Secrets of the Little League Draft

Look no further for the secrets of the Little League draft. Or any youth sports league, for that matter, that holds a draft. This is about how we approach drafting kids, what kind of kids we look for, and the honest truth about how parents impact our decisions. Kids around the country are going through their Little League tryouts and drafts, so I thought I would share some of the secrets of the Little League draft room.

Everyone knows about “Little League politics” and all the voodoo coaches perform to get their teams built, but there really is a method to the madness. We go into the draft knowing who our first few dream picks are, knowing who has played for and against us, and who are the awesome or trouble-making parents.

And then during the draft, everyone we really wanted gets picked up right before us and we are left with our strategy: drafting the kids and parents with the best attitudes.

Below I have listed my thought process on the draft and how we go about drafting kids. Much of it is common sense, but sometimes we need to spell it out for those unfamiliar. But a quick disclaimer: every coach is different. Some coaches are reliving their Little League glory days and are cut throat in the draft room. But the majority are putting forth their best effort to give the kids on their team an experience they will cherish forever.

Our Draft Picks

The First Pick

  • This kid is generally well-known, highly sought after, and extremely talented. Each team gets a first pick and it rarely goes wasted. There are a handful of kids of this caliber and they go exceptionally quick in the draft. Generally speaking, the kid has the talent, the experience, and the attitude that you can build a team around. In competitive leagues, he is certainly a pitcher as well.
  • Pro Tip: There isn’t much you can do to help your kid on this one. These kids seem to eat and breathe baseball. They are usually super talented and they are always well-known by their on-field play and behavior.

The Team Mom Pick

  • In a perfect world, talent alone would be the sole measurement of a Little Leaguer. But in volunteer-driven organizations like Little League, the Team Mom is a critical component to the team. They manage the team logistics from schedule updates, communication of league functions, and basically keeping everyone in the know. They are highly coveted and sought after and usually draft quite high. Upon drafting a kid, the other coaches verbally share their complimentary reactions to the pick. “Darn, my next pick!” “She is amazing.” Then valuable draft time is spent sharing a couple favorite stories. 
  • Pro Tip: We love our Team Moms. I personally hate having to do all the logistics that take away from coaching. I also hate having to beg people to be our team mom. Volunteer, help us out, and we will love you forever for it!

The Team Dad Pick

  • Like the Team Mom, some teams are after the elusive non-coach dad. These are the guys who volunteer a few minutes to take care of the field before and after the game so the coaches can get the team ready. From putting in the bases to dragging and chalking the field, these guys are the unsung heroes of every Little League team ensuring the kids get the best experience possible. 
  • Pro Tip: Like a Team Mom, there is not much more I cherish than the dads who take some of the work off my hands. Volunteer, help us out, and we will love you forever for it.

The Pitcher Pick

  • When it comes to youth baseball, pitchers are the key to success. The only metric I truly care about is if a kid can throw hard enough to be a pitcher. We can develop accuracy and technique, but the kid needs to be able to throw a ball hard and and have the aptitude to handle the stress of pitching. I fully understand the tears upon a bad outing, I just want a kid who will still want to go out there the next game and pitch again despite the tears and hits. Plus it makes the kids mentally tougher. Out of 12 kids on my team last Spring, 10 regularly hit the mound for their team. Of course we had our aces, but kids are unpredictable and we always need someone ready to jump in as relief.
  • Pro Tip: You can tell pretty quickly which kids haven’t picked up a baseball since the previous season. I know we are busy, but keeping the kids in other sports in the off-season and playing catch every once in a while will certainly help out in this department. Knock the rust off prior to the tryouts and most of the work is done.

The Catcher Pick

  • Otherwise known as the unicorn pick. Catching is a tough position to play. When the kids are young, everyone wants to catch, but as they get older, it is hard to get more than two good catchers to a team. If a kid is a well-known catcher, they generally will go in the top two to three picks. When we discover we unknowingly drafted a catcher, we throw a little party. 
  • Pro Tip: This one is a bit tougher to plan out for a parent. Kids either like catching or they don’t. No reason to force it because the goal is to enjoy the game. If your kid does catch, we will either know or they need to tell us. We can teach catching, but they have to show interest.

The Heart and Hustle Pick

  • This pick makes up the bulk of the unknown picks in a Little League draft. Our draft forms come with a kid’s name and a few fields to measure each kid. Arm strength. Hitting. Grounders. Fly balls. I usually cross a few categories out and add my own. Many kids are nervous; they miss fly balls, botch grounders; and throw balls to the wrong people. We get it. But this is the kid who hustles from position to position, hustles after the missed ball, and shows an incredible attitude that every coach wants. This kid makes for a pleasant season, win or lose. I’ll take 12 of them.
  • Pro Tip: Remind your kid that the two most important skills assessed in tryouts are hustle and attitude. We can see who “got the talk” and who didn’t almost the second they walk onto the field. 

The Devil You Know Pick

  • Teams are always looking for the remaining “First Picks” left in the bunch. After they go, the names and tryout scores of the remaining kids all blend together. This pick often goes to the kid we know and like rather than the one we don’t know with similar scores. That’s the nature of the draft and really, the nature of life. 
  • Pro Tip: Not much you can do on this one. These kids have played for us or played against us. They did something memorable to stand out, whether it was their attitude or a great play. Maybe we see the kid around the park on off days or know the parents. Often, it is the kid who says “hi” when they see you, even if they didn’t play for you.

The Non-Picks

Trouble-Making Parent

  • When we draft a kid, we draft the full package to include mom and dad. I don’t know how to say this without being a total jerk, but a trouble making parent will wreck a kid’s chances worse than a bad tryout. When I mentioned we consciously draft our team moms and dads, I am not joking. I hate drama and will go out of my way to avoid it so I can do what I love to do: coach. These parents are the classic helicopter parents, the parents who have an opinion on every aspect of the game but won’t volunteer to help, and the parents who create drama wherever they go, distracting us from coaching.
  • Pro Tip: Don’t be that parent. Unfortunately, that parent usually doesn’t know that they are the problem or, more likely, don’t care. But we know. And care.  

Lazy and Bad Attitudes

  • I think I hammered the good attitude point home already, but I will continue because attitude is that important. I am a coach, not a babysitter, and certainly not the kid’s parent. A bad attitude will kill a team’s experience and ruin baseball for everyone. 
  • Pro Tip: Discipline! There is only so much I can do to get a kid’s attitude adjusted. Sure, running foul poles help from time to time, but attitude is so much deeper than being able to correct it so quickly. Help me coach your kid!

The author is on the board of Washoe Little League, coaches his two children regularly, and has both sons playing for the Scorpions Baseball Academy.

If you enjoyed this article, check out A Coach’s Promise To Your Kids and Help Me Coach Your Kids, both based on the author’s experience coaching community baseball. As always, thanks for your support.

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