Making the Softball LineUp

It’s Friday. And somewhere, in some office, or in some living room there is a coach sitting down trying to make weekend line-ups for his or her team.

Oy!  So many folks in the softball world get frustrated about the line-ups their coaches make. Either heir daughter is not included in it enough, or isn’t playing in the right position, or is batting 8th when someone thinks they should be batting 2nd, or is listed as a sub, or a baseburner.  You get the point.  The vast majority of teams carry around 11 girls – and their are only 9 positions on the field. This in and of itself is a problem.

Making the softball line-up is one of those often dreaded, painfully frustrating, irritating and ‘no-win’ aspects of coaching fastpitch. And whether you believe it or not, most coaches out there really care about their team, care about the girls, and try to balance what’s best for the team with what’s best for the individual.  Sometimes, these worlds collide.

The easiest thing for coaches would be to just pick the BEST 9 players and put them in their positions aligning the team for the best opportunity to win.

Yet most coaches don’t do this because they are trying to the best of their ability to develop a TEAM, and sitting out 1-2 girls every game, or every other game definitely doesn’t facilitate that, pisses off parents, and hurts girls’ feelings.  And, of course, every softball line-up – no matter how well thought out, comes with some sort of backlash from someone who doesn’t agree with it for one reason or another.

Its important to realize first and foremost, that a lot of thought goes into the line-up.  When you get to a tournament, or championship game, or are in an elimination situation where you have to WIN (Which remember, is WHY the scoreboard is there to begin with), coaches have to figure out a way to embrace and showcase the BEST talents of every girl on the team. 

If you have a girl who is in a slump and couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, batting her to avoid ‘backlash’ can literally hurt the entire team.  It doesn’t mean that the girl is terrible, or that the coach doesn’t like her, or that she will never bat during a game ever – it just means that in a particular situation, her asset to the team includes NOT batting. (And hitting slumps pass) IF a pitcher is yanked because she is not ‘on’ that day and another pitcher is – it doesn’t mean that she’s a bad pitcher.  If a coach has to make a decision to pull the best infielder off of 1st base because she is struggling, or a lot of errors have been made in that position on a particular day, it is in the best interest of the entire team to do so.  Again, nothing personal.  Every player has good days and bad days. Good coaches recognize these ‘good and bad’ days and are able to think on the fly and problem solve. (Yet sometimes this problem solving ends up creating problems on the sidelines)

On highly competitive teams, in school ball, in college ball – line-ups are made with absolutely no regard to what mom or dad, or the child thinks or feels. They just are what they are – and they either inspire a player to make herself better and good enough to be included, or they don’t. That choice is up to the player. But in your run of the mill travel ball, coaches put a lot of thought into who goes where in the line-up, and how to best utilize the talent on the team.

IN fact, beyond REC ball – travel/tournament ball is not ‘pay to play,’ and there are no rules or implications that say every kid has to play and bat every game.

It’s also important however, to try and see the positive in a line-up, rather than jump to emotional conclusions. Most things in softball ARE NOT PERSONAL.  It’s a TEAM sport.

If your daughter is listed as a baseburner, its because she is fast – and because the coach has faith that she can run the bases better than some of the other girls on the team.  If your daughter (or you if you are the player) are moved to a different position (outside of pool play) chances are there is a reason the coach did it.  If your daughter (or you) are batting somewhere differently in the line-up than regularly, the coach is likely working on a strategy to win.  If your daughter is asked to sacrifice bunt when she is one of the best hitters on the team – the coach isn’t trying to undermine the player, but is likely following through with some sort of (hopefully) winning strategy.

Lots of people like to say that ‘winning isn’t anything.” And while that is ABSOLUTELY true, winning isn’t everything – winning is likely the goal of the girls on the teamMost of the kids playing want to win – and if a coach explains their reasons for doing things TO the player affected, most kids understand and accept it, and are still happy to accept that trophy at the end of the day.  (That is until someone on the sidelines tells them otherwise or gripes).

Additionally. And this can be a painful realization for parents – the team does not go to competitive play to practice. Championships games aren’t the time to  try new pitches, or pitchers for that matter.  Pool play, YES.  Friendlies, certainly?  Expensive elimination tournaments, no! Tournaments aren’t the time for a girl who has a random whim to play 3rd base to get her shot there. Tournaments aren’t the time to approach a coach and ask why your daughter never gets to play 1st base.  Practice is!

Making the line-up is not as easy as you may think.  If you as a coach or team manager often end up with upset parents because of the line-up, then hand them a line-up card and tell them to fill it out the way they think it should it be.  Same with the kiddos.  In fact, its not a bad practice to hand every parent and player on your team a line-up card and have them fill it out to create the most successful team possible.  That will show others exactly how difficult it is to make a line-up that makes everyone happy.  And, you never know – you might get some good ideas about changes you could make.

If you aren’t happy with a line-up, or a coaches decision however – and the player is old enough, have them talk to the coach.  IF you, as a parent want to talk to the coach then approach them away from other parents and players, away from the dugouts, and NOT during a game. When done with respect and tact most coaches will respond accordingly.  This doesn’t mean that you will necessarily get things the way you want them to be – but you may at least be heard, and the coach will take into consideration the desires and needs of your daughter.

 

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