'Just Bounce Right Back Up and Dust Yourself Off': Participation Motivations, Resilience, and Perceived Organizational Support Among Amateur Baseball Umpires
This article was published in the Fall 2017 Baseball Research Journal.
Sports officials have long possessed a less-than-desirable reputation in the eyes of the general public. Negative images of baseball umpires — and the conflicts that arise between them as arbiters of the rules and others — have been promulgated for well over a century. For example, Voigt described the umpire of the late nineteenth century as “…America’s manufactured villain.”1 Similarly Leslie, with his accounts of umpires in a southern United States league during the 1930s, labelled the umpire as “…the heavy of the baseball drama, the villain of the play, and the object of antagonism…”2
Today the baseball umpire continues to be seen in a negative light with the occupation described as “…one of competitive sport’s most uncelebrated positions…”3 These accounts document the age-old dismissive portrayal of the baseball umpire’s role and the interpersonal conflict associated with it. Popular media accounts of confrontational events in baseball and other sports reinforce that this is still the case and that such altercations are particularly problematic in youth sports.4 These narratives emphasize the stressful nature of sporting officials’ roles and fuel the popular assumption that threats of verbal and physical abuse are the primary reason why candidates drop out of the officiating ranks. But is this truly the case for baseball umpires?
An umpire’s job is intrinsically challenging as cognitive stress results from having to make split-second decisions (calls) in complex situations.5 A review of the literature reveals that few have scrutinized these challenges as experienced by first, second, or third base umpires.6 The home plate umpire, in contrast, has been the subject of many studies. This is likely because the majority of calls — including the assessment of pitches as balls or strikes — are the responsibility of the home plate umpire. Decision-making at home plate is frequent and complex as the umpire must attempt to accurately perceive the locations of pitched baseballs moving at high velocities along varying trajectories with respect to the plate.7 The ability to accurately call balls and strikes has been studied extensively, with investigations of variables of influence including the home plate umpires’ positioning relative to the catcher, experience levels, and the reputations of batters and pitchers.8,9,10 Extrinsic sources of stress for umpires, in contrast, often come in the form of verbal complaints or challenges from players, coaches, and fans.11 Rainey and Cherilla, in an observational study of 70 amateur baseball games, characterized such complaining as being of moderate to low intensity and described it as a “…type of social background noise or static” and a “game within a game.”12Coaches’ efforts to influence the umpires’ calls have become an expected part of the sport, and, with experience, umpires learn to handle these challenges in routine ways.13 Serious conflicts including incidents of physical assault, in contrast, are rarely observed.14
Experiencing stress is an inherent part of a baseball umpire’s job, yet it has not been shown to be a significant predictor of one’s intention to terminate participation from umpiring.15Recent studies assert that sports officials are highly resilient and able to cope with the stresses of the task at hand.16 As a result, the overall research agenda on sports officials is slowly shifting from one historically pessimistic in nature and focused on the question of why officials terminate their participation, to trying to understand why they become involved or continue in the role.17, 18 New insights on the recruitment and retention of sports officials, including baseball umpires, are beginning to emerge in the literature.19
One such insight: officials often begin while still competing or shortly after leaving the playing ranks, and view officiating as a way to stay physically active and give back to a sport that they enjoy.20 Some engage in officiating through their own initiative, while others do so at the invitation of a mentor or friend.21, 22 Financial reimbursement may initially attract some to the role but money as a motivator may be limited given that the overall cost of participation as an official (e.g., equipment costs, annual registration and insurance fees) can easily exceed income.23 As time goes by, many officials will begin to see themselves as volunteers rather than as employees, engaged in a leisure pursuit with individuals with similar interests.24, 25 As mentioned, as officials gain experience, they become resilient and are able to cope with stress by normalizing the challenges that they experience.26
Three recently published investigations emphasize the important role that perceived organizational support (POS) plays in predicting persistence as a sports official.27, 28 Ridinger’s investigation is of interest in that it lends some insight into the experiences of youth baseball umpires in the United States.29 The participant sample was small (n=7), yet unique given that the overwhelming majority of studies on baseball umpiring have studied either major-league or similarly elite-level (e.g., semi-professional) umpires.30, 31 Ridinger found the umpires had a strong sense of community and were appreciative of the mentorship and training they received. They also enjoyed their involvement and described it as being meaningful to their lives, while at the same time acknowledging that it was sometimes difficult to balance umpiring duties and the time spent traveling to games with job, school schedules, and family demands. Ridinger's study provides some important insights into the experiences of amateur baseball umpires, but the small sample size limits their generalizability.
To better inform our understanding of baseball umpires’ behavior, the purpose of this investigation was to identify what motivates individuals to enter into and remain active in amateur baseball umpiring, and investigate their resilience and how their perceptions of the support they receive from their sporting organizations affected their resilience.
Using Newell’s Model of Constraints and Deci and Ryan’s Self Determination Theory as our guiding frameworks, we defined motivation as the reasons people give to explain why they participate in umpiring, and we assumed that this motivation arises from the interactions between the characteristics of the individual, the task of officiating, and the informal (i.e., sense of community) and formal (i.e., sporting organization) environments in which they perform their duties. We hypothesized, a priori, that entry into and persistence in the role may be linked to motivation to participate in the sport, resilience or the ability to thrive in the face of adversity, and the extent to which perceived support is provided by the officiating organization. It was also expected that differences in these measures may be observed based on individual differences in sex, age, and umpiring location (i.e., urban or rural settings).
For the purposes of this investigation, we borrowed from the confluence of two well-established theoretical frameworks including Newell’s Model of Constraints and Deci and Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory (SDT).32, 33 Newell’s Model of Constraints proposes that there are three interacting types of constraints — task, environmental, and individual — that are responsible for optimal or successful performance in a given activity. Task constraints include the demands placed on the umpire (e.g., technical ability, knowledge of the rules, quick decision-making) and are, in this study, seen as identical for all participants. Environmental constraints, in contrast, refer to the broader social perspectives encountered while engaged in umpiring, and include location (e.g., urban versus rural), the physical environment (e.g., large stadiums versus small sandlots), the social environment (e.g., umpiring community), and the influence of fellow officials, friends, and other supporters. Importantly, these environmental constraints also include the organizational policies (e.g., training and mentorship, remuneration, performance recognition) and practices (e.g., frequency of certification or recertification opportunities, pay rates, award ceremonies) that underpin umpires’ perceptions of the extent to which sporting organizations value their contributions and care about their well-being.34 Individual constraints, as the term implies, refer to the inherent characteristics of individuals themselves including their age, physical and intellectual capacity, sex, as well as the qualities of resilience and motivation that subsequently influence their ability to fulfill their psychological needs.
SDT posits that an individual’s behavior is guided by three innate psychological needs: competence (the desire to demonstrate and improve one’s abilities), relatedness (the desire to be valued, respected, and seen as important by others), and autonomy (the desire to be in control of one’s actions).35 It also suggests that when individuals are free to choose their behaviors without external influence or interference to satisfy these needs, their motivations to do so emerge from three distinct thematic areas: intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, or amotivation. According to Cerasoli and others, intrinsically motivated behaviors are engaged in for their own sake (e.g., enjoyment) while extrinsically motivated behaviors are governed by the prospect of instrumental gain (e.g., financial incentives).36 Amotivation, in contrast, reflects extremely low levels of motivation which are indicative of a lack of motivation and resultant dropout from a behavior or activity.37, 38
Recent work by Gillet and colleagues supports the notion that there is a link between an individual’s psychological characteristics, including their motivations and resilience, and the environment in which they work.39 Importantly, they suggest that organizations wishing to improve employee engagement and retention can do so by providing an environment that promotes positive feelings of POS. Similarly, research in the area of sports commitment demonstrates the importance of individual motivation in combination with organizational support in successfully transitioning individuals from participation as athletes to participation as coaches, administrators, or officials.40 For these reasons, we use the interactional structure of Newell’s framework, believing that individual constraints such as motivations and resilience are linked to environmental constraints, including POS, and are necessary for understanding the complexities of officiating retention and/or attrition in baseball umpiring.
This investigation utilized a discrete subset of data from individuals who self-identified as active amateur baseball umpires in a comprehensive study of 1,073 active Canadian amateur sports officials.41 Approval for this study was secured from the Lakehead University Research Ethics Board. With support from Sports Officials Canada, an electronic invitation was then distributed to active sports officials across the country. English and French versions of the invitation, and the subsequent data collection tool, were utilized. Quantitative and qualitative data were collected using a multi-part survey tool built on the SurveyMonkey™ web-based platform. For the purposes of analysis, the collected data were merged and professional translators were hired to translate all data into English. The sample was one of convenience and included active officials from 37 different sports. Of this sample, approximately twenty percent (20%) were exclusively active as umpires in the sport of baseball.
The sample consisted of 211 (204 male, 7 female) active amateur baseball umpires residing in nine Canadian provinces. Descriptive data pertaining to age, sex, and their predominant officiating location (i.e., urban, rural, or both) are found in Table 1. About one-quarter of the participants (n=47) indicated that they were still actively playing the game of baseball. In a similar yet slightly different vein, about two-thirds (63%) of the entire sample identified that they began umpiring while still playing the game, with the remainder (28%) indicating that they became active in the role after their playing days ended. Only 19 (9%) of the 211 umpires studied indicated that they had never played the sport. Years of involvement in umpiring ranged from a minimum of one to a maximum of 48 years, with an average of 16.3 ± 11.0 years. The officiating levels held ranged from Level 1 (Grassroots) to Level 5A (i.e., National Level with participation in international umpiring assignments). Seventy-one percent of the study participants had completed a college diploma or university degree and 62% were employed in full-time occupations.
In addition to completing a demographic questionnaire, the participants were asked to respond to a series of open-ended questions which aimed to understand the following:
- (a) their reasons for entering into officiating
- (b) what factors may have contributed to that decision
- (c) what individual or organizational supports were available to them while officiating
- (d) positive and/or negative experiences had while umpiring
- (e) had they ever considered leaving the umpire role and if so, what convinced them to stay?
They were also given the opportunity to answer the question, “Is there anything else you would like to add?”
The respondents also completed three standardized questionnaires with demonstrated reliability and validity characteristics:
- (a) the Sport Motivation Scale (SMS)42
- (b) the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD-RISC2)43
- (c) the 8-Item Survey of Perceived Organizational Support (SPOS).44
Each required responses on Likert-type scales to a series of questions or statements pertaining to an individual’s reasons or motives for participation in sport (i.e., including intrinsic and extrinsic sources of motivation, as well as the phenomenon of amotivation), self-perceived levels of resilience (i.e., a measure of stress coping ability), and their general beliefs regarding an organization’s commitment to them and their intention to continue their relationship with that organization, respectively.45 An in-depth description of the full survey tool, including the reliability metrics for each of the three standardized questionnaires, may be found in the overall comprehensive study of amateur sport officials.46
Data Reduction and Analysis
Responses to the open-ended questions were downloaded from the SurveyMonkey™ platform and printed. Response rates to the open-ended questions ranged from a low of 65% for the question, “Describe a challenging officiating event you experienced recently and how you responded,” to a high of 92% for the question, “What influenced your decision to become an official?” From the outset, these responses were collected in an effort to understand each individual’s motivations for entry into umpiring, why they persist in the role, and to determine if these active umpires had ever considered discontinuing their participation in umpiring. Descriptive data pertaining to the frequency of these responses were generated. In addition, it was anticipated that these open-ended responses would possibly inform or provide useful illustrations of our quantitative findings.
Using the SPSS Statistical Package (Version 23.0; IBM SPSS Statistics, Chicago, IL), quantitative data from the three standardized questionnaires were analyzed. The analyses began with the generation of descriptive statistics. Pearson product-moment correlation coefficients were then calculated to examine the strength and statistical significance (p ≤ 0.05) of associations, if any, between the dependent variables of interest. The dependent variables included three measures each of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and one measure of amotivation from the SMS, one measure of resilience from the CD-RISC2, and one measure of perceived organizational support from the SPOS survey.47, 48, 49 Given that the observed associations between the dependent variables were only poor to fair in magnitude (e.g., ranging from -0.35, p<0.01) to 0.55, p<0.01), independent three-way univariate analysis of variance (ANOVA) procedures were conducted for each dependent variable.
The independent variables included sex, age group, and predominant officiating location (i.e., urban, rural, or urban and rural). Age group was used as a proxy for officiating experience for a number of reasons. First, over 98% of the respondents indicated the age group to which they belonged (e.g., 25 years or under, 26–40 years, 41–55 years, or 55 years and over). However, when asked to report the actual number of years spent umpiring, many simply wrote “20+” or “30+” or estimated their experiences as “about 7 years.” In a number of instances, moreover, participants did not indicate their number of years of experience or, when prompted, their umpiring level. Second, when reported, the correlations between age group and years of experience (r=0.96, p<0.01) and age group and umpiring level (r=0.93, p<0.05) were strong. Therefore age group was an acceptable proxy measure for experience. Finally, choosing age group rather than years of experience or umpiring level allowed for more cases to be included rather than excluded from the statistical analysis.
For each univariate ANOVA procedure, the data were assessed for adherence to statistical assumptions (e.g., normative distribution, homogeneity of variance, etc.). Of particular concern was the assumption of homogeneity of variance and its requirement for the proper application and interpretation of the statistical findings generated.50 Levene’s Test of Equality of Error Variance was used to test the null hypothesis that the error variance of the dependent variable was equal across all groups.51 Spread-versus-level plots were also generated to further examine the relationship between the observed standard deviation and mean. Only those results for which it was determined that the aforementioned assumptions were sufficiently satisfied are reported hereafter.
Responses to Open-Ended Questions
Entry into officiating. More than one-third (37%) of all respondents indicated that they were umpiring because of their “love” for the game. For 30%, becoming active as an umpire was a way for them to stay in touch with the sport itself after their playing days were over (i.e., due to injury, physical limitations, or the inability to aspire to higher competition levels). For others (19%), involvement was frequently tied to family influences; that is, encouragement to become umpires by members of their families — fathers, grandfathers, uncles, or siblings — who were already active in the role, or they became involved when their children began playing the game. In contrast, about one in every seven respondents (16%) explicitly indicated that they were at least in part attracted to umpiring as a way to make money during the summer months. Alternately, 13% indicated that they became an umpire as a result of the need for more umpires or higher quality umpires in the game.
Persistence in the role. About 66% of the respondents correctly identified resilience as the ability to “bounce back” from an adverse situation. Moreover, 58% explicitly self-identified as being resilient or as being seen as resilient by their colleagues. Only 6% of the sample questioned their resilience while 3% openly acknowledged that they were not resilient.
Fourteen percent of the participants indicated that they did not experience stress while officiating and/or that they actually had fun doing the job. For those that did acknowledge experiencing stress, 47% overtly expressed confidence in their abilities to deal with it. Many indicated that they always endeavored to do the “best job” that they could as an umpire while also acknowledging that they occasionally made mistakes. Importantly, they often stated that they always tried to learn from their mistakes and would use them to become better in their role. When needed, support — in the form of discussing difficult calls or game situations — was provided by peer umpires (82%). Others indicated that support was also provided by their officiating associations or committees (23%) or umpires-in chief or tournament convenors (17%). Interestingly, 7% also found support through electronic means (e.g., on-line websites, chatrooms, or blogs; e-mail groups; organizational hotlines). Secondary support was frequently (37%) provided by immediate family members (e.g., spouses, parents). In contrast, only 2% of the participants explicitly identified that they were not good at managing the stress associated with their umpiring role while 8% openly stated that they did not feel well supported by their officiating organizations or umpire-in-chiefs.
Discontinuing participation. In reply to the questions, “Have you ever considered leaving officiating? If so, why and what helped you decide to continue as an official?” 130 of the 166 individuals (78%) who responded to these questions indicated that they had considered it earlier, had already left once and came back, or were currently pondering the idea of leaving. The most commonly cited reason for considering a departure was the need to respond to career-, school-, or family-related pressures (11%). For others (8%) either their age or the effects of an acute or chronic injury or disease condition was making it difficult to keep up with the physical demands of the role. Only 7% of participants identified the threat or frequency of verbal or physical abuse as an unequivocal contributor to their drop out intentions. The most frequent reason given for deciding to remain (16%) was that of feeling obligated to stay to support the young officials and/or young athletes in the game, or, because of actual or pending shortages in the number of active umpires within their region. The second most frequently cited reason for staying was the ability to earn income as an umpire (5%). Importantly, only around one in five (22%) of all the respondents indicated that they had never considered leaving the game.
Participation Motivations. The seven subscales of the Sport Motivation Scale (SMS) included three measures of intrinsic motivation, three measures of extrinsic motivation, and one measure of amotivation. Independent three-way ANOVA procedures generated significant differences for only two of the seven subscale measures, both of which were indicative of extrinsic sources of motivation. According to Pelletier and others, extrinsic motivation through external regulation is indicative of behavior that is fueled by external sources such as material rewards (e.g., remuneration, trophies) or feedback from others (e.g., to receive praise and/or to avoid criticism).52 In such instances, participation is used to obtain rewards or to avoid negative consequences, but not for the sake of fun. For this dependent variable, a significant interaction effect was observed for age group by officiating location (F(6,194)=2.49, p<.02). Those in the 25 years and under age group (M=12.5, SD=4.3), regardless of officiating location, appeared to be more motivated by external rewards than those in the 26–40 year age group (M=11.1, SD=5.1). Such motivation, moreover, appeared to decline on average with increasing age, with mean age group scores of 10.2 ± 4.6 and 9.7 ± 4.0 for the 41–55 and 56-and-over age groups, respectively.
There was one notable exception to this consistent downward trend with rural officials in the 41–55 year age group displaying a higher mean score (M=13.1, SD=3.4) than those officiating in strictly urban (M=11.1, SD=4.8) or a combination of urban and rural (M=7.2, SD=3.2) environments. Introjection was the other source of extrinsic motivation for which a significant interaction effect of sex by officiating location (F(1,194)=3.88, p<.05) was observed. According to Pelletier and coauthors, with introjection the former external source of motivation is no longer needed to promote participation.53 Instead, participation is reinforced through internal pressures (e.g., guilt or anxiety). In this instance, mean scores for introjection were considerably lower for females (M=6.0, SD=2.6) in comparison to males (M=9.5, SD=4.6) umpiring in urban environments. In contrast, for those who umpired in urban and rural environments, the mean score for females (M=10.3, SD=1.7) was much higher than that observed for females who restricted their activity to urban environments while the mean male scores (M=9.6, SD=4.0) were on par with their urban-based umpiring colleagues. Some caution must be exercised in interpreting these two findings given the small numbers of umpires that identified as being strictly rural-based or female, respectively. With that said, and as previously described, the statistical assumptions were thoroughly checked and re-checked, suggesting that these are statistically robust results worthy of some consideration.
Resilience. CD-RISC2 scores are expressed as a percentage, with scores below 70% or above 85% considered below or above normal, respectively, in comparison to the general population.54 With a mean resilience score of 82.9% ± 14.4, this umpiring sample on average fell within the normal range for the overall population. Approximately 14% of the participants fell below the population norm, 33% scored within the normal range, and the remaining 53% scored in the above normal range. Sixty-three participants, or 30% of the entire sample, received scores of 100%. The three-way univariate ANOVA procedure revealed no significant differences by sex, age, or officiating location and no interaction effects. Although not statistically significant, it is interesting to note that the mean percentage score for females was lower at 78.6 ± 17.3 than that for males at 83.0 ± 14.3.
Perceived Organizational Support (POS). POS, the final dependent measure of interest, yielded no significant differences by age (F(3,193)=1.15, p<.33), sex (F(1,193)=0.01, p<.95), or officiating location (F(2,193)=0.53, p<.59). There were also no significant interaction effects.
DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS
For more than a century, verbal confrontation between umpires and others has been a well-documented part of the culture of American baseball. Contemporary studies of baseball in the United States provide evidence that constant heckling from coaches, players, and fans remains pervasive within the sport.55 If such verbal commentary contributes to officiating drop-out, then why do so many enter into and persist as umpires in the sport? The purpose of this investigation was to gain a better understanding of currently active amateur baseball umpires, including their decisions to enter into and remain active in the sport, as well as their resilience, participation motivations, and perceptions of the support they receive from their sports organizations.
A growing body of recent literature identifies numerous factors which contribute to the decision to enter into sports officiating. In particular, having an explicit prior connection to a sport appears to weigh heavily on the decision to enter into an officiating role in that same sport.56 The observation that more than 90% of the umpires in this investigation were connected to the game of baseball through their prior participation as players mirrors the findings of others. For about one in five participants, moreover, entry into officiating was influenced by another form of connection to the game, either via immediate family members who were active as umpires or by their children who were actively playing the game. The literature has also previously documented individuals’ expressed “love” for their sport and the desire to stay connected to it as key intrinsic sources of motivation to entry into and persistence in officiating roles.57 More than a third of the baseball umpires in this study explicitly used the term “love” to describe their feelings of enjoyment and emotional linkages to the game. Many also alluded to the fact that they readily enjoyed and intrinsically derived pleasure from their involvement as umpires.
In contrast, a smaller proportion of the sample, one consisting primarily of younger umpires, was grateful for the money that could be earned in return for their participation. This subjective finding was validated by the finding of a statistically significant difference for the dependent variable of extrinsic motivation by external regulation (i.e., the receipt of monetary rewards), with this type of motivation being higher for those 25 years of age and under. This was somewhat expected given that remuneration has been previously identified as a key extrinsic motivator for younger officials in other sports.58 However, for the first time we saw these younger officials (i.e., high school-, college-, and university-aged) overtly identify sports officiating as a “well-paying” job. Whether it is the rate of pay, the acute need for umpires and hence the frequency with which umpires can be assigned games, the time of year (i.e., summer when students are not typically enrolled in classes and therefore have more time to umpire), or a combination of all three factors which contributes to the notion of being well-paid is unknown. However, it does lead us to speculate that the sport of baseball — which is played during the summer months and as such does not conflict with the traditional academic school year — may have an advantage in using remuneration to attract young officials to the sport in comparison to other sports (e.g., ice hockey) where school-related time commitments present competing scheduling priorities.
It is important to note that recruitment and attraction into the role of an umpire is only the first step along a participation continuum which may be followed by sustained involvement and advancement to higher levels of involvement over time.59 Persistence as an umpire in baseball, a game notably filled with what some have described as the constant presence of moderate to low levels of dismissive verbal commentary, can be challenging.60 This study provides ample evidence that baseball umpires are frequently critiqued by coaches, players, and spectators. The umpires studied herein commonly expressed their displeasure with being on the receiving end of antagonistic and dismissive remarks. However, they acknowledged it as an explicit and expected part of the game. The ability to withstand the negativity, moreover, appeared to be strongly linked to their ability to be resilient; that is, to find ways to routinely handle (or normalize) it as part of their umpiring experience. As an illustration of this, consider the following quotations:
Eventually you grow a thick hide and get used to the threats. Keep at it and eventually they go away.
– Male, Age 21–25 years
That is the nature of sports officiating where hundreds of judgments are made every game and where the participants’ view of you is highly partisan, highly myopic and their reactions are often intended to influence your future decisions rather than the one you just made. One needs to understand this and take this less personally, have confidence in your ability (presuming that you have ability on some objective scale), and continue to enjoy participation in the game.
– Male, Age 61+ years
Throughout the last decade numerous investigators have reported that sports officials learn to normalize their experiences and that they are highly resilient in the face of adversity.61 The CD-RISC2 questionnaire results indicated that more than 85% of our sample scored in the normal (33%) or above normal range (53%) on an objective measure of resilience. Moreover, approximately 60% of the umpires studied herein self-identified as being highly resilient as a result of experiencing no stress when officiating or being highly confident in their abilities to manage stressful situations. What is unknown is whether these high levels of resilience existed before they entered into umpiring or whether they developed as a result of their officiating experiences, or both. The following quotations suggest that both mechanisms may be at play and of benefit to active umpires:
I have learned to be resilient. Sure there are times you have to hold back, but in the end the players for the most part understand that officials are part of the game and we are human. I have learned to let the small stuff slide off my back and give them a second chance especially the younger ones.
– Male, Age 51–55 years
I am certainly resilient. I don't let the criticisms of coaches and players bother me. I suspect my other career (34 yrs of policing) may have something to do with it in that nothing that happens on the field intimidates me. As a coach I taught my players to learn and grow from their mistakes. I do the same thing with my umpiring. Most of the time only my partner and I are aware of an error on my part.
– Male, Age 61+ years
The umpires in this study identified a number of different strategies (e.g., physical fitness regimes, other leisure activities, etc.) that they used to cope with their stress. However, in response to the question “How do you maintain a sense of wellness in times of difficulty or stress associated with officiating?” the most frequently cited approach was that of talking through stressful situations with their umpiring partners or other experienced umpires. Such nurturing relationships are thought to play a critical role in retaining individuals in the officiating corps.62 Support via discussion with members of on-field umpiring crews was mentioned most often and this makes sense, given that they are present and readily accessible immediately following games, as well as the fact that they are often first-hand witnesses to the disputes that arise. Umpires-in-Chief were also frequently cited as key sources of support by many, as were league and tournament convenors, and on occasion municipal, provincial, and national sports governing bodies. A number of individuals explicitly mentioned that they relied on the use of technology (e.g., on-line websites, chatrooms, or blogs; e-mail groups; organizational hotlines) to facilitate umpire-to-umpire communication and/or to find support.
Overall, from the grassroots to international levels, the umpires studied herein seemed highly satisfied with the support they receive from their Umpires-in Chief and their sporting organizations. This finding is naturally in stark contrast to observations from previously completed studies of ice hockey referees and linesmen who have dropped out of officiating.63 For these ice hockey officials, favoritism in game or tournament assignments, lack of opportunities to excel or advance to higher levels, failure to support officials’ problems in dealing with player and/or coach disciplinary issues, and similar issues were identified as highly problematic. In ice hockey and other sports, moreover, levels of POS have been seen to consistently decline after initial entry into and training within the sport officiating ranks.64 In this study of baseball umpires, significant differences in POS by age or officiating location were not observed.
This finding may be explained in one of two ways. It could be that the sample studied herein largely consists of those officials who have been given plenty of opportunity to excel as officials within the game and who have been well supported throughout their training. The lack of significant difference in POS measures across experience levels, however, also suggests that another mechanism is at play. Based on the testimonials provided by our participants, it appears that in Canada the sport of baseball has created and successfully implemented a consistent, transparent, and objective system for officiating training and advancement through the ranks. It also suggests that there are a number of procedures, processes, or programs in place in support of umpires regardless of their stage of career. For example, frequent references were made to game and/or tournament supervisors and their role in providing immediate performance-related feedback to umpires following games. We also gleaned that there is a mentorship culture within umpiring that is highly supportive of umpires at all levels.
Cuskelly and Hoye have identified that attrition from the sports officiating ranks is a significant sport management problem now being experienced on a global scale.65 To counteract attrition, providing an experience which allows officials to thrive and excel in their roles as officials seems imperative. In Canada, the sport of baseball seems to be doing a very good job in this regard with its umpires. Therefore, we were somewhat surprised to observe in response to the query “Have you ever considered leaving officiating? If so, why and what helped you decide to continue as an official?” that four out of every five of our participants admitted that they had either previously thought about dropping out, had already left at least once and returned, or that they were currently thinking of leaving. Not all of the respondents provided a reason for contemplating discontinuation, but for those that did, 19% (or about one in every five individuals) cited competing personal priorities including school- or career-related demands, or health issues as the most influential factor. Verbal abuse was also cited, but to a lesser degree: by approximately 7% of the respondent pool. The underlying reasons for considering departure appear to be largely individual in nature (i.e., associated with personal circumstances) rather than related to circumstances beyond their control (e.g., verbal abuse, dissatisfaction with game assignments, lack of opportunity to excel). It appears also that it is only when these personal challenges outweigh the benefits of participation that the decision to depart is finalized. Indeed many of the participants talked about the significant physical challenges they were experiencing while umpiring, yet they felt obligated to stay to support the young officials and/or young athletes in the game.
In a different vein, several individuals mentioned that they felt obliged to remain in umpiring despite their personal circumstances, a finding that was corroborated by the observed statistically significant difference for the dependent variable of extrinsic motivation through introjection (i.e., feelings of guilt, anxiety, or pressure to continue). For males, scores for extrinsic motivation through introjection remained relatively the same, regardless of whether they were officiating in urban and/or rural locations. For females, however, these same scores varied across environments. Given the small sample of female umpires that engaged in this study, we are cautious about attempting to provide any further explanation of this statistical finding. With that said, recent investigations are clearly beginning to illustrate that female officiating experiences are significantly different from that of their male counterparts and deserving of more in-depth investigation.66
LIMITATIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH
As with all research undertakings, there are limitations which must be acknowledged. This study focused on amateur baseball umpires who resided in nine provinces in Canada. The results may not be reflective of umpires residing in other countries. The sample was also one of convenience recruited through a snowball sampling technique promoted by national, provincial, and local officiating organizers. Therefore, those who volunteered may have already had an enhanced affinity with the sport and their role within it. We also purposely conducted this study on a national scale, yet 73% of the participants resided in the one province (Ontario). Over 91% of the sample self-identified as officiating in urban and rural, or exclusively urban environments. Therefore, the sample was overly representative of this one region, and its urban locations, and the results may be largely reflective of the officiating programs, administrative practices, and resources more typically found in urban centres. The sample was almost entirely made up of male participants with few female respondents. As such, these findings provide limited information on the female experience in baseball umpiring.
Further research is needed to understand how being female and umpiring in exclusively rural settings informs involvement within baseball umpiring. Future investigations should invest effort in understanding the specific programs, policies, and administrative structures that are in place to support amateur baseball umpires. Such an approach would allow for a better understanding of the environment in which baseball umpires perform, while at the same time perhaps providing an opportunity to further examine the confluence of SDT and POS related approaches to the study off officiating retention and development. Conducting similar investigations of officials in other sports and sport categories (e.g., invasion games, court sports, combat sports), moreover, would provide important points of comparison across sports and broaden our understanding of what needs to be done to better understand the unique challenges faced by all sports in their efforts to recruit, retain, and support their officials.
LORI A. LIVINGSTON, PhD is a full professor and the Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. A physical educator, biomechanist, and statistician by training, she is an active researcher in the area of injury prevention, physical activity, sport officiating, and long-term officiating development.
SUSAN L. FORBES, PhD is an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. A physical educator and sport historian by training, she is an active researcher in the areas of injury prevention, sport officiating, and long-term officiating development.
Table 1: Description of the sample (n) by officiating location, sex, and age group
This study was supported by a grant from Baseball Canada. We also gratefully acknowledge the assistance of André Lachance, Sports Officials Canada, Chris Torma, and Rinku Davé in completing this investigation.
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