Part Two: Summer Baseball Options – Choose Wisely

This is the second part in our series on selecting the best option for your son for the summer.  With so many options, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle.  Today, we will focus on Showcases and Camps.

College Showcases

While working as an Assistant Coach at William & Mary, I attended various showcases, and quite regularly, I would see the same kids attending showcases after showcase.  We’d call these kids “Professional Showcasers”.  I don’t want to dissuade anyone from attending a showcase, because they can help; but they shouldn’t consume your summer.  I mentioned a few reasons in the previous post on why you should be careful about the lure of “College Coaches will be here”, so I won’t bore you with the same points.  But I do want to offer two additional points of suggestion.  First, if you know for sure that a college coach will be in attendance, know what that college coach is looking for.  If your son is a catcher, and the college has an All-American catcher that just finished his freshman year; you probably should assume that the coach isn’t looking for a catcher.  Unless they need someone to catch bullpens.  So, do your homework before you get all worked up about the schools that are attending.  Second, your son needs to play games.  Showcases are a good way to get exposure to college coaches, but your son also needs to play in games.  Games are a great way to improve your game, both mentally and physically.  Yes, there are games at Showcases; but your son’s playing time will be limited as the organizers need to make sure everyone gets equal playing time.  If your son spends his whole summer at Showcases, chances are he will not get better in the area that matters most, in games.

Camps

I’m a big advocate of Camps; both for youth and high school baseball players.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad ones out there.  Here are some things you need to look out for.  At the youth level, are you interested in simply finding a place to keep your son busy to fill their summer months?  Or, are you interested in them improving their game?  If the latter, you obviously need to be selective.  Talk to parents that have attended the camp in the past and get their insights.  Talk to your coach to get their opinion.  You don’t want to waste your money on a camp where the instructors are there simply to collect a paycheck.  Find a camp where the instructors actually want to get the kids better.

For the high school players, Camps can be a great way to get exposure to colleges.  But these too come at a risk.  Hopefully, you and your son begin your college search in their freshman year.  The search should include: which region of the country do they want to spend their four years; academically, what is of interest to them; what is more comfortable for them, a big school or small school; financial costs; etc.  As the search narrows, begin to look at what schools offer summer camps.  Before you make your selection, please take the following into consideration.  First, as mentioned above, do your homework to understand what the school needs.  Second, what other college coaches will be there working the camp?  Chances are, the camp will have coaches from other schools working the camp.  Are any of those of interest to your son?  And finally, will the coaches from the school hosting the camp actually be at the camp.  Speaking from personal experience, college coaches do not make much money, unless you’re coaching at a major Division I program.  Summer, and Winter, camps are a great way for the assistant coaches to supplement their income.  So, the head coach will place the responsibility of running the camp on the shoulders of the second assistant or the volunteer assistant.  And in some cases, the head coach and head assistant will not even be at the camp.  They may be on the recruiting trail, at a tournament or a showcase.  So, inquire from the school as to which coaches will be at the camp, and how much time will they be spending with the kids?

But again, I am a big fan of camps.  Mostly because it gets you several days of exposure with the coaches.  Unlike showcases, where coaches may only get a glimpse of your son’s ability.

The great news is that there are many options for you and your son.  The downside is that you really need to dig in on which of those options serve your son the best.  If you prepare in advance, and do your homework, we’re sure you’ll make the right decision.

Summer Baseball Options – Choose Wisely

Summers, as a kid, meant long days at the Community pool, pulling weeds at my parents house, trips to the Jersey Shore and long nights of backyard baseball with my three brothers.  As I got older and into my high school years, travel ball (in its infancy in our area) and Showcases started filling some voids.  I’m glad I experienced childhood and teenage years when I did because these days, summers for youth baseball players in a full-time job!  Showcases and out-of-town tournaments are dominating the summer schedule.  And I’m seeing less and less (if any) kids play stickball or wiffleball in backyards and local parks.  The game has gotten too organized and I feel we’re taking the fun out of it.

Depending on your son’s age level, your summer will likely be filled with one or more of the following: League games; Tournaments; College Showcases; and Camps.  Each has its’ own benefits and each comes with its’ own set of risks.  Given that I’ve spent time as someone that has gone through each of these as a player and as a College Coach, I will offer my insights on each, offering recommendations on how you and your kids should approach each category.  Before I go off and offer my two cents on each, I want to reiterate that I feel it’s incredibly important to set time aside for the kids to just go and play.  Organize a local pick-up game where there’s no instruction.  It could be stickball in a parking lot; or wiffleball at a local field.  The more fun they have playing, the more likely it is they will stick with the game.  And you never know, they may just learn a thing or two.

In this week’s post, we’ll take a look at Games and Tournaments.  Next week, we’ll focus on Showcases and Camps.

Games

As mentioned in a previous post, teams should stack their rosters in the summer months.  My preference is to have as many as 20 on your roster.  Kids will go on vacation; you’ll want to limit pitchers’ pitch counts (and you’ll likely have weekends full of games); and the summer heat can take its toll on players, so you’ll want to rest your starters every now and then.  Plus, summer teams rarely practice; and you’ll want to use pre-game (or mid-game) as a time for when your reserves can get in quality practice time.  It’s ok if they wear themselves out b/c they’re not in the line-up that day.  Plus, they won’t feel like they are wasting their time showing up just to sit the bench.  They’ll be getting in quality work.  Therefore, they’ll have a better attitude on the bench during the game knowing they got something done that day.

As a parent, you also want to know that you’re not wasting your time and your child’s time.  Make sure your child is getting in their drills when they are not playing.  Yes, they will learn a lot by playing; but they need to refine their skills in practice.  If your child is not getting much game time, make sure they are getting in work before or after the game.  Having them get in their work increases the chances they will get better; and it also teaches them to compete.  Instill in them the value of working for what you want.  It doesn’t always guarantee them the results they seek; which is also a great life lesson for them to learn as well.

Games also provide a value platform for improving their game mentally.  Coaches should be working with bench players to make sure they understand the game.  Sit with them and talk to them during the game.  What would you do here?  How would you have done that differently?  Given what you’ve seen their pitcher throw so far, how would you approach your next at-bat?  Baseball is just as much a mental game as it is physical; and no better place to improve mentally than during a game.

Tournaments

I’m amazed at the amount of travel families do in the Summer for baseball.  There are plenty of articles on the rising costs of travel ball, so I won’t bore you with the redundancy of data.  Hey, if you have the money, and willing to take the time out of your summer to go on trips, go for it.  But, YOU NEED TO MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A GOOD REASON FOR GOING.  Travel team playing in Myrtle Beach for the weekend?  Sold!  Beach and baseball are two of my favorite things.  As long as I can afford it, I’m there.  This kills two birds with one stone.  You get in a family vacation and also some baseball.  Tournaments also offer two other benefits; but they come with a HUGE warning!  Tournaments could offer your child the opportunity to play against better talent.  In my experience in playing and coaching, I can definitively say that this is not always true.  It is nice to travel to another region to see how your son and team stack up against kids from another region; but it doesn’t mean that they’re the best the region has to offer.  Make sure the coach has done their homework on the opposing teams.  Why spend thousands of dollars to travel to a tournament where teams are far less talented than those in your backyard?  But then again…maybe you’re going to Myrtle Beach!

Another factor for travel tournaments is the lure of “College Coaches will be in attendance.”  Ahhhhhh, the old “College Coaches will be there” trick.  Parents, you need to think long and hard about this one.  A few words of advice.  1. Are they saying, with certainty, which college coaches will be there?  If yes, are any of interest to your son?  2. How many games are being played at the same time.  Most tournaments are played at complexes with multiple fields.  This means that a coach may have to choose between one of, say, four games.  Yes, they could rotate during games, but let’s hope they don’t come to your game in the 6th inning when your son was just taken out of the game.  3. College Coaches are usually coming to these tournaments knowing who they are looking at.  These coaches plan their recruiting trips out weeks, even months, in advance.  They go places where they know their kids (kids they are actively recruiting) will be.  And they are making a b-line right for their games.  Sure, they could pick up a new recruit while watching the game; but you need to understand that these coaches are there for a reason, and typically, it’s because some other kid is there.

In our next post, we’ll present the positives and negatives of Showcases and Camps.