I recently spent a weekend watching my first youth travel baseball tournament at the Ruston Sports Complex. It has been years since I spent any significant time watching youth baseball. While athletic ability is a great help, the fundamentals of the game are developed through repetition in practice. The game remains a great teacher of success and failure as everyone will experience both extremes as they play the game.
What I observed that weekend was that some things have changed quite a lot while others remain the same. Some of the changes are advancement and for the better. Other changes concern me.
I saw plenty of highs and lows on the fields that weekend. I saw players overjoyed with base hits in key situations and others disappointed striking out with runners on base. I saw great plays in the field and errors on plays that could have been made. I also saw parents berating umpires, coaches yelling at pitchers for not throwing strikes, and coaches arguing with one another across the diamond. Like I said, some things haven’t changed.
While some of those things are disappointing to me as I hold coaching and parenting in youth sports to a high standard, I was not surprised. What surprised me was the spectacle of the event itself. The Sports Complex is awesome with artificial turf playing surfaces on all fields. This surface is an investment that allows for minimal maintenance and quick playing after rain. I played baseball through high school, my son played through college, and I don’t know that either of us ever played on such a nice field. These fields and the associated investment are an example of advancement that we should all recognize and appreciate.
I noticed multiple days of nice uniforms for the various teams that I saw over the weekend. I saw big team picture banners hung behind the dugouts. There were portable sound systems used to announce the players coming to bat with individual walk-up music. There was the constant traffic of moms taking a cold sports drink to their child/player in the dugout (rather than drinking the water provided in the dugout).
It looked like the parents and coaches were doing all they could to create a high school or college atmosphere with all the stuff surrounding the game. That all may be fun, but I wonder what the young people will have to look forward to if they experience all these things in youth travel ball. I remember just looking forward to playing high school ball one day and getting to wear that Crimson Tide jersey (we had just one uniform).
The late Tony Robichaux, former coach at ULL, made the comment years ago that he recruited players that would drink out of the water hose and not the ones that momma brought them a Gatorade in the third inning. I think Tony was referring to a certain level of toughness that would be needed to play at the college level. I can remember the water hose behind the dugout, but those don’t exist today. Who would survive drinking that unfiltered water?
Baseball is a great game and can teach so many life lessons if we allow it to teach those lessons. While we want to create great experiences for our children, we need to help them learn how to succeed with humility, fail with confidence, and compete with compassion. We need to teach teamwork, toughness, and an approach to keep playing even when we don’t like the call. If we aren’t careful, we will teach individual focus over team, arguing over focusing on the next play, comfort over toughness, and fear over fundamentals (coach don’t yell at a kid to throw strikes – teach him the mechanics – trust me, he is trying).