When we started the Gamers program in 2007, my youngest son was 16 years old and a charter member of the Gamers. The “established” team program in the area wrote a scathing post in STLTODAY’s sports forum (anonymously of course), calling the Gamers “daddy-ball”. It was the first time I had heard that term, but I knew it probably was not a good thing. It has bothered me since because the term was clearly directed at me, not Dave, Scott or Matt.
Now it has been 7 seasons since my son was a Gamer and I have been coaching as a non-dad. I am a much better baseball coach now than I was then. And, the Gamers now have paid coaches up and down the organization, and exclusively from 14 up.
It takes a really special person to be a good dad coach. I was terrible at it. But, these exceptional people are around. We have had some incredibly good dad coaches in our program over the years, who run their teams like Gamers teams and graduate great players at 15u into in the Gamers HS program. These coaches do an excellent job and go above and beyond in achieving the goals of the Gamers program. I have tremendous respect for these guys and the Gamers program has been built on their efforts. With these guys, it is nowhere close to “daddy-ball”.
But, unfortunately, they are the exception.
So, what is “d-ball”?
It is coaching baseball with the primary mission/goals focused on the coach not around the players. “D-ball” coaches are not necessarily bad people, they are just coaching for the wrong reasons.
No one admits to being a “d-ball” coach. But, it is easy to spot using some telltale signs:
How They Act and Talk:
A lot of emphasis on recruiting and behind the scenes deals to get early puberty and physically developed players surrounding the coaches’ son(s) — they pretty much know every kid’s name on every team in the age group and treat them like chess pieces.
On the phone a whole lot with parents. More time talking to parents, than talking to the players
Lot’s of opinions on other players, based on limited observation data and limited experience in talent evaluation (BTW — college coaches would NEVER listen to a dad coach)
Smug sales pitch focused on their “selling point”– telling people what they want to hear, like “all the best players, etc..”. If it sounds too good to be true …
Big focus on results, little focus on process of playing baseball
Big focus on now, little focus on 3 years from now
Drama … in the dugout, on the field, and in the stands.
Small rosters and pick-up players to maximize that “last roster spot” (i.e. players as chess pieces — if the roster is full, it’s hard to play chess)
How They Practice and Play
Systematic favoritism – OK with some parents as long as their son is on favorites list. But, eventually players hurt on both sides of this equation.
Poor practice organization, because everything is done from the dad’s perspective. Lots of standing around in lines for ground balls and cage time, with limited instruction or development of core skills — like arm strength, footwork or bat speed. But, the dad coach is busy all practice.
Results based instruction — fielding a groundball with bad technique is rewarded, booting a groundball with proper technique is criticized.
Batting orders and positional lineups built around the favorites
No focus on athletic training and nutrition as the players get older. This really hurts players as they progress to 13 and 14u.
Pouting and negative body language after mistakes are made. Drama on the field, in the dugout and in the stands.
Little true energy put into playing the game right. Just lots of words with no enforcement, especially if son is culprit. I have never seen a d-ball team where the pitcher backs up bases — almost always in the middle of the field pouting after a double.
The scoreboard matters more than how the team plays.
When discussing a loss, immediately jump to BLAME — always one particular play from one particular player — ignoring the other 20 outs in the game. It’s always “that one play” . Reality of course is that is NEVER that one play in baseball.
That’s how you spot a “d-ball” team. Sadly, we have had a few in our program as the years have passed. It never works out.
Some “d-ball” teams can be very talented and win lots of games and trophies if the coach is a good recruiter and has a good sales pitch. Heck, some club programs have become the umbrellas organizations for “d-ball” teams. It is easy to sell jerseys, rent cage time and just outsource coaching to “d-ball” coaches with their own agendas. It’s easy for the club and works well for the “d-ball” coach looking out for his own interest.
But, the “d-ball” process eventually ends the same way …. other players catch up physically, the sales pitch wears thin and parents/players get a clue and start looking out for their longer term self interest. At this point, the players unfortunately have to jump off onto a steep learning curve on how to play the game right. Sometimes, there is nowhere to jump to.
Why do parents put their sons in these situations? I am not sure, but my guess is that:
- It feels good temporarily — everyone is looking for easy success (note — in baseball it does not exist for 99% of players)
- The sales pitch tells them what they want to hear, and they do not see through it
- They are on on the positive side of favoritism (at least temporarily)
- Some parents enjoy the drama, politics and water cooler talk. So, it’s a good fit for the parents.
- They do not truly understand the alternative model, which is more work, harder, imposes discipline and is challenging