Youth baseball has really changed huh? It seems like baseball and life itself used to be so much simpler twenty or so years ago. Youth sports were about teaching fundamentals and playing in games. It sure doesn’t seem like that is what is going on these days. There is one thing I think all parents of little leaguers or babe ruthers or travel ballers would agree on – we all want the best for our kids. We want them to become the best that they can be while at the same time be successful on the field and help their respective teams win championships. I am starting to realize however, that travel teams over rec ball teams are becoming more and more popular and rightfully so. Your rec ball team consists of one or two really good players, 3 or 4 middle of the roaders and five or six that can’t play a lick. As a coach, you find yourself spending more time working with the can’t play a lick group so that they can improve to be able to catch a pop up and put one in play. All the while, the two really good players and 3 or 4 middle of the roaders don’t really get the reps in limited practice time for them to reach their full potential. So that doesn’t work for me. Do you then go the travel team route? Better players, cool uniforms, weekend road trips, $$$, tournaments, etc. That to me sounds a little better than rec ball but I am not sure if that is best route either. Young talented athletes need to work and perfect the fundamentals of the games they are playing. If it is ball control in soccer, dribbling in basketball, short game in golf, good fundamentals are key to a successful player or team. No matter the talent level of a player, fundamental development requires practice, practice & more practice. Most travel teams are not designed as such. They may meet once a week, throw a few, hit a few and get ready to make the road trip, put on the cool uni and try and win the tournament. So what to do? We are currently experimenting with what we are calling a “Developmental Team.” We practice twice a week for two hours a clip. We practice correct fundamentals & take the players through a regimine of drills and they get a bunch of quality fielding and hitting repitiions. The second half of practice we play “sandlot” baseball. Five on five, switching postions every inning, teaching while we play. We may play in a tournament or two before it is all said and done, but in the meantime, I could care less about playing in anything organized. I am watching 12 young players improve right before my eyes and it is pretty cool. I am not saying our little program is better, worse or the same as anyone else. But one thing I do know, in order to improve at the game of baseball, players need to practice correct fundamentals, and practice them often. If your travel team does that for you, great. If your rec team does it, wonderful. The problem I see is that fatherly egos are taking over youth baseball at rec and travel levels. For the coaches/dads it is more about winning the games/tournaments than it is developing the players. Don’t get me wrong, I am not knocking competition. Learning to compete to win is vital in the development of a player. But competiton without preparation will result in exposure of weaknesses. You see, eventually our youngsters fundamentals will be exposed and eventually they will have to learn and practice them if they desire to continue playing the game of baseball. Why not teach them now?