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Tryouts Enable Coaches to Assess Best Fit of Both Players and Parents

Being a pushy parent may backfire, says longtime youth baseball coach

Establishing priorities

In the nick of time I got the registration process underway and had each family complete a one-page questionnaire asking about their goals for the upcoming season. Some of my more hardened, old-school coaching colleagues might have considered the survey a bit dorky, but I'm realizing it is difficult to pin down people on their priorities. I've talked to about 30 different parents and coaches in the last three weeks, and left to their own devices, adults are all over the map in terms of what they want from a youth baseball experience, what they value, what they expect from a coach, and what they're willing to sacrifice to make it all work.

I'm also realizing that people define terms very differently. To some, competition and winning are synonymous, while others see them as completely different ideas. Some rationalize winning by saying that it's a lot more fun to win than it is to lose, therefore if you focus on winning, you kill two birds with one stone. Most haven't thought much about any of these issues in any depth, and will, like lemmings, nod their heads in apparent agreement with whomever is talking.

To make families draw their own lines in the sand, I asked the following open-ended questions on the flip side of the registration form: "It will be a successful season if [fill in the blank]," and "I/we will be disappointed at the end of next season if [fill in the blank]."

I also had them rank their top three priorities from these six:

  • Winning
  • Playing with your current friends
  • Learning the game
  • Having fun
  • Playing at the highest level possible
  • Being competitive

As the parents and kids worked through these answers, each kid applied one of the large stickers to his chest with a number between 1 and 30 on it so we could easily identify him on the field. I felt a little like a clerk at a governmental agency, processing paperwork and trying to keep things organized, but, fortunately, Robert and Sam were there to help and get the kids warmed up. This was turning out to be an excellent process, at least until a wind gust blew half of my forms and stickers across the diamond! I'm no gazelle to begin with and there's just no graceful or dignified way to chase paper in the wind.

Eventually we found a rhythm, Sam and Robert hit balls while they made mental notes, and I wrote down what I saw. But it was difficult to quickly refer back and forth to my list of player numbers and rate them on their performance. By the time we were done with a certain drill and had the timing and sequencing figured out, it was on to the next one. After 15 minutes I ditched my numerical rating system in favor of three columns: yes, no and maybe. That simplified my world and the goal became to move the "maybes" into one of the other columns based on what I saw.

About 30 minutes into the tryout I discovered there was a set of identical twins. They were sporting their uniforms from the previous season, and obviously, had the same name stitched on the back. The only way I could tell them apart was the numbers 34 and 36 on the back . . . close enough to confuse the heck out of me! I was panicked! I couldn't tell which was which! They somehow slipped through a flaw in my registration process. I struggled for about 10 minutes, missing a whole group of kids catching fly balls while trying to sort it out. I was then hit with a blinding glimpse of the obvious . . . it really didn't matter . . . I'm sure their parents considered the kids a package deal. I couldn't offer just one a spot on the team . . . duh!

Near the end of the tryout I had one kid inform me very matter-of-factly that he was by far the best player on the team. He proceeded to tell me what the other kids were doing wrong and why he was a better player as he shagged balls in left field and we watched others take batting practice. He had talent, but sadly, I saw that he wouldn't be fun to be around - for me or the other kids. Nope . . . wasn't going to work. I didn't need that dynamic on my team, even if he was the second coming of Babe Ruth.

Ultimately Sam, Robert, and I got a good look at 25 kids who loved baseball and just wanted to play. We saw some kids who have talent and others that have relied solely on their passion for the game to get them this far. Hats off to both groups and all in between. A tryout is a scary thing - there's nowhere to hide and it's difficult to soften the sting of not making the cut. We realized there's plenty of talent to choose from and there will be enough kids to form at least one other team.