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.
I have seen and heard a lot of ridiculous things over the years while coaching and umpiring youth baseball games. The overwhelming majority of which come from the mouths of adults. I will list two of the most cringeworthy examples of “baseball wisdom” and beg you to never say these things to your child.
- “Just throw strikes!” Just once, I would like to see a kid step off the pitching rubber and ask the genius offering up the advice to come out and give it a go. The kid is standing in one of the most lonely spots in all of sports. He is the pitcher and everyone has their eyes on him. The game cannot start until he throws the ball. Don’t you think he is trying to throw strikes?
- “Get a hit!” Really? Are you sure? Thanks, Captain Obvious. I would have never known you wanted me to get a hit if you hadn’t just shouted it out as I stepped in the box. I can just imagine a youngster’s mind when their parent or coach starts barking out this type of expert analysis as they try to do the hardest thing in all of sports.
Do the young players a favor and don’t shout out these ridiculous statements. Please, do it for the children.
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.
I used to think umpiring youth baseball games was tough. You get to the field 15 minutes before the game, listen to adults complain for two hours and you go home. My dad and I used to umpire together. We did it for several reasons. We both had a love for the game and enjoyed being a small part of allowing kids the opportunity to develop that same passion for baseball. Also, it allowed us to spend time together and the little bit of money we made meant we could go out to dinner on the way home.
Being an umpire is nothing compared to be a coach. As a coach, you don’t go away. You have a cell phone that will ring constantly. I get more text messages than my teenage daughter. I need to create a “Hate Mail” folder in my email inbox. I have coached baseball at the recreation level through high school and have seen it happen at all levels.
I don’t need to list specifics because it’s ridiculous. I am sure you have heard them all anyway. Obviously, the most common complaint is about playing time. People will do and say anything they can because of a perceived vendetta against their son. It truly brings out the worst in people.
By now, I am sure you are thinking, “Why doesn’t this crybaby just stop coaching?”
When you watch the kids celebrate a victory with huge smiles on their faces, it’s worth it. When a kid comes up to you and says, “Hey Coach! I tried the thing you showed me at practice and I went 4-for-4”, it’s worth it. When you see the kid that sits the bench more than anyone come through for his team, it’s worth it.
Most coaches will try to keep a positive attitude even when dealing with negative adults because the reward is worth it. Call it selfish, but seeing the kids enjoying success and developing a love for the game makes me smile. That’s why I coach.