Getting Benched in Baseball: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

There are good, bad, and ugly reasons for a kid to get benched in youth baseball. There are good, bad, and ugly ways to react to benching.

Most recreational youth baseball leagues have rules to insure that all youth baseball players get a reasonable amount of playing time, regardless of ability. It is when a young player gets selected to be on an all-star or travel ball team that, in many cases, lots of bench time begins.

You may be mystified by playing time decisions the first time your player goes through this experience. You may feel as if your player is being treated unfairly, or that coach decisions seem arbitrary. Read on to make sense of what’s happening and how you and your kid can react in the most productive manner possible.

Team Goals

There are two main goals for any youth sports team:

  • Develop players
  • Win games

Every organization and head coach will have their own unique take on how much to emphasize development, and how much to emphasize winning.

In recreation leagues such as Little League or PONY baseball, there is such a strong emphasis on developing players that there are mechanisms to insure reasonable playing time such as batting the entire roster and minimum fielding innings per game. Come playoff time, coaches will emphasize winning more by featuring their most effective fielders at the most critical positions.

Many coaches move kids around during the regular season to allow players a chance to learn the game and develop more skill. Other coaches care so much about winning regular season games that the role of beginning or less skilled players is minimized, which can be an unhappy experience for a first-time player. Some take a hybrid approach of encouraging development in some games, while trying hard to win towards the end of the season to get ready for the playoffs.

The expectation for all-star and travel ball teams is that the team will try to win all of its games. Of course it is still important to develop skills for all players during practices but come game time there are fewer or sometimes no rules to insure that all players get a good amount of playing time. Coaches will try to win games, and do whatever they believe is going to help achieve that. They will try to get parents and kids to understand that what they are doing is best for the team’s overall chance of winning.

It is very important for a head coach to have a parent meeting at the beginning of the season and it is very important for at least one parent to attend for every player. This is when the coach has an opportunity to explain their overall coaching philosophy, including discussion of the development/winning tradeoff and how this will impact playing time and who plays which positions. It is when parents have an opportunity to ask questions about these and other issues. The head coach must be clear on how many players will be brought to games.

The difference between a good and bad travel ball experience often boils down to how well the head coach communicates expectations at the beginning of the season and then how well the head coach follows through and “walks the talk.”

Good Reasons for Sitting on the Bench: Explicit Criteria

One thing I have found disappointing about most parent/coach meetings is that playing time criteria is not specifically stated. I usually have to figure out the criteria by observing many games and collating data.

Different coaches employ different criteria for which players play most, and sometimes this will be somewhat dependent on the mix of player skills. If the team is missing something, then players with that skill are likely to get more playing time. So a team with few pitchers who can throw strikes will obviously pitch the same strike-throwers a lot. The coach of a team with only 3 guys who play infield (2B, SS, 3B) well will probably play those three guys all game, every game. However, on better teams, pitchers and fielders are plentiful.

On teams with plenty of good-enough pitching and fielding, I have noticed that for most coaches, one skill matters more than everything else combined:

Do you regularly hit the ball hard to the outfield?

It’s that simple. Players who hit the ball hard to the outfield well over half the time will get lots of playing time. This is what I have seen with two different high school coaches running two different teams of players below the age of 12, so perhaps this is how most high school coaches run things. I have also seen coaches without high school experience run teams this way. Please leave comments below if you’ve experienced otherwise.

Hitting lessons in the off season can improve a player’s mechanics in time for the following season. Those who want to practice hitting on their own can practice in the back yard with net and tee.

My son is a competent lefty pitcher and fielder. He is a contact hitter with a high batting average which started at .300 when first introduced to kid pitch at the age of 9, rising to .500 by age 10 (more like .300 – .400 in summer play). He hustles and often gets to first safely on close plays. He’s a good bunter. But he is shorter than average and his hits reach the outfield less than 30% of the time. So whenever he’s on a really good team, he is not one of the guys that plays all the time. He contributes enough to get a reasonable amount of playing time but he won’t be one of those guys that plays all the time until he more consistently hits the ball hard to the outfield.

There’s no point saying this is unfair. It’s reality. It may seem unfair that a player with a lower batting average plays more just because he hits the ball harder but that’s just how it is on many teams. The two high school coaches I’ve seen manage younger teams don’t much use stats. They just observe who hits the ball hard.

To be fair, the reasonableness of this approach is supported by major league baseball data. On average, the harder the ball is hit, the higher the batting average and slugging percentage for balls hit into play. This becomes ever more true as the level of competition rises.

My son is experiencing this phenomenon again on this year’s summer team. He doesn’t consistently hit the ball as hard as the hardest hitting players on the team, so he’s not one of the players that gets played all the time. This has motivated him to practice hitting more, with a combination of tee work, soft toss, and live pitching. This is beginning to translate into harder hit balls, and may eventually translate into more playing time.

As one local travel ball coach blatantly admitted,

“If you ain’t hittin’, you’re sittin’.”

There are some coaches out there that don’t emphasize hitting quite so much. But whatever it is the coach emphasizes, see if you can figure it out. Then tell your player what he needs to get better at in order to get more playing time.

Note that many experienced coaches will have good reasons for assigning player positions that have nothing to do with ability.

For example, left-handed throwers never play catcher in the major leagues, so conventional wisdom (whether right or wrong) is to only put right-handed catchers behind the plate. Lefties also very rarely play second, short, or third at the higher levels because the body is awkwardly positioned for the throw to first. This also trickles down to the youth level. If there’s no future for the player in that position, then why play him there now?

Sometimes one player is okay at one position and poor everywhere else. For example, you’ll sometimes see a slow-moving but great-hitting slugger who plays first base a lot despite several other teammates who can play the position better.

It can be aggravating to observe a player making errors at a position that you’ve seen your kid play much better. However, don’t immediately assume that the coach is playing favorites or coaching poorly. A coach will typically find a place in the field for a great hitter, even if it means displacing better fielders. If they are not that great at fielding, then they are typically played at the position where the coach hopes they’ll do the least damage. However, the slugger who is truly poor at fielding may not get much playing time despite great hitting.

Another Good Reason for Sitting a Player: Enforcing Hustle

I added this section in a year later, because now I’m getting to see 11- and 12-year-old players. At this age, many players who have been playing for a few years slack off. They don’t try as hard. They don’t hustle as much. When there are 2 or 3 players like that on a team, it can and does spread to other players.

Many coaches believe that bench time can be part of the cure for lack of hustle. If your kid doesn’t hustle, and then gets benched for a couple innings or even a couple games, you should be thankful. If your kid is no longer playing his favorite position because he wasn’t hustling, you should be thankful. Most players react to this form of benching by working harder at practice and learning to hustle at all times during games. This makes the team better. This makes the player better. Everyone wins.

As a coach, this is not my main tool, but it is one of several tools I use for teaching hustle, a method of last resort. I do not enjoy watching a player who does not hustle continue to play his favorite position and throw down his team, while other players are chomping at the bit to take that spot. It’s especially aggravating when it’s a coach’s son.

The Bad Reason for Sitting Out: Roster Size

The larger the roster, the more bench time there is per player on average. You can only have 9 players on the field at a time. If 10 or 11 players attend each game, nobody will sit on the bench much, unless one player is very obviously performing at a much lower level than the rest, has a bad attitude, or is being disciplined for lack of hustle.

With 13 players at a game, the situation is completely different. Let’s say the coach determines that 5 of the players are so critical to the team’s chance of winning that they will never sit. That leaves the other 4 positions to be split between 8 players. If split exactly evenly, all 8 players will be benched half the time. Chances are the split won’t be even, so some players will be sitting more than half the time.

The numbers keep getting worse as the roster size increases.

In my opinion, roster size is a bad reason to sit on the bench for someone below high school age. If you have a kid who is serious about baseball and you’re looking into the possibility of a travel ball or all-star team, the most important questions to ask relate to roster size:

  • How many players are on the team?
  • How many will be taken to games?
  • Is maximum number of players capped or can it expand over time?

My recommendation is to never join a team with a roster of more than 13 players, unless you have strong reasons to believe that players will routinely miss games (i.e. a 15 player roster with 3-5 players absent for each game is fine). A roster size of 11 is ideal, as not every player will be able to attend every game, and mid-game injuries are possible.

My son was part of a travel ball team that fell apart by not being clear and consistent about roster size and how many players get taken to tournaments. New players kept showing up on the team, causing some existing players to sit more while others were no longer invited to tournaments. Try hard to avoid these kinds of situations. Very unpleasant.

Do yourself and your kid a favor. Join a team with an 11-player roster. There won’t be any bench issues.

Some organizations with larger rosters will tell you that even if you get very little playing time, the training you get in practices is more important anyway. This is supposed to justify your investment of time and money. Don’t believe it.

If your player is not getting to hit much live pitching thrown by kids in game situations, then he or she is missing out on practicing the baseball skill that most needs improving to get more playing time. You are far better off joining a different team that has a smaller roster.

There’s another consequence of allocating playing time according to hitting merit when the roster is large: Kids feel pressure. Some kids do well under pressure, while others don’t. I have seen quite a few kids perform worse when they realize there’s a relationship between performance and bench time. They put a lot of pressure on themselves.

At some point in life, people have to learn how to deal with extreme performance pressure. For athletes, that will certainly happen in high school. It’s going to be a matter of opinion as to how beneficial intense pressure is before that age. Personally, I don’t think the age of 10 is appropriate for that kind of pressure.

Ugly Reasons for Sitting on the Bench: Relationships, Sponsorships, Snap Judgments, Incompetence, or Bias

Most coaches want their travel ball or all-star team to win. With the good and bad reasons described above, you may not be happy, but at least you can understand the motivation: winning! A player who improves a great deal, especially at hitting, will almost surely see increased playing time, because that will increase the team’s chances to win.

It gets ugly when coaches have other motivations that have nothing to do with either player development or winning. It gets ugly because the team typically doesn’t win much and bad feelings are created. I see five major categories of such reasons:

  • Relationships
  • Sponsorships
  • Snap Judgments
  • Incompetence
  • Bias

Relationships, most typically the coach’s son, quite often play havoc with otherwise rational criteria for bench time. At the rec season level, it happens all the time where the head coach places his or her kid at the top of the batting order and in the most interesting fielding positions. This isn’t an issue when the player in question is one of the top players, but if the player is average or worse, it necessarily means that players better than the coach’s son are going to experience an impact.

I have never seen a sponsorship issue with any of the teams my son has been on. However, it turns out that sponsorship is a big issue at the high school level. It takes quite a bit of money to run a high school baseball team. In some cases, playing time is allocated to weaker players whose parents are large donors. This isn’t much different than favoritism shown from relationships. It’s just that the relationship is purchased.

Snap judgments abound in the baseball world. Some coaches will size up every player by the end of the first practice. They will then “know” where to play each player and what batting order will work best. Such coaches will largely stop observing players thereafter and never change how they view each player. Many players will therefore never be given a chance at a position no matter how hard they work or how competently they play. The amount of bench time per player also may not change throughout the season. It’s a very good sign when you see the coach moving people around to many different positions in practice and in less meaningful games. Such a coach is gathering data, trying to figure out which players in which positions produce an overall best team.

Incompetence can take many forms. The most obvious sign is that the coaching staff has the players do the same things over and over in practice without really teaching them much. Another sign is that the players are constantly getting thrown out on the base paths while unable to stop other teams from stealing. You should not expect a team to perform well at the beginning of its season. But if you’re not seeing any improvement after a dozen or so games, then the coaching staff likely isn’t so good at teaching baseball skills. Seemingly arbitrary decisions about playing time may simply be just another symptom of this incompetence.

Everyone has biases of various sorts, some subtle, some quite overt. Biases are shortcuts for trying to make sense of the world around you and may actually be helpful most of the time. However, these shortcuts don’t make sense 100% of the time and the better coaches will attempt to keep an open mind about each player, paying more attention to how players actually perform rather than how they think they should perform.

The forms of bias will vary from coach to coach. Many coaches will be inclined to believe a player will contribute more to the team if they are tall, strong, athletic, hard throwing, and hard hitting in practice. There is also the bias of trusting a player you know well over one you don’t. For coaches who don’t track stats, they may never realize that some of the short or less athletic guys are actually outperforming some of the guys they automatically assumed would be better, or that one of the hard throwing pitchers gives up so many walks that more runs are scored than several slower throwing pitchers.

Stats are a partial cure for bias. Even with stats in hand, some coaches still trust their gut more than the numbers.

Bias is the most difficult of the “ugly” reasons to be benched, because you’ll find it on almost every team and the way it plays out is not always straightforward. For example, a short player may be given a chance but is pulled out of the game after a single mistake, whereas players a coach believes “should” be good have to make many more mistakes before a coach will take action. The only antidote I’ve found to bias is to be such an incredibly great player, that you can’t possibly be ignored. This may take extra practice, extraordinary behavior, and extra hustle. I wonder if the reason that most short players in the major leagues show such incredible hustle is because it was the only way they could make it in the face of bias.

How to React to Benching

The best way to handle excessive benching is to avoid it, as follows:

  • Avoid teams with a large roster. Try to join a team with 11 players. Even most of the “ugly” issues go away. With so few players, everyone plays.
  • If your player hits the ball hard to the outfield for most at bats, you can safely join a 12 or 13 player team. The top hitters almost always get more than average playing time.
  • Under no circumstances join a team that routinely brings more than 13 players to games. If you find yourself on a team that promised a roster limit of 13 but then exceeded that limit, you should consider quitting. If you decide to quit, request a partial refund if you paid for the entire season in advance. Find a different baseball team or different sport for the rest of the season.

In many cases your best option will be to join a team with a 12 or 13 player roster, due to cost or coaching considerations. If your player does not hit the ball as hard as the top 3 or 4 hardest hitting batters, expect bench time, possibly more than you or your player would prefer.

So how do you react to benching that you or your player feel is excessive, on a team with 12-13 (or more) players?

If the head coach is applying the same criteria across the team, and you understand the criteria, then you can have discussions with your player, preferably at a time after a weekend of baseball is already over. Explain the criteria for more playing time. Discuss which skills need to improve. Some players don’t mind sitting on the bench and won’t be motivated to work harder. However, many players will want some combination of increased private practice time or lessons. This is a great way to react to bench time and will serve the player well in the long run, not just for baseball, but all of life. Practice matters.

The head coach does not need to be involved in these discussions unless the criteria are unclear. If so, the parent or better yet the player can ask the coach what they need to improve in order to get more playing time.

Unfortunately, teams are not always managed with consistently applied criteria. Some of the reasons for playing time decisions may be those listed in the “Ugly” section above.

The way to respond to ugly reasons for benching is going to depend on a lot of factors that you’ll have to weigh for yourself. Consider the following:

  • How happy is your player with the coach and the experience?
  • How good is the coaching?
  • Is your player improving?
  • How well are you handling your own reaction to the situation?

I have seen all too many situations where the player was actually having a good time, while one or both parents of the player were upset with the bench time. I know I was guilty of this myself the first time my son went through an all-star experience that made little sense to us. After a few years’ worth of these experiences, I now realize it’s best to say nothing and keep my feelings to myself unless my son is starting to bring up issues that bother him. That’s when it’s time for discussion.

So far, I have only talked about the good way to react to benching: motivation to practice more. The only involvement of the head coach is if you need to ask for clarification on what skills must improve. In many cases it will be obvious: hit the ball harder.

The bad way to react to benching is to try to convince the head coach why your kid should be playing more. The head coach is running the team, not you. You will almost surely be biased in your assessment of your own player, and the head coach is simply going to regard your input as a nuisance. The chance of you convincing the head coach to increase playing time for your kid is small. The chance of the coach becoming irritated with you is high.

There are two ugly ways to react to benching:

  • Complain to anyone and everyone who will listen about playing time decisions.
  • During games, tell the head coach your concerns or yell your disagreements from the stands.

Unfortunately, I have seen both of these behaviors. As people get frustrated, it gets hard to keep it all in. All I can say is please keep it in during games. Discuss privately with a spouse or a friend after the game if you feel you need to vent. If you feel the coach behavior is outrageous, have a private conversation with the coach at a time when there’s no game (or if the team is part of an organization, speak with someone higher up). Once a few parents start complaining or shouting from the stands, it can start a downward spiral that makes the experience negative for everyone, including the players.

If your player is not enjoying the season and you don’t like what the coach is doing, quitting is an option, though not one to be taken lightly. If coaching is poor, playing time is low, and many parents are unhappy, it may be best to leave that scene and find a better team to be on. However, there is a big value to be had in sticking things out. You don’t want your player to get a reputation as a quitter. So the “quit” option should only be taken if pretty much everything is going wrong.

If the coaching is very good, try to complete the season, and do your best to stay positive. Your player is bound to learn some things, even from the bench. After the season is over, you can provide feedback to the head coach or the head of the organization, explaining why you’re not coming back for another season. Perhaps it will motivate them to limit the roster size (or otherwise improve) going forward.

In Summary: Two Pieces of Advice

At least 99% of all baseball players are going to experience substantial bench time at some point. There are great lessons to be learned if benching is for good reasons, and even some lessons to be learned from bad or ugly reasons. I went into a bit of detail on this above, but there are two main points especially worth remembering for kids between the ages of 6 and 12:

  • Seek teams with small rosters. Avoid teams with large rosters.
  • Try to use benching experience as an opportunity to stoke motivation.

It never hurts to become more motivated to hustle and/or practice more. It doesn’t matter whether it’s baseball, or another sport, or a musical instrument, or whatever else in life. Hustle is good. Practice makes better. And those who get better from practice usually get rewarded. In the case of baseball, those who hustle and learn to consistently hit the ball hard to the outfield will eventually be rewarded with more playing time.

Author: Joe Golton

I’m a dad with a son who loves baseball. Professionally, I’ve been a software developer, investor, controller, and logistics manager. I now make my living from this blog, supplemented with occasional consulting gigs.

35 thoughts on “Getting Benched in Baseball: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”

  1. Joe – I thoroughly enjoyed your take on “getting benched” as it has been an interesting season for my son on his high school freshmen baseball team.

    There are 22 kids on the team, and for the most part, the coach gets most of the kids into games most of the times (including my son).

    My frustration stems from trying to determine if we are playing to win or playing to develop at this age group? Sometimes it seems development is the outcome we are working on based upon many kids playing, but sometimes it seems to win as we do not pitch very many different pitchers. My son was one of the top pitchers on his junior high team and has suddenly become an afterthought on his freshmen team by pitching all of 2 innings this entire year while watching others pitch in front of him that, in my biased opinion, should not be.

    I’m getting better at not letting it bother me, but still find the need to vent from time to time, because as you stated, talking to the coach about your son’s playing time is only going to be a nuisance.

    So, with that said, thanks for letting me vent! 🙂

  2. Darren,

    Thanks for your comment. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen an all-star or travel team pitch someone else over my son despiting having worse WHIP, ERA, pickoff move, etc. It can be for any number of reasons, the most common being that the coach might care more about which player is the better hitter.

    So far as I can tell, though, the big reason that my son sometimes gets passed over for pitching is because he is the lightest and shortest kid on the team. Results don’t matter if the coach is already certain that the tiny guy can’t possibly be as good, no matter what the stats say!

  3. This is well written and very helpful and truthful. Thanks! I think you are exactly correct about the ball being hit hard to the outfield. It is as simple as that.

  4. My son tried out for and made an “Advanced Play” league this spring. He had a fine season, beginning the year at lead off (he was the fastest kid on the team) and then moved to clean up (he tied for the team lead in home runs). He played primarily left centerfield, which sees a lot of action in a league with 90% right-handed bats. He made two great running catches to preserve his team’s lead in the championship game and has a big arm. He was selected to the all star team after the season, the only non-travel teamer to do so. I think 8 of the 12 all stars have dads who coached in the league.

    In each all star game we have played so far, my son has batted 12th of 12 and has split time in RF. The last game, the winner of which would go to state, went to extra innings. He was benched for both, the first time he did not play consecutive innings, in lieu of a boy who had not played RF before.

    The coaches keep stats for the all star games. I was surprised to see that to date my son has the highest BA, the second highest slugging %, and the highest OPS on the team.

    I have never in my life approached a coach about playing time, but I have never been tempted to either. My son is the one where parents from the opposing team, be it football, basketball, or baseball, track me down after games to tell me how great he played. He is used to getting the ball and doesn’t understand why he’s not being put in positions to make a play. I don’t have a good answer for him.

  5. Bob – Thanks for the story. Sounds like a rather severe case of Daddy Ball, from what you’ve described. I’ve seen many cases of Daddy Ball but none quite so severe as you describe. I don’t think talking to the coach about it during the season will help – the only kind of conversation you can have is what does he need to work on to be more valuable to the team. However, what you can do at the end of the season is tell them why you’re switching away from this league to something else. Maybe if they get enough feedback, they’ll change.

    There are conversations you can have with your son. Life isn’t fair, and baseball can be an extreme example of that. He can hold his head up high, complete the season without complaint, keep working hard at practices, and then go elsewhere that’s more merit-based. The cream always rises to the top – it’s something a parent told me several times once when I saw my son overlooked as pitcher one season for other guys who very obviously weren’t pitching as well.

    My son is never the top batter at the all-star level but his OBP + ROE is typically in the middle of the pack, his fielding is excellent, and his pitching stats are typically among the top 3-5 pitchers. Yet he only made “alternate” status this year for the select team and last year was often benched for players with lower stats. And all of the players that had worse stats still made the team this year. The conversation was easy in our case – it’s about your hitting. You’re at a disadvantage by being the shortest guy in the league, so you don’t hit it has hard as other guys. Many coaches, including the coach of your select team, care more than anything about how hard the player hits the ball. That’s the way it is – and if you want to do something about it, you can practice and become a better hitter, especially at pulling the ball (which he does poorly).

    However, my son is playing for a different team from our league for this summer season and having a really enjoyable start. The team has less star talent so he gets plenty of playing time. A change to a different team is often a good thing.

  6. Joe,

    Your comments about travel ball team selection are dead on. Improvement doesn’t happen if a kid is not getting playing time at game speed. Here’s what I learned and can share in 7 years of travel ball…

    • Finding a travel team that caps at 13 players is smart (it will cost more though).
    • Check to see if managers drink beer in between games at tournaments (really).
    • Check to see if coaches kids “own” positions on the field or in the batting order (they can do no wrong).
    • Check to see if the coach wants to slot your kid into one role (needs to learn several positions).
    • Find out if the coaches really are all about winning or development. (hint… no one cares if you win some little tournament or not)
    • Do they over use pitchers (saw two kids have Tommy John by age 14).
    • Check to see if the coaches bring in “guest” players (ringers) for tourneys who get full playing time (they pay no fees while you are paying the full tab).
    • Baseball is a game of failure – check to see how coaches address a kid individually when he inevitably fails (do they prioritize negatively venting their own frustration at kids or focus on helping a kid improvement).
    • Do the coaches do all the talking / lecturing – or do they get the kids engaged in team discussions by asking questions? (Hint – kids stop listening after about two minutes).
    • Most travel ball coaches will say they are getting the kids ready for High School ball. (not true).
    • High School baseball is a complete joke – fraught with politics. (Find a good club team).

    The most ironic thing is out of 15 travel ball kids my son played with originally at age 11- just 5 are still playing baseball at the Collegiate level.

  7. I appreciate your comments, Larry. I’ve seen most of these things as well. To be fair, I’ve seen some very good coaches too who provide a great experience for the kids. It’s hard to pick out beforehand which coaches will be the good ones!

  8. I’ve read and understand what you have written. Perhaps you have some advice for my situation. My 13 year old son has played baseball for years through a rec league. We are in a new area this year and have joined the local league. I have heard from numerous parents that the coaches def have their favorites and take baseball very seriously here. They had a month of practices before the first game. Coach had stated at the third practice that he remembers who is showing up at practice and who is not. If you’re not showing up, you’re not going to play in the games. My son has been to every single practice. He is an average player. We’ve had two games so far and my son has been on the bench for each game til the last inning. Got to bat one time each game and played in the field one game. Again, all in the final inning. I am livid, but realize I need to keep my cool. Don’t want to put my son in an uncomfortable position or make it worse! I haven’t said a word. My husband said if this was school ball, it is what it is and we would need to just accept it. However, it is rec ball and we pages the same amount of money for our son to play as everyone else. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t get the playing experience and be benched for pretty much the whole game. My son is disappointed about this as well, but is too good of a kid to want to stir things up. Changing teams is not possible. Small town and only 3 teams in his pony division. Ahhh I really want to say something to the coach, but don’t know if I should. What do you think?

  9. I should add to my last comment that it is only 2 kids that are benched for the game and my son is one of them. A friend of his is the other kid and will admit that friend doesn’t have much experience playing. I still think they should have equal playing time. So, it’s not like there is a huge roster of kids.

  10. Janice – As your husband says, if this were school ball or travel ball, you’d just have to live with it. However, the vast majority of recreation leagues have minimum playing time rules.

    Before you say anything to anyone, you should look up what the rules are for your rec league’s age division. Each local league has its own unique rules about this. Until last year, for example, our league had a 3 inning minimum (on defense) for this age and required everyone to bat.

    Once you know what the rules are, then if the coach is violating the rules, you should contact whoever is in charge of the 13-year-old division and request that the rules be enforced across all teams.

    I would be surprised if there are no minimum playing time rules in your rec league. However, if there are not, then the best you can do is to follow the advice in this post: have your player ask the coach what he can work on to be more valuable to the team, and therefore get more playing time.

  11. Joe,

    This is well-written, outstanding advice and I appreciate the objectivity even while your own son seems to be suffering some ugly bias. In a nutshell, as I summarize what you have said, personal practice, hustle, and consistently hitting the ball hard to the outfield will result in maximum playing time and generally overcome incompetent and biased coaching.

    I would add another factor I believe is essential: Good body language at all times. This is more than a good attitude; it means demonstrating–bodily–the right attitude in difficult situations. That is, “Never let ’em see you sweat.”

    My son, for example, generally hits, fields, and pitches in the top tier of the teams he plays on. He runs into trouble during those times he’s 0 for 3 or while pitching he gives up 5 runs in an inning. Sometimes he shows defeat in his body language. The hands go to the head and the head sinks beneath the shoulders. Thankfully, he has made great strides to shed bad body language from his game.

    Coaches do not like this and for good reason because the opponents smell blood in the water and it can affect the spirit of the entire team like a poison. I will bench players for this for their own good, not just the team. Players that show good body language during difficult personal failures can often flush out the feelings of defeat quickly and go on to play better. I would rather have a lesser pitcher on the mound than a great one that displays poor body language in difficult situations.

    My friend, a former major league pitcher for 18 years is the pitching coach for a major league team’s rookie players. He told me that all of the rookies throw well, work hard, and have lots of talent. He said, whether they make the team often has less to do with that then the body language they display in difficult situations. Players that remain composed, resilient and confident in difficult situations can still win games, not to mention they are more pleasant to hang out with in the dugout. I think that says a lot and might be considered in the good, bad, and ugly of sitting the bench.

    Thank you for this very helpful article.

  12. B – I appreciate your thoughtful comments. I agree that body language can be a factor for some coaches, and not just avoiding negative body language. I have noticed lately that the kids with “swagger,” projecting an aura of confidence, seem to get many more opportunities than those who don’t project that kind of aura. I’m sometimes frankly shocked at how many chances certain players get despite the lack of actual in-game performance – and what they almost all have in common is a really athletic look, with a lot of swagger.

    About my own son – I’ve been around enough baseball people to better understand the “short” bias and I don’t really think of it as “ugly.” Competent baseball coaches have experience from the past about what body types are likely to develop into what will work at the next level. Very short and light lefties are simply not the body type that baseball coaches see much of a future in, no matter how well they may play at the moment. If they have a growth spurt at puberty, a short lefty may turn into a fine pitcher but until then – coaches will generally go with the bigger players, thinking they have more upside over the next few months.

    I notice that when I draft baseball players for rec league as a manager, I look for players that have a lot of upside. If I see a player who has played for 6 years and is a little above-average in skill and athleticism but not tops and is now only slowly improving, I may prefer to take a less skilled player who has only played baseball for one year but is known great basketball player, for example. The very athletic player with only one year’s experience has a ton of upside whereas the other player, though decent, is only going to improve incrementally.

    I think that is a reasonable way to look at a small player such as my son who has considerable skill, especially as pitcher, but is not hitting the ball to the fence and probably not likely to any time soon.

    Of course – drafting is one thing, but how you use your players is another. Given that I manage a rec ball team I’m not trying to optimize for the win at all times, so I give every player opportunities in both practice and games. I do get that in travel ball and other more competitive situations, most coaches are going to do what they believe best increases their chances of winning. And they will often do that not based on past or even current performance, but what they are “projecting” for certain players based on their body type, athleticism, and various other attributes.

  13. Greetings,
    My grandson’s second year with the 12s in majors. He is now on the all stars playing with the 11s, which I am not happy about. His coach did not give him many opportunities to play infield, and occasional pitching in games, and never consistent at bat, as he would allow the other kids to bat more frequently. Also, second season, he gave the newer kids the opportunities. when I confronted him about it, he agreed, but things didn’t change. I so frustrated, we as parents pay ofr registration and have to watch our kids berated and demeaned, and we can’t say anything, or the league looks at us as not supporting the coach. Not sure what to do?

  14. Hi Linda,

    For playing time and opportunity issues, there are only ever two things that make sense to do:

    1) The player should work very hard to improve (including outside of practices) with very focused practice. This might or might not include pitching or hitting lessons. If the player improves dramatically, coaches will notice and make adjustments.

    2) There is one reasonable way to communicate with a coach. At the younger ages it’s the parent who does this, whereas starting around the age of 12 and certainly by age of 13 it should be the player doing the talking. After a practice, the players asks, “Coach – I would love to get more playing time. What do you think I need to work on most so that I can contribute more to the team?” Doesn’t have to be these precise words, but it should certainly include something along the lines of “what do I need to work on?”

    You need to understand that all-stars are expected to be a competitive team, striving to win. So if your player is the best hitter on the team (the one who most frequently hits the ball very hard to the outfield), he will get a ton of playing time, if your coach is typical. If there are 9 players who hit the ball more consistently hard to the outfield than he on the team, then he will not get nearly as much playing time as other players. A coach is of course going to do that in order to increase the chances of the team winning.

    Without knowing more details about your son and his abilities, I can only give you this generic advice. Now – if he’s the best hitter on the team, you have another problem altogether . . .

  15. In 1980 I had just finished high school and gotten my first job and apartment.

    Soon received a call from my Dad asking if I could take a group of 13-14 year olds and make a team out of them.

    These kids were cut from the 4 neighborhood teams and had nowhere to go play baseball that summer.

    Being in Canton, Ohio I got some steel mill kids, some white collar kids, and a couple guys from the wrong side of the tracks.

    On the first practice this one kid shows up and he’s 13 years old, easily 6’3, with size 14 shoes. Put him at first base, started there.

    Just so happens his uncle was there that day and when I let the parents know we needed $300 for shirts and umps, he stepped right up.

    Was one of those bank roll guys, whipped out a wad of money and hammered me 3 one hundred dollar bills, literally.

    Our team name that year, “Mac & Toby Bailbonds – Sarasota Florida “.

    Well we finally won our first game about 7 games into the season. In the middle of a cornfield in the little farm town of Magnolia. You would of that we won the World Series.

    The reason I share all this is because I am a firm believer in recreational baseball.

    As for Bill, he had a good season. Became a decent glove man and developed solid footwork around first base.

    By the way, Bill went on to become the starting center for “The Ohio State University” basketball team.

    Keep it real, keep it rec.

  16. Joe,
    A really great article. I enjoyed reading it. My son begin playing baseball at the age of 7. He played on the same Rec team from age 7 to 10. He struggled in the beginning, and could never meet the coach’s expectations. So in the Fall when my son was 10 years old, the owner of a batting cage saw him taking hacks in his cage and recommended a team for my son to tryout for. The team was a true 11U select team. I told my son let’s give it a try we have nothing to loose. Well the coach of the 11U select team was so impressed with my son, that he came over before the tryouts ended and said, “Hey I have seen enough, I want him, you don’t have to stay for the remainder of the tryouts, unless you want to.” My son was so excited he didn’t want to leave, so we stayed until the end. However, at the end of the tryouts the owner of the organization came over and introduced himself and said, “it’s looks like I will have enough players to make a 10U team and I will be coaching that team. If it’s okay with you I would like to have your son on my team”. Wow!! We were so excited. The first day of practice we got there early. We had an opportunity to chat with the coach before the other players arrived. The coach asked my son what position do you play, my son responded in the outfield. Coach replied, “really I was thinking of you as second baseman”. My son replied, “I can’t play in the infield”. I was shocked! (But, then I recalled how his previous coach would pull him every time he made an error in the infield. Yet, his son and his best friend’s son made errors all the time in the infield but he never pulled them). The new coach responded, “Well what if you go to high school and there are stud outfielders there and no room for you. You want to be able to play another position. When I saw you at my tryouts I said to myself there is the second baseman I have been looking for”. My son’s eyes lit up! ( Words have so much power!)
    My son became the 3 hole batter and second baseman for his new team. At every tournament that we played in, opposing coaches would come up to us and tell my son, “that was the best hitting and play at second base they had ever seen”.
    We played for that team until my son entered high school (the coach only coached up to high school) My son enjoyed 5 years very successful baseball with the team up to high school. Has made a couple of national teams and started in center field for high school team.
    This summer we joined a showcase/travel sports team, and for the first time he is experiencing time on the bench. This team has a roster of 16 players. It has built character, however, reps are more important.
    So after searching and asking around we found an organization that believes in having a maximum of 13 players on the roster per team. We attended their tryouts and the coach came over to introduce himself, my son and I introduced ourselves, the coach replied, ” I know who you are I have seen you in tournaments we have played in before. I have been watching you play for sometime, we would love to have you”. I know what your summer was like, our organization (believes in a maximum of 13 players on a roster) we like to see our players on the field, so they can be SEEN”.
    Just wanted to share our experience with you and your readers.

  17. Benching a kid could be good, a reflection, maybe he will hustle more..what a load of crap! Some kids have not developed good focus habits, if a coach has done his job and is fair kids, and people in general will always give you more than you expect, to say someone isnt trying/hustling is crap. A lack of focus is more accurate, baseball is a tough game to stay engaged with as a player all the time, the younger the players the slower the game, and this leads to day dreaming!

  18. Joe, one of the best articles I’ve read. However, there can be a bit more (ok, maybe a lot) to the “bad” side of riding the bench. It is tied to travel teams – or I should say organizations with multiple teams and their need to fill rosters, and the coaches that end up in charge of these teams that are there to make sure their kid is number 1. First of all, what I have seen over and over, and heard from other dads, is that it is very common to have a coach with a top priority of returning next year as coach – so they can control everything for their son. The result is the formation of a “clique” of families and players. The coach takes care of these players to the point of being blind to the reality on the field. Kids that perform just as well or better are ignored. Capability shown in practice doesn’t matter. If they mess up once in a game – it is screaming and yelling – justification for the bench. If it is a clique family player making the error – hardly a word – “Like it never even happened”. They all mess up, so it’s just a matter of time that that clique gets all the playing time – and it was “earned” and justified with this kangaroo court type daddy / buddy ball coach. Absolute incompetence with the glove, bat or both I’ve seen ignored, or actually rewarded. What makes it all the worse is that some of the new players on this team become the scapegoat for the team’s troubles. The “special” kid’s disasters are ignored, but the frustration has to go somewhere in this screwed up environment created by the daddy / buddy ball screaming nut job. This can reach a disgusting level with coaches trashing players behind their backs to the rest of them or “clique” players….and the subsequent toxic team environment that follows. And the parents and families in the clique – they will happily watch a someone elses kid get treated badly. It’s all about getting theirs. They don’t care. They’ve seen this season after season after all. With the worst of coaches, the humanity of the parents devolves into a lord of the flies kind of environment.

    So why does this continue? Why does this coach come back? Because at the end of the season it is basically about coach coming back to the organization with a “core” group of players – say 6 to 8 players. The organization is thrilled – this coach’s team roster will be easy to fill at tryouts. That equals $$. The organization – they listen to the clique families praises – the bought and paid for votes of confidence for coach. They write off the consistent stories of horror from the families run off each year that basically serve their purpose of being the team trash can for abuse and blame. They just don’t care. In the end it is about filling rosters, getting a coach that will do it for free, collecting the huge fees from the parents (what a business model!) and letting the coach do what he wants. He always come back with a core. I’ve seen kids added mid-season that didn’t even have to pay because they were in the clique. A kid that never hit the ball out of the infield once – all season – play and play and play…….

    Baseball organizations: Do they ever tell the players and parents what they expect from their coaches? Is their a code of conduct that the coaches are really held to? Usually not. Many businesses say – “tell us how we are doing”. Travel ball – nope.

    Also, anybody that falls back on – “coaches want to win” and “work hard so they can’t ignore you” stuff hasn’t seen the depths of depravity that travel ball coaching can go to. Look, a lot of parents and coaches are OBSESSED with THEIR kid making and playing regularly for the middle school team – the HS team. The crazy parent we used to hear about in the stands – times have changed. “That guy” has moved into the dugout. Furthermore, the crazy that has taken over, and is running their little mafia so they stay in charge of the team……..he’s is banking on the expectation that the players and parents on the outside of this scheme – the ones he is screwing over, won’t speak up for fear of being labeled, well, “that guy”. They will pull the most outrageous stuff, humiliate (certain) players, bench them, have a poor record every season and simply look for another group of fresh meat victim families and players to scapegoat and use to fill out the roster the following year – but again, it will be about given THEIR kids the reps so that they have the best shot in school ball.

    Again, you might say, this will catch up, word gets out……..reputation. To some degree this is true. By 14 or 15u, yes, players and parents that are wise stay away, but in a large city, there is a seemingly endless supply of parents that want nothing more that to have their kid play travel – have that uniform and will open the checkbook.

    One other thing – just as important (more really) to hitting the ball hard to the outfield is an ability to make a large % of routine plays. Fundamental plays. If the team does not – it is a DOUBLE whammy: The other team scores a bunch and your pitching gets used up, worn out, and demoralized. Rule one will always be catch the ball. It’s bigger than hit the ball. Assuming just a reasonable amount of hitting, solid teams that have more fun seem to rarely blow a chopper-two-hopper for example. Diving plays are not required – just make the regular stuff almost all the time and score some runs – don’t have to have a bunch of mashers in the lineup, and your team will win a lot. This assumes pitching being equal. But little focus is ever placed on the daddy / buddy ball protected player that blows routine plays.

  19. Sorry to hear that your experience has been so consistently poor, Worn Out Baseball Dad. I feel very fortunate that our rec league has been good – so good, that my son always wants to come back. It hasn’t been perfect, but it hasn’t ever been even remotely close to as bad as you describe. On the other hand, I’ve heard quite a few horror stories on the travel ball circuit, and I’ve noticed that some families move their player to a new team every year. If the experience were great, they would not keep jumping from team to team. This is not to say all travel ball teams are bad – I’ve certainly encountered many good ones as well, that seem to have most if not all the families very happy with the coaching and organization of the team.

    Up through the age of 12, I saw coaches care far, far more about hitting than anything else. It is only once the kids move onto the big field (60/90) that I’m seeing a more nuanced approach by various coaches, where players who may be mediocre hitters are valued for other reasons such as pitching or fielding. So my own son’s stock has risen since moving to the big field, as he’s being valued for his good pitching (his small size has kept his hitting always a step behind his peers).

  20. You are right, I’ve heard of some having a good experience. And rec leagues should be free from most of this craziness. The mistake on our end is sticking with the same organization that has had no standards with regard to coaches. We’ve since moved on.

    Another sad pattern in travel baseball is an emphasis on size. At younger ages, you can find 150 lb 10u or 11u kids playing against 95 lb kids. The big ones might not have much skill or mechanics, but they more than make up for it in power. They throw hard and hit hard. “elite” clubs make a big deal out of the unusually large kid. At the early teenage years, it continues with the “elite” teams going after the young teen in a man’s body.

    The challenge for those with decent players that don’t need to see an endocrinologist, is to keep them playing. It is important to keep working on your own time. Eventually this more than evens out as the largest kids typically really aren’t genetically gifted to be athletic in the long run. And the kids that mature early also peak early – often not needing to work on fundamentals to be competitive when younger. But in the mean time, it can be frustrating. I suspect far too many players that really have potential as baseball players are discouraged by all the nonsense in the younger years.

  21. Joe – Thanks for posting this. My situation is similar. We just finished up the 2018 9U Travel season this weekend. My son, had a TERRIFIC in-house season. His coach has a son that is teammates with my son on their 9U travel ball team. The in-house teams play games against 8 year olds and 9 year olds. My son – in comparison to how his travel teammates performed and how he performed, there was a definite distinction between my son and the rest of the in-house players. His coach started him on the mound every single game and he hit leadoff. Four walks (pitching) in 20 innings in a 8-9 year old league is terrific. He ended up hitting 30 for 41. His travel teammate also had a terrific in-house season by hitting 16 for 31. Both struck out 4 times and 5 times.

    Yet….none of that translated to having similar opportunities presented to him in travel ball. He was typically hit 8th or 9th in the order. Pitching? What pitching? 1 inning in the regular season of travel, one in a scrimmage and 1 inning in fall ball. that’s it. 3 innings. ZERO walks. And a assistant coach that is in the head coach’s ear to pitch my son. Yet never happens.

    The biggest frustration has been that his “limited” playing time (101 plate appearance v. the team leaders 155 PA) hasn’t been adjusted to reflect his performance. That statement you made about hitting balls to the outfield, for some reason, doesn’t apply to my son. They were hard hit fly balls and line drives in the gaps. His 11 extra base hits are 2ND most on the team with 9 doubles and 2 triples (11 overall and 24 is 1st), OBP 4th place (.491), Slugging is 3rd place (.533), OPS is 3RD place (1.024), 4th place in hits (36), 3rd place in runs (40), 3rd place in RBI (31), 2nd to last place in strikeouts (15 – least was 9 and most was 37), 3RD place IN AVG (.391), 2ND place HIGHEST CONTACT RATE 88%, TIED FOR 3RD place in TOTAL BASES (49). None of that mattered this season! The team has a leadoff hitter whose performance has been somewhat weak (.839 OPS but he has worked walks well, got on base and got into scoring position quite often and scored runs – you can live with that); #2 hitter (.882 OPS/.474OBP/.408SLG) that made the 4th least contact and struck out 35 times (coach’s son) and plays 5 of 6 innings; the team’s 3rd hitter is a stud – no question about it (1.496 OPS/.638OBP/.858SLG/9 K’s/24 EXTRA BASE HITS)., the now fourth hitter is closest to my son’s performance after the season and has had limited amount of AB’s due to a broken hand. He drives the ball. Hits a lot of doubles and triples (10 extra-base hits for 3rd place overall). The #5th hitter was my son’s teammate on his in-house team. His performance was one of the better ones on the team this season – with limited AB’s – but just a step below my son’s performance. (1o EXTRA BASE HITS); the 6th hitter (1.121 OPS) started the season as the 4th hitter and has the 2nd most hits on the team and does occasionally drive the ball (7 extra base hits and 2nd highest SLG%) but swings and misses a lot (30K); the 7th hitter (coach’s son) is the biggest concern, and he sometimes hits 5th or 6th in the order. He has been given every opportunity to produce this season (138 plate appearances) and he has consistently underperformed this season through 50 games. He leads the team in K’s (37K’s), has an .850 OPS (.486OBP/.364SLG/5 extra base hits). The only statistic he is leads the team in is 37 K’s and being 2nd with 36 BB’s. The 8th hitter (coach’s son) is a .805 OPS hitter (.458OBP/.347SLG/5 xtra base hits) with 22K’s, and then typically the 9th spot is my son hitting (OPS 1.024 – .491OBP/.533SLG) 15K’s, 11 extra base hits. Followed by another 3 hitters in the order (10th, 11th, and 12th). He makes the 2nd most contact on the team. Drives the ball to the OF (9 doubles & 2 triples), reaches base close to 60% of the time if you include ROE. But. Does. Not. Get. A. Deserved. Increase. In. Playing. Time.

    Since he typically is hit 8th or 9th he will usually see 2 plate appearances a game and wont’t even see his first plate appearance until the 4th inning at times. Why? It has been so frustrating to watch him excel so much in the limited time he has been given but never seemingly appreciated by his coaching staff. Coaches have commented that he is a hitter, looks like a hitter, and hits! Yet the opportunity to put this hitter in the position to hit 3 to 4 times a game doesn’t exist. He could bat 2nd, or 6th, or 7th, or 8th. Extra effort is given. He knows the game inside and out. He is coachable. He pays attention. He doesn’t goof off. He doesn’t miss practices. He hustles. So where is the problem?

    How is a 1.024 player the 9th hole hitter yet a .882 player hitting #2, a .938 hitter batting 5th, a .850 hitter consistently hit 7th, a .805 hitter batting 8th all in lieu of the player that literally is 3rd and 4th in every single metric that can be used to analyse a hitter? I keep telling my son I need him to talk to his coach first. Ask him why he never considers him for pitching. Ask him why he wants him to hit so far down in the order.

    Perfect example. A son’s coach as been trying to pitch over the last three seasons. After concluding this year’s travel ball season I will leave you with his a pitching statline for this player – this is for 6 completed inning and 12 games pitched in…for the season…19 BB’s, 6K’s!!!! 124 pitches – 84 BALLS!!!
    Does this happen because my son doesn’t speak up? How can a coach be in favor of a player that can’t throw a strike 68% of the time.

    I would like to approach the coach and talk to him – after my son tries to talk to him first. I want to hear his rational. I’m scared that if it gets to the point where I have to talk to him, I’ll almost be burning bridges for my son. For the time being we are going to move forward this offseason with a 6 week period of 1-on-1 instruction for hitting and arm strengthening and then move into offseason workouts with his team starting in January. If his performance continues to get better and better and he ends up still not getting any recognition for his hard work and performanceI, I’m afraid we’ll have to consider other options. I would love to have my son continue playing for he this team with his friends. We’ll have to see how it goes. My patience will only last so long.

  22. Frustrated Father – What you describe is Daddy ball, pure and simple. And not even very good Daddy ball. Talking is unlikely to help. Sharing stats definitely won’t help.

    I suggest you give up on this particular team after the season is over. Next season, see if you can find a travel team that is not coached by a Dad.

  23. Joe. You’re right. It’s frustrating. Our only hope is that this team’s head coach has shuffled some of the underperforming players up and down the batting order. Although only a couple of spots, he has taken into consideration some performance but seemingly only dropping an underperforming player one spot or two spots and not addressed the lineup in the manner it should be addressed. The coach’s son had started the season as the 5th hitter, yet with so little contact dropped him to 7th. The 7th hitter bumped up to the 4th hole and the 4th hitter bumped down to the 5th hole. When a player returned from injury halfway through the season, he worked his way up to 4th and everyone slid down a notch. The entire time my son continued to hit and perform and never leave that 9th slot unless a player missed a game.

    Sad to say, unless something else transpires, we will continue bite our tongue and be patient. We want to see how much my son improves this off-season to the point that the guy will look like a complete fool if his approach continues. He is on the verge of being the best hitter on the team, so if these off-season workouts do help him, we have much to be excited about.

  24. Oh. Almost forgot….One of the biggest reasons I would like my son to remain on the team? Hopefully he will get the recognition his performance deserves and not one individual can claim that his daddy was the reason he got where he is! Persevering, fighting and not quitting AND getting to where he wants to be and should be would be the proverbial cherry on the top though!

  25. The big 2 reasons to remain on a team is if your son loves it and the coaching is great. I would not hold out hope for the head coach making changes.

    Last spring my son had a head coach that for whatever reason kept starting the worst pitcher on the team, a kid who didn’t even like pitching and always walked a bunch of people and gave up a bunch of runs before we even got to the 3rd inning. He did pitch my son – but usually just to bail out this guy or otherwise just pitch an inning here, an inning there. He ended up going 13 innings before a run scored from a runner he put on base – yet the coach never chose to use him as a starter or closer and gave most pitching work to other kids. I’m guessing it’s because my son was the smallest player on the team, but I don’t really know that for sure.

    So what. We took to joking that in order to gain the confidence of this coach, he’d have to give up negative runs.

    The summer team he joined saw how well he pitched and he immediately became one of the top 3 go-to pitchers on the team.

    The bright side? He didn’t use up his pitching arm. I’m totally happy if the result is that he has an arm left on him come high school, which is just a year away.

  26. I find it pretty humorous that before the season the staff talks about the ability to throw strikes and let your team make plays behind the pitcher, but once the season begins that philosophy seems to disappear. My son definitely does not have the strongest arm strength and is not the biggest kid and is even one of the lightest on the team. You could say he pitches to contact. But he is very efficient. He isn’t afraid of pounding the strike zone and isn’t on some ego trip that makes him believe he needs to strike every hitter out. He’s ok with getting hit and that’s a philosophy I have pushed on him. I’m a Phillies fan and was a big Halliday, Hamels, Oswald, and Lee fan. They were more than happy to get out of an inning in 3 pitches than 9 or 10 pitches.

    Thanks again for having this forum.

  27. UPDATE: My son was cut a week later after the posts above (from the team in the posts above). We were given some really poor excuses/logic (hitting was graded as above average and he was cut because of defense – defense????!!!!!) as to why he didn’t make the team. He was crushed and left without a travel team as the other local team had already just completed tryouts.

    We scrambled and were able to get a tryout with a 10U team a little bit further away, yet still within our county. The tryout had about 24 kids trying out for 12 spots. None of the coaches have kids on the team. Paid coaches. He was asked to play. But over the course of November, December, January, & February, the more clinics that he attended, the more and more I was pulled aside and complimented on his hitting and fielding. One clinic, I was pulled aside after the session and told that a lot of 10 year olds do not have his fielding skill set yet and he def has it. Another time at a local indoor facility, my son was hitting next to an older boy getting lessons. The boy’s father proceeded to communicate to the coach giving his son hitting lessons that he wanted his son’s swing to look like the boy in the cage next to them! Awesome SAUCE! lol!

    Well it’s April now and his new team is prepared to play their season’s first tournament this weekend. The coach’s love him as a SS, 2B, CF, C, and 4th or 5th pitcher. All positions he wasn’t given an opportunity to play even 1 inning during last season’s travel season. It feels good to be validated by coaching individuals that are not in the game to protect their kids playing time and opportunities. The only thing is I can’t past the Daddyball thing yet, because everytime he is complimented or does something special it makes me more angry that his old team, for whatever reasons (inability to evaluate, daddyball, selecting families before teams) decided to play games with a 10 year old kid for their own interest(s).

    We are extremely lucky that we have made a team that knows how to evaluate, play the game, and be fair, realistic, and unbiased regarding how their team will be composed and play. You were right when you said to get out. Thank you. It all worked out for the better.

  28. Frustrated Father – Glad to hear you found a team with no dads and it’s working out for your son. Hopefully, over time, you forget about the teams you need to leave. There are likely to be one or two more before the journey is all over for your son. I have seen some extremes for my own son as well. Last spring he had a rec ball coach that for whatever reason didn’t pitch him much. And then a few months later he was one of the top 2-3 pitchers on a travel ball team. And, as luck would have it, one of the coaches on the travel ball team is an assistant coach at the high school he’ll be attending next year.

    You’ll get some bad breaks and some good breaks over time. You and your son will learn from both the good and the bad.

  29. Best article I’ve read in a very long time. Thank you for writing this and sharing these experiences. It has really opened my eyes.

  30. Great Post. My 13 year old used to always be on the field and played anywhere; but has seen the bench more as of late. Watching him ride the bench during a stretch of 3 games in a row is hard. His hitting in games has declined even though lessons and practice always look great. I am always trying to figure out the right things to encourage him without making things worse.

  31. Lots of good advice here! My twin sons played on a competitive Little League minors team last year and HATED every second of it. Twin#1 had the highest OBP on the team and Twin #2 had the highest batting average, but because they were young and inexperienced, they were batted way down in the order. They rode the bench and only went in for their minimum six defensive outs in RF. Other than that, they were completely ignored and made to feel less than. The coach even told me after the season that “maybe baseball isn’t their sport.”

    Fast forward to this year. We’ve dropped back to town rec ball, and it’s been like night and day watching them come out of their shell. On their current team, Twin#1 is the go-to starting pitcher and bats leadoff. Twin #2 plays 3B, SS, pitcher, and bats cleanup. The coach is wonderful and has been working with them individually to improve their pitching and their hitting. He believes in all the kids. Most important to me is the way their eyes shine when it’s time to play. Twin #2 even told me he wants to someday play baseball in high school (a dramatic turnaround from last spring, when he said he never wanted to play again).

    The takeaway here is to go where your kids are loved, not merely tolerated. Confidence is one of the most important lessons kids can learn from sports. During their impressionable years, rejection and self-doubt become like a 50 pound vest that they put on every time they go out on the field. Over time, it gets harder and harder to take that vest off.

    There’s no law that says your kid is required to compete at the highest level he/she can attain. Many parents get caught up in the bragging rights of their child making a select team, but the Peter Principle applies to sports as well. A kid plays well at one level, so he tries out for a more competitive team at a higher level. He makes that team and decides to try for an even more select team, and so on up the ladder until he ends up as a benchwarmer at Super Duper Elite Select Premier All-Star Travel Club. And there he stays, with very little playing time and the constant low-level anxiety that comes with being a bubble player, but an unwillingness to quit after working so hard to get that far. There’s nothing wrong with stepping back from the pressure and expense of club/travel sports and going back to a less competitive league. Where your kid plays at 11u has no bearing on where they’ll play at 15u.

    We’re going through a similar thing right now with club soccer. Their 11u club team is over-rostered at 17 kids, which means less playing time (at 9v9). The league caps game rosters at 16 max, so 1 player has to be designated as a pool player and can only play if another player is absent. The coach decided to make both of my sons pool players, but didn’t tell me until two days before the season opener. I think he would have preferred to have only Twin #2 be the pool player, since Twin #1 is their closing keeper, but then it would be awkward to have Twin #2 benched and Twin #1 get to play, so both got designated as pool players. (As an aside, there are definitely bench and playing time issues that go with twins who are on the same team, especially if they have differing skill levels. Mine got picked very late in the baseball draft because they were a package deal and coaches were reluctant to “waste” two roster spots at once. And then if the coach really wants one twin, and grudgingly accepts the other in order to get the first twin, that becomes obvious to both of them as time goes on).

    I don’t even know what factors went into the decision to exclude them from the roster, since Twin #2 happens to be one of their leading goal scorers despite not getting to play in all of the games, but at least some of the contributing factors seem to be similar to their Little League experience and to the benching biases mentioned above. They’re the youngest on the team, the least experienced, and the least aggressive, with slender builds that don’t look like a typical athletic frame. Socially, they’re outsiders since we’re not from one of the two main club feeder towns in our county, which means the team has two tight-knit groups of starters and my kids don’t get passed to as much during games. At any rate, we’ll be moving on from this club after the season ends, and finding a better situation for them to develop their skills, their confidence, and their love for the sport. I hope everyone reading this finds the team that is the best fit for their kids!

  32. Twin Mom – Your experience sounds all too typical for U.S. youth sports. Sounds like you have a good attitude about it, moving on when needed to find better experiences for your kids.

    Now that I’ve had several years away from it all, I can summarize it as follows:

    Many coaches take what works for high school and beyond, and think that it makes sense to apply what works at those levels to elementary and middle school aged kids. It doesn’t work well. Not only does it turn off many kids to sports for life, but it also selects certain kids for extra playing time and additional training based on their current body types.

    More often than not, young kids body types will NOT reflect what their bodies will turn out to be like when they become an adult. So even if the goal were to select the best athletes for additional training while still young – even that goal is not served at all well by this system.

  33. Is it okay for a player to be benched for missing 2 practices? Of course they were for valid reasons and coach was notified, he never benched anyone for missing until my 2 boys missed and his excuse was that it was a practice before a game

  34. I’ve seen kids benched for many different reasons, and each coach has their own unique style. I don’t have the full context of your situation so I wouldn’t know.

    A good coach will outline expectations when the team is formed before practices and the season begin. If he told you at that time that he takes practices before games very seriously and expects everyone to attend, then he is merely following through on whatever expectations he set. On the other hand, if it came as a big surprise since he never mentioned how much he cares about kids coming to practices just before a game, then I suppose that would not be very cool. And there may be other factors I’m not aware of.

    Anyway – whether his expectations were clearly outlined or not before the season – now you know.

  35. Thanks for sharing your perspective on this. My son joined travel baseball this summer, and I am the designated scorekeeper for every game. It’s tough to see him on the bench for the entire game when we’ve been there every practice and driven a reasonable distance to be at these games. As a parent, I’m fine to see him in one inning during the game. This is our first time joining travel baseball, so it was our fault for not asking which positions or expectations the coaches had in mind for my son. Our team has lost every game, and it’s tough to say who’s the better player out there since it didn’t make any difference. By then, our coach decided only to set fielding positions for one inning and make adjustments as the game went. As an observer and not knowing much about baseball-winning strategies, it almost feels more beneficial to have all the players gain more game experience than being benched. It’s even tougher for me since my son is the only one who gets benched versus other kids, making it seem inequity based on the game’s results.

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