As the softball coach at Dallas High School in Pennsylvania, Joyce Tinner has seen her share of all-star games. The Dallas Kiwanis Club has sponsored what is now known as the Robert L. Dolbear Senior All-Star Game for Wyoming Valley Conference players for the past 36 years, using Dallas’ home field.
With her school and a local club heavily involved, Tinner has found herself as head coach five times, an assistant this year and offering some form of help in other seasons. She offered seven suggestions for managing the one-time all-star game.
1. Encourage Teamwork
The players are only going to be together once or twice to compete in a game that involves a lot of individual skills. Tinner makes sure there is interaction among the short-term teammates who might know each other primarily as opponents.
“The most important thing is for the kids to develop a relationship with the other kids,” Tinner said. “You need to try to build some camaraderie and have them get to know each other a bit.”
2. Communicate Goals
Tinner lets players know that she considers equal opportunity to be part of the game, but achieving this requires some adjusting because the number of players per position is not always balanced.
“I like to put people in their best positions,” Tinner said. “I ask kids where they feel most comfortable as a primary position, but also in a secondary one. I get everybody in the best I can, but I can’t play everybody multiple innings at their favorite position and still give all of them a chance to play.”
3. Create Memories
High school all-star games, which are often in senior-only formats, often represent the last chance for long-time teammates to play together. When Tinner has multiple players from the same team, she tries to get them on the field together one last time.
4. Plan Playing Time
Tinner suggests having a plan for distributing playing time going into the all-star event. This often depends on the game’s format. There might be mandatory plate appearances or defensive innings to manage. Tinner aims for equal playing time, but regardless of the approach, a larger bench of quality players requires more advance planning than a typical game.
5. Make A Checklist
In addition to creating a game plan before the first pitch, Tinner suggests assigning somebody to check off that all the playing time goals have been or are being met as the game progresses.
“I want to be fair, so we, as coaches, have a checklist to make sure everybody played three innings, or everyone got in at least four innings when we played a nine-inning game,” she said.
6. Put Away Signs
In most cases, Tinner does not believe in telling players they have to bunt in an all-star game or manage other strategies. She suggests creating some guidelines or expectations, then letting the players go without the risk of miscommunication from learning a set of signs for one day.
“If they want to steal, steal,” she said. “If they want to bunt, bunt. I tell them, ‘I’m not going to give you signs.’
“I want them to have a chance to showcase what they think they can do.”
7. Leave A Little Leeway
Tinner emphasizes fun, fairness and a chance for players to showcase the reasons they were selected as all-stars. But it’s still a competition. Tinner hopes to build in just enough flexibility to her game plans so she can make in-game adjustments.
“If someone is playing real well, you might want to keep them in because, in the end, that might give you a chance to win,” she said.