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

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