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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

Difficult phone calls

Although it was stressful to organize, the energy, excitement, and hope of a tryout is a pretty cool thing. Until, that is, you have to start making choices and explain your decisions to parents.

Over the next 48 hours I flashed back several times to the classic baseball movie, Bull Durham. Twice in the film, the manager of the Durham Bulls Single-A minor league team had to tell a player he was being released and that his services were no longer needed. Each time, he would start the conversation the same way, with the same speech: "This is the toughest job a manager has . . . BUT, the organization has decided to make a change . . ."

It's no fun telling parents that it isn't going to work. I don't like being the guy who breaks the news that they need to keep searching for a team. I tried to be honest with parents, but at the same time give them hope and encouragement that they'll find the right situation. There were, however, a couple of exceptional cases that didn't come down to talent, numbers, or position alignment, but rather to problems with parents. Although I wanted to run fast and far from these people, I still had to be careful how I delivered that message.

It's unrealistic to expect a volunteer coach to tell a parent, "Yeah, I thought your kid has talent and he'd help us win a lot of games. You may be right: we might be a better team with him. However, you and your husband are complete whack-jobs. Including you on my team would lead to conflict, anger, division, and eventually, outright rebellion of either the 10 sets of sane parents or the coaching staff or both. From the little I've witnessed, your presence would be a cancer that would eventually kill the spirit of this team. I'm not willing to endure nine months of that kind of torture. All of this means, unfortunately, that your son will be penalized because your ego, dysfunctional personality, and/or misguided expectations for the kid, team, coach, and other parents is a hornet's nest I'm not willing to stir."

Yeah, right. Some things are better left unsaid.

I'm happy to report, though, I had only two sets of parents fit that mold. The worst of the two conversations started with mom. Upon hearing the news that I didn't have room for her son, she asked me no fewer than 15 questions about the other kids on my team, what their qualifications were, why I had selected them, and why they were better choices than her son. Of course I didn't provide answers, but it certainly didn't stop her from asking. Woodward and Bernstein were less thorough while interrogating sources as they broke Watergate. But I held the line.

Her suggestion was that, since she wasn't satisfied with my explanation, I call her husband on his cell phone. Although he was on business travel, she assured me he would have questions she wasn't able to think of on such short notice. She actually gave me the number believing I'd call.

Most of my conversations though, were short and to the point. My explanations were about skill levels and numbers. And those parents, while disappointed, understood the situation and accepted the news, ready to move on. I genuinely wished them well.

Losing perspective

The biggest eye-opener in this whole tryout/selection/notification process was how terrible parents are at assessing the talent of their kids. They can do a pretty good job of determining skill levels of players if their son or daughter is not on the field; put the kid in the mix, though, and the parent becomes incapable of objectively ranking ability. They lose perspective, they rationalize, and they include their hopes, dreams, and the voices of their egos in the assessment. I'm now a believer that tryouts are helpful, if not essential. It's critical that coaches help determine the level at which kids should compete.

With the tryout behind me, I can toss aside the general manager's hat and focus on the baseball part of being a baseball coach. We have 11 kids and their parents ready to make a journey together. Opening day can't get here fast enough!

A Perfect Season book coverAdapted from the book, A Perfect Season: A Coach's Journey to Learning, Competing, and Having Fun in Youth Baseball (Quiet Path 2010) by Dan Clemens. It is available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and other bookstores.

Dan Clemens is a leadership and communications consultant, and has been a youth coach for 10 years. You can email him at Dan@CoachClemens.com.

Posted July 24, 2011