This weekend I was having a good conversation with a coach of Easton Youth Baseball.
He has been coaching for a long time and really understands the sport. We were talking a little bit about overuse, field sizes, and development.
I remember when I finished Little League and moved to the Babe Ruth League. We moved from the small diamond to the big one. There was an adjustment period to this so most 13 year olds played in the “B” league while we got used to the bigger field.
He was telling me that there is also a field that fits in between the two. Naturally, you get some athletes playing on this intermediate field because they want to shorten the learning curve of the full field.
My only question: What’s the rush?
Baseball is not alone in letting the cart get before the horse. Every sport is an offender of this. Some are doing better jobs of following Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD) models.
In terms of skill development, most athletes will benefit from playing in smaller areas. This is really popular in hockey. Practices and games are going cross-ice in younger athletes. Not only does this save money for teams, but it also is better for the athletes. I believe soccer, basketball, and other sports are following this trend.
The benefits of small area work means more time with the ball or puck, more shots, more passes, and a greater emphasis on possession. It also means more strikes, balls in play, and less fatigue for baseball.
The main point the coach was trying to make was that moving the pitcher back means they will throw less strikes. This means the pitcher has to throw more and harder which they might not be ready for. This can lead to injury.
The batter also stunts some development. When they see less strikes, they don’t get as many chances to hit. The fielders also don’t see as many balls in play.
I thought it was a really good point because I was only thinking from an injury standpoint.
No one benefits when one athlete is faster than everyone else, outruns the defense, and scores on fast breaks repeatedly. The other players don’t get anything and the fast kid won’t be the fastest forever.
Remember to treat kids like kids. They are not mini adults. We all know that. What does a tournament win mean before an athlete knows their left from their right?
This is really important for training as well. Some people question whether or not young kids need to train or not. We train ages 8+ in our regular program and on special occasions have gone to 5.
It is not possible to train an 8 year old like they are an adult or even in high school.
Some things that young kids can work on is coordination, very basic techniques, and fun. When we can allow the kids to have fun, they will do the things we ask them.
It is way easier to teach an 8 year old how to run properly before they develop any bad habits. Those are hard to break so getting to an athlete before they start provides a lot of benefit.
The best thing that these kids can have is patience. They do not need to rush the process. They can play on small fields, stay within their age group, and play a lot of different sports/activities.
They will develop properly when they get to play their sport the way it was meant to. Let them progress as their age dictates.