Advising a Non-Starter to Change Teams

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As the coach of a tournament level youth fastpitch softball team, at the end of each season I am faced with the tough decisions about roster spots in regard to doing what is best for the team and what is best for the player. A typical roster will have 12 players however some may have 11 or as many as 13. This usually results in 6 players playing the bulk of the time and the other six players splitting time for the remaining three positions.

It has always been my position to try to retain all of my players from one year to the next. After all, I had invested a considerable amount of time in their development. However, a couple of years ago I was faced with a very unique situation. Mary had played for me since she was eight years old and now she was about to turn 12 years old. I was losing my starting 3rd baseman, due to her age, and I felt Mary had a great opportunity to step into the starting lineup as our 3rd baseman. As it turned out, Mary just couldn't quite get it done at 3rd and was beaten out by another player. This put Mary back to the outfield and in the rotation of players that split innings.

I was very disappointed Mary couldn't win the position and as the season went on I could tell that her love for fastpitch softball was diminishing. It just broke my heart to see her withdrawing from the sport. As the coach of a highly competitive softball team, I believe two of my primary responsibilities are to teach the girls the sport and to inspire their passion for the game.

Just to be clear, my team will play over 100 softball games each year. And Mary played in every game that she attended. As the season went on, it became evident that Mary was not going to beat out one of our top six players this season or the next season for that matter. So the question became, what to do about Mary?

Mary was just a great kid that got along with all of the other players and all of the coaches. Her parents were the kind of parents every coach dreams of having, always supportive, kind, constructive and attentive to their child. Understand that Mary was an outstanding ballplayer when compared to most girls that play softball, but on our team she was a small fish in a big pond. On almost any other team Mary would have been the big fish.

At the end of the season I decided to have a conversation with Mary's father. Nothing I had to say came as a shock to him and he knew that I had Mary's best interest in mind. I explained that I didn't believe Mary could honestly compete for one of the top positions and that I thought she would spend another year of splitting time. I also explained that I thought she could go to almost any other team and immediately become the starter at almost any position she chose. I further explained that I thought if Mary played another year with us, she might be in danger of becoming so disenchanted with softball that she may give up before she made it to High School.

I left the decision with Mary and her dad. They were welcome to stay with us and I would be thrilled to have her back or I could suggest other teams for them and refer her to other coaches. Without a doubt it was a tough decision for them. After all, her friends were on this team, it was a winning team, we were the only coaches she had ever had, and there was the fear of the unknown.

As it turned out, I contacted three other teams about Mary and they all said they would take her in a heartbeat. So I gave Mary the list of teams and she chose which one she would most like to play with. That next season, Mary played shortstop and batted fourth in her new team's lineup. She was easily the star player on her new team. She continues to play fastpitch softball and just recently told me how excited she is to be going out for her High School team this year.

While it's tempting to be greedy and keep all of the best players on your team, I believe the Softball Manager has a greater responsibility to look out for the players best interest. If the manager detects the player is in danger of facing burn out or leaving the sport, he should have enough respect for the game and the player to make a "for the greater good" decision. Honestly, if you talk a kid in this situation into staying on the team, it's probably going to be temporary anyway. So do the right thing and you just may end up winning a life-long fan and salvaging a little girl's fastpitch softball career.


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