Ahead in the Count

Advice For Tryouts

Advice for Tryouts

I think that everyone who contributes to this blog would agree that youth sports have become too hyper-focused on winning, and that what the scoreboard says is actually one of the least important measures of success on the field for young athletes. One of the most unfortunate byproducts of the win-at-all costs attitude permeating our culture is the unnecessary pressure that many young players feel during practices and games. Competition is healthy and there is nothing wrong with wanting to win ballgames, but often when the desire to win becomes too great, it overwhelms other measures of success such as teamwork, effort, attitude, and hustle. As a result, many young ball players feel pressure to be perfect on the field and not only can they not reach their full potential under these circumstances, but the game becomes much less enjoyable for them.

Most years, there is no more pressure-packed day than little league tryouts. Not only is it most player’s first day on the diamond each year, but they must field ground balls, catch fly balls, pitch, and hit while being evaluated by dozens of coaches, a grandstand full of parents, and all of their peers. There is no doubt that all ballplayers, young and old, perform better and have more fun on the field when they are relaxed, confident, and comfortable. So what can we do to help create an environment that allows our kids to get maximum joy out of the game while simultaneously developing as a ballplayer and a human?

First, as parents and coaches we must remind our players that we love and support them regardless of their performance on the field. This will give them the confidence to play the game free from worrying that our support of them is dependant on results. All kids want to make their parents and coaches proud, but we cross into dangerous territory when they begin to think that our relationship with them is conditional on performance. By redefining success on the field to include honoring the game, acting like a good sport, giving maximum effort at all times, and supporting teammates, even on days when they go 0-4 and make 3 errors in the field, there is still a sense of accomplishment to be proud of. Baseball is a game of statistical failures (name one other sport where “succeeding” 3 out of 10 times guarantees you a spot in the Hall of Fame), so if we only define success in terms of winning and losing, hits and outs, strikeouts and walks, most little leaguers will leave the field each day dejected. By creating a culture that rewards the concepts listed above in addition to wins, losses, and stats, players will be more relaxed on the field, and more often than not, they will begin to perform better as well.

Second, we need to remind our players that game is supposed to be fun. Every time I return from the Dominican I am struck by how much joy the kids down there play the game with. They are constantly laughing, smiling, and joking with each other and no matter how they are performing as individuals or as a team, they thoroughly enjoy and value every single minute they are on the field. We need to encourage our players to play with the same attitude. Our goal as coaches and parents should be to create an atmosphere on the field that kids can look back fondly on years from now.

Finally, we should make our little leaguers aware that at no other time in their life will physical size and strength be such an advantage or disadvantage (depending on whether or not they’ve hit their growth spurt). Ted wrote an excellent blog on radar guns a few weeks back and it got me thinking about the correlation between size and success in little league. Is the kid who throws the ball the hardest the most talented player on the field? Usually not – he just happens to have grown up a little faster than his peers and his size and strength is often misinterpreted as talent. Is the kid who can hit the ball the furthest the best hitter in the league? Usually not, he just happens to be stronger than everyone else. This is not to take anything away from “big” little leaguers. The point is that, by nature, kids compare themselves to their peers and especially in little league; this can be unfair to the pre-growth spurt group.

Commonly, I get questions from my students and parents like, “Why can’t my son hit it to the fence like so-and-so” or “Why can’t my son throw as hard as so-and-so.” More often than not the answer to the question is simply a matter of size and strength – a variable that is completely out of our control – not a result of effort or ability.

Once ballplayers reach 13 or 14 and everyone has started to turn into young men, the playing field levels again, but until then, the little leaguers who grow earlier will always have the advantage.

Instead of solely focusing on results at tryouts (M.P.H., number of homeruns, running speed, etc), I’d love to see our little leagues emphasize hustle, attitude, and desire as well. When the physical aspects of the game begin to even out in around age 13 or 14, it will be the players who learned the correct fundamentals while simultaneously learning how to support their teammates, respect the game, hustle, and have an undying desire to improve who will come out ahead in the end.

March 19, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. Beautifully written – I needed this perspective years ago (although definitely learned right/wrong from HF!) I wanted the article and advice to continue, now that I have a HS player!

    Comment by Tiffney Brockway | March 20, 2009

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