🛑 This is a follow up article and episode to my last post where I explained why weekend tournaments are ruining youth baseball player development. Don’t worry, there will be a third part where I outline some ideas to fix this!
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Wow! 😮 🤩
At the time of this recording, which is about 80 hours later, there have been over 32,000 views and more than 29,000 podcast downloads. So before I go any further, thank YOU for reading, listening, and subscribing so you don’t miss the next one!
The purpose of Elbow Up was to share my experiences in hopes I could help a few parents or coaches get the most out of their youth baseball experience.
What’s great about the response to this topic is not just the views and downloads, but the fact that so many people are passionate about this topic.
I even appreciate those that disagree with me. The conversation is what’s important, and that’s the first step!
Now, I really was planning to publish a part two where I outlined some of the ideas I have for fixing this systemic issue I outlined in part one.
But after reading literally more than 2,300 comments on various social media posts, groups, and threads, I decided I needed to go a little deeper into the issue.
I want to explain a few of the things I said in part one, and then add a few more things that I’ve been thinking about since.
Let’s Clarify a Few Things
⚾ There are always exceptions.
It’s important to note that teams who I believe do it the right way really do exist. They’re just few and far between.
A few folks left feedback saying they never had an experience like I had explained. Or their coach focused on development first. Or they only played in a tournament every other weekend.
That’s wonderful! Unfortunately though, that’s the exception and not the rule.
⚾ I’m not Hating on Tournament Directors
It’s not tournament directors’ job to develop our kids, nor did I say it was!
I believe most of the feedback that had to do with this was people reading the headline and not listening to or reading the context and details.
Most of the tournament directors I know do a fine job. There’s nothing wrong with hosting a tournament every single weekend throughout the summer - but that doesn’t mean as a coach I have to play in it.
In fact, more tournaments allow teams to be flexible with their schedules instead of having to play on specific weekends just to get their games in.
The tournament directors cannot be blamed for the issue, and I certainly didn’t mean for it to come across that way.
⚾ There is Nothing Wrong with Travel Ball
One of the most common responses I heard from those disagreeing was how they enjoyed travel ball, or that travel ball was more competitive which allowed their kids to learn even more.
Here’s the thing - I agree with that!
I’m not anti-travel ball, nor am I anti-winning. The issue is how we as parents and coaches abuse what travel ball has to offer by pursuing winning ahead of development (even if we mean well).
What is Travel Ball?
First of all, I’m using travel ball and select ball interchangeably for the purposes of 7U through 12U. While there are a small number of teams that may travel, I’m really referring to the teams who no longer play rec, and play in the various weekend tournaments in their local area or withing their geographical region.
As kids get older, the more competitive teams will travel more and more. It’s not uncommon for the better teams at ages 14U and up to travel hundreds and thousands of miles to play other top-level competition.
I’m not talking about those teams, and I’m not talking about those ages.
I’m talking about the younger ages - 7U through 12U - where the majority of teams play on the weekends within a 50 miles radius or so.
Why Play Travel (or Select) Ball?
Due to many of the reasons I outlined in one of my very first articles, there has been a mass exodus from local little leagues into travel ball over the years.
I encourage you to read it, but I’ll sum it up in just one sentence:
Most of those leagues are too restrictive, and lack competition.
Being able to play when you want against who you want and with whom you want is attractive.
I’m not arguing with that! I like it too!
I like being able to schedule my season like I want it to be. I like being able to freely pick up players if someone has a scheduling conflict.
Players and families who are at different skill levels and who have different goals are forced to do the same thing. That’s not good either!
⚾ (Most) Parents and Coaches Just Don’t Know Any Better
And that’s normal!
I’m not here to condemn anyone for doing something differently than what I think its right. I just want to shed some light so we can help make it better.
While a few coaches and parents know exactly what they’re doing, many, if not most, parents and coaches just don’t know any better.
They do what they think is best because everyone else is doing it. As I mentioned previously, there is a real fear of missing out.
Everyone else is leaving the local rec leagues, I better take my son out too!
These other 5 teams are playing in a tournament in the second week of February, I better get my team entered as well!
Our rival is playing 6 weekends in a row. I better get my team in those too so we don’t get left behind!
First, we have to educate.
And secondly, we need to change our mentality and approach!
And that’s what I’m here trying to do.
More Reasons Why Weekend Tournaments are Ruining Player Development
Now that I’ve clarified a few things, I want to hit on a few more reasons why I believe the current state of the youth league circuit is hurting long term player development.
⚾ Being Good Doesn’t Equal Development
A common misconception is that teams who win a lot or are the best in their area are doing it the right way.
That is not necessarily true.
As I’ve said before - at the younger ages, the better teams are often the ones with the better athletes who are just more physically advanced for their age.
In a lot of areas look for the .500 teams that seem to perform just at or above average but who can sneak up and really hang with the “better” team every now and then.
Those are the teams who are more than likely doing it the right way.
Often it’s because they’re forced to. They don’t have the same gifted athletes and can’t rely on bad habits. It forces them to teach things the right way and focus first on development.
This doesn’t mean all good teams aren’t focusing on development. There are exceptions - but look deeper than wins and losses - especially when choosing a team to play for.
Everyone wants to play for the team who wins the most rings.
Playing in the weekend tournaments week in and week out breeds this type of mentality.
Instead, you need to be looking for the team that has a development first mentality balanced with good athletes. They’ll win their share of games and rings, but the individual players and the team will be better in the long run.
⚾ It’s Not Like Any Other Level of Baseball
No other level of baseball plays 6 games in 2 days week after week after week and then sprinkles a few practices in.
Middle school, high school, college, and professional baseball don’t do it this way.
In every other level of the game, you play a game or two and then you go practice.
Naturally, there is time between games to work on things that were identified during the game. It’s somewhat of a continuous improvement cycle that allows for discovery, instruction, and practice.
This type of baseball would be perfect for the younger ages.
We are introducing so many new things to them in a weekend over 4-6 games it’s nearly impossible for them to remember it all.
And even if we write it down as it happens, there’s nowhere near enough time during two practices during the week to cover it all.
So one, how are we going to really teach the things they’re experiencing during the weekend tournaments?
And two, why would we spend years doing it this way, which is different than every other level of baseball thereafter?
It doesn’t make any sense.
Note: Game reps are important, and I’m not arguing that. But we have to be able to take those reps away and see how we did, improve on them, and then go do it again.
⚾ Kids Don’t Get to Learn to be Baseball Players
While similar to several of the other issues, this one is specifically how we as coaches coach during the games and tournaments.
So much of development is learning how to react in, and to, certain situations, but because we’re worried about giving up that one run to make it to the Gold bracket, we don’t allow our players to learn on the job.
They need to experience certain situations and figure things out themselves. Of course we coach them afterwards, but allowing them to try it - and even at times fail - is good for their development.
One comment I got from the last piece was from Christopher (I’m not sure where he is from):
It absolutely stunts the growth of the player and his ability to play ball on his own without being told what to do every single pitch. We’re creating robots, not baseball players…today’s tournament ball creates an environment where players don’t learn how to play the game and think for themselves. They must be told everything to do. Move over a step. Do this on this next swing. Look for this pitch. Get another step on your lead. It breeds robots…instead of capable, independent ball players learning about themselves and how they can contribute and do their job in a specific role on their team.
He’s absolutely right.
We’re playing in an environment that doesn’t allow for error. It doesn’t allow for a little on the job training like our kids need.
I’m not a proponent of equal playing time at every position, but at the early ages we need to allow enough versatility to happen naturally to see who can actually do what, and then see how the kids respond.
Of course we can’t move little Johnny from right field to second base even though we’re up by 10 runs because he might not know how to react in a certain situation.
And instead of giving him the chance to learn, we’re worried about giving up 2 of those runs and not making the gold bracket for Sunday.
That’s not developing baseball players. That’s coaching for the short term gratification of playing in the Gold bracket in a small regional tournament that doesn’t even matter.
Heck, chances are you’ll get a shot at winning the Silver bracket anyways and by Monday your kids will have forgotten where they even put the ring.
What Can We Do About It?
This is not going to be fixed over night, but we need to get moving in the right direction.
There are so many kids either getting left out at a young age, or losing interest too early and never recognizing their full potential.
There are millions of kids getting to middle school and high school baseball unprepared because we were too worried about winning that ring in the Gold bracket instead of the Silver.
It’s taken almost two decades to get here, and it’ll take some time to get out of it.
But that’s why we’re here, and that’s the whole reason behind Elbow Up!
I’ve got some ideas that you can consider and implement now to make a difference with your child and your team!
⚾ Take Action!
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