Around this time of year, I always receive a lot of different questions and grievances relating to the high school softball season. Playing a sport for high school is a unique situation – you don’t get to pick your coaches, you don’t get to pick your teammates. And on the other side of that – the coaches don’t really “pick” you either. Some players and parents choose to think it is more of a forced situation because many compare high school ball to travel ball.
Two different teams; two different sets of problems; one similar mindset — control what you can, let go of what you can’t.
In high school, players get challenged in ways that make them uncomfortable. – as a leader, as a teammate and as a player. Honestly, to me, it shows a lot about a player’s character and passion. During the high school season, I hear a lot of excuses…but I don’t hear a lot of players (or parents) trying to see the positive side of things to make the situation better. What can we do right now in this very moment to learn, to grow and to get better?
Remember a player (and her parents) are not going to agree with 100% of decisions made. Do you agree with ALL of the decisions your boss makes at work? Think of your favorite sports team: do you agree with the starting lineup every single night a game is played? Probably not. Everybody will always have their own way of doing things, because we are all unique, that’s what makes us US. You don’t have to AGREE with everything that is going on, but you can choose to accept it, see the positive and figure out a way to work with it.
There are a lot of lessons to be learned and problems you can either choose to work through or choose to let bother you. I like to always try to choose to make the most of a situation….
In ANY situation we come up against in life, there are going to be things that we can control and things we can’t control. It’s important to always take a step back in any situation, and understand which are which. Limit the excuses and understand what YOU can do better to get the most out of a situation.
Grievance #1 : PLAYING TIME
Uncontrollable: Making the lineup and teams; playing time.
Controllable(s): Your attitude every day at practice and games; how you can contribute to your team; supporting your teammates; how you push yourself to get better; not talking about the person who is playing in front of you.
Playing time is the #1 grievance parents and/or players complain about (not just in high school ball, but also on tournament teams and college teams). Every person thinks they are good enough for the starting role, and every player thinks they should be on varsity. That’s a great attitude to have, if you channel it in the right way. Always remember that playing time is a decision made by the COACHES, not the parents. I encourage every coach out there to remember your own roots and make your own decisions.
If a player has a question about playing time, then the PLAYER should schedule a meeting with the coach NOT the parent. Parents, as a gentle reminder, I can’t name you one coach that likes to talk to parents about playing time. It’s not your job. Take that energy and encourage your DAUGHTER to make a meeting with her coach, even if she is a freshman.
A Meeting With the Coach
Controllables: PLAYER meeting with the coach NOT parent; The TONE in which you ask your question; keeping your emotions in check during the meeting; respecting what your coach is telling you.
So you want to know why you’re not playing? Talk to your coach! This is a big deal – I get it! It’s hard as a 15 year old to go up and talk to someone about a serious subject. Think of this as a learning experience! Everyone has a first time of when they had to approach an adult and ask a tough question.
A player gets to set up a meeting with an adult to discuss “grown up” things. This is similar to what will happen in college and this is similar to what would happen in a job situation. At your own current job now, you wouldn’t call on your own parent to go and talk to your boss about a raise or a promotion. Meeting with a coach can be the first real life opportunity a player has to discuss something on their own that is a priority and that they are passionate about.
A player might think she is doing EVERYTHING she can do to earn playing time. But just because the PLAYER thinks that she is doing everything, doesn’t mean that the COACH is having the same view. Remember, we all come from different perceptions and our perception is our reality.
Parents, you can help and get involved not by calling the coach, but by sitting down with your daughter and making a list of things to bring up to her coach whenever she goes in for the big meeting. Have a list of questions you want to remember to ask and that list can be comfort going into the meeting. Allow your daughter to come up with these questions as much as she can – not YOU. It’s not about you, sorry!
A player calling a meeting with a coach shows maturity, and it’s a great experience for the player to take responsibility of having a voice. Don’t complain to your teammates – it makes you look bad and you are just looking for them to tell you, “Yes, Susie, you should be playing.” Nobody wants to hear someone complaining about playing time all the time – it makes things awkward, especially if the people you are complaining to are every day players. Even if the people you are complaining to are NOT every day players, then you guys complaining about each other become a cancer to the team.
Remember everything that comes out of your mouth and all of your actions are either positively or negatively affecting your team’s goal and mission.
If you’re not happy with your playing time, there is only one person you should be talking to on your team – your coach. It’s totally okay to talk about playing time in the walls of your own house with your parents – that’s private time. Outside of that, it should not be happening because it starts to take away from the TEAM.
It’s all about your approach when you have the meeting wit your coach. Look your coach in the eye when you are talking or when he/she is talking. Go into the meeting knowing what you want out of it. Think your questions through. Instead of just asking, “Why am I not playing?” – that question has a negative connotation to it, especially if that is the ONLY question you ask. How about asking things like,
- “Just wanted to know, what you see are some things I could work on this season to improve my game?”
- If you are a pitcher – make sure you ask specifically about pitching and also hitting, if you pitch and hit.
- How about the question that every coach will love, “Hey coach, I know I am not in the starting 9, but what would it take for me to be first off the bench in a pinch hit situation?”
- or, “Hey coach, I know I’m not in the starting 9, but what are some things I can help with during the game to help the team out?” (ie chart pitches, try to pick opposing coaches signals, picking your teammates up).
- Last one, “I want to gain your trust, do you think I could get a chance in a pinch hit situation?”
At the end of the season, if you were not an every day player, a great thing to ask your coach is, “Coach, what can I work on during the off season to become an every day starter for you?” Make sure the communication is clear cut, so that you are actually working on the exact things he/she said to work on to become that every day player. Too many times things are lost in translation, and players THINK they worked on the things their coach asked them to, and they show up, and it wasn’t EXACTLY what they wanted. Remember if you are not willing to make the adjustments your coach is asking of you, then when you come back the following season and your coach sees no changes, you will be in the same spot you are this year.
The worst thing is to be left in the dark about why you aren’t playing or feeling like you did something wrong. Open communication from player to coach is always the best thing you can do. Once again – parents, this is not your job.
Take Advantage of Your Opportunities!!!!
Okay, so you’re not an every day player, but your coach decides to put you in to pinch hit with a runner at 3rd, who is the game winning run. WHAT a position to be in! Your coach is giving you that chance that you asked him/her about in the meeting. NOW is your chance. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOUR OPPORTUNITY. Want it bad enough.
Go up, have a quality at bat, and try to hit the ball hard. Doesn’t HAVE to be a hit. You just need to look like you are prepared for your at bat and that you are focused. A QUALITY AT BAT is considered taking advantage of your opportunity. If you go up and strike out on 3 straight pitches, I’m sorry, that’s not a quality at bat, and it’s not taking advantage of your opportunity. That’s looking like you were unfocused since you were not an every day starter.
Same idea defensively – if you get a chance to go out and play on defense, and the ball is hit to you, and you make an error, then why would a coach feel confident in you? Even if that is the first ground ball you’ve gotten all year in a game, you MUST be able to come up with a play – no excuses. I hear that excuse all too often, “Well I made that error because I hadn’t played in a game in a while.” NOPE – stop. That’s the easy way out. The hard way is to go into that game and be so determined that nothing will stop you and you will go in and shine.
In high school and in college, it’s ALL about taking advantage of your opportunities, especially when you are not an every day player. You must be ready for them defensively and offensively. After the fact, if you don’t have success with your opportunity, you CANNOT blame it on the fact that you don’t play all the time. To me, that’s a cop out. That is giving yourself an out for not taking advantage of your opportunity. Don’t be that player.
- If you get a chance to pinch hit, have a QUALITY AT BAT – take advantage of your opportunity
- If you get a chance to start out on the field, don’t botch routine plays – act like you’ve been there
- “No game experience” is not an excuse once you get to the high school level – make plays.
Be Able To Play Different Positions
Maybe you are a short stop, but the player in front of you is an upperclassman who is the best player on the team. So of course, she is going to be playing there at that spot. A good thing to ask your coach is, “Is there another position I could work on to earn a starting spot?”
Make yourself diverse. There may be a spot defensively that is open, and YOU can take advantage of getting in there even though you have never played that position before. Go take some time on your own to practice that position either on off days from high school ball or after team practice is complete. Work at it. EARN YOUR SPOT. The more positions you are able to play, the higher of a chance you have of going out there and making a difference at the team.
If there is a very talented player in your spot, LEARN from that player. She is good for a reason. Even if she is the same age as you, there is ALWAYS something you could be learning from her. Instead of being jealous of her, look at her at practice and in a game and watch how she moves, what she does well and what makes her a great player. There’s nothing wrong with giving her credit, understanding what she does well and trying to emulate her. This way, when you get your chance, it’s an easier transition and you have grown as a player.
This is especially true of pitchers, because a pitcher sitting on the bench can be understanding and learning pitch calling, noticing locations and spots and studying hitters to see what a hitter does well or not well. In the dugout, you can be visualizing what you would be throwing in certain situations. This is important, as well, because what if the starting pitcher gets hurt suddenly. You need to be mentally ready to go into a game. IF you have been studying the opposing team’s hitters and understanding what their weakness is, you can be ready to pick up right where she left off seamlessly.
- Be diverse, be able to play multiple positions.
- Learn from players who are playing in front of you.
- Be ready to come off the bench in case of injury or in case you get called upon.
PS…if you work hard at practice, your coach is going to be more likely to put you in when that injury happens or maybe your coach just gets a feeling in her gut that she wants you to go in to an important situation. You EARN going into a game. You EARN that playing time. How do you earn it? PRACTICE. If he/she sees how hard you are working and how invested you are into the team, he/she is going to be more likely to rely on you.