Dissecting Drafts

Millions of children will soon be stepping onto baseball and softball fields around the country for another summer of fun-filled games and practices. For some, though, the journey will be derailed before it ever has a chance to begin.

The reason? The dreaded Draft Day tryout.

You know what I’m talking about. There are many different versions around the country, but the scenarios are similar: The kids are brought together to perform various skills, while coaches armed with clipboards make notations on which players they yearn to have on their roster--and which ones they hope wind up on someone else’s team.

Confidence Crushers

I cringe when I consider how many kids have had their love for the game squashed by a miserable experience at some type of tryout, because I’ve witnessed the effects.

When I was living in Munster, Ind., many years ago, I took my son John to one of these evaluation days.

I’ll never forget what I saw.

Countless children were nervously awaiting a chance to impress the coaches hovering around home plate, dissecting each player’s skills.

Cleanly fielded ground balls generated approving nods from some of the coaches, while bobbles and errors prompted many to avoid eye contact with these children, who so desperately craved any type of positive reinforcement.

What stays in my mind is one youngster whose skills were lagging behind most of the other kids. As he took his turn in the infield, he mishandled the first three ground balls hit to him by one of the coaches. Having zero concern for the feelings of this youngster, that coach turned to another coach standing along the third base line and said--loudly enough for the child to hear-- “OK, you can have him,” in the most humiliating tone imaginable.

I can’t help but think how those words cut this child’s self-esteem and confidence to pieces; I often wonder if he ever fully recovered from what that idiot--who had no business coaching children--said.

Pursuing Balance

Now, I know programs around the country conduct these types of evaluation days in the name of parity.

By evaluating all the kids, the aim is to balance the teams so that one team doesn’t monopolize all the higher-skilled players, and the kids can take part in fairly evenly matched contests throughout the season.

It’s a great concept--if executed the right way.

If all the kids are positively encouraged during the evaluation, and it’s handled in a stress-free atmosphere, the tryout can be an enjoyable experience for the youngsters, and meet the needs of the league doing its best to create balance.

There are some interesting approaches employed that serve the dual purpose of meeting the needs of the children, as well as those of the league.

For example, one program has the coaches draft players for a team, and once all the teams are chosen, those lists are put into a hat and the coaches take turns pulling out a roster--and that’s the team they coach. This ensures that coaches don’t load up one team because chances are they won’t be overseeing that one anyway.

Regardless of the method your program uses, the bottom line is that it must meet the needs of the children first. Take a step back and re-evaluate whether the formula you are using is best for the kids.

If so, drop me a line. I’d love to hear about it.

Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla., which has been advocating positive and safe sports for children since 1981. He is also the author of Why Johnny Hates Sports, which is available on Amazon.com. He can be reached via e-mail at fengh@nays.org