Eight things not to say in youth sports

This article from Fatherly.com focuses on Little League, but is relevant to anyone coaching any youth sport. We recommend paying attention to each of them and trying to avoid these mistakes going forward.

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Options for Choosing Little League All-Star Teams

Youth leagues around the country are deciding how to choose their all-star teams for the coming summer tournament. Below are some guidelines we suggested, originally published in 2010:

It can be one of the most difficult, controversial and emotional topics a youth league faces each year. How do we choose who makes the all-star teams and who coaches/manages them? There are always going to be many more kids and parents who believe themselves to be deserving than there are spots on the team. This leads to hurt feelings, accusations of cronyism, and animosity. Since Little League instituted an all-star level for 11 year-olds in 2003, to augment the traditional 9-10 and Majors levels,  even more debates have raged. Should the best 10 year-olds play in the 11 year-old division or stay in the 9-10? If a league has a lot of strong 11’s, should they stay together and compete in the 11 year-old tournament, or go up to Majors? Below is a guideline developed that addresses all of these topics. You may or may not agree with everything in this policy and may wish to adopt some parts, but not others. However, the result of having this document in place has been that nearly all arguments about the merits of players and coaches chosen for various teams have disappeared, due in part to a more transparent and objective selection process.

All-Star Selection Guidelines

The goal of ______________ Little League is to field the most competitive team in the Majors Division. Players for the Majors, 10-11 and 9-10 all-star teams will be selected in the following manner:

Majors: All players will vote for thirteen 11 and 12 year-old players in their respective leagues. Players will be allowed to vote for teammates and/or themselves if they wish. Instructions on the ballot, to be reinforced verbally by managers prior to voting, will be as follows:
Being selected to the ______________  All-Star Team is an honor and privilege. Select the 13 players on this list you believe to be most deserving of this honor based on their ability to help the team win. Ballots that the league feels are not taken seriously, (for instance: the majority of players you voted for are on one team, or most of the players you selected have not received votes from anyone else), may not be allowed.

All official league coaches and managers will also vote. The Player Agent will, with the President, tally the three sets of votes. Players will then be ranked from highest (most votes) to lowest. The committee recommends that this data be used by the President when making his decisions on manager slates. For instance, if a potential manager’s son or daughter is clearly in the top echelon after all voting is tabulated, it is very likely that the player will make the team when the final selection process occurs. However, if a potential manager’s child is “on the bubble” or not in the top 13, the President may wish to take into consideration the fact that this player may not warrant all-star status when formulating his slate.

The President will present his slate of managers and coaches to the board at the June BOD meeting. Once the slate is approved, the Majors Coordinator will schedule a meeting of the league’s managers to select the team. The five managers from each division, (and the manager of the all-star team if he is not one of the five managers), will select 13 players at that meeting, considering the votes of the players, coaches and themselves to be a guideline.

After the first vote, any players tied for the final spots on the roster will be voted upon again until a consensus has been reached and 13 players have been chosen. If two players are deadlocked for a 13th spot, the manager may, at his discretion, opt to carry a 14th player on the roster. If the final roster spot comes down to two players, one of whom is 12 and the other 11, the 12 year-old should be given the spot as it is assumed the 11 year-old will have the chance to play on the team next year.

It is possible that an 11 year-old player who is good enough to make the Majors team may wish to stay instead with the 11 year-old team. If this player is a “difference-maker” (was in the top 5-6 of the player/coach/manager voting), and is selected to the team by the managers, he must play with that team.

It is the recommendation of the committee that the team is comprised of 13-14 players, one manager and two coaches, and that the selection of the manager of the team is given equal importance to the selection of the players.

After the Majors team is finalized, the remaining eligible players from the Majors Division pool will be picked by the manager of the 10-11’s, along with the other league managers. It is the committee’s position that these will be primarily, if not exclusively, 11 year-old players.

The selection of the 9-10 all-star team will be conducted via tryout of between 18 and 22 players. Tryouts shall not be held prior to June 15, or two weeks prior to the start of the tournament, whichever is earliest. Every 10 year-old who played in Majors will automatically be invited to the tryout, which will be at least two days. Each team in Minors will submit up to 2 players, (3 if all agree), at a meeting arranged by the Minors Coordinator. After factoring in the number of Majors players invited to the tryout, the remaining invitees will be selected from Minors. If a tie between a 9 and 10 year-old player needs to be broken, it is recommended that consideration be given to the 10 year-old as the 9 will likely have the opportunity to play on the team next year. After the tryout, the Manager of the team will choose 13-14 players. It is recommended that a large portion of the tryout be comprised of a “live scrimmage game” between a team consisting of all Majors’ players against a team of the remaining players. A score book should be kept to assist the manager who is selecting the team in his decision-making process and to help make the process less subjective. Players who cannot attend either of the tryout dates will not be eligible to play. All-star hats will be ordered for all players attending the tryout, whether they make the team or not.

Me First or Team First?

All four of my kids played recreational sports while also playing on club teams. That dynamic continued through high school. There were clearly pluses and minuses to both. But as youth sports trends toward more involvement in travel leagues, there is one important factor to consider.

It is likely that everyone reading this, to some degree, is involved in youth sports. And it is also likely that the lessons children acquire by participating are among the major reasons we want our kids to play. We love that they learn that hard work leads to success, that failure is temporary and can be overcome with effort and resilience. Both of these can be taught to players in recreational as well as competitive sports. So, if this is true, that the essentials of work ethic and bouncing back from adversity are learned in either environment, what difference does it make which path is chosen?

As I said, my kids played both. My daughter played rec and high school soccer, as well as club. It was the club soccer that got her a college scholarship. My three boys played Little League (with me as coach) and high school baseball, while simultaneously playing travel ball. Here was the big difference between the two: In competitive sports no one really cared about winning. In rec and high school, that is all they cared about.

I’ll start with my daughter: When her high school career came to an end with a playoff loss, she was inconsolable. Her school had never won a city girls soccer title and she wanted it more than I can describe. A championship would have been huge news to the entire school. There would be a banner hanging in the gym forever. Her regular league games against our bigger, rival school just a couple miles down the road were wars. She would have traded her best personal game ever for a team win.

Contrast that with her club team. It was a very good team which several times went to national playoffs with a chance to win a U.S. championship. And all the girls would have liked to have won. But winning was secondary. Because they all also knew that scouts from every major college were watching. Each of them would have rather scored a spectacular goal in a losing cause than play poorly and win. It was twenty individuals wearing the same jersey. And they knew that outside of themselves and their parents, no one else would know or care whether they finished as national champs or also-rans.

As I mentioned, I coached my three boys in Little League. We had a great league, and all of my sons’ friends also played. Every year the talk in the schoolyard was about who was going to win the championship. The players on the team that had won the previous season had bragging rights. It didn’t matter if you were a star or a part-time player, you wanted to be able to say, “we beat you.”

My oldest son, now a pro baseball player, has coached some travel baseball in the off-season and says he thinks travel ball is killing the sport. In his observation, none of the kids want to be out there. No one cares if they win or lose. When my second son, now also in the pro ranks, heard this he confided that he used to hate our travel ball games when he was young. He said he never would have admitted it then, but he always dreaded them. Why would this be? A Little League game on Saturday against his friends from school, the most fun he ever had. Then a club game on Sunday against guys he didn’t know, he wished he didn’t have to go. They were both baseball games. But they were different.

So my contention is this: While there are many benefits to travel sports, where it lacks is in the teaching of some of the most important lessons learned in athletics: Teamwork. Putting the good of the team ahead of yourself. And winning.

Now a cynic might say he doesn’t care about any of these things if his kid gets a scholarship to play in college. But are we shortchanging our youngsters in life by thinking short-term? Are we robbing them of valuable experience by taking them out of youth league baseball and softball in favor of travel, or by having them play Academy soccer instead of high school?

Are we raising a generation of kids who are going to learn that they should look out for themselves first and others later, if at all? Are we bringing up children who will never know what it is like to really be part of a team that is all pulling for a common goal instead of individual accomplishment? Teamwork isn’t just about sports. It’s about getting along with friends and family, about being successful in the workplace years after athletic careers are over. When will those lessons be learned if not on the youth play fields?

Years ago I read an article in the Los Angeles Times sports section about the number of kids opting for travel baseball instead of high school. There was a quote from the USC head baseball coach that I’ll paraphrase which was, ‘I like kids who play high school because they care about winning.’ Even the worst cynic who isn’t concerned about his children being taught teamwork and self sacrifice would probably want them to learn to win. Sports have always had an important place in our society, for good reason. But when team sports really just become individual sports being played by a bunch of youngsters at the same time, I wonder if what is gained isn’t outweighed by what we’ve lost.

Brian Gotta is a former youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels and a baseball coaching book which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com

Tension between parents and league

This story is three years old, so hopefully things have been resolved by now. But it illustrates the issues of field use and communication youth leagues often go through.

CoachDeck for T-Ball?

We get asked once in a while if we do a version of CoachDeck for T-Ball. We tried to make CoachDeck comprehensive so it can be used by coaches from T-Ball all the way up to high school. Some of the drills in the deck are too advanced for T-Ball, but some, such as Cap Buttons are perfect for all ages. What we hear from leagues that give these to their youngest coaches is that at the beginning of the season the coaches can use a handful of the drills but that by the end of the season they’re using many more because the players have advanced so much.  In fact, we’ve seen “very similar” versions of some of our drills online being touted by a national organization as great T-Ball drills.

Comments on Little League boundaries

Little League International recently posted information about their boundaries on their Facebook page and some people expressed their displeasure with the current system. Their comments are below. What do you think?

Why Would we need to know our boundaries? When you can just say that your kid goes to a certain school because of his or her friends go there and they can play outside the boundaries.

(Response): You can’t just say it, you have to prove it.

(Response): You know and I know that it’s easily falsified. Don’t try to sit there and justify the boundaries and how difficult it is for individual to prove that they’re outside that boundary. Little league especially the 12U division has become commercialize. That’s all and everyone is striving for to be on television.

There shouldn’t be boundaries. Let the kids play where they want to play.

Every year team after team after team shows up with multiple kids throwing 70 mph. I’ve seen competitive teams from a 30 mile radius that can’t pull that many great pitchers. How can that be? It’s because of waivers and boundary issues that are being broken.

Also the waiver excludes your kid from Allstars! That is ridiculous! There needs to be a better way.

What’s the earliest baseball or softball registration?

We’re looking for the youth baseball or softball league that opens their Spring 2018 registration the earliest. For most in the country this seems like a long ways away, but there are leagues in Southern California, Florida and other warm-climate states that are already meeting and planning for ’18. When does your spring registration begin? Email us at customerservice@coachdeck.com and let us know!