Choosing tournaments that are appropriate

As I write this it is early January, and all over North America travel ball coaches are starting to look at tournament listings to decide where they’ll be playing in the spring and summer. There are lots of considerations to take into account, not the least of which is budget in this economy.

Of course, one of the major decisions that has to be made is what level to play. If you’re a top-level team that’s easy. You go into the best tournaments and try for a bid to whatever National tournament floats your boat. For others, though, it’s not so simple. Those are the folks who need to carefully consider more than a “desire to be and play the best,” and really think about what will best suit their players.

Let’s face it. Every coach wants to think he/she is coaching an A level team, or at least a team that’s on the verge of being A level. But there’s a reason most sanctioning organizations offer a B level, too. There is no shame in playing a B level schedule if that’s the team you have, and you may find it’s better for your team’s long-term satisfaction.

There’s an old saw that says “to be the best you have to play the best.” That’s true to some extent. Yes, there are definitely things you can learn by playing teams that are better than yours. But there’s also a law of diminishing returns to that. If you are consistently playing tournaments where you team is getting run ruled in the minimum amount of time, and being driven out in the minimum number of games, about all you’re players will learn is they’re not very good. It’s tough to learn much about playing the game when you’re only playing three innings at a time. You would be better served to maybe stretch in one tournament, then go into the rest where the level of competition will allow you to get more innings and games in.

Some coaches worry about getting their kids college exposure. They want to play in the big tournaments so their kids have an opportunity to play in college. I don’t claim to be an expert in this area, but from everyone I’ve spoken to it doesn’t work that way.

Your chances of being “discovered” out of the blue at a college exposure are about the same as actresses being discovered hanging around the corner drugstore in Hollywood. Yes, it has happened. Yes, it still happens every now and then. But if you want to increase your chances of being a successful actress you need to take classes, get an agent, and audition like crazy.
 
The same goes for softball players. Their best best for playing college ball is to contact coaches directly, send a DVD, participate in their camps, and otherwise be proactive. (I know some recruiting experts read this blog, so please feel free to add more advice and your contact info in the comments section.) If your players aren’t doing that, you don’t need to worry about appearing in exposure tournaments.

Then there’s the player/parent perspective. Some coaches will feel they need to play in A level tournaments to please the parents, or show them their kids are in a top-flight program. But the parents are there and watching the games, and they can see what’s going on. Truth is, if you ask them whether they’d rather go to high-level tournaments and see their kids get the stuffing kicked out of them or lower-level tournaments where the team stands a chance of winning some hardware, most would opt for the latter. The ones who don’t probably won’t be coming back next year anyway, as they will seek a team that can be more competitive when it plays. And the rest will get discouraged and leave too since it isn’t much fun to get a butt kicking weekend after weekend.

So far, I’ve mostly talked about playing B instead of A. But there’s the other side of the coin too. If your team is consistently in the top two in every tournament it plays, you’re probably not seeking out good enough competition. Winning a tournament should be an accomplishment, not business as usual. If you’re always clearly the best team in every tournament, it’s time to seek out a level of competition that will stretch your players’ ability and help them grow. Just as no one learns much by getting run ruled all the time, no one learns much by run ruling the competition all the time either. 

When it comes to choosing tournaments, use the diamond theory — you can’t make a diamond out of lump of coal without pressure, but if you add too much pressure too soon your lump of coal will turn to dust. Seek out the competitive level that will challenge your team without overwhelming it and your players will gain all the benefits you’re hoping to give them.

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About Ken Krause

Ken Krause has been coaching girls fastpitch softball for nearly 20 years. Some may know him as a contributing columnist to Softball Magazine, where he writes Krause's Korner -- a regular column sponsored by Louisville Slugger. Ken is also the Administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, the most popular fastpitch discussion forum on the Internet. He is currently a Three Star Master Coach with the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), and is certified by both the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and American Sports Education Program (ASEP). Ken is a private instructor specializing in pitchers, hitters, and catchers. He teaches at North Shore Baseball Academy in Libertyville, IL and Pro-Player Consultants in McHenry, IL.

Posted on January 9, 2010, in Coaching. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Great article Ken. I coached a 12U “B team” last year and researched the tournaments accordingly. We started out with some early, smaller tournaments that built the teams confidence. After that they really felt they were never a “B” team. Than we played in some state tournaments that brought them down to reality which made them work harder and focus better. We ended up playing our last two tournaments and last few league games and not only beat our organizations “A” team but fininshed a respective 2nd and 4th in two very tough outings. This year playing 13U I hope the new coach also plans properly with enterring early tornaments so our true 13U team can play there first tournaments against 8th graders because the high school girls won’t be playing until June. To me this makes the most sense. I have also expierienced the other side of the coin Seeing “A” teams playing in “B” tournaments. Last year our 14U team won NSA “B” state 11-0. And also won every “B” tournament with ease. I wounder how they’ll do this year being a young 16U team. To me mental toughness is just as important as physical toughness and some of this responsibility has to go on the manager. Have a good one……..Rick

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  2. Interesting stories, Rick. I do think A teams playing in B tournaments are doing their kids just as much of a disservice as B teams always playing in A tournaments. You need to test yourself to find out what you’re made of and improve. Sounds like you took the right approach. You evaluated your team’s talent and experience, and put them into early tournaments where they could be competitive. Then you pushed those limits to see how they’d do and give them a taste for what else is out there. As Qui-gon says, there’s always a bigger fish. At the end, you moved back into the bracket where you fit best and did well. Nice job!I think the bottom line is losing all the time isn’t fun, and winning all the time is boring. You need to be where if you push yourself, and all goes well, you can succeed, in my opinion.

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