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Softball Tryouts Problem – What Ever Happened to Earning Your Spot?

By Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog

softball helicopter parentHad an interesting experience with tryouts this year, and I doubt it’s an isolated incident. In fact, it seems to be something that’s indicative of our society as a whole, as it’s not the first time I’ve heard of something like this.

Here’s the basic situation: we had a girl try out for catcher, but then got a note saying she had decided to play for another team. That in and of itself is fine — you should play for whomever you want.

But it was the reason that really stuck with me. Apparently during the tryouts, her dad saw that she clearly was not the best catcher trying out. I then heard through the grapevine he talked to someone affiliated with this other team who promised she’d be number one there, and the decision was made.

I find that rather disturbing. Instead of looking at where his daughter might receive the best training or best competition, he based his decision on the instant gratification of a guaranteed starting spot. It makes me sad, not only for society but for that kid and all the others like her.

A big part of sports is measuring yourself against other players and striving to become the best. If you are in the number two spot, you should have incentive to work on your game and get better. There’s a lot of satisfaction in knocking the former #1 off her pedestal.

Yet that’s not what seems to be happening. Helicopter parents — those who hover over their kids, smoothing the way for them on everything from which teachers they get in school to making sure they get into the right clubs or organizations — don’t want to see their kids fight or struggle for anything.

In fact, some are so bad they actually go on job interviews with the precious children and tell the interviewer how good the kid is. I kid you not. Needless to say, those candidates rarely get hired. But I digress.

Sports are supposed to teach you life lessons. That’s what all us coaches, umpires and supporters claim, anyway. But what lesson is being learned when a parent sends his/her child onto a team based solely on whether the kid will get the #1 spot — before a game has even been played? And what happens if the kid peaked at tryouts and is now a disaster? Does the coach take away that spot that was guaranteed and risk having the helicopter descend once again?

This is not a new phenomenon. I remember hearing about one very famous pitcher with a pushy dad. Back when she was playing travel ball, her father would want a guarantee that Ms. Famous would be the #1 pitcher. If he couldn’t get it, he’d take her elsewhere.

Seems to me if she was that good her dad shouldn’t need a guarantee. It will all come out when the games are played. If she can’t earn the spot she shouldn’t get it. And history shows she was plenty good enough to earn it on her own.

softball paved roadAnd that’s my point. Playing time needs to be earned, not guaranteed. Otherwise what’s the incentive to improve and become the very best you can be?

If you’re not the best out of the box then put in the work and capture that spot. It may not be easy but it will be a lot satisfying. It will also mean that you’ll play on the team that best suits your long-term goals instead of just the one that gives you instant gratification.

Life is full of challenges. It’s how you handle those challenges that determines who you’ll be. It’s not always easy, and it’s not always smooth. But there is a certain satisfaction to accomplishing a goal through working for it that you’ll never get by having the way paved for you.

Anyway, that’s the way I see it.

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Comments on Softball Tryouts Problem – What Ever Happened to Earning Your Spot? »

August 31, 2010

Throwdown13 @ 7:28 am

This is a double edge sword. Having a catcher myself, and a daughter that was the #3 catcher that worked her butt off all winter to earn her #1 spot and the coach never using her in that spot was fraustrating to say the least…So the parent who decided to take the team that offered their daughter the #1 spot, (obviously that team so her potential). By taking that #1 spot so that their daughter may improve in the game and catch 90% of the time was and is a great move on the parents part…Getting as much live playing time is the key for improvement. And maybe that parent is looking at the big picture…Possibly that parent is looking ahead at where they want their child to be and not where they are ending up…Just saying!!!

Bishop @ 7:51 am

I aways thought practice was where the skills of softball were developed and games were where you proved you'd learned the skills. The only thing I've seen develop from game play is experience, that's a plus…and bad habits that you have to correct in practice, not so much.

The only way you upset the existing pecking order is by becoming clearly the better player. Just as good, a little better won't cut it until the other player has a slump or develops a bad habit. If that never comes around expect to remain the #2. Happened to mine last summer. She was at an equal skill level as the #1. Never got the start.

Move to a new team to be the number 1? Nah.
Work hard in the off season, get some private instruction, hit a couple clinics and comback the clear choice next summer? Hell yeah.

Just Sayin

September 1, 2010

Steven @ 8:24 am

AMEN!!! You put into words, Ken, what I've been thinking and experiencing for a long time. I'm one of those old dinosaurs (redundant?) who thinks playing time is earned. The parents should butt out, and let the kids grow up and learn to fight their own battles. Thanks for your insights.

staciemahoe @ 11:02 am

Steven: I'm not even that old and quite un-dinosaury and still it drives ME nuts to see coaches giving away things that should be earned! It creates a sense of “entitlement” that I just don't care for. Players start thinking the “deserve” things without having done anything for them. Then sometimes if they DO happen to earn something they think that by finally getting it they are now entitled to it always which couldn't be further from the truth. Any champion will tell you that once to work to get to the top, staying there requires even MORE work because now you have something EVERYONE else wants and there are people out there who will do anything and everything they can to get it. If you're not willing to do the same, you'll lose it pretty quickly! The same is true, not only for championships, but for playing time IMHO.

September 5, 2010

Barn Stormer @ 3:49 pm

How can a “B” player earn a spot sitting on the bench while the “A” player gets all the valuable game time that improves her skills and confidence? I've seen it so many times–the “B' player is plateau'd and will not see the light of day while the “A” player rises. So many forget, kids are in softball to PLAY BALL, not rot on the bench. If the coach can't figure out a way to give ALL players real game time, then they really are not coaching the entire team, just the “A” players. Sticking “B” players in for an inning when ahead by 10 doesn't count. Finally, its sad to hear kids need to “fight battles” against their teammates and friends to play ball. I thought it was youth softball, not a cockfight.

September 6, 2010

Jcbaseball82 @ 11:18 am

Playing time has always and always will be a problem on “travel teams”. The team should make clears it policy for playing time. I think playing time should be earned. Practices should be treated as tryouts between games. If you don't bring it to practice how can you bring it to the game. I don't think a “B” player should only be platooned with the remaining “B” players and only get 2 or 3 innings a game. The kids play want to play. Is it totally about winning. Do games doing the season matter that much except to make the playoffs and seeding. Starting the “B” players every third game or just rotating the players who platoon might be a better solution. One of the reasons kids quit is due to lack of playing time. Coaches need to do a better job of playing time management. It shouldn't be just about winning. It should be about effort and improvement. This is a team game, isn't it?

Why have the “B” players at all if you're going to make them sit the majority of the games? Why even play the “B” player if you really want to win it all? Why not tell them to stay home for the equivalent number of games for which they would miss innings, since their services won't be needed. You could always give them the option.

They should be happy to have made the team, right?

How many players do you think will stay on your team for the privilege to ride the bench fulltime?

Yes, earning playing time is like earning anything else in life; you have to work for it.

But they're not getting paid to play. It is still a game to them and should be played for fun.

Ask the kids what they would rather have, playing time or the championship trophy? Ask the same of the coaches?

September 10, 2010

lightningmom @ 11:06 am

As a parent, I have a vested monetary interest in seeing my daughters play. It costs quite a bit to keep my kids on teams, and it's frustrating to go to tournament after tournament only to have my daughter sit on the bench, even though her teams win quite a bit; but I know my daughters work hard at practice and are trying to 'earn' their spots — they just happen to be on teams where they are the youngest players, physically outmatched. We know that, in the long run, they'll benefit from the challenge to play up.

That said, we are looking at changing teams for one daughter. Her team moves up an age division, but she's eligible to stay down, so we are looking at keeping her down so she will get more play time. And I *will* be looking at what her chances are for play time. She's ready to step up and PLAY, rather than sit. We're seeing that already in her rec fall ball, where (playing up an age division) she definitely earned her position through her willingness to step in at a fielding position, lay down a beautiful bunt, and follow base coach instructions.

So it goes both ways. Parents want to see their daughters play, want to see their kids find success. But it's good for kids to be challenged and to know that they need to continuously prove themselves and play hard for the benefit of the whole team. I'm not looking for a guarantee for playing time or assurance that she'll be the #1 at her position — it's a TEAM sport. But I am looking for that delicate balance between challenging her and giving her an opportunity to shine, even if her team doesn't.

September 15, 2011

Shanonmcnab576 @ 8:18 pm

what ever happened to kids just having fun instead of tryout's it's not like there being payed for it. Coaches & parents take it way to seriously so the kids do too. When hockey was first invented no-one had to try out, same with baseball and basketball it was all invented someway somehow. Let kids just be kids for a change.

October 20, 2011

seenitbefore @ 7:49 am

I totally agree with Barn Stormer….it is also about “daddy Ball” as well…you coach a team your daughter plays on even if she doesn't belong on that team and she plays every inning of every game and the others just sit on a bench.  How do you expect children to grow and achieve higher levels sitting on a bench!!!!  Players should EARN a spot on the team and just because they played for the team in prior years should also not guarantee them a spot….and what about those parents who “suck” up to the coaches…always seems as though their children play!!!

Mrao @ 8:28 am

How can sitting on the bench possibly provide the “best training”? Girls join teams to play softball, not to watch other girls play softball. This is a twisted perspective on the role softball ought to play in a girl's life.

May 18, 2012

Cindy @ 7:47 am

Well, the author doesn't state what level of softball he is talking about.  If it is a beginning youth league (not T-ball), and is more instructional, there would be no reason to be trying out for a position because all the kids should be played at every position to teach them the skills.  In my daughter's 8u league, NONE of the girls want to play catcher.  Therefore, they all take their turn (except the manager's daughter which is an entirely different story.)  If this is a higher level league or school team, then I see no reason why the girl or her parent should be judged on their decision to go with the team that is going to play her.  It's not as if she chose a different “position” to try out for just because she knew she couldn't start otherwise.  The girl chose to play catcher which ought to get her Kudos for that very reason.  Sports figures entering the majors are recruited all the time and they go with whoever they believe will give them the best deal.  What good does it do to play under the best coach if you never get to play?  Softball isn't a passive sport.  You have to play to get better.  I, for one, am tired of hearing how sports are supposed to get you ready to get knocked around in the real world.  That might be an unintended result, but it shouldn't be the objective.

November 18, 2013

Diamond07 @ 11:51 am

Very well said…sometimes you have to be your child's advocate when clearly its about daddy getting his way rather than the development of the team as a whole.

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