“Oh man, why is my son not starting.”
“Why am I being benched right now?”
Those above questions are far too common for parents and players alike. Nowadays, it seems like people strongly take offense if they are not in the starting lineup. And why is that? Travel Ball.
What is Travel Ball? It is a team that you are paying to play on. As with anything, when you pay for a service, you don’t want to hear anything negative. Therefore, you don’t. You get told that you as a player or your son is good at baseball and will receive ample playing time. Sure, you’ll have some practices to hit and take groundballs (without really learning the game itself), but that’s about it when it comes to development. The answer you’ll get from coaches is that you have to play games in order to get better. And that’s not wrong. You do have to play games in order to learn how to play the game and how to make adjustments. Hopefully coaches are teaching you how to play the game and how to make adjustments not only in practice, but during the game itself. You will also need to work on your skills outside of games you’re playing with your team. However, no one understands the importance of sitting the bench.
Why is sitting the bench important? Because it teaches you. It teaches you that you need to work harder, that you’re not the best player in the country, that you need a break, and that playing time should be earned and not given. The problem with Travel Ball is that everyone is expected to play because money has been paid, like a service. If you pay money for a service, then you expect to see results. If you pay for a particular service and that company is not delivering the results you desire, then you look for another company. The same is true in baseball. If a player is not delivering results, then you look for another player. The problem is that dads and players expect playing time whether the player delivers results or not. If a player is not performing well, suddenly its not their fault. It’s because they aren’t receiving enough playing time to show what they can do. And because parents are paying money for their child to be on a team, they expect their child to be playing every inning of every game. The problem is that playing every inning of every game doesn’t teach the player anything. It creates entitlement rather than desire.
Players are entitled nowadays and don’t want their feelings hurt. Too bad. If you can’t accept the fact that you’re not good at something then find something else to pursue. Their feelings get hurt if they get benched for a game. I say that’s a good thing. Why? Because it sends a message to players that they need to actually put some work in to get better and more consistent at their craft. It should remind players that they need to keep working hard to get better. The mindset of a player should be that there is always someone else out there who is better than you. Getting benched should teach players that there are other people who are better than them. Unfortunately, players now have the option to pay another travel organization to play. And that option defeats the whole purpose of what lessons a sport can teach the youth. The idea that you can quit one team to join another carries on from year to year. Suddenly, you’re in college and realize there are a lot of other players from around the country who are better than you. So what do young athletes do now? They transfer. Transferring from one school to another is the most compelling trait that describes a student-athlete. To me, it tells me that a player committed to a school, someone better beat them out at their position, they don’t want to put in the effort to beat that player out, and just want the easy way out which is to transfer. Transferring should be the last option in anyone’s mind.
Sit the bench. Learn from others around you and take the information you’ve observed to make you a better player. If you can’t learn to sit the bench and your first instinct is to transfer to a new college or travel team, then I would ask how committed you are to the game of baseball. Baseball, like many sports, is full of adversity. Getting benched and having to earn your way onto the field is just one of those very aspects. So my advice to players is to accept the fact that you’re benched, figure out why you’re being benched, learn from being benched, and work your tail off to never be benched again. That is one way you’ll go from being average to being great.