Using a guest player* (or pick-up player) is a normal part of travel ball. It’s common practice for a coach to invite a kid from another team to fill in for a player who is absent for whatever reason.
Unfortunately, this can whip up a whirlwind of parent drama faster than you can say “be our guest.” And coaches almost never anticipate this reaction. So when planning their beginning-of-the-season team parent meeting, it doesn’t occur to them to add “talk about guest player rules and protocols” to the agenda.
Here are the two main guest player issues that can (and will) cause an uproar if not addressed up front.
How will playing time for the guest player be determined?Will team members ever be benched in favor of guest player?
- How will the guest player’s portion of the tournament fees be paid?
Let’s take a look at the first issues and the potential for violence it can lead to if not cleared up ahead of time.
Here’s the bottom line.
If I were you, I would NEVER EVER EVER EVER promise parents that guest players won’t get more playing time than some team members. If you do, and then contradict yourself later, it’ll come back to haunt you for the rest of your coaching career. Maybe your life. And afterlife.
Some of you are sitting there saying to yourselves “But I would NEVER put in a guest player over one of my own team members.”
Okay, even if you wouldn’t and think Hell would freeze over before you chose a guest player over one of your own, just don’t verbalize that to a parent. Any parent. (Not even your own mom and dad. There’s no telling who they might talk to.)
During the younger years of travel ball, the fine line between player development and playing to win can become blurry. Some parents believe that if they pay for their kid to be part of a team then that means guaranteed playing time. While I won’t step down into that discussion quicksand, I will say that guest players are a particular thorn in the side of a pay-to-play parent. Therefore, not making any promises about playing time will save a lot of heartache in the future. It might even save your life.
I’ve done you the favor of writing out what you should say about guest players at your pre-season parent meeting. You can’t set expectations any lower than this. So it’s a good place to start.
“Parents, as you know, if any of our team members are absent during a game or tournament, we may have to pick up a guest player to fill their spots. When this occurs, I’ll do my best to find the biggest, strongest, fastest, strike throwing, home run hitting utility player in the area who doesn’t already have plans that weekend. He’ll bat third, pitch, catch and probably play all other defensive positions, though, not at the same time.
If you feel that your kid’s playing time will be threatened by this, please note that there are eight other positions available in any given inning. If you still feel that your kid’s playing time will be jeopardized by said guest player….and this isn’t fair because you PAY for your kid to be on the team, then once again, note that there are eight other positions on the field. If your kid is on the bench, then he probably needs to work harder.”
End of speech (now run for cover)
Coaches, even if you don’t mean a word of this speech, and just reading it sort of horrifies you, go ahead and say it to parents anyway. If you set the bar low enough, they won’t have any reason to complain when you do actually make little Charlie sit an inning so that guest player, Bennie “The Jet” Rodriguez, can put away the top of the opposing team’s order.
Feel free to write your own guest player speech and word it however you please. Just make sure that you do address the topic, up front, before the season starts. The worst thing a coach can do is to just not ever mention guest players until one is needed.
Then one day out of the blue, you just casually tell parents, “we’re picking up Jacob from the Crushers this weekend because Ben has Malaria.”
Come Saturday, as soon as little Charlie’s mama sees her baby boy on the bench while some kid without a valid birth certificate takes his place in center field, you will have HELL to pay, Sir.
Better tell your wife to go guard your truck in the parking lot.
Issue #2: Who pays the guest player’s portion of the tournament fees? Usually the team does, because, well, he’s your “guest.”
Again, it doesn’t matter how your team decides to cover the expense, as long as you let parents know up front. Little Charlie’s mama is already madder than a wet hen about a pick-up player stealing her boy’s spot for an inning. But when she finds out she’s helping pay for the team wrecker to be there…well, Sir, you might better hire a body-guard.
Just to recap…threats, property damage, gossip, bodily harm…the kind related to guest players, anyway. It can all be avoided if you discuss this topic with parents up front, before the season starts. Better yet. Write down your guest player rules and procedures. Print it in triplicate and get it notarized. Make sure every parent signs and returns a copy to you.
And then STICK TO IT!!!!!!!
–Oh, one other thing: When ordering team uniforms, be sure to get a couple extra jerseys for guest players to wear. You want them to feel a part of the team, don’t you.
*If you’re really new to travel ball, a guest player is one that’s brought in to replace a team member who is absent. It can be for a few innings, a game, a tournament or a few weeks. Guest players aren’t always used to replace a team member. Sometimes a coach will bring in an ace pitcher or a heavy hitter to help them compete against stronger competition or help improve their record if the team has been struggling.