The Ruffnecks Choice – Selecting a Program Matters

The month of August brings the “Season of Tryouts.”  And the timetable gets moved up for countless teams and programs each year! Often tryouts are followed by pressure to get families to “commit” and plunk their money down for a roster spot.  Equally often, that pressure is accompanied by the anxiety that “my son will have no where to play if we don’t take this offer.”  This is especially prevalent at the 13U level, where players make the transition from the small diamond to the big diamond.  It can be a frenzied time, ripe with questions and information… and misinformation.  How does a player or a family tune out the noise?  Selecting a program matters… so does selecting a TEAM.  Buyers beware!  Some red flags and considerations follow:

  1. Does that program have one team, or multiple teams at a given level?
  2. Be sure the program is specific about which roster you are assigned to.
  3. If you are told you can “play up,” be careful.  Get a definition.
  4. Daddy Ball: Is a parent coaching?
  5. Know how many returners there are on rosters.  Ask to speak to some of those families.
  6. Tryouts – How are they run?  What do they evaluate? How many? Do returners try out?

The 13U Year – An Important Choice

13U Together

The Ruffnecks program and selection process believes in the “Golden Rule,” particularly at the 13U level:  The Golden Rule is that players and families should take their time, without pressure… just as anyone would want to be treated.

The Rufffnecks do not hold traditional “Tryouts.”  We build our rosters slowly and deliberately.  We evaluate and select new players to the program as a Staff, not solely by the coach of a given team.  Our entering class of 13U Ruffnecks is chosen with consideration for several qualities: Baseball IQ; Baseball “I will”; Athleticism; and parents who are willing to step aside and let the program do the coaching.  We do not build our rosters from cliques of players who follow each other or a coach along the path of empty promises.  We interview and speak to every candidate and family.  There comes a time to make a decision, but it is fair to permit both sides to be deliberate and thoughtful.

13U Ruffnecks Experience: Entry Point to the Program

The 13U Ruffnecks is the first year in our program.  We do not run 12U or younger teams.  We believe that “Baseball Begins at 90,” which means the 90 foot diamond.  In recent years the program has attracted candidates through referrals, word of mouth, and our reputation for development.  We use our Fall Baseball Program to meet, teach, and learn about players… not tryouts in the middle of August.  13U candidates are encouraged to participate in Fall Baseball where we work with 40 to 50 players, teaching what we do.  The Fall Program is staffed by the coaches in the Ruffnecks program and other professional associates.  We have over 15 coaches working with our Fall Program.  We bring considerable coaching talent to the 13U experience with instruction.  We find it the most effective way to observe, teach, and evaluate boys who might be a fit for our program.  Participation in the Ruffnecks Fall Baseball Program is neither too much nor too little; it is compatible for those who participate in other fall sports.  It is a six-seven week (Sundays Only) program that provides opportunities for most boys to make enough of the sessions to benefit from the Fall.  We clearly communicate our selection process throughout the fall.  Patience, confidence, and the desire to be a Ruffneck are important attributes in our selection process.  Ability is important, of course, but these are 13 year olds!!!  The all grow and develop with different timelines.  We look for purpose, focus, and enough ability to grow.

The Slippery Slope

There are several pitfalls at the transitional stage of 13U baseball:

  1. The “All-Star” mentality that comes out of the 12 year old year is vulnerable to the promises of continued stardom and success, sold by some who aggressively recruit 13 year olds.  Boys and families are enticed by the prospect of winning with a “bunch of good players.”
  2. There can be a “Herd Mentality” that takes clusters of boys to one team or another.  Of course geography plays a role, but we try to draw from a wide range of communities.
  3. The race to puberty is not a predictor of future success.  Size and strength provide an immediate advantage, but they are not predicting factors.
  4. There is considerable clutter and too many choices at the 13U level.  Families often simply do not know what they are looking for.

Our 14U Ruffnecks is an extension of the 13U program, but with a much higher level of competitive challenge.  Our 14s participate in challenging tournaments and play against older competition.  We experience very little attrition from 13U to 14U.  We add to the roster, and roles become more defined.  We are usually able to consider 3 to 4 new players at the 14U level.  We do not take players we feel we cannot develop.  Our 13U roster numbers 15 players.  Our 14U roster is similar (though we go to 16 or 17, depending on the number of 9th graders).

College Development Program: 15U to 18U

We consider graduation class as well as age, positional roles, and the ability for each player to contribute to a given roster.  Generally, the “Senior” College Prospect 18U roster is for rising seniors.  The 16U roster is comprised primarily of rising juniors.  Accordingly, our 15s are mostly rising sophomores and younger juniors.  We have no tryouts, nor do we do private evaluations.  It is best for new candidates to participate in our Fall Baseball program (outside) or our Winter Workouts, which are extraordinary sessions held indoors at Harvard University.  Winter Workouts are by invitation only, though new candidates may inquire.  Our network of professional scouts, high school, and college coaches also provide recommendations for players who may benefit from the Ruffnecks experience.  These rosters may have as many as 20 including “pitchers only” (with no more than 13-15 getting at-bats).  Expectations are clearly laid out upon enrollment.

Baseball Development One Level at a Time

People have questions.  Each summer, between late June and August we field well over 200 new inquiries.   Not all register to become candidates, but folks want to know who we are and what we do.  As the program continues to evolve and garner more attention, the task of defining ourselves for prospective players and their families has become easier.  Why?  Because we continue to refine what we do, and we deliver a quality and purposeful developmental path for serious baseball players. And we ONLY field ONE team per age/class level. The integrity of the single roster per level, and the opportunities players get to play and practice with older and younger Ruffnecks is a distinguishing quality of the program.

What We Do

We coach and develop.  We build teams that are part of a Program.  After all, the Program is the TEAM of the teams.  We travel with a unique (and challenging) travel model.  We play a lot of baseball at all levels.

What We Do NOT Do

We do not actively recruit and solicit players; we prefer they find us through referrals and reputation.  We do not run a 12U team to feed our development system; we begin on the full-sized diamond.  We do not build our 13U (entry-level) roster with the biggest, most mature players so that we can win at 13; we look for athletic players and supportive families.  And we do not easily “kick players to the curb” who have been developed at 13u & 14u as long as they have put in the effort and can define a role for themselves.

We have our failures, to be sure.  We do not succeed with every team and every player.  Indeed, there are players who leave the program, though our attrition is quite low.  When they leave, it is because we either could not help them further, or because they felt their baseball objectives would be better met elsewhere.  We do not field “Showcase” teams; Our teams play great competition, wherever that takes us.  We do not do Parent-Coached baseball.  Parents are not in the dugout or on the field.  Period.

The Landscape

The New England Ruffnecks stand out at a time when there is considerable confusion regarding the options for baseball instruction, participation, and development.  There are literally hundreds of options for a boy graduating from the Little League diamond to life on the Big Diamond.  “Daddy Ball” teams, facility-based teams, “elite” teams, “scout” teams, and “college prospect” teams litter the landscape, often making claims that are not be supported by what they deliver.  New offerings and teams crop up each year, often formed by parents, coached by parents, or led by parents with the ability to rally a group of kids and families.  Some programs enjoy short-term success, and some are sustained only as long as those parents or coaches have a child in the program.

The Ruffnecks are not the only choice.  There are several other fine programs working hard with good players.  But thoughtful families must navigate the landscape carefully and thoughtfully.  The good choices are not simple and certainly not plentiful.

Our Objectives

Billy Seidl

The Ruffnecks are committed to keeping our objectives simple: At the younger ages we prepare players for high school varsity competition.  From 15U and up, we are a college development program.  This does not mean that every 13 year old who enters our program will go on to play college, but it does mean that our curriculum is designed along that track.  We do not select the biggest, baddest, players at 13, nor do we care.  We do however, attract good players who become better, and eventually many of them become very good players.

We absolutely believe in a steady addition of “new blood” and consider new candidates for every roster, every year.  However, we are selective.  Rosters expand as the teams get older and roles become more defined.   We do not take players who cannot contribute.  Players play.  We encourage multi-sport athletes and believe they are among the best baseball players in the long run. As players grow through the system, they develop a self awareness about themselves as student-athletes.  This means that they begin to realize what kind of ballplayer they may become at the next level and what colleges and universities are realistic.  Indeed, the focus on their development is not entirely as baseball players since no program can wave a magic wand to get a sub-par student recruited to an academic institution.  Ruffnecks rosters are assembled with four criteria as the principle determining factors:

  • Age & Graduation Class (HS).  Is the player young for his class or age appropriate?
  • Ability (Talent)
  • Projected Role
  • Positional Needs.

Understanding the Culture

15U Pre-Game Meeting in Georgia Hotel

Players and families, once they are past the transition to the big diamond at 13 and 14, come to realize that there are really very few programs focused on development.  We do not claim to reinvent the principles that have guided baseball development for years.  We try to adhere to those principles.  Our rosters provide depth and talent and are built to compete.  They are larger than most.  While we care that all our players play, we are concerned that they discover and carve out a role for themselves.  Accordingly, most players used to being on the field all the time must adjust their expectations. The physical and mental demands of the Ruffnecks program are significant.  We undertake a rugged schedule at ALL levels.  We work hard to attract good, dedicated, professional coaches.  We keep parents at arm’s length.  For players who prefer to enter showcases, attend college prospect camps, or do other events to give themselves exposure to recruiters, we are NOT the program.  Ruffnecks believe that there is still value in playing with a team, as a team, and in the context of team objectives.  Individual skills and talents are best developed and displayed within the framework of team competition – one level at a time.