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Didn’t Make the Team? Rise Like a Phoenix

One of the most legendary and beloved creatures in Greek (and other) mythology is the phoenix.

If you’re not familiar with it, at the seeming end of its life the phoenix bursts into flames, leaving behind nothing but ashes. Because it is immortal, however, the phoenix rises back up from those ashes to become even better and more powerful each time it goes through that cycle.

There is a reason I am sharing this story today.

The tryout season can be a rough time for coaches, parents, and players in the best of times. But nowhere is it harder than when a player doesn’t make her first choice team.

Believe me, I know. As a longtime coach I can tell you that cutting players from the roster was always one of the toughest things to do.

But that doesn’t compare to what the players and their parents go through. The disappointment, the sadness, and especially the sense of betrayal if they suddenly find that they are no longer on a team they’ve been a part of previously.

Here’s something I can guarantee, however: it’s not the end of the world. One quick look at postings on Facebook groups will show that there are still plenty of teams looking for players.

The reality is today there is no shortage of teams in most areas, which means there is a cornucopia of opportunities awaiting those who are determined to play and show what they can do. So take heart – while you may feel like you went down in flames today, you will find a place to play in the long term.

It’s not often you get to see a cornucopia photo so far away from Thanksgiving

Of course, in the short term it still stinks. But that doesn’t mean you just have to take it on the chin.

It’s ok to be sad. You may even shed some tears over not being with a particular team, or no longer playing with friends you’ve made, or whatever other disappointments you’re feeling. It’s perfectly fine.

But then it’s time to do something about it!

Grab your glove, your bat, your cleats, and whatever else you need and start trying out for teams that need what you have to offer. Find a place to play for the next year.

Doesn’t matter whether it’s a step up, a sideways move, or even a step down from where you’ve played before. What you need is the chance to hone your game skills as you play the game you love.

In reality you should look at it as an opportunity. Perhaps you were the #10 or #11 player on your old roster. Now you have the chance to prove yourself to be one of the top players, without all the previously established notions your old coaches had about you.

Or maybe you were the #3 or #4 pitcher on your old team, fighting to get an inning or two of pitching in pool play. On your new team you may have the chance to establish yourself as #1 or #2 because your new coaches are looking at you with fresh eyes. It’s all under your control.

Naturally, none of that will happen by chance. You’re going to have to want it, and work for it, probably harder than you have before.

But here’s the other takeaway from your recent unsuccessful tryout experience. You can use it as fuel to keep you working hard at times when you start thinking you’d rather be doing something else.

Imagine getting the opportunity to play against the team that cut you and dominating them in the circle or going 4-for-4 with a couple of extra base hits or making a game-saving play on defense. How will you feel then?

Pretty darned good I would imagine. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of proving others wrong about you and showing them directly what they missed.

Yeah, you know it!

I can tell you this from personal experience, albeit from the other side.

One of the big drivers for me in always trying to learn more and better myself as a coach was having players leave my team after a successful season. They thought they could do better elsewhere.

So after I got over the shock I dug in and tried to make myself so good as a coach that no one would ever want to leave a team I coached again. That pain started me on a journey that continues today.

All in all I’d have to say the temporary sadness was far outweighed by all the great experiences I’ve had and all the great players I’ve gotten to coach since.

So lick your wounds today, but don’t let them rule your life. Pick yourself up, and know that if you believe in yourself and are willing to work hard to achieve your dreams there will be better days ahead.

Get out on as many fields as it takes and find a place to play for next season. Be like a phoenix, rise from the ashes and get ready to fly.

Oh, and if you have a personal story of rising up from a failed tryout or other endeavor and going on to have a great career be sure to share it in the comments to help today’s players with their journey.

Phoenix photo by Estefania Quintero on Flickr

Cornucopia photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

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.

6 Tips for Winning at Tryouts

Much of the U.S. is about to enter tryout time for high school ball. Over the next few weeks, players will have the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and intangibles in the hopes of making the team of their choice.

For most, the preference will be making varsity because, well, that’s the top team and who doesn’t want to be the best? For some, however, it will be just getting on a team at all, or being placed on a team where they will have the opportunity to play for their school rather than cheer others on from the bench.

At this point there isn’t much players can do about their skills. Wherever they are now in their journeys is what they will take into tryouts.

There are some things they can do, however, to give themselves their best chance of making their desired team. While the best thing they can do is be amazing talented and proficient at softball, the type of player that can carry a team to a state title, very few are in that category. So here are a few tips for the rest.

Be On Time and Ready to Go

The simple act of being on time seems to be a lost art today.

Tik toc, people.

That’s a shame, because in my book being late sends a message of “My time is more important than your time.” And since making a team relies on the judgment of the person to whom you’re sending that message, it automatically puts the player who’s trying out in the hole.

A good axiom to follow is “If you’re 15 minutes early you’re on time; if you’re on time you’re late.”

But there’s more to it than just being there. Players also want to make sure they have everything they need out and organized.

For example, if hitting is part of the tryout (and most likely it will be), they shouldn’t wait until it’s time to hit to dig their helmet out of their bat bags, dump out the old granola bar wrappers and find their batting gloves. Those items should already be out so they can be picked up whenever the coach sends them to the cage.

Being on time and ready helps players look like they know what they’re doing. All else being equal, it might be the deciding factor between varsity and JV, or being cut.

Don’t Wait to Be Asked to Show Every Skill

This is something I particularly talk to hitters about, but it’s important at every phase.

Take a hitter who can slug bunt (show a bunt then quickly pull back and slap the ball on the ground). While fastpitch softball has gone crazy for home runs there are still a lot of coaches who understand the value of the short game as well. Having a player who can draw a defense in and then slap the ball through the holes, potentially moving a runner from first to third or second to home would be attractive to many.

Yet the coaches evaluating the tryout won’t have any idea the player can do that unless she demonstrates it during hitting. If the coach doesn’t ask about it (and he/she probably won’t), it’s important for the player to say, “Would you like to see me slug bunt?” or whatever it’s called locally.

The same goes for pitchers. Often coaches will line up prospective pitchers and either use a radar or eyeball who throws the hardest and make decisions from there. So a player with good movement and deceptive speed changes but average speed won’t necessarily stand out.

It’s incumbent upon the pitcher to ensure the coach sees her other pitches. That will help separate her from the girls who throw as hard, or even harder, but can’t do anything else. A smart coach will understand the value of movement and speed changes.

Be Positive and Talkative

A big part of succeeding at tryouts is getting noticed. Now, if a high school player can pitch a legit 70 mph, or hit 300 foot bombs, it’s likely she will be noticed even if she’s as stone-faced and quiet as the Sphinx.

Talk about your stonefaces.

For those who don’t possess those superhuman skills, which is most players, they need to make more of a connection to the coaches and potential new teammates. One way to do that is to engage coaches and other players in conversation.

That doesn’t mean be a mindless chatterbox. But a little friendly conversation goes a long way toward showing what a great team member that player might be.

Even something as simple as, “Hi Coach, good to see you. How is your day going?” will help a player stand out from most of their peers. And if the decision comes down to a player who is pleasant and positive versus one who is quiet or a downer, with skill levels being equal, the coach is more likely to select the friendly one. That’s just human nature.

Try to Be First to Each Station

Coaches like players who hustle. One way to demonstrate that quality is by trying to be first to each station (if different stations are being used).

Say that the tryout players are broken into infielders, outfielders, and hitters, and each group is expected to rotate to all three stations. When the coach calls “switch,” the smart player will not walk or jog but will run to the next station.

Getting there first shows enthusiasm. Getting there not only first but a couple of minutes before everyone else helps demonstrate the type of hustle that every coach wants but rarely finds. If a player is on the bubble, showing hustle can be a key differentiator.

Wear Something Memorable

This tip probably isn’t so important in a small school where everyone pretty much knows everyone, coaches and players alike. But in a larger school with many players trying out for a few slots, it helps to stand out from the crowd.

That doesn’t mean wear something outrageous. A lot of coaches aren’t looking for “colorful” players.

While memorable, probably a little too scary.

But it does mean players should wear something that makes it easier to identify or recall them with. It could be neon green shoes, or regular shoes with neon green laces. It could be a Metallica t-shirt in a sea of travel team jerseys, or a big ol’ bow in a player’s hair. Anything that gives a coach an easy way to identify that player even if he/she doesn’t know the player’s name.

Of course, some people have built-in identifiers. If a player is the only redhead, or the only member of a particular race or ethnic group, or the only left hander, she’s going to stand out automatically.

For everyone else, find a way to make it easy for all the coaches to recall who the player is instantly.

Help Clean Up at the End

After a long day of tryouts everyone usually just wants to get out and go home. That’s understandable, but it does present another opportunity to win the tryout.

Odds are the group (or a group, such as freshmen) will be told to clean up and put things away. Most players will slop through the process as quickly as possible to get out.

Motivated players, however, can take this opportunity to not only pick things up but help ensure they are organized when they are put away. They may even have the opportunity to speak with the coach a bit while they are doing it.

Smart coaches are always looking for ways to improve team chemistry. Players who show they have that ability will be that much more attractive when it’s time to decide who stays and who goes – and who goes where.

Need the Goods

Of course, none of this makes a difference if the player isn’t very good to begin with. But for those whose fate is hanging in the balance, going that extra mile as laid out here might just make the difference and help them get on the bus. What they do from there is up to them.

Clock photo by Stas Knop on Pexels.com

Clown [hoto by Nishant Aneja on Pexels.com

Sphinx photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

5 Tips for Preparing Yourself for Tryouts

Fastpitch softball can change your life

The fastpitch softball tryout season for high school is rapidly approaching in many areas. Normally it’s already over by now, but thanks to COVID-19 it’s been delayed by a few weeks.

I’m sure the parents who are used to sitting in nasty cold weather (whatever that is for your area) don’t mind pushing the season back until a little closer to actual Spring.

Now, I have written in the past about things you can do to show well on the day(s) of tryouts. Those articles were brilliant, of course, and you can find them here and here. Others have as well.

But what isn’t talked about much are the things you can do before tryouts begin to help you show your best. Remember the old saying that “Success is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

The opportunity is the tryouts, and you don’t have a lot of control over what happens there. But the preparation is what happens before that day, and you have plenty of control over that.

Here are a few things you can do to ensure you’re ready when the opportunity presents itself.

#1 Start running. A lot.

Yes, I know. You got into softball because you don’t like running. But in a tryout you’d better be prepared to do a lot of it.

You might think that softball teams have their prospects run a lot during tryouts to get them in shape for the season. In some cases that may be true.

But often they use running to weed out the players who are dabbling versus those who are committed. It’s a lot easier to win when your team is committed.

If I wanted to run I would have stuck with @#$%&* soccer.

It also saves them the heartache of having to make cuts. Except for maybe a sadistic few, most coaches (especially in high school) don’t like having to cut players. It takes an emotional toll.

So if they can get those players to cut themselves it makes their job that much easier.

Bottom line is, if you’re planning to make it through the first two to three days of tryouts, start running sprints and distance now. You can thank me later.

#2 Learn to hit off a pitching machine.

I hear this all the time: “I can’t hit off a pitching machine.” Well, sister, you’d better learn because that’s what’s used in a lot of high school tryouts.

You can be the greatest hitter in the world (or at least your school) off of a live pitcher. But it’s unlikely anyone is going to see that during a tryout because they don’t have a live pitcher throwing to hitters.

If you’re lucky they’ll have a coach doing front toss. But more than likely you’ll be facing a wheel machine because that enables coaches to see you hitting against more speed.

The problem is the way pitching machines are fed makes it very difficult for those who aren’t used to it to be successful. Fortunately for you, I did an entire video blog on this topic, so check it out and practice the techniques to help yourself get ready. You’ll be glad you did.

#3 Make sure your throwing is spot-on.

This is an area many players don’t even think about. But it can be a huge difference-maker, especially if you’re not an overall standout athlete.

I know when I used to do tryouts our coaches would watch prospects throwing in warmups. It would look like we were just impatiently waiting for them to finish their obligatory warm-ups, but actually we’d be looking at their throwing technique.

Those who can throw smoothly and confidently, and hit their targets at least most of the time, stand out from the girls who push the ball, drop their elbows, or whip their arms wildly around their heads.

Statistically, 80% of all errors are throwing errors, so if you can eliminate those you again stand a much better chance of winning a ballgame. And the easiest way you can do that is to select players who already know how to throw a ball.

This can be a problem even for players who throw, hard by the way. An inaccurate hard throw will bang off the fence much further than a softer inaccurate throw, so don’t make your judgment based solely on how good an arm you have. Be sure you can hit what you’re throwing at too.

If your arm does need some work you can try this product. You can also look into the High Level Throwing program, which can make a huge difference in a relatively short amount of time.

Whichever way you go, get on it fast. Learning to throw properly can not only help you look better in a tryout. It can save you from a lot of pain and arm injuries down the road.

#4 Check your equipment and replace it as-needed.

When you go to a tryout you want to be sure not only that your equipment works but that you look like you’re an Ace. A floppy, beat-up glove, shoes with holes in them, catcher’s gear that looks like it’s been through a war, a bat with the grip hanging off or paint falling off, etc. doesn’t make a very good first impression.

Particularly if you have to stop to make repairs.

Go through all the gear you will use during a tryout and ask yourself, “Does this look like the equipment a top-level player would use?” If not, and if you have the ability, replace it.

The same, incidentally, goes for the clothes you plan to wear at the tryout. First impressions do count.

If your lucky t-shirt is all raggedy, or your favorite softball pants look like you were crawling around the alley looking for quarters, find something else to wear. Can’t do much about the pants, but you can always wear the lucky t-shirt under another shirt or jersey.

#5 Know the environment where you’ll be trying out.

In some areas it will be obvious whether tryouts will be held inside or outside. If it’s 30 degrees outside with snow on the field you can bet you’ll be indoors.

But with tryouts happening later in many parts of the country it may not be so simple. You might even be indoors one day and outdoors the next.

As a result, you’ll want to be sure you’re prepared no matter what the decision will be. If you’ll be in a gym, have a good pair of gym shoes available to wear. If you’ll be on turf, have turf shoes. For a regular softball field, have cleats.

If you even suspect you’ll be outside during the day, be sure to pack your sunglasses. Nothing worse than missing fly balls in the outfield not because you can’t catch but because you can’t see.

Also be sure you have warm clothes in case you’re outside for an extended period of time. That includes jackets that will keep the wind from cutting through your clothes.

Can you believe Coach is still having outdoor tryouts today?

A hoodie may seem warm, but if it’s chilly and the wind kicks up you’ll find out just how little protection it offers. A warm hat or headband will also be in order, as well as a warm pair of socks (assuming you can still get your cleats on over them).

If you’re miserable, it will show in your demeanor and your play. Being ready for any conditions will help you show your best.

Running photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com

Penguin photo by DSD on Pexels.com

10 Things to Consider When Looking for a New Team

Ways to succeed at fastpitch softball tryouts

Hard to believe since we have barely been playing summer ball again, but the 2020 season is nearly over. Some of the alphabet organizations are already holding Nationals (or “Nationals”), and in a couple of weeks this year will be in the books.

For some, maybe many, this is also the time of year when players and their families start thinking about where they want to play in 2021. There can be many reasons for changing teams.

Some are looking for a more challenging environment. Some are hoping to increase their playing time, either overall or at a specific position. Some want more games while others want fewer. (I’m sure no one was happy with that this season.) Some want to play with their friends, and some don’t like their current coaches and want to move on.

Whatever the driver, the tryout season (which follows immediately on the heels of the current season, unfortunately) will no doubt find a lot of folks seeking greener pastures.

If you’re in that category, be sure you remember these wise Latin words: caveat emptor, which essentially translates to “let the buyer beware.” Because what may look like a good opportunity at first glance may not look so good once you’re in the middle of it.

There are no guarantees in this process. But I do have some tips, based on my many years of coaching, that could help guide you to a better decision.

This isn’t a post on how to have a great tryout by the way. You can find those tips here. This is about considerations when selecting a new team.

  1. Talk to parents or players already on teams you’re considering. Preferably you will do this before you even get to tryouts. You probably know some of the teams you might be considering. It’s likely you play against them regularly. If you’re at a tournament this weekend, introduce yourself and talk to parents whose kids are on that team. They’ll help you get a feel for how it’s run, what the coaches are like, and whether all the positions are set already or you/your daughter will have an opportunity to see the field (or a particular position) regularly.
  2. Silently listen to those same parents. This is a bit sneakier, but there’s nothing like sideline chatter to give you a feel for what people really think of a team. Go stand by one or more groups of parents and casually listen to their comments and discussions. You’ll get an unvarnished idea of how happy or unhappy they are overall and whether the team atmosphere will be a pleasant or trying one. You could end up saving yourself a lot of time and heartache in the long run.
  3. Look downmarket for opportunities. Yes it sure is nice to be on a team that’s winning the big trophies all the time. But for many the luster fades when you realize you/your daughter was more of a glorified spectator than active participant in all those wins. Sometimes your best opportunity to develop into an A-level player is to play with a B-level team with a year so you can gain the experience you need. For example, pitchers need to be in the circle if they’re going to develop. If you’re on a team with two or three Ace pitchers, and you’re not at that level yet, you’re not going to get the ball much. That’s just life. Yes, you could keep working on your game to try to beat them out, but if the die is already cast you may not get a chance to show what you can do even if you do pass them by. You would be better-served by being a #1 or #2 on a lower-level team, and gaining lots of game experience than pitching two token innings of pool play and then sitting the bench or playing a field position the rest of the time. If you’re going to be successful you have to want and get the ball on a regular basis. The same is true for other positions, but it particularly applies to pitchers.
  4. If your are moving up, try not to walk in #1. If you’re used to being the best player on your team and you are looking for new challenges, you want to go somewhere where you start out behind some of the other players. In our pitching example, you want to go in as #2 or #3. As a hitter you want to start out in the lower half of the lineup rather than being anointed to the 3-slot or cleanup. Being viewed as being behind someone else should fire up your competitive juices and cause you to work that much harder. There is nothing more satisfying than be brought in as a backup and then taking over the top spot.
  5. Prioritize what’s important to you. For some people money and distance are no object. They are most interested in a level of play, or an opportunity to play, or whatever else is important to them. For others it may be convenience, time/distance to practice, availability of other parents to transport you/your daughter to practice or games or a host of other parameters. Before you waste your time or the coaching staff’s time at a tryout, be sure you know what’s acceptable to you and what is not. Then select potential teams accordingly. If you want time to work in a family vacation in late June, playing on a team that goes to PGF qualifiers all summer is probably not for you. If you have transportation challenges, joining a team that is an hour away and practices three nights a week probably won’t work out for anyone. Decide what’s important and choose accordingly.
  6. Seek like-minded players. Your/your daughter’s best experience will be on a team where players have comparable skill levels and goals. That doesn’t mean they all have to be BFFs, but they should at least all be pulling in the same direction. If you see bullying or prima donna behavior, especially from a coach’s kid, keep in mind that this is likely the best they’re going to act. It’s not going to get better over time. On the other hand if you/your daughter looks like a good fit skill- and personality-wise, it will probably be the experience you’re looking for.
  7. Watch how the coaches coach. Again, theoretically everyone is showing their best selves at a tryout. Players are trying to sell themselves, but so are coaches. If they’re yelling and screaming during tryouts, that’s probably going to carry over to practice and games. If you like that sort of thing – the old “command and control” style of coaching – have at it. If that’s not what you’re looking for keeping looking. One thing I will say is during tryouts I would often make a suggestion on how to approach a skill with a player, not just to help her do better but to see how coachable she seemed. If I got back attitude she was cut no matter how skilled. You should audition coaches the same way. Ask them some meaningful questions and see how they answer. Not just what they say but how they say it. You’ll learn a lot in a few minutes.
  8. Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see. Ok I stole that from Edgar Allen Poe by way of Bruce Springsteen, but it’s still good advice. When you’re a prospect you’re likely to hear all kinds of promises. Coaches have rosters to fill, and they want to fill them as quickly as possible – especially if there is a lot of competition for players in an area. But just because you or your daughter have been told she’ll play shortstop during tryouts doesn’t mean it will actually happen once games roll around. This is where the research you did earlier (see tips #1 and #2) will pay off. Is the coach a man of his/her word? If not, don’t get sucked in by tissue paper promises. It may still happen but it’s not a given.
  9. Don’t rush the decision. Unless you/your daughter is trying out for her dream team, and you know there is an opening at her position, resist the pressure to decide on the spot whether to accept a particular team’s offer. I’m not sure when this became a thing, but it seems like a lot of programs have gone this way. Especially programs that like to pretend they’re high-level when they’re really more mid-level. This is a decision you will either have to live with for a year or that will create a very uncomfortable situation down the road if you decide you have to leave before the season ends. If that team really wants you, it will wait. If the coach is just trying to fill roster spots so he/she doesn’t have to think about tryouts anymore, you probably don’t want to be there anyway.
  10. Trust your gut. This one is simple. If something doesn’t feel right about the tryouts you’re probably right. Don’t try to convince yourself things will get better later because they probably won’t. Either finish it out and don’t look back, or just excuse yourself and leave. Nothing good will come from prolonging a bad experience.

The whole tryout process can be gut-wrenching for everyone, but the more effort you put into looking at all the factors the better of a decision you’ll be able to make. The good news, however, is that even if you choose poorly, you’re not getting married.

It’s a year’s commitment at most. Then you get to do it all over again.

Good luck, and go get ’em!

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.

 

Tryouts aren’t just about skills

Ways to succeed at fastpitch softball tryouts

Time to bring back an “oldie but goodie” post because the advice is still relevant, and the topic is definitely timely with so many players (and coaches) in the midst of the tryout season.

Showing well at a tryout isn’t just about having great skills. It’s also about looking like you’d be a great fit on a team. Or as Herb Brooks says in Miracle:

Keep all of this in mind as you go through the tryout process. It may be a grind. But bringing your very best every time may just be the difference-maker. 

It’s that time of year again. We’re in the midst of tryout season – that time when players try to show coaches what a great addition they would be to the team(s) of their choice.

While there’s no doubt it’s important to show your skills, there’s more to a tryout than skills alone. That’s coming from a coach who participated in tryouts for more than 15 years.

The reality is there are many very skilled players out there. In fact, if your skills are far above everyone else at that tryout, you’re probably trying out for the wrong team. So how do coaches make their decision?

Much of it comes down to character. One of the tests I used to give players I was interested in was to offer a bit of advice on how to do something.

Maybe they were having a bit of trouble hitting or fielding. I’d offer a suggestion on how to improve. But it wasn’t about whether they’d do better the next time. It was about seeing how they reacted. Were they coachable? Did they give it a try, or did they give me attitude instead?

I’d look at who was hustling. Not just during the drills but between the drills when they’d transition from one area to another. Also who seemed like they were enjoying playing as opposed to some who looked like they were forced to be there.

I’d also listen to them, especially those who sounded like they could be potential team leaders. Did they encourage others? Did they cheer for those who made good plays, such as diving for a ball? (Pssst – if you get the chance, definitely dive for a ball; it always makes a good impression.)

I loved watching what would happen after a player made a mistake. If she booted a ground ball, or missed a few pitches during a hitting session, did she put it behind her or have a meltdown?

Mistakes are a huge part of fastpitch softball, so you’d better have the mental toughness to deal with it. The last thing a coach wants in a tight game is a player who is so upset over an error or a strikeout in the previous inning that she isn’t focused on this one. That’s a sure recipe for disaster.

If we gathered the group together and one of the other coaches was talking, I’d take a look to see who was listening and who was looking off into the distance, or otherwise spacing out. It’s not that hard to pick out.

Here’s the thing. Tryouts are like a job interview. Theoretically everyone is on their best behavior, showing their best selves. If the self I’m seeing at a tryout doesn’t seem like what I’m looking for, it’s unlikely it’s going to get better once you’re on the team. In fact it’s probably going to get worse.

It’s pretty rare that a player’s skill level is so awesome that it can make up for a lot of poor character. Again, if you do stand out that much you’re probably not at the right tryouts.

These days teams are together for a long time – essentially 12 months. As a result, chemistry means more than ever.

If you want to increase your chances of making your first choice team, make sure you have your act together and can show the coaches you’re more than your ability to throw, catch, pitch, hit, run, etc. You’re the kind of quality person they want to be around – and who can perform no matter what the circumstances are.

Photo credit: Elizabeth Prata via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Softball tryouts – hitting off the pitching machine

In my last post, I offered up some general tips for a successful tryout. While it was aimed at high school softball tryouts, the truth is those tips apply to all types of tryouts – and most to more than just fastpitch softball.

Included in the post was a brief mention about getting used to hitting off a pitching machine if that’s what will be used during your tryouts. This is an issue a lot of players face.

They will crush it against front toss and even live pitching. But stand them up in front of a machine and they struggle.

So for all of you who are in that boat, or know someone who is, I’m reprising this video blog to help you make sure you’re ready when it’s time to show your stuff. Follow these tips and you should have much greater success in showing what you can really do.

6 Tips for a More Successful Softball Tryout

Tryouts sign

For most of the fastpitch players in the country, the end of February means one thing – high school team tryouts. Whether you consider high school ball the pinnacle of your year or merely something to do until travel ball season starts, it’s an opportunity to show your school spirit and make a contribution to community pride. But before you get there, you first have to make the team.

The best way to assure your spot, of course, is to choose your parents wisely and be born dripping with talent. High school pitchers who throw 65 mph, hitters who can crush a softball 250 feet, and shortstops who can go into the hole, turn and fire for the out, generally don’t have much to sweat.

Neither do those who have older sisters who could do those things. Every high school has its legendary family, and the assumption is the gene pool runs deep enough to cover everybody, whether it really does or not.

But if you’re in the other 99 percent of the players out there, it’s important to make the best impression you can during tryouts. (Hopefully, the legend’s sister doesn’t play your position. That’s often tougher to overcome than actual talent.)

Remember that the amount of time the coach sees you follows a simple formula: your time = the total amount of time for tryouts ÷ the number of players trying out. In other words, if tryouts take a total of six hours and there are 60 girls trying out, you have six minutes to get noticed. Here’s how you can use that time wisely.

  1. Hustle, hustle, hustle. There’s no substitute for it, and it’s one of the key factors coaches look for. Desire is an important attribute coaches look for in prospective players, and hustle is a great indicator of desire. Hustle is also an indicator of coachability. With hustle and at least one strength, most coaches will figure a player can possibly be developed into a good or great softball player. When you’re moving from station to station during tryouts, don’t walk. Run. If you’re fielding ground balls, don’t go through the motions – act like the state championship is on the line, and dive if you have the opportunity. The more effort and enthusiasm you show, the better your chance of tipping the scales in your favor.
  2. Be friendly. In her book Coaching Fastpitch Softball Successfully, one of Kathy Veroni’s “unwritten rules” is to say hello to the coach. That’s great advice for tryouts too. It shows confidence, and helps you stand out immediately. Remember, it’s a long season, and there are a lot of bus rides ahead. Having people around he or she likes makes the rides go faster.
  3. Make sure you’re in good shape. It’s likely the coach will put you through conditioning drills. My friend Bob Dirkes, a former scholarship nose guard at Northwestern University, says you never want to show you’re tired during conditioning drills. Being in good shape will make that happen. Being in shape also shows a level of commitment that might tip the scales between you and a comparable player. It’s like that old deodorant commercial said– never let ‘em see you sweat.
  4. Be fundamentally sound. If you have a few weeks before tryouts, get in the gym now and work your fundamentals. Catch with two hands – every time. (Unless you are a catcher or a position player reaching for a ball.) Look the ball into the glove – every time. Get on the batting tee and make sure you’re using a good hips-shoulders-bat sequence. If you mess up a chance or two but show good fundamentals, you’ll still look solid. If you make the plays but your technique is poor, you’ll look chancy. Chris Simenson, a former HS coach in Iowa, says, “The game is still a matter of learning fundamentals and execution. A player willing to practice and learn will advance beyond a talented athlete who does not.” Coaches want players they can count on game after game to make the plays they should make. Show you’re one of them.
  5. Show all your skills. If you have something special, don’t assume the coach knows it – and don’t wait until the coach asks, because he or she probably won’t. If you’re in the batting cage and you’re a slapper, be sure you show it. Just about every knowledgeable coach wants a slapper or two in the lineup. If you’re a pitcher, don’t just throw fastballs. At the minimum, show your change. If the coach goes to the catcher’s end and you have pitches that move (drop, curve, rise, screwball), be sure to throw them. You just added a dimension to the coach’s game plan.
  6. Practice under the conditions you’ll use in tryouts. If you’ll be hitting off a pitching machine, you’d best start practicing hitting off of one, even if you don’t particularly like it. If you can, use the same type of machine, and find out how fast they set it. If you will be indoors, try practicing fielding on a similar type of surface. The ball bounces differently on a wood gym floor v. a tile gym floor v. a concrete surface v. a turf surface v. an actual field. If you don’t know, ask if they use actual softballs or the rubbery ones. Pitchers should try to find out what types of balls the team uses, because different balls feel different and you’ll need to be comfortable with the balls you’re throwing. Even the lighting conditions can make a difference. The more you get the feel for what the tryouts will be like, the better you’re likely to perform.

The last piece of advice is to relax and just show your stuff. Don’t think of it as being judged – think of it as your time to shine!

Remember, softball is a game, and games are supposed to be fun. Approach it that way, and you’ll be successful. Good luck!

Fastpitch pitchers gotta pitch

Fastpitch pitchers need circle time to improve

Right now we are coming up on what is probably the toughest time of the year in fastpitch softball – tryout season.

While the current playing season hasn’t quite concluded yet for most players, the finish line is definitely in sight for most. And that means they need to make a decision about next year, asking the musical question:

In some cases it may be whether a player should make the jump from rec ball to travel ball. In other cases it’s whether to stay with the current team or move to a new one, or whether to play up or stay down. So many decisions!

I’m asked my advice on this a lot, and I usually share it on a one-to-one basis because every situation is a little different. But there are a few common scenarios where I can pretty much make a blanket recommendation.

The biggest one is about seeking out opportunity, especially if you are (or your daughter is) a pitcher. As my headline says, pitchers gotta pitch. You can practice all you want, but the only way you’re going to know if you’re getting better is if you get the opportunity to pitch in games. Not just a few scrub innings here or there, but quality innings.

So let’s look at this typical scenario. (I’m going to say you to keep it simple, but you can also read “your daughter.)

You’re on a team that already has two good, established pitchers who get the bulk of the work. You started pitching a year ago, and while you’ve been working hard you haven’t had much opportunity to show your stuff. The coaches are too afraid they might lose a game with you in the circle.

Odds are that situation isn’t going to get any better next year. It’s probably time for you to seek your fortunes elsewhere, even if it’s with a team that isn’t as good overall, or isn’t as likely to win as many games as your current team.

What you need right now are game innings. So what if the team doesn’t play great defense and you take some losses. What you want is the opportunity to get in the circle, make yourself better, and see if you can make the team better to boot. Now, if you improve and the team doesn’t, next year will probably be a different story. But for now, your best bet is to go where the opportunity is.

Another tough one is whether a 10U pitcher should move up when her team goes to 12U or stay down at 10U. There’s no single answer for this one. If you’re rocking it at 10U, you can probably move up to the next level no problem. Especially if you’re a bigger 10U player. A smaller one might have trouble adjusting to the larger ball and extra five feet of pitching distance.

On the other hand, if you’re a developing 10U pitcher who hasn’t had much circle time, the jump to 12U might be pretty rough. If you get rocked a couple of times at 12U that might be the end of your pitching career. My recommendation in general would be to stay down, get a chance to dominate and build some confidence first. It will help ease the transition.

What about going from rec ball to travel ball? That can be a pretty big (and eye-opening) jump. To me, this is more about general attitude toward the game. If softball is primarily a social thing for you, it may not be a good idea. The increased practice and game schedules, even at the lower end of travel ball, might be too much for you.

On the other hand, if you’re a competitive type you’re very likely going to thrive in the travel ball world. You’ll enjoy the harder practices and tougher competition. And you (as well as your parents) will likely make friends for life.

On the other side of the stay/go coin is the desire to win trophies above all else. Yes, there are teams you can go to that will let you clutter your bedroom, and the living room, and the basement with plastic “hardware.” But will they help you become a better player?

Winning teams aren’t always run by great coaches. Sometimes they’re run by a parent who has a very talented daughter (who also has a few talented friends) or they are able to attract very talented, already-formed players and assemble them into a team. The coaches don’t make them better, they just act like NASCAR drivers; the drivers don’t build the cars, they just drive them. Not that it doesn’t take skill to drive a NASCAR vehicle, but it’s a different skillset than getting the car ready for race day.

The point is, you want to know that if you’re not already fully-formed and ready to rock that you will get the training you need to get there. A team that wins less but learns more is probably going to be your better bet.

There are other scenarios as well, but these should form a good start. If you look at what your needs and desires from the game are, you’ll have a lot better idea as where you should be playing next year. Good luck with it!

Oh, and if I missed any scenarios or you have questions, feel free to mention them in the comments below.

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