Whether or not your youth baseball team uses subs is up to the coach, and opinions on subs will vary from coach to coach and team to team. So the purpose of this post is to help you understand what I do as a coach and why.
I’ll use the following question from a reader as a jumping off point…
If you took nine kids to a tournament, would you pick up three kids to be subs?
The short answer: No. I would not. I realize some other coaches would. And there are caveats to whether I’d take a sub — but I wouldn’t take three in this case.
Let’s take a closer look…
What is a Sub?
Before we continue, a quick clarification is in order.
A sub is a fill-in player who is not a paid member of the team. They don’t regularly practice with the team. They are only joining the team for a game, group of games, or tournament. They have their own, separate, full-time team.
Why Use Subs?
There are a few reasons why a coach may use a sub (I don’t agree with them all), but here are a few…
1. To avoid forfeit or automatic outs.
Players have conflicts. You may have multiple kids on vacation at the same time. Or injuries and sicknesses come into play. The next thing you know, you have seven or eight players for a given tournament.
You can technically play with eight players in most tournaments, but that would usually result in an automatic out when the ninth spot comes to bat. And it certainly isn’t ideal defensively.
2. Out-of-state tournaments with nine players.
Out-of-state tournaments are a big commitment of time and money. You don’t want to go to one of these tournaments, only to have to forfeit due to injury or sickness.
So, if you only have nine players for such a tournament, it’s understandable to want one more as insurance.
I use “out-of-state” as the example because it becomes difficult — if not impossible — to add a player on short notice if you get an injury on the first day. But if it’s local, you are more likely to find someone.
3. Add depth for longer tournaments.
If you’re playing a three-day tournament (or longer), you may want to add a player or players to increase depth. Give kids more rest. Put less stress on arms. You don’t necessarily need competitive reasons, but just watching out for safety.
4. Have a better chance competitively.
Some teams will add a player or multiple players for an important tournament in an effort to have a better chance of succeeding in that tournament. This is where the problems often arise.
Potential Problems with Subs
There are numerous potential problems that can result from adding subs, especially if it’s for competitive reasons only.
This kid doesn’t normally play with these players. Changing the chemistry of the bench could be a bad thing.
This new kid may also put more pressure on himself in this situation. And his teammates may not appreciate his presence, especially if that means less time for others.
I’ve heard numerous horror stories of coaches adding “ringers” for tournaments, giving them additional time over regulars, only to have it backfire. Why? You can’t discount chemistry.
Money is part of it. Parents paid “good money” to put a player on this team. This other kid swoops in, doesn’t pay a dime, and steals time from the player.
But money is just a part of it. Your kid has been working all season with this team and coach. Why should your kid sit in favor of someone who didn’t put in the work?
It’s a recipe for drama.
3. Did you earn it?
For me, this is the bottom line. If you add subs without truly needing them, play better as a result, and win the tournament, did you really deserve it?
Again, I’m not talking about adding a player just to be sure you don’t have to forfeit or give up outs. I’m talking about adding players who weren’t previously on the roster, who don’t practice with the team, and who ultimately take time from the actual players on the roster.
If these players become a big reason for the wins, did your team truly deserve it?
How and When I Use Subs
If you’ve read this far, you probably know where I’m going with this. I only use subs in these scenarios:
1. To avoid forfeits or automatic outs
2. For insurance in out-of-state tournaments
The truth is that my team has regularly played in tournaments with nine players. We’ve won tournaments with nine players. We’ve also played and won league games with eight, while taking automatic outs.
We did have a tournament out-of-state two seasons ago when we brought a sub. The reason was that we regularly had 10 players, but one couldn’t attend. That sub helped give us insurance in event of injury or sickness.
In that case, I actually had the sub contribute to the costs that the team families had paid.
There really is no other time I’d use a sub.
Play With the Players who Got You Here
Look, we all want to win every tournament we can. But it also means a whole lot more to win it with your actual players than to do so while borrowing a few ringers.
And it will mean way more to your players and families, too, if they win it without any external help. If they’re good enough, let them do it themselves. Even if it means doing it with limited depth. That adversity can make the journey even sweeter.
For me, these are the 11 players I’ve committed myself to for a year. The players and families, too, have committed themselves to this team. Let’s win — or lose — together.
Benching players in favor of kids who have no skin in the game is a slap in the face of those who have put in the work — never mind the money spent.
Just One Coach’s Opinion
I’ve had numerous families reach out to me over the years and tell me their child is available to sub if I need him. Repeatedly, I’ve explained that I appreciate it, but we’ll play with the players we have.
I know, I know. Other coaches take on subs regularly. Maybe it’s commonplace where you are. It’s actually not all that uncommon here. Maybe it’s what all of the teams do in order to win.
That’s fine. That’s just not how the Spiders operate. Unless you are paying fees, you’re not a member of the team. And if you’re not a member of the team, I won’t invite you to play unless we absolutely need you.
If You Do Take on Subs…
Make absolutely certain that your philosophy on subs is clear with players and parents. Make sure they know it before they even join your team. Tell them how often to expect it and how it will impact playing time. Also, make your argument for why it’s so necessary.
Communication is important. It doesn’t mean that they’ll understand and it won’t result in drama, but you can try.
Does your team take on subs for competitive reasons? How do you handle it?
Let me know in the comments below!