I have heard and read this statement at least a thousand times over the last few months in Facebook posts for team tryouts. Of course, we are talking about playing time. And while I agree that this is the right approach, we need to lay out a few qualifiers.
There are very different expectations whether we are talking about school ball or travel ball. Since all these posts are looking for players for travel teams, then we have to understand a couple things.
If you are recruiting a player for your travel team and you tell that player and her parents up front, that all they get for their fees or dues is a chance to win a starting spot then you have gained a whole lot more credibility.
With that being said, I don’t think too many travel-ball recruiting talks are quite that straightforward. For one reason, most parents are used to basing their decision on the promise of playing time. Their assumption is that when they pay the fee they’re guaranteed playing time. And most travel coaches are either so motivated to get a player that they don’t lay things out that clearly or just don’t want to make such a strong statement so they talk around it rather than making it very clear.
I think most travel coaches mean well when they say things like earned not given, but are falling into the trap of using a catch phrase that other “high level” teams are using as a way to keep up. The travel ball coach hopes this can make people think that they are a coach who knows what it takes to get the job done and are going to get better players.
There are a lot of things that a player gains from really earning playing time. Work ethic, perseverance, competitiveness and dedication are all great life skills. We also know that when players get something without earning it. They can become selfish or lazy or complacent. If a player is in a competitive situation and does earn her spot, the benefits for softball and life are endless. We just need to be sure they see it that way.
Now, back to my position that I think all positions should be earned but, then again I spent almost all of my career in the school ball setting where winning was a very high priority. We practiced all the time so when I said playing time was earned in practice it was an easy concept to explain and for players to understand. And even then, their were so many times that players thought I was wrong about who should play and who earned a starting spot that I couldn’t count them all.
In the travel ball world what most coaches are saying, and what most parents are hearing, is that if we accept your money your time is earned. We can hope that players will come to practice, work hard on their own and show that they deserve to play. But with so many teams out there always looking for players, there is always someplace else for them to “earn” their playing time.