***Note*** This article was edited & republished on 7/22/2015. Feel free to contact me with your questions.
The travel softball tryouts "season" can be a stressful, political and confusing time of year. You're daughter has approximately a 3 weekend window to make a team for the next year. And the drama often builds the closer you get to the end of the summer season. I've been through this several times in two sports (travel soccer too) with two daughters. It's something as a parent you just want to be over with as soon as possible.
This time of year I am frequently asked for advice concerning tryouts. I was looking at the local forums on Mlive.com, which in the state of Michigan is a widely used resource for travel softball clubs, teams, coaches, parents and players. There's a Youth Softball forum and High School Softball forum. Both are filled with posts from clubs/teams this time of year with their tryout dates and information. I saw many of the same questions I've been getting asked personally, so I thought I would post this article to try to help you with the process. Feel free to contact me if you have questions over something not included in this article.
These costs almost always dwarf the team fees.
Forums - Take with a Grain of Salt
While I don't care for the nasty comments that are posted there and on other forums, this time of year it's where you find information about tryouts (especially for newcomers). I've seen coaches and clubs absolutely bad-mouthed and ripped to shreds on these forums. And I know firsthand that these cheap shots are often based on lies or half-truths, which mostly come from disgruntled and vindictive parents. My advice concerning forums:
- Ignore all of the nonsense posted there.
- Get the tryout information (dates, times, contact information, links to websites).
- Reply (ask questions) to posts that appear to be made by reasonable members.
Standard Q & A
Below are some of the questions I get asked and the answers (suggestions) that I provide. The main things to keep in mind concerning the whole travel softball experience are: What's best for your daughter and your family? What are the main reasons your daughter is playing travel softball? It's an entirely different situation for a 10 year old girl looking for her first team and a 16 year old looking for team to gain exposure to college coaches.
Part of the mission statement of Softball Journey describes the first year of travel softball for my daughter and me. I co-coached a team of girls from our school district attempting to play against experienced travel teams with players from all over the place. It was a disaster. I was offered a couple coaching jobs from other local clubs who wanted my daughter to play. But, she would have been the best player on those teams and nothing would have changed. Instead I took her to a club where she had to fight to make the team. Then, she had to fight for a starting position and playing time. I cannot overemphasize how much better this was for her in the long run. She was challenged, had to work hard and learned to compete.
What does travel softball cost?
- It varies greatly. There is a fee to be on a team that may range from $500 to $2,500 per year that pays for uniforms, bags, equipment, tournament entry fees, sanctioning body registrations (ASA, NSA, etc.), team medical insurance, and in few cases to assist in the travel expenses of the coach and/or team. The more tournaments (sometimes including 7 fall tourneys) and out of state trips the team takes, the more the team fee will cost.
- For newcomers to travel sports there is a major expense that is often underestimated or overlooked: The cost of traveling to and from practices, tournaments, hotels and dining out while you're on the road, etc. The cost goes way up if you need to get flights and rent cars. These costs almost always dwarf the team fees.
- Time off work.
- Training - Individual pitching or hitting lessons can range from $10 to $65 per half hour.
- Your daughter's personal equipment: Bats ($300), Glove ($50 to $300), Batting Gloves ($30), Sliding Shorts, Under Armour, Spirit Wear, Masks/Mouthpieces and other miscellaneous items can add up over time to several hundred dollars per year.
Should I look for another team if my daughter's coach didn't offer her a spot on next years team like he did with some other players?
- Yes. And ask him why he offered other girls, but not your daughter. It's just nice to know.
Tryouts for a team are two consecutive weekends. Should I attend both?
- No. If your daughter was not offered a spot during the first weekend, then they are looking for somebody better. Hmmm.
- No. Tell them you're still interested, but you're going to attend other tryouts to give your daughter the best opportunity to make and find a team which is the best fit for her.
- Yes. If you feel it is your daughter's best or only chance of making a travel team - or - If your daughter has her heart set on making a higher level team (but please have a backup plan) - or - If your daughter was offered a spot on a new team, but wants to show the coaches she is dedicated, check out her new and/or potential teammates and get the extra practice.
What is the best club/team for my daughter to get recruited by college coaches?
- I can't really answer this for players I have not seen play. I evaluate players skills and project their potential based on their age, commitment, GPA, ACT scores (SAT scores will replace ACT soon), how far from home they think they would be willing to move to, love of the game.....and yes the parent's financial situation. Then, I suggest club/teams to them.
- If your daughter is not yet a freshman in high school, stop thinking about this. Focus on her having fun, learning fundamentals and gaining game experience. College coaches aren't looking at middle school players. There are plenty of clubs who can help your daughter gain experience. At 10u, does your daughter need to travel so far away that you have to get hotels for half the tourneys? I think not.
- If your daughter is 13+ years old and you really believe she's something special on the field, contact coaches from the best clubs in your area and ask them to evaluate her. Don't ask trainers or people who will tell you what you want to hear, then take your money for lessons. Get unbiased opinions from as many coaches as possible. Then, ask them if they are interested in her for their club - or - If they're not, ask them if they have any suggestions.
- If your daughter is being actively recruited (communicating personally with multiple D1 coaches) then you may want her to play at the highest level possible to prepare for college. This limits the clubs you have to choose from, that is unless you live somewhere such as Southern California. She probably should be playing PGF or ASA Gold competition - or - If she's verballed and you're looking to save money, you might find the highest level team that plays locally to finish her travel softball career.
- If your daughter's highest potential level of college softball is D2 or is being actively recruited by D2 and below colleges, do you want to spend thousands of dollars traveling across the country for any tournaments other than nationals? Ask yourself the same question if she wants to attend local smaller colleges only.
- Look at the websites of the clubs you are interested in. Most proudly display their list of alumni and the colleges they've gone on to play for.
Does my daughter need to play for premier or elite travel team if she's already committed to a college?
- No. If she's going to be playing NAIA, D3 or D2 she does not need to see the competition that playing the PGF circuit would expose her to. She can play the local in-state tourneys with a regular 16u/18u team. This will also save you a lot of money.
- Yes. If she's going to be playing at a major D1 program she will greatly benefit from playing the highest level of competition across the country. It is the only circuit that will prepare her for what she's going to see in college. Many big D1 coaches want them to play this circuit. They like watching their commits.
- No. If she's going to play at a smaller D1 program or if your financial situation is strained. She may have to adjust to the level of competition on the fly in college.
- Example: I've seen girls who went on to play at major or mid-major D1 colleges, but did not ever play the PGF circuit. They struggled for at least a year before "catching up" to that level of competition. This is a major advantage for girls who have already been there and done that. It can also be a very humbling experience for both players and parents.
What should we do if the coach won't promise my daughter will start at her position?
- This might be one of the most asked questions, especially for the short stop, pitcher and catcher positions. And it's difficult to answer. I've seen parents insist their daughter play "their" position to the point that they end up quitting softball entirely, make them hate the game, make them play on a lower level team or coach a team to ensure it or spread misery throughout the whole team (and parents) during the year whenever their daughter wasn't playing "her" position.
- An example of crap parents can stir up: My left-handed daughter often ended up playing short stop 12u-14u, because she was the best on her team at the position. This greatly angered other parents who believed it was their daughter's position. Those disgruntled parents caused animosity between players, between parents and between players and the coach. It happened in high school when she took the position away from a senior as a freshman before becoming a two-time All-State short stop and nominee for Miss Softball.
- Another example: My left-handed daughter didn't care what position she played. All she cared about was to be the best she could be, to help the team win and to earn a starting position. Each year in travel ball, she had a new coach until her final two years on the premier team. Each year the coach would try to put her at first base and/or in the outfield, but would always end up back at short stop. One year she rotated every other game between short stop and catcher. She was just an athlete who dreamed of being like the big girls in the club, who were being recruited to play college softball. She didn't pitch much in travel ball, but did from the youth league to her freshman year on varsity. As a result she had significant game experience at literally every position on the field (except second base). Watching how much this helped her develop her skills and knowledge of the game, it is hard for me to see parents and coaches pigeon hole players in positions in the early years of the game (ages 7-13). What player is more valuable to any team? One who can only play second base or one who can play anywhere?
- Ok, so your daughter may be destined to be a pitcher. She's taller than her peers and your family is full of tall people. You've got to find a team where she's going get significant pitching time. You have to talk with the coaches, find out how many other pitchers there are, their talent level and if one of them is the daughter of the coach. Then, you have to judge whether the team is right for your daughter. Your results will vary greatly. The only thing I would strongly advise is to not get your daughter into a situation where she's pitching 75% or more of the innings. That's too much at any age and will likely lead to injury.
- An example of pitchers: A girl was the best pitcher on the team, but was splitting time with 2 others. Her father beat down the coach into allowing her to pitch at least 75% of the time. When she wasn't pitching her father insisted she play first base. One of the other pitchers suddenly was almost never pitching. Her father was not happy and constantly complained to everybody as well as the coach. The two pitchers grew to hate each other as did their parents. It caused a ton of problems for the coach and endless drama for the team and rest of the parents. This was a 12u team. One of the pitchers quit softball entirely her sophomore year in high school. The other, whose father thought she was destined for D1 greatness went on to play NAIA college softball. The girl who played first base moved short stop and the short stop moved to center field everytime the "star" pitcher wasn't pitching, so she could play first base. The short stop who moved to center field is now a D1 first baseman in college. The first baseman who moved to short stop is now an outfielder in an NAIA college. Do you see the lunacy in this?
- There were many years we knew our daughter was a better short stop than the "other" girl. However, we kept our mouths shut and watched her play different positions each game/year. She played 90% outfield her final two travel seasons playing the PGF circuit. The college coach that recruited her was going to play her in the outfield for a year before moving her to first base. He confirmed this when he came to a high school double header and watched her play short stop, make 2 diving catches, hit 3 home runs and get intentionally walked 4 times. He took the ASU job before she got there. The new coach issued her a first baseman's glove and told her to get ready for the next three years. She sat virtually all year as a freshman. We believe she could help the team more in the outfield, but we're not her coach. She doesn't care where she plays. She just wants to earn a starting position and help the team win. If you spend a lot of time arguing, playing politics or manipulating your daughters coaches through her youth softball years....you're in for a big surprise if she makes it to play college softball. They will not play those games with you.
Do you know a good travel team that my daughter could play for? Every team she's been on has had coaches who are idiots.
- Good luck. It may be time to take a good long look in the mirror. Without uttering a word, you're waving a giant red flag if you've taken your daughter to a different club every year. While bad coaches are out there, no coach is perfect. Nor is any player perfect. And no parent is perfect either. We all make mistakes. We're human. If you're looking for perfect, you won't find it in softball. You may be better off having her play a sport for individuals, like tennis or golf.
Some teams/clubs do favor local girls or those from certain school districts.
What clubs or teams do I recommend? (Michigan Only)
- Although I do have some biases and opinions of clubs/teams/coaches in Southern Michigan, I can make suggestions objectively and feel comfortable directing them to specific clubs/teams that I know and trust. It depends who is asking, what talent level I believe their daughter is currently at as well as her future potential and their level of commitment.
- If I do not know the parent of player very well, I point them to the forums and encourage them to attend as many tryouts as possible. I may also ask them to consider contacting coaches in advance to get a feel for them and their team, ask about costs, tournaments they'll be participating in, amount of practice outside and inside etc.
- Another reason to talk with the coaches is to learn their philosophies such as, will they change your daughter's pitching/hitting mechanics? (especially if she's been taking private lessons and having success already) Playing time? Position openings? Do they have a daughter on the team? Daughter's friends on the team?
- Remember this: If you talk with enough people you'll hear negative things about most any club, coach or team....especially during the "Tryout Season."
- Disclaimer for next bullet points - I've built many club websites and have many friends in the softball community. I don't know every person or coach involved with these clubs, but those I've met are quality people.
- Mid-Michigan Firestix - The Firestix club is based out of Grand Blanc, MI. Several years ago when Kevin Babcock took it over it was just another small local club. Now it is a competitive well run organization and great alternative to the older more established clubs of Southeastern and Western Michigan. I would not have volunteered to help this club and help coach the 16u Babcock team if I did not believe in their mission and ability to help girls from the Mid-Michigan region. Our 16u team plays in ASA and PGF tournaments.
- I am the webmaster for Finesse Fastpitch, where my daughter played for 7 years and I helped coach for two years. There is no better place for your daughter to receive training year round and develop to her potential. The thing that sets them apart is their reputation with college coaches for having high level college recruits. The 18u Dreher team travels to the biggest and best PFG tourneys in the country (IDT in Boulder, CO, Premier Nationals in Huntington Beach, DeMarini in Chicago, etc.) You can't ask for better D1 college exposure opportunities. They also have teams for D2, D3, and NAIA level players and their name draws college coaches.
- Compuware - This is one of the older sites I built for Scott Comb. They've been around for years like Finesse and are worth checking out in Southeastern MI. They too have great name recognition with college coaches.
- Lakeshore Storm - I built the website for Deb Sleeman and my daughter's team recently participated in their tournament in Holland, MI. There are a lot of talented softball players on the West side of the state and this is a club worth looking into.
- Michigan Sabercats - I built the website for Wayne Cowley and am also the webmaster. I have watched this club grow a lot over the years. They may have the most teams of any club in the state of Michigan. They're definitely worth your consideration on the West side of Michigan.
- Turnin2 Michigan - I built the site for Ron Pezzoni and am the webmaster. It originally began as a site for his training facility, but has grown to include teams for every age group of their travel softball club. They have a lot of big name instructors working out of his facility in Brighton, MI. This is a up and coming club also worthy of your consideration.
- Michigan Outlaws - I built the site for Dave Schultz and am the webmaster. They've been around Southeastern MI (White Lake) for some time and provide good college exposure for players looking at Michigan colleges.
- Adrenaline Fastpitch - I built the site for Tim Nestor, which was formerly known as Fenton Fastpitch. They're a smaller club based out of Fenton, MI and a good option for local players looking to get extra game experience.
- Breeze Fast Pitch - I built the site for Don Noel, which was formerly known as Livingston Breeze. They're a smaller club based out of Livingston County, MI and a good option for local players looking to get extra game experience.
- Thunderbirds Softball - I built the site for Ray Barnes and am the webmaster. They are a smaller club from Southeastern MI and a good option for players looking to get extra game experience.
- Michigan Generals - I am in the beginning stages of creating a new website for the Generals. They have been around for a number of years with many experienced coaches.
- Michigan Rebels - I built this site for Smiley Verduzco. They are a large club that also has several travel baseball teams from the Kalamazoo area.
- Michigan Elite - West side of the state and has had a lot of success over the years. They've also got an impressive list of alumni who've went on to play college softball.
- Batbusters - They're a competitive club out of Southeastern MI (Shelby Twp.) and have been around since 2003. They've had some talented players go on to play college softball as well.
- Ann Arbor Gold - They're a competitive club out of Ann Arbor, MI and have been around for many years. They and provide good college exposure for players looking at Michigan colleges.
- There are countless other Michigan clubs I've not mentioned, but those above I am most familiar with and feel comfortable suggesting you consider them for your daughter. Other clubs you might consider are Oakland Edge, Hang Tuf, ICE Fastpitch, Portage Hurricanes, Grand Rapids Blaze, Michigan Bulldogs, (Michigan Pride - Recently merged with Finesse), and the Michigan Lookouts. Some teams/clubs do favor local girls or those from certain school districts, so that's something to inquire about. These teams and those above are by no means a comprehensive list. They're just some of the teams I've seen battle over the years against my daughter's teams. Do your homework and make your own informed decisions.