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This Softball Tryout Process Has Gotten Out of Hand

So there I was a couple of weeks ago (early June 2022), scrolling through Facebook mindlessly (as if there is another way), when suddenly I saw it: a notification about upcoming tryouts for the 2023 travel season.

“What the what?” I thought. The high school season hasn’t even ended for everyone here in Illinois, they’re still playing the Womens College World Series, and we are just starting to get into the heart of tournament season for most teams.

How in the name of Jessica Mendoza can teams be advertising for 2023 already?

But that’s what it has come to now. In the arms race to capture every potential recruit before anyone else can get their grubby mitts on them teams are now looking to replace their current players, or programs are looking to add more teams to their rosters, before they’ve even gotten a chance to see what their current teams/players can do.

I’m sorry, but this is insanity people.

This guy knows.

When did players and teams become so disposable that the actual season you’re in doesn’t matter? What’s next? Are we going to start seeing ads for 2025 tryouts in December 2022?

I thought the point of all of this was to play the games. In order to play the games you need to focus on the here and now.

“Take it one game at a time” we always tell our players. But what message does advertising tryouts for NEXT season at the beginning of THIS season send?

Here’s an idea. Let’s focus on winning the current inning, the current game, the current tournament, etc.

Of course, that sounds like a pretty old-fashioned approach these days. Because it seems like the goal isn’t to win anymore; it’s to land the most players in college, even if they have no idea how to compete once they get there. That’s the college coaches’ problem.

Here’s an idea. Rather than continuously pushing up the tryout/player recruitment process, why not focus on the season you’re in right now?

What a concept, eh?

Instead of thinking up enticements to draw new (and presumably better) players, why not think about how to help your current players become better?

Focus on ways to help them become better as individuals and as a group. Look for ways to build their self confidence.

Teach them the game. Not just the basic stuff they need to know, such as which field is right field or when the dropped third strike rule is in effect, but how to read a hitter’s swing from the outfield or when to take the extra base on a line drive to right.

Most of all, treat your current players like human beings instead of chess pieces for your own glory. Understand as best you can what they’re going through as individuals, especially in the most vulnerable teen years where today’s game or practice has the potential to be the best part of their days.

Do all of that and they will not only run through a wall for you, they’ll want to keep coming back and doing it, year after year. Then you won’t have to advertise for next year at the beginning of this year.

You can’t do all of that, however, if your eyes are always focused on the future.

Let’s live for today, as the Grassroots would say.

Your daily dose of awesomeness.

Can we all make a pact that next year’s ads don’t start appearing until the current season for your team, whatever that is, is three-quarters over? I don’t think that’s unreasonable. If everyone agrees no one will feel the pressure to jump the gun so they don’t end up with the leftovers.

Give your kids the chance to enjoy their softball experience today instead of worrying about where they’re going to play next year. The entire sport will be better for it.

Tryouts – No Rest for the Weary

alone bed bedroom blur

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As someone who has been around fastpitch softball at the travel level for more than 20 years, I can’t help but shake my head at how early tryouts are these days.

It’s hard to believe today but back when I first became involved, as the parent of a player in her first year of travel ball, travel ball tryouts were in the spring. You would play out the summer, the last regular tournament would be at the end of July, then the various “nationals” would happen the first 10 days or so of August (depending on how the calendar laid out).

I remember, because that first year we had to leave for a family vacation on Saturday after playing Friday. (My daughter and I wanted to stay through the end of the tournament but my wife put a big “no” on that idea.)

As time went on and I became a coach, tryouts kept moving up earlier. First we held them at the beginning of December. Then in September. And finally, the organization I was with started doing tryouts the week after nationals finished. We had to, because everyone else was doing them then and if we didn’t all our players would’ve been settled in somewhere else.

Still, I was shocked in mid-July as various students and their parents told me they were going to tryouts the following week. Many nationals hadn’t even occurred yet, but here they were already trying out for next year.

It’s gotten to be like a reality TV show – “Tryout Wars.” Every program is trying to get a leg up on the others in its area, and so schedules its tryouts a week earlier than everyone else to try to secure the best players before others can get to them.

Of course, if they want you they expect a decision (and a check) on the spot. That way you’re less likely to go somewhere else.

It just seems like madness to me. Pretty soon, you won’t be trying out for the coming year in August. The timeline will have pushed back so far that you’ll be trying out for two years from now.

The people that get hurt the most by all this are the families. They can’t fully enjoy the end of their season, and the nationals experience, because they’re too busy planning for (or worrying about) the next season. Instead, they hear the music of The Clash in their heads:

What’s the answer? I don’t have one. Even if all the national sanctioning bodies got together and declared “no tryouts allowed until September 1” I doubt anything would change. There’s no way to enforce it.

So instead, when teams should be focused on making a run for whatever year-end title they’re going for, or families would like to take a break from the hectic schedule of the summer, they instead find themselves thinking mostly about next year.

Oh, and there’s no advantage for the top teams in each age bracket either. Players can’t afford to wait, because if they don’t make those teams and haven’t committed elsewhere they may find themselves without a place to play the next year.

It’s a shame. It would be nice if families (and coaches for that matter) could get a week or two off before beginning the whole process again. They could all come into it fresh and energized instead of tired and burdened. But unless there’s a groundswell movement, it looks like the only advice is “suck it up, Buttercup.”

Oh, and fall ball starts in two weeks.

 

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