The Little League in which my sons have played does not re-draft players each new season in Majors. Players, once “titled” to a team, stay on that team the remainder of their Majors careers. At their recent international congress, Little League International nearly voted to eliminate titled players as an option for leagues to utilize. Fortunately, while the measure received a majority of votes, it did not receive the two-thirds required to carry. This means that, for at least another two years until the next congress (and, hopefully, forever), your league can choose to title players. I heartily recommend you do so, and here’s why.
First and foremost, titled players have more fun. There is something about coming back to a new season and knowing that many of your teammates from last year will be there again. Camaraderie and bonding are greater when kids experience multiple seasons together. A few years back, there was a board member in my league who felt titling was unfair, mainly because her son had experienced three losing seasons in Majors. She reported to us, with surprise, that she’d asked her son, who was now out of the league, what he thought. She fully expected him to tell her that he’d hated being “stuck” on the same team. However, when she posed the question, he acted as if it would be ludicrous to consider anything other than titling. His response was, “Mom, titling is the way to go!”
For seven years in Majors, the team I coached was the Braves. I frequently had former players who had aged out of the league, some were even in high school, drop by one of my practices. I always stopped what I was doing and asked them to say a few words to this year’s team and talk about the history of the team, the championships they’d won when they played, and what it meant to be a Brave. I know that the current kids felt the tradition – felt they were part of something bigger. And I know that feeling had a positive effect that was immeasurable.
Kids get to experience leadership opportunities. At the beginning of each season, I always asked my returning “veterans,” to explain how we did things and what was expected. I would try to pair a “rookie” with a veteran when warming-up. I’ve seen returning 12 year-olds who were not the most talented players on the team turn into confident “big brothers,” because they were taking younger players under their wings. Each year, the “rookies,” got to feel like they were being brought into something bigger than just another new team. And year after year that thread continued from returning player to new player.
Players get a fairer shake. Imagine this: You’re the manager of a team and your son is 10 years-old. You draft another 10 year-old player hoping that he’s going to be a good player for you. Unfortunately, it turns out that he’s not the player you thought he was and it looks like this pick was a mistake. If you know you’re going to redraft next season and let this kid be someone else’s problem, what is your incentive to work with him? But if you know you’ve got him, for better or for worse, for the next three seasons, you’ll do everything you can to develop this player’s fullest potential, since it is in your best interest. I’m sure there are some coaches who never give everything they’ve got to kids since they’re afraid that the next season those same kids will use what they learned against them. I know this is a terrible aspersion to cast, but there is some element that is just human nature. Why not eliminate any conflicting thoughts by keeping the kids on the same team?
Which leads to another point: Kids will develop more quickly if they don’t have to re-learn a new system every year. Each year, my returning players already knew our defensive plays and baserunning plays. They already know all of my drills by name. All I have to do is call out, “Outfield Fly-By” or “0-2 Drill,” and they’re on their way. And once again, when the returning players get an opportunity to teach the new players how to do a drill, time is saved and leadership skills are gained. My league’s all-star teams have traditionally not fared as well as surrounding leagues, which would lead one to the conclusion that we haven’t had the best players. However, our League Champions have dominated in the Tournament of Champions vs. neighboring leagues, because we have the best regular season teams. I attribute that almost primarily to the benefits of titling.
I believe I’ve heard all of the arguments against titling. Here are the main ones: “Titling leads to managers picking younger players at the expense of older kids so that they’ll have them longer,” and “Titling causes dynasties where coaches can build great teams each year.” I don’t feel any of these hold water.
Typically, when leagues go to draft, there will be an evenly-balanced mix within the ages of the managers’ children. In other words, if there are six managers drafting, there’s a good chance that a couple have children who are 12 and in their final seasons, a couple have 11 year-olds and a couple have 10 year-olds. And while a manager with a younger child may choose a younger player over an older player so as to be able to develop and keep him or her longer, it is counterbalanced by the managers of the 12 year-olds whose only motivation is to pick the best team for this, their final season. Plus, in Little League anyway, now all 12 year-olds who wish to play Majors must be drafted onto a Majors team, eliminating the concern that titling causes managers to pass up deserving 12’s.
As for dynasties, my contention is that a good coach will win, whether the league titles or re-drafts. The way the LL Operations Manual structures the draft is that the team finishing in last place the previous season gets the first overall pick in every round. This is the way it’s done in the NFL to try and ensure parity. Why wouldn’t this also work for Little League? The answer? It does. This is not to say that, just like in football, some guys can’t get the first overall pick and still not win, just as having the last pick doesn’t guarantee a last-place finish. But the scales are balanced each season with this system so that, ideally, a kid who plays on a non-winning team as a ten or eleven year-old should have a chance to play on a winning team when he’s twelve. And one final point to be made here: If you think this system is unfair to the competitive balance of the league, imagine when you have a few returning managers who have been in Majors for several years drafting against rookies whose children are just coming up from Minors. The Majors managers know all of the returning Majors players – the ones who are going to have the most impact. The new guys only know about the younger, Minors players, most of who will only play part-time. If every team starts from scratch and a new manager makes a mistake on his first several picks because he doesn’t know who the best players were last season, the team has the potential for disaster. At least with titling, every new manager inherits a core group of returning players as a foundation; therefore the effect of a few not-so-great picks is substantially lessened.
There is one pro re-draft argument I have heard that does contain some validity. And that is that there may be situations where a sub-par manager is given a team, and now, as long as he has the job, all the kids titled to that team are stuck with him throughout their Majors careers. But my answer to that is that it’s the kids who are titled to the team, not the manager. And in the case where there is a manager who is not fulfilling expectations, it is the duty of the league to find or develop someone better, so that the kids get an opportunity to fully enjoy their experience.
It amazes me how few leagues in my neck of the woods title their players. And I’m equally amazed when I speak with guys from other leagues, sometimes board members, who don’t even know titling is an option. I’ve heard many say, “That’s how we did it when I played!” But, their league continues to re-draft players each year because, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” I encourage you to explore the titled player option in your league. Once you experience it, you, the players’ parents and, especially, the players themselves, will never want to go back to a re-draft.
Brian Gotta is a former youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels and a baseball coaching book which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org