An Open Letter to Youth Sports Organizers Everywhere


My kids are now 14, 11 and 8. And they all have played, and continue to, sports in our town’s youth programs. With the exception of my daughter’s soccer, all of the other sports are coached by parents–usually dads, with a mom every now and then.

The first season or two when my oldest son played, it became clear that some of the parents didn’t have sports backgrounds, or were just in it so that their own kid didn’t get stuck playing defense all the time, or didn’t get stuck in the outfield where no balls every dared.

So I have coached my share of sports: soccer, flag football, baseball, and basketball. And I’ve coached “Rec,” which means that everyone who comes out, plays, even if they have zero athletic ability or interest. And I have coached, “Select,” which is better, because you actually get to draft a good better team.

But every season, as the tryouts or drafts draw near, our local Rec organizers send out pitiful email about needing coaches and they make sure to remind us that without more volunteer coaches, teams will be large and kids won’t get much playtime. For those of us with kids who are actually good, the thought of having to play with kids who are not, but who also get equally mandatory play time, is just defeating.

So, more often than not, I find myself volunteering to coach (again). A couple of years ago I coached basketball and I swore, “Never again.” But, this past winter the call for coaches came down and once again I found myself volunteering. It went, as expected.

We played 5×5. I had 8 kids on my team. There was a draft, but it was a draft of all the kids who came out. So, your first pick was usually your own kid, since most of us coaches had kids who were good players, and so they were ranked high and therefore our “First Round Draft Pick.”

It quickly went downhill from there. By the time you’re on the 4th round, you’re having to pick from kids you had ranked at tryouts as piddling at best and your only goal was to get someone who could at least take instruction and had some little bit of athletic ability.

I ended up with:

  • My son (first round), who is fast and a decent shooter, though when he’s rushed, his shooting percentage goes out the window.
  • Another good player (second round), who was big and aggressive, but as the year progressed, he just wouldn’t shoot.
  • An athletic and quick kid from my son’s football team. By this time in the draft the choices were slim and I had to pick kids I didn’t know who “might” be good, or kids I did know who I at least knew were coachable. As it turns out, this pick was good on “D” but only made two baskets all season
  • One other kid (4th round) who was very athletic, but who missed the first two weeks of practice due to LaCross. And then missed several more practices and a couple of games. He was a non-factor.
  • One surprise pick up (5th round) who ended up being my overall 3rd best player. He wasn’t a shooter, but he was hell on defense!
  • My 6th-8th picks were “hat picks,” meaning, by this time in the draft, no one wanted to “pick” anyone, so we literally put their names in hats and you got what you got. Unsurprisingly, they were not good players. One of mine was always late, spilled his water on the floor during games almost weekly, and asked me ridiculous questions, almost nonstop.

We had a decent year. We started out 4-0 and then just sort of unraveled ending up I think either right at 500, or slightly below it. I had two kids who could shoot and that was it. It’s hard to win that way. But it is what it is.

I was so frustrated by the end of the season that I drafted an email to the league, which I never sent. I’ve been pretty vocal in the past and I paused before sending this to make sure I wasn’t just being petty; and then I just never sent it.

In retrospect, I don’t think it’s petty. But, I also don’t think they care. That said, if you’re in a position of running a youth sport in your community, and you rely on volunteer coaches; this is something you should read:

Dear [league organizer],

Not knowing what opportunity we will have to provide feedback in the post-season, I would like to offer some thoughts based on this season.

To start, 8 kids is too many. Most of mine showed up for every game, so I had three kids on the bench most of the time. It’s especially too many when some teams get 2 hat picks—3 really if you consider the final round of actual coach picks, a hat pick, which it pretty much is. This means that at any given time, I have at least one kid on the court who literally has no idea what he’s doing and usually another kid who rarely comes to practices. That means I have two kids on the court at all times that have no clue what’s going on.  Forget about trying to run a play.

Maybe not all coaches had this issue, but I had a kid with obvious behavioral problems that I was constantly having to deal with both on the court and on the bench, but he came to every game. Couple the above with the playtime restrictions and how complicated it is to sanction kids who don’t show up for practices, but show up for games, and you really make it not fun for coaches.

Now I know the argument here is that it’s Rec ball and it’s supposed to be fun and non-competitive and open to everyone. But the reality is that you’ve got some really good players out there and coaches—like myself—who put in a minimum of 8 hours a week prepping for practices and games and playing them. These players, their parents, and us coaches take it seriously, and we all should. Anything worth doing, is worth doing well. But it’s a disservice to all parties when coaches are forced to play kids who never show up for practices, alongside—and at nearly equal playing times—kids who want to be out there and who have put in the work. The process for documenting and dealing with these kinds of issues are ridiculously onerous and frankly, it puts the coaches in a horrible place with parents, rather than the league taking up the issue and dealing with it.

I’ve coached every sport my kids have played in Roswell: soccer, football, basketball and baseball. Every year the Rec sends out messages pleading for coaches and every year, moms and dads step up. But it feels like the love goes right out the door the moment you get your team. I’ve sent requests for things this year that went unanswered for weeks. On top of that, we had tournament brackets released at the last minute (I know you were waiting on some older kids’ games to finish, but our age group was done on Monday, and we didn’t get the standings until Thursday, the day of the tournament) with seemingly no respect for the fact that in addition to coaching, most of us have full time jobs, plus other kids playing sports, etc.

Once the season starts, it’s parents first and coaches last—one of the league’s members even said that in the coaches’ meeting. And I’m sorry, but that’s wrong. Without the parents who step up, there would be no teams, plain and simple.”

There. I said it. Time to move on.

Building a Backyard Batting Cage

A couple of months ago, my oldest casually mentioned in a Thank You letter to his grandpa, that he was saving up for a “batting cage,” (wait…wha?) and that the money they sent him for his birthday was going to that.

Now, I’m certain he made that up, having neither had that conversation with his mom or I, and having no idea how much room they take up or how expensive they are. But before I knew it, I had in my grubby little hands, a check from said grandpa. A very generous check to be sure, but not near enough to buy a pre-built batting cage large enough for two Big Leaguers.

And thus did my adventure to build a backyard batting cage begin. Like all great adventures, it began with painstaking research into batting cage. Should I buy a kit with everything you see here necessary to build a cage, or should I buy the pieces a la cart? There are pros and cons to both and I’ll outline them here:

A Kit Cage:

  • It’s all there
  • Yeah, that’s pretty much the main benefit and it’s a biggie.


  • Unless you can afford to spend upwards of $2,500, you’re going to get something sub-par. To keep costs down, most manufacturers give you a lower quality net since generally speaking the frame poles have to be of such and such quality .

DIY Cage:

  • Less expensive probably by at least a 1/3
  • Yeah, that’s pretty much the main benefit and it’s a biggie (see what I did there?)


  • Good luck finding one vendor who sells everything at the lowest price. What you’ll find is that one vendor sells the net cheaper, but their connectors are more expensive, etc.
  • You will need to find, purchase and transport the frame poles yourself. Yes, your local DIY megamart may have them, but I’m in Atlanta and the closest HD or Lowe’s that had them was about an hour away.

Being frugal and trying to stretch the funds from grandpa, I spent days finding all of the things necessary to build a batting cage. Some of it I got off, but most of it was just random suppliers both online and locally. Here’s a list of everything you’re going to need and you’ll see that it’s much more than just a net and poles. I’ve included links to the products I purchased and as of right now, they are the cheapest, for the same quality, that I could find (and I’m not getting paid for this…hint hint…)

  • A quality net. Many online vendors sell a #21 weight net with their cages, which is probably fine if you’re not sure your kid will play ball more than a couple of years. If you have a real player, you’ll want to upgrade to at least #36
  • Galvanized frame poles. Some people use PVC pipes, but I think you really need galvanized “Top Rail” fence poles, either in 1 3/8 or 1 5/8 inch. A 45′ net made of #36 material is only about 60lbs, so you don’t need a super duty frame. I found my poles at a local fence supply company at about $4 cheaper per pole than the DIY megamart. Course…I had a truck to transport them home so that saved some $$.
  • Frame connectors. Here’s where you need to be careful. Many vendors sell these in “kits” based on the size of your cage, but what some don’t consider is how your frame is designed. For instance, I bought a kit designed for 40-45′ cages (mine is 45′). But they assumed I was building my frame using 15′ poles, so I only needed “x” number of 4-way connectors. But not so! I can’t transport 15′ poles in my truck, so i bought 10.5′ poles, which necessitated two additional 4-way connectors (which I’m still waiting on!). You also need 3-way connectors for the frames on each end.
  • Don’t forget about “anchors” because you don’t want your nice, new net blowing away. There are several ways you can go about this. You can pour concrete footings and stick your poles in there, but that’s really permanent. Optionally, you can purchase tie downs and that clamp to your frame bolts. You can also purchase anchors that you nail into the ground and then stick your poles into.
  • A tensioning kit that includes wire to string up along your frame to keep your net from sagging.

OK, so you have a net and frame, so you’re done right? Nope. You also still need:

  • A home plate so you can reference where to pitch to
  • An L-Screen to protect yourself from  your 14-year old when he’s hitting balls back at you in a 10×10 foot tunnel
  • A backstop so that you don’t put holes in your net from plunking junk pitches at the batter
  • You’ll probably want to put down some kind of ricochet dampening mulch to keep balls from popping back up and killing you.

All told, I’m in for probably $600 more than expected and after more than a month after I started down this path, the cage still isn’t built. But, once it’s up, it’s up and we won’t have to drag out to the local park and hope no one is in the cage.

If you’re looking to build a backyard batting cage, I hope this helps.

batting cage diagram