After two seasons (2 Falls and 2 Springs) of Little League Baseball, I have made the decision to leave Little League and create my own program.
Growing up in the late 80s, early 90s, the only youth baseball being played in Southeastern PA was Little League. Being that this was the only avenue for kids ages 6-12, you could imagine that the competition was tough. Each team had several good players, which made every game tough. And most coaches took their roles seriously, running multiple practices each week, and looking to win each game.
Me and my three brothers ate, slept and breathed the game. When school was out, we hit the backyard for a game of stickball. Neighborhood kids would join us and we played until the sun went down. Every summer our family would venture to Williamsport, PA for the Little League World Series. One of my greatest memories as a kid was being at the game where “David” Trumbull, CT beat the “Goliath” Taiwan, which had won the LLWS the previous five years. We loved Little League Baseball. And when my son was born in 2009, I couldn’t wait to get him started.
My son turned 6 in April 2015, and began playing Coach Pitch Little League the following Fall. After jumping through some hoops just to be a coach, I found myself with a 12-player team that consisted of three 5-year olds and four 6-year olds. Not a big deal except for the fact that the four other teams in our league primarily consisted of kids that were 8. Turns out, we had a GREAT season. We were 0-9, but I couldn’t have asked for a better group of kids…AND PARENTS. I worked the kids hard. We had active practices; kids had to wear shirts in; hats on the right way; and no walking on and off the field. We drilled and drilled and drilled. And parents supported me every step of the way. After our last game, I couldn’t wait for the Spring to roll around.
The following three Coach Pitch seasons (Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017), our team went 30-7. And five of the losses came against the same team. So, against all other teams, we went 28-2. The majority of kids that beat us badly in our initial season graduated to kid pitch in the Spring of 2016. So, we started playing against kids that were our kids’ ages. Even though we went 30-7 in the past three seasons, I enjoyed more the season in which we went 0-9.
I’ve seen some disturbing trends over the past year and a half. Kids wearing hats backwards during games. Shirts untucked. Outfielders sitting on the ground. Catchers, yes catchers, playing with the dirt while I am trying to pitch. These things should NOT happen during a game. But why do they? Because the coaches allow it. At one point, a boy was sitting in right field when his teammate tried telling him to get up. The coach yelled out to the boy (who was trying to help his teammate) to “forget about him.” It was at that exact moment that I decided I had to move on.
Outside of a few annoying rules and responsibilities, there are two main reasons why I am moving away from Little League. First, there is the limit of 12 kids to a team. I understand the reasoning behind this as leagues want to get kids playing as many innings as possible, and as many at-bats as possible. But, if a coach wants to carry more players, let them carry more players. I want to coach as many kids as possible. And having a rule that limits players to a team prevents me from doing so.
Having a limit to roster size pales in comparison to the main reason why I am starting my own program. Coaches simply do not teach. 30 years ago, I learned the game in my backyard playing stickball. In this day and age, stickball is no longer being played. You don’t see kids playing at the park. So, their knowledge of the game is dependent on what they learn on their youth teams. And from what I have seen, it isn’t much. Teams rarely practice, and there is little to no coaching during the games. In fact, games are a complete waste of time. You rarely see someone field a groundball and throw a runner out a first. Why? Because they don’t know how to field properly. If they do field it, they don’t know how to properly transition to throw. But, if they’re lucky enough to execute a field and throw, the first baseman usually has a less than 25% chance of catching it.
At a young age, kids need a good amount of reps, but they need someone to show them what a good rep looks like. Since they rarely practice, there is little chance they will get in a significant quantity of reps. I do give our Little League credit in that they paid for coaches to attend a coaches clinic. But, without the desire to improve each and every player; and without the ability to effectively communicate what they know to their players, it’s hard for a coach to positively impact a player. Ultimately, with the level of play being where it is, I just didn’t feel that kids were getting much out of games. It got to the point where I’d rather be practicing than playing games.
The quality of coaches is where I think Rec leagues struggle the most. It’s only a matter of time before the players, that have a strong desire to get better, will turn to the travel-ball route. And when this exodus occurs, the quality of play in Rec leagues only gets more watered down. Its a tough position for these leagues as coaches are volunteers. You can’t mandate that they are passionate about helping kids. You can’t mandate that they log a certain amount of hours training to be a coach. But, the leagues do need to realize what the end result will be if the quality of coaching runs low.
I am currently preparing for my Fall Developmental Program. For many of the kids, it will be their first venture into kid pitch. We’re scheduled to practice 3 days per week, and inter-squad on Saturdays. My #1 goal? That every kid is better on October 28th than they are on September 6th. So far, 17 kids have registered. It’s gonna be a great Fall!