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Don’t Like It? Play Better.


I’ve written a number of articles in the past about how being a good teammate and a coachable person will get a player farther in sports; this is 100% true. However, we sometimes get wrapped up in what we deserve based on the effort we put in. However, parents and athletes both need to understand: in the end, it’s about performance. Let’s discuss…

What Sports Teach

Sports are useful in teaching numerous character traits. These traits help prepare young men and women for the “real world” (if there’s really such a thing). The following list is not exhaustive, but contains many important traits built through sports participation.

  1.  Work Ethic
  2. Overcoming Adversity
  3. Time Management
  4. Personality Management
  5. Teamwork
  6. Coachability
  7. Discipline
  8. Expectations Management 

The last one, management of expectations, is the topic I want to touch on today. I learned many lessons throughout my career in baseball, and one such result is an almost strange paradox:

  • I want players to understand that their work ethic and resolve are the most important things they control.
  • However, they do not deserve anything for having a good work ethic and resolve

The word deserve is self-serving by nature. “I did this, therefore I should receive that.” I have a major problem with this attitude regarding anyone’s work ethic. The world is cruel, there is randomness everywhere, and there is often not an immediate correlation between work ethic and success in sports. In short, many of the nicest, hardest-working people continue to get the short end of the stick. This is because, in the end, performance matters most, and performance is what keeps one’s job.

Up The Ladder

The reason that performance matters most is for the exact reason sports exist: sports need fans, and fans pay the bills. Exciting athletes on winning teams bring in more fans (and thus money), and the coaches and owners of those teams keep their jobs. When a coach strings together a few losing seasons, guess what happens? He loses his job. When players slump for extended periods of time? They get released.

I remember watching the College World Series a few years ago, and ranting about how bad the pitch-calling was, even among the top teams in the country (they throw a million breaking balls, and a high percentage of coaches call the game). The guy next to me said, “Well, those coaches aren’t interested in letting kids think; they want to keep their jobs, so they call the pitches they want to see thrown.”

It made a lot of sense. Even at developmental levels of sports (i.e. college), coaches need to win games to keep their jobs. So, they protect themselves in a number of ways, one of which is controlling the game from athletes who may or may not make good decisions. However,  being allowed to make those calls themselves – right or wrong – is the best thing for their development. Nonetheless, many coaches don’t allow for that, because they try to minimize errors that might jeopardize their own job. Coaches who want to keep their jobs will do their best to keep them, which means taking the best players.

Imagine You’re A Coach

You get paid $150,000 a year to coach your team, and you have one slot left for a player, and it’s down to two. The following is all that is known about each player:

Player A 

  • Excellent player – one of the best available. Would rank in the top 15% of your team.
  • Moderately troubled past – known to party too much but you’ve seen worse.
  • Not a terrible person, but a number of reports that he’s a selfish teammate.
  • Not overly coachable. Exhibits a bad attitude from time to time.

Player B 

  • Would rank in the bottom 30% of your team.
  • Stays completely out of trouble, and is never an issue
  • Hard worker – hustles, loves the game, puts in extra work
  • His teammates and coaches love him.

Who Do You Pick?

We all want a team of personalities like player B. And when a guy has the player B personality, with skill like Player A, he goes really, really far. However, that’s rare.

Personally, I was always the Player B type, and in my career I found that coaches always chose Player A when they had the chance. And, if I was a coach, I would also choose player A nearly 100% of the time. Why? Because performance matters more – as a coach, you deal with a certain amount of less-than-ideal personalities to assemble a winning team. You deal with a certain amount of crappy, obnoxious parents. You only cut them out when they become bonafide cancers, where it is absolutely certain that a player’s (or his family’s) personality and habits hurts the team more than it helps the team.

In six seasons, with tons and tons of player turnover in each one of them, I only saw two players get removed from teams due to “Cancer” status. Two out of 250 or so different personalities is a very small percentage, and there were a LOT of guys among the other 248 who were any combination of selfish, lazy, arrogant, uncoachable, etc. But, their performance kept them on or off the field in 99% of decisions.

Why I’m Telling You This

As much I root for little guy (I once WAS the little guy) I still have no sympathy for them. There are a few realities that we all need to understand, both as parents and players:

  • Teams will almost always put the best players on the field
  • Teams will almost always keep the best, and cut the rest
  • There will always be players who get playing time due to “political reasons”
    • You can’t do anything about it, so deal with it. 


  • But, understand that your hard work might still get you nowhere. That’s life.
  • And, you may work three times as hard as a guy who is still better than you with little to no effort.
  • You’ll play well and lose; You’ll also play poorly and win.
  • Being a good teammate, nice person, coachable player – these are GREAT things, but they don’t guarantee, earn or cause you to deserve anything. 
  • Work harder because you want to, because you believe in yourself, because you want to try and earn playing time.

It’s Not Our Job As Coaches To Reward Hard Work

I firmly believe in this. When it comes down to playing and producing a winning product (which is necessary for both the player and coach to keep their jobs, it comes down to rewarding good performances with more playing time.

Off-field traits like being a good sport, being a good teammate, and working hard are the things we hopefully develop in a career in sports – they lead us to having a happier, more productive life. But, they are NOT an end in themselves in the sports world. Rather, the performance is always the end. Everything else is the means to that end.

The only way to reward hard work is by genuinely, fairly earning the things that are worked for, and that means putting up a genuinely better performance that outcompetes that of a teammate. Just because John is nice, works hard and cheers for his buddies, doesn’t mean he should get to play over them, even if his buddies are arrogant jerks. If John doesn’t like it, he needs to work harder and play better. And, in the end, he might work as hard as he possibly can and still not earn playing time. That’s life.

Why I Wrote This

I think the lesson that life isn’t fair is as important as any out there. And, despite being very much the champion of the overlooked, undersized kids, I’m also going to be the first to remind them that life doesn’t owe them anything, which can be the unfortunate side effect of a young player working hard and falling short. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes, one that quiets down any complaint about playing time, politics, “deservedness,” etc…

If You Don’t Like It, Play Better.



  1. Great message Dan. I train a few minor league ballplayers at the moment and one of them (Colt Hynes) AA Dodgers repeats this quote all the time. Especially when he hears someone complaining about how things are. Thank you for the insight into the life of a professional athlete. I’m in the process of teaching my high school kids these same lessons. Keep pumping out the truth!

    • I’ll have to check in on Mr. Hynes – if he keeps himself accountable, not putting blame on outside influences, he’ll be in great shape to keep getting better.


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