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You'll Make All-Stars Next Time

by Dave
Thursday, May 03, 2007

Christine writes in as follows:
"My daughter has been playing softball for four seasons.   Over time she has improved.   Last year she decided to try out for the All-Star team - alas she did not make it.   Of course she was upset.   This year she tried again and did not make it.   What I don't like about the process is that the coaches don't tell you why you weren't chosen.   It would be nice to know so that we can work on those skills.   Another observation I have noted is that it seems that most of the girls that make the All-Star teams are the daughters of coaches or a Board member.   The bottom line is this, I would like for my daughter to continue to hone her skills but with the rec season coming to a close I am at a loss.   Please advise."

Christine, there is nothing unique to your circumstances.   All across these great United States, the same thing is happening in every town.   Millions of parents will soothe the bitterness which comes from not being selected for the rec league's all-star team by saying something like "don't cry - maybe you'll make the all-star team next year.   We'll practice tons, I promise and next year you'll show them all."   That does absolutely nothing for the kid but what else do we have at our disposal?   We can get mad about the kid who was selected for the all-stars who never actually made a play in the field, except for those horrendous errors and never actually got a hit but mostly struck out on pitches over her head during the entire rec season.   Why did she make the team?   Because her parent is a coach or board member, of course.

There is a riddle or connundrum in there someplace but the fact remains, your kid didn't make all-stars and that other kid did.   The usual reaction from the other side goes like this, "if you care so much, why aren't you involved, why aren't you a coach, why aren't you on the board?"   Well, that's all fine and good but the fact remains it isn't always so simple.   You can volunteer until you are blue in the face and sometimes, you just aren't close enough to the clique which runs things.   I know this for a fact.   I have experienced it first hand.

Many years ago, when my children were very young, I got the required safety training and volunteered to be a coach.   The league "forgot" to assign me to a team.   Then they placed my kids on a team and told me I could help out there.   I would be an assistant-assistant coach but that wouldn't qualify me for one of those special baseball (I do mean baseball) caps they hand out to the team, I wouldn't be on the field at all unless the manager needed me to be, and I wouldn't actually have any responsibilities.   They forgot to mention all this to the team's manager who saw things differently, saw me as some sort of intruder.

The team's coach was pretty sure she knew the game well because she had participated in college intramurals once.   She knew darn well that a third baseman plays behind the bag and that pitchers cover first on grounders to the first baseman.   She really knew the game and didn't need my help!

She didn't need my help until her assistant had several back operations - in a series of serious back operations he had undergone over a lifetime of trouble after a serious injury.   Then she needed me to put the equipment bag in my car and lug it to every practice and game.   But she didn't need any help coaching the team ... until ... she had a bogus back surgery for her bogus back injury incurred in a phony car accident after which she sued a close friend who was driving the car when the accident occurred.   Then and only then I was needed to coach the team but I still was not an official coach!   I wasn't in the club.

So we went through that season and then it was time to make recomendations for the all-star team.   I was involved in the evaluations but somebody made a mistake and circulated the finished product to me.   I couldn't believe my eyes.   The kids of the official coaches received glowing evaluations.   Other, in my view, more deserving kids received average marks.   My kids did OK and they were chosen to play all-stars but that's another story.   The best kids on our team did not receive good marks for their abilities.

I say my kids were chosen for all-stars and that's because the folks who coached the team had the final say.   They weren't absolutely bound by the evaluations.   They needed my kids on the all-star team so they asked me if they could join it and then they asked me to be a coach.   I agreed and off we went.   As things progressed, the other coaches and I had great laughs regarding some of the evaluations - they were that far off the mark.   I wasn't in the club per se but this was my initiation.   And I guess I passed.   The following year I was asked to be a rec league manager.

The interesting part of that year I managed was that I removed my older daughter from the rec league because I didn't think it would benefit her.   The only play she had enjoyed was the all-star team because they had girls there who could actually catch the ball when she threw it to them - that wasn't the case in rec.   She went over to travel and has never played rec ball since.   Thge lessons learned have stuck with me and we don't particpate in rec any longer.

I've told you that this year the rec league put together all-star / travel teams at the various age groups.   But these seem to involve the same sort of back-scratching which pervaded the all-star selection process.   They started with coaches, those coaches put their daughters on the team and then placed a few of their friends there.   Then they started looking for ballplayers because they realized that this team would actually have to play against some teams, perhaps some good teams.   They conducted tryouts which were reasonably well attended.   Some few girls stood out and were asked to join travel.   Everybody else was left hanging in limbo - they not only didn't explain why these kids didn't make the team, they often didn't bother to tell those they didn't choose that they hadn't made the team.   I talked to several sets of parents and was asked for advice about what they should do.   I had no easy answers and explained that this happens sometimes.

As an aside, I want to explain the manner in which I handled girls who did not make my travel team.   I made contact with each and every one of them via either a phone call or an e-mail.   If you think my articles are long, you should check out my e-mails!   One of these was 8 printed pages long and explained everything from soup to nuts about why I had not chosen the girl in question to join us.   I won't go over every comment but I did say things like, "I thought Sally was very athletic for her size but I feel that she is just too small this year to play at this level.   I expect her to try out again next year and I'm sure that with another year's growth, she will make my team."   "I can see that Sara is going to be a very good pitcher but I tried out 12 pitchers and can only take 4.   Several of the girls I have chosen have been pitching for two more years than Sara.   Even considering that, I believe Sara will be just as good as any of them with one more year's preparation."   I went into great detail about some of the girls' attributes and why I did not choose them for my team.   I explained every perception I had, discussed the limitations of what can be done in a one day tryout, and even offered up suggestions for the areas of each kid's games which i thought needed improvement most.   I viewed myself not just as some idiot coach trying out the kid but a mentor for at least that one day.   Most rec all-star coaches don't see things like that.

Most rec all-star coaches see the all-star thing as a way to extend their daughter's softball experience.   In other words, they're in it for themselves.   That is very much human nature.   Most people, most of the time are just out for themselves and their own family.   Human beings are not nearly as altruistic as some would have you believe.   That's true in the workplace, the supermarket, school, and even in recreational softball leagues.   You just can;t get past that.   And you can't get past the politics which pervade recreational softball leagues either.   You're either in the club or you're not.   And if you're not, your kid is not going to get chosen for all-stars unless she really stands out - unless they need her.

Christine ended her question with the following: "The bottom line is this, I would like for my daughter to continue to hone her skills but with the rec season coming to a close I am at a loss.   Please advise."   I believe there are two alternatives, one is to make hger daughter so good that all-stars can't ignore her and the other is to find something else.   The trouble with getting so good they can't ignore you is that then the kid won't want to play rec ball any more.

The path to getting so good the all-star coaches need you involves working on fundamental skills like throwing and catching.   Some parents have a good enough knowledge base to teach their kids to throw properly and some do not.   If you feel truly competent, the thing to do is work on those mechanics and play catch all the available free time you can muster.   if you do not, find yourself a good coach and shell out a few bucks to get some tutelage.   Pay close attention to what the coach is telling your kid so you can reinforce these skills.   if you can find some camps which will A) be fun and B) teach good fundamentals, enroll your daughter in one.   Gte as much playing/practicing time for her as possible.   Have her throw (properly, of course) several times a week during the summer months.   Take her out to a field and hit a few grounders and pops to her once each week or two.   Practice the skills necessary to make a better ball player and make sure everything you do is fun.   Buy her a batting tee and work on some hitting skills using whiffle balls.   Pitch balls to her.   Do everything and anything fun you can think of to work softball skills.   Then next year I think you'll see quite an improvement.   And the all-star coaches will take note.

Another option is to locate some sort of travel team which plays after your rec season.   This is going to take some leg work and it might be a bit too late right now to find a team.   But you won't know this unless you get busy and start calling and e-mailing teams.   I did this too late one year but ended up finding a team which needed kids for the fall.   That worked out great.   And during the summer I was able to practice and play with my kids in the yard and at the field so that when they got there in September, they were ready to go.

The trick is knowing your kid.   I believe any kid who really wants to play that badly can learn to be proficient to the point of making a travel team.   All she really needs is for her parents to help her improve her skills.   The biggest thing any parent can do is play catch regularly.   The second thing is to either teach the kid to throw properly or find someone who can.   Then the parents responsibility changes to being one of reinfocing proper mechincs and providing adequate practice time.

These are my suggestions to Christine and to anyone who is currently patting their daughter on the back while saying "maybe you'll make all-stars next year."   Recognize the limitations of rec ball and the human beings who run it.   Set a goal and then achieve it.   Enjoy the game despite the small mindedness of so many people associated with it.   If your daughter really just wants to play more, try to make all-stars but also take a look at travel.   There are politics in travel as there are everywhere else.   But once you get on such a team, you'll never look back.   One day the small-time travel team your daughter plays for will organize a scrimmage with the town all-star team.   That will be an ejoyable day.


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