Is our collective commitment to youth baseball changing?
This survey grew from our own general on-field observations now, compared to 10 years ago. It came to a head in the summer of 03 when we struggled to find enough eligible local players to participate in summer ball. Between then and when this survey was compiled things have changed - we had more than enough summer 2004 interest (forcing us to make cuts) and we are looking forward to a strong Fall Ball program. But (big but) there are still serious concerns being expressed by coaches and players from everywhere. The charts tell only part of the story, the real picture is in the comments below.
Comments from voters...
And WebBall replies. Note: Our overriding observation after reading below... Yes, there is a commitment problem, but maybe it's not lack of commitment that's killing baseball, maybe it's too much competition.
I'm asking different people around our league, what they think about some sort of mandatory coaches clinics pre-season. It appears to me that one of the largest problems in our area, is inexperienced coaches always seem to wind up with teams. Granted, it's a voluntary effort, but there should be a way we can get them some sort of training before a season starts. If we can raise the level of coaching, starting from our t-ball up, we should be able to develop better teams. Better teams will only lead to a better league. Our league has the money to do clinics but I don't know what kind of resistance I'm going to face. I wish I could find out what other leagues do in this situation? - Joel Perry
[WebBall: See the later 2004 survey on coaching standards.]
Some of the better players just want o play house league and be called up to BB. The book WINNING WITHOUT WINNING mirrors my particular philosophy. - Charles Clement
[The book mentioned is available through WebBall. One of the most competitive/successful Summer League associations near us plays only house league in the Spring. It gives them time to train the players better, and pick the best for championship rounds.]
Although my current experience is with 7 year-olds, I haven't seen a commitment problem. As assistant coach for a 7 year-old All-Star team, I was actually impressed with the level of commitment from the majority of our players. For the first two weeks this summer, we put them through 2 hours a day/5 days a week, and aside from 2 or 3 boys, they absolutely loved it. A few of them had to be dragged from the field each day.
I think the key to avoiding player commitment problems is providing and varying practice structure. In the regular season, once I changed my practice format to doing everything in groups no larger than 4 and changing activities at least every 15 minutes, my players loved practice and wanted to come out more often. It seemed to carry over to the games as well. The tired old routine of infield practice followed by batting practice and shagging balls will turn kids off from baseball quickly. Nothing made me feel better than seeing over half my team standing in the outfield following our final game, begging one of the fathers to keep hitting balls to them. That said more than anything else that baseball is fun for them. - Erik Loose
'Daddyball' is killing us. Most of the kids know that the coach's kids get to play wherever they want to, don't have to sit out, and unless he is a complete klutz, is a lock for the all-star team. Too many of them just don't care about commitment or effort because they believe that it won't matter anyway. So many fathers who didn't or couldn't play when they were little are re-living their childhoods through their own kids at the expense of many others. Dixie and Little League are rapidly becoming the home of the 'C' quality players because many of the 'A' and 'B' players are bolting to tournament teams where talent acutally matters more than who your father or best friend is. Very sad, but that's what the emphasis on getting a sticker in the window of the SUV that says, "My kid is an all-star" has lead to. - G. Jones
[We really like the 'daddyball' comment - useful anytime a parent complains about play time... "This isn't daddyball it's baseball."]
Kids of today have more opportunities for organized than we did. They play baseball, soccer, hockey, basketball, football, etc. Many are playing multiple sports at the same time. So many times their focus is when will this be over, so I can make my other sports practice/game.
We also live in a video game world. Kids have learned that is a game isn't going as they want, to just 'reset', and start over. This is not real life. They haven't learned how to dig down for that something extra when the game is not going their way. - Eric J. Provenzano
At my level and in my area the problem seems to be that kids play Varsity and Junior Varsity in the spring where the emphasis is on the best players play and we play to win. When they get to summer ball most of the coaches have not progressed beyond the mentality of how to coach an 11-12 year old Little League team. i.e. everybody plays the same (except the coaches son who plays all the time regardless) and everyone plays every position. By the age of 15 - 16 the better athletes are generally the ones left playing, with a few exceptions. They want to be pushed and taught the skills they need to move on to the next level. Frustration is what has bred non-commitment in my area. - Craig Klukan
We have been in three different leagues and each one was run by a few politically connected parents and coaches regardless of their child's ability. Once the kids figure out that only the connected and early maturers matter in the league system of winning and all stars, baseball loses. - D Anderson
This past Spring was my first year as a full-time coach at the High School Varsity level. Although our ending record was 2-8, there were many pitfalls and challenges along the way. First, I live in an area where male athletic participation in sports always favors basketfall, football, then baseball (if at all). There were eligibility problems we had to contend with all the way up to near the beginning of the season. We lost a couple of players we thought would have been key to us competing day-in and day-out with most teams we played. Therefore, we always ended one or two key players defensively. Next, we had kids who seemed to think there was no practice (or game for that matter) if there was rain before the scheduled engagement. In the end, we were able to improve as a team and lost our State Tournament District Final game by a score 3-0 to a team who had beat us 12-6 earlier in the season. - Mark Croxton
Committment starts with adults: parents and coaches. If it's not important to the adults it won't be important to the majority of the kids. Enthusiasm and enjoyment from adults bleeds to the players. I have found that if the kids are encouraged, given playing time, and constantly positively reinforced they will want to play regardless of their ability. The more they play the better they get, the better they get the more they want to play. - C. Ricketson
I am a parent of a twelve year old Major League All Star. He has been playing baseball since he was five, and excels at it. He loves this game. He and I, both, have been told by not only Little League coaches but High School coaches as well, that he has a natural talent. I am grateful to all of his coaches over the years who have encouraged him. After all the reason we put our children in team sports is to teach them camaraderie, good sportsmanship, and to build their self esteem.
This All Star season my son was chosen to be on the team. He went in with the understanding that he would not be playing first base (which was his position for pretty much every inning of every game for two seasons). He was thrilled to play any position. We also knew he might not play in every inning, or every game. We accepted that. After two and a half weeks of grueling practices, four hours a day, six days a week, he didn't get to play in the first game, the second game, or the third. (except one at bat, which is mandatory) After the second game I asked the coach if he was going to let him play? He said "I was going to put him in, but"... something. During the third game, coach told my son he was going to put him in next inning but... something. After the third game there was a practice. My son asked if he could skip practice. Normally my reply would be, "If you skip practice the coach will have to bench you." You can see my dilemma. So I told him it would be OK this once, but he'd still have to go to the games, warm the bench and support his team, even if he didn't get to play. Coach called me on my cell about half way through practice. I explained. He said he'd rather we didn't come to the games, but Zak should remove himself from the team because he doesn't want to play. This is what he told his teammates. But this is not the case. He does want to play, and he's not a quitter. No matter how the coach chooses to word it, the fact is my son was kicked off the team because he missed one practice. Then coach said he doesn't want any hard feelings or to discourage him to continue playing. I wouldn't allow that to happen. But really, what could you do that would be more discouraging? I just wanted to set the record straight because Zak will be playing with many of these boys in the future. And to the coaches; Try to get over your own egos and let the kids enjoy! - Patti Thibaudeau
When we were kids (I'm 46) you played the different sports during their seasons (even in sunny San Diego, where I grew up and still live). What I see today (I have two sons 12 & 14) is that everyone wants your child 100% of the time whether it is baseball, soccer, music, school, etc. People see the money pro athletes make and they think that playing one sport year round from age 5 is the path to those riches. I see a lot more 'burn out' now than when I played baseball. In my area the leagues usually have a lot of T-Ball and next level teams then the drop off occurs (at about age 9-10). Kids start telling their parents "I do not want to play any more". The next big drop off is 13, I think this has a lot to do with the emphasis parents put on age 12, it seems to me that they think "this is the last chance my kid will ever have". Maybe it is because the innocence of youth is gone. My kids love baseball, but they do not play year round, they both play All-Stars, but only once (my 13 year old last year) have they advanced beyond the 1st round and we are fine with that. I am finding more and more that some Recreation coaches only want serious, good players, and do not want to spend time teaching a 10 year old playing for the first time. I am very discouraged with youth sports in this country it seems that their only concern is making pro athletes and that playing for fun AND having coaches teach the everyone game along with how to respect the game is no longer accepted, you can have a lot more fun when you know how to play and respect the game. - Ed Sly
The boys love competition in any form. Therefore, we try to include as many competition drills into our practices. The biggest problem is with some boys who really don't want to play baseball but have been 'strong armed' into playing. The other boys know they don't really want to be there and it rubs off on a few more. - Rob
Our season is only 8 weeks long and doesn't go past the end of the school year so having a child quit before the season is over doens't happen. We are a rec league and have a bit of trouble with the perception that we aren't serious. The kids want to play and win, just not as motivated to skill build. Coaches are a wide range from those who are warm bodies to those who act like they are playing the final game of the Little League World Series.
Commitment issue - for some of the more competitive leagues, maybe not running for so long. Kids and parents get burned out after first months of rainouts & makeup games (I'm in the NW) and all-star games throughout July and maybe beyond. Kids today have a lot of options and interest and I feel it is unfair to ask kids under age 14 to commit to a single sport for an entire year. While they may want to play baseball 24/7 they also want to try out for football, basketball, wrestling, or swimming. It used to be that a sport had its definite start and end, Now it seems to blur into what used to be other sports' seasons. - Laura
[We kind of disagree with this. WebBall loves baseball - we believe you enjoy it more when you play more, and have a real chance to improve which can't fully happen in a short season.]
I think the parents of many players bear a responsibility. I think too many believe Johnny can be a 4 letter man. He can excel at football and basketball and track and ......oh yeah baseball. All of these sports demand off season training in pursuit of excellence. How can you do that when the off season for football is the time a baseball team is making a run in say an All Star tournament (Little League). Bottom line? Kids are spread to thin to provide (perhaps) parental vicarious pleasure. The result?..mediocrity and exhaustion. - Ed Anglesey
I happen to be a high school coach in a well-off area of town. Let's just say most of my players drive cars that make them look like they are in the big leagues. I believe this to be a major cause of our problem. Most everyone that plays for me is spoiled. They have been spoon fed their entire lives and have no respect for what hard work can get for you. I dont just blame the kids. I blame their parents and administration just as well. We can have kids skip workouts to get a haircut? C'mon now. We only work out 3 times a week. What about the other days. The admin tells us not to punish the kid. Right, good example for the rest of them. One day, sports or no sports they'll be left to fly alone. We'll see what happens to the sports teams in the next generation. - Sarge
I feel that the Rec leagues are suffering due to Travel baseball. Parents are treating baseball as almost a job for these kids. The kids that remain in the rec leagues are getting less instruction from coaches and therefore loose interest. The rec leagues in order to be more competetive are paying more attention to the better players and forming their own travel teams, therefore they are only catering to the elite. In my opinion this will only result in more kids loosing interest in the game. - J . L . Suarez
I am the head coach at one of the high schools in my town. I also coach a college summer team. I find more commitment from my high school players than I do from my college summer players, and the summer players actually pay for the privilege to play for our team. I also find a lack of communication skills in these players. There have been many times I have shown up at the park only to find that my starting catcher has decided not to make the trip. It is very frustrating. One team in our league actually had to fold because they could not field a team for 3 dates in a row. - Brad Dix
The biggest problem I see in youth baseball today (both LL and travel ball) is poorly run practices. Poorly run practices are boring, tedious and the skills being drilled are not remembered. The result is that kids who are bored in practice tend to be bored in games - and are rarely ready to hit, or have the ball hit to them. The emphasis on coaching needs to shift away from game day and what is done to prepare the players for game day. The biggest challenge for any youth programs is to give the players the desire to return year after year. The key to keeping a high level involvement is keeping those players who are on the 'fringe' (both skill and interest wise) a part of the team and a part of the game. We intense focus on winning, too many of these fringe players quit the game after a season or two and never return. Kids ages 8-14 change dramatically, both physically and emotionally, in a years time. A coach not giving good input to a new 9-year old could find himself wishing he'd given that kid more time when that kid is 12 and on an opposing team - coached by someone who saw potential in all his young players. - Mark Phelan