It will happen at some point. You’ll wake up on a Monday morning after a weekend tournament and ask yourself whether it might make sense for your son to switch to another team after the end of the season. Been there. I didn’t take these thoughts lightly. It would be ideal if your son could play on the same travelball team and never need to change. So much easier. Click here to read about how to choose a travelball program. But things change from time to time. The only thing that’s constant in travel baseball is change. Some of these changes are good for your player. Some aren’t so good. It’s your job as a parent to decide whether the changes might require you to look elsewhere for another team. It happens. So what are some of the signs?
All About The Gamechanger Stats
When your coaching staff adopts a “Moneyball” mentality and ignores conventional wisdom and common sense when making batting, pitching and defensive decisions, you need to be on a heightened alert. Stats only tell part of the story. You have a kid that smokes four line drives right at somebody while another kid (i.e. the coach’s son) hits four flairs and goes 4 for 4. The coach’s son with four flairs suddenly moves up in the lineup while the kid who hits line drives is relegated to the back. And then there’s the kid that has a high OBP because he would rather walk than swing? To bad for the aggressive hitter that always puts the ball into play but gets out more often than the kid who always walks. “You can’t walk off the island,” my Dominican friend would say in Spanish. I understand that coaches are looking for objective ways to prove to parents that their decisions aren’t biased but it’s ridiculous to rely so heavily on stats especially when kids at this age are so inconsistent and change mechanics weekly.
Pigeonholed into a position
Kids in youth travelball need to learn to play at least three positions in my opinion. Outfield and two infield positions. Or outfield, one infield position and pitcher. When I say infield, your middle infielders should be interchangeable. SS should know 2B and 2B should know SS. Ideally, your corner infielders should be interchangeable provided they’re right-handed throwers. When a coach on the big field asks your son where he plays, he should be able to say pretty much anywhere. You want your son to be a baseball player, not just a shortstop. But if a coach plays him in just one position all season, sure he’ll get comfortable and he’ll know what to do in almost every situation. And the team will win more trophies when players are pigeonholed. But suddenly put him on a team (HS, Showcase, USA Baseball) where he has to play a different position in order to be in the lineup or sit the bench, what good did it do to pigeonhole him to win some trophies on the small field?
More about Tactics than Development
Here’s a video that Domingo Ayala put together on bunt defense. It’s a must watch if you haven’t seen it already.
Hilarious, but so true. If your team spends practice after practice running through its 25 different bunt defenses, 10 first and third throws, and 12 hidden ball plays, its time to leave. What good are the plays when players can’t even throw and catch because they don’t take that part of the game seriously? Skill development first, tactics second. If coach calls for a hit and run, can the batter even put it on the ground with his uppercut home run swing? Can he lay down a bunt on demand? Do they teach baserunners how to read a batted ball and run the bases properly (without the coach yelling direction)? Coaches should be overcoaching on “how” to play the game so the players can play the game using their own by instinct rather than waiting for the coach to tell them what to do. Go watch a 16u Showcase team at a PG national championship tournament. At most, they might have five signs total with very little direction in between (of course, the third-base coach would hold a runner every now and then, but that’s pretty much it).
So you have four coaches. Their sons happen to bat lead-off through cleanup and play only the infield. Plus they’re your number one through four starting pitchers. They will get the most reps, both in practice and in games. They can do no wrong. It is a frustrating scenario in which your player is being used to round out a lineup card since these four cannot play on their own. Time to leave.
Invariably your player will hit a rough patch. Whether at the plate, in the field, or on the mound. But the most important thing at this age is that their confidence remains high. Particularly if the coach feels it is necessary to drop your player in the batting order, move him out of a position, or reduce his innings pitched. I don’t have a problem in adjusting the lineup if a player has consistently struggled or if another player has really stepped it up, but what’s more important is how that adjustment is communicated to the player that will be dropping. Some coaches will fail to communicate or say something stupid that busts their confidence completely. This is a warning sign. In my opinion, a coach needs to be upfront with the player but at the same time, he should let the player know that there is a pathway back to where he was with additional hard work and results. Confidence is everything.
If it seems like two new players are always guest-playing each weekend or if your team suddenly cuts two players mid-season in order to add two new “studs”, then you probably have coaches that are looking to recruit their way to wins rather than developing their way to wins. Its all fine and dandy until they bring in somebody that takes reps from your son or if your son hits a rough spell and he goes to the bottom of the Gamechanger stats. He might be on the cut-list soon enough. There is very little loyalty on such a team. You either need to accept that this could be a possible outcome or you go looking for a team that has longevity with a majority of their players and is built on development rather than recruiting.
If pitchers don’t have a pitch count or inning limit, run for the hills. If there’s a team-imposed pitch count or inning limit, but the coach constantly goes to the parents to see if its okay for their player to pitch ” a little” longer, then run for the hills. If a player pitches in both little league and travelball, but the coach turns his eye to the number of little league pitches the player threw during the week, run for the hills. There needs to be a plan for pitch count or inning limits for each week, including pitches thrown during little league play. And there needs to be an overall limit to how many pitches or innings a player should throw during the entire season, also including little league pitches thrown. The travelball coach needs to strictly monitor and track these numbers. He should not leave it up to the parent or the little league coach.
There are some parents that will buddy-up to the coach. BBQs. Golfing. Social events. Facebook friends. Family vacations. Whether this is intentional or not, it makes it very difficult for a coach to do what a coach has to do when the player of their friend hits a rough spell or goes into a funk. It can really hurt the team when the coach shows favoritism towards this player. It happens all the time. When you see a lead-off hitter who is 0-20 with a .050 OBP but you also see the coach coming back from a fishing trip with the player’s dad all “buddy-buddy,” don’t expect to see that player moved down in the order anytime soon. Where this hurts most is when that same player starts to take reps away from your son in both practices and in games. Totally undeserved and time to leave.