A few days ago I posted the meme below on our Travel Ball Parents Facebook page. To my surprise, it soared in popularity, shared nearly 41,000 times (just from our page alone).
Yet it’s also been the most controversial thing I’ve posted in months. Like a sports parenting version of the Laurel vs Yanny debate, people were squarely on one side or the other. No fence sitters. And with typical social media bravado, many were hurling insults at complete strangers from their smart phones as fast as their thumbs could type.
I was slightly surprised at the black-and-white thinking of so many of us. No in between. Pick a side!
- If a kid is sitting the bench, then he/she must not be working hard enough.
- If a kid is sitting the bench, it’s because the coach is an unfair daddy-baller giving his own player and friends’ kids all the playing time.
When I originally posted the piece, I’d have wholeheartedly circled #1 on the pretend voting ballot above. But the more I considered the argument, well, it’s just not that simple. (As things seldom are.)
We’re told all our lives that hard work pays off…and most of the time, it does.
But not always. And when it doesn’t, daddy ball unfairness is not always the problem (much to the dismay of those who make a habit of blaming the coach for everything from bench time to climate change).
Here are four “riding-the-pine” situations which don’t fall under reasons #1 or #2.
1) The kid just isn’t that great of a ball player. (This is by far the most common scenario of the four.) Clichés like “practice makes perfect” promote the assumption that hard work will improve a person’s performance. (And 9 times out of 10, it probably does.) But we’ve all seen kids who work their butts off but are still among the weakest on their team. Some players are unknowingly practicing wrong mechanics, are working on the wrong things, etc. You could argue that this is the coach’s fault for not correcting the kid’s weaknesses and developing him to be just as strong as the three-hole hitter. But as I’ve covered in many other posts, the coach is a human being who has a finite amount of time and his own imperfections, like not spending as much time with his weaker players as he should (depending on the age group).
Last fall, a friend of my son’s was cut from a team he’d played on for years. He hustled as hard as he could at every practice, took batting and pitching lessons each week, had a great attitude and was always ready to jump in anywhere he was needed. But he just wasn’t progressing at the rate of the other players. His parents were clearly frustrated that their 13u son who worked so hard for playing time, was still on the bench half the time. But it was obvious to everyone that he wasn’t at the same level as his teammates. There was no “daddy ball,” no hidden agenda, no unfair persecution. What was unfair was keeping this kid on a team where he couldn’t keep up with his peers. He didn’t need to work harder than he already was. What he needed was to drop down to a AA team where he could contribute on a more even playing field with kids who were at his same level.
There is NO shame in that. One could argue that the coach should’ve released him sooner. Yeah, well, maybe. I’ll save that topic for another post. The bottom line: Hard work alone doesn’t earn playing time. Hard work that leads to improved skills, making the player an asset to the team is what earns playing time.
2) It’s His Attitude. At a recent team tryout, I watched a big, strong kid launch several balls deep into the outfield. He was clearly a good athlete. You could tell just by the way he carried himself. From what I observed, any team would be lucky to have him. A couple days later when the final roster was posted, I was surprised to not see his name. Thinking the coaches were idiots for not snatching him up, I asked why.
“Oh NO! We’re not going near that one! He’s NOT a team player, he blames his teammates for everything that goes wrong, doesn’t take responsibility for his actions and creates too much drama in the dugout. On his last team, his mouth got him benched more than his performance did,” replied one of the coaches. Sad.
3) The player is too specialized…or not versatile enough. Years ago, on a 12u team, we had a kid who was a great first baseman and not terribly interested in playing any other position. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the team’s only great first baseman, a fact that was discovered during his absence one weekend. In fact, the substitute first baseman, one could argue, was better at the position than the first kid. The coach tried to train him in the outfield, as a pitcher and really hoped he’d be interested in catching, as the team desperately needed a backup catcher. However, our friend was steadfast in his dedication to 1B and he worked very hard in practice… but he just didn’t fit into any of the positions where the coach could’ve used him the most. This definitely cost him playing time.
4) He isn’t following team rules. Some coaches’ rules may seem ridiculous, but they’re rules nonetheless. No cursing. Be on time to practice. Show up with all your gear or get benched. No showing insubordination. (See #2)
No swimming on game day has always been a biggie. A star player on our team once attended a pool party on the afternoon before that night’s all-star game. An hour later, photos of the kid jack knifing off the diving board showed up on Facebook where the coach saw his stunt and immediately substituted his spot in the lineup.
The parents were livid! They refused to acknowledge their/the kid’s responsibility for his bench time. In their minds, it was all because that SOB was an unfair daddy ball coach who didn’t care about anyone but his own child. The coach patiently explained to them why the boy wasn’t playing, but they would have none of it. It was easier for them to cry unfairness and play victims than to accept the consequences of breaking a rule. So in their minds, the coach was a horrible person who “had it out” for their innocent kid.
I even heard the mom say that it was because the coach was “jealous” of their kid. Okay, here’s a TBP soapbox rant. I get sick parents claiming that teammates/team parents don’t like them or avoid them because they’re just jealous. Honestly, when you’re always bragging about your kid’s athletic ability, his accomplishments, his invitations to other teams, his honor roll AGAIN, your new car, the cruise you just went on, all your social connections, blah, blah, blah….No one is jealous of you. They just don’t want to be around you. Ever notice how no one is “jealous” of the quiet all-star kid whose parents mind their own business and stay out of team drama? There’s a reason for that. End of rant.
Team rules are for everyone. And any coach worth his clipboard will enforce them consistently and equally. If your kid is benched because he broke a rule, then he needs to stop breaking rules.
Final thoughts. I’m not saying that “daddy ball” doesn’t exist. It does. And the motivations of a daddy ball coach are certainly to blame for some kids’ excessive bench time….. but not as often as many of us think.