It's February and it's the last month before High School Tryouts (in Michigan - March 9th). And the closer to judgment day we get, the more girls suddenly appear wanting to work on their games. These girls fit into two categories: Some play a winter sport making it difficult or impossible to practice softball - or - the social players finally found some free time in their busy schedules. Regardless, scheduling 4-player workouts becomes a challenge for coaches trying to be fair. This article describes the issues a coach has to consider when scheduling and conducting off-season work outs.
**Note** I wrote in detail about the mixture of social and serious players in Levels of the Game: School Softball.
What is Fair?
Your daughter's school softball experience is almost entirely dependent upon her school coaches. They vary tremendously from great to terrible and all adjectives in between. I've been conducting 4-player workouts and strength/conditioning for our high school girls since late in the fall. In case you didn't know, the high school rules state that in the off-season no more than 4 players can work out together with the high school coaches or it is considered a team practice. When the new year came another dozen+ girls, mostly freshman, decided they wanted to participate. The inclusion of these girls meant that the rest of the players who had been getting to hit 2-3 times per week or field 1-2 times would be lucky to get in a total of twice per week. These girls are a mixture of social and serious players, but many of the social players are single sport athletes who want to put the time in to improve.
So, we're now talking about two levels of social players: Those who only really want to participate during the season - and - those who want to be the best they can be and prepare for the school season. Neither of these players typically plays travel softball, but still one is more serious than the other. So, now the coach must decide how many times to bring in each of these players along with the serious players, while having only a limited number of spots open each week. For example, my workouts have a total of 40 spots available each week (3 nights per week I have a total of 10 45-minute sessions for groups of 4 players). There's 24 45-minute hitting spots and 16 45-minute fielding spots. The graphic below is an example of one of my weekly schedules.
We also do group conditioning, which is not limited to 4 players, since we don't use/touch/see any piece of softball equipment. I'll have 16-35 girls show up on any given night, which we only do on Tuesdays. I'll now ask you to think about the question I posed earlier: What is fair? There are 35 girls and only 40 open spots each week. Player skill sets range from near beginners to very advanced. If I pair novice and veterans together, the novice requires most of my time, while the veteran is cheated. This is true for hitting and fielding. If I want to bring in an infield (1B, 2B, SS & 3B) to work situational defense, I must pair them by their skill level or it's a complete waste of everybody's time. The same is true when bringing in pitchers & catchers.
These are scheduling issues every coach must consider. Not only is it impossible to give equal time to all players, it is also unproductive. As a coach I have to attempt to schedule players who will likely be playing on the same teams (Freshman/JV/Varsity) for defense. For hitting I have to group them by hitting style and ability. With only a month remaining I will give my potential varsity players priority over the other girls. I recently wrote about Earning Playing Time, where I asked parents several questions to ponder and encouraged them to talk to their coaches. The subject of off-season workouts is no different. If you want to know more about your daughter's coach's philosophy, just ask.
Every Coach is Different
Over the years I've heard many descriptions from other parents on how their daughter's school coaches managed their softball programs. Many will simply flat out ignore lesser talented players and underclassmen that in their eyes won't make varsity. I've heard worse too. As for myself I try to be as fair as possible, while balancing the priority of putting the best varsity team on the field that we can. I also think about the players who likely won't make varsity for another year or two. From an outsider's point of view, anytime some players receive more time than others it may appear that the coach is unfairly biased. However that is itself an unfair assumption. Give yours the benefit of the doubt and talk to them if you have concerns or questions. And lastly, understand that all of this time in the off-season is volunteered by the coach.