Roughly a year ago, I was forwarded an email from the parent of a nine year old kid. The baseball team he had just played for was disbanding, and he was looking for a new team. Some of the old team had splintered off to join a new team, so these parents reached out to one of those parents who, as it turns out, was now the head coach of the new team. (Note: I have edited to remove any names. This includes the names of people and teams. Everything else is exactly as it was forwarded to me.)
“i am coaching a new team. It is an existing franchise without a 10 U team so we will be filling that gap. I would be willing to take (your son) on if he is willing to commit to only baseball. I’m only interested in baseball players who want to strive toward Division 1 college baseball. I’ll tell you what I’ve told all the parents who have asked about the team, the boys on this team are going to need to be tough and ready to work. It’s not going to be anything like what the (other) team did. We are going to have no less than 2 practices a week and only 1 game. The practices will be long (usually) and no doubt, a bit grueling for the boys. This will be good for them. Winning ballplayers work hard. It’s pretty much that simple. I want you and (your son) to know what your getting into before you commit. The reason I decided to leave the (other) team was because of this very thing. We wasted an entire season and did NOT teach our boys how to play or what it takes to be winners. I could not step up because (the Head Coach) wouldn’t allow it. So be it but this new team will not be this way. We’re going to work hard and we are going to win. If this is the kind of team you are looking for, then you are welcome to join. But be sure because I promise you it won’t be easy. Talk it over with (your son). This team will take priority over everything except a players faith and academics. Here is the player/parent expectation sheet that was passed out at tryouts. Already some have found these requirements too much for them and that’s fine. There is a team for every boy. This team will be filled with boys who want to be great ballplayers.”
Kinda makes you feel weird, right? You’d like to think maybe I just made that up, right? I wish I had. But, alas, here we have a grown man talking about conducting “grueling” practices for 9 and 10 year old boys. Kids! I’d like to dissect this a bit, if I may. Obviously, one can read this once and realize it’s ludicrous on its own merit. However, I enjoy beating dead and ridiculous horses, so here we go:
1 – “I would be willing to take (your son) on if he is willing to commit to only baseball.” Couple that with: “This team will take priority over everything except a players faith and academics”.
Okay, so Coach Hardass would like for all of his future D1 prospects to give up everything they love to commit to baseball. He expects that they will quit anything that could interfere with baseball. In 2011, I coached a kid who was a concert pianist and had a perfect ACT score. He just happened to also be a hell of a pitcher. The summer I coached him, I was getting calls from Harvard and MIT about him. I guess Captain Tough Nuts would have liked him to give up on that silly piano playing. Surely Harvard isn’t good enough, eh?
Here’s the deal…if you think your kid should specialize, wait until they can make that decision on their own. At 9 or 10, there is 100% no reason to commit to one sport. That’s silly. No, silly doesn’t even explain it. It’s stupid. Let them be kids. Let them have fun. Don’t push them into select leagues where the season lasts 8 months and they play 764 games. It’s outrageous. Let them explore other sports and activities. It will make them more well-rounded. Unless your daughter or son is literally Mike Trout-incarnate at age 9, the Big Leagues aren’t coming to scout them this summer. Relax.
2 – “I’m only interested in baseball players who want to strive toward Division 1 college baseball.”
If I had a nickel for every coach or parent that thought they had a D1 kid…gee whiz. Do you know what a D1 kid looks like? At bare minimum, half of “D1 makeup” is size. Little Billy gonna be 5’6″ and a buck-thirty? Yeah, Division 1 isn’t likely, old chap. And that’s okay. See, there’s outstanding baseball at D2, D3, and NAIA, too. Outstanding baseball. But everyone gets hung up on D1. I’ve been coaching high school baseball for a decade. You know how many D1 kids I’ve seen in our area? Not very many. 10, maybe? 12? D1 athletes are a different breed. They look different. The ball sounds different off their bats. Their fastball pops more. They carry themselves differently. They look like grown men playing with children. They aren’t the norm. So, for Coach Big Britches to want to assemble a team full of D1 kids? Not happening, champ. But, what he could do is teach kids fundamentals and a good work ethic.
I hate the stigma that is attached to collegiate programs below D1. It’s nuts. There are so many good programs at the other levels that can actually offer a good amount of money for sports and academics. Fun fact: D1’s split 11.7 scholarships across an entire program. There are 298 D1 NCAA baseball programs in the country. These programs can carry a maximum of 35 players. If my NKU math is correct (and I used a calculator, so it should be), that’s 10,430 D1 roster spots. Sounds like a lot. But, think about how many kids are on your son’s team. Then think about how many teams are in the league. Then think about how many age groups are in that league and how many teams there are per each age group. Then think about how many leagues and teams there are in your state alone. Then multiply that by 50. Oh, and add in Canada. And the Dominican. And Puerto Rico. You get the point. That 10,000 and change isn’t looking so good anymore, is it?
3 – “The practices will be long (usually) and no doubt, a bit grueling for the boys.”
Grueling? For 9 year olds? Dude…
Baseball has a bit of a problem right now. See, with kids’ attention spans being what they are, and the pace of baseball being what it is (especially at the instructional levels), baseball is having a hard time gaining traction in certain areas. Competing with football and basketball can be a problem, especially when it can cost upwards of a thousand dollars for a summer baseball team that plays for two months. It costs the price of a basketball to go play pick-up hoops. It costs the price of a football to play backyard football. Conversely, think about the space and equipment required to play pick-up baseball. And coaches like me wonder why we can’t get kids? So, Captain Ass-Hat wanting to run grueling practice for kids while molding them into division one athletes can prove problematic if he wants the majority of them to still like baseball when they’re 11. Burnout is real. And, berating them while pushing them mercilessly isn’t going to magically make them Giancarlo Stanton. It’s going to make them walk away from the game for good. I’m not saying practice should be easy. I am saying that it can be challenging and fun. It has to be. It absolutely has to be. When it stops being fun, it’s time to stop playing. Does Coach Dummy-Dick’s email seem like he’s willing to have some friggin’ fun?
It’s guys like this that make guys like me look ridiculous. It’s the Johnny Hardo guys that eventually turn kids away from the game. I’m not saying that striving for the highest level of collegiate baseball is a bad thing at all. It’s a hell of a goal. But pushing 9 and 10 year old kids to that end while asking that they sacrifice fun in exchange is a ridiculous proposition. That said, I know this coach fielded a team this year. That means that a sizable group of parents agreed to let this wild-man lead their children onto a baseball field. That makes me sad. For them, I can only hope for a couple things: one, that they wise up and eventually flee. Two, that they don’t grow up to hate the game.
For what it’s worth, I sent this email to several of my coaching colleagues. This list of gentlemen includes former college and minor league baseball players. To a man, they all said the same things: “No way in hell would I let my kid play for him,” and, “Tell them to run far away and fast.”
Grueling? Come on, man.
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