The Best Seat in the House: Vision Dynamics for the umpire
4 November 2015
First - what is vision dynamics?
Baseball is a game where vision is all important - the ability to see the moving ball and to co-ordinate what we see with what we do. Much of this happens without thought, but like most things we do, returning to the fundamentals and understanding what we must do to achieve our highest potential, will enable us to get more out of the skills nature has given us.
Vision, of course, starts with seeing something with our eyes - but vision dynamics goes further than that - for in addition to seeing, we can develop awareness of what we see, concentration upon the things we see, blocking out of distractions, and increased perception. In the result we see more efficiently.
Vision Dynamics has for some time been used by the players to improve their performances upon the field. For instance, Centering. To centre one’s eyes upon the ball enables a hitter to pick up the ball earlier, giving him more time to execute his swing with timing and precision. To centre on the pitcher enables the baserunner to define pick-off or pitch quickly. To centre on home plate enables fielders to pick up the contact between bat and ball more quickly. It takes little imagination to see the advantage to an umpire by a better understanding of what he is doing with his eyes.
You will probably be saying to yourself ‘I do that now - at least some of it’, and that is what first attracted my attention to this method - sitting at a meal table listening to a coach discussing visualising (a part of vision dynamics) and a player said aloud what I was thinking ‘I do that now’. But what I had been doing only touched the fringe of what’s involved in a study of vision dynamics.
Let’s look very briefly at a few of the suggestions - and these are more the end result - there are tests to assess your skills, exercises to improve them, and methods to achieve the best result.
Calling balls and strikes. Like the batter, the earlier you pick up the ball the better. How do you do this? First you must study the pitcher to ascertain his ‘release zone’. Then as he moves into his pitching motion, fine centre on part of his body near the release zone, his eyes, his cap insignia - this ensures that you fine centre your vision rather than just look - or soft centre. Then you shift your eyes to the release zone just prior to the pitcher releasing the ball. You then fine centre on the ball and follow it all the way to the catcher’s glove. It is important to begin centering only early enough to pick up the ball from the hand, as centering for too long on a target may increase your tension level.
Calling the bases involves centering too, centering your eyes on the area over home plate where the ball will be hit, picking it up early, following it to the fielder, picking it up from the fielder’s ‘release zone’ and following it toward the base.
From these two situations alone I suggest that an awareness of the mechanics of fine centering can improve your ability to make correct calls.
In studying this subject it is advisable to follow the A.V.C.E.P. procedure:
Analyse the situation.
Visualise the desired performance.
Centre on the target.
Execute the performance.
Analyse the situation. This is what we already do before we signal ‘Infield fly situation’. As chiefs we think about set position or wind-up, likelihood of steal, possibility of bunt - all those things that, having just considered the probably or likely action, we react just that fraction faster when it happens. As base umpires we visualise moving to the correct position on a ground ball, a foul fly, an outfield fly, with runners on, or without runners - whatever the situation we analyse it.
Visualising the desired performance. The batter, awaiting his turn to hit, swings a bat to loosen up. How much more valuable is it if he sees, like a moving picture in his mind, the pitcher he has to face, say, throwing an inside fast strike. He visualises his movement, and himself watching the ball onto the bat, and what he has to do to hit it. Then a breaking ball, he visualises what is necessary for him to execute proper contact. He goes to the plate more prepared to hit. As a chief, sitting in the dressing room before the game, you can visualise, like a moving picture once again, the pitcher rocking into his action, your fine centering on the ball - then try visualising a fast outside ball just clip the strike zone, then one just missing the strike zone - you can visualise your whole strike zone before you even step onto the diamond. This is called pre-programming. Do the same with your base decisions. Visualise yourself with a runner on base, a fly ball hit to the outfield, to a specific area of the outfield, and yourself moving swiftly to the correct position to check the runner’s tag of the base as the fly is caught. The second baseman does this when he analyses the situation - a runner on first, none out, lower order batter, scores close - a bunt is likely. He says to the shortstop ‘If he squares round you’ve got second, I’ll cover first base’. Having visualised that play, when it happens he will be in the right spot at the right time. Visualising can be part of your training program, but your visualising must be positive, visualise the right way to do it, rather than the negative. As a coach says ‘Do it this way’ rather than “Don’t do it that way’.
Centre on the target. I have dealt with that very briefly and need not expand here - it’s really a better way of saying ‘Keep your eye on the ball’, because you will see the ball more accurately by following these principles.
Execute the performance. Having analysed, visualised, centered on the ball, the execution will follow more smoothly and confidently.
Playback is the visual replay in your mind of what you have just done. Did it go right? What can you remember? If something went wrong you can probably find a blank spot in your visual replay which will indicate to you the spot where you took your eye off the ball or in some way departed from what you should have done. If so, visualise that part again, correctly done, to help you improve your performance.
I mentioned pre-programming. This can be done the day before, the morning before, an hour before the game we are involved in. We visualise what we have to do in the coming game. What we visualise must be realistic - we can’t run 100 yards in 10 seconds just because we visualise it. Pre-program what you are going to do, visualising yourself doing it correctly. This will help overcome nervousness and bolster confidence. Of course you don’t have to visualise the whole game - you concentrate on any problems you may have had recently, and the basic plays and timing. Even reaching the right energy level or relaxation level can be practiced at this time. Your preparation for the game, from dress to muscle stretching can be visualised.
Important to the umpire is self-control. This can also be pre-programmed. During a game something may get to you - a player shooting off his mouth, a spectator on your back. We tend to let ourselves work up a head of steam in order to do something about it. While we do that our concentration is divided and we make a call that brings the trouble upon us all the earlier. We can program ourselves to keep our cool, ignore the loudmouth, turn away from the player disagreeing with our decision - staying cool and taking action calmly when it is necessary.
The Vision Dynamics method can improve your decisions and your enjoyment of the game and I recommend the introduction of it, in detailed stages, to your umpiring.