4 Times When Hard Work Doesn’t Equal More Playing Time (and “Daddy Ball” is Not to Blame)

By Angela Weight

A few days ago I posted the meme below on our Travel Ball Parents Facebook page. To my surprise, it soared in popularity, shared nearly 41,000 times (just from our page alone).

Yet it’s also been the most controversial thing I’ve posted in months. Like a sports parenting version of the Laurel vs Yanny debate, people were squarely on one side or the other. No fence sitters. And with typical social media bravado, many were hurling insults at complete strangers from their smart phones as fast as their thumbs could type.

I was slightly surprised at the black-and-white thinking of so many of us. No in between. Pick a side!

  1. If a kid is sitting the bench, then he/she must not be working hard enough.
  2. If a kid is sitting the bench, it’s because the coach is an unfair daddy-baller giving his own player and friends’ kids all the playing time.

When I originally posted the piece, I’d have wholeheartedly circled #1 on the pretend voting ballot above. But the more I considered the argument, well, it’s just not that simple. (As things seldom are.)

We’re told all our lives that hard work pays off…and most of the time, it does.

But not always. And when it doesn’t, daddy ball unfairness is not always the problem (much to the dismay of those who make a habit of blaming the coach for everything from bench time to climate change).

Here are four “riding-the-pine” situations which don’t fall under reasons #1 or #2.

1) The kid just isn’t that great of a ball player. (This is by far the most common scenario of the four.) Clichés like “practice makes perfect” promote the assumption that hard work will improve a person’s performance. (And 9 times out of 10, it probably does.) But we’ve all seen kids who work their butts off but are still among the weakest on their team. Some players are unknowingly practicing wrong mechanics, are working on the wrong things, etc. You could argue that this is the coach’s fault for not correcting the kid’s weaknesses and developing him to be just as strong as the three-hole hitter. But as I’ve covered in many other posts, the coach is a human being who has a finite amount of time and his own imperfections, like not spending as much time with his weaker players as he should (depending on the age group).

Last fall, a friend of my son’s was cut from a team he’d played on for years. He hustled as hard as he could at every practice, took batting and pitching lessons each week, had a great attitude and was always ready to jump in anywhere he was needed. But he just wasn’t progressing at the rate of the other players. His parents were clearly frustrated that their 13u son who worked so hard for playing time, was still on the bench half the time. But it was obvious to everyone that he wasn’t at the same level as his teammates. There was no “daddy ball,” no hidden agenda, no unfair persecution. What wasunfair was keeping this kid on a team where he couldn’t keep up with his peers. He didn’t need to work harder than he already was. What he needed was to drop down to a AA team where he could contribute on a more even playing field with kids who were at his same level.

There is NO shame in that. One could argue that the coach should’ve released him sooner. Yeah, well, maybe. I’ll save that topic for another post. The bottom line: Hard work alone doesn’t earn playing time. Hard work that leads to improved skills, making the player an asset to the team is what earns playing time. 

2) It’s His Attitude. At a recent team tryout, I watched a big, strong kid launch several balls deep into the outfield. He was clearly a good athlete. You could tell just by the way he carried himself. From what I observed, any team would be lucky to have him. A couple days later when the final roster was posted, I was surprised to not see his name. Thinking the coaches were idiots for not snatching him up, I asked why.

“Oh NO! We’re not going near that one! He’s NOT a team player, he blames his teammates for everything that goes wrong, doesn’t take responsibility for his actions and creates too much drama in the dugout. On his last team, his mouth got him benched more than his performance did,” replied one of the coaches. Sad.

3) The player is too specialized…or not versatile enough. Years ago, on a 12u team, we had a kid who was a great first baseman and not terribly interested in playing any other position. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the team’s only great first baseman, a fact that was discovered during his absence one weekend. In fact, the substitute first baseman, one could argue, was better at the position than the first kid. The coach tried to train him in the outfield, as a pitcher and really hoped he’d be interested in catching, as the team desperately needed a backup catcher. However, our friend was steadfast in his dedication to 1B and he worked very hard in practice… but he just didn’t fit into any of the positions where the coach could’ve used him the most. This definitely cost him playing time.

4) He isn’t following team rules. Some coaches’ rules may seem ridiculous, but they’re rules nonetheless. No cursing. Be on time to practice. Show up with all your gear or get benched. No showing insubordination. (See #2)

No swimming on game day has always been a biggie. A star player on our team once attended a pool party on the afternoon before that night’s all-star game. An hour later, photos of the kid jack knifing off the diving board showed up on Facebook where the coach saw his stunt and immediately substituted his spot in the lineup.

The parents were livid! They refused to acknowledge their/the kid’s responsibility for his bench time. In their minds, it was all because that SOB was an unfair daddy ball coach who didn’t care about anyone but his own child. The coach patiently explained to them why the boy wasn’t playing, but they would have none of it. It was easier for them to cry unfairness and play victims than to accept the consequences of breaking a rule. So in their minds, the coach was a horrible person who “had it out” for their innocent kid.

I even heard the mom say that it was because the coach was “jealous” of their kid. Okay, here’s a TBP soapbox rant. I get sick parents claiming that teammates/team parents don’t like them or avoid them because they’re just jealous. Honestly, when you’re always bragging about your kid’s athletic ability, his accomplishments, his invitations to other teams, his honor roll AGAIN, your new car, the cruise you just went on, all your social connections, blah, blah, blah….No one is jealous of you. They just don’t want to be around you. Ever notice how no one is “jealous” of the quiet all-star kid whose parents mind their own business and stay out of team drama? There’s a reason for that. End of rant.

Team rules are for everyone. And any coach worth his clipboard will enforce them consistently and equally. If your kid is benched because he broke a rule, then he needs to stop breaking rules.

Final thoughts. I’m not saying that “daddy ball” doesn’t exist. It does. And the motivations of a daddy ball coach are certainly to blame for some kids’ excessive bench time….. but not as often as many of us think.

Travel Ball Parents is run by veteran baseball moms, Angela Weight of Richmond, VA and Kari Hicks of Buffalo, NY, covering all things travel ball related, with a big dose of humor thrown in. Visit our website travelballparents.com

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To Baseball Dad and Mom (Part 2)

By Dave Holt

Baseball Practice
What is the common denominator that we see in major league baseball players and their offspring? Ever notice how many sons of major league players go on to become major league baseball players? Why is this happening so often? Obviously they get some athletic genes passed on to them. The biggest factor I see is the amount of time the kids are around the game just playing catch and taking swings and watching good players play baseball.

Discussion Topics:
Does it really matter if ball players play ball on their own time?
Does it help at all to practice outside of the team functions?
Ever get mad at the coach because your kid is sitting on the bench too much?
Want to know what you can do to help your kid get better at playing baseball?
Ever take your kids to a minor league or major league baseball game? College baseball game? Cooperstown to the Hall of Fame?
I would like to help you and your children get the most out of playing youth baseball and make it enjoyable for you all. Look for the options here available to you.

The Best Scenario for Baseball Dad
The best scenario for all of us is to have you plan on dropping your player off with me and the other coaches for a couple hours for the ball game or the baseball practice plan. I am going to help my ballplayers learn how to take responsibility for their own equipment.

My ball players will be able to sustain themselves with their own drinks and refreshments. There is no need to for any parents to be loitering or hovering around the dugout area checking to see if their players are hot or thirsty. If someone has a serious injury then certainly I would welcome your assistance. Other than an injury situation you can just sit back and enjoy the pleasure of
watching your child.  I will have a brief post-game meeting with the team only and then you can have your kids back.

Playing Time, Positions and Batting Order
Playing time and playing positions are often sore subjects by baseball dad and mom. Your child will get plenty of opportunity to play and I will work them into the positions they like as the season progresses.

Discussion topics:
Is it best to focus on one position or try and play multiple positions?
How important is it to try and be a pitcher?
If your child throws lefthanded these are the positions they will be playing.
I use several variations of batting orders so do not even try to figure out my line-up card system.

Let me say this. I know how important hitting is to all my players. If you are going to play for me then you will be swing the bat

Now, this may cost us some games, well so be it. I will make sure the hitters swing the bat. Hitters will go as far as their bat takes them so we will be encouraging a very aggressive hitting approach. We will not be looking for walks. We might even swing at a few bad pitches.

Kids who do not learn to hit will quickly drop out of the game or sit the bench too much. I would rather us go down swinging the bat than looking for walks. Plus, there are not many things better in sports than hitting a baseball squarely.

Ready to Go
The ballplayers should show up ready to go with shirts tucked in, pants pulled up and hats on straight. We will hustle on and off the field. Players will take up a fast jog when taking and leaving the field or returning to the dugout after an out. We will run out all the plays. Players who do not run hard or hustle will take a time on the bench. We will find a place to go to backup a teammate on every play. Never will we throw bats or helmets. Players on the bench will have duties so there will be no time for messing around in the dugout. Players will constantly be looking for opportunities to help and support their teammates.

After finishing his professional playing career Dave spent eleven seasons managing in the Red Sox minor league system helping to develop several major league ballplayers. After leaving the Red Sox Dave managed and recruited in the Independent Professional Baseball leagues. He has also coached collegiate wood bat and high school teams. His site, coachandplaybaseball.com is a wealth of information for baseball players and coaches of all levels.

Eight Proactive Strategies for Discussing a Problem with Your Kid’s Coach

By Angela Weight

I get a lot of messages from parents seeking advice on various dilemmas. Many of them end with “how do I talk to the coach about this?” (“This” is usually lack of playing time or some other perceived unfairness leveled against a player.)

99-percent of these questions are from well-meaning, level-headed, sensible people who want to handle their issue with the coach productively and without arrest warrants. However, when your kid and emotions are involved, all your best etiquette can sail over the fence like a fouled off curve ball. (It can for me, anyway.) But over the years, I’ve learned to communicate with my sons’ coaches more effectively without the help of alcohol, vandalism and terroristic threats.

Therefore, I thought I’d share some guidelines on how to approach the coach in a positive, constructive, nonjudgmental way (He’ll be more willing to consider your perspective if he isn’t dodging insults and accusations.)

Some of you are reading this thinking, “but the guy’s an idiot! And he needs to be called out! I’ll just be saying what everyone else is thinking.”

You may have a point. And if your goal is to sever all ties with the team, burn a few bridges and have other coaches avoid your player because they don’t want to have to deal with his psycho parents, then be my guest. Storm right up into the dugout in the middle of a game and LET THAT COACH HAVE IT. Don’t just limit your diatribe to baseball related insults. Be sure to criticize his ethics, his intelligence, his job, his physique, his wife, his mother, his children and the vehicle he drives. And while you’re at it, call the assistant coaches “know-nothing pansies” for being associated with this clown. Don’t leave out the home plate umpire! After all, he’s being paid off by every team you’ve ever faced.

Once you and your humiliated kid have been tossed out of the tournament facility, you can pump your fist in pride. Because YOU TOLD THEM, alright. You really let ’em have it! Surely the coach will change his ways and become a better man thanks to your verbal assault.

On the other hand, if you’re hoping for a more solution focused conversation, here are some helpful tips for accomplishing that.

1. Ask your kid for his take on the situation. You might be surprised to learn that he has no idea what you’re talking about… or doesn’t see it as a problem. (A while back, we had a parent complain about the coach always “dumping” her son in the outfield. What she didn’t realize was that he had asked for that position and was happy there.) If you’re the only one with an issue, then maybe it’s not really an issue.

2. Encourage your kid to speak up for himself. This is hugely important. Stepping back and letting your player take that initiative shows him that you trust his ability to handle tough conversations. Plus, the coach will have more respect for him because he’s not letting Mom or Dad fight his battles. I can’t stress enough what a confidence builder this is. Kids can handle most of their own issues if we just give them a little guidance and step out of the way. (Every coach and player are different. So use your best judgment here.)

In his article, Approaching a Coach: How to do it the Right Way, former pro J.T. Putt uses this conversation starter.

“Hey Coach, I was wondering if I could talk to you for a second about playing time. I’m wondering what extra work I can do to put myself in a position to get on the field more. What are the areas that you see as my weaknesses and what drills can I use to turn those weaknesses into strengths?”

Notice the positive tone and how the kid wants to know what HE can do to get more playing time. What coach wouldn’t admire a kid who shows that kind of maturity?

3. Remember that the coach doesn’t view your kid the same way that you do. He might not see the future MLB All-Star that you see. While your player is your primary concern, the coach is trying to do what’s best for all 10, 11 or 12 kids on the team. Quite a balancing act. What’s great for one kid might cause another to feel like he’s getting the shaft. But if that kid gets what he wants all the time, then another player might be unhappy. It’s like the alternate endings in that old Keanu Reeves movie, The Butterfly Effect.

4. Do some role-playing and try to see the issue from the coach’s point of view. Try to come up with legitimate reasons that he might’ve done x, y or z.

5. Never NEVER NEVER try to have a serious conversation with the coach before, during or immediately after a game. ESPECIALLY NOT DURING THE GAME unless your child’s life is in immediate danger. Then, yeah, go ahead, if you must.

6. If something upsetting has happened during a game, give yourself time to cool down, (at least 24 hours) before speaking to the coach about it. This includes texting, emailing, FB messaging or sending him photos of yourself posing with deadly weapons.

7. When speaking to the coach, stay focused on the reason for your conversation. Resist the temptation to veer into team or league gossip or badmouthing other parents or players. You don’t want to be seen as THAT parent. As my granny used to say, “tend to your own side of the street and let other folks take care of theirs.” (Looking back, it’s kind of ironic because my grandmother was a notorious gossip. Maybe that advice really was just about curb appeal.)

8. Be willing to truly listen to what the coach has to say. Most of us are so busy trying to get our own points across that we miss important information. As I said earlier, put yourself in the coach’s shoes. Don’t bring unwarranted suspicions into the conversation such as “the coach has it out for your kid” or “he won’t care what you have to say because you’re not part of the inner circle.” Assumptions like these do nothing but sabotage a kid’s success on his team.

*** Sometimes the issue isn’t about your player at all. It might be a legitimate concern regarding team money allocation, use of guest players, lack of transparency…or any other topic that gets parental undergarments in a collective wad. Things like this are often most effectively addressed in a team parents’ meeting.

As usual, I had my husband James, a 10-year veteran Little League, rec league and travel ball coach read this post before I hit the publish button. He’s a pretty laid back guy who rarely gets his feathers ruffled (unless you eat all the ice cream and put the empty container back in the freezer).

He added his two cents below.

Write down your concerns and issues. Try to be very specific and factual, not emotional. Make a list of the 2 or 3 most important issues that you want to discuss, and stay focused on those.

Treat it like a conversation with your child’s teacher. Sometimes your kid has a ‘problem’ with their teacher. Arrange a good time for a meeting. Send a non-threatening email. Just like the coach, the teacher is doing the best they can for a lot of kids.

Also understand this, coaches are human. They make mistakes. They have priorities that might differ from yours. Most likely they are volunteering their time to help the team and your child. Respect that.

There are a dozen signs at our Little League that say “before you complain, have YOU volunteered?”

Travel Ball Parents is run by veteran baseball moms, Angela Weight of Richmond, VA and Kari Hicks of Buffalo, NY, covering all things travel ball related, with a big dose of humor thrown in. Visit our website travelballparents.com

Another email in response to Parents and Playing Time

Our article titled Parents and Playing Time continues to be a lightning rod. Below is the latest email we received from a dad concerned about his 11 year-old son’s soccer playing time. Below that, our response:

Good morning.  I just finished reading your article “Parents and Playing Time”.  I thought you did a great job giving the coach’s and parents perspective in youth sports.  My son has been playing soccer since he was five years old and just moved up this season to play U11.  I have been his coach every year, but this year I decided to take a step back to an assistant coach and allow a more experienced coach to take the lead.  We merged my team and his due to the number of players needed at this level.  We have a very competitive team and we haven’t lost a regular season game as of yet.  In the first few games my son played almost the entire game, but since that time he has seen his playing time diminish.  It seems like the head coach has lost confidence in his abilities.  He is a very strong defender, but this coach has been playing him in more of an offensive role.  Because he is learning this new position it seems it has affected his confidence and his play.  He seems out of place and at times lost on the field.  Up until this season, he has been used to playing almost the entire game.  Now he is playing about half of the game (or a little less than half).  My wife and I have explained to him the importance of practice and he has continued his commitment to that.  

I am at a loss as to how to proceed from here.  I am the assistant coach so I am in a little different position than most parents.  I don’t want to come across an overbearing parent, but I feel like my son is one of the better players on the team and should be playing more.  Is this something I should let play out for the remainder of the season and have a talk with the head coach at that time (we play again in the spring as the same team)?  Or, should I call the coach and have a conversation over the phone/in person?  

Any advice would be appreciated.  I want to keep this in perspective; it’s just hard to see your child get down on themselves and lose confidence in situations like this.  Thanks for reading this.

Our response:

Thank you for your note. I understand your frustration and have been there myself. I have a couple comments I hope will be helpful.

First, no I would not recommend you speak with the coach at this juncture or even after the season. In my article I mention that it is better for a child to work his/her own way up the ladder, rather than have his parents assert their influence to help them. As I wrote, let’s say you do cause the coach to play your son more. Is that how you want it to happen? So you and he will never know if he is deserving of the additional playing time? That might make you feel better temporarily, but when does it end? When he’s 13? 15? Sooner or later he is going to have to earn his playing time on his own and it is probably better sooner, rather than later.

The other issue with parents talking to coaches about their child’s playing time is if it gets the results they desire, someone else’s child is adversely affected. I’m sure you would not be happy if I talked to the coach about my son and suddenly he was starting and playing more minutes and now your son was playing less. I don’t think it is fair to a child whose parents are not getting involved to suffer because someone else is in the coach’s ear.

But most importantly, he is only 11. He is not going to lose his confidence unless you allow him to. He (and you) need to understand that it is a marathon, not a sprint. Who knows what will happen as kids grow and get older? I can tell you from experience watching numerous kids who were all-world at age 11 and 12, who peaked at age 13, and were surpassed by everyone they were once better than. We don’t know what kind of athlete your son will turn into, nor how the other kids on his team will pan out. Statistically speaking, many of them won’t still be playing at age 13+. So my advice would be to just encourage him to play his best, and if he doesn’t like the playing time he is getting now, work harder than anyone else with the knowledge that it will pay off down the road. And when it does, it will be much more gratifying. By speaking with the coach and convincing him to play him more you’ll actually be doing your son more harm than good in the long run.

Hope this makes sense.

Thanks again for your message and good luck.

Little League complaint…and a rebuttal

We found these comments on a Little League Facebook page. The first from a disenchanted grandparent, the next a response. Which side do you agree with?

I really didnt want to LIKE this page, however, my grandson has played at the (name of Little League) since he started in t-ball. This year is his last year there since he is 12. I wish he had never played this year, the coach of (withheld) only played him 2 innings every game. His mom attended all his games and so did my husband and I. I was so angry tonight at his coaches I pulled him from the game in the 4th inning. I think it is very sad that the coach finds it more important to play his child and the other coaches boys every inning and game. Every boy does not hit the ball everytime. It is not ALL about who hits the best. It’s about EVERY CHILD being able to do what they enjoy and try there hardest. I’m sorry but tonight I did get upset and speak loudly and voice my opinion. I am so glad that this was truly my grandsons last year there. Even the boys on the team was smart mouthed to him. The (Blank) LL is not the same and it’s the coaches fault……

With the number of players on any given Little League team, not every child will get the opportunity to play every inning every game. Little League is more about sportsmanship and teaching these young children how to LOSE. I am sure someone would rather be a part of the team and play sparingly, rather than not be a part of the team at all. The problem with the (Blank) LL DOES NOT start with the coaches, it starts with the parents and families of the children. Go watch the game, have a good time, and mind your business. No need for trash talking and coach bashing.

Even more on parents and playing time

Wednesday, we published an email a travel-ball coach sent to us about concerns his team’s parents were having with playing time. You can read that email and our response here. We got another email from this coach explaining his stance. We provided him with some new advice on a way to possibly address a parent who seemed greedy about their child’s time in the field.

(Coach’s email response):
Ironically, every boy on my team plays at least 2-3 innings a game depending if we are in the field for all 6 innings and I bat my entire lineup.  However, there are individuals that do play an entire game based on their ability.  
I understand.  I’ve been on both sides of this coin many times since I have multiple children in travel sports and know that a parent always wants more for their child, but an email that I received today just set me off and I am desperately trying to collect my thoughts and respond to the parent rather then react.  
This child, that I received this playing time complaint about is one of my starting pitchers and when he isn’t pitching, he plays the OF.
One can never please everyone all the time.

(Our reply):
Sounds like you have a fair system. It might be wise to ask this person which child they feel should have to sit out so that their boy can play more. That might put it into perspective for them.

More on parents and playing time

We received the following email from a coach of a travel baseball team. We thought we ‘d share his question and our response:

Dear Sir,

I am having some issues with parents and complaints of playing time for their sons thus far in our season.  Everyday I find myself in a dilemma on trying to win games and “being fair”.  We are a relatively new travel baseball team at the 10U level, and I do understand that the financial commitment is significant at this level and I do try to play all of my boys every game, but I still hear a lot of rumblings about playing time.  Each game, I prepare by attempting to place the best team that I feel can put us in the best position to remain competitive for all six innings, regardless of the outcome.  However, there is still complaints.  I was wondering if I may use your statement that you say that you have used to address playing time on your teams.  I feel that this is the best, most straightforward statement I’ve come across in trying to quell their issues with my ability to coach their children.  

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

(Name withheld)

Hi ____,

Thank you for reaching out. I am not sure which line you refer to, but sure, you are welcome to use it. I do, however, have a little concern with your comment about “trying” to play everyone  on your team each game at the 10U level. I believe if you read more of our articles on playing time etc. you’ll see we feel very strongly that at that age level there should never be a game where every player doesn’t get to play at least a couple of innings. That doesn’t necessarily mean that every player should get to pitch or play any position they want, but regardless of the financial commitment, if I had a 10 year-old who went to a game and didn’t get in the game at all, I’d have a problem.

Thanks again,