College coaches and high school athletic associations are constantly extolling the virtues of the multi-sport athlete. The local AM radio station airs a commercial every time I listen on my morning commute from the Michigan high school athletic association (MHSAA). It goes something like this, “…high school athletes playing multiple sports do better in school, experience less injuries, etc.” and then adds, “…number of high school athletes going pro….not many….” Then it ends with the evils of sports specialization. Add to that the virtuous college coaches claiming their love of the multi-sport athlete.
They have been babied their entire lives by their parent(s), by schools and have been taught how special they are, just perfect the way they are.
I used to quietly shake my head and disregard the nonsense. These days I will call it what it really is: Propaganda. Why?
I read an article a couple years ago, where “Hutch,” the head coach of Michigan softball was featured concerning the lack of female head coaches in college softball. This new article in the New York Times (and video) expands upon that question asking why there are so much fewer woman coaches in all sports in college and the pros. I answered this question before in private discussions with friends, but will do so now for all to see. But first…..please watch the video and/or read the article from the NYTimes.
Before I state my opinion, which is based solely on my experience in softball, know that this opinion has only grown stronger since I first contemplated the question a couple years ago. My opinion will only be about college softball, not any other college or professional sport. It is based upon what I’ve seen and heard and from personal experiences. That said it is likely going to offend many people.
(Disclaimer: If you are easily offended, incapable of critical thinking or cannot agree to disagree, this opinion may trigger your emotions. Proceed with caution.)
Playing on a travel softball team in exposure (showcase) tournaments is a challenging endeavor. There’s a lot of practice, typically year round, and other time consuming tasks like contacting college coaches, going to camps, etc.. Those who retain the love of the game throughout this process put in the time and effort in the hopes that college coaches they’ve been communicating with will come to watch them play.
Sometimes the stars seemingly must align to have success with this. There are times when a coach may only be able to attend a player’s games at one tournament of the summer. And sometimes they can only attend one game or day of the tournament. It’s like, “No pressure young lady. The coach is watching you right now and this will be the only time she gets to do so.”
I’m writing this article today, because of what I experienced a week ago at one of my 16u team’s tourneys. A coach had already seen one of my players play in an earlier tourney. She had also recently visited the school and loved it. She is one of two catchers on my team. I typically rotate them each game. Other games they will split time.
During this tourney they were rotating every other game. However, the coach interested in the player had sent one of his players to the tourney to watch her play. She would report back to the coach later. It was the other catchers turn to play, but she approached me privately and asked me to play her teammate, because she was being watched and she really wants to attend the college. I was at a loss for words, which does not happen often.
My team this year has really been fun to coach. They get along well with and support each other, there’s no drama and have overcome some key injuries (to pitchers) to have a successful season. That said, they have to compete with each other for playing time in bracket play, where only 9 players are in the line-up on a team with 13 players. Both catchers also compete for time in bracket play. So when she came up to me and asked me to put the other catcher behind the plate…..well I did….and the more I thought about it, it honestly choked me up a bit.
Coaches of team sports are constantly stressing the importance of the TEAM. I’ve never seen a better example of being a TEAM player in my entire life. Nor will I ever forget it. Would your daughter or player do the same for her teammate?
I am writing this post to express my thoughts and contempt for our High School Association. While this is based on my recent experience with the state of Michigan, I have to assume what I am sharing is not unique to the Mitten. Feel free to share your comments.
I’m coaching school ball again, something I swore never to do. It’s been a couple weeks now since taking over for coach who unexpectedly resigned. I am enjoying it much more than anticipated and doing the school a big favor on short notice. We’ll call it “giving back.” I seem to have supportive parents and the girls have bought into what I'm selling.
My fellow travel coaches and I now have to meet with all of our pitchers and their parents at the end of our winter workouts and stress the importance of not letting their school coaches destroy their arms. Seriously!
It’s the crazy time of year in the world of travel softball. As a coach I receive numerous emails, texts and phone calls daily concerning tryouts for the coming year. Every year that begins earlier and earlier. “How many spots do you have open?” “Are you looking for a shortstop?” “What’s your tourney schedule looking like?” “My daughter is an all-conference superstar in high school; just wanted to let you know that before tryouts.” “Can my daughter get a private tryout?”
That last question is probably the most popular. I get it. Most travel clubs conduct their tryouts during the same dates and often times, so it’s difficult or impossible to make them all. I had a relatively easy time as a parent with my youngest daughter with tryouts. But for my middle daughter, it was more stressful. We want what’s best for our baby girls, so I remind myself each year of the anxiety parents and players are experiencing.
Since the last post was a bit negative, I thought I would write a little something more typical of this blog. Every year I meet with my 16u team’s parents and discuss the college recruiting process as well as the team and club rules. I encourage them to read some of my previous posts such as, “When Parents Wave Red Flags.” We’ve just finished our second tourney (Michigan’s first weekend is June 14-17) and my parents have been a pleasure, as have the players.
Get to the field on time, say good bye to their parents, meet me at my car, carry the equipment together to the field, warm up, play the game, brief post-game meeting, carry equipment back to my car and then they can talk to their parents. No helicoptering near the dugout. Take it easy on the umpires (minor chirping only….LOL). They get it. And that makes my job a lot easier. No red flags waving so far.
Last weekend the high school season ended with the semi-finals and finals taking place, while the official beginning of summer travel softball began for Michigan teams. It can be very chaotic for coaches, parents and players, since in Michigan players are not allowed to play travel softball until their high school seasons have officially ended. I had players taking exams and attending their school banquets Thursday and Friday, missing our pool games and two players playing in championship games for their varsity teams.
Well, this new required training was concerning sexual abuse, mandatory reporting of harassment and abuse and bullying.
I had to borrow players from our 14u team or my 16u team would not have been able to play. Next year, our A teams in 14u, 16u and 18u will not be playing in a tournament that first weekend. It’s just too stressful. Instead, we’ll get our teams together, divvy them up, scrimmage and have a big cookout. That is something we have been doing in the fall and it’s a great experience.
While that will help relieve much of the stress of ensuring we have enough players between the three teams to be able to play, there are other concerns that continue to come up each year. My team competes in ASA (USA), PGF and USA Elite Select. Each has their requirements in order for your team to be eligible to play in their tourneys. It takes an incredible amount of time registering your team and rosters each year. Birth certificates, parents have to login and approve their players, Captain U, ACE Certifications for ASA coaching and team insurance, concussion training, etc..
But, apparently that’s not enough. This year there’s an additional requirement from ASA (USA), which must be met in order to carry our team insurance. Last week our coaches received emails stating we must take the online Safe Sport training. And it had to be completed by June 22. “Hmm, I wonder what kind of training this is,” I thought. Well, this new required training was concerning sexual abuse, mandatory reporting of harassment and abuse and bullying.
In recent years I've seen more softball players experience burnout. Last year there were 3 (varsity level) players from our club who had the ability to play at the collegiate level, but instead chose to quit playing travel ball. I'm not sure if they're even going to play for their schools this year.
Our High School tryouts are the 2nd week of March. After that, their next break won't be until the middle of October. Think about that!
It pains me to see players go through this, because it's mostly preventable. Yet more and more fellow coaches tell me of high school aged talented players who've burned out and quit the game. There are many factors that lead to this such as year round practicing & training, college camps and tournaments.
I read this article today, “Year-Round Sports: Growing Old and Wearing Thin?”, and felt compelled to write about it. Those outside of the travel sports (softball) world often do not understand why parents, players and coaches do it. While the author offers an outsider’s view to travel sports, she does not do so in a condescending manner and brings up some good points and questions. I would encourage you to read her article before my response.
You have tryouts, pick your team, collect money, have a few practices and jump right back into playing tournaments. It’s like summer softball never ended. That is except for the change in weather, girls going back to school and the constant player availability problems.
The sport has grown so much that some teams play as many tournaments in the fall as they do during the summer. You try to determine which tournaments to attend based on cost, exposure opportunities and the talent level of your team. After that is figured out, because they fill up quickly, you pay and register your team. Then it is time to practice. Easy enough, right?
Photo of our club inter-squad scrimmage day in the fall of 2016 (16u & 18u)