Baseball Officials Use Video to Enhance Their Training

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Earlier this year, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) officially enacted Rule 3-3-1, allowing baseball coaches and players to use video monitoring or replay equipment for coaching purposes during games. This landmark decision reversed a rule that was put in place more than 25 years ago to help prevent teams from gaining an unfair competitive advantage through the use of technology. The new rule is also benefiting baseball officials, who have also embraced video as a tool to enhance their training.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em

The NFHS baseball rules committee was the last NFHS rulebook-writing faction holding steadfast to the no video rule. Why the change? Video devices had become so common that everyone had something—a smartphone, iPad or tablet, hand-held video camera—that they were using to record plays and track statistics.

From a baseball coaching perspective, video helps track the movement of pitches, identify defensive shifts, and break down a batter’s approach. It also helps coaches and players analyze at-bats in practices and after games. But the benefits of video extend beyond coaches and players.

Video Replay Helps Baseball Officials Improve Their Game

Baseball officials are as passionate about the sports they officiate as they are about their own improvement. Before video devices were so readily available, officials would watch games on television or in person and emulate what they saw those referees doing. Now, with game video so readily available, officials can watch their own performance and see where improvements can be made.

The NFHS Officials Association also recognizes the importance of video education for its members. At their February 2015 Baseball Technical Advisors Meeting, the association’s education department produced videos in which they critiqued 30 baseball games that had been featured on the NFHS Network. The training videos were made available last spring on the Arbiter Sports website, alongside similar videos for basketball, soccer, and cross-country officials. At the time of this publishing, there are 19 baseball videos available on such topics as base running, obstruction, umpire mechanics, conduct and interference, and general duties and responsibilities.

Technology Changes Expectations

It makes sense that today’s newer sports officials are some of the most enthusiastic adopters of in-game tech—they grew up with it being integrated into every part of their lives. From a very young age, they have had the educational advantage and convenience of technology that created an always-on and always-accessible world. And, like the rest of us who have grown accustomed to the instant availability of information at our fingertips, they have high expectations when it comes to its use in sports.

For officials today, the biggest change in all sports is technology. Before the introduction of video, the occasional missed call could be accepted. Now, officials are expected to get the calls right all the time. And because there are cameras everywhere—on the sideline and in virtually every fan’s hands—there is a much higher level of scrutiny and pressure on how a game is called.

Video has evolved into something powerful that can help everyone improve their performance and get better and more accurate results, both on and off the field. The key is to make the technology work for everyone, and for the right reasons. The result will be better players, better officials, more competitive contests, accurate in-game calls, and a better overall experience for fans.

What do you see as the benefits (and challenges) of video being used in high school baseball? Does it help or hinder the umpires who have to make the tough calls on the field? We’d love to hear what you think.

photo credit: Nats Roving Cameraman via photopin (license)