How Many Players do you need for a Travel Softball team?
One of my friends is thinking about starting a travel team this year. I’ve described some of the main items you need for a travel team in this article, but one of the more common questions I’ve been asked is around the number of players you’d need on your team to account for injuries, vacations, etc.
So how many players do you need for a travel team? The ideal number of players that a travel team should carry would be 11 to 12. Although you can get away with 9 or 10 players, that leaves very little leeway in case of injuries, and vacations. On the other side, having more than 12 players creates issues with providing players with ample playing time.
Although I believe a travel team should have 11 to 12 players to strike the perfect balance, there certainly are arguments in which you could go with more or less. There are also several factors a coach and/or manager should consider when selecting their player pool as well.
The Math Behind Roster Sizes
If you are a bit analytical like me, you might be curious how many games could be lost over a season based on the number of players you have on your roster.
Assuming that you play a 60-game season (7-innings per game) and that bench time is spread evenly throughout the team, the following table represents the number of games missed on the bench and the percentage of games played given a particular roster size (hopefully my math is right!):
|# Players||Innings (Games) on Bench||Bench Games per Season||Bench Games per Player||Playing Time|
|9||0 (i.e. 0 games)||0||0||100%|
|10||7 (i.e. 1 game)||60||6||90%|
|11||14 (i.e. 2 games)||120||10.91||81.8%|
|12||21 (i.e. 3 games)||180||15||75%|
|13||28 (i.e. 4 games)||240||18.46||69.2%|
Another way to look at this is over the course of a 60-game season, if you join an 11-player team instead of an 13-player team, you can expect to play a little over 5 1/2 games more on the year.
What exactly is a Travel Team?
You might be wondering what a travel team is and how it differs from the team your daughter plays for now. We’ve outlined more of these details here. However there are a few important distinctions:
- You travel more than in recreational leagues
- Travel ball provides higher competition
- When playing on a travel team, more commitment and consistency for both games and practices is required by each player
- In a Travel team, you generally have the same teammates and coaches for the entire season
- Travel ball is more expensive than recreational ball
- Many players are recruited for travel ball or have to try out
With all of these considerations, roster construction, and therefore the number of players, becomes quite important. After all, most parents don’t want to shell out a large amount of money if their daughter won’t see the field that often. Along the same lines, most players don’t want to make a large sacrifice and commitment but not be able to roster a full team in tournaments.
Smaller Roster (9 or 10 players) Advantages
As mentioned in the previous section, one of the main goals for players on a travel softball team is to be on the field. They want to showcase their abilities, help their team win, and perhaps be seen by college scouts.
So if playing time is what every player wants, wouldn’t it make sense to carry a smaller roster of 9 or 10 players?
There are certainly teams that take this approach as obviously the main benefit is that it leads to much more playing time than with a larger roster. It also leads to more improvement from your players. I think we can all agree that seeing the kids improve is incredibly valuable, and the easiest way to accomplish that is by providing them with more game experience.
Smaller Roster Disadvantages
Everything so far sounds great for a smaller roster – more playing time, and more opportunity which results in better players.
However, there are some items that you should be aware of before keeping your roster to 9 or 10 players.
Players MUST be committed
This shouldn’t be a huge surprise, but when carrying a small roster, teams have to be prepared for absences such as sickness, vacation, and other activities. It would be nice if all players could commit to every game, but that is highly unlikely.
If you carry a small roster of travel players, you should have some spares that can be called up when needed. As you can probably tell, careful planning is required when having smaller rosters along with the ability to adjust when the unexpected happens. The last thing you want is to have to forfeit a game due to lack of players!
Players MUST be versatile around the field
For the most part, when carrying a small roster, players must be flexible and be able to play multiple positions around the field. The last thing you want is to put more strain and dependency on your players to always play at certain positions. If your team lacks depth, you are essentially rolling the dice game in and game out. Imagine losing your catcher and not having anyone to replace them with?
This includes pitching as well! You certainly don’t want your pitcher throwing the ball game after game. This is especially true in tournaments where you may be expected to play multiple games in a single day.
Therefore, when building a small team you have to ensure that you are selecting players who can play multiple positions and pitch when required.
Example Lineup Card for 10-player teams
Here is an example table reflecting a lineup of 10-players in a game.
- 7 different players have to sit on the bench for one inning, while 3 play the entire game
- Flexibility is quite necessary especially when switching positions and keeping confusion to a minimum
- Catcher and pitcher are more than likely your toughest positions to move around
The Case for Larger Roster Sizes (12+ players)
So far we have concentrated on when smaller size rosters can and can’t work well for travel teams. I wanted to also look at the opposite scenario where you carry a large team of 12 or more girls. This is actually quite common once a player reaches the high school level, but at a younger level more benefit would be realized by younger players getting onto the field and having at bats.
As you can guess, many of the advantages for smaller roster sizes become disadvantages with larger rosters and vice versa. For example, here are some of the larger team size advantages:
- Players don’t require the same level of commitment as there are a sufficient amount of backups to be able to play
- Vacations, sickness, and other activities don’t cause as much strain on a team
- Less versatility is required – players can specialize more at a particular position
- Players who want to pitch more are able as they will receive more rest
- More friendships could develop with more players on the roster
As for disadvantages, many larger teams experience the following:
- Less playing time which leads to less game experience especially if you are not one of the top players on the roster
- Fewer at-bats
- Frequent lineup changes in that in any inning you could have 3 or more switches to those playing on the field
- Increased potential for feuding amongst teammates
Example Lineup Card for 12-player teams
As we provided earlier, here is a different lineup card where you carry a 12-player roster. This is a very simple example and in reality the “Bench” would be spread out more than what I’ve outlined to account for positions players excel at.
- No one plays the entire game
- All but 3 players sit for 2 innings assuming that you keep an even distribution on your team
- It is easier to move players around into various positions
Conclusion and My Thoughts
As you can see there is a lot to consider when determining the roster size for your travel team or for when you are joining an existing team. As a player ages and they become more ingrained and committed to softball, they will be part of larger teams.
However at a young age, my opinion is that a roster size of 11 to 12 players represents the perfect balance of providing sufficient playing time while still accounting for absences and team depth.