I have really been looking forward to writing this post. Maybe my last article, Surviving One of those Softball Seasons, tipped you off? While I won't go into the details of my survival as a coach of the 2015 varsity softball season, I just want to see if each of you might make similar decisions that we made as coaches. How? First, I'll provide you with the team's stats from the first half of the season and ask you to make a lineup. Then, I'll show you some lineups we actually used through that point of the season. Second, I'll give you the final stats for the team and again ask you to make another lineup. Then, I'll show you a couple more lineups we actually used.
I won't use any of the players names. They'll be listed as Player A, Player B, Player C, etc. along with their stats. I'll provide you with a few extra details such as positioning, injuries, potential substitution issues and other things you must be aware of when making lineups. So....Are you ready to give it a shot?
The picture on right is me during a game talking with the head coach, which was likely a conversation that went like this: "Ok. Player X is 0-2...swung at 2 balls in the dirt & 1 over her head, then took called 3rd strike right down the middle.....lt's the 6th inning...let's give player Z a shot to pinch hit." These are situations I've literally seen members of the peanut gallery flip out over after seeing what substitution we made.
My Shameless Disclaimer - LOL
Neither myself or the other coach had a daughter on the team. There were, however, 3 players who were members of the travel softball club where I also coach. I bet you can already imagine some of the things that led to? But, again....you make the lineup and I'll show you that had nothing to do with this simple reality: Stats Don't Lie. Also, the team's score keeper has no relatives or friends of the family on the team or a say in the lineups. He just keeps the book, as he has for many years.
Your 1st Lineup: 1st Half of Season - 21 Games
Things to know: When the season started one of our goals was to compete for the league title. A week before the mid-way point of the season (games 13 & 14), we were out of contention for that. Our next goal was to continue to make improvements, try new things and be prepared for the district tournament at the end of the year. We also concluded that we needed to flex our pitchers and use a DP to hit for them. Also, in general...most of the best hitters were also the best fielders. We had 14 players on the team.
Some of our Actual Lineups
Make your lineup before clicking this link to see ours: 4 of our Lineups.
Your Final Lineup: 2nd Half of Season - 19 Games
Things to know: We had half a season in which we were trying many things, got to see which player's came through in pressure situations and formed a strong opinion of what our best defensive lineup was as well. The second half of the season was not as tough of a schedule as the first. It gave us opportunities to get bench/role players more playing time, while still being able to win games. Remember, we had 14 players on the team, 8 of which were seniors, and that meant 5 players on the bench every game (Note - for some seniors it was their first year on varsity). Unfortunately, this did not go over well with many of our loving fans. And when some of these players who struggled badly versus the better teams excelled against terrible teams, it created monsters in the peanut gallery, who then believed those players should now be starters.
Some of our Actual Lineups
Make your lineup before clicking this link to see ours: 3 of our Final Lineups.
Oh, So Would You be a Stupid Coach Too?
I'm going to make the assumption that your lineups were pretty close to ours. Therefore, had you been the coach you would have been accused of everything from being an idiot to playing favorites to padding stats. You would have received nasty text messages after 11pm or before 6am letting you know what a joke some thought you were or that you were unfair and biased. You would have been the recipient of countless stares of death from behind the backstop from chest-pumped sun glass wearing tough guys all season long (Dirty Harry Fans?). You would have been openly trash talked to infinity and beyond by groups of disgruntled folks at every single game. That's just a few of the things you would have endured this season. Welcome to coaching high school softball.
Please understand my intentions for writing this article: It was to enlighten parents to some of the challenges coaches have to deal with. Coaching is not an exact science. Coaches make mistakes, just as players and parents do. Most coaches attempt to do their best and care about their players. However, some of the things we do in order to give our team a chance to be its best are not received well by some of the players or parents. There are many other considerations besides stats that enter into the decision making process.
***Note*** Players E, F & M were the players in my travel softball club.
I've been hearing from numerous athletic directors, administrators and coaches from several school districts two big problems they're experiencing: 1)Coaches are quitting due to issues with parents and players, and 2)They cannot find replacements. Let that sink in. I also just spoke with a few travel coaches last weekend about this issue. They used to coach high school softball also, but after years of similar frustrations decided to give it up.
Things You May Have Noticed in those Stats
The top half of the hitters changed very little through the season with 2 exceptions. One player near the top fell drastically (Player K), while one near the bottom rose in the same fashion (Player D). So, considering this we adjusted our lineups over the 2nd half of the season. We run-ruled several of our 2nd half opponents, which helped many of the bench/role players stats rise sharply (Player C). Another softball oddity I see year after year is that some players who do well against faster higher quality pitching struggle against weaker/slower pitching. This year was no different.
The big questions are: 1)When a player is struggling tremendously, how long do you keep her in the starting lineup? 2)When a player is hot or giving you great at-bats, how can you not give her more at-bats or move her up in the order? 3)How are coaches to react to pouting or disgruntled players or parents? 4)When a player loses her spot in the starting lineup, how do you think she and her parents will react? 5)Why should a coach have to be overly concerned with the parent's responses to their decisions?
What Nobody Sees Except Coaches
Whether at practice or pregame warm-ups, we see things parents and spectators do not see: Players who seem completely un-focused, bad warm-ups (can't field a ball, get down a bunt or hit a line drive off the tee, a pitcher who can't throw a strike), pity parties or pouting, etc. We also recognize when players are locked in and ready to go. A great example this year was a role player who seemed eager to get her chance in the district championship game. She was killing the ball in warmups. So, we got her into the championship game as a pinch hitter. She popped out in the infield. But two innings later in the bottom of the 9th, she hit a walk-off homer, the first home run of her career. The pitcher was throwing a lot of low and inside pitches, which was her best pitch to hit. While the starters failed, a player with one of the lowest batting averages on the team won the game for us. Go figure.
Have you seen the movie Money Ball? Billy Beane & Peter Brand of the Oakland Athletics changed the game of baseball forever with the use of stats and analytics. Using a similar approach, you could put together a lineup based upon the On Base Percentage stat alone. There's another common sentiment in baseball and softball: If you can hit, they'll find you a spot in the lineup. I don't know any coach who doesn't believe this. It was recently discussed during several games of the college world series this year by former olympic softball players. Using our stats throughout the season to make lineups is a logical, not emotional decision making process. An example of this was the shuffling of players in the 3rd, 4th & 5th spots of our lineups in hopes of finding consistency from game to game.
Not for the Money
I helped coach our summer recreational softball team of current and prospective varsity players. It's a 10 game season with a 3 game playoff during week nights. In the Fall I worked with groups of 4 players outside 2-3 nights per week for about 2 hours plus field cleanup. After Thanksgiving and through March tryouts, I spent 3 nights per week inside at the high school from 3-4 hours working with 4 players (6pm to 10pm) and 1 night per week for 1 hour for strength and conditioning. From tryouts through the end of the season we practice 2+ hours 5 nights per week.
After our games I write detailed articles by going through the scorebook and recreating the game inning by inning, doing my best to mention every player who got into the games (on a website I created and pay $150 annually for our community from the youth league to varsity). I then have to login to Mlive, our local online resource for high school sports scores, and enter the game scores and box scores. That reporting usually takes me until after 11pm. We also have various meetings, online coaching certifications, concussion, bloodborne pathogens & CPR, background checks & finger prints and other miscellaneous items we must do. We try to watch the indoor winter games as well, which we are not allowed to coach.
I use an incredible amount of sick and vacation time in order to coach. During the season I may have to leave work from 1:30 to 2:30 depending on if the games are home or away. When we practice indoors, we usually go from 8:00pm to 10pm. We have 4 tournaments during the season, 3 of them on Saturdays (8am to 6pm for me, which includes the articles) and one 2-day tourney on Saturday/Sunday. I also had to request permission at work to go in 30 minutes early and leave 30 minutes early on practice days. And the other coach completely maintains the fields daily, which is often in the dark after games/practices, and he does this year round.....as well as for the summer recreational leagues Monday through Thursday.
We get 2 checks each, $680 each after taxes, one in May and the other in late June. Math shouldn't be required to understand we don't do it for the money. I've declined offers to work as a trainer in recent years. You know, the guys that charge you anywhere from $25-$65 per half hour of instruction. I just talked with a former highly successful high school softball coach of 20+ years. He retired recently and said, "I just do training now and it's so much easier than dealing with all those parents, politics and drama queens. I don't miss it at all." Maybe that's worth re-reading and pondering about for a spell?
Something to Make You go Hmmmm
Lastly, I have talked with and got to know many umpires over the years in school and travel ball. This year I had an umpire say to me, "Wow! As good as you guys just played in the first game....you're playing as bad in this second game." I laughed and explained to him how this year's team has played that way all season. He said, "Your parents aren't acting too happy this game, blaming a few close calls on the fact that they're about to be mercied in 5 innings is crazy." I told him of some of the crap we coaches had been getting this year and he said, "That's the great thing about umping. You do a game and leave. I used to coach and umping is a lot easier than what you guys have to put up with." Would you have ever believed with all the grief umpires take that they would see it as being easier than coaching?
So Much for Those Parent Contracts, Rules, Meetings or Letters
I created this blog to help parents. I have written several articles on this blog and have linked to other people's posts through Facebook & Twitter on this topic: the appropriate behavior of and rules for softball parents (The Last Parent Letter is just one example). Yet, here I am at the end of another frustrating season. It wasn't challenging from the standpoint of an underachieving team, because we had more success than I thought we would. We played several great games beating or losing close to ranked teams and finished a couple games above .500 with a District Championship.
So, how do we stop this madness? I've written about Youth/Rec Leagues and School Softball in detail as well as Parent Goggles. I've written from the point of view of a parent and coach. In one of those articles I described how I shut down some problem parents, while watching my daughter's game (as a parent...not coach), by telling them I was sick of hearing them bitch and complain. I've heard coaches claim they didn't care what goes on out there in the peanut gallery, but it has been my experience that it infects their kids and eventually spreads like cancer for the team. The good coaches and parents must stick together in these situations and support each other before our teams have to enter into softball hospice programs.
Every spring our team works a youth clinic where they must teach/coach grade & middle school players. And every time we hear the same things from them, which is along the lines of, "They don't listen, seem to care or just want to know when lunch time is." As coaches we laugh and think, "Yea. Now you know what it's like." I believe if the parents who were most critical of the coaches spent a couple days in the coach's shoes, that they would instantly appreciate the job that those coaches do. When stats fail to satisfy the critics of a coach, his philosophies and strategies will most certainly never make them happy.
I hope that your taking the time to make the lineups above has helped you appreciate the difficulties a coach faces when doing so. Please support the good coaches out there before they all throw in the towels.