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.