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 Tryout System is Broken
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5 Posts

Posted - 08/09/2021 :  17:10:11  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Iíve been a lurker here in the forums for a long time, but I registered recently because there was something I wanted to discuss, and Iím curious what others think about it. Yeah, this is long, and it probably constitutes a rant, but I wanted to get all my thoughts down. If itís too long for you donít read it (and donít comment). Ultimately, this is directed at people that own and coach travel teams, but Iím equally curious how other parents feel.

I believe the travel team tryout system is a broken one, and I suspect it always has been. For instance, my son recently tried out for a well-established team. A few days later I received an email saying he had not been offered a spot on the team (kudos for at least letting us know, most donít bother). Shortly thereafter, I noticed a post on Facebook from the team that they were still looking for players in my sonís age group. This means that they knowingly or unknowingly excluded very capable kids at the tryout from getting offers, including my son.

Before I continue, let me say that this is not a response to me being upset my son didnít make this particular team (Iím not). It is also not a response based on the idea that my son is some sort of superstar that was slighted or ignored. Heís far from it, although he would be an asset to any team. This essay is a response as to why my son and others like him donít make teams, and how teams do themselves a disservice with the way they conduct their tryouts.

The typical mass tryout starts with assigning numbers to kids and sorting them by position. This is the first problematic step. Most kids play multiple positions. When you ask a kid ďare you primarily an outfielder or infielderĒ you are instantly limiting what you find out about that kid and what heís capable of showing you. Maybe a kid mostly plays left field with his current team, with about 30% of his time at first. Heís good at first base, but the team already has a good first baseman who isnít fast enough to play outfield. Maybe you need a first baseman, but you stick him in the outfield to shag fly balls at the tryout because thatís his ďprimaryĒ position, and heís only average at that. Opportunity missed. Ask them (or their parents) what positions they feel strongest playing, then see how they match up.

Conversely, when kids arenít pigeonholed theyíre placed in positions they never play. Why take someone that always plays outfield and stick them in a line at second during your tryout? You expect a kid to backhand a ball like a true second baseman when he never has to do it? All youíve done is waste time and miss an opportunity to see more of what heís good at. If a kid is good at baseball it will show, and you can always coach him up on another position of need. Ultimately, itís about paying more attention to what a kid does overall and what he thinks does well, instead of what he does at one position. If you donít ask for context, how can you make a judgment call?

A bigger problem is pitching. Pitching evaluations at tryouts are a joke. You put a kid on a mound to have him throw six pitches, and somehow you can tell if heís a good pitcher? If you say you can then youíre lying or deluded. Thereís no true way to account for game day intensity, of course, but if youíre not having a kid pitch to batters then youíre wasting your time. Isnít that the whole point of pitching, the pitcher versus the batter? Who cares how he looks throwing half a dozen pitches to a coach? That tells you almost nothing about how that kid will perform for you in a game. Isnít that whatís most important? This is where some coach will likely say ďoh, I can tell how good they are from just a few pitchesĒ. If thatís true, you should be holding seminars and teaching others this valuable skill for lots of money.

So, why do teams bother with a process that doesnít really work, especially when the coaches already know most of the kids that will fill up their team? They talk a big game about how returning players donít have a guaranteed spot and everyone at the tryouts has an opportunity to join the team, but thatís bull plop. I think the tryouts are really just to make sure there isnít some stud out there they havenít seen before that they can try to snap up. They can use him to replace someone they arenít coaching up on their team, and/or to prevent a competing team from picking him up. Iíve come to the conclusion that large scale tryouts are generally a waste of everyoneís time.

Coaches are fixated on the measurables. How fast is this kid? How strong is his arm? How hard does he hit? If there is one major sport where this shouldnít matter as much, itís baseball. So much of effective play in baseball is mental - knowing where youíre supposed to go with the ball several steps ahead of the action, or picking between balls and strikes. Yet, travel teams continue to prize measurables in children. Letís think of two kids, a knucklehead with a cannon arm or a kid thatís mentally two or three steps ahead of where the ball needs to go but has a little trouble getting the ball there. Iíll take the second kid every day. The fixation with measurables also excludes character, of course, which is something you canít really measure at a tryout, but most coaches are clearly willing to overlook it anyway if a kid has talent.

Letís use pitching as an example again. If kids at the tryout are swinging and missing on a guy, and if you can see he locates his pitches and is adept with three or four different pitches, who cares how hard he throws? Heíll get stronger, and you can make him stronger. Why pass on talent because his body doesnít ďwowĒ you yet? Of course, that was assuming you put him in a situation where you could see him genuinely pitch.

And all this is predicated on coaches actually observing the players, which they donít always do. I canít count the number of times Iíve seen coaches talking to someone or looking down at papers while kids are doing their best to impress them, especially with the two minutes and six pitches that they get. Even at tryouts where there are several coaches on the field kids get ignored. Whatís the darn point if youíre not going to have someone observe the players at all times?

Iím sure a lot of coaches out there will tell me that what Iím saying doesnít apply to every team, that they take the tryouts seriously, and that they are really trying to evaluate talent and build the best team. My son has been playing since he was five years old, and Iíve taken him to a lot of tryouts both large and small, with teams at different levels. The same thing occurs at all of them. Iíll concede that perhaps it is different above the AAA level simply because we arenít involved with that, but in my experience you see the same thing everywhere.

So, itís easy to criticize, but harder to propose solutions. Tryouts could be genuinely useful and beneficial to both the teams and the families with a few simple changes. For the teams, theyíll also be less likely to miss out on players they would otherwise benefit from having on the team.

First of all, if you donít have enough coaches then recruit some volunteers to help with your tryouts. You need to have more eyes, and eyes on each kid when they are performing, every time they are performing. If you donít have enough people then get more, even if it is only for the tryouts.

Second, have a coach assigned to small groups of the players to follow them throughout the entire process and ďscoutĒ them. They need to intently watch the same kids throughout the whole tryout to get a better idea of their overall performance and potential. Note their behavior, their reactions, and how they interact with the other kids. Then, at the end, if someone that was doing broader observations throughout the tryout expresses an opinion your scout can either confirm it, refute it, or bang the table for that particular kid. More importantly, if someone looks at a chart and sees the measurables arenít great the scout can say whether the on-the-field performance was actually reflective of the numbers.

Third, the standard tryout drills donít really offer much except to tell you if a kid is either totally unskilled, naturally skilled, physically limited, or physically gifted. For instance, youíre going to soft toss to a kid with no time to reset in between throws, and you think that will tell you how good a hitter he could be? You should definitely put less of an emphasis on the standard tryout drills. If you have enough kids at the tryout break them into ďteamsĒ and have a scrimmage. See the kids pitch against batters, and batters swing at real pitches. See kids field real balls under real pressure. Offer advice and coaching to see if they respond in real time to it. Watch their reactions to success and failure.

Fourth, talk to the parents and the kid. Pick up the phone, discuss their son, baseball, what youíre looking for, and what theyíre looking for. Ask about their grades! All As and Bs is an indicator of other good things. This may be the most difficult and time consuming step, but it is well worth it for everyone involved. If youíre going to take hundreds of dollars from someone and commit to working with their kid for an entire season it is to everyoneís advantage to see if it is a good fit up front (to the greatest extent possible). If youíre a coach that values character and baseball IQ this is arguably more important than the tryout.

And fifth, please stop wasting everyoneís £#<ing time. If youíve got 10 kids returning on a team that carries 12 donít open your tryouts up to 50 people. Just advertise the open spots and do private workouts with kids that interest you. And donít tell people every spot is open when theyíre not. The people inside and outside your team know there are some kids youíd never drop, and we see that most of the kids on your team are the same each season when we play you. Just tell people up front what youíre interested in. ďIf your kid canít already go 90 feet in less than 5 seconds, throw directly to home plate from the outfield wall, or hit home runs weíre not interested.Ē If the spots are only open to the tallest, strongest, and fastest kids, just say so. Youíll likely miss out on kids with more heart, coachability, respectfulness, and baseball smarts, but, thatís your prerogative. Just be honest about it so no one wastes their time (or their money for paid tryouts).

I think teams, parents and kids would all benefit from a better system. I would humbly suggest that coaches broaden their criteria for how they select players, change the process so that they can learn more about how kids will actually perform, and be more open and honest about the process with themselves and parents. Iím curious if Iím the only person that feels this way about the current tryout system, or if others agree with what Iíve suggested.


688 Posts

Posted - 08/12/2021 :  19:33:56  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Most tryouts are money grabs. Pay with your credit card and dispute the charges in 15 days. That should be more than enough time for a coach to let you now something, and go to other tryouts. Rinse and repeat. If enough people do it, those charge back fees will put them on notice. Good luck finding a team.
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5 Posts

Posted - 08/16/2021 :  16:16:15  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Punishers

Most tryouts are money grabs. Pay with your credit card and dispute the charges in 15 days. That should be more than enough time for a coach to let you now something, and go to other tryouts. Rinse and repeat. If enough people do it, those charge back fees will put them on notice. Good luck finding a team.

We found a team, but I appreciate the sentiment. Ultimately, I wouldn't have a problem with paid tryouts if they were legitimate and all the kids there got a fair shake, but unfortunately that's not the case.
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5 Posts

Posted - 08/26/2021 :  10:29:53  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I'm gratified to see that my post has over 500 views. I wish I knew how many of those were people that actually read through the whole thing. I'm a little curious why there aren't more responses. Not sure if that is a bad thing or good thing.
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2 Posts

Posted - 08/26/2021 :  20:36:19  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I hear you, however, lets be real. If an unknown kid with a monster arm is next to little johnny who may be solid but doesnt really stand out or lets his body language go south after a miss play , that coach will take the chance of coaching up the more advanced skill every time. Basically its like the movie Jerry McGuire

And then as Punishers said, its a money grab - and a big one at the youth level. Its a database for the big turnover typically with 2nd/3rd teams, etc.

Find a solid academy program and let your son work his way up. The disappointments will fire up a kid if he loves the game. Life lessons that we all know happen in all stages of life. My 15u son was an avg size average everything until puberty but has moved up in our Org every year since 12u because he got determined and MADE the coaches and program notice
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54 Posts

Posted - 05/06/2022 :  16:49:24  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Wow....what great post and YUP read every word.
I am answering because been there done that.
I will try to be brief because my full answer could be 10X longer that your post.
1) My son now plays College BBall as 92-95mph P (no BS).....why is this important ?....because he was worst player on every team starting 7U for LONG TIME....so my/his journey has been tough/rough
2) Baseball is a business....don't let anyone coach speak you other wise.....it's about money. Travel Teams making $$$....or Coaches leveling up to next-better paying position.
3) Baseball is perfect biz because it has endless amount of what I call "village of idiots". What I mean is Teams/Orgs know top 1/3 is their Starters to win, middle 1/3 their buffer, bottom 1/3 are pay checks.
4) "TEAMS" are not going develop kids......they have their own agenda....win, market, make money....just that simple. The Village of idiots is streams of new unsuspecting parents who buy in to the sales pitch...new group every year.
5) Your job as Dad...as they are young....to align your kid where he can develop....and have fun on the way. Trust me as they get older lot less "fun" and all "business" for player.
6) Friend of mine Dad (long time FL Travel Team Org Owner) said it perfect....development is done by "playing time"....so "put him in best org/team" that he gets on field.
This probably is not the biggest name Travel Orgs unless your son is young stud....frankly those 3rd and 4th "money maker" teams or horrid and just bad baseball.
Find great instructor that your son listens to....spend $$ there....find reasonable team he gets playing time on vs reasonable comp.
As young player this is how you develop him.
7) My advice as "Baseball Dad"....which I did not take my own advice......get others to work with him....NOT YOU !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This is very, very tough.....you want the experience but it is not bonding.....trust me.
Spend $$$ on Instructors....and appropriate travel team....watch him play.....YOUR JOB....be there when he fails and wants quit....trust me happens weekly...he needs you there mostly
8) Puberty is great thing.....so many kids ahead of my son.....and as soon as he hit puberty he passed them like Ferrari.
The reality was we spent TONS time on mechanics, etc.....over and over with Instructors....and when he filled out...WOW...different kid.
So many of the early STUDS are there because their size physically....amazing how they don't scale long term.
So he played on a AllStar Rec team that traveled and WON 7 out of 7 tournaments....14U....he was middle road kid then....2B & #3/#4 P.
He is ONLY one still playing ball....and at every high College level.
9) When your son hits Puberty get him to Strength Trainer...again not YOU with him at a gym....but real Trainer.
Stay away from guys who talk all the agility and etc garbage...ton time later for that....get some LBS and Strength on him.
Spend your $$$ here.....and at SAME TIME the $$$ at the Baseball Instructor.
You will be amazed if you stay course on these two the development....but be patient....not overnight thing.
Oh yeah...figure out meal program to get the calories in him
10) ...there is SO MUCH more.....but I can tell you the fact your son was not picked on the team is blessing.....he would not have seen field time there.
Coaches don't want "assets"...they want easy sure bets....

I will close with comment from a very well known Instructor my son went too......
"Baseball is an Individual Sport played as a Team".
Remember that........your job is to develop the "individual".....coaches will focus on the "team"...and $$$
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