What’s Wrong with Travel Ball?

After an extended break from blogging due to a long list of health and personal life stuff to attend to, I am back and starting a new series called, What’s Wrong with Travel Ball. Look forward to several topics to be discussed in the coming weeks.

Full disclosure, I spent the vast majority of my coaching life in the school ball setting, either college or high school, so when I discuss the shortcomings of travel ball it is from the perspective of someone who spent a lot more time in that setting than I did in the world of travel ball. Having said that I have also spent the better part of the last 10 years working with travel ball teams that cover the entire spectrum from very high level national championship contending teams to the other extreme where we had a bunch of kids who just wanted to get together and play some games to get ready for their college careers. So I feel like I have enough experience to share some observations about the great game of fastpitch softball and how it is managed in the travel ball world.

  1. Teams do not practice enough!

There is no doubt that the biggest challenge for most travel ball teams is the amount of practice time they have available to them in relationship to the number of games they want to play. This is one of the biggest weaknesses that I feel is prevalent in the world of travel ball. Too many teams are forfeiting practice time to play in another tournament thinking that they can play their way out of the problems that their team is having when in reality they really need more practice time to address these shortcomings.

Where does the lack of practice problem come from? All the characters in the production bear some responsibility.

Too many coaches undervalue practice time. Assuming their players will work on their own to be prepared to play in the next tournament when they really need team practices to address many of the issues that cost them chances to win. You can’t expect a team to be good at things like bunt coverages, cut off and relays or rundowns if they have not practiced them enough. And talking about what they are supposed to do in these cases in useless. So coaches who undervalue practice are often seen doing other things when they should be practicing with their team. (And why this specific group of coaches are a real problem in part 2 of this series.)

Too many parents feel that they are only getting a return on their investment by playing in more games. They enable their coaches and players to undervalue practice because they want more games and are willing to sacrifice practice time to play them. This is faulty thinking unless they are okay with playing bad games, and probably, a lot more of them. Without practice time, our team will continue to struggle and playing more games isn’t going to solve this. Of course, you can always drop down to a lower level and beat up on some weaker teams to convince yourself that your team is playing better but we all know that is fools gold.

Players and parents feel like practice is less important than their “real life” stuff. Now, don’t misunderstand, there are a lot of things that are more important than softball. But if you would miss a “more important” life event to play in games but you want to miss practice for these same “more important” events then you are part of the problem. And nothing if more disheartening than to have a practice scheduled, usually months in advance, and have players not be there. So if something isn’t important enough to miss a tournament over then it shouldn’t be more important than practice.

I get it! Games are fun but playing bad softball isn’t really very much fun at all. Playing game after game badly is a nightmare. For many teams they are stuck in the “we have to play” rut that leads to the same mistakes that we have seen before and a whole lot of frustration. If you want your team to improve they need practice time and without it, hoping for improvement is a pipe dream.

Up next, Coaches Who Expect Full Time Execution from Part Time Effort.

Comments? Questions? Suggestions?