“So your son or daughter wants to play Select Baseball?”
Some Frequently Asked Questions
(Answers compiled by Dan Walker, Assistant DSA Commissioner, Select Baseball, with input from coaches from multiple programs representing decades of experience at all levels of select baseball)
Q. What is the mission or general philosophy of Damascus Select Baseball?
Damascus Select Baseball shares the overall goal of its parent organization, the Damascus Sports Association (DSA), which “is dedicated to developing the youth of our community through fitness, sportsmanship and teamwork.” As DSA’s Select Baseball program, Damascus Select Baseball is primarily focused on developing local youth to play baseball at the high school or college level. While participation on Damascus select teams is open to anyone, the program does work closely with the Damascus High School baseball program, to ensure the techniques, skills, and strategies taught by our coaching staff are appropriate for that goal. Furthermore, Damascus Select emphasizes team play and success over individual performance. Our goal is to field teams that work together toward a common goal, rather than simply to provide a platform for a few stars.
Q. What’s the major difference between Select Baseball, Travel Baseball, and Rec baseball?
Recreational baseball or “rec ball” is open to anyone who is interested in playing organized baseball. There are no tryouts, and the cost and level of time commitment are minimal. Teams generally practice a few times prior to the beginning of the season and roughly once a week thereafter. Rec baseball is great way for kids to experience team sports and learn the fundamentals of America’s pastime (kids can join rec teams at any age, and no experience is required). DSA sets minimum levels of playing time so players at any skill level can gain experience through game play. (Because the emphasis at the recreation level is participation and learning basic skill is a somewhat relaxed environment, “rec” programs in any sport are not generally considered to be adequate preparation for competition at the High School varsity-level. A set of FAQs for high school age players are also available at the end of this set of questions).
“Select baseball” and “Travel baseball” are more or less synonymous, as both require prospective players to tryout for teams in a given age group. The term “Travel baseball” is derived from the fact that teams often travel to regional or national tournaments, where they play teams of similar age (there is a nationally recognized cutoff date for each age division, which is May 1). Some Travel teams are what may be referred to as “Tournament-only teams,” or for high school- or college-age players as “Showcase teams,” which play exclusively in regional or even national tournaments. Damascus Select teams generally play in local leagues as well as in a few tournaments, which allows our players to experience a high level of competition without having to travel every weekend. Select baseball usually involves a much greater level of commitment, as one might expect given the very competitive nature of baseball itself. DSA select teams practice indoors once or twice a week in January and February and as many as three or four times a week outside as soon as weather permits. During the season, which can last into July for some teams, teams generally practice or play 4 or 5 times a week. In addition, many players may also work with a hitting or pitching coach once or more a week. Looking across various programs or teams in the region, it’s not unusual for players to participate in clinics, take speed and agility training, strength training, etc. As the cost of all these activities can be considerable, parents may want to look for programs that offer professional instruction and a variety of training activities as part of team activities. This often allows the player the benefit of advanced and tailored training at a more manageable cost. All DSA select teams are required to include some component of professional instruction during the spring season. Unlike DSA rec baseball, there are no DSA proscribed rules for playing time, playing time is determined by the head coach based on a variety of factors including any relevant league or tournament rules.
Q. How much does Select Baseball cost per season?
Damascus Sports Association is a non-profit organization that focuses on developing local players for success at the high school or college levels, and charges very minimal overhead. Thus Damascus Select teams typically have fees that run from $300 to a $1000 per player per season, depending on the length of the season (fall is shorter and cheaper than spring), the amount outside professional instruction provided, and the number and location of tournaments a team chooses to play in. One major exception occurs in the 12U year, when Damascus sends a team to the Cooperstown, NY, home of major league baseball Hall of Fame, where they play in a week long national, invitational tournament at Cooperstown Dream Park.
Q. Isn’t Select Baseball too expensive for most families or players? How can we keep the costs lower?
Damascus Select Baseball has taken a number of steps to ensure that the cost of select baseball not be a deterrent to participation. Individual teams have a variety of fundraising options available, and player participating in these events may see as much as 100 percent of the funds they raise directed to their individual fees. DSA helps organize raffles, golf tournaments and other events to help raise funds as well. As a consequence, we are very pleased to offer a high value program at a manageable cost.
Q. What is the time commitment associated with Select baseball?
In general, [Ma1] select baseball is a 3 to 5 day a week commitment during the season (spring runs March to July, fall runs September to mid-November). Select teams often organize winter workouts in January and February that typically take place one or two nights a week. Regardless of the amount of time spent working with the team, all successful players on the better select teams or high school squads are expected to work on basic skills on their own. This is one of the underappreciated challenges and benefits of baseball, success requires individual commitment and a strong work ethic.
Q. How are the ages of players in each age group determined?
Age groups typically are typical made up of players born within one year of each other (e.g., tournaments are structured for teams at the 8u, 9u, 10u, 11u, 12u, etc.). Because of the focus on tournament play, DSA and local select leagues use the nationally recognized birthday cutoff date of May 1, for each age group. For example, players born between May 2, 2003, and May 1, 2004 will be 11 on May 1, 2015 and thus eligible to play 11U select baseball in the fall 2014 and spring 2015. A player born between May 2, 2002 and May 1, 2003 would be 12 on May 1, 2015 and would be eligible to 12u.
Q. My son or daughter is a very good athlete and should be playing with older players. How can I arrange to make that happen?
Playing with older players outside of the age group defined by an established cutoff date is referred to as “playing up.” Some sports, such as football, allow players to “play down” at younger age levels (e.g., older but lighter). “Playing up” is common in recreational leagues where the spread of talent in young players of the same age can be dramatic. Playing up in select or travel teams is far less common, and is a source of considerable debate. While playing up can offer greater challenges to some truly advanced players, it also can have an adverse effect on players that are pushed too hard, too fast. Because of the wide choices offered by the multitude of for-profit and non-profit sports association offering select baseball, parents and players can find a team or organization that will let them do a wide variety of things, including playing up.
DSA Select Baseball as a program does not support the view that “playing up” (playing in an age division with older players) is in the best interest of the player, team, or organization as a whole. Players who play on age level, on well-balanced select teams should find considerable challenge playing against talented teams in the region without “playing up (certainly much greater than that experienced in recreational baseball).” As a consequence, DSA Select only allow players to “play up” in a very limited and well-defined set of circumstances. Players may request to play up if DSA is not fielding a select team at the player’s “on age” level. Furthermore, any player attending Damascus High School is considered by definition to be an on age level player for 18U. Freshman that still qualify as 14U have the option to tryout for 18U or 14U. There is no mechanism to obtain an exemption to this policy, other than by appealing directly to the DSA Board. In either instance, a player must still tryout and make the team.
Coaches, playing time, and other tough subjects
Q. How are coaches selected?
Damascus Select Baseball coaches apply for positions on an annual basis. The window for applying is generally open 4 to 6 weeks prior to the beginning of tryouts each spring, summer and fall season. An announcement that the application window is open is posted to the Select Baseball page of the DSA website and announcements are distributed in the DSA weekly newsletter and via program wide emails. In addition, the DSA Commissioner of Baseball and Softball and the Assistant DSA Commissioner for Select Baseball actively search out individuals who may be interested in coaching. Perspective coaches must submit a letter of application, including a description of prior coaching and playing experience, training, and his or her coaching philosophy. The DSA board approves all head coach appointments.
While Damascus Select strives to appoint individuals with a high-level knowledge of the game, we are also seeking individuals who show an aptitude for instruction and team management. Experience as a player beyond the high school level is always attractive, but it is not a guarantee that an individual can be an effective communicator at the youth level. Thus, we strive to seek individuals who see coaching as a life-long learning activity, and try to expose our coaches to those individuals around the area with extensive coaching and playing experience at the high school, junior college, college, or professional levels.
Q. How is playing time determined?
There are no DSA proscribed rules for playing time, playing time is determined solely by the head coach based a variety of factors including any relevant league or tournament rules. Experienced coaches will work to provide playing time for all members of the roster, so that each player can contribute to the team effort to the best of his or her abilities. Injuries and fatigue can take a toll on players, thus demanding that all players be prepared to play out of position or in unusual circumstances.
Young players must learn that playing time is a reward for hard work during practice or on their own. Also, often game situations demand that coaches make decisions that they feel are in the best interest of the team, rather than an individual player. Tournament play, for example, often dictates that a coach play to win, as losing means going home-effectively eliminating the opportunity for the team to play more innings. This is a fundamental component of select baseball, and one that is often the most difficult for parents to understand, largely because as parents, we are focused on the well-being of our child.
Q. Our coach seems to only care about winning. He plays the better players all the time, and weaker players much less. How are they going to get better if they don’t get a chance to play?
Baseball is competitive sport. The nature of game play allows players and fans to contemplate specific situations in advance. While the pitcher prepares, each player in the field and the batter are focusing on how to react. This builds anticipation, and stress. This stress is only compounded by the fact that every eye follows the ball, and as experienced players will tell you, the baseball has the seemingly uncanny ability to find the player who is least ready, who has just entered the game, or who just struck out. Select baseball takes that to another level. Community based programs such as Damascus Select are often somewhat sheltered as they recruit from a local pool of players, who really don’t want to play for another town. But the growth of select baseball means other programs are competing for talented players. They recruit, enticing players with promises of more exposure or better coaching. As a program, Damascus baseball knows we need to offer a good value, which also means fielding competitive teams. Teams that are not competitive don’t offer their better players an opportunity to learn to compete and win against the top local and regional talent–experience that will be important as a high school or college player.
As discussed above, young players must learn that playing time is a reward for hard work during practice or on their own. Also, game situations often demand that coaches make decisions that they feel are in the best interest of the team, rather than an individual player. Tournament play, for example, often dictates that a coach play to win, as losing means going home–effectively eliminating the opportunity for the team to play more innings.
Q. Our coach yells at the players when they make mistakes and is too hard on young players. Why doesn’t DSA do something about this?
Like playing time, coaching style can be a difficult subject to evaluate or understand. Coaches often coach the way the way they were coached as a player. Sometimes their style just reflects their personality. Most experienced coaches will tell you that coaching style often has to evolve as players get older. Players who would respond quickly to verbal instructions at 10 or 11, may be less responsive as 13 or 14. They are maturing and are trying to find a balance between being independent and obedient (sound familiar)? Coaches, however, are not parents. They are more akin to bosses or managers. They have a limited amount of time each day to accomplish a specific set of tasks, and having to remind, cajole, or entice players to move quickly means they can’t always ask quietly or politely. Furthermore, coaches are often trying to challenge players to do more, and to do more under stress. Hitting in batting practice is different than hitting with the game on the line. Players need to learn to recognize and respond positively to stress. A demanding coach is only one type of stress.
If you feel uncomfortable about your coaches coaching style, you may want to let it play out a bit. Don’t judge the situation based on one game or even one season. Focus on helping your player identify and address the behaviors that may be triggering harsh words from the coach. Be objective, and recall that the coach is entitled to have expectations that differ from yours. At the end of the season, you should be able to have a discussion with the coach about expectations or your concerns.
All that said, DSA will not tolerate abusive behavior. If you feel that the coach’s behavior crosses a line, then you should contact the program and let us know about your concerns. We have helped coaches understand the possible impact overly critical behavior may have on players. On those very rare occasions when coaches (whether a head coach or assistant coach) have failed to modify their behavior, we have simply not re-appointed them. Conversely, we recognize that not every player/coach match is going to be a good fit. Just as some teams are better fits for certain players, some coaches may not be a good fit for certain players. Parents and players should seek out a setting that works best for them, but remember, “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the hill.” Players and parents that bounce from team to team each season often gain a reputation as being difficult to deal with, or not being a team player.
We value good coaches, but not to the extent that their behavior puts them at odds with our overall goal of “developing the youth of our community through fitness, sportsmanship and teamwork.”
Q. I think my son or daughter should be playing more, why can’t the coach see that?
While it’s natural for parents to be concerned that their player doesn’t seem to be playing as much as others, it’s important to try to maintain some perspective. First of all, baseball is a team sport; thus, it’s sometimes better to focus on the overall success of the team. Try to determine if your player is enjoying the team’s success or seems anxious about their playing time without transferring your concerns to him or her. If they too seem to be disappointed, encourage them to put in extra work on whatever aspect of the game they may be weakest. One benefit of this approach is it creates an avenue for engagement with the head coach, without overtly appearing to be criticizing coaching decisions. The groundwork for this working relationship can be laid during early season practices by simply asking the coach for advice on how to help your son or daughter be the best player they can be.
Experienced coaches will want to reward hard work, especially if it leads to greater confidence and performance. It is very rare to find teams where the hardest working players aren’t also the most successful.
Q. Whenever I try to talk to the head coach about playing time, he’s evasive or gets defensive. How can I get answers to my questions?
Like many things in life, timing can be everything. Playing time is always a sensitive issue, and like all of us, coaches can react poorly when they feel they are being confronted, especially just before, just after, or worst of all during a game (NOTE: Most leagues have an absolute prohibition against parents in the dugout). Parents should respect coaches who are preparing to play a game or who are in the process of recovering from a tough loss or celebrating a big win. Coaches are distracted during these times, and even if they nay be willing to engage, it’s simply not the best time to do so.
Instead of approaching the coach at a game or practice, try sending a brief email, asking to chat with the coach about how you can work with the coaching staff to help your player improve. Again, the groundwork for this working relationship can be laid during early season practices, by simply asking the coach for advice on how to help your son or daughter be the best player than can be. Don’t expect a coach to explain or defend his or her decisions, experienced coaches recognize that the “buck” stops with them and that explaining decisions after the fact is rarely productive.
Q. We have many children participating in a variety of sports activities. Why can’t my two sons (who are just a year apart) play on the same team?
Allowing siblings from two different age groups play together requires allowing one of them to “play up.” While this might lighten the heavy transportation burden on parents, it’s not an adequate justification for pushing one player up an age division (see discussion of “playing up”). Most coaches and parents understand the demands youth sports places on family schedules and are willing to help fellow parents out. Don’t be shy about asking coaches or fellow parents about the potential for carpooling.
Q. My spouse and I both work late, and occasionally we have trouble getting our son to practice on time. The head coach often reprimands our child for being late, and seems to not understand or care about the difficulties we face. What difference does a few minutes really make?
As discussed in response to the previous question, coaches understand the demands youth sports places on family schedules and are willing to be somewhat flexible. However, practice time is at a premium. Baseball is a game of repetition and experienced coaches know that practices must be efficient to maximize the number of repetitions a player can get in a limited amount of time. Many, if not most, have a practice plan in mind before stepping on the practice field. Tardiness disrupts those plans. This not only puts the player at a[Ma2] disadvantage, but can cause a distraction to the entire team. Furthermore, tardiness can be contagious. Why should a parent go to extreme measures to be on time when others appear not to?
Players should learn at an early age that the team comes first. Even in the first year or two of play, players can be taught to keep their bat bag organized and to get ready for practice early. Turn it into a positive game, where the player wants to help the parent be on time by dressing themselves and placing their bag next to the door. If your circumstances simply prevent you from being on time, make sure the coach understands your situation and be prepared to seek out help from other parents via a carpool.
In the end, be realistic with yourself. If the demands of select baseball are simply too great, try rec ball for a season. Stressed parents can lead to stressed players, and stressed players may have difficulty performing to the best of their ability.
Uniforms and equipment
Q. The head coach seems overly concerned about minor details, including what bat or glove player’s use or even what color socks or undershirt players wear. Can those things really make any difference?
Baseball is a game of details and repetition. Few parents appreciate that hitting the ball far is more a function of how quickly the player swings the bat, than how heavy the bat is. Most experienced hitting instructors will advise a player to swing a lighter bat. Be sure to get some advice before buying that $400 bat to make sure it’s the right size for your player. Similarly, many young players develop what a pitching instructor might refer to as a “weak front side,” where a player throwing the ball lets his or her glove hand drop down passively, instead of pulling it to his or her chest actively (which transfers greater momentum to the throwing side). A “weak front side” can often be attributed to players having gloves that are simply too large early in their training (poor mechanics can start at 6 or 7 and be carried forward for many years). A large glove isn’t easier to use, especially by young players.
By rule, pitchers cannot wear an undershirt that is white or light colored, or anything that may be distracting to the batter (in the view of the umpire) on their throwing arm. Thus players with such apparel may have to be pulled from the field and given a chance to change before they can pitch. DSA, local select leagues, and tournaments have rules about how “uniform” a uniform must be (including how closely players must match).
These are all little details that lead many coaches to be picky. Try to support the team and avoid unnecessary inconvenience or expense by following the coach’s recommendations on equipment and apparel.
Q. The uniform issued to my son or daughter: doesn’t fit well, doesn’t wear well, is hard to clean, is losing the logos, or cost too much. What can we do about it?
Damascus Select baseball has identified a variety of uniform options from several major manufactures and vendors. In all cases, the uniforms selected (including pants, jersey, and hat) have been selected to balance cost, durability, and comfort. Baseball is a demanding sport and some players, especially aggressive players, can be hard on their uniforms. Getting “dirty” is considered a badge of honor among players.
Experience over multiple seasons and hundreds of players has shown that some unexpected wear on uniforms does occur. Catchers often see unusual wear on their uniforms where their chests protector or leg guards may rub. Some players have trouble with logos or vinyl transfers coming loose. Many of these problems can be avoiding by changing laundry settings (cooler dryer) or washing jerseys inside out. Especially vexing problems should be brought to the program’s attention so a overall change in the uniform manufacturer or vendor can be considered.
“So your Son Wants to Play High School Baseball?”
A Q & A with Greg Blake, Varsity Head Coach, and Mark Razmic, Assistant Coach, Damascus High School Baseball Program
The following was inspired by, but is not a direct transcript of questions asked during the recent DSA sponsored meeting with Coaches Blake and Razmic. In some instances, additional questions were included to help players and parents understand the demands and opportunities involved in playing baseball at the High School-level and beyond. (Note: Since the time of the writing of this document in 2015, The Damascus Swarming Hornets have won Regional and Sectional titles in consecutive years. The rosters of these successful teams were dominated by players with multiple years of experience playing select baseball.)
Q. What is the baseball tradition at Damascus High School?
A. DHS has a long tradition of winning in high school baseball. As late as 2000, DHS won state championships in baseball. Unfortunately, the program has been less successful over the last decade or so, and we want to turn that around and return the program to its former prominence.
Q. What challenges do you see in bringing the program back?
A. In just the last two seasons, we have made major strides in bringing in a top notch staff and improving the quality of the facilities available for our players, but our challenge is the limited amount of time we have each spring to prepare players for the level of competition we face.
Q. Why are you excited about the current staff at DHS?
A. The current staff is a mixture of guys who all have the same vision and expectation of the program. Specifically, Coach Frye who is the Junior Varsity head coach, is one of the PE teachers at Baker Middle School, which gets us familiar with the kids as student-athletes before they even hit high school. With regards to our volunteer coaches, they are coaches who have coached and played at all different levels (high school, college, pro, public school, private school).
Q. Can you elaborate about your statement that you only have limited time to prepare players each spring?
A. Due to recent changes in Maryland HS rules, we can only coach or have organized team workouts for about three weeks prior to the season opener. Once we are into the season, we have some additional time, but baseball is a complex sport that requires that players develop sound fundamental skills well before they start high school.
Q. What can players do prepare before they get to high school?
A. Develop good work habits and sound mechanics. Baseball requires honing skills through repetition, which means working outside of team practices and in the off-season. Every player should learn to hit off a tee as a means to hone their swing. Every serious player should have a tee and some area to hit into a net. It doesn’t need to be elaborate, but players should take 150 or 200 swings on a tee 4 or 5 times a week. Of course, those swings need to be good swings with a focus on weight transfer and a short, compact swing. Players should also play catch multiple times a week 8 or 9 months a year. Parents can help by making sure players are getting good instruction so this work creates good muscle memory, rather than engraining poor mechanics.
Q. How do you feel about playing multiple sports before or when in High School?
A. We fully support players participating in other sports outside the baseball season, so long as players make an effort to engage in some type of baseball activity each week. Hitting off a tee or in a cage, or playing catch just once a week makes huge difference. Plus, players that participate in other sports often come into baseball in better shape than players who do not work out in the offseason.
Q. What if a player wants to focus on baseball?
Players should constantly challenge themselves by seeking good competition, and to improve in all facets of the game. This region offers many good options for clinics, professional instruction, and a variety of baseball leagues and tournaments that will provide a great opportunity for players to learn and improve. If a player doesn’t feel challenged by the competition or coaches, they should seek opportunities to grow on their own. Try knew positions, or look to add opportunities to play in new settings. That doesn’t mean you have to change teams every season, but the committed player will be given any number of opportunities to play and learn.
Q. What is the most important then a player should focus on before or during high school if they are interested in playing at the college level?
A. That’s easy, it’s academics. Colleges are looking for good players who are also good students. We will work to find opportunities for our players to get a shot at playing college ball, but only if they have the grades. A talented player with 2.0 GPA just isn’t going to get a look from most schools. It’s actually easier for a baseball player to get academic money than an athletic scholarship.
Q. How realistic is it to expect to play baseball at the college level? Is that a realistic goal for players coming out a school like Damascus?
A. We have a great deal of success finding opportunities for our players at the college level. Back in 2010 we sent 13 players to play in college, ranging from JUCO to D1. Baseball has been one of the few programs at the high school which has consistently sent players off to play at the next level.
Q. How large is the typical high school roster?
A. We may have 15 to 19 players on the Varsity or Junior varsity roster, but I have no problem having one or two players that play very little if at all. Obviously, there are no partipation rules, so playing time is determined purely by the coaching staff.
Q. What can you tell us about the tryout process?
Tryouts take place in early March and typically last 2 or 3 days, depending on the weather. We provide little or no instruction during tryouts, but want to see how players carry themselves when no adult is telling them what to do. Do they warm up and stretch properly? Do the pay attention to instructions and remain focused? Do they have sound mechanics or do they appear coachable?
Q. How physically demanding is high school baseball?
Players must be in great physical shape to hold up to the demands of the high school season. The first week of spring workouts focus on developing endurance and physical strength. It’s intense enough that we typically have 2 or 3 players quit during the first week, because they simply were not ready for the physical demands.
Q. What qualities do you see in successful players?
A. Strong worth ethic and self-discipline. Baseball is a difficult and demanding sport where the best players fail frequently and often under the scrutiny of their coaches, fellow players, fans and parents. It’s important that players learn to accept that challenge and to use failure to fuel a desire to improve. Coaches should challenge players to overcome failure and to enjoy playing under pressure. Parents need to support such efforts, and support efforts coaches take to teach commitment, teamwork, and responsibility.