What’s Wrong with Travel Ball?

Part 2 of this series is a direct extension of part 1 where we talked about how most teams do not practice enough. Of course, not all teams fall into the trap of playing too often when they really need to practice. Assuming practice is where we address team shortcomings we really need to ask how we expect to get better if we don’t practice enough but we know many teams are choosing this option. Here is the next part of the not enough practice discussion.

2. Coaches and parents who expect their kids to play like full time professional players when they practice like part-timers.

We’ve all seen this unfold more times than we can count. The angry coach stomping around the dugout or field because their team just messed up a rundown/cutoff/relay/bunt coverage. Or the apoplectic parent who looks like they about to climb the chain link fence because their kid/team just messed up a rundown/cutoff/relay/bunt coverage. If you had a dollar for every time you experienced this scene at the ball fields you could retire comfortably so we know it’s a common occurrence.

They should have made that play! We’ve talked about that play! We need to execute! We can’t give up extra runs by messing up the basics! Or you can fill in the blank with whatever other version of this same lament you want to but the point is pretty clear. It kills a team when they mess up these kinds of plays. And that’s not even talking about the common, run of the mill, physical error that will always be a part of the game, even when we practice.

So what’s the point? You can’t expect players, no matter what age, to execute complex team strategies without enough practice time to perfect those skills. If your team is practicing part time you should expect the players to play at a part time level. And the part time level is going to include making too many mistakes on the types of plays we’ve mentioned earlier. If you think things like bunt coverage or rundowns aren’t worthy of being called complex then I think it’s safe to say you haven’t been on the field with a bunch of 10 year olds when things start to get crazy.

Coaches, you have the choice, in my opinion, to solve this problem. You can change your schedule around to include enough practice time to feel confident that your team can execute all the plays at a very high level. Or you can decide that when your team makes these mistakes you are going to look in the mirror and say to yourself, “we didn’t work on that enough so I can’t be mad at them” and move on. What we need to stop doing is projecting our anger/disappointment/frustration onto the team since they are demonstrating what they are prepared to do.

Parents, you have a choice too. Similarly to the coaches of the team, we need to take a look in the mirror, and ask ourselves if we are part of the problem. How many times have your decided to skip practice because ________? Again, I know there are some things that are more important than softball but for many of us the decision that practice isn’t as important as playing in games is contributing to the problem. If you wouldn’t miss a game for a certain event then you shouldn’t be missing practice for it either. And don’t get me started on the whole, “it’s our only chance to get away from softball” discussion except to say that if you feel like softball is something you need to get away from there may be a bigger issue.

I know no one is perfect and mistakes will be made but we are talking about a systemic shortcoming that sets us up for these mistakes happening way too often. I’m not disappointed in the players who are making the mistakes but I am frustrated by the adults who spend a lot of time and energy being upset at the players making those mistakes. Now, if your team really has practiced these skills enough that they should be proficient at them and they mess up, don’t get mad, just practice some more!

Comments? Questions? Suggestions?