Years ago I was approached by a parent wanting advice on how best to prepare his son for high school and eventually college baseball. At first I began thinking about drills, activities, coaching pointers, but quickly starting thinking about who was truly preparing for college baseball. Was the ball player working to reach that competitive level or was it his parents? In the age of ultra-competitive baseball and club teams I began to reflect on the game in general, what is important and what my focus as a parent and coach should be.
What I came up with was a paradigm shift in the game that is being taught today. Recently, club teams and specialization in a particular sport has become the norm. We as parents are starting to understand how important it is to get our child the very best instruction and very best coaching from an early age. This exercise led me to two very important questions: as a father, what kind of ballplayer am I hoping to raise and as a coach what type of players do I coach?
While the question posed to me was well intentioned; it led me to think about the game much differently. You see, the child we were talking about at the time was 9 years old. Was this child ready for the pressure highly competitive teams will put on him? Was he ready for baseball to become his only sport? Was he ready to trade off play time and family time for practice time? Maybe he was. Maybe he was that unique, highly skilled child that needed that special push, but what did that say for the game in general?
The game of baseball is just that… a game. While most young boys dream about playing professional baseball the reality is a much different picture. As parents we look at ages 8-18 as the “work phase” of the game. We think we need to develop our young boys to be able to play at the next level and eventually earn that scholarship. The stark reality of that thought process is us as parents looking past the most important time in our child’s development and enjoyment of the game and on to a possibly unattainable goal. Are we setting our boys up for failure?
To illustrate this concept let’s look at the numbers. Each high school baseball team carries approximately 18 players on the roster. Studies have shown that less than 7% of boys that play little league baseball going on to play for their high school team. Of this small percent of little league players the next step is even more dramatic. Only 3-5% of high school athletes go on to play college. Currently, in NCAA Division I baseball there is 11.7 scholarships available per team. So the chances of gaining that scholarship drop even further.
This whole concept drew me back to the conversation I had with that father years ago. The answer to the question… Be sure your boy learns proper fundamentals. Be sure he has fun. Most importantly do not live through him, but enjoy his journey in the game. Let your boy have fun and enjoy the game at his level regardless of where that rests. The reality is we have no idea when our boy’s journey will be over. It may be MLB, it may be college, or it may be 12 years old. Our goal as parents should not be thinking about 8-18 as the “work phase” of the game, but the “enjoyment phase” of the game. All parents eventually realize the game they took their son to play is over and the joy wasn’t the work to get to the next level, but the journey along the way.