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Tryouts aren’t just about skills

Ways to succeed at fastpitch softball tryouts

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

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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.

The Neverending Softball Story

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I was talking with a couple of fastpitch hitting and pitching students this week about their schedules for the next couple of weeks. They were explaining that they probably wouldn’t be coming out for lessons because “we have Nationals next week, then tryouts when we get back.”

That just seems crazy to me. I know it’s the way things are but I can’t help but think they shouldn’t be.

Why couldn’t there be a couple of weeks at least between the end of this season and the beginning of the next? What is so all-fired important about getting started on next season that it has to happen before players have had a chance to clean the dust off their equipment from the last one? Especially since many schools start classes around the middle of August now. Not much of a chance for the family of a softball player to take a week off for a little R&R that doesn’t involve getting to a field at 7:00 am on a Saturday.

Where it really gets crazy is how all the different alphabet soup of organizations have their so-called Nationals. Some are done already. Some are going on right now. Some will happen next week. Programs that went to one of the early ones often have their tryouts going on while some of the players who might like to play for them are away at other Nationals.

I guess it’s all about the race to capture the best players before someone else gets to them. When players go to these early tryouts, there is a lot of pressure (especially on the better players) to make a decision now – sometimes before they leave the first day of tryouts. They’re told if they don’t decide RIGHT NOW there may not be a roster spot available to them later.

Again, that seems crazy when the actual, important season for these teams doesn’t start for another 8-10 months (depending on their age). But of course, if you can secure those players now your team is set, and there’s no risk of some other team, especially a close rival, getting them instead.

The problem is the solution is the same as early recruiting for colleges. Programs would have to bring some sanity to the process by voluntarily holding off on tryouts until at least mid-August, and preferably a little later. But who wants to be the first?

If it’s going to work, it would have to start with the most desirable teams – the ones everyone would love to play for. If they didn’t start until later (secure in the knowledge players would join their teams (even if they had “committed” under pressure elsewhere first) there would be less incentive for the next tier to be early, and perhaps then it would trickle all the way down.

I don’t think the world would come to an end if tryouts didn’t happen until mid- or late August. So what do you say top tier teams? Will you be the first to start bringing a little sanity to the process, and give committed softball families a window to take a non-softball vacation before school starts (assuming they can afford one after all the travel)?

 

How To Make Yourself Stand Out At Softball Tryouts

Editor’s note: Next week begins high school tryouts in many states. This guest post by Brandon Capaletti, vice president of Cisco Athletic, offers some timely tips on how to have a successful tryout.

Tryouts can be a nerve-wracking process. Players are being scrutinized en masse, coaches are assessing needs and talent levels, and families are trying to determine if certain programs are worth the commitment (and money, in some cases).

Whether your daughter is attending tryouts for her high school softball team or a fall/summer travel squad, keep the following tips in mind during what often can be a grueling and anxiety-filled process:

  1.  Punctuality. Be on time. In fact, subscribe to the following credo: Early is on time, on time is late. That means cleats on, and glove/bat/helmet at the ready come starting time. Don’t give coaches and evaluators a reason to put a check mark next to your name for the wrong reason before tryouts start.
  2. Hustle. Any coach worth his or her salt values hustle and effort. Coaches will notice when you hustle (during drills and when moving from station to station) and when you don’t hustle. Hustle, which doesn’t require talent, says something about your character and level of desire.
  3. Listen/pay attention. In addition to assessing skills, evaluators will want to know: Are you coachable? Looking a coach in the eyes and following directions are imperative in athletics. Appearing disinterested or staring off into the distance while a coach is speaking and giving instructing can be construed as disrespectful. If you can’t or won’t listen to a coach during tryouts, the coach is likely to think you’ll do the same as a member of the team.
  4. Be the boss. On the field, a player needs to trust her instincts and preparation — and take ownership of her tryout. Nothing turns off a coach or evaluator more than a player who constantly looks to a parent for guidance — or a meddling parent who wants to “coach” from the other side of the fence. Those are red flags. A player who asserts her independence is an intriguing and valued prospect.
  5. State your desired positions: While the coach ultimately is responsible for deciding where you play should you make the team, it’s important that you get a look at the positions you prefer or have played in the past. Many tryouts require registration, which often provides an opportunity to list preferred positions. It’s especially important that pitchers and catchers get a chance to be seen at those positions.
  6. Avoid comparisons. It’s human nature for players to gauge how they stack up to their so-called competition at tryouts. Comparing arm strength, speed, fielding adeptness and hitting ability is natural, but try to concentrate more on what YOU do well rather than how other players perform. Be confident in your ability, and focus on the tasks at hand. Concern yourself with what you can control; don’t worry about what is out of your control.
  7. Stay positive/confident. Don’t overreact to mistakes — physical or mental. Coaches evaluate demeanor as well as ability, and no coach expects a perfect tryout from any player. A capable and experienced evaluator can see through physical mistakes (i.e., fielding errors, bad throws, swings and misses) to determine a good ball player. Show evaluators resilience in that you can bounce back from a mistake to make a good play. Maintain positive body language as well.
  8. Have fun! No matter what level, athletic competition is supposed to be enjoyable. Especially at tryouts, show evaluators that you are having fun playing a game that you love. Enjoy the experience as much as possible, even while you’re competing hard within a sometimes pressure-packed situation.

Softball players put in many hours of practice and preparation, many calling on the services of private instructors. Due diligence away from the field optimizes a player’s chances of performing well on the field. Trust what you know, believe in what you’ve worked on and let it all hang out in tryouts — the rest will take care of itself.

Brandon Capaletti is the vice president of Cisco Athletic, an athletic apparel manufacturer that designs, produces and distributes custom uniforms.

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