Youth Baseball Training
How Much is Too Much?
In today's world, we place a great deal of emphasis on winning and succeeding at all costs. This is especially true for Little League baseball.
This time of year you see the Little League World Series on ESPN. The exposure these kids, coaches and leagues get is tremendous and certainly many of the stories are inspiring. However, they don't show the practice these teams endure over a short period of time. They don't show the time commitment made by the players, coaches and parents in getting to these tournaments. They don't show the family sacrifice of not taking a summer vacation or enjoying the time out of school.
I believe the reason they don't show this is many would be surprised at what does go into preparing a Little League team for these tournaments. Daily 2-3 hour practices, extra time in the cages, sessions with personal hitting coaches, and the list goes on.
There are several downsides to the exhaustive preparation and baseball training these youngsters go through to get to this level.
Being a Kid
These 12 and 13 year old players are amazingly talented, but at the end of the day, they are kids. Many leagues require youth baseball players and parents to sign an agreement that if the player misses X practices or games, they will be removed from the team. They also require that parents agree to not take vacations during the preparation for and participation in the tournaments.
Summer is a time where young people get a chance to just be a kid. If every day is consumed with practice or preparation, the summer can become a blur for these kids.
In addition, siblings and parents take a toll as they are unable to get any downtime as (thankfully) very few people will leave their 13 year old behind and take a vacation.
Losing the Love for the Game
It is no secret July can be relentless when it comes to the heat. Daily 2+ hour practices can take quite a toll on a 12-13 year old boy/girl. Doing this day after day can be a grind for a young player and many have to be convinced by parents to get back to practice.
This grind can cause players to have a bit too much baseball and it becomes a chore. Speaking from experience, a coach's biggest fear is having a player come to you and say they don't want to play baseball anymore. Taking the fun out of it by making it a job is a surefire way to risk harming a player's love for the game of baseball.
Forgetting the Fun
As coaches, we get wrapped up in scoring that next run, winning that next game, advancing to that next round. In doing this, coaches' attitudes can change and playing for them can become an unpleasant experience.
Parents are not exempt from this either. The crowd shots from ESPN of the parents reacting to plays on the field can be quite telling. Showing your emotions can impact the psysche of these young players. Pressure can be a powerful force. Many MLB players can handle it. It is a much different experience for these young players.
Coaches and parents need to be mindful of the way they are conducting themselves as these kids are watching. Remember how self conscious you were at 13 years old.
Keep it fun for these kids - losing is hard enough and only one team wins it all.
A New Way?
To close, perhaps there is a better way to prepare and train for baseball without risking overload and taking out the fun. What if teams were constructed or selected earlier in the year allowing them to spread practices out a bit? Would that temper the desire to practice all the time? Or would coaches simply take that opportunity to get more practice in during the school year creating new problems?
Little League baseball should propose some guidelines and help prevent our kids from baseball overload at 13.