Welcome to this three part series of, “How Can I Help My Son Play College Baseball?” We will hopefully cover all aspects of the journey from pre-teen to senior year baseball players with dreams of playing at the next level. From my experience in dealing with parents and players, they are very uninformed and confused about what it takes both academically and athletically to move beyond high school baseball. We will cover a wide range of topics including skills, recruiting, summer/fall teams, camps, high school coaches, college coaches, professional scouts, academics, and more. My hope is that players and parents can be better informed and can formulate a game plan to help the dream of playing college baseball a reality.
Talent and Hard Work
First thing is first. If you want to play college baseball, you have to be a good baseball player. In order to be good, you need to have some talent, and you need to work hard. Bottom line. You notice, I didn’t say you had to play for this team, or that team, or you had to use this bat or that glove. I will say it again. You have to have some talent and you need to work hard. Now, some of us will have more talent than others. There are some who are no doubt, FSU, UF or Miami recruits. A.J. Cole and Yordi Cabrera are great examples. Those two kids are potential high draft picks, top tier recruits and are the top 1% of all the players in the state of Florida. Most of us don’t fall into that category! A quick note on those two: They both have wonderful talent and will most likely be drafted high and be given sizeable signing bonuses. Good for them. But guess what? That does not guarantee them anything other than money. They will still have to perform on the field and their talent will only take them so far. There are no short cuts in this game. It is a game of fundamentals and even the great players have to work their tails off to be successful! For the rest of us who aren’t top tier recruits, but good baseball players with a desire to play in college, it is of critical importance that you are practicing on a daily basis to improve your overall game. There is nothing more important for your chances at playing at the next level than the sharpness of your skills. Be honest with yourself on the shortcomings of your game. Find out drills and ways to practice to improve. Be the first guy at the batting cage and the last to leave. Work hard in the weight room, but work smart. Baseball is a game of quick, explosive movements. Core strength is critical. Bench pressing 350 lbs. is not. Get in shape, run. Run sprints, run poles. Work on first step quickness. Infielders take ground balls and work on your footwork. Outfielders, work on jumps and angles. Long toss. Pitchers do your flat ground work, etc.
Private Lessons, Are They Worth It?
One huge difference from high school development of players now and 20 years ago is the ever present Private Instructor. Many parents are pouring hundreds of dollars into private lessons. Is it money well spent? It can be. It can also be a waste. It all depends on who you are paying to teach your son. Find out their credentials. Ask for referrals. See if other players that worked with the instructor got better. He could be a nice guy, with good credentials, but might not be able to develop players. Once you find someone you like and trust, see if your son is getting better. If you hire an instructor and he knows what he is talking about and is able to convey it to your son, you should see improvement. It might not be drastic. This game is hard and it takes time to develop. But with good instruction and hard work, you should see development. I skipped something. If your son is not going to practice consistently, then don’t bother spending the money! A private instructor is useless if the player doesn’t work on his own to get better. Bring us back to the point I made earlier, if you are not going to dedicate time to work on your skills, then you really don’t want to play college baseball. You may think you want to, and say you want to. But, if you are not willing to put in the time and effort it takes, which it takes a ton, then find something else to pursue. Private lessons can be very beneficial to a young player’s pursuit of his dream. With the right coach, it could be money well spent.
Batting Cages, Pitching Machines
Anytime a young player can get repetitions, it is a good idea. Hitting at batting cages can help develop fast twitch muscles and hand eye coordination. The trap that young players can get into is when they try and hit against the fastest machine available. It is a good idea to be able to hit the machine with the most velocity. I am convinced that I became a good fastball hitter because of the countless hours I spent hitting against off high velocity machines growing up. However, I realize now, that it is also important to take swings against the slower machines as well. Learning timing and body control is as critical to a hitter’s development as is his fast twitch muscle development. A hitting workout where you bounce around to the different velocity machines is most optimal.
There is a camp for everything these days. Most of the money that parents spend on them is for showcasing purposes. When I started my camp business, it was purely instructional, no colleges. Guess what? No one came to camp! Parents have convinced themselves that is all about getting “seen.” If you don’t know how to play and your game needs work, then it is a waste of your money to send a kid to a showcase! It is much easier to get scratched off a recruiting list than it is to be circled. Find camps that will teach you something. Invest in your son’s skills first, especially in his younger years of high school. He will have plenty of time to be seen and get “exposure.” It is not like we live in Montana. This is probably the most scouted state in the land. So, when he does get the chance to play in front of decision makers at the college level, he knows what he is doing and can open some eyes. Talent is important, no doubt. But, the fundamentals of baseball can be drilled so that less talented players can look polished on the field. When looking for the right camp to send your son to, make sure that he will learn something and the experience will add to his development.
There are no short cuts in baseball or in life. To become a college player you need some talent, love for the game and a desire to work to improve. If your son has a dream of playing college baseball and you want to help him achieve this, invest in his game. Make sure he is working on the basic fundamentals. Find him some good instruction. There is a ton of it out there. Get him to a respectable camp where the emphasis is on player development and not a dog and pony show. Get him in shape; make him run on his own. I once heard Jim Valvano, the former legendary basketball coach at my alma mater, North Carolina State, give a speech once and it is has always stuck with me. He talked about how some of us are truly blessed athletically; he called these people “exta-ordinary.” The A.J. Cole’s and Yordi Cabrera’s of the world have been blessed with remarkable talent and are “extra-ordinary” baseball players. What about the rest of us? Jimmy V. said that with the four D’s (Desire, Dedication, Determination and Discipline), ordinary people can accomplish extra-ordinary things.
Part 2, "Summer/Fall Teams, Recruiting Services, Are They Worth It?" Coming Soon