New Orleans Saints:We are watching the Saints completely redo their offense. After finally finding a running game last year, they are moving to make that their main focus and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that unless you have QB Drew Brees in a Keeper league. They concluded that they cannot consistently win by throwing the ball 40 times per game. They also realized that they had one of...
Youth baseball is a hobby shared by millions. In virtually every city in the United States, on a summer night, a baseball game is probably played. Perhaps 10,000 or more games can be played even simultaneously and the results, while important to the participants, ultimately have little importance in world affairs. Still, many young people and their parents spend countless hours preparing, practicing, transporting, and playing baseball because they enjoy the game. Dreams of becoming professional ball players abound among tweens and teens. Yet the reality for millions of these players is that few will truly realize a major league dream.
The talent and skills required to become a professional gamer are rare and only found in a select few. Of these players who have the opportunity to have a major league dream, the way to realize the dream requires hours of practice and hundreds of baseball games during a youth career. The only way to get better at the game is to play it. Repetition is the secret to getting better at anything. Playing baseball and practicing baseball makes average players become good players and good players become great players or even exceptional players. Playtime combined with constant practice is often a recipe for success. In hot climates, players tend to play longer seasons and have a greater advantage over players in cold climates. For cold weather players to get better, they have to play more games in compressed time periods. To improve, players seek the best competition during these compressed periods of baseball-worthy weather. However, some argue that there may be too much baseball if five, six, or even ten games are played in a week over an 8 to 12-week period in late spring and summer.
How much baseball can a young player play? Does playing five or six days a week improve a player? Is there something to the mental toughness that a player develops by playing the game every day and even for more than one team? What other intangible attributes are learned, mastered, and developed when a player plays “a lot” of baseball? Does a player become more confident, exude stronger leadership, and perhaps even have more fun through greater involvement with their friends on various teams?
This spring and early summer, I discovered some of the answers to these questions while coaching my son in three baseball shows simultaneously. While my son and I did not originally set out to get involved in three shows at the same time, the opportunity and the whispers of divine places seemed to indicate that this was a way forward at this point in my son’s life in the game.
Another aspect related to this decision was my son’s age and the big leap he was moving to and leaving in the game of baseball. As a twelve-year-old seventh grader, he has played with children mostly a year or more older than him. From the age of eight, he played 9U baseball and continued to play with older children throughout his baseball career. When kids move on to 13U baseball, many involved in the game know that the dimensions of the field change to the dimensions of Pony with longer bases, a 54-foot pitching distance, and deeper hurdles. The game acquires greater proportions. 12U fields are about 10-15% smaller on average and this can have remarkable results in player effectiveness and contribution to the game.
Recognizing this time as a one year window for him to play in both dimensions and perhaps have great experience as a mentor and leader in a 12U team while playing 13U baseball as well, we decided to pursue the challenge of playing in two travel teams in the spring. and summer. Also, due to the rules of our village, my son would also have to play for a house league team during the months of April, May and early June. Therefore, he would be on three teams simultaneously, while most kids would only play for two teams.
The schedule would be rigorous from the beginning of April to the end of June, playing more than 60 baseball games in this short 10-11 week period. The average gamer would play 30 to 35 games. There would be several days when I would play 3 games in one day for two different teams or maybe even all three teams. Some parents and coaches would wonder if this is possible without too much conflict in the game, and typically conflicts would occur if some advance planning and scheduling were not done. To make this happen, we examine the usual routine of our home league and the beginning and end of the seasons for the two travel teams he played for. While there was some overlap, we recognized that the majority of home league games would be played on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from mid-April to mid-June. Therefore, your travel games with your 12U team could be scheduled for Saturdays and Sundays and some Tuesdays and Thursdays. I would have games 5-7 days a week on average with some double headers on tournaments weekends etc.
In order for this baseball program to work we had to have the coaches’ agreement that my son would miss some home league games to play with his 12U team in travel games and also his 12U coaches would not expect him to do all practices scheduled during the game. season. Also, he had to make his 13U team a priority if they had a game and miss 12U games if there was a conflict with a 13U game. In total, during the months of April, May and June, approximately 8-10 game conflicts arose and my son complied with the agreement to play where he is supposed to play.
One of the most interesting challenges in training him and helping him navigate this process was switching between different uniform and equipment needs for different teams. Baseball at 13U uses metal spikes and 12U still uses cleats, so he needed two pairs of shoes. He had four different uniforms, one for the home league, one for 13U and two for 12U (one for home games, one for away games). Many times we had to pack three uniforms and walk out the door. We had to make sure he had both pairs of shoes, both batting helmets from his two travel teams, and all of his gloves.
As a father and head coach of one of the teams and assistant to the other two teams, he also had to be very organized. I set up all my equipment on a daily basis and prepared all my lineups in advance. Email communication was critical to the success of this effort. The use of GPS to find travel games throughout our region was also a necessary component. My wife and other family members showed patience as I played these games with my son. Getting transportation from other coaches and parents also becomes necessary at times due to various work disputes that arose.
In evaluating the value of the experience for my son, my conclusion is that he benefited from the intensity of the experience and the repetition of the game. He was given a great responsibility to help his 12U team and was given the opportunity to play in virtually every position on the field due to his abilities. For his 13U travel team, he usually plays second base only and throws occasionally. By playing in all positions on the field, he learned the game from numerous perspectives and became a smarter baseball player. He also developed his defensive acumen of the game and became a stronger outfield general in the infield and outfield. He came to enjoy playing catcher; a position he had shown little interest in before and showed great skill when given the opportunity to play 12U baseball. His hitting improved in his home league from previous seasons and his confidence at the plate improved. While his overall batting numbers didn’t jump off the page, his quality at the plate improved as he had a better ability to foul on pitches, make contact with the ball, and find ways to get to base.
There were some small consequences to playing so much baseball in the sense that he had little time for some of his other friends or interests during this time. He was also tired at times and maybe he felt some reservation about putting on his uniform and playing one more time. However, he always advanced and when he got to the field, he minded his business and gave his best on the field. I think he learned a lot about himself in this process. He learned that he is capable of doing more than he thought. He realized that he could be a leader in a team and others looked to him for leadership. He enjoyed his interactions on and off the field with 34 other players from three teams. Some of the top intangibles that his 12U coaches shared with me are how his presence on the field inspired his teammates to improve their knowledge and skills of the game. Having him close gave them more confidence.
My hope is that the experience will translate into more success in the game of baseball and in his life. While it is too early to tell if he has a meaningful future in baseball, the odds are not likely, I know he has a future path in life. I am confident that the lessons learned about the diamond this year will translate into leadership in some future endeavor. I always like to think that we never know to what extent something we say or do today can have on someone or something in our lives. This past baseball season is a reminder of this belief.
Dr. Warren Bruhl is a practicing pediatric chiropractor in Glencoe, IL. Dr. Bruhl has been a youth baseball coach for 11 seasons and spent thousands of hours developing youth baseball players. Dr. Bruhl is available for questions and comments at [email protected]