What travel ball parents need to know about position play

posted Mar 19, 2013, 9:15 AM by Dante Sabatucci   [ updated Mar 19, 2013, 12:31 PM ]
This post is an attempt to educate travel parents on what goes into defensive position play so that you may understand that in travel baseball and every level beyond, each position has its own unique responsibilities that most parents are not aware of unless they played or coached travel baseball or softball or above in the past. 

Responsibilities - When we say that each position has a responsibility, it is important to understand that these responsibilities grow as the kids grow.  It is our job to teach the players their responsibilities and it is the players job to learn their responsibilities IF they want to play a certain position.  From the untrained parents perspective, the role of the second baseman and the shortstop is the exact same except the shortstop has a longer throw.  In reality, the shortstop and second baseman positions are almost the exact opposite.  It's not that they are doing different things, but more specifically their positions are mirror images of one another.  For example, when the second baseman (2B) is responsible for covering the base on a steal, the shortstop (SS) in NOT and should stay "home".  Or if the 2B is the cutoff for a play from right field, the SS has to cover the base.  Can you see that if the 2B tries to do everything the same as the SS, he will be in the WRONG position on every play?  So when a player tell us that he wants to play a certain position, our first question is going to be something like "do you know the responsibilities of the position?"  If he says yes, then we may ask something like "what is your responsibility on a bunt coverage when we are in blue coverage?" or "what is your responsibility for bag coverage when the ball is hit to left field?"  In general, our philosophy is that each player needs to master at least one position before they can branch out to other positions although there will be times (because of pitching and catching rotations) that we will need various players to play various positions.  Their job is to take responsibility to learn the positions they want to play. 

Skills - Their are different skills that are required for each position.  For instance, the 2B needs to cover more ground than a 3B.  But the 3B needs to make a longer throw than the 2B.  So as you can see, 2B tend to have more lateral quickness than 3B and 3B tends to have a stronger arm.  As coaches, we know which skills the player possesses so we are able to project where that player may have a future.  Each position has its own uniqueness and the coaches job is to put the best total defense on the field.  Typically the shortstop is the prototype athlete with quickness, good flexibility and mobility, a strong arm and leadership skills which is why it is a prestigious position to play.   But not every player has skill necessary to play that position so it is up to the coach to put the player he feels will be best for the team at that position.  Naturally, it is a great problem for a coach to have if he has several players who are the prototype shortstop and it is a luxury that he may be able to put one of those players in another position which may enhance the team overall.  The fact that our rosters are relatively small means that when you consider the pitching rotation, it is important to have at least three players who can play each position so it will be important for the players to learn multiple positions.  The coach will decide which positions each player projects based on their skills compared to the other players.  Even though shortstop is the prestigious position, each coach understands how important it is to have someone good at EVERY positions.  At the very least, they need someone capable of making the routine plays and knowing their responsibilities at each position.  I could go though each position and explain how EACH position will probably affect the outcome of almost every game which is why from a coaches perspective each position is equally important.

Coach's Confidence - As a coach, I base my decisions about the starting position players based on my level of confidence that the player will make the NEXT play or the BIG (pressure) play.  In other words, if there is a player who consistently has good footwork (which we have worked on all off season), fields the ball cleanly and makes accurate throws, I will choose that player over one who has all of the "tools" but is lazy with his footwork and inconsistent with his throws and does not know his responsibilities.  When parents tell me that so and so (their son) is better than the player who I have as the starter, it is difficult to explain tactfully that I have more confidence in the other other player.  In my mind I want to tell them that when we are practicing, their son does not do things correctly and when I try to show him the proper technique, he does it once and then goes back to his old ways.  I try to teach the boys that when they are practicing, think of each repetition as though it is the 7th game of the world series rather than a boring practice in March.  The ones who take my advice INVARIABLY become better over time regardless of talent than the ones who don't.  To me, this is what is meant by "working hard"......it's the quality of the work, not the quantity.  As coaches, we cannot implant the desire for the player to become better or understand what we are trying to teach them any more than a teacher can implant the desire for a student to learn a particular subject and get into Harvard some day.  Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the player to understand this.  Our job as coaches is to patiently and honestly try to teach the players these truth's in as many different ways as possible.  We understand that it may be the 1,000th time we've told a player a certain thing that he finally gets it.  That is what is rewarding as a coach.  Some players never get it unfortunately, no matter how hard we try.  If they can understand that if they work hard by this definition, they will continue to pass their peers and earn playing time as the years go by until ultimately they will go as far that their God given ability can take them.   From a coaches perspective, we will take those players over the ones with all of the talent and no understanding of work ethic which ultimately leads to instilling confidence in the coach. 

In summary, the only right way to talk to a coach about playing time is to ask the following question "Coach, please be honest with me and tell me what I need to work on to EARN more playing time at _______________."  Hopefully, the coach will be honest with him but that does not guarantee that if they player works on those things that they are owed playing time at that position.  What it does mean is that the player will be ready when the opportunity presents itself....which it will at some point.  It is also important for the parents to understand that a non-Dad coach is unbiased in general.  So if you approach the coach with the perspective that the coach is seeing something that you may not be seeing, you more likely get an honest answer.  Try to understand what the coach is saying before arguing or debating  with him.  If the coach is missing something, just by having an honest adult conversation, the coaches eyes may be opened to something he did not see before....or at the very least the coach may give him an opportunity at that position when the opportunity presents itself.  Finally, it is best to approach a coach about playing time or position play during an UNEMOTIONAL time for both of you.  After a game is NOT a good time to talk to a coach about it.   Maybe the next day or before a game or practice.  We all want the best for the players and the Buzzsaws program is designed to teach them what they need to know and create situations where they have to struggle to get better.  We all get stronger and sharper in any area of our life by struggling and competing rather than having something handed to us.   The purpose of the Buzzsaws program is that we want team up with parents to teach these young men about baseball but also to learn some life lessons.  I believe that's what God invented baseball!! 
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