I think most of us have had to deal with having fill-in players join our teams for a game or two. In general, it can be a great thing. It’s nice to know that you won’t have to forgo playing because a player can’t make it on a certain weekend, and it’s just part of the “business”.
Sometimes travel teams have trouble getting players to commit for games every weekend, which is understandable because you know…LIFE. But, (and there is a but here) it can be an upsetting issue for both the parents and players of the original team and also the fill-in players, if it’s not handled right.
What is a fair scenario for these players? One problem from the coach’s perspective is that he or she must decide what this player’s role will be for the games he’s participating in.
Also, from the perspective of the fill-in player, there is a level of feeling like an “outsider” with an established team that must be taken into account. They’re kids and we want them to feel comfortable playing with our team.
Then there is the issue of giving playing time to a fill-in player, hence taking time away from the original players on the team. These different issues can upset players and parents. It’s not the end-of-the-world kind of upset, but we are human.
One thing that has always bothered me about fill-in players is that sometimes they are treated like they are doing our team a favor. Some coaches will allow them to avoid paying the tournament fees that the other families are paying and that can cause irritation among the parents.
I feel like every game for a player is an opportunity to play and therefore, they should contribute to the cost of the game whether they are filling in or not. It is their opportunity as much as it is my kid’s. Not asking for the family to contribute to the cost the rest of the parents have to bear creates a feeling that the kid is a special player and it certainly can cause sour feelings among the team parents.
My son has been asked several times over the years to be a fill-in player and I have always felt uncomfortable when he stepped into another player’s position, or when we offered to pay were waved off with, “Don’t worry about it.” And I felt the glares of the parents when my kid went to shortstop or batted first. Maybe it was real or maybe it was just my own guilt, but I just didn’t feel quite right about it.
Whatever the situation brings, we have to remember that life and sports can be complicated. Not everything is going to work out perfectly and we have to be flexible. Life is really too short to worry about all of these details, and hopefully your regular players won’t miss many games so this won’t happen very often.
Knowing how to be a good sports parent is not something we’re born with, and it requires us to navigate these issues carefully so our kids learn but don’t become entitled without hard work.
In the long run, the most important thing to instill in your kids is doing their best, hustling, and being great team players. That way, whether he is asked to be a fill-in, or is one of the players who may be giving up his spot for a fill-in player, he’s considered invaluable and is judged on the desire for the team to win.