As humans we all pick favorites, despite our best intentions. There will always be players you like more than others. There is no use trying to deny it. Instead it is important to acknowledge to yourself, in private, which kids rub you the wrong way and which kids you naturally gravitate towards. This way you can be more honest with yourself and consciously try to not show favoritism on the field. The same goes for the parents. Just because a kid has an annoying dad doesn’t mean you should punish the kid. Pride yourself in being fair and just, viewing the players objectively. If you start playing favorites, people will notice and you will lose the locker room. Be mindful of how your actions are perceived by your players.
Everyone is equal
Treat the D1 commit the same as the kid who can’t hit a ball over 80 MPH. Hold them both to the same standards. If the D1 commit is late by 5 mins to the game, he doesn’t start, and the kid who did show up on time gets his spot for a few innings. If you have rules, they apply equally to everyone, even if it means losing a game. Make it very clear what your expectations are of the group. They are adults and can make decisions. If they want to skip practice to attend a field trip, that is their choice, but let them know that you have an obligation to start the players that practice and show commitment. Again, this is not your team, the players can make their own decision, it is your job to enforce the team rules, not to force players to do anything they don’t want to do. We are not a Dictatorship, we are a Democracy. Be clear about the laws, and apply them equally to all.
Playing time is a great motivator
Reward hard working players with at-bats and innings in the field, even if they are not your best option. Everyone should feel like they have a chance to help the team. There is nothing worse for a player (and parent) than to attend practice every day, work hard, and feel like they will never see the field. Again, no game is more important than making sure every player feels respected and is having a good time. If you lose a game because you played a kid who isn’t very good, who cares? Playing Time > Winning. An easy trick is to START a fringe player and give them an at-bat, then replace them with the better option. When you take out the fringe player tell them “I wanted to give you the start today because you have earned it. Keep working hard and you will always get opportunities on this team.” That player may strike out, but you will have given them a jolt of confidence that will make them want to get even better. One at-bat won’t mean much to the team in terms of end results, but it will mean the world to the kid who has been sitting the bench for two weeks.