What’s Up With These Rankings?

People love lists! They can’t wait to see the Top Ten on ESPN, they love to see who is the #1 team in the nation when the football polls come out and they love to see where their kid is on the list of best players in the nation!

People love awards! They want to be recognized for a job well done, they love to see their team receive an award for their performance on the field or in the classroom and they love to see their kids get recognized for being one of the best players in the nation!

Well, there’s a phenomenon that is sweeping the softball world: the ranking of players on a national scale. There are a couple different groups who are now publishing lists of the best softball players in each graduating class. Whether that should be happening or how it is happening will be discussed shortly.

For the record, I’ve sat in a room or been on a conference call (sorry before Zoom was a thing) where our challenge was to select an All-Conference, All-Region or even All-American teams. This was a daunting challenge because there were many deserving players and only so many spots on each team. We often had first-hand knowledge from seeing the players play, or had to rely on the opinions of other coaches who had seen those players play. We would argue and plead our case and usually left with a team that did represent the best players at each level.

How are the creators of these new lists determining which player is superior to the next? Who are the “experts” we’re counting on to help us sort out this amazing list of players? And, finally, what criteria are we using to rank each player?

With these questions and experiences in mind, I have a very difficult time understanding how we can determine, not only who the best player in the country is, but even more challenging would be who is player number 474?

I was a part of the group of coaches that created the Wisconsin Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association way back in the 1980’s. The WFSCA has blossomed over all this time into a very strong organization that selects All-State teams, All-Star teams that compete with neighboring states, recognizes coaches for coaching milestones and offers a coaches clinic each year to help their coaches become better coaches. One of the techniques that we used to grow the WFSCA in the early years was tying the awards program to coaches becoming members of the association and it really worked. As soon as a really strong player was left off of the All-State team their coach was pressured or shamed into joining so that it wouldn’t happen again.

Which leads to my second bunch of questions. How are players nominated for these lists? Are coaches required to pay a fee or subscribe to a service to be able to nominate players? Are players whose coaches do not join/pay considered?

The skeptic in me wonders if these lists aren’t just another cash grab for another entity making money off of this great game.

Now, how these questions are answered doesn’t mean that the idea of recognizing a group of players is a bad thing. But it also means that there might need to be some qualifiers attached to the discussion. And I know, already some of you are wondering why I even think this is a big deal.

What can be wrong with honoring hard working softball players? Well, thanks for giving me the opportunity to ask:

  1. Can it cause team turmoil when one player gets recognized and another player doesn’t?
  2. Could a player decide that she has worked hard enough since she is already such a highly recognized player?
  3. Could a player misinterpret where she fits into the the recruiting landscape since she is such a highly recognized player?
  4. Is there an inordinate amount of pressure now placed on a team or coach since they have so many nationally ranked players?
  5. Does it create an extra level of rivalry between teams when one team has players getting nationally recognized and their opponents who might be similarly talented are not?
  6. Don’t we already have enough things (high entry fees, stay to play, org fees, etc.) that we are already paying a lot of money for?

Regardless, rankings are here to stay!

  1. They are fun for the kids and parents who get recognized.
  2. They keep people talking about the kids who play the game.
  3. They stir the pot and keep people arguing about who is ranked and who isn’t.
  4. And they make money for the people who publish them, which allows them to keep publishing more lists and other content about fastpitch softball!

Are rankings good or bad? Well, we all know the old saying about how opinions are like _______ everybody has one! Let the arguments begin!