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by Dave
Monday, April 20, 2009

At this early juncture in the new softball season (season in terms of school, recreational and travel ball), I find it necessary to define some terms.   My reasons for defining terms should become patently obvious but suffice it to say that my motivatiopn has to do with some misconceptions I have heard along the sidelines already this year.   I also feel that for those somewhat new to the game, knowing a few terms would be handy.   So, here goes.

First let's start with some very basic terms.   We'll move on to the more important stuff, the crux of the matter, before long so please be patient.   The first terms I want to bring up are in regards to playing level.

The lowest level is what is commonly referred to as recreational (or rec) ball.   This level is generally sanctioned by a town, village or group of towns or villages.   Fields are typically owned and maintained by local government with tax money but can very often involve those owned by the local government which are leased (for very little money) or ceded to some recreational organization for its exclusive or mostly exclusive use.   In these cases, the local organization often maintains the fields, runs the snack bar, keeps the common areas clean, etc.

Recreational ball is most often open to anyone within the specific geographic location who wants to play, who signs up in accordance with the league's practices, and who comes out for the league's tryouts and draft.   Tryouts is probably a misnomer because nobody is generally excluded based on performance.   "Tryouts" are usually conducted to rate players for the specific purpose of balancing the teams in terms of players' abilities.   It should be a rec league's goal to have teams playing against each other which are as closely matched as possible.   However, often adults involved in rec leagues try to skew talent towards their own daughters' teams which often defeats the purpose behind the league which is, of course, to create an environment for recreation.

There are some (few?) rec leagues which are not restricted by geographic location.   These leagues, while often involving town supported facilities, can be open to anyone who wishes to sign up and pay the league fee.   They exist mostly for purposes of providing an activity to town residents but for one reason or another the town sought to broaden its draw.   Little Leagues generally are restricted to residents within specific postal zip codes, and for good reason, but there are many rec leagues outside of Little League which do not have any such restrictions.

Very often recreational leagues have all-star programs in which the most talented players get together outside the confines of the rec league and practice and play games against other town all-star teams.   It should be noted that many town all-star teams feature travel ball players and can be as competitive as any travel team.   But we differentiate between "town all-stars" and travel teams because an "all-star" team SHOULD include only players who ordinarilly are found within the rec league which sponsors the all-star team.

Some of the better "all-star" teams will play tournaments against the best travel teams and compete favorably against them.   Some "all-star" teams evolve into travel teams which seek the best players they can accumulate regardless of residence or participation in any rec league.   These teams often "hide" behind the all-star label and are really travel teams with a town name.

When we refer to travel teams, sometimes referred to as club, elite, or some such label, we are talking about teams which conduct tryouts open to players without regard to participation in any rec league or specific boundary of residence.   These teams often are members of an organization which may be incorporated or not, may be for "not-for-profit" or not, may conduct business openly via a baord of directors or not, etc.   The goal of most travel organizations and teams is to put the absolute best team they can on the field, to play tournaments, and to compete for berths to some larger, higher tournament while also developing girls into players who will continue to play during their high school days and perhaps into college.

While recreational leagues should exist for the good of all participants, all-star teams for the good of the best players in the rec league, travel teams really should exist for the good of the travel organization and everyone in it.   One often hears things regarding the use of organizational funds like, "sure the older girls get more but so will your kid when she gets there."   That is a cop-out.   Every kid within a travel organization should benefit about equally or expressly agree that the "older kids get more and so will your kid when she gets there" before joining.

This brings up something which is still fairly rare within the softball world and is something we'll refer to as a softball academy. &n bsp; A softball academy generally is a facility and organization, usually for profit and run like a business, which has the express desire of providing lessons and clinics for a fee.   Some such organizations sponsor travel teams in addition to providing lessons for fees but usually the travel organization is separately incorporated and keeps its funds and accounting apart from the academy, though that is not an absolute and does not need to be.

Also, as you will see shortly, it is not my desire at this juncture to closely and completely examine the world of softball academies nor the finances of travel organizations.   The important parts of this leg of the piece is the differentiation between types of ball and the possible variations on the organizational theme which you may experience.   I want to emphasize, before I go any further, that whether an organization is for profit or not may not impact whether your experiences with it will be positive ones.   There are too many examples of a "not-for-profit" organization really being run for the benefit of individuals (via legal or illegal means) to list in a single writing.   There are also too many examples of a so-called "for profit" organization in which one receives so much in return for one's money that the "for-profit" / "not-for-profit" designation is absolutely meaningless that one should not harp to much on this aspect.   Find a place which gives you what you want and leave the corporate terminology for somebody else.

OK, so that is how I see the world in terms of playing level.   But that is not my primary goal in writing today.   Rather, I want to go over some common terminology in regards to types of fastpitch softball play outside of what we commonly think of as "practice."   That is, I want to define and explain some terms like scrimmage, friendly, tournament, and qualifier.   My motivations for doing so is because I have heard and witnessed conduct which indicates that many inside the softball world just do not understand the differences between these types of play.

Let's start with the term scrimmage because that is a logical first foray beyond our typical practices.   You can work ground balls, flies, and take at-bats to a certain level inside the confines of practice and cause players to develop only so far.   At some point you've got to get girls out on the field with a "blue" (umpire) or two, have balls called balls (hopefully), make outs, score runs, etc.   In the early season, and sometimes much later on, teams conduct what they refer to as scrimmages in which one team plays against another in situations which are entirely game.   The idea behind a scrimmage is to get the girls game experience in addition to what they will gain as the real season wears on.

It should be noted that a "scrimmage" really exists in the no-man's-land (or no woman's-land) between practice and game.   It should never be the objective of any participant (coach, player, parent) to "win" a scrimmage.   The reason I emphasize this is because I have heard people exclaim "Oh, that team is no good.   We played them in a game a few weeks ago and beat the living daylights out of them."   There never serems to be the understanding that the other team considered the thing a scrimmage, a glorified practice, and did things it would never consider doing in a game.   As a coach, I have had my teams play many scrimmages in which we were up or down by 10 runs and I had a baserunner who is not known to be a good base stealer try to steal when the next three or four hitters are among our best.   I figure the kid needs to improve her skillset and learn to steal a little better.   And she won't get the chance to steal once tournament season starts.

It is also possible that during the course of a scrimmage I might have my big bopper bunt with runners on second and third and us trailing by a single run.   I might also have a kid bunt with bases loaded and our slowest runner standing on third.   It is entirely possible that three or more consecutive batters might be given the bunt sign, even while they have two strikes on them in order to get them to put one down.   I view all scrimmages as practices and I conduct my players that way.   For this reason, I find myself dazed and confused (as opposed to shocked and awed) when we scrimmage against one of those teams which seems to always play to win regardless of the arrangement.

Understand that some scrimmages are played to a win-lose conclusion and in many cases that is the idea behind the scrimmage.   I remember being a fan at a high school scrimmage which ended 7 innings in a tie with another game scheduled to start immediately afterwards where they put runners on second to play ITB (international tie breaker) extra-innings and determine a winner.   I was confused by this but that was the arrangement under which the scrimmages were played.

Regarding the use of ITB and other situations in a scrimmage, it is not unusual for coaches to agree to certain situations before the game starts.   I haven't seen it but I would not be shocked if a scrimmage were to consist of every inning starting with a runner placed on second.   Similarly, it wouldn't surprise me if teams agreed to play the first couple of innings like usual, begin the fourth and fifth with the bases loaded, and thereafter to play with the ITB.   That's kind of the beauty of a true scrimmage.   There are no limits to what you can do.   Batters could come up for their at-bats with the count 2-1 or some such.

Another thing you frequently see at scrimmages is a batter walked or hit by pitch and the coach refuses to let her take her base.   If needs be, a runner could sub for her on base but the batter takes another at-bat.   It is also not unusual, assuming a team has a kid designated to run the bases, to have one kid go out and run for multiple base runners during a single inning.   They are not cheating by having their fastest kid run for players when that's not allowed.   It is a scrimmage and they are trying to get the kid as many on-base situations as possible.   Sometimes, after a baserunner has successfully been sacrificed over to second, the coach will ask that she be allowed to return to first, again for the purpose of gaining experience.   The possibilities are endless.   The key to understanding is to know that most scrimmages are conducted for the purpose of getting teams and players ready for the real deal.   This is not the real deal and there are no bragging rights conferred.   To act otherwise is to demonstrate the quality of being "bush league" (amateurish).

Beyond practice and scrimmage are, quite obviously, games.   But there are many different types of games.   I don't wish to explore high school, middle school, or rec ball any further.   At this point I'm really exploring the world of travel.

Within travel ball, particularly early in the season, we have lots of what are called friendlies in which play is not brought to a head by some sort of championship or trophy.   Many times these are conducted under a competitive sanctioning body's rules (like ASA, NSA, PONY) and are played just like any tournament game.   There could be "MVP" awards (which I don't wish to get into), mercy run-rules (in which one team leading another by say 12 after 3 innings, 10 after 4, 8 after 5, etc.) is declared the winner, and other things you usualloy see in regular tournament games.   Most often there are drop-dead times.   But most of the time friendlies are not played until a winner is established.

Friendlies are not scrimmages in the sense that you do not see the kinds of odd ball things like batters not allowed to take a base on balls or runners placed on at the beginning of innings during games.   They are played under normal game rules.

Friendlies are usually competitive games in which the teams are trying to win.   They are a slice above your prototypical scrimmage.   One of the principal objectives of teams playing a friendly is to get teams ready to play tournaments.   Along those lines, teams are playing using their normal batting order, bunting runners up, stealing, etc. in order to score runs and try to win the thing.   We wanrt the girls to get the feel of a real game and we tell them that before we play.   But coaches are, or should be, looking to gain more than game experience during a friendly.   Coaches should strive to teach.   They should be trying out different things.   They might come in with a game plan which is intended to work certain aspects of their players or team as a whole.

For example, it is not uncommon to see some pitcher pitching a perfect game or no hitter, or to have a highly contentious game going on, and then see a coach pull the pitcher who has been shutting down the opposition in favor of the team's third or fourth pitcher just to see how she handles coming in in the middle of a game.   It isn't unusual for a team to try a delayed steal, even of home, when they are leading by 8 runs and the other team has not had so much as a baserunner yet.   They aren't being overly aggressive, at least not most of the time.   Sometimes they just want the kid trying the delayed steal to work on that skill.   A team might try something overly aggressive like a suicide squeeze when they are down by 6 runs in the last inning and there are two outs with the bases loaded.   That would be a little odd but you can and do see all kinds of things in friendlies you don't see, say, in elimination games.

A friendly, while usually not particularly friendly, is a venue in which players, coaches and teams can try things out to improve their games.   They are preparation for the real deal.   Sometimes bragging rights can go along with the results of a friendly but, once again, this is somewhat amateurish.   I say this because I was talking with someone a few weeks ago, after a friendly, and I asked him how his team did.   He declared, with obvious pride, that they had won all their games.   I didn't bother to tell the fellow that one of the games they won and about which he was most proud, involved a team which, in an elimination situation most likely would have smoked his team and that the pitcher they faced was that team's number 3.   I figured it was better not to emphasize the term "friendly" or otherwise enlighten him.   He would have left the conversation merely considering me to be a jerk.   And he wouldn't have gotten the point.

The next rung on our game ladder is what I hear called a round-robin ("RR").   That kind of play is usually a one-day tournament which is played to a championship although typically there is no trophy involved.   Depending on the number of teams, a RR involves winners of first games playing against other winners, losers playing against losers, and then, after round two is played, the same sort of thing.   Eventually, the two teams which have won all their games face each other in a championship game.   This is often great fun and a great way to prepare girls for what a Sunday might be like.   I don't want to get ahead of myself but what I mean is playing in a RR is like a situation in which you win or go home.

Of course, one of the beauties of a RR you don't go home but rather continue to play regardkless of whether you win or not.   You might get three, four, or more games in during a single day.   This can be exhausting and that's part of the purpose.   If you are a parent along the sidelines, know that playing three or more games in a day is tough stuff.   By the third game, girls are pretty well exhausted and their minds can wander at the wrong time.   If you want kids to be prepared for real tournaments, however, they simply must get used to playing a lot of games.   And the single day RR is the best way I know to do that.

Another great aspect of a RR is it really does not matter what the caliber of teams involved in it is.   If you win, you get to play another team that has won.   If you lose, you get to play against a team which has lost. &n bsp; So, as you move through the day, it becomes more and more likely that you will face a team against which you are well matched.   This can be as valuable for very talented teams as it can be for lesser ones.   Eventually, there probably is a team which has lost every game and they can leave to go home and lick their wounds.   Similarly there is a team which has won every game and leaves knowing they are champion.   But in terms of actual experience in more tightly contested games, generally most teams get something sloce to this because of the way the day is organized.   It is tremendous preparation for the real deal.

Now, we move from the worlds of scrimmages, friendlies and round robins into the real tournament world.   When I use the term "tournament," generally I mean a competition in which a champion is determined after a first "seeding" round followed by an elimination round, and leading up to a championship game.

Some tournaments are conducted on a single day and I'll mention them briefly but most are two or more day affairs.   A seeding round involves teams playing to compile records and then ranked from best to worst.   Usually this is done via a sequence of ranking criteria like 1) record, 2) head to head, 3) runs scored against, 4) runs scored by, and coin toss or some random way of ranking teams that are otherwise tied in the seedings.

Usually seeding round games are of shorter duration, involving strict drop dead time limits, sometimes as short as one hour.   Ties are considered in a team's record and there is no reason for the seeding round games to come to a win-loss result.   Of course a win is better than a tie but a team needs to keep the time limit, current score, etc. in mind during the round.   Drop dead rules can cause the team leading the game to record a loss or tie if, for example, the score has to revert back to the last completed inning.   Before yuou participate in a tournnament, you should fully understand how seeding is done, any time restrictions, and how the thing flows.   You don't want to cost your team by not knowing the rules.   Ignorance of the rules is no excuse.   And there is no negotiation of one's seding after the fact.   Of course, tournament directors do sometimes make seeding mistakes so you want to understand your seeding and make sure it has been compiled accurately.

Next comes the championship or elimination round in which winners move on and losers leave the competition.   In one dayers, the seeding round is often done after a break for, say, lunch during which the tournament director compiles the results of the round and then produces a schedule for the next round.   This is a very hard day, particularly for teams which make it all the way to the championship.   Teams could play five total games, perhaps more, in a single day.   It is great preparation and a wonderful way to play a lot of ball in one sitting.   It is also a situation that is prone to director errors in seeding since there are significant time constraints and when people are under pressure, they make mistakes.   During any tournament, and particularly in one dayers, it would be best if someone were keeping an eye on the seedings and informing the coaches of how things are progressing.

Because seeding can be critical to how a team progresses through the elimination round, coaches often try to manage their teams with at least one eye on that.   For example, sometimes teams will really run up or keep down a score in order to preserve a top seeding.   It is not at all unusual for one team to be ahead 30 nothing in the top of the third inning and try to squeeze across one more run.   There could be an argument between one coach and the ump or the other coach over whether a runner crossed home before a tag was applied even though the score is 15-0 and the other team hasn't had a runner beyond first yet.   A team might be leading by enough to gain a mercy run rule win after the current inning and then when you have a runner on third and your batter bunts, play against allowing the run to score rather than getting the out.   These sorts of things are not demonstrative of bad sportsmanship.   The parents and coaches on the losing side should not get their noses out of joint because the killers over there are trying to pummel us into the ground.   They are trying to protect their seeding.   That's it.   End of story.

Generally a tournament ends with some sort of trophy to the winners and runners up.   of course the physical object is junk but that doesn't really matter.   The trophy is symbolic of a job well done.   We put all that time in during the winter, we play some scrimmages, we do a few friendlies, etc. all with an eye towards competing for some junk that is put together with screws and glue and will fall apart not that long after the thing is over.   The real value is in accomplishing the mission and knowing that hard work paid off.

As a sidebar to the tournament discussion, a select few tournaments provide for what are called A and B "flights."   The first round is played and teams are seeded.   The bottom half of the seeding moves into a "B bracket" and the top half the "A."   The As play to a championship and the Bs have their own.   The two sides never meet in the final round.   This kind of tournament can be among the best.   Highly competive teams can play against other competitive teams all the way to an ultimate winner.   Lesser teams, including town rec all-stars or quasi-travel teams can play to their own championship.   Having had kids involved with both A and B championships at the same tournament in different years, I can tell you that while it is obvious to anyone when you win the Bs that there are a bunch of teams better than you, it still feels good to win something.   I know that when we finished second in the A flight one year, we knew we were better than a rival team that won the Bs but we also slapped them on the back and knew they felt good about winning what they won.

One of the criticisms of the particular tournament I have in mind is that run-of-the-mill travel clubs go into it, play themselves into the B bracket deliberately, and then beat up on town all-star teams.   That may indeed happen every now and again.   But I went to the particular tournament yet a third time with a run-of-the-mill travel team, we played our way into the B bracket, but we got smoked right out of there in the first round by an all-star team that played at a level well above us.   I don't think many travel teams win their way through the B flight unless they just happen to have played very badly one day and very well the next.   I don't think anyone does this deliberately.

At this point, I want to add a word or two about a particular type of "tournament" which is called a "showcase."   Showcase tournaments, as their name implies, exists for the sole purpose of "showcasing" talent.   That is, their mission is to put 18 and under players in front of college coaches, preferably college coaches of their choosing.   Some of these are played to a championship.   Many are not.   In showcases, winning is not paramount though demonstrating how one handles tough and or winning and loosing game situations may very well be.   But when a showcase is played to some sort of championship, that championship is not really a valuable commodity.

To explain this a bit, college-aspiring softball players whould make efforts to contact coaches of institutions in which they are interested, before the tournament so as to try to get in front of them.  [; This subject is too complicated to insert here but the point is, you don't merely want to play in front of anny old college coach.   The idea is to play in front of a college coach from the institutions you aspire to.   That's simple enough, I think.

Further, teams playing these games ought not to seek victory at the cost of showcasing kids.   I have heard an example of a game in which one particular kid asked to play a little more at a particular position because the college coach of her choosing had promised to be in attendance.   Her request was met with one of those "I decide who plays, who plays where, and who plays how long and I do this based on what is good for the team" comments.   That is all well and good but it demonstrates a lack of understanding of the purpose of the showcase. &nnbsp; It also shows a disregard for the players on the team, especially if the kid playing second base or whatever for the majority of innings could not care less what the college coaches nearby think of her play and would be happy to trade time in this game for time in that one.   This is also not exactly a game changing exchange which favors the continued viability of the showcase team or which will endear the coach to future prospective roster members, let alone current ones.

A showcase tournament exists to showcase talent, not to produce championships.   Showcase teams exist to showcase their players' talents, not to win in order to establish reputation.   A team which routinely pushes aside requests like this is looking for trouble.   If I'm looking for a showcase team for my kid, I'm not going to consider a team on which requests for a little more playing time at a position are pushed aside without even considering the players situation.   That's bad ball.   That's bush league.   That's just stupid!

Finally, with respect to showcase ball, I have heard a few too many comments which indicate some people just don't get it.   Sure it may be important to be involved with a showcase team with reputation in order to "get noticed."   But looking for a team which wins a lot or coaching a team in order to win regardless of what that might mean demonstrates a misunderstanding of what college athletic recruiting is all about.   Many times I have heard folks bragging about how their team won some third rate showcase tournament title or espousing the notion that if a player wants to get noticed, they should play for such and such team since they always win.   That's absurd.   When you look for a team to showcase you, you should know and like the coaching staff; you should look for a coach who knows the college coaches and is a great schmoozer; find a team which places people at the schools you are interested in and feel you have a reasonable shot at making; and find a good fit for your goals.   If you think this is about winning the tournament title, good luck and enjoy your trophy.   Put it right next to all the trophies you have won at "B" tournaments through the years.   Now back to your regularly scheduled rpogram of youth travel tournaments.

In travel ball, ultimately the winning of tournaments is the goal.   But there is something more important than the mere winning of run-of-the-mill tournaments.   That is qualifying for, competing at, and making a good showing at something a bit grander than your typical tournament.   This bring us to the type of tournament typically referred to as qualifiers (or national quualifiers).

A qualifier is just like any other tournament.   It could be a one dayer but most often is conducted, weather permitting, over two or more days.   Winning a qualifier, as you might expect, qualifies a team for some higher tournament, perhaps a national championship under one organizaing body or another.   These are the real, real deal!

Qualifiers generally involve a ferocious level of play as a team tries to gain attendance at its ultimate goal tournament.   Girls put it all on the line, lay out for foul pops, try to intimidate opponents, and generally go all out to win at qualifiers.   After seeding rounds and the first few elimination games, things get extremely heated.   If you are not used to this level of emotions, it can be off-putting.   You may walk away saying to yourself, there is something wrong with those people, perhaps all of society.   They act as if winning is more important than anything else.   Their lives might be coming apart at the seams and they are out here seeking blood from a bunch of 12, 14, 16 year old girls.   "Did you hear what they guy said when the first baseman went for the foul pop?   He yelled 'I got it, I got it.'   That's really nasty.   That girl might have been hurt."   While it is true that there is no room for a parent yelling "I got" at any youth game whatsoever, you will see things at qualifiers you will not see anywhere else, particularly as first round evolves into second, as quarter-finals become semi-finals.   It can get tense.

As I said, winning a qualifier gets you a berth at some higher tournament, perhjaps a national.   Depending on the sanctioning body, there can be other ways to gain a berth but I don't wish to go into this right now.   Also, sometimes the team which wins a qualifier has already qualified or is disinterested in attending the particular sanctioning body's national.   Maybe when they signed up for tournaments, they aimed to attend NSA nationals but were willing to go to FAST or PONY, if they didn't qualify for NSAs.   They won their NSA berth week ago and they don't want the FAST berth they just won.   Or maybe the team wanted to go to PONY nationals so badly that they signed up for qualifiers and they have already won two of them.   When these circumstances occur, often the runner-uop earns the berth.   And sometimes the runner up has also already qualified and made plans to go wherever.   Soemtimes the third, fourth or whatever place team gains the berth, depending on the rules under which the thing is played.   A few years ago, we earned a berth to attend a national tournament after finishing third and going home with our tails between our legs.   Then we learned we won the berth!   Sometimers it pays to hang around and learn what the outcome is!!

Our final consideration of types of games involves the national tournament and in order to discuss these, I need to add a word about the sanctioning bodies under which they are played.   I think there are some misconceptions out there regarding which is best and other issues like that.

First, national tournaments are many and varied.   You wouldn't think that would be the case but there are several different sanctioning bodies and, in this sport, there is not necessarily a clear hierarchy the way there is in other sports.   I know in basketball the one top dog is AAU.   I understand that in soccer there is one top dog but the name escapes me at the moment.   In softball, arguably, the top dog is and should be ASA.   But, as usual, on a softball diamond, it is not quite as clear as that.

At the 23U level, I believe ASA is by far the biggest and most important.   On the other hand, I do not believe that many in the sport particularly care much about 23U ball.   There are far fewer teams at 23U than other age levels excluding maybe 8U and 10U - those may be a lot larger than 23U, I really just don't know.   It is not my understanding that a large portion of the top college players play at 23U once they are done or work at it hard the way a 17 year old Gold player might.   It ios my understanding that good lower level college teams are often a lot better than the standard issue 23U team.   Nuff said?

At the 18U level, I do not believe there is any question that ASA Gold level is by far the best level.   I know other bodies sanction nationals at 18U but it is my understanding that the best level of play is entirely ASA Gold.   Now there are really three types of Gold tournaments.   There are Gold tournaments which are really showcases (see above), those that are merely run-of-the-mill, and qualifiers.   Qualifiers and the actual championship are the real, real, real deal.   And to my knowledge no level of tournament competes with these.

At 16U, I do believe that most likely ASA is the top.   16U nationals is where college coaches go to watch potential prospects.   These games, though I have never been to ASA nat.s, are said to be among the fiercest played.   It is my understanding that other sanctioning bodies put on some very good competition but I do not think that comes close to competing with ASA.   But below 16U, the waters get murkier and murkier.

I don;t know that I can easily distinguish between FAST and NSA at the 14U level.   I can tell you that, over the years, what I have noticed is NSA tends to draw from a more wide geographical dispersion than FAST.   FAST is definitely oriented towards Florida teams at all age levels.   You could write this off easily except for one thing, Flortida teams tend to be extremely good.   Years ago, maybe they were not up to snuff with the west coast teams but that's no longer the case.   And travelling to Florida to play only or mostly Florida teams at FAST nationals is not a way to go to a lesser nationals and pick up some easy bling.   FAST natiuonals are pretty brutal.   Also, I have heard from participants that there can be some home cooking prepared by the umpires.   I don't know if the same can be said of NSA but I do know they get good teams from all over the country at the 14U level.

At 12U, the water is extremely murky though it is quite possible that ASA is the top.   The trouble is some very good teams go to 12U nationals at Pony, NSA, FAST and, obviously, ASA.   Often times, over the past several years, teams which competed well at Pony nat.s or other sanctioning bodies also competed well at ASA or NSA.   I think I've written before in these pages that during one year I remember one team which had finished behind several others went on to take second at NSAs while the several others got smoked at Ponys.   I know of a team which went to FAST and got really crushed after having beaten several teams which did well at other bodies' nat.s.   At 12U, it is a mixed bag and the mix is changing all the time.   Most recently, if you asked me to speculate, I guess I'd have to say that NSA is quite possibly the top dog at this level.

I'm really not sure what the mix at 10U is, and I'm not all that sure that anyone should care.   before you send me nasty-grams, let me say that, yes, 10U does matter.   But 12U matters more since A) the girls are far more mature, B) they pitch the real ball at the real distance (at least until you get to levels which pitch from 43 feet), C) and this is the softball crossroads at which girls decide if they reallt want to play this sport or focus on basketball or soccer instead.   There is nothing magic about the 12U age group per se.   But I don't know too many 9 or 10 year olds who have already reached their adult height or have any sense of how they are going to deal with life when the kid they were always more athletic than all of a sudden grows 8 inches, puts on 50 pounds of muscle and is doing very well at her velocity training three times a week year round.

Perhaps more importantly than the age and maturity involved in national play, a very good 16U or 18U team might be willing to take the space shuttle to the moon (yes I know it doesn't go there) in order to play against the best possible teams.   The parents of a very good 14U team are probably less likely to travel from Oregon to Virginia.   An economically troubled gaggle of families with outstanding 12U kids from Detroit might choose to forego the flight to California this year in favor of someplace they can drive to.   And so it goes.   There is no way any particular sanctioning body at any particular age level can plan a national tournament so as to be certain that they are drawing the best possible competition.   And, as a result, there is no guaranteed top dog after you move down from 16U ball to lower age groups.   The one thing I can tell you is that there are far more sanctioning bodies than I have mentioned.   But the majority of those do not draw in teams the caliber which can be found at ASA, NSA, FAST, and perhaps PONY.   I will add only that while the classic cricitism of FAST is it is more than half Florida teams, the same kind of thing is said about PONY which draws majority from a few select states and those states are not classic softball powerhouses.

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Some Tryout Tips

by Dave
Thursday, August 14, 2008

You get to the field somewhat early and find others arrived before you, a lot of others.   More girls trickle in until it seems as if there is a large tournament taking place today.   You know you have skills sufficient to make this team but you're wondering how the heck you are going to gain the attention of the team's coaches with this many girls trying out.   What can you do, what approach should you take, what are the things you should keep in mind as you try to earn one of 12 or 13 spots from within a crowd of 30, 40, maybe 50 or more girls?

  1. Don't play catch:

    At a recent tryout, I heard the coach admonish the girls, "you are not playing catch here, you are being evaluated!"   That's an important piece of advice that most coaches will not offer at tryouts.

    When you are throwing back and forth at a tryout, you really are not playing catch.   If you want to play catch, grab a friend and go to some fields on your own time.   Right now, you are trying out.   There's nothing leisurely about the next 2, 3 or 4 hours.   So when you are doing warm-up throws, don't act like you are just at one of your many practices.   It's game time.

    Catch the ball out in front of you, hop to position and make a good solid throw.   We've been over this before but when you are warming up your arm before a game or in most other circumstances, what you don't want to do is have your feet nailed to the ground and your arms reaching for the ball.   Move your feet to make a catch within "your strike zone."

    "Your strike zone" consists of the lateral space in front of you which can be delineated when you hold your arms out from your body, at about a 45 degree angle.   To see what I mean, stand up and put your arms straight out and to the sides of your body like you are an airplane ready to take off.   Now put your arms directly in front of you.   Your strike zone consists of that space which is evident when your arms are halfway between the two positions (airplane ready to take off and straight in front of you).   Further, your strike zone for catching the ball, in terms of up and down is from the bottom of your gym shorts to your shoulder.   This is similar but a little smaller than your actual strike zone when hitting.

    Always catch the ball in this area, if possible.   "If possible" should be broadly interpreted.   You catch the ball within your strike zone if it is humanly possible to do so.   Always catch the ball with fingers pointed up, again if possible.   Obviously balls in the dirt require you to point your fingers down but almost everything else is possible to catch with them pointed up.   All you need to do to ensure that you catch the ball with fingers pointed up is bend your knees appropriately.

    So, in summary, when you are doing warm-up throwing, it is not pre-tryout time.   You are being evaluated.   Those coaches are not just watching the throws you make.   They are watching everything.   They may make marks on their evaluation sheet about your athleticism during warm-ups!   So, don't be lazy.   Move the body.   Move your feet.   Bend your knees.   Try (try hard) to catch the ball within your strike zone.

    After the ball hits leather, hop into a good throwing position.   Keep balanced.   Point your off shoulder at the target and make a nice, mechanically correct, four seam throw, over the top.   I believe we've discussed these subjects before but when making a throw, you are looking for what is described in baseball as a four-seamer.   That means the longest portion of the ball's laces which are evident when you examine a ball are the ones which do the spinning.   If you were to use slow motion film from the target area, you would see one long lace, then another, then another, and finally the fourth one.   What you should not see is rings or a wild assortment of laces spinning all over the place.   Is that clear enough?   The way to throw a four-seamer is to grip the ball properly, finger tips across one seam and thumb hold onto the seam beneath that, and then to make your arm motion virtually 12 o'clock down to 6.   It is humanly impossible to actually throw straight 12 to 6 but the closer you can get to that, the better.

    The trouble with throwing a ball side arm or via a two seam grip is, it tends to sail.   A two seam throw is one in which two of your fingers grip laces running side by side.   As the ball travel through the air, one seam hits the front of the ball's path, then another does immediately afterwards, than no seam makes contact for the remaining 80% of one revolution.   This causes the ball to wobble and track to one side or the other, if it is not thrown perfectly 12-6.   Throwing sidearm makes even a four-seamer tail to the side.

    The best arms, at least from my point of view, whether infield or outfield, are always the girls who throw "over the top."   For one thing, when a kid throws over the top, I assume she has had training.   When a kid throws sidearm, I figure she learned that in the sandlot and nobody has been able to correct her since.   Depending on her age, I doubt I'm going to be able to do anything with her.   I think this way because I have tried and failed to correct too many kids who throw from the side or three quarters.   Just this past year, we had a kid who arguably had the strongest arm on the team but who threw sidearm.   We, all of the coaches, worked her throughout the winter to come over the top.   We appeared to make some progress.   But later, she went back to her improper mechanics.   She seemed like a coachable kid but in the end, she was not.   And I cannot tell you how many throwing errors she made during the season.

    There's another aspect besides errors which play into my need to have kids with good throwing mechanics.   We throw a lot in practice.   I believe that is the single most important aspect to defensive drilling.   I'll hit a grounder to third and yell, "go one" but after the throw is made, I make the girls throw it around.   "Go three," "four," "go two," "back around the horn."   Every grounder is generally followed up with at least three throws after the initial one.   Kids who throw improperly invariably end up sitting out of practices due to arm pain.

    Every kid who comes to my practices is going to throw more than they ever have before.   That's just me but I can tell you that many other coaches I know feel similarly.   Most of the teams I have watched practice do a lot of throwing.   And there's always some kid rubbing their arm in the dugout wishing they could be back out there.

    I remember last year there was a high school team nearby.   This team was a very good one which was coached by a former player in the WCWS.   She made the kids throw a ton - more than I do because they practiced 5 to 6 days a week for months.   On that team there was an outstanding freshman pitcher who had played high level travel ball.   She made varsity based not on her pitching because there were numerous other good pitchers on the team, but rather based on her hitting.   She played DP for a while and then graduated to the outfield.   During the course of the season, she threw perhaps ten to twenty more times than she had ever done before.   She didn't throw badly per se but she had a tendency to push her arm out from her shoulder.   She developed shoulder problems and had to take quite a lot of time away from pitching when the season was over and travel ball picked up again.

    Before I even consider a kid for a team, the first thing I look at is throwing mechanics.   Without them, there is little I feel I can do.   And I know kids who throw badly are going to miss lots of practice time, perhaps games.   When you tryout, please try to keep your mechanics together and throw over the top.   If you get lazy even once and sidearm or three quarters one, there's a decent chance somebody like me is writing down "sidearmer."   That's often one of those disqualifying events.

  2. Go Two!

    If the team you are trying out for has multiple dates for their tryout and you aren't otherwise engaged, pleas go to every tryout you possibly can.   Many teams will tell you to come to multiple dates.   Some won't.   I was talking to the father of a kid who was trying out for a showcase team the other day and she came to both tryout dates.   The father overheard a couple of the coaches talking.   One said to the other with reference to a kid who had stood out the first day, "I guess she felt she didn't have to come both days."   The other, the head coach, replied, "Nobody makes my team if they don't come to every tryout.   Does she really think she's that good that she only needs to show up once?"   Those coaches hadn't bothered mentioning this to anyone.   But they are intense.   And this is a very good team.   The number of kids they will beg to join them is extremely few.   There's no way to know if you really were "that good" at your tryout.   So when there are multiple days, go to them unless you really have something better to do.   If you cannot make the second and/or third date, tell the coach that and why.

    I should say that a week ago some kid was trying out for my team and the father engaged me in conversation.   I liked the kid a lot and she is a very good ballplayer who had a very good tryout.   The father said, "So, we should come back tomorrow, right?"   I said, "Come back if you want to run these same drills but I can tell you that I have seen plenty and there is nothing you need to show me.   If you have something else to do, your not being here is not going to impact my decision one way or another.   I want you on my team, period."   That kid didn't need to come back but everyone else would have benefitted from additional tryouts.

    Further to the point, I had my kid tryout for a team which she does not intend on playing for.   The tryouts were held in the middle of the week when we would not ordinarily have anything going on other than to go to the fields and practice on our own.   So I thought to myself, "my shoulder, arm, wrist and back are killing me - we should just go to this tryout for the heck of it since I don't want to go hit balls today."   They told us they want the girls back for a second day this weekend.   Well, we have tryouts for teams we want to make so there's no going back.   We planned that long before these tryouts were scheduled.   I hope they don't think poorly of me or my daughter though that is a risk.   But we just don't have time for a second tryout with this organization.   There's no way we can make it.   And at least to me, when you don't show up for more than one tryout - unless somebody tells you not to bother coming - everyone probably believes you are at another tryout, perhaps for a team you would prefer over this one.

  3. Watch out for guns!

    I was talking to the father of a girl trying out for a high level team recently.   He brought his daughter to the hitting part of a tryout.   Her first task was to go out and stand in the field to retrieve balls while the hitters hit.   A ball came her way, she lazily picked up, and lobbed it back into the infield.   The father was casually watching things move along while waiting for his kid to get a chance to hit.   All of a sudden he realized to his extreme horror that some guy had lifted a gun to his daughter's lazy throw back.   He was radar gunning all the girls waiting for their turns at bat and writing down his readings.   The father wanted to scream out to his daughter to throw the darn ball but he realized he couldn't do that - see below.   Later, he told her, "I hope you realize you blew it with this team."   She had no idea what he was talking about so he told her, "You know, every time you lazily threw the ball in, there was somebody gunning you.   He wrote down the speed of every throw you made during batting practice.   You acted like you were retrieving balls during one of our practices and they were evaluating you the whole time."

    All ball players should be aware of their surroundings at all times.   Everyone ought to pay attention to who the people with such things as clipboards, notebooks, radar guns and stopwatches are.   You don't need to throw for an audience per se but you should nonchalant stuff either.   If there is some idiot gunning you at 10U tryouts, most likely he is just playing with a toy.   At 14U, 16U, 18U, most likely the guy with the gun is deadly serious.   Again, this is not practice.   It is game time.   You are "on" during the sntirety of tryouts.   You are being watched, clocked, etc.   Pretend the whole time is a live game.

  4. Stand out when you want, not when you don't

    When the team does some sort of warm-up jog around the field or any sort of agility or speed stuff, you may not be a barn burner but you need to try to finish at least in the middle of the pack.   Some kids take the notion that this is just a warm-up run a little too seriously.   They'll jog so as to avoid any possibility of getting out of breath even if that means they finish dead last.   Sometimes, coaches will have girls run at 50% or 75% of speed before beginning real sprints.   If you finish these dead last by a wide enough margin, you can almost bet that some evaluator is writing down your number under the category "slow" or "unathletic."   Even if you have to get a little out of breath or push harder than you think you should, make sure somebody or somebodies are behind you.

    One of my pet peeves involves a line of girls fielding grounders at practice.   I hit some balls and then have to yell "next" because several girls are talking about last night's sleepover.   That's not the optimum situation at practice.   At tryouts it tells me who is going to be giving me a hard time or making me yell.   You don't want to not be ready when your turn comes along.   You really do not want to stand out from the crowd in this manner.

    Another of my pet peeves occurs in this same grounder line.   Sometimes there is a girl who appears to be getting bored by the easy grounders.   She is a good athlete and I want practice to be meaningful for her.   So, I'm going to give her stuff to get her ready for the next level.   I might pound a few balls at her, make her go side to side, or put spins on the balls.   If she doesn't miss a few, I haven't done my job.   But my pet peeve arises when I do this, she misses one and somebody standing in line chatting gets hit hard.   I don't like hurting kids.   I feel entirely responsible when I do.   But I do not want someone on my team who is going to continuously get hit by missed grounders.   So, if you are busy chatting and not paying attention, you may make me yell "next" or you may get hit by a ball.   You are standing out but not in the way you want to.   On the other hand, if I slow down and then realize you have been frozen in the ready position for 30 seconds waiting for me, then you get to stand out in another way, a good way.

  5. Confident and friendly, not a social butterfly or an anti-social hornet

    I think one of the things which is least understood at tryouts is the social aspect of things.   It is generally understood, I believe, that coaches are not merely looking for the absolute best athletes.   They want good teammates who are coachable.   That doesn't mean that wall flowers have no chance - many shy girls fall into the category of highly coachable.   But everyone should try to be friendly on some level, friendly towards others trying out and friendly towards the coaches.

    Friendly means responsive to direct words.   Friendly means cheering each other on.   Friendly means happy to be where you are.   It does not mean you approach coaches as if you've known them your whole life or like they are your new best friend.

    I have encountered a number of girls who are a little too friendly at tryouts.   You might say they suffer from a little overconfidence.   They talk to you as if you are their parents' friends.   They would rather speak than listen.   And they waste your time.   They act as if making great friends with you or the person they think is your daughter will guarantee them a slot on the team.

    Additionally, I have observed girls who during warm-up throwing try to impress their throwing mate, if not intimidate them.   These are the girls who throw as hard as they possibly can from 30 feet.   Sometimes it looks like they are trying to scare the other kid.   I remember one kid throwing with my older daughter several years ago.   You could see in her face that she wanted to scare the bejesus out of my daughter.   But she wasn't going to get scared.   We threw back and forth a lot in those days and I threw the ball hard at her to acclimate her to such things.   This kid was throwing her absolute hardest at 30feet and my kid was catching the ball nonchalantly - this was a practice and the girls were just waiting for the rest of the team to show up.   You could read oin this kid's face that she was exclusively interested in intimidation.   She turned out to be a lousy teammate.   She wasn't all that good of a ballplayer.   And she hurt her arm several times.

    I watch out for that kid and others like her whenever I conduct tryouts.   If a kid is throwing extremely hard from close up, I take a hard look at her face to see if what she is after is intimidation.   Several times I have found a kid who I thought was doing that.   I put a note next to her name or number so I can watch her interact with others.   If I see one more piece of anti-social behavior, she's gone.   We don't need poison on our team.   Things are hard enough without that.

    Be friendly, responsive to coaches, nice to those around you trying out and things should go OK.   Don't distract or be distracted.   Cheer for others or slap them five when they make plays.   Don't try to intimidate anyone.   I'm watching you.   You aren't going to make my team by making someone else look bad.

  6. Get dirty

    The one act which gets the most favorable result is getting dirty.   You puit ten girls out at third and hit each three grounders.   Nine girls field every ball cleanly and make decent throws.   Then the tenth kid steps in and you hit one too far to her left.   She dives for the ball and misses it.   Guess who makes the best impression?

    This is not to say that girls should try to dive for balls they should make while staying on their feet.   But the kid who dives when the coach hits basically a basehit through the hole is going to make a very favorable impression.   Everyone likes an infielder who isn't afraid of getting dirty.   And if that dive comes early enough in the tryout, you are going to carry that dirt stain on your evaluation form for the rest of the workout.   You are going to step up to the plate to hit and all the coaches are going to say to themselves, "this is that kid who dove."   Everywhere you go, you are going to be more identifiable than any of the other kids.   Everybody has numbers on their back.   You have your number all over your practice uniform.   And everything you do is going to begin with coaches having a favorable impression of you before the drill starts.

    There are several drills which many coaches will conduct which are intended to see if girls are willing to dive and get dirty.   For instance, the coach may line everyone up at infield positions and then hit balls between short and third, up the middle or other places.   She wanst to see somebody, anybody, get dirty.   I watched a tryout in which the coach hit balls past 3B several times.   About the tenth one she hit, she stopped and begged the girls, "Is somebody going to dive for one of these?   These are playable.   These are the third baseman's ball.   Girls, you have got to get dirty.   If you don't dive now, you aren't going to dive in games!"

  7. Don't be afraid of the ball

    This is a tough subject.   I suppose everyone is at least somewhat afraid of the ball.   That's human nature.   Nobody actually wants to be hit by a pitch thrown 60 or struck by a grounder moving 90.   Sure, some hitters seem as if they want to gain a base by being hit by the pitch - that's why softball has rules against failing to try to get out of the way.   And some fielders are hard as nails and never seem to shy away.   But nobody walks onto the field saying, "I hope I get hit, hit a lot, and hit hard by balls today."   Everyone should have a healthy awareness of the dangers posed by a flying ball.

    Still, one of the disqualifying moments at any tryout occurs when a girl demonstrates apparent fear of the ball.   I was at a tryout the other day when some girl persistently caught grounders and line drives to her side.   Then when a hard smash was hit right at her, she moved to the side and missed what should have been an easy play.   I jotted down, "afraid of the ball."

    I didn't write down a lot of comments about kids that day but of maybe 24 kids on the field, I wrote that same comment 3 times.   When it came time to go over evaluations, I listened intently as one of the evaluators said, "she was pretty good, decent arm, reasonable athleticism, not too bad of a hitter."   Then I let go of my bomb shell, "she's afraid of the ball."   The evaluator looked me straight in the face to judge my earnestness.   So I added, "do you remember when they were taking grounders at third.   She caught everything to the side and then ducked out of the way when a hard shot was hit at her."   The evaluator remembered this when I reminded her about it and that kid's number never came up again.

    I recall an e-mail exchange I once had with defensive softball specialist Howard Kobata in which I was inquiring about the earliest age to have a kid attend one of his clinics.   He said that he thought 13 was a good age because, by then, most girls weren't afraid of the ball anymore.   He said, I can work with anyone who isn't afraid of the ball but I can do nothing with one who is.   He felt that too many kids at 12 and below are afraid of the ball so he suggests that girls wait until they are 13 before coming to one of his clinics.

    I remember a showcase team tryout I watched a few years back.   There was a girl I know there.   She is quite a hitter but her other skills precluded her from being invited to the team.   I watched as she batted against a college pitcher - this girl trying out had turned 14 recently and had not yet stepped foot inside her high school.   She hit a couple of line drives off the college pitcher who had been hired for the specific task of pitching at tryouts.   The pitcher didn't like this youngster hitting her pitches.   She started working her a little harder than the others.   Then, when the girl's time was almost up, a coach said, "two more."   The girl drilled the next pitch to left for what would have been a base hit.   The pitcher picked up another ball, looked in stoically, wound up and drilled the kid.   There was that half second when I knew the pitcher had done this intentionally and I wondered what the overall reaction would be.   The 14 year old batter never flinched.   She looked immediately at the coach and said, "can I have another?"   All the coaches there that day smiled broadly.   They couldn't help it.   I smiled too.   In fact everyone there smiled, except the pitcher.   The girl got another pitch just off the plate but definitely a ball.   She took it even though it was her last pitch to hit.   I think one of the coaches said something like "throw her a strike, please."

    later that day the coaches let this 14 year old girl know that she hadn't made the team this time around.   But one coach said, "You're a tough coookie.   I want you back here next year."   That is the incident which I believe most clearly demonstrates the way in which coaches view fear of the ball and no apparent fear of the ball.   Anyone can work with a girl who is not overly afraid of the ball.   Nobody wants to work with a kid who is genuinely fearful when she walks onto the field.

  8. Stay after the ball

    A ball was hit by the coach way far away from the intended fielder at a recent tryout.   The kid was stationed in right and the out of practice coach hit a screaming liner to center.   He was supposed to hit pops to right and was somewhat embarrassed when he crushed one to center.   He said, "Sorry" immediately and picked up another ball.   The kid in right took off after it.   Several evaluators yelled, "Let it go and take another" but this kid was off to the races.   She ran like the wind and got to that ball.   For a moment, this seemed like a waste of precious time and all the coaches and evaluators seemed annoyed at the delay as she ran hard after the errant liner.   They tried to call to her to come back but chopped off their words in mid sentence.   This kid was like some Golden retriever chasing a tennis ball.   You couldn't have stopped her with a high power rifle.   All stood and watched as she chased, retrieved and made a throw as if there were runners going around the bases.   Nobody jotted down anything like "doesn't take direction well" or "failed to listen to coaches."   They all understood.   This kid was conditioned or born genetically ready to chase yellow balls with red laces and retrieve them as quickly as possible.   Once the ball was in the air, it was go time.   And you cannot easily teach that.

    On another occassion, a ball was hit to girls fielding grounders at third.   One took a bad hop and bounded away from the kid.   Her body posture said, "OK, that one got away and this is just practice, I'll go get it and then take another one."   I suppose this wasn't a game and there were no runners on base.   But this was a tryout and what did the coaches think when they saw that?   Maybe they thought nothing.   And maybe they thought and/or wrote, "gives up on the ball."   When you're at tryouts, it is game time.   And there are always runners on base.   Stay after the ball, ignore the coaches telling you to let it go.   Follow your instincts.   Go make the darn play and then ask for another!

  9. Don't get "hurt"

    I'm not telling you to avoid injury in tryouts although the last thing you want to do is go to your first tryout and then get hurt so bad you can't go to another.   But when you are fielding grounders, taking swings, or whatever and you get struck by the ball, don't stop playing, grab at the injured area, or otherwise make a scene, at least not at first.   First, finish the play, get the out, pick up the ball, and make a throw.   If you do that, then you can collapse to the earth, grab at your injury or otherwise make a scene.

    If you finish the play even after you get whacked by a 90 mph grounder, the coaches are going to have to admire you.   We've all seen or been involved with circumstances in which a player gets genuinely hurt in the middle of a play.   We all feel for the injured kid and want to run to her immediately to take care of things.   But we have to wait until the play is over.   And if some kid gets whacked, picks up the ball and throws it in before retrieving her tooth, eyeball, nose, or head, that's a really good thing.   If you get whacked by the ball, it is really OK to be hurt but please try to finish the play before collapsing into a heap.

  10. Make smart throws

    We talked about four seamers and throwing over the top but there are things you need to consider when you are in the action, like when you are fielding outfield balls and throwing to the bases.   Many softball and baseball players feel the need to make the throw all the way to the target.   If the throw is long, most players will throw a long, looping one that is intended to be caught right at the base.   Most such throws do not reach their intended target anyway and if the thing travels on the trajectory of a moon rocket, you will certainly get noticed, just not in the manner you would like.   Make your throws from the outfield on a lower trajectory.

    Imagine an infield cutoff, if there is nobody out there ready for such a cutoff.   Throw the ball so that you would hit an infielder in the head if she were standing there waiting for the cutoff.   It really is OK if the ball bounces once or even twice before reaching the base you are aiming for.   Say you are in rightfield and have been instructed to throw to third.   You track and catch the fly or charge and get the grounder.   Now, picture an infielder halfway between you and third.   Throw the ball at her head.   The ball will probably bounce before it reaches its destination but it should bounce right up to the third baseman and about land right on the bag.   That's a perfect throw, in case you didn't realize it.   A bad throw is one which rises 15 or 20 feet in the area and then reaches the third baseman on a fly but 5-10 feet off the bag.   It seems like the ball got there faster but it didn't.   And there's no way to apply a tag on the sliding runner if the 3B is 5-10 feet away from the bag.

    In a related topic, is is far better to make a short throw than a long one.   If in the same scenario, you over throw the 3B and the ball sails beyond the fence along the line, that's not merely a runner you wouldn't get out, that's an extra base for every baserunner.   If instead, you make your throw too short, the 3B should be able to prevent it from getting past her.   You may not get an out but you didn't hand the runners an extra base.   Also, if your throw was slightly offline, the infielders are going to have an easier time retrieving the ball if it is rolling than they will if it is flying.

  11. Parents - behave

    We all should know by now that when a kid comes onto a ball field and does something of the underperforming variety, most people do not look back at the parent and think, "I wonder what's wrong with those people that they produced a child that bad."   Most of the time, people are not standing around thinking "that guy must have been a real loser in high school - just look at his kid."   Your children are reflections of themselves.   Sometimes their actions on a ball field demonstrate that maybe you should or should have played catch a bit more frequently.   But when an otherwise decent ball player does not make the play you think they should, yelling "come on, you're better than that" does not help them achieve or receive positive recognition at a tryout.   Chances are pretty good they won't make the next play either.   The only thing communicated by such an act is perhaps this kid is going to fold in real games because her parents are overbearing.

    The act which really gets my attention happens when a bunch of girls are fielding balls in some location and one kid makes an error.   Her father or mother saunters over and then whispers something like come on.   Less obvious is when the parents moves into such position so as to make eye contact with the kid and "encourage her silently."   This may get by the judges but every once in a while it gets noticed.   Coaches do want kids who have been worked by their parents from a young age but this area borders on reflecting negatively.   If you are a parent at tryouts, watch, listen, learn, gather facts, but stay out of it.   if your kid has been prepared well, that will show.   And one or two bad plays is not going to disqualify her from most teams.

  12. Remember there are other people there

    It is a part of reality that sometimes everyone in the crowd is not who you think they are.   I have observed many tryouts in which one kid is there just for the heck of it while her parent might be there for sinister reasons - he or she is there to get a leg up on recruits for his or her own team.   I was recently at a tryout at which something funny happened.   The tryouts were held over two days with the instruction that nobody needed to come for two days.   Loads of girls showed up the first day but only one appeared the second day.   I supppose that most girls initially thought they'd be there for both days but when they were told they didn't need to come back, they did something else.   But that wasn't the funny part.

    The funny thing that happened involved the one kid who showed up on day 2.   At first I felt sorry for her.   She ran through the drills with nobody around to keep her company.   She didn't get any breaks and was out of breath pretty fast.   Her mother, along the sidelines, looked uncomfortable.   I figured here is one kid who will never join this team since it is apparent to her and her mother that nobody else wants to join the team.   I walked over to the registration table and realized immediately that this kid wasn't here to try out.   I recognized the mother's name and knew she was a coach of a team not too far away that was conducting tryouts the following weekend.   I knew I recognized both mother and daughter but I couldn't find the context.   The mother was there either to see how we ran tryouts or to pick up recruits.   I had no doubt about that.

    Many, many times I have gone to tryouts and found I already had many friends there in the form of other coaches.   Sometimes coaches' kids are genuinely trying out for these teams.   Sometimes they are just exploring.   Sometimes they are there mainly to see who else is around or to watch kids they are pursuing for their own teams.   Some parents and kids who are not all that familiar with the lay of the land do not realize that the coach of the team they really want to make is in the crowd.   So, in effect, everything you are doing at this tryout couold count double.   The coach who is watching and evaluating your kid tomorrow might just be the person standing or sitting next to you today.   favorable impressions can be made at this tryout.   Unfavorable ones can be too!

So go out and do some tryouts.   Treat these like you would games.   Play seriously, play aggressively, get dirty, be friendly, don't distract or be distracted, and remember, you never know when you are being watched, judged clocked, gunned, or by whom.


Permanent Link:  Some Tryout Tips

Just Softball

by Dave
Friday, August 08, 2008

For me, tomorrow is the start of the official tryout season.   My team will be conducting tryouts all weekend.   My kids will be attending various organizations' tryouts this weekend, the next one, possibly some weekdays over the next few weeks, etc.   I expect that many of you will be trying out for teams as well.   So I thought I'd say a few words about tryouts before you head out to face this sometimes daunting task.

First of all, it's just softball.   Really, that's all that is involved, playing a little softball.   You know softball, don't you?   You've played it a few times.   You've been to countless practices even if you've never dabbled in this travel stuff before.   There is nothing much aside from knowing how to practice that you need to know.

Basically, most tryouts are run like fairly well organized practice.   You fill out a little paperwork telling the organization what experience and training you have had.   Don't fret if you've had neither training nor much experience.   That likely won't be considered to exclude you from the roster.   They're just asking in case it might matter to them.   Most of the time, this information just sits on a piece of paper which is never consulted much.

After the paperwork is completed, if there are a large number of participants, you may receive a number to paste to the back of your shirt or something to hang around your neck so those who are evaluating your skills can make notes about you.   That's far easier and less embarrassing than asking "hey you, what's your name" after you make an awful error or dazzle everyone with your fielding skills.   If there are more than 20 kids at the tryouts and they don't hand out numbers, there may be something wrong about this circumstance.   That doesn't mean there is something wrong but how are they supposed to evaluate a bunch of kids when they don't know who they are looking at?

At this point, there will probably be some opportunity to warm-up.   The group may do some running, agility work, or baserunning.   Hopefully the organization provides kids the opportunity to stretch, etc.   But sometimes they don't and while that, in and of itself, is maybe a bad sign, you should still endeavor to warm-up and stretch a bit on your own right after the papers are filed.   Did I forget to say come early because you need to get the paperwork out of the way and the last thing you want to do is arrive right at the starting time in order to be the last kid filling out paperwork while everyone else is warming up.

If girls are told to warm-up by throwing, it is not a great idea to try to dazzle the coaches immediately by getting your arm up to its usual 65 mph speed while loosening up from 30 feet.   Instead, use the opportunity to get loose and move around a bit.   I feel it would be better if girls demonstrated that they know how to loosen up.   It drives me nuts when I have seen my teams in the past whipping the ball from close quarters before practice gets going.   Invariably, one of the kids whipping the ball gets stiffness or soreness in her arm or shoulder and needs to sit down right as practice gets going.   When I see kids trying out who whip the ball at each other from 30 feet, the hair raises on the back of my neck.

More important than showing one's arm strength from 30 feet is a continuous flow of throws and catches.   If kids can't have a clean game of catch from 30 feet, what's going to happen when they move back to 60 or begin doing long toss?   I want to see balls flying back and forth, hitting leather, not grass.   Ideally, when there are those few errant throws, I'd like to see feet moving to the ball rather than arms stretching out in failed attempts to make catches.   Even better than that would be a bunch of girls who move their feet to the ball, shuffle into throwing position athletically, and then make nice, even, accurate throws back and forth to each other.   I would much rather see this than a bunch of balls bouncing around and one or two girls showing Div 1 throwing arms as they try out for my 12U team.   I can't speak for all coaches but when I see one kid whipping the ball rather than warming up, I can't help but think, "there is a poor teammate who is just oh so sure she's the best kid around."   That is probably a faulty judgment but that's what I'm thinking when I see this.   I can't help it.

After warm-ups, perhaps some running or agility stuff, usually fielding drills begin.   Some tryouts involve a line of grils receiving a couple grounders from some spot in the infield and then "next."   Some tryouts involve a coach actually given instruction to the girls as they field a few balls.   When that happens, the coaches are possibly more interested in how the kid responds to correction than they are concerned that she is ready for the next level with the skills she already possesses.   Every organization, team, and group of coaches have different perspectives on things.   But if a coach is providing instruction, very likely he or she is trying to see how you react to constructive criticism.   Give me nine girls who react well and I suspect I can build a decent team.   Give me 12 superstars who will only take instruction from mom and dad during tournaments and I might as well back up my equipment and go home.

Because big tryouts with lots of girls are often difficult to run, there can be a lot of standing around between iterations of drills.   Not many kids will ever decide to do this but to the extent you are standing still, it would be best to keep doing some sort of stretching so you are limber when your turn comes.   Very few kids do this because they generally like to socialize in line.   But if you are cold and tight when your turn comes, don't blame me.   I warned you to try to remain loose.

Usually after infielding drills, there is some sort of outfield drills.   At the younger ages, this can be really trying.   Some girls have never fielded a flyball before.   Even at older ages, when the catchers are forced to do everything everybody else does, there are some tough moments during the outfield drills.   The thing to remember is, don't get overly stressed out.   Just do the best you can and let errors roll off your back.   If a coach sees some kid go into a meltdown because she missed a flyball, he may be more concerned about the meltdown than the error.   And when she notes that she's trying out for catcher not outfield, the coach might begin wondering what will happen when she suffers a passed ball with a runner on third the first time.   I often find myself watching catchers in running drills or fielding flyballs and feeling sorry for them.   I know they are going to be very tired when the catcher part of the tryout begins.   But that's part of the overall experience.   And the pitcher go through the same thing.

Once everything besides hitting, pitching and catching has been completed, it is generally time to hit.   I expect that some kids will get into the batter's box with the expectation of drilling the ball so hard that the coaches will come up to them and demand that they sign team commitment papers after the first pitch from the machine.   I've never actually seen that happen.   Actually, I've never seen any kid actually hit the ball particularly well in tryouts.   There are reason for this but I just want to say that I've never been impressed with how hard anyone has hit the ball in tryouts, particularly not on the first pitch!

Usually hitting tryouts are run via some sort of machine.   Usually they use crummy balls - sometimes the kind of balls you aren't supposed to hit with that new composite bat your parents just shelled out $300 for.   Some of those are beaten up and wouldn't fly out of the infield if Barry Bonds hit them, even right after a good juicing.   Most coaches are observing much more than how hard the ball was hit.   They want to see fairly sound mechanics.   They want to see good balance.   They want to see bat speed because while you can train a kid to hit the ball, it is difficult to make a timid hitter aggressive.

If coaches are giving advice to hitters, this is pretty much the same as when they did it with fielding drills.   They want to see the "intangible," coachability.   I remember one tryout I was involved with some years ago.   This one kid was struggling.   She just couldn't hit a machine pitched ball (we'll get to that in a minute).   I felt bad for her.   So I stopped feeding balls and walked up to her.   I said, "Hey, I know you can hit because I can see you take a good hard swing.   You don't need to do anything here to prove to me or anyone else that you can hit.   Relax kid, this isn't going to make or break your oppportunity to join this team.   How about you meet a couple balls and then start to drive them?   Just relax and pretend you are at your old team where you are a big hitter.   Make some contact and then we'll see where we go from there."   The kid met my eyes and listened intently to what I said.   I walked back and prepared to feed this kid some pitches.   On they first pitch, she fouled it off and I said, "That's it.   Just a little contact."   The next pitch she swung and made contact again, this time hitting the ball into fair ground.   After that she relaxed and then hit some hard ones.   I wasn't interested in this particular kid that year but that's a different story.   If I had an opening I most certainly would have invited her.   To me, she demonstrated that she was coachable in some of the most stressful situations she would likely face.

Back to the general and away from the anecdotes for a second, some kids just cannot hit pitching machines.   I really have no idea why that is.   But I'm sure the phenomenon exists.   I've seen it too many times.   A select few girls actually ruin their ability to hit by facing machine pitched balls.   They just can;t seem to get the timing down and then their swing goes to heck and they need thousands of iterations at the tee to get it back.   These same girls knock the cover off the ball when they face real pitching.   It is a very strange thing but it is something everyone should be aware of.

Conversely, there are some girls out there who can only hit machine pitching.   I know this to be true because in my past I can think of several times when girls have been added to a team I was involved with because they hit well at tryouts, yet they never hit well in games.   Again, I don;t know why this is but I have seen it.

Sometimes I suspect the speed of the machine can play an important role in these two strange happenings.   One time I was supposed to evaluate hitters while somebody else operated the machine.   One girl hit, the others did not.   I walked out to the machine and asked the operator what speed he had set the thing at.   he told me he had it set about 5 mph slower than anything we expected to see with this team.   I asked him to turn it up to a couple mph over what I believed would be the slowest speed we would face.   The other girls began to hit and the "big hitter" never touched another pitch.

At one tryout I attended not as a coach, they had a bunch of girls in different age categories from 10U to 14U.   the 14s went first and those girls hit the pitches pretty well.   Then the 12s went and very few made any contact at all aside from bunting.   The reason was the machines were set to someplace between 55 and 60.   When the 10s stood in, they slowed the machines down to 40.   And those girls hit the balls better than the 12s!

One other anecdote I have for you is, at another tryout, there were two machines pitching side by side.   The operator of one of the machines noticed that the pitch speed seemed wrong so he lowered it.   Then he pointed this out to the operator of the other machine but that guy decided he wasn't going to lower the speed down to a reasonable level.   The girls on the left hit and those on the right did not.   I hope somebody was smart enough to figure this out but who really knows!

Another of the things which troubles me in hitting tryouts is the use of balls of all colors besides yellow.   Come on now, fastpitch softball is played with a yellow ball.   What's up with the white, orange, blue, grey, etc. balls?   Some kids can hit yellow with red laces and nothing else.   Some kids can apparently hit grey but will never touch yellow.   They do sell yellow machine balls with red lace lines drawn on them.   Somebody should be smarter than that.   It would all be ridiculous if weren't for the fact that what most coaches are watching is the quality of the swing, not the contact.   So, if you're trying out, just take your hacks, listen to any coaching, and don't fret the fact that you missed every pitch.

Oh, and when the coaches say bunt a couple, please be prepared for that.   Nobody needs me to tell them that softball is a small ball game a lot of the time.   As a coach, if I had my druthers, 12 girls on my roster would be able to put down a bunt.   I wouldn;t mind seeing a few slappers at trouts as well.   But the worst possible thing happens when some kid steps in, does OK on her bunts and hits a few balls, but then switches over to slapping and cannot make any contact.   If you are going to slap at tryouts, it would be advisable that you be able to make contact before trying it out.   Once you say that you can slap and then move to the left side, you cannot just miss a couple and then say, "I'm really just learning so now I'll go back to the right side."   Once you claim you are a slapper and move over, you have to stay in there until you hit a few or the coach says "next."   You are committed and you must slap.   If you give up, you are saying more about your lack of any kind of mental toughness than you are about anything else.   if you want to slap, make sure you can do it.

At this point, tryouts are probably over for most kids.   Three hours have probably gone by fairly quickly and it's time to go home.   Before you leave tryouts, make sure you understand what is expected of you.   Many times we have been told that we must come back on Tuesday or tomorrow for an additional try-out.   Some teams use a single day to make their selections.   Some do not.   If you didn't hear anything before getting ready to leave, ask a coach.   And check with your friends to find out if they heard anything differently.   Many times, the guy who is going to give the goodby speech is busy talking to some parent. You don;t know who he is.   He finally finds a polite way to end that conversation and then comes looking for the girls.   He never notices that 10 girls already left when he informs everyone that they need to come back tomorrow.

After this point, most likely it is time for the tired, sweaty pitchers and catchers to show their stuff.   If there are a large number of pitchers and a small number of catchers, it is just possible that somebody else is supposed to warm-up the pitchers, somebody else meaning dad.   Sometimes the coaches or evaluators will announce, "OK pitchers, go warm-up" and they don't particularly care if the poor pitcher has nobody to warm up with.   If you are a pitcher, you should attempt to bring along dad or a catching friend to get you ready for your tryout.

I haver seen one interesting phenomenon play out in tryouts.   There are only a few catchers available for say two dozen pitchers.   All of these catchers have a friend who is tryout out for pitcher.   They willingly catch for their pitcher friend and then when she's ready somebody else comes up and asks the girl to catch for them or their daughter.   A few will comply with such requests, most won't.   The girls who decide to catch opften get beaten up and then have trouble when tryouts move to the catching portion.   If you are a catcher, get yourself warmed up, not a bunch of pitchers you've never met before.   If you are a pitcher, bring someone along to warm you up.

So, now the tryout is over and you;re wondering what's next.   Hopefully somebody has told you but often things are too disorganized for that.   Many times, kids and parents just sort of melt away without proper instruction.   Then they wait for some sort of phone call which never comes.   The result of this is the kid and her parents will never come back again to one of your tryouts.   They'll play for the Devil himself before playing for you.   But that's the way things seem to work.   There can be very little real communication around tryouts unless the team decides they really want you.

A few organizations do a really good job of communicating with those who come out for their teams.   But even those organizations often do not give you the courtesy of a phone call when you are not being asked to join the team.   I understand that.   But I don't like it.   Personally, I have always found a way to communicate with kids who tried out for my team that, while I thought they were wonderful kids and very good softball players, I just didn't have space on my team for them this year.   It is a slightly uncomfortable job but, in my mind, a necessary one.   Still, if you are not going to be asked to join a team, chances are much better than 50% you will never hear from them.

If you are interested in a team and the organization provides the opportunity to answer any of your questions before you leave the tryout, it would be best that you come with a set of questions at the ready rather than winging it.   if you try to wing it, you are probasbly going to ask a bunch of questions which have no valid bearing on whether you join the team.   You remember how it was back in your school days, don't you?   There was always some kid whose hand went up immediately whenever the phrase "does anyone have any questions?"   That kid asked some of the most innane, irrelevant question imaginable but he was pretty sure he was demonstrating his smartness by asking questions.   When parents do that, coaches get irrittated.   There are some valid questions you can and should ask.   But the more detailed the question, the more detailed the expected response, the more the coaches are going to try to short circuit your questions.   And you can ask some important questions when they ask you to join the team in a few weeks.   Save something for then since the coach will probably be less tired from conducting 8 hours of boring tryouts when he or she calls to invite you to the team.

I would focus any questions on facts that differentiate one team from another like costs, fundraising responsibilities, plan for winter workouts, number and type of tournaments - going to nationals or not, and things of that nature.   What is mostly inadvisable are questions like "how much pitching time is my daughter going to get?" or "can you offer me guarantee that my daughter will be your first string shortstop?"   Any coach who can guarantee a certain amount of playing time before fall workouts and scrimmages, games or tournaments, before winter workouts, before your kid actually plays a tournament on some day in April or May, is essentially lying.   Those things are not predictable at this point.   And anyone who asks such questions is immediately suspect.   You get the call asking you to play and want to know precise answers to these and other questions, then you tell the coach you'll get back to him in three days, then when you call five days later to say, "yes," he says, "sorry, you asked so many questions that I felt you weren't interested so when you didn't call 3 days later, I offered your slot to someone else.   We can't wait forever, you know."

Well that's my advice for the day.   Go to tryouts.   Don't get nervous.   It is just softball and you've played and practiced hundreds of times.   Get there early and loosen up.   Don't fret errors and missed swings.   Be coachable, if you can be.   Do things as well as you can and don't become upset if you make mistakes or can't hit the stupid machine.   Learn what you can by asking questions but don;t expect the main coach to spend three hours with you explaining every detail imaginable or providing you a written guarantee about how much your kid is going to play.   Ask smart questions you really need the answers to but keeop in mind that if they are interested in you playing for the team, there will be other opportunities for getting more information.


Permanent Link:  Just Softball

A Few Good Girls

by Dave
Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Yesterday I responded to an e-mail from a father who said his daughter would be trying out for some travel club teams at the next opportunity.   He didn't say when that would be.   My guess is she'll try out late this summer to early fall.   This exchange got me to thinking about what it is like to be in that situation, trying out for travel the first time.   I forget how that feels from the parent / player point of view but I thought I might give you one parent-coach's point of view to possibly give you a better idea of what to expect.

(I'm going to flip around between "you," "your kid," etc.   Please don't be thrown off by my poor pronoun usage!   It's bad grammar but I want to write this free form.)

At this or any other point of the year, I suppose there are several different kinds of try-outs: formal, semi-formal and informal.   These depend upon tyhe particular situation of the team trying you out.

You could be asked to try out tomorrow for a team already in its season.   Teams all over the place still need kids to complete their rosters.   Many have had girls on the roster leave for other programs or quit altogether.   Some have already lost kids to injuries, usually not related to the sport, by the way!   Teams at this point in the year are in a rush to fill their 12 or whatever number they consider a full roster.

A new team might be forming this late in the year and conduct a formal try-out but that's a little unusual.   Or you could be looking into your crystal ball and seeing that in a few short months you will be ready to give this thing a try.   Formal, semi-formal and informal try-outs are, of course, very different animals and should be addressed separately.

Informal and Semi-formal Try-out

If you have been asked to try out for an existing travel team this spring, your try-out is probably going to be a less formal affair than the full-blown variety conducted at the end of tournament season.   You may have a private tryout with nobody else around but coaches, perhaps a coach's kid or two.   That's probably the easiest situation.   Or you could be invited to come to a regular practice or possibly even a scrimmage, which is far more stressful for the poor kid.

If you have a private try out, I strongly suggest some sort of warm-up before you go.   The coaches should provide the opportunity to warm-up (or maybe you should avoid that team!) but even during the warm-up you are being tried out.   So it's best to just go already warm.   In particular, I suggest you get your arm warmed up and ready for action so your throws will be as strong and accurate as possible.   But I'm jumping ahead of myself.

The private try-out likely will involve you and a daughter of one of the coaches.   Relax and remember, the other kid really wants to like you.   You don't have to show her up or otherwise impress her right out of the box.   Stay relaxed, be friendly, and let her take the lead.   If she is whipping the ball at your head in warm-ups to see if you can "take it," just casually catch the ball and throw back to her at your normal speed.   As you feel your body get warmed up to game level and your confidence grows, you can whip it back at her and show your stuff.   You don't need to get worked up and show her you are as good as, or better than, her.   Chances are slightly better than 50-50 that this kid is one of the better ones on her team.   You don't have to match her.   If you just keep pace with her, she will appreciate your abilities.

If your private try-out is with a coach with no kids around, you should be even more relaxed.   The coach is looking for whatever he or she is looking for.   You can't possibly know what that is, unless he or she decided to communicate it with you.   And even if you were told precisely what the coach is looking for, most likely you weren't told the qualities that the team needs to fill the slot.   It's best to just be yourself, relaxed and friendly.   It never hurts to show one's competitive fire but allow that to come out naturally as you get more and more comfortable with your surroundings.

If you are trying out at a team practice and there is nobody else besides team members, coaches, and parents around, there are a couple things to keep in mind.   First of all, not all teams are alike.   Some have been practicing and playing together for years.   Some have been doing that since fall.   And some may not have been together for very long at all.   Some teams will appear all business and some will be filled with apparent slackers.   Some teams will appear to form a cluster of the current team members with only you as an outsider.   And some teams will readily welcome anybody who has the guts to come out and practice with them.   It goes without saying that some teams will be better than others.

One of the things about a try-out with an entire team that is not readily apparent is, regardless of how long they have been together, the girls do not all like each other.   It will appear as if they do, but I asure you that 99% of the time, that's not the case.   They do not all love each other and despise you regardless of how it appears.   Be relaxed and friendly and things will roll along.   When one or two girls scowls at you, just smile back at them.

Another element which is not readily apparent is some of the kids are looking for a good player and some are not.   The kids who are looking for a good player are probably pretty talented themselves.   They see their team's weaknesses and they want other kids to come in and fill the holes.   Other kids might see you as a rival who is going to cut into their playing time.   For you parents on the sidelines, the same is true of the parents who surround you.   Some of those will welcome you with open arms and some see you and your kid as rivals.

It may not be readily apparent just who is who in this scenario.   Very often, the parent or kid who appears to readily accept you is the one who sees you as a rival.   Such people believe in keeping their friends close but their enemies closer.   You don't have to go to tryouts with social anxiety.   But this could be a lion's den and you should at least be aware of your surroundings lest you be eaten.

Something to keep in mind when attending a practice for the purpose of trying out is this is first about softball, second about fitting in, and then about coachability and just being a good kid.   It is best to be relaxed, focused on fielding the ball and making good throws, and being friendly.

Notice, I didn't say making friends.   There's plenty of time for that later, should you be asked to join the team.   Most important is paying attention, listening to coaches, and performing at your best.   The last thing a coach wants to see is another kid who doesn't pay attention or causes others to lose focus.   I guarantee the team already has a kid who distracts others and never knows what's going on.   That probably is not the slot they are looking to fill.   Coaches will be looking for you to be friendly with their other girls.   But friendly does not necessarily mean whispering to another girl while the coach is giving instruction or running a drill.

Another element to keep in mind is the coach possibly feels he and his already assembled team is trying out for you as much as you are trying out for them.   The coach may get angry with his kids when they don't do what they're told.   Don't assume the coach is angry with you if he or she appears short-tempered.   If the team has been practicing for a while, they have good practices and bad ones.   During the bad ones, the coach is probably pretty short-tempered.   More often than not, a coach will not get angry with a kid who is trying out.

Usually a try-out-in-practice situation is pretty similar to your rec or all-star practices.   There are warm-up drills, more involved situational defense things, perhaps a little hitting, and other drills you have probably already seen.   There won't be all that much which is new.   Make sure you have brought enough water.   Do the best that you can with the drills.   Always listen to the coach's instruction before drills begin.   Always pay very close attention to the coach's instruction when you are being corrected.   Many times a coach will choose one kid over another based not on ability but rather on coachability.   I have heard coaches at tryouts exclaim, "I like you.   You are a very good listener."   I have personally told kids trying out for me, "I like your atttitude" solely because when I corrected them, they did exactly what I wanted them to do.   If something like this happens, you can pretty much bet you will make the team.

Pay as much attention to the coach correcting other kids doing drills as you do when you are in the drill.   Coaches do not like to tell a kid to keep her butt down or put her hands out in front of her and bend at the knee, then watch the next kid set up the wrong way in just the same manner the kid before did.   On the other hand, there is nothing quite so satisfying as struggling to get a kid to do something over and over again, and then the next kid does it exactly the way you want!

Have as good a practice as you can.   Look at this like you would a clinic you paid to attend.   Relax, it's just softball.   Try to have fun.   If the skills you already possess are what the team is looking for, you probably will be asked to join the team.   If they aren't, you probably will never hear from them again.

As an aside, I always talk at least as much to the parents of kids I won't be asking to join my team as I do to those I want to join us.   Not all coaches do that.   Some view telling a kid or parents that they have not made the team as the worst part of their coaching responsibilities.   They procrastinate on the task and then forget to do it or just take the attitude that if I want you, you'll know.   Most kids who try out in any setting who are not asked to join the team never hear a single word about it.

If your kid did not make the team and the coach is kind enough to speak to you, the parent, about it, find out what they were looking for, why your kid didn't fit the bill, how you can overcome those shortcomings, when your kid can try out again, and most importantly, if they know of other teams looking for kids, preferably ones looking for a kid like yours.   The coach may not be real specific about what they were looking for or what your kid's perceived shortcomings were.   Some may tell you that they don't think your kid is ready this year or right now.   Don't settle for such a non-specific critique but don't make a pain out of yourself either.   Simply ask which of her skills the coach thinks are most needing and how she should go about improving those.   Don't interrogate the coach, just ask some open-ended questions and let the coach do most of the talking.

Feel free to use whatever techniques you have in your repertoire to make the coach give you as much information as possible.   Tell them that you value their opinion and don't know very much about this travel thing.   You'd appreciate whatever information they can give you.   Travel ball coaches like to show their stuff and share whatever they know with others.   It makes them feel as if they are in the know.

If you did make the team, that's great but it doesn't mean you have to join.   This team doesn't have a monopoly on softball in these United States.   Before you join, you want to know the financial and time commitments.   You want to know how many tournaments the team is playing and whether they travel outside the area much.

At this point in the year, the coach should be able to give you all the information you need fairly easily.   He or she just may not have all that on site.   You may have to get this information later today via e-mail or call the coach to have a conversation.

Of course the coach wants an answer to the offer of joining the team right now.   But, as in all pursuits, you shouldn't feel obligated to reply right away.   You need answers to your question, you need to talk with your kid at length, you probably need to talk to your spouse, before you can make a commitment.

If push comes to shove, I suppose you could just agree to join the team, get the information later and then make your real decision after you have gathered all that.   That's not optimal but it is one way to get him to move the car blocking your car in the parking space.   If the coach wants an answer now and a check, tell him you can't do that.   Most likely, if you refuse to pay your fee today, the coach will not cross you off his list.   What he is trying to do is lock up your kid.   She has impressed him and he is worried that she may be scooped up by another team.   He doesn't need the money today.   Nobody does.

By the way, if the coach asks you directly what other teams you are currently trying out for, then he is really worried that he won't get your kid on his roster.   Answer him truthfully because coaches have ways to find out who is trying out for which teams, and nobody likes a liar.   But, if you aren'rt trying out elsewhere, be hesitant so he might still be worried that you are looking at other teams.   Let him think maybe you are lying when you say this is the only team you are trying out for.   You could inflate other opportunities, if you can't say "oh, she's trying out for the Psycho-killers Elite."   But better than claiming she is being recruited by the OC Batbusters who are willing to fly her in from Maine every week, is telling the coach you aren't sure if she's going to play travel at all this year.

Formal try-out

I told you that formal, semi-formal, and informal try-outs are very different animals.   Informal ones are like playing catch with somebody else's mom or dad at a park.   Semi-formal try-outs are like going to a practice in which you know nobody and they all know each other.   Formal try-outs are usually more structured than practices and far more intimidating though less socially stressful since either the entire existing team will not be there en masse, or there are tons of other girls aside from current team members.

There is a broad spectrum of formal try-outs.   Some are well run and some are rather poorly managed.   Usually everyone will warm-up together and then fielding or base-running drills will take place.   Then there might be some batting - we'll talk about that later.   Then the coaches will talk to everyone collectively and let the non-pitchers/catchers go home after which pitching and catching tryouts will be conducted.

I and/or my kids have been involved with formal try-outs which have been on a single day and lasted just two hours.   We have also been to ones which have lasted longer than 4 hours on a hot day and required kids to return for another 4 hours on another hot day.   We have been to try outs where 3 days were posted, and kids were expected to come to two or more of these yet not told that.   We have been involved in multiple day tryouts in which a few days were posted, kids were expected to return for more than a single day, and at the last of these days (not the first or middle ones), kids were again told to come back for yet another day, sometimes after several kids have already left the try-out!   I know someone who was asked to join a team who wouldn';t have even shown up for the last, most important try-out date because they weren't told about it.   It was jusy an oversight.   But there were several opther kids who also weren't told and would have made the team.   Nobody ever told them about final try-outs.

I have known try-outs in which kids were expected to come back again and again, then assume they made the team (without anyone telling them such) and come to subsequent practices without ever questioning whether they made the team or not.   These funky arrangements sound informal or disorganized but in most cases it is a deliberate attempt to confuse the issue unless and until the team decides how to complete their roster of 12.   The lack of communication may or may not be deliberate but the continual coming back is very much so.   It is done with the dual purpose of seeing who is really interested in joining this team and to keep players hanging in the air until the best possible roster has been assembled.   I understand the tactic but we don't like such uncertainty in our lives.   And most likely you don't either.

Regardless of how the formal tryout(s?) are structured, assume that it will be a little more intense and intimidating than the less formal ones.   Usually there will be warm-up, speed, agility, and base-running to begin with.   Then things will move over to a protracted session on defense.   This will include infield and outfield work and most likely your kid will be expected to work all the fielding positions.   Sometimes the coaching staff will divide up the kids into infielders and outfielders or work kids only at the position they wish to try-out for.   But most often, your slow-running, not overly athletic catcher or first baseman will have to take grounders at short and flyballs in center.

This could throw her off her usual game at her desired position but knowing that some non-position-specific skills will be tested should help her get over this.   Once try-outs begin, you the parent will have no opportunity to talk with her - to coach her through the fact that she has to do these skills.   So it's best to at least discuss beforehand that she may have to do some things she doesn't want to do and this shouldn't throw her off her game.

Likely there will be a batting session at some point.   This will probably be machine pitched.   I have seen coaches do soft toss but this is somewhat unusual unless they just want to focus on the swing and coachability.   More often there is a machine throwing pitches.

I have seen coaches turn machine up to 55 for 10U kids while using full, 12-inch sized balls.   I have seen machines turned up to 65 for 12s and 14s who bat together.   I have also seen machines tuned to 45 for 12s and 14s alike.   The spectrum is broad and you should be ready for anything when it comes to hitting try-outs.

The most important aspect is really the swing.   Don't try to kill the ball on the first pitch.   Usually coaches want to see you try to bunt first anyways.   But take good swings not hard ones to begin with.   Then as you make contact, gain confidence, and feel comfortable in your surroundings, take some hard swings and try to smash it.   I also believe that beginner slappers should not show their basic skills unless they believe they will make contact.   If a girl could have gotten in there with her ten pitches and hit all of them, showing that you started taking slap lessons last week and then missing 9 out of 10 is not going to favorably impress anyone. &nbsdp; I'd rather a girl take her ten regular swings and then, when the coach says "next," say to him "hey can I take some slaps?"   It would also be OK to let the coaches know you are a beginner since the fact that you are interested in that aspect of the game might get their attention.   But failing at it and showing nothing else is inadvisable.

Finally, if you have ever coached before, you probably realize that one of the worst things you can hear from a kid in any situation, practice, game, try-out, etc., is something along the lines of when will this be over, when do I get to go home and play video games.   As a parent who does not know how long this thing is going to go on, let your kid know 1) you don't know, 2) we are staying for the duration even if it goes until midnight, and 3) don't ask anyone when this will be over.   Your kid may decide they don't want to be on this team and do that kind of thing in order to anger the coach.   So make a real enforceable threat which you'll carry out if they ask the coach "when do we get to go home."   Remember, travel days are long and coaches do not want a bunch of kids on their team who will want to leave the field after the first game of a 6 game minimum guarantee!

Preparing for try-outs

If you are looking at perhaps going to a travel try-out in the fall, there are some things you can do to prepare yourself or your daughter.   The first, most important thing you should do is play catch, a lot.   The first skill anyone will likely notice on the diamond is throwing, both strength and accuracy.   The more often you throw, the better your throwing will become.   Parents who want their kid on a travel team should make a serious effort to get out and just throw as often as possible.   This is more important than going out to the field all day every Saturday top throw her 8 hours of daddy-pitched batting practice.   This is more important than signing her up for the softball clinic at your local fields, even if those are run by the travel organization as a fundraiser.

Just get out and catch for half an hour every other day.   Do more if you can.   Keep in mind that the second skill people will notice is catching.   If your arm is strong, the coaches will begin to watch you.   If the return throw to you is missed every time, they will stop watching you.

While you are out playing catch every day for two hours, my guess is that dad or mom's rag arm will begin to ache.   At thise point you can begin to roll grounders.   You don;t need to buy a composite bat and go to the field in order to practice grounders.   Any bouncing, rolling ball will do.   Do some straight on and some to each side.   This work is about moving your feet, keeping good body posture and performing the correct mechanical work.   Emphasis should be on making clean fielding plays while also getting the ball back quickly through good footwork.   Get up and stay on your toes!   Be athletic about it.

As far as practicing hitting for a travel try-out goes, I suggest taking lots of good swings.   You can take 50 swings every other day without investing much time.   As you know, if you read this site, I prefer using a tee to having dad throw soft ones in from 40.   Also, you might go out to the local commercial establishment a few times to swing at machine pitched balls - use a practice bat so you don't damage the good one.

If you go out to use machine pitched balls, start out with the speed setting low.   Focus on locking in the best mechanics you know.   After a while turn up the speed a few notches.   Still, take good swings - that's what they'll be looking at.   Before you call it quits, turn the machine up to the highest speed you expect you might face just for the heck of it.   Your 12U daughter may not appreciate swinging and missing at 65 mph fastballs but she should at least see some of that in case some moronic coach puts her in for some of that at the tryout.   If this becomes a problem, take a few more minutes at a hittable speed.   You don't want to breakdown her confidence.


There uis a broad spectrum of travel try-out possibilities.   You shouldn't be surprised by whatever is thrown your way.   That's true if you go play catch with the coach of the team or his daughter.   It is equally true if you have to go to some practice where all the rest of the kids are sneering or snickering at you.   Going to a formal try-out is maybe more intimidating than these other kinds but at least it isn't you against the world.   regardless of the try-out circumstance, I do strongly suggest you just go whether you want to make a team or not.   It is an invaluable experience.

If you want to make a team, prepare for it, if time allows.   Focus on fundamentals, particularly throwing and catching.   Consider that coaches would like to have a roster filled with 12 girls who all (in this order):
  • listen,
  • never fool around,
  • always smile when they are being constructively criticized,
  • get along with each other,
  • never complain or ask to pitch on a team with 10 other pitchers who are all better,
  • do what they are told,
  • throw accurately,
  • catch balls thrown to them, and
  • swing the bat.

Some coaches are looking only for Jennie Finch's younger cousins to play with their darling daughter who is the only one with a firm roster spot.   You don't want to be on that team.   The rest of us just want a few good girls.

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