Since when did the standard for a travel team’s roster become 12? I’ve been talking to people about this for quite some time. Whenever I bring the topic up, I always lead with, “Why is it that every travel team only carries 12 guys?” I know the answer, but I just want to make sure my assumption is on point. And every person I asked came back with a response that validated my assumption, “If we carry more kids then we’ll have to deal with parents complaining about playing time.”
I’ll tackle the parents issue, but first want to list out a few reasons why carrying 12 players is detrimental to a team.
Need time to watch the game – I’m a big believer in “learning by watching.” When I moved from 2nd base to Catcher, my batting average climbed from being a career .280 hitter to .330. I firmly believe that the increase was due to the fact that I started watching and studying hitters more. I watched video and the opposing team’s batting practice. The more I watched, the more I learned about my own hitting. Young players need to learn the game. They need to sit on the bench, next to a coach, and talk about the game. And no, sitting on the bench while their team is hitting is not enough. They’ll be thinking about their next at-bat; or about a play they didn’t make the previous inning. You’ll have a hard time getting them to focus on watching and learning. Players need to take a few innings off during a game. It doesn’t have to be a whole game. You can put the players on a rotation. But, players need to study the game. They need to know how to play the game mentally. And the best way for them to do this is to get them to watch the game.
Less taxing on pitcher – It’s basic math. The more pitchers you have, the less innings one pitcher has to throw. In speaking with a few teams, apparently most kids on the team can pitch. This is great, but when do these kids get a rest. If you’re done pitching, and go to play a position, you’re not giving your arm a rest. Teams should carry enough players so that a kid that just threw 70 pitches can come out of the game, and give his arm the rest it needs. Which means, he should take 5 days off from pitching. Arm problems seem to be cropping up left and right. You don’t have to look hard to find a player that has had Tommy John surgery. These kids need to pitch less. And when you have 12 kids on a team, it’s hard to give anyone on the team a rest.
Learn how to compete for a job – Carrying 12 kids essentially is handing the majority of the kids a starting spot on the team. You’re giving the kids a free ride. And some of these kids should not be starting. But since their parents laid down a check, they now have the opportunity to call themselves starters. Buying a starting spot robs the kids of learning a very important life lesson; how to earn their position. There’s basically no competition for a job when you have a limited roster. When there’s no competition, kids don’t have to worry about losing their spot. Not hitting well? No problem, there’s no one that is backing you up. Not fielding well? No problem, there’s no one that is backing you up. Why put your kid in a position where they don’t have to work for their spot? Let’s think about this for a minute. Your kid is 13 years old and starts their travel ball career. Let’s say they play travel ball for four years. That’s four years of not having to work for their position. This WILL have negative consequences for them in subsequent years. They’ll have a hard time figuring out what it takes to earn their way because everything’s been handed to them.
Hopefully by now, you’re at least understanding the argument for a ‘fuller’ roster. Now let’s address the parent issue. I can say with confidence that you will reduce, if not eliminate, any parental conflict if you take the following steps:
1. Before your team tryouts (or when you’re picking your team) set the expectation on how you will handle playing time. The best players will get the majority of playing time, but everyone will get some amount of playing time. You cannot say how much but since everyone will sit at some point, it’s pretty safe to say that everyone will get some playing time. Make sure the parents understand your philosophy going in.
2. Pitchers that throw ‘X’ number of pitches in a game will not play the next game (unless the next game is several days away).
3. If a parent wishes to address playing time, the first question they will be asked is whether they feel their son is better than the kid playing in front of him. I recommend asking this question because it will, hopefully, force the parent(s) to do an honest assessment of their child’s abilities.
4. As a coach, your job is to make sure you are teaching the game to everyone. You will not neglect or show favoritism to any one player or group of players only because they are getting the most playing time. Your job is to improve everyone’s talents, not just a select few.
If you set the expectations up front, you greatly reduced the chances of having to deal with disgruntled parents. In the end, the parents of players not getting much playing time should have enough sense to know that their child should not be starting.
BUT, if you are doing your job as an educator, parents of children not playing much will want their children in your program, because they will not learn as much from any other coach.