A friend shared this article with me and I think it's very relevant to many of the CheckSwing discussions we have. Do you agree? Disagree? What are some solutions?
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Years ago, all youth sports clearly developed in two main directions. One is the traditional recreational leagues and teams, designed for provide simple instruction and a place where everyone who wants can find a spot. But many traditional leagues and organizations are finding growth and even maintaining their numbers difficult with the allure and explosion of elite youth teams.
Just a decade ago, the landscape of elite youth baseball was very different than it is today. In the summer in every area of the country there were perhaps a handful of elite teams. Depending where you live, these might be called premiere, prospect, travel, elite, select, all-star, tournament, or showcase teams. If a ballplayer earned a spot on those teams, especially in their high school years, it was an accomplishment.
For many reasons, the market has changed. More young players wanted to have the experience of playing baseball through the summer. If you love baseball, then why not spend more days enjoying it? Many, many teams and organizations sprouted up to fill this demand. This is a double-edged sword. Now more ballplayers can enjoy playing more ballgames over a longer season than their local league provided. However, obviously with so many teams for each family to choose from for their ballplayer, the level of talent has generally become diluted for every team, organization, and league in the country.
As an example, from 2005 through 2008, a team called the Houston Banditos Black (their 10U team which eventually aged into 13U) won an incredible 155 games in a row. This was not accomplished by intentionally playing inferior competition. This was a carefully selected, frequently-practiced and well-coached team that won every local, state, regional, and national tournament they played for nearly three years. This record is considered to be the longest winning streak of any sports team at any level, and brought much attention to their organization. This brought inquiries from the families of youth players of every age, so they began a 15U-18U showcase program in 2008. This growth has continued to accommodate the demand of parents to have their son be a Bandito. As of September of 2013, there are 24 Banditos teams headquartered in Houston and Austin, Texas.
On Long Island in 2005, there were approximately 30 12U travel teams, and less than half of those traveled out of state, according to Lou Maietta, long time youth and school coach and owner/operator of the Long Island Baseball Academy. Now there are over 200 teams playing at that age.
“So now, of course, the players are spread out,” said Maietta, who is passionate on the subject. “So good players are playing against inferior competition. Those ground balls through the infield that count as base hits would have been fielded by better players. So all stats and team records are misleading. And as far as developing players, there are now 200 coaches of all levels (of knowledge) coaching just this age level.”
“I probably saw a difference around 2003 or 2004,” explained Craig Everett, Head Baseball Coach at Concordia College in Bronxville, New York. “I saw more people wanting to be in showcases and showcase tournaments than players or teams actually trying to win.
“When I first started coaching summer baseball, it was team oriented. Now it seems to be all about the individual,” continued Everett. “If a player or their family have a different opinion of what the organization or team philosophy is, I‘ve seen many dads start their own teams. Also, I’ve seen coaches post an innings chart at the beginning of the weekend, making sure that kids have equal playing time. But I believe that its hard to compete that way.”
Everett’s experience is typical for a college coach. Like many of his peers, he feels that the talent is spread so thin, it’s almost impossible to see all of the kids he might want to see.
“I feel like its so diluted now,” stated Rob Savarese, pitching coach at Briarcliffe College in Bethpage, New York. “The overall quality of baseball is down, especially in respect to the players knowledge of the game. I mean knowing the situations of the game. The mechanics have gotten better, but the knowledge is not nearly as good as it used to be.”
Bruce Lambin brought travel/select baseball to Texas. In 1984, his team of twelve-year olds won the first Continental Amateur Baseball Association World Series, first national tournament for independent teams.
“Since then, travel baseball became a big money maker,” explained Lambin. “The number of teams exploded and they diluted the quality of the players on the teams. I started the Lone Star Baseball Club, the first high school-aged travel team in Houston over two decades ago. Back then, all my players went on to play college or pro or both. But a few years ago, because there were so many teams (for these players to choose from) I felt that the talent on any team was diluted. There were maybe three potential D3 players on our team. I walked away.”
Lambin stressed that learning the game and practicing and playing the game will determine a player’s ultimate level of success, rather than the team whose uniform he wears.
“There are no shortage of organizations/teams who will take your money with the delusion that the fact that because you are a Bandito or a Tornado that you are good and will get to play at the next level,” said Lambin. “They just want your money.”