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.

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Tension between parents and league

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You Can’t Teach Instinct

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

I was watching a college basketball game on television and saw a player make a play that did not warrant any ‘oohs” and “aahs” from the commentators, and it was not shown on replay or on any highlight shows the next day. But it struck me because I realized that no coach had taught this kid to make this play. And it got me thinking about the way most youngsters today are learning their sports.

On this particular play, the player was heading toward the basket full-speed when he received a pass from underneath. Without even dribbling he went up for a fake shot, then made a perfect pass back underneath for a layup. He had less than a second to process where he was, where the defender was, and where the basket and his teammate were. He simply reacted. There was no time for thought.

No coach could have possibly taught him that move. I can’t imagine a scenario where a coach would slow practice down and work on this exact situation so that a player would have that in his repertoire. Rather, that came from years of trial and error, probably playing pick-up games for hours on end.

Do our kids get enough of that? Of course, there is a place for structured practice. The fundamentals need to be taught through various drills. There is value to private, one-on-one lessons for those who can afford to send their kids. But if you had to choose, would you want your kids to have the best technique, or the best instinct?

Kids should be encouraged to play on their own, away from structured coaching. This is not only good for their athletic instincts, but for their life skills as well.

My boys were lucky that there were three of them, pretty close in age, and they had a cul-de-sac that they could use as a wiffle ball field. They drew bases in chalk and had tournaments against each other that lasted weeks. They made up their own rules, settled their own disputes, but most importantly, they played and learned. Learned when they could take that extra base. Learned how to make a fake throw and tag someone out.

When I ran practices, “Live Situations” was always part of the plan. We’d essentially play a live game in a controlled environment where we coaches could stop the action and praise something a player did right and explain to the team why and how he did it. We could also correct mistakes. It was like a scrimmage but with a pause, rewind and play button.

I’m thinking of all the boys and girls my children’s ages who spent countless afternoons alone with some private instructor honing their mechanics. Many of them had and are having success in their athletic careers so I’m not criticizing it. But I wonder if they’d have had as much benefit or more from just playing.

Now, as I’ve written before, I understand that in this day and age it isn’t as easy as it might have been thirty years ago to tell grade-school kids to just go down to the school and to be home at dark. But imagine if ten families, each paying for their child to attend individual private lessons at various locations, instead, all paid one tenth of the amount to one coach who would simply supervise them play against each other at a field without saying a word. That sounds kind of radical, but why? What if, in lieu of coaches, parents all rotated and took a day to do the same thing, and let the kids organize it all?

This may just be a fantasy of mine, but I don’t see how anyone could argue the benefit. Again, there is a time and a place for structured coaching. But if you want to see your young players really learn how to “play”, that’s exactly what they’ll have to do.

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