It’s that time of year again. It is the time of year that brings out the worst in adults. It is the time of year that destroys friendships, hinders development and ruins the greatest game in the world for our kids.
Tryouts get posted on the internet earlier every year. Coaches have been flooding the Columbus Travel Baseball Facebook group since the middle of May. Think about that…the season is just over a month old for some teams and “coaches” are already gearing up for 2018. I use the term “coach” loosely because if you are already searching the state for next year’s flamethrower, the kids on your current team are probably getting the short end of the stick.
It’s not just the coaches. Parents are just as responsible for making this time of year miserable. The whispers and seemingly subtle glances you give aren’t at all. You might as well carry around a sign that says how great your kid is and he is on the free agent market.
We are forgetting about one crucial ingredient to this mess adults have created.
Isn’t this supposed to be about the kids anyway? What do they think? Have you asked? Do you care?
Have they improved? Are they learning? Are they having fun?
Sure, we parents pay the fees. We provide transportation to games and practices. We are responsible for our children. If you are a travel ball parent, you have and will continue to adapt and make sacrifices.
Listen to your kids. Evaluate more than what position your son plays or where he hits in the batting order. You might be surprised at what they have to say.
Former Baltimore Orioles manager and Hall of Famer, Earl Weaver, was quite the character. Browse the web and you will find many entertaining quotes and stories about Weaver. Here is one of my favorites.
“You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”
The problem is that in today’s world of travel ball tournaments, this is not the case. You can try and kill the clock. The catcher can go out to the mound. The coach can go out to the mound. A player can take a little extra time finding his glove between innings. The batter can talk to the third base coach because he isn’t sure of the signs.
People can argue all they want about whether or not these methods are ethical. My point is that this can all be avoided by eliminating time limits.
Tournaments are about one thing – money. There is an entry fee for each team. Some charge an admission fee for spectators (parents). You have to stay in certain hotels because the host organization has a deal. Don’t even think about bringing a cooler because there will be a concession stand.
I have no problem with someone putting in the work and making some money for their program/organization, but don’t let what should be the most important aspect suffer – BASEBALL.
Take away the time limits. Let the kids relax and play ball. Let everyone get a fair chance. Play the game the way it was meant to be played.
Not enough field space? Start the tournament on a Thursday or Friday evening for local teams. If you have lights, play some night games. You can also reduce the number of teams in the tournament. Go ahead and charge more if you have to. As a coach, I wouldn’t mind paying a little extra if it meant I didn’t have to tell my kids to swing at the first pitch because we are short on time.
We live in a world of pitch counts and innings limits. Most of the time, these rules are set by tournament and league officials with the good intentions of protecting young arms. Coaches usually keep a close eye on pitching limitations. Some do it because they don’t want to see a young player get hurt, while others do it so they don’t get kicked out of a tournament.
So, if coaches are monitoring pitch counts, then what is the problem? The problem is not many coaches or parents take into consideration what the pitcher does when he isn’t on the mound.
If a 12-year old travel ball pitcher is your “ace”, then he is probably a pretty good all-around player. Let’s assume he starts the game on the mound and throws 40 pitches in three innings. That is perfectly acceptable by MLB/USA Baseball Pitch Smart guidelines. By those standards, he should rest two days before taking the mound again.
Here is the issue and I have seen it happen over and over again. The kid with the rocket arm leaves the mound and heads into the dugout – TO PUT ON CATCHER’S GEAR! Are you kidding me? The reverse is just as bad.
Pitching and catching in the same day borders on lunacy. Catcher is the most physically demanding position on the baseball field. Coaches forget that when the pitcher throws a pitch, someone usually needs to throw it back to him. Sure, those aren’t terribly taxing on the arm but combine that with attempting to throw out baserunners and you will be surprised how much the catcher throws.
Pitching requires you to use your legs. A kid with tired legs who just took off the catcher’s gear will involuntarily transfer that stress someplace else. That’s right…his arm.
Check out this statement from the American Sports Medicine Institute.
A pitcher should not also be a catcher for his team as it is the next most throwing-intensive position and results in far more throws than players at other positions. ASMI found that amateurs who played catcher while not pitching were 2.7 times more likely to suffer a major arm injury.
Don’t be an idiot.
In the world of travel baseball, one can easily get caught in the whirlwind of chasing trophies. Chasing trophies is the idea that winning trumps development at the youth level. It usually ends up with talented players eventually hitting a wall and not being able to compete as they get older. This happens because their coach wasn’t really coaching. He was simply filling out a tournament lineup card with the best nine players he could find.
If loading up your son’s bookshelf with trophies at 12-years old is the goal, then have at it. Who am I to tell you what is right for you and your child?
If your son loves baseball and wants to play it as long as he can, find a coach that will help him develop, both as a player and a person. A good coach is a teacher. Not only do they need to have the knowledge but they also need to be able to teach it to young players.
You should ask yourself periodically if your child is becoming a better player and person. Also, remember that the answer to this question has nothing to do with their position or where they hit in the batting order. A kid who bats leadoff and plays shortstop may dominate at 10 years old, but if he isn’t improving, he will eventually hit that wall. A kid who plays a utility role and sometimes struggles at the plate will continue to get better if he has a good coach.
Anyone can throw batting practice or hit ground balls. Make sure your child’s coach is actually coaching.
Baseball is a great game. I love to get outside, feel the heat of a warm summer sun, smell the freshly cut grass and listen to gloves pop as players play catch. I have been around the game my entire life, starting as a player and now coaching my son’s travel baseball team.
My son and I play ball all the time, whether it is a formal team practice or just the two of us. From the first time he ever threw a ball, I vowed to never force or push him to play. I wanted my children to develop their own interests and personalities. I suppose you are a product of your environment, but my son is 11 years old with a passion for the game that seems to grow every time he laces up his cleats.
My dad was not a “baseball guy”. Sure, he played Little League just like everyone else but that was about it. He didn’t play in high school or college. He didn’t have an intricate knowledge of the game to pass on to me. What he did have and what he did pass on to me was the characteristics of being a great father. Take an interest in what your kids enjoy, whatever that may be.
I developed a love for baseball. My dad already had a love for me.
My mom and dad came to every possible game they could, right up until I stopped playing about 12 years ago. They would do everything in their power to see their grandchildren play as well.
Call me conceited if you like, but I know baseball as good as anybody. My body might not be able to play anymore, but my mind is sharper than ever when it comes to mastering this game.
I recognize that I have a tremendous opportunity to teach the game to my son and his teammates. More importantly, I have an opportunity to be a role model. I can show an interest in a child. I can listen. I can care. I can love.
Like my dad.
For travel baseball parents and players, some very hard decisions will have to be made in the coming weeks. All across youth baseball websites and social media, there will be posts announcing tryouts for 2017 teams. Kids will go to baseball fields all over the place to show off their skills for coaches with a clipboard and a stopwatch. Some may even have a radar gun.
If your kid can play, he will be courted by many coaches and teams. Some coaches will promise fancy uniforms, road trips and playing time. They will pump up your kid by telling him how he has a cannon and can mash the baseball. They will tell you how he should be a star pitcher and bat in the three-hole.
That’s all great to hear. But what do you and your son want to get out of this process? What are your goals? Why are you spending huge amounts of time and money with travel baseball?
Every parent should sit down with the coach ask how he can help their son become a better baseball player. Instead of clamoring over his positive attributes, focus on areas of needed improvement. The coach should be someone who can teach the game, not just fill out the lineup card.
Talk about the team. Where does your son fit in? This has as much to do with his personality as it does his baseball skills. Are the boys together off the field? Does the team do a lot of non-baseball activities? If you know someone who plays for the team, ask them about their experience.
Do your research. Ask questions. The bottom line is you want to find a place where your family will be happy and your son can become a better baseball player.
It seems to begin earlier and earlier each season. Some parents begin to separate themselves into groups. The whispers are aplenty. You can feel the tension and anxiety. All travel baseball teams go through it and it all comes down to one question.
What about next year?
Some parents love the team and are hoping their son is asked to return next season. Some parents have blinders on when it comes to their son’s playing ability and are looking for what they perceive to be a better opportunity. Some parents and coaches may agree that the team just isn’t a good fit for the player.
The coach feels the anxiety as well. If a family wants to leave the team, he will wonder what he did wrong and why that family didn’t have a good experience. There is the pressure to improve the team by finding new players to join the families that will be staying around. The absolute worst part of the entire process is cutting a kid.
As hard as it is on the parents, I am sure the kids feel the most pressure. During a tryout, hopefully, the kids are not trying to impress their parents. I don’t even think they should try to impress the coach. Kids should just go out and play the game during a tryout the same way you should play it everyday – have fun and give your best effort.
So, as a person who has been on every end of the tryout process (parent, coach and player), I would advise you to just relax. If your son loves the game and hustles all the time, he will find a place to play. If your son is currently on a team, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Switching teams can be tough on a youngster. Have several conversations with those involved before making any hasty decisions. Always remember, this is ALL ABOUT THE BOYS.