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Experience with 'voluntary' high school practices?

Original post made by Tyler Hanley on Mar 16, 2007

The Palo Alto Weekly is interested in hearing from current or former high school athletes and their parents who have experience with "voluntary" practices prior to the formal start of season practices and tryouts.

Please feel free to either post your experiences here or e-mail in confidence to

We're interested in whether pre-season sports practices were actually viewed as voluntary or as essentially a prerequisite for making the team. When did these pre-season sessions start and what role did coaches have in informing players about them, running them, and keeping track of who was and wasn't attending?

Comments (28)

Posted by Sports Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 16, 2007 at 3:21 pm

Do you mean the kind where the Assistant Coaches (or Coaches) charge for voluntary practices as a way to supplement their income during the off-season? I know baseball and football are both in this category. The abuse potential is obvious - the kids who pay may well have a better chance to play. This practice appears to be so ingrained that the head basketball coach at Paly plays a major role in selecting the 6th grade A intramural basketball team at Jordan Middle School, and skews heavily in favor of those who attend his summer camp. We are talking about some coaches in some sports making $20-30K on these 'voluntary workouts'/travel teams over the course of a year.

The abuse potential is very, very large. I am surprised that our school district does not have a policy on something like this. It would be like a teacher offering to tutor students after class for $100 an hour to 'supplement' their income.

Posted by Runner, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 17, 2007 at 9:29 am

I am a runner at Palo Alto High School. A week or two before the school year starts, we have cross country practices. There is no extra for these practices. For track, coaches come throughout almost the entire offseason, and again it is not an extra charge.

Posted by lm, a resident of another community
on Mar 17, 2007 at 5:07 pm

I think the Weekly is asking about a sports practice that is called voluntary to get around high school sport rules. For instance, if organized football practice isn't allowed to start until August, coaches have "voluntary" practices in July. It is called voluntary but you better show up or the coach will not be happy. There is no charge.

Posted by Former coach, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2007 at 6:35 pm

I coached at one of the high schools in Palo Alto for quite a few years. We ran off-season "open gyms" for free at the request of the players. We did not charge for them and sometimes I paid for gym time out of my own pocket. Whether or not a kid showed up for the open gyms had nothing to do with whether the kid made one of the teams once the season started.

CCS has very strict rules regarding when practices can begin, and how many hours of practice we're allowed to hold during the pre-season. (You can check them out by digging around at if you'd like.) I don't think that either of the P.A. schools in my sport violated these pre-season rules, but we would get as many hours of practice in during the pre-season as we were allowed because we knew our opponents were stretching the rules. It makes it tough to compete sometimes, but we held our own in a tough league.

I know of at least two private schools that claim that the off-season practices are voluntary, but they really aren't. One coach I know of who used to charge for open gyms got fired for his many attempts to squeeze money out of the players and their families. He was a terrific coach, but stood there with his hand out so often that the school got rid of him.

Posted by questionable, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 17, 2007 at 6:48 pm

What is the feeling of the Paly baseball coach now becoming a Babe Ruth coach with a group of "future Paly" players. Does that stretch the rule of off season practice? Does that give these 13/14 yr. old players a better chance of becoming the future Paly team because they have already been playing for the coach?

Posted by Jeff, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 17, 2007 at 8:45 pm

Sports Parent: How exactly do football coaches supplement their income? Do you know what coaches earn in the first place? What are these football players charged for? Do you mean the participation fee or camp fees? Neither of these go to coaches. What's your real motivation for these accusations?


Posted by Former coach, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2007 at 9:50 am

In response to "questionable," being a coach of younger players as well as a high school coach is pretty normal in other sports. In basketball, check out the NJB system and you'll find some high school basketball coaches. There are softball coaches coaching ASA softball. In volleyball, the club system is a way for coaches to make some actual money coaching and in many cases, coaching their own players.

As a matter of fact, Mt. View High School has a club team that for years was made up mostly of Mt. View players. They were required to play for their high school club system unless they received a waiver from the head coach.

It's really not that unusual. Check out the college basketball, volleyball, swimming and track coaches who work with high school age kids to supplement their incomes. (Most coaches at just about every level are paid next to nothing -- these aren't the $2 million/year college head football coaches we're talking about.)

At the school where I coached, the off-season practices were run for free. Perhaps we should have charged something. By the end of the sports season, I was usually in the red because of the stuff I bought out of my own pocket for my team.

My check from the district said I was paid $18/hour for 2 hours a day, 5 days per week -- but I can assure you that I put in a lot more than 10 hours a week, especially if you count the off-season work. I did the math one year, and it came out to under minimum wage. I was offered a similar position at a private school, and would have made about 50% more for the same time commitment, but by then I was pretty burnt out on the parents and politics.

Posted by district employee, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 18, 2007 at 6:17 pm

The school district High School pools have been used in the past all year round by the coaches for private swim lessons. District headquarters has no clue by who or when the pools are leased. Churchill delegates the leasing of the pools to the sites and many abuses occur. Coaches hand out the keys, or worse copies of the keys like candy. Have coaches supplemented their incomes by charging for off season conditioning practices? Are they circumventing CCS rules by having "open" pools during the off season? Are there non school district organizations using the High School pools without paying user fees and providing insurance? Currently I don't know. In the past absolutely.

Posted by questionable, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 18, 2007 at 7:25 pm

Thanks "Former Coach" for your comments on coaches. It is unfortunate that our high school coaches are not paid better for all of the hours that they spend. I competely understand a coach's need to supplement their salary. I guess that leads me to wonder even more why a coach would want to volunteer to coach (unpaid) a Babe Ruth team and then how much of an advantage will these players have when it comes to Paly tryouts.

Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 18, 2007 at 8:31 pm

Coaches are absolutely using the off-season to train their players. They are also using the power they have over these players (or prospective players) to get them to join their club teams, which even further blurs the high school coach-player relationship. The former Paly girls soccer coach actively recruited his best high school players to his club team. In my opinion, the answer is to establish a rule that no high school coach (or assistant coaches) may coach, train, teach, etc. a high school athlete during the off-season...period. It's fine with me if they make money in the off-season training athletes, it just shouldn't be their own high school athletes. High school principals don't realize the pressures the current system creates, especially for "bubble" players.

Posted by AParent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 18, 2007 at 8:36 pm

For as long as I've known about Paly baseball, there has been an overlap between the community leagues (Little League, Babe Ruth, etc) and the high school coaching staff and I do not think it gives any player an advantage or disadvantage. It is a small sports community and the players are, in my experience, very honestly evaluated. Remember the coaches want to win--especially at the high school level--and it would make no sense for them to "favor" a player over another unless the favored player is also just the better player. In the community leagues, all of the coaches observe and interact with their own teams and the opposing teams very closely as they all play each other multiple times, so they are exposed to all the players and the coaches also discuss the players in detail during all-star selection. So I don't think that makes a difference and in fact they tend to know the kids quite well, unless of course a player is brand new to the district.

In my experience as a parent, the voluntary practices were truly voluntary. If a player had tests, other commitments, etc., that was always understood. The voluntary practices were a good way to get in shape and conditioned before the intense season/practices began, and I think they therefore help to reduce the chance of injury during the season, as well as increase the level of play. It was never a problem in my experience.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 18, 2007 at 9:17 pm

My experience has been somewhat different, and I think AParent is missing the point. I'm not worried that the coaches will somehow not select the best players...of course they will. What they don't seem to understand is the pressure having off-season practices puts players under who may want to be doing something else besides baseball during the off-season. Missing a "voluntary" practice to take a test and have it excused by a coach is very different than missing a "voluntary" practice because the player would rather be experiencing something else, such as another extracurricular activity...or simply hanging out with friends. As for conditioning, I'm all for it and would encourage it...just not led by a coach. If the kids know the coach puts a premium on being in shape, then the kids who want to make the team will make sure they are in shape when tryouts begin.

Posted by Just an observer..., a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2007 at 9:43 pm

It is the prerogative of the player if he wants to go to a voluntary workout or not. Same goes for playing for a coach during the off-season. In theory, an athlete gets better by practicing. If they choose to go out with their friends, so be it, but there are others who will choose to work on getting better. If you were to ask Wally Pipp, I am sure he'd give you a similar opinion.

Posted by LL Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2007 at 10:17 pm

Not sure if this is too far off topic, but since we are talking baseball, there is also the topic of nepotism in the competitive leagues of little league, and I believe Babe Ruth. When 9 and 10 year olds see favoritism in sport it is difficult for them to work it out. Teams of majors and all stars are often filled with those who are popular, or with those where it is known the families are willing to put in the extra voluntary work that goes along with the team position. I have seen many talented players not included and lesser (often poorly skilled) players in teams for reasons not apparent until the parents involvement becomes apparent.

Posted by Eileen, a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2007 at 11:59 am

We live in another community, if you want to play high school baseball and especially football you definitely must attend the off-season "workouts" - they do strictly follow the league/county rules about when they can actually throw a ball. For football our boys take one week off when school gets out and then have workout sessions 4 days a week for 2 hours until the rules allow formal workouts. This practice also continue after the season and again all must participate, unless you are on another team i.e. track, baseball, etc., --- I don't know who pays the coaches, I've always assumed it was the school district - I do not it is not the parents or players.

Posted by Eileen, a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2007 at 12:05 pm

I also wanted to add comments regarding baseball. Our high school has preseason workouts for baseball also. The trick for us is that the county does not "support" JV teams. So the team that is chosen can not practice on school grounds etc., They play in a "county developmental league" - this is all a way for the county to not have to pay for the JV season - supposedly because they had to open up a Girls Flag Football season since the girls couldn't play on boys football. --- The big thing here is AAU baseball. This is outside of traditional little league and is also referred to as "travel teams" - these are teams where parent pay (around $400.00) for their kids to play - the kids have to tryout for these teams and they are for the more skills kids - but this is definitely political - and who you know... The issue is that being on the 14U team gives you a difintely up on getting onto the 16U team - and the 16U is basically the JV team for your high school.... -- on the one hand by the time the boys are 13 they should be playing on these more competitive teams to get them ready for high school ball, but on the other hand it is very difficult to get your kids on these teams - particularly if you are new to the area. -- as a final note - the school, coaches, and county CLAIM that they don't give consideration to if the kids played on these teams - and that they don't decide based on who they are -- but they most definitely do NOT decide based on skills.

Posted by Former Coach, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2007 at 2:39 pm

Eileen ... $400 for an "travel team" is extremely cheap. Seriously check out some of the club volleyball websites or NJB basketball. The cheaper club volleyball teams will cost you $1200 for a season, and the premier clubs can set you back $5000 or so, thanks to all the travel -- several tournaments that require airfare and many nights in a hotel.

When I coached in the private club system, I switched age brackets regularly. I only coached an age bracket that overlapped with my high school team once, and I only had one of my school players on that team. I spent enough time with them during the regular season that I really didn't want to see them all through club season. I also learned some of the strategies used by other coaches, and filed those away for use during the school season. I prefer age groups older than my usual high school team. I've also coached younger kid (middle school age) but just can't stand the constant drama.

There are many leagues that I know of, mostly on the East coast, that prevent high school coaches from having their players on their off-season teams. One of my former players is now a coach for an east coast private league and has given me a lot of information about how that state runs things. It's very interesting.

This has been a great discussion. I'm almost missing coaching!

Posted by Tyler Hanley, online editor of Palo Alto Online
on Mar 19, 2007 at 5:43 pm

Tyler Hanley is a registered user.

Former Coach,

Could you provide some details on the leagues in the East Coast (or anywhere else) that have rules preventing high school coaches from having their players on their off-season teams? We would like to pursue that information and any contacts you might share with us. If you prefer, please e-mail me off-line at


Posted by Palyviking, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 19, 2007 at 7:38 pm

AParent pretty much nailed it, at least when it comes to baseball. There is always overlap, and there is always the politics, but when it comes down to it, the best players will play/make the team, and high school level coaches are more than able to make those judgements without other factors clouding it. I suppose having the coach as a coach in another setting does give you an advantage in that they get to see you play more/connect with you, but it also gives them more opportunities to see your weaknesses which could hurt you equally as much.

As for the voluntary workouts, the true purpose is to get in shape before the season starts, which does give you an advantage, but only as much as the level of work you put in. Yes it can be a drag, but if you truly want to get better, you do it. While many other sports such as a soccer and swimming go right from school season to club season and are essentially year-round, the "club" opportunities are much more limited for baseball and the workouts are a good opportunity to get yourself back in playing shape after time off. Coaches are understanding about missing these practices for pretty much any valid reason, but it is true that if you are continually missing them for no reason other than to sit on your couch and watch TV, it does reflect your level of commitment to getting better and work ethic is definitely a plus when it comes to tryouts.

For the most part however, the workouts are not a huge factor. The only place I could see it making a difference is if it comes down to two kids who are equally skilled, and one has been making an effort to improve and coming to workouts, etc and the other hasn't worked out all off-season and skipped all the workouts, the coach would be more likely to take the kid who works hard. This year for example, of the kids who were realistically within the range of skill level necessary to compete at the high school level, only 1 was cut at paly, and he was at almost all of the workouts, hence, they are not a deciding factor by any means.

And to "Parent" about having conditioning not led by a coach: Coming from the perspective of a high-school athlete I can say that for myself (and most of the kids out there) it is very hard to not only devise a workout plan beneficial your sport but also to motivate yourself to go out and work hard every time out there without someone watching you/timing you/pushing you etc. Some kids are capable of doing it themselves, but I know that for myself, I work much harder and have better results if I am in a situation where the workouts are supervised by someone.

Posted by Parent of Three, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 20, 2007 at 12:18 pm

My son was told, by the JV soccer coach at Paly two years ago when he was a Freshman, that he couldn't even go out for the team because by the time he got back from the required TEAM science trip to Yosemite, the soccer team had been chosen. I made a big stink because I spoke with the teachers in TEAM and the head of the athletic department at Paly before the Yosemite trip and was told that they would have tryouts when the kids in TEAM returned. They never did. Instead soccer tryouts occurred during the Football season, while my son was on a required science trip. After I made a big fuss about it, my son was placed on the JV team but was never played in a game. It was very sad, mean-spirited and wrong. He continued to play club soccer at a competitive level, but didn't get his fair shot at a spot on the Paly team. In fact, most of the kids that played with him on the club team are now on Paly's soccer team. There was no reason to tryout after Freshman year, since the same coach was there. I think Paly might have another coach this year, but since my son is now a Junior, it was too late to tryout for a spot on the JV team. Those kids that had been on the team beginning Freshman year, had the varsity spots all tied up. The coach at Paly was horrible. He was mad at me for bringing the unfairness of the tryout situation to his attention and took it out on my son. What a negative experience. Soccer is a sport my son has played year-round since he was five. He loves it but has given it up.

Posted by theproblem, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 28, 2007 at 10:00 pm

To Parent of Three: Not that I assume to know anything about the situation other than what you posted, or the skill-level of your son, but at a purely literal level, this post is a great example of what I believe is as much a problem we are talking about with practices and such - and that is the perception of parents.
Now I know you hate to think this, but maybe there was a reason other than missing tryouts for the TEAM trip that your kid did not play? What happened to the other kids who went on the trip? I can't believe that he was the only one who played soccer, and if the rest of the soccer kids who went on the trip got cut/did not play, there is an issue, although I have an inkling that did not happen. Maybe the fact of the matter is that your son just plain wasn't good enough to play and that is why the coach didn't put him on the field.
For the most part, coaches are not interested in taking out a personal vendetta against a parent if it hurts the team. Coaches want to win, and often times they will bend backwards to help players get on the team amidst cloudier circumstances if they are good. If the player sucks, they won't. Maybe your son sucked.

Sorry to be so harsh, and if the situation truly was different than what I described, than I apologize and so be it.

Posted by Agreed, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 14, 2007 at 5:22 am

I agree with the last post regarding the student that didn't make the JV team. On top of it all, maybe there's a point where the child (and from this situation, maybe the parent too) needs to choose what activities he'll participate in. If he wants to be in the lottery-selected TEAM program, then there will be positive and negative consequences... such as missing a school dance or soccer try-outs.

Is it fair to the other students that had to try-out in a massive group and maybe were overlooked (and thus cut) that a student gets to have his own private tryout because they had a scheduling conflict? Of course not.

On top of it all, from what I know about High School athletics (and yes, I did play soccer at the high school level in Palo Alto), the coach would have definitely found a way to include your son on the team if he were "good enough" to make the squad. The fact that he was eventually put on the team after the fact, but didn't play, only strengthens this point.

What most likely happened is that the parent (you) complained and complained and, as a measure to make you go away, they gave in and put your son on the team. What you don't realize is that your son saw your behavior and learned (negatively) from it. Not only that, but his teammates on the team "knew the score" and that it was his pushy parent that got him on the team, only augmented by the fact that your son received no playing time.

I wish you realized what a disservice you did to your child.

Posted by natasha, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 14, 2007 at 7:46 am

I have experienced favoritisim in the PAUSD system from kindergarten on, so I think it is rampant in this area. I have also experienced parents being incredibly pushy and demanding for their children more than everyone else got. But I think that for me the point of Parent of Three's post was that she CHECKED to make sure her son could try out, was told that try outs would NOT be during that TEAM trip, and they they weere. That just seems unfair to me. I am all for letting kids succeed or fail on their own merits (although I frankly think this gives my kids a perceived disadvantage compared to the other kids whose parents lobby on their behalf, but I value the life lessons my kids get more than any temporary disequilibrium in the palying field). I am puzzled by why that would have happened -- maybe he could have come just for the tryouts, maybe no one else on TEAM in fact was interested in trying out, who knows. But it doesn't seem right that someone would go to the trouble of finding out ahead of time about the situation, only to have it changed without notice. That seems arbitrary. If they had been informed up front, I'd be more inclined to say, hey, that's life. So while I agree that parents can be really obnoxious in their zeal, if what Parent of Three says is accurate that doesn't seem to be what happened here. Of course, none of us was there so we can only go on what we hear from this person, but it seems the critics have been forgetting the original premise in attacking parent of three.

Posted by Agreed, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 14, 2007 at 9:20 am


Boys Soccer Try-Outs are held pretty much the same time each and every year, at least since the mid 80's. It's about during week 7-8 of the football season. It's also worth pointing out that try-outs usually last a full week and are broadcasted in the announcements for all students to hear.

The parent even admits she "made a fuss" about it and got her son put on the JV team as a freshman.

Miscommunications, if that's what this is, happen.

I just wish the student himself took a little more responsibility on this issue. I'd wager he knew full well when try-outs were going to be. What's wrong with him speaking with the soccer coach directly? It's not the job of our parents to hold our hand for our scheduling conflicts, definitely not at the high school level.

I know parents like "Parent of Three" and how they treat their child. They're not doing them any favors. I guess that's my point.

Posted by natasha, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 15, 2007 at 2:37 pm

Agreed -- I can't comment on Parent of Three specifically, but I agree in general with your comment. It sends me around the bend too when parents step in and smooth the way completely for their kids, other kids and rules be damned. And my kids are only in elementary school so I dread what will happen when they are up against that shark tank on their own in high school. The wonderful book "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee" addresses this issue and I think every parent in this area should read it and take it to heart.

Posted by Agreed, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 15, 2007 at 8:41 pm

Thanks, natasha. I'll take a look at the book.

Posted by bringcolomboback, a resident of El Carmelo School
on Apr 16, 2007 at 11:54 pm

uh, no shit theres mandatory "voluntary" practices during the off season and in season. That is the only way that a public school like paly can compete with wilcox and gatos. Both Wilcox and especially gatos, pour money and time into there sports programs, especially football. they have structured required workouts during the summer and all the teams have "passing league" which is a mandatory "voluntary" 7 on 7 league, with tournaments on weekends. As a player who did all this stuff, it was super fun. It's the moms with kids who suck, or the moms who want to take the whole damn summer to go the europe with the family that ruin the fun for the legit players. trust me if your kid actually is good and likes the sport, they will want to go for the fun of it, or atleast so it makes them better. In varsity athletics, the kids are treated like men and expected to act like it. they have fun, but know that winning is the number one priority. I personally have torn cartilage in my knees, and have had mujltiple concussions from high school football. THe parents who have played a sport at a high level, realize the work and sacrifices that it takes to be a high performing athlete, so they know that system works. It's some of the parents who are by no means athletes, past or present, that complain about sports interupting their family time, always coddeling their kids.
So, the moral of the story is: I really don't like touchy feeley, super rich, self rightous parents.

P.S. Bring back pete colombo. the best baseball coach ever. ever. no seriously E-V-E-R! BRAH! and El Carmelo Represent(best athletes stupidest kids).

Posted by bringbackcolombo, a resident of El Carmelo School
on Apr 16, 2007 at 11:57 pm

paly also competes with bellarmine, serra, st francis ets. Also gatos and wilcox are both run like private schools.

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