It started several years ago. Elite teams started popping up all around us, poaching talent from the community Babe Ruth leagues with promises of stiffer competition and access to college scouts. We saw it coming, and it has arrived. With the same promises of competitive play and college scholarships.
Civic pride and loyalty no longer exists in the masses. Parents have bought into the hype that their child needs to play at a higher level. Their child needs a coach who has played at the higher level. Their child could be the next Babe Ruth. Bat at such young ages, you can’t predict anything about a child’s playing future. In short, most of these people are throwing away money.
Local Babe Ruth leagues, less than a decade ago, had 800 – 1,000 children playing baseball and softball. Today, leagues are lucky if they can attract 400 participants. You can attribute some of that loss to natural attrition, soccer, lacrosse, and school class sizes being down in younger grade levels in a given area. However, far too many have been lost to year round travel clubs. That pay-to-play mentality that has reared its ugly head.
We realize parents and players have the right to choose what they think is best for them. But here’s the real impact that often times is neglected. Imagine if some players (the equivalent of one of your league’s teams) decided right before opening day they were going to leave to go independent or join an elite program.
The first impact is that the league loses good quality players. League officials will need to move players around to fill rosters and possibly figure out a new schedule.
The second impact is that the talent level may be diluted. Kids that would normally be relied upon to play such positions as pitcher, catcher, shortstop, are gone. While that can be great for the other players, it can put added pressure on some players to have to step up before they are ready. Now instead of a team with four pitchers, you may only have one or two who can get it over the plate. Protecting a young athlete’s arm is top priority, so teaching and developing a child to pitch properly will take a good portion of time. Your game could turn into a walk-fest until you can properly teach other players on your team to pitch properly, which won’t be fun for anyone.
Another impact is that it diminishes the coaching staff. Most of the time, those better travel players are the ones whose parents coach in community programs. When such players leave to play elite ball, chances are they are taking 6-10 possible coaches or assistants with them.
Babe Ruth League’s conviction is that childhood is the time of development that molds the type of adults we become. Competitive play, good sportsmanship, character building, and other life-lessons are the hallmark traits we strive to provide for our participants. Every child deserves to have special memories. Above all else, the Babe Ruth program is about providing a positive environment so our youth can develop their skills with an optimistic outlook and with respect for the game, each other, the adults involved, and, most importantly, themselves.
While it’s fun to go play in tournaments, there’s a time and place for such competition, like after the local league season. Let your kid be a kid during local league play.
Playing for elite teams year round can get redundant. If your child is that kid that plays left field for three innings and bats eighth, guess what? That’s pretty much where he’s going to be all year. But in Babe Ruth League, he will receive the opportunity to develop his skills in a fun environment and play several positions. Eventually as he progresses, he will have the chance to display leadership skills while reinforcing his own baseball knowledge and understanding to younger players. Kids need a fun and educational environment, and experience to get better. You won’t find those opportunities much with independent elite teams.
Babe Ruth League hopes that parents will understand the potential dangers in allowing a child to participate in programs in which rules and regulations may be few or inadequate – particularly rules that are designed to protect players from injury. Babe Ruth League also hopes that parents understand that the costs often associated with elite ball can be very prohibitive.
Elite teams go out weekend after weekend, playing four, five, maybe more, games to win a trophy. They play with the same 10-12 kids week after week. Season after season. But kids that play Babe Ruth League get to experience fun and excitement with their peers at a larger level. They get to relive the game from last night at lunch the next day or on the playground or at the bus stop. They build friendships that may not otherwise blossom. In short, if your child is not playing community ball like Babe Ruth League, you are denying your child the best experiences of their childhood. That is what really matters.