Parents always want what’s best for their kids, and I always want what’s best for our guys and girls. But how do we determine what’s best for each athlete?
It’s important to know that each athlete is in a different spot developmentally, this means the advice that I give people about what their son or daughter should do varies based on the individual. That said, there are a few common mistakes that I see over and over again with young athletes.
Here are the four most common mistakes I see made.
Playing with your age and not your grade:
Little league is age-based not grade based and that makes sense if you have a 13-year-old 6th grader, that’s not a recipe for a safe game for everyone involved. But that rule also has its drawbacks long term for those that are in 7th grade but still are young enough to play little league. Here’s the thing that most little league parents don’t realize, high school baseball and softball isn’t age based it’s grade based. So everyone that wants to play HS baseball tries out as a freshman.
Little league baseball is awesome and fun, but the reality is it’s not real baseball. In higher-level baseball the fields are bigger, the bats are heavier, the mound is further away. Although the skills to play High School baseball are the same as the skills used to play Little League, to be successful you have to hit further and faster, throw further and faster and run further and faster. It takes time to learn how to play baseball in this way. If your son is a 12-year-old 7th grader still eligible to play little league you may want to consider not playing little league. I know that might be hard for your son to hear but if he has ambitions of playing high school baseball he will need time to adjust to how different the game is, and by playing as a little league as a 7th grader he will likely do very well get confidence. Only to realize as an 8th grader that he struggles to get the ball out of the infield on the big field.
Once your son realizes he can’t get the ball out of the infield he’ll need time to get stronger and swing harder with good timing. Don’t underestimate how hard that is for many kids.
Thinking playing games is the most important thing:
Many travel sports organizations have presented games as their product. I personally don’t look at it that way, the product that I want to put forward is the development of athletes and of young people. Winning a 13U baseball game or baseball tournament will not make an athlete more likely to get playing time on his or her varsity team one day. But teaching athletes to be aggressive, and leading them to strong/functional movement patterns certainly will. Everybody watched Talladega Nights knew that Ricky’s ideas about winning were unhealthy, yet we get so wrapped up in outcomes of middle school baseball games that we drift dangerously close into his way of thinking. Obviously we want to win, but becoming a slave to it in such a dramatic way teaches kids to focus on the wrong things.
Focusing on Little League or Middle School Results: Quick story, I played a lot of every sport growing up. One sport I played a lot was basketball, I was a point guard I was pretty good, no phenom or anything but I was one of the best players on my team. My thing was I could shoot the lights out. Look, I wasn’t Steph Curry, but if I put up a shot there was a pretty good chance it was going in. So I get on my 7th-grade basketball team and the coach of the team decides that he’s going to start tracking my shooting percentages and reading them to me. My field goal percentage in the first few games was 35-40 percent, I hear this number and being the analytical thinker that I am, I instantly think “oh no, I’ve been playing basketball this whole time thinking I’m a great shooter but I’m actually hurting my team when I shoot. So I literally stop shooting unless it’s a layup, I rack up a lot of assists per game in the next two years but never regain my confidence as a shooter. As a result, as a high school player, I was hesitant and afraid to make mistakes and as a result, my high school basketball team was really bad 5 – 15 my senior year. I was a walking ball of anxiety on the court. I still play a lot of pick up basketball, I’m now 10 years removed from high school and it’s still really hard for me to shake the urge to overthink it when I miss or take a less than perfect shot. Sometimes I’ll legit take a wide-open three-pointer miss and tell my teammates it was a bad shot when it obviously wasn’t. The moral of the story is you want to develop game instincts at a young age and once they are patterned in then you can start talking about whether or not a play was smart or not.
Give your kids your permission to fail, because they will anyway, you just want them to fail in a way that moves them in a direction that stimulates their growth not stunts it. For me, my coach could have taught me how to make a shot that I was already taking a higher percentage rather than condemning my shooting.
When at little league and middle school travel baseball/softball focus on the process and praise the effort of trying to make it happen in a game. Most of the time it won’t happen as you want it to and that’s okay. That’s what growth is. Focus on a smart well thought out process and the results will come. Results are, and always will be a product of the process.
Not working on physicality: Your son or daughter is going to grow taller and develop better body awareness as they get older but they won’t magically get stronger. In baseball/softball how hard to hit, how hard you throw and how fast you run is very important. You’ve got to work on it, get in the gym and get to work. If your kid is not physically strong enough to compete, playing 50 games in a summer won’t help him or her. Play the games next summer and spend this summer getting stronger. If you were to play tennis against someone really good, and they destroyed you because they were faster than you the best solution wouldn’t be to just keep playing them, the best solution is to get faster then try to play them again. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Once you determine that you’re not on par physically you have to alter your plan to become physically on par.
The best piece of advice I can give you about developing your young athlete is to don’t just follow the advice from your coach because he or she cares about you. Lots of people want your kid to do well, but only a few of them actually know how to guide them there. Listen to everyone, but be critical, making sure you know exactly why you’re doing what you’re doing if a coach or trainer can’t articulate that they probably aren’t very good at their job. Learning to play a sport at a high level isn’t easy. Learning to coach a sport at a high level is also very hard. Make sure who is advising the development of your son or daughter knows what they’re doing.
Thanks for Reading!
Kurt Hewes – Director of Hitting and Founder of Ignite Baseball