This is the time of year when fall season tryouts are in full swing and travel team coaches are morphing into analysts and forecasting strategists as they try their best to determine which players to keep, who to cut and which prospects to extend offers to. Of the three, cutting existing team members has got to be far and away the most unpleasant. It’s what gets coaches cursed at, labeled “daddy ballers” and accused of being heartless trophy chasers, regardless of how honorable their intentions are.
But it’s a necessary part of coaching.
There are lots of reasons for giving a player his or her walking papers. Under-performance, poor attitude, drama-producing parents, and I’m sure you can name a few more.
Unless we’re talking about a really young team, 7u, 8u, 9u, statistics are almost always the first place a coach looks when considering who to cut and who to keep. It makes sense to replace those with the lowest batting averages and highest number of errors with players who can contribute more substantially to team success. Most of the time, this strategy works fine. The released players are free to move on to a team that’s a better fit. And the original team hopefully finds a better fit as well.
There are times, though, when a team doesn’t exactly live happily ever after with their new and improved roster. In fact, sometimes the opposite happens. This may seem implausible to the person who bases their coaching a little too heavily on statistics and forgets to include the impact of chemistry, coachability, enthusiasm and camaraderie into their calculations. As they say, the game isn’t played on paper. (I’m not sure who “they” is, but there’s so much truth in this quote.)
A TBP reader and good friend confided in me last week that her son’s 12u spring season had been a prime example of this type of miscalculation. Like so many conversations with my baseball mom friends, it started with, “Hey Angela, I’ve got a topic that you should write a blog post about.”
Here’s her story.
“For the past two years, we’ve been one of the strongest teams in the state. Our travel ball experience was close to perfect. Excellent coaching, families who were all friends and players having a great time winning most of their games. But we got greedy. We wanted to be the best! (Well, the coaches did.) So we cut our three weakest players and brought on three of the best players from a team that was dissolving. None of us were happy about the decision. We felt like we were grieving the loss of three families we’d grown to love. But, ya know…that’s team sports for ya. Ya can’t stay together, holding hands and singing Kum Ba Ya forever.” (Those were her words. Not mine. Though I did get a chuckle out of them.)
It was obvious during the new season’s first tournament that something was amiss. “Our boys just seemed...flat. Nobody was chattering and laughing in the dugout like they always did. And their performance on the field was just so OFF!”
Everyone figured it was just new season jitters that would be worked out as the players got to know each other and bonded as a team.
But instead it got worse.
“So much for bigger and better travel team! We only won one tournament that whole season. And we were facing mostly the same competition as before. Players were bickering, blaming each other, competing against each other. It was not fun. About halfway through the season, my son started saying he was tired of baseball and wanted to quit. With the parents, it was also weird. The new families weren’t interested in getting to know any of us and had this attitude like they were doing us a favor by being there. They all sat together, far down the first baseline, away from the rest of us at every game. It hurt, because we really made an effort to include them and get to know their kids.”
Looking back over past seasons, in search of their missing mojo, it became painfully obvious that a good 75% of the team’s spirit and motivation departed with two of the players who were cut. Yes, technically they were bench players, but these boys were the fence cheerers, the ralliers, the talk ’em uppers and the first ones out of the dugout to high-five runners crossing home plate. Their contributions, though not measurable in numbers, were just as important as all the hits, runs and innings pitched noted in the score books. One of those boys’ moms had been the unofficial team social coordinator, planning meals out during tournaments and hosting pool parties on weekends off. It hadn’t occurred to anyone that her actions off the field were contributing to the team’s success on the field. There again, how do you measure the impact of team bonding?
My friend’s team is holding tryouts next week. Given what the coaches have learned from their last season, I get the feeling they’ll be evaluating much more than athleticism and skill.
In case you’re reading this thinking that I’m one of those touchy feely, “everyone-deserves-a-trophy” and no-one-should-ever-get-cut-from-a-team” kind of bloggers, I can assure you I’m not. My point here is to remind travel team coaches to look at each player and each family, not just from a score book perspective, but for all those other unquantifiable contributions that may go unnoticed until they’ not there anymore.
Got a topic you’d like us to write about? Message me on our Travel Ball Parents Facebook page.