give you some pointers on how you can get started on the road to umpiring amateur baseball. First, though, let’s talk briefly about who typically finds themselves on the field umpiring a baseball (or softball) game. There are two groups mainly — one is a group of adults, the other is typically young people in their teens.

The adult group is usually made up of parents (dads, normally, but sometimes moms) whose kids play in an organized baseball league — Little League, Pony, CYO, or another of the many baseball leagues for kids. These organizations rely on parent volunteer managers and coaches, but also on volunteer umpires. Some parents volunteer to umpire their kids’ games; other get pulled in reluctantly.

The youth group is a bit different. In youth baseball, the interval between the ages of twelve and thirteen is a big break point. Twelve-and-under baseball is played on a smaller field with 60-foot base paths; in most leagues there is no base-stealing and the pitcher’s mound is just 46 feet from home plate. The focus is developing basic skills and the emphasis is on having fun.

The game for thirteen-year-olds and older is different. Their games move to the big diamond with 90-foot base paths; there’s base-stealing, a regulation pitcher’s mound. Coaches tend to have more experience and players typically have a greater skill level. At this level the emphasis is on developing skills and games are more competitive. The game at this level is not for everyone and the majority of kids who played through the age of twelve drop out of organized play.

But many of those thirteen-year-olds who stop playing organized ball still love the game and want to stay involved. Many of these teens chose to go into umpiring. This lets them stay involved with the game, and in some cases they can also earn a little money.


Where do I start?

If you think you’d like to give umpiring a try, far and away the best place to start is by volunteering to umpire Little League games in your local league. While Little League is not the only youth baseball organization that recruits and trains umpires, it’s the one with the longest tradition, the most robust training programs, and the most extensive resources. It’s also the most widespread of youth baseball organizations.

There is almost certainly a Little League where you live and it shouldn’t be difficult to locate the league’s website (most leagues have a some sort of online contact). There, you’ll find a roster of league staff and in most cases you’ll see a league Umpire in Chief (UIC) whom you can contact about getting started. If there’s no league UIC listed, contact the league president.

The best time to reach out about starting with umpiring is in the February/March time frame, just ahead of the start of the baseball season. This is the time of year when preseason umpire training sessions normally take place.


Getting some basic training (leagues and districts)

Again, I’m going to focus on Little League, but most of this applies to other youth organizations as well. What’s important is that anyone going onto the field for the first time, even for a game with nine- and ten-year-olds, needs a bit of basic training.

Access to training at the local league varies from league to league. You might be fortunate and have well organized training sessions through your local league. More likely, however, your best training opportunity is going to be through your Little League district. Little League districts are made up of from twelve to fourteen local leagues in a given geographical area, so even the districts are local. That means their training sessions are close by. Your local league’s UIC can help you navigate the training options in your area.


What to expect from umpire training

There are two main branches of umpire training: rules and mechanics. Through your entire career as an umpire, virtually everything you learn, develop, and experience will fall into one of these two buckets.

The rules bucket seems pretty obvious, but the fact is, there are a variety of baseball rule sets in amateur baseball. College baseball operates using the NCAA rule set. High schools use the NFHS rule set. Little League uses its own rule book, as does PONY and most other youth leagues. What all of these rule sets have in common, however, is that they all stem from the Official Baseball Rules (OBR), which is the rulebook maintained and published by Major League Baseball.

These many offshoots from the OBR reflect modifications that tailor the rules to the level of play or the sponsoring organization, particularly with respect to ensuring player safety. For younger players, modifications also try to balance playing skills (for example, stealing bases may be prohibited because young kids have running skills that far exceed their throwing skills). For an in-depth look at the evolution of baseball rule sets, have a look at the article Baseball Rule Sets.

The second branch of umpire training, what we call mechanics, covers the entire range of actions that an umpire undertakes on the field — everything from how to properly call safe/out, fair/foul, and ball/strike (and a lot more), to how umpires are positioned on the field, and to which positions they rotate when a ball is put in play. (Quick question: on a fair batted ball, what should the base umpire be watching, the ball or the runner? Answer: it depends. How about the plate umpire? Same answer.) All of this (and a good deal more) is covered in umpire mechanics.


Learning the rules of baseball

Obviously, it’s essential that an umpire know the rules of baseball. That said, the rulebook is vast and includes a great many subtleties and nuances. It’s unreasonable to expect a new umpire to have a command of the entire rulebook. In fact, it takes a lot of experience to achieve a high level of competency with the rules of baseball. But you don’t need to be an expert to be an effective beginner.

It’s been said that roughly 80% of baseball is played with about 20% of the rules. These numbers may not be perfectly accurate, but they’re likely not far off. So, while it’s true that any one of us could step onto a field cold-turkey and feel pretty confident with safe/out, fair/foul, and ball/strike, umpiring anything older than nine-year-olds is going to take a bit more rules knowledge than that. Fact is, even starting with nine-year-olds, you’re going to need to know the basics of Interference, Obstruction, Appeals — that much at least.

Here’s a little secret: The rulebook (OBR, Little League, NFHS, whichever) is not the best place to learn the rules. Don’t get me wrong: the rulebook is essential, and every umpire absolutely must have a copy, and must be familiar with it, with how the rulebook organized, and must be able to find a rule reference when it’s needed (and it will be needed). But it’s not a very good teacher.

So why isn’t the rulebook the best place to learn the rules? Because it’s a reference text, not an instruction manual. Take for example our article Offensive Interference. The article knits together in a single article an infraction (an important one) that’s covered in the rulebook by twelve primary rules (have a look if you don’t believe me), and then, in just one of the twelve, 6.01(a), there are another eleven subsections. That’s just impossible as a learning tool (but essential as a reference text).

Instead of trying to learn rule-by-rule, you need to have the rules broken down into logical groups, then presented as topics like interference and obstruction, and on and on, much as we do throughout the UmpireBible. To really understand the rules of baseball, you have to first understand the rules as concepts. Once understood conceptually, you can then pretty easily start to parse the rules themselves.

Of course, this begs the question: how does one begin learning to learn the rules conceptually? Well, the UmpireBible is not a bad place to start, but there are a great many other resources as well. Google is your friend for rules instruction, but classroom instruction is also really important. Forums let you pose questions, and reading forum threads can be really instructive. Ultimately, the best teacher is experience.


Learning umpire mechanics

Mechanics are another matter altogether. While there are many instruction manuals on umpire mechanics, and there is no shortage of mind-numbing, 70-slide PowerPoint decks that feature lines and arrows galore, the only way to really learn umpire mechanics is on the field. Field training is essential.

In addition to learning the proper way to make calls on the field, the core of what you’ll learn in field training is this: At the start of every pitch, each umpire must know these things ...

  1. What is my proper position; that is, where should I be standing (and what is my posture),
  2. What signals, if any, should I be exchanging with my partner,
  3. And then, when a batted ball enters the field of play ...
    • What is my proper rotation (that is, where do I go)
    • What should I be watching (the runner or the ball), and
    • What calls do I own (and which belong to my partner)

Actually, these things will come pretty naturally, like muscle memory. They’re not difficult, but they need to be learned and practiced. An umpire crew is only as good as their coordination. A crew must all be on the same page. This starts with field training.


What about umpire gear?

Yes, you’ll need gear, but you don’t need everything right away. Chances are, when first starting out, you’re using gear provided by your league. You’re likely wearing sneakers and your hat’s on backwards. All of that is going to change.

Once you’ve committed to umpiring and have decided that you wish to grow and develop, you’ll want to own your own gear. There are many online stores that specialize in sports officiating gear. We list a few of these in the “Resources” section that follows. Here’s a list of the item that you’ll want to have:

  • Mask (and throat guard)
  • Chest protector
  • Shin guards
  • Plate shoes
  • Field shoes
  • Cup
  • Pants
  • Hat (normally provided by your league)
  • Shirt (sometimes provided by your league)
  • Jacket or pullover (optional, but necessary in some weather conditions)
  • Indicator (ball/strike counter)
  • Plate brush
  • Ball bags (2)
  • Lineup card holder (and pens)

Regarding chest protectors, there is a wide range available (at a wide range of prices). When starting out you’re almost certainly umpiring young players, twelve-and-under, so you don’t need an expensive “hard-shell” style like the West Vest. You may want to spring for a good mask; it will last for years. (Some umpires opt for the helmet style.)

Plate shoes may seem like an extravagance, but a foul ball tipped to your foot can break toes, as can a well-placed fastball. In the field you can get away with black (or dark) sneakers. Umpire pants come in two flavors, “plate” pants or “field” pants; that said, you can purchase a single pair of what’s called “combo” pants that work both ways. You don’t need fancy (expensive) shin guards, but ensure that your instep is covered.


Let's not forget about softball

Throughout this article I’ve been talking almost exclusively about umpiring youth baseball, but there’s an equally robust softball game that’s played by young girls, and that, again, Little League plays a vital role in.

The rules and mechanics for umpiring softball are nearly identical to those for baseball, with just two important exceptions: pitching rules and base-running rules. But the exceptions are easy to learn and adapt to, so once you get the hang of umpiring it’s very easy to split your time between youth baseball and softball.



There are abundant educational and reference resources available to umpires, for both new and experienced umpires. I’ve broken these down into natural groups:


Rules, mechanics, and general information


Forums (for rules and mechanics Q & A)

The following sites include forums that allow you to pose questions to the group at large. The quality of responses varies, as does the level of participation, but they can be a valuable resource.


Training opportunities

While it’s not a bad idea getting started with local league and district training, once you have your feet on the ground there are opportunities for more advanced (and more rigorous) training. These are typically fee-based, but worth it if you’re serious about umpiring.

  • Little League West Region Umpire Academy. A week-long umpire training school conducted at the West Region facilities in San Bernardino, California. The course includes extensive classroom and on-field training. Food and dormitory lodging provided. The 2023 session runs from November 11-17, 2023. Cost is $450.
  • Little League East Region Fall Umpire Academy. Runs from September 21-24 2023, a four-day intensive classroom and on-field training experience. Food and meals are not provided, although lunch is. Conducted at the Eastern Region Complex in Bristol Connecticut. Registration open on July 1, 2023. Fee is $50.
  • Little League Southeast Region Umpire Academy. A six-day intensive training school featuring classroom and on-field instruction. Runs from October 10-15 2023 at Southeast Region facilities in Warner Robins Georgia. Meals are provided but lodging is not. The fee has not been announced as of this writing.
  • Little League Central Region Fall Umpire Academy. A four-day intensive course covering rules and mechanics in classroom and on-field sessions. No lodging nor food is provided, except lunch. Registration opens on July 1, 2023. Cost is $125. The session is held at region headquarters in Whitestown Indiana. Note that the Central region has additional training session that you can review at the Central Region Events page.

This list is limited and focuses exclusively on training opportunities for new and relatively inexperienced umpires. More advanced training opportunities are also available although these are best suited to umpires with a fair amount of experience and are designed to prepare for umpiring at higher levels.


Umpire gear

There are a large number of online stores that specialize in sports officiating clothing and equipment. Here are a three of the most frequently used by umpires.


Wrapping it up

This is a large topic and I’ve really just scratched the surface. The key takeaways, though, are pretty simple: plug in locally, start with young levels (nine- and ten-year-olds), get the fundamentals of rules and mechanics under your belt, and then simply grow from there. That’s pretty much how everyone you see out there (including, I suspect, a number of Major League umpires) got started. 

Best of luck to you!