Missing softball for other sports: is it fair?

softball coaching
Last week, I shared this article on facebook about sports specialization and about how college coaches actually prefer multi-sport athletes.

I know I’m not the only one who has ever mentioned this before. Judging by many of the comments and the number of times that post was shared on facebook, many agree that kids should NOT be forced to choose just one sport.

The problem is, having a player on your roster who won’t be there all the time presents challenges for coaches. One coach left this comment…

As a coach of an elite team and a person who also played 3 sports. I agree 100 percent with kids playing multiple sports and as a coach wanting athletes. There is a problem, though, when kids commit to 2 or more teams at an elite level and their schedules cross paths which leaves one team missing what is a key player.

This goes for practice and games it’s not fair to the girls who do show up every night work their butts off and people are missing cause they choose to attend another sports practice or games. So playing multiple sports absolutely, but not ones at the elite level that seasons and practices cause to many conflicts then I believe a choice has to be made.

This is not the first time I’ve heard this kind of statement from a coach. Less than 6 months ago, I received this message…

Stacie… Could you address (in some way) the importance of mandatory practices? There seems to be many parents who feel if their child is in another sport, softball practice can be missed during that season. My point is, on a serious team that is committed to showcasing your talents to college coaches, tourneys start very early. Practices need to be mandatory with playing time being affected due to absences. Commitment is the key word. What’s your opinion?

This is a tough one because I don’t think athletes playing more than one sport should be automatically penalized. They’re either going to miss your practice or the other sport. If they are constantly choosing the other sport first, I think they’d have to be okay with possible reduced practice time on your team.

I’ve been involved with teams where players couldn’t come on certain days due to religious reasons or due to illness or due to family obligations or because they work. I think it should be clear that playing time could be affected. At the same time I think it’s okay, as a coach, to take it on a case by case basis and reduce playing time as you see fit.

But it’s not fair
Why is it unfair to those who show up all the time? Can another player not step up and become a “key player?”

In my mind it only opens up MORE opportunities for those who ARE there ALL the time. They “should” be the ones who can be relied upon in games just as they are relied upon to show up every practice.

If you’re on a competitive team, show up to practice every single day, and STILL cannot beat out a player who is only there sometimes, do you really deserve to play simply because you showed up more?

What about that player that always comes early and stays late, but just isn’t as good the other players?  Should they play more because they spend more time at the field?

Is it really fair to penalize the player who can accomplish more in less time?  Is that truly a fault of theirs?  Should the blame of someone else’s lack of playing time fall solely upon them?

When you choose to have a player on your team that WILL miss practices/events due to another sport, you know that sometimes you’ll have the “extra boost” of their presence and sometimes you won’t. Work with the rest of your team so they can survive with or without that person and consider it icing on the cake when they ARE there!

If you, as a coach, offers roster spots to players who play multiple sports, you probably need to carry more players so that, even if a player must miss games/practices, you still have what you “need” on any given game day.

If you KNOW a player may be missing practices frequently, but may still be good enough to start over other players, make THAT clear from the start.  Let all players and parents know that you will play the personnel that you feel gives the team the best chance of success on any given day, period.  You MUST perform on game day to play.  You MUST give everything you have during training sessions you attend.  All of it factors into playing time decisions.  Not just one aspect or another.  But you must clearly state your position up front.

Agree and we do try but sometimes they don’t stick to the expectations and commitment levels we put forth when putting the team together. We definitely agree just have seen a lot as a coach to know its a rough topic, but agree totally multiple sports is great and encouraged.

That definitely comes down to the player and parent being realistic and honest from the get go. There are things you can do in the selection process to really get a good feel for what a family’s commitment level CAN be vs what they say it will be.  Ask the tough questions about what other sports they play, when the seasons run, how often practices/games/tournaments are for that sports, etc, etc, etc.  Keep tweaking your selection process until you can more effectively build your team so absences from multi-sport athletes are less of an issue.

Serious travel ball coaches have to treat player selection like hiring for a business. The more information you collect up front, the better choices you can make and expectations for attendance and playing time will be more on point as well.

It’s very true that parents often “exaggerate” all kinds of things “for their child.” That’s unfortunate.

At some point, PARENTS also must assess the choices they make (or help their child take a look at commitments and what can reasonably be handled) and be willing to make adjustments when necessary.  There are often SO many factors involved. Parents can make better decisions and assessments and so can coaches.

Sometimes it’s a learning experience for everyone.  Coach thinks it can be done.  Parents think it can be done.  Player is ready to give it everything they got…and it just doesn’t work out.  In that situation, all parties need to just chalk it up as what it is, a learning experience all the way around.  No hard feelings.  Just lessons learned.  Everyone began with the best intentions, no one was purposefully misled, but the end result didn’t pan out.

Ultimately, this is about the player and we, adults, are here to help them in the best way possible. Sometimes how to do that isn’t as clear as we’d like it to be…until AFTER a less than ideal decision is made.  As an experienced travel ball coach, you have the power to help families make better choices :)))

But people say they are committed and then actions are different. I’ve been coaching youth elite teams for 15 years and trust me the girls who are there are bothered by the girls were never there.

Help those players focus on getting the job done anyway. There will almost always be a teammate or two that lets you down. Work with what you got. As a competitive high school coach, I’ve experienced the added challenge of kids not making grades and being ineligible during post season. These are situations WE as coaches must be on top of and help our team find a ways to perform regardless. Life lessons in action! Acknowledge your players’ feelings. They’re valid feelings. Then help them move forward and succeed anyway.

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PART II: after I wrote this article, I received a message that asked, But what are you teaching them if you “show favoritism” by playing players who miss practice? CLICK HERE to find out what my response was to that inquiry.

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