Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Parental Instincts and Youth Sports

I just read a good article by AP writer Martha Irvine about the extremes families go to these days to help their kids succeed in youth sports. Yes - more on travel ball, "elite" training and spending thousands of dollars on tournaments, gear, gas, etc. But this is pretty interesting. Check it out: To Parents, Youth Sports An 'Athletic Arms Race.'  Great title, by the way.

The article is filled with quotes that jump out at me:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Case for Finishing Out Your Little League Days

The growing influence of travel ball has been discussed before on this site. You don't need to look far - just click on the Travel Ball search label in the right hand column - to find the perspectives of various people on specialization, elitism, burnout, etc.

But it seems that the tug from travel ball programs is becoming stronger than ever. And the problem is that it's starting earlier and earlier. Many travel teams are a business. They are in the business of relabeling your child - the same child that may still watch cartoons and play with Legos - as a Division I NCAA baseball prospect. To make enough money to support that business, the owner must sell his product. He will promise "better baseball" and make you feel special. He will impress you with fancy gear and tournament trips. And he may pressure you to buy in now, because if you don't fully commit to him now, his offer may not be there a few months down the road. He may even criticize his competition (like your son's own league) and present you with an ultimatum. These are of course major red flags that would make me turn and run the other way. After all, if he places no value on your son's own loyalty and commitment to his current situation, do you think he is going to be loyal to your son when a better player or opportunity comes along? Of course not.

Your travel ball coach may be very good at what he does. He may really offer a quality program and a good opportunity. He may even be that former professional baseball player that also happens to be a good coach. But what he won't tell you is that he needs you. Businesses need customers, and they want as many as they can get. So if you don't give in to his ultimatum and take the deal now - especially if your son is a good player - he will probably still take your son when he's ready. The offer will most likely still stand in a few months. Because he needs your talented ball player to represent his business... not to mention your money.

So while many travel ball programs indeed offer quality instruction and a great opportunity for your son, this is an argument for playing out your Little League days, before completely jumping ship to that travel team. I speak from experience. I have coached talented players - some that became Division I type talent. They played through their 12-year-old season. They had fun and learned their fundamentals in Little League, and then truly developed their talent between 13 and 18. And they always come back. They come back to the Little League park years down the road and soak up the community atmosphere as if it were the Fountain of Youth. They ask about the league, the teams, the fields. They want to help coach. They watch games. They tell stories from their playing days, especially that special 12-year-old season.

They have fond memories of that time in their lives. That was the last time they were just a kid playing a game. That was when they were the kings of the park - the big dogs. That was the last time that baseball was just fun, before they needed to "work" at their game and "develop" as a player. They would hang out at the park all day on Saturday with their baseball friends - the same guys they had been with since T-Ball... the same guys they would spend that last summer with, making the proverbial "run at Williamsport."

Why would you want throw that away? Why would you want your son to grow up so fast? I know I don't want that for my kids. My oldest is heading into his own 12-year-old year. He's a pretty good player. But even if he were Bryce Harper himself, I would absolutely want him to play out his Little League days. Because it is a life experience, not just a baseball experience. He is creating memories and building confidence that will stay with him forever. He loves being at the park. He loves his regular season and all-star teams and he is committed to them. The commitment and loyalty he has developed over the years is an important life lesson - more important than his development as a baseball player. "Better baseball" can wait. If he's that good, that "elite" team will gladly take him when he's done being a kid. And then no matter how far he goes in baseball, he will be another one that comes back, with fond memories of the days when the game was just fun.

I came back. My loyalty to the same regular season team for four years helped make me a better person. And then the thrill of representing my league in 12-year-old all-stars was the defining baseball moment of my life. I was hooked from that point on - as a player, a fan, and later a coach. The park would become a home away from home, and the league would always welcome me back with open arms. Without that special summer, everything would be different. I remember the feeling like it was yesterday. I remember my teammates. I remember the significance of representing Myers Park. After that, it's a blur until high school - the next time I would represent something special, something bigger than myself. So I came back, just like the others. And I don't want to leave. Why would you?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Selected Reading Material 11-16-12

Don't Let Your Son Grow Up To Be Like Pedro Cerrano by Kevin at SportsDadHub  -  Superstitions can be fun and boost confidence, but they can also distract young players from what really leads to success. Yo bartender, Jobu needs a refill.

The 3 Biggest Mistakes Kids Make While Playing Catch... by Chad Rodgers at Show-Me Strength  -  Just to beat the horse some more - kids would improve their mechanics more quickly if they would always throw with a purpose. I especially like #1 and #2 here.

Off Season Best Time For Youth Baseball Coaches to Cement Philosophy by Dan Clemens  -  Plan ahead and hold yourself to making the right decisions when you get into the heat of the moment. This is why we have rules - you can't trust coaches to always do the right thing when competitive fires starts burning.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Little League Posts 50/70 Info Page

Details on the new Intermediate (50/70) Division continue to trickle in from Little League Baseball. Williamsport recently added a Resource Page to it's website with an FAQ section that previews some of the rules that should be announced soon.

I'm glad to know that our league has decided not to offer a 50/70 division as part of our regular season yet. I don't think it's a good option for 11-year-old rec players. I also think it's a flawed game, with base stealing having far too big of an impact on the game. Compared to Majors, you're adding only 10 feet of base paths, but allowing runners to take leads and take off when the pitcher starts his delivery.

After reading the new FAQ, it gets worse. The best part about 50/70 was the 50 - the fact that the mound would be backed up to a slightly safer distance. So much for that benefit. Little League has apparently decided that big-barrel bats (2 5/8") will be used in this new division. BBCOR or not, I think this is a big mistake. You only have to picture a big, strong 13-year-old hitting against an 11-year-old pitcher using a large-barreled bat to know that this is dangerous.

So now there is no safe option for 11-12-year-old Little League pitchers. You play 46/60 and you're facing composite bats (and the approved ones still pack a whole lot of punch). Or you play 50/70 and you're facing big-barrels. This is not good. Take a look at that Little League logo up there at the top of this post - all of a sudden "COURAGE" really begins to stand out.