Leaving a known situation and joining a new team is a big move. You can’t do so blindly. You must make an informed decision, and to do that you need to be prepared to ask the coach specific questions.
Some of the questions may seem obvious but others will be less obvious. You want a good fit. The answers to these questions could help you spot a potential problem before it happens. You can then decide how important these things are to you before it’s too late.
How Many Openings Do You Have and Why?
Having openings is normal! Ideally, you’ll keep all of the same kids and families forever, but that’s just not realistic. That said, a lot of openings could be a sign of trouble.
Get an understanding of why these openings need to be filled in the first place. Does the coach routinely cut players every year? Do players and families leave every year? You may need to follow up with people other than the coach if you don’t feel like you’re getting the full story.
Also, if there are too many spots to fill, regardless of the reason, it can be a major red flag. Will the coach be able to fill all of these spots? Will he add players and families who could create problems in order to fill those holes?
How Many Players Will You Have?
The number of players on a roster will have a significant impact on playing reps. The larger the roster, the more you should be concerned about your child — particularly if he won’t be one of the main stars (which is never guaranteed).
A “small” roster is typically around 10 or 11 players. This may lead to lots of playing time, but that size could also result in a regular need for guest players (we’ll get to that question, too).
A large roster will require more kids sitting more often, and that can become very difficult to juggle.
What Are Your Philosophies on Playing Time?
This is closely tied to the number of players on a roster. Does the coach make reps for all a priority? If so, how does he do that? What examples can he provide?
Does playing time look different in pool play versus bracket play? This is common. While it’s not a deal-breaker, you need to understand how it will be handled. Are some players less likely to play in big games?
Will the entire lineup bat? All the time? Sometimes? This could also tie back to the pool play versus bracket play question and playing time. It’s also closely tied to the size of the roster. At a certain point, there’s just no way that everyone will bat, and that’s why it’s important to understand that about roster size going in.
What Are Your Philosophies on Using Guest Players?
You could join a team of 10 or 11 players, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that playing time is guaranteed — especially if the coach regularly brings in guest players.
The use of guest players is often a point of contention. You need to understand when and how often guest players will be used. Maybe start with how often they were used in the prior season.
Also find out how a guest player will be used. Where will they generally hit in the order? Where will they play in the field? How much will they play?
The Spiders historically rarely used guest players, but we had so many issues with injuries, illness, and conflicts during the past season that my approach had to change. Even though we consistently used a guest player or two, they always hit last. They only played the outfield, if they weren’t pitching. They pitched to help save our arms, and my goal was to use their innings in pool play or less important games. And they’d sit more.
But some coaches look at guest players as if they are full-time players. They hit at the top of the lineup. They take infield spots. They play more than some kids.
This approach can lead to all kinds of animosity — and for good reason.
How Would You Describe Your Coaching Style?
You may have a general sense of this heading in, but there may be things beyond closed doors that you never see. It’s important that the coach’s style will work well with your child’s personality.
Is the coach a yeller and intense? Is he calm and quiet? Does he talk a lot, giving constant instruction? How does he correct players?
There isn’t necessarily a right and wrong when it comes to coaching style, but some styles absolutely don’t work for all.
What Does a Typical Week Look Like?
It probably depends on the time of the year, but get a sense for what a typical week will look like. How many practices? What time of day? Any league games? When and how often? Will you have weeks or weekends off from tournaments?
You need to know the time commitment ahead of time and how it works both with your schedule and your child’s.
How Do You Treat Other Sports and School Conflicts?
If your child plays other sports, this will be important. Does the coach encourage playing other sports? Will your schedule and occasional conflicts be okay? Or will he hold it against your child?
Maybe missed practices will result in a player’s benching. Maybe your coach has animosity for players who play other sports. You need to know this.
Do You Have Any Rules or Expectations That I Need to Know?
It’s very likely that the coach has rules or expectations that may be different than what you’re used to. It’s best to know this up front.
Hopefully, they have rules and expectations in writing that you can see. The Spiders have individual contracts for parents, players, and coaches so that nothing is ambiguous.
Sometimes, parents and players aren’t trying to be difficult or intentionally breaking rules. They simply do what they’ve always been allowed to do.
An example of this is hanging around the dugout and talking to their child during the game. We don’t allow this on the Spiders, but it’s not an emphasis for all teams. It can be an adjustment, so it’s important for parents to know this early.
What Does Travel Look Like?
Don’t commit to a team without knowing this. The amount of travel can add quite a bit of unexpected costs as well as time commitment that you may not be able to afford.
Will the team stay in state? Will they travel some? How often and where?
Some locations are more expensive than others, and many of the costs won’t be covered with team fees. Don’t assume anything. A lot of travel can simply be too much to expect for some families, whether it be due to cost or getting off of work.
How Much Will it Cost?
The coach should have at least a general idea and fee schedule. Unexpected costs come up. The season probably hasn’t been completely planned yet. But there should be a clear idea of what the costs should be.
How does the coach expect families to pay? Will it be up front or regular payments? What will that look like?
What happens if money is left over at the end of the year? The Spiders give this money back, but I’ve seen that this is certainly uncommon.
How Do You Manage and Report on Finances?
Transparency is important here. Do they itemize a budget and report on what has been spent? How does the team keep track of this and how can families find out what has been spent and what is owed?
Money can be a source of team problems, particularly if families don’t trust that the money is being spent wisely.
This is a good start, but what other questions do you feel need to be answered before joining a new team?
Let me know in the comments below!