I’ve learned a lot since I first started the Spiders about four years ago. One of the most important lessons that I could pass on to coaches is how to handle player commitments.
For years, I must have been incredibly lucky. Player families made a verbal commitment, and those families honored that commitment. But when that changed, it was a big wakeup call.
As much as I wanted to blame the families for not honoring their commitments, I shared that blame. I created an environment where opting out was an option, even if that option was merely implied.
My first group of Spiders ran from 12u through 14u, from 2016 through 2018. I had never needed to deal with a situation where a family committed and then later reconsidered.
Well, the first season of my second group of Spiders was a different story. I hope you’ll learn from it.
I managed to assemble a roster quickly. Very quickly for a first-year team. We would have 11 players, and I was excited about the group.
After the final commitments were made, I notified other interested families that we didn’t have a spot for them. I even helped them find spots on other teams.
About two weeks later, two families who had committed then changed their minds.
You’ll recall that I had already informed the other interested families that they needed to look elsewhere. Truth is that there were several kids who could have played for us. But, not surprisingly, they quickly found new teams.
Now I had nine players. I would eventually add one more, but I could never find that elusive #11. And I wasn’t going to add a warm body for the dues.
This created challenges. Committed families would now need to shoulder more of the financial burden since costs would be split among 10 players rather than 11. After an injury, we were stuck with nine active players for much of the season. Great for reps, but difficult for depth and rest.
It was my fault. I could have prevented it. At a minimum, I could have created expectations and an environment that would have made it less likely.
Require a Deposit
I was far too forgiving in this area. I learned my lesson.
Initially, I told families that I needed a deposit or first payment towards the season. But the truth is that I didn’t truly require it before their spot was officially secured.
In the case of the two families who changed their minds, I hadn’t collected any money. I announced the addition of these two players to my other families. And I turned away other interested players.
These were big mistakes.
Your spot isn’t secured until a deposit is paid. That deposit cannot be refunded if you change your mind.
This deposit is important for a few reasons…
First, it shows they’re serious. They didn’t just commit verbally, they put their money where their mouth is.
Second, it shows they’re capable of making payments. Travel baseball is expensive, and an inability to make this payment is a red flag. You don’t want to chase families for money every month.
Third, it softens the blow if a family does change their mind. That non-refundable deposit can lessen the inevitable increase in costs if you are unable to replace that player.
Make the deposit at least as high as a typical monthly fee, if not higher. Be clear that while you want this player, his spot is not secured until the payment is made. I apply this not only to new players, but returning ones as well.
Do NOT turn away other players until you receive this payment.
Collect Signed Behavior-Related Contracts
Ever since I started the Spiders, I’ve had contracts for players, parents, and coaches. I admit, though, that I’ve gotten lazy over the years about collecting them.
I’ve learned that it’s important that expectations are set and agreed to BEFORE the commitment is made. We do things differently than most teams. You may not agree with that. You should know what you’re getting into.
While you can require a signed player contract prior to commitment, I’ve found that parents are much more likely than players to be a problem. As a result, I now require a signed parent contract prior to officially securing a spot.
These have actually evolved a bit since I first created them. In addition to adding more clarity around my rules and expectations, I require that each expectation is initialed. This provides written record that they not only agree to the entire contract but to each individual item.
The strength of the language in the contract is up to you. You can have a lawyer look at it if you want it to be legally binding. For me, I want to make sure that we are on the same page heading in so that there are no surprises later.
You Can’t Eliminate the Problem
While losing two players after a verbal commitment last year stung, I don’t regret that it happened. It taught me that I need to handle commitments differently. And those families ultimately decided that the Spiders were a bad fit, so it was good that they found new teams that worked for them.
These steps won’t eliminate the loss of players following commitments. However, it should make your commitments stronger. It should make it less likely that those who commit will change their minds. And it makes the end goal, adding players and families who are a good fit, reachable.
A Message to Parents
This post has been directed towards coaches, but there’s some value in it for parents, too.
Deposit, contract, or not, don’t commit to a team until you’re ready. Ask every question you need to ask to be sure the team is a good fit. You can help avoid making the awkward decision to leave if you first make a well-informed decision to commit.
Is there anything else you do to help solidify your player commitments?
Let me know in the comments below!