No, I am not talking about the Astros and their cheating to win a World Series. No I am using the line from one of my favorite movies, Apollo 13, where they inform mission control that they have had an explosion and are in serious trouble.
Recreational softball, Little League Softball and any other entry level softball has some real issues the need to be addressed. Most of us want to think that these issues don’t really rear their ugly head until we get more serious about the game, but the reality is that too many people are already taking entry-level fastpitch way too seriously.
- Don’t specialize to get ahead. Specialization leads to injury and burnout. Kids who specialize in softball before the age of 12 experience a 70% to 90% greater injury rate than the non specialists. Yes, specialization makes us better players for the short-term, but at what cost?
- Stop training kids like they are adults. Running super intense practices and training routines for very young players is just plain foolish. Kids are not mini adults and to expect them to react like adults is a trap. Let them be kids.
- More practice, less games. Practice is where kids can learn is a much less stressful and scary environment. Games are pressure-packed and seen by a lot of people (relatively). Let’s practice more so the kids can learn to play and then let them have game to show what they have learned.
- Ease up on the pressure to be an All Star or make the travel team. We want all the games and practices to be exciting so kids look forward to every day of playing ball. Emphasize the value of the regular season just as much as any postseason opportunities.
- Winning isn’t everything! Focusing on winning too early is a death blow to a player’s enjoyment of the game. Someone wins and someone loses but as long as everyone is learning, improving and having fun we are all winning. Focus on the process of improving and enjoying the game, everyone will come out ahead.
- Making the game too advanced too early. When young players have to spend all their time thinking about what they have to do they are probably not having too much fun or success. We don’t need to play the adult version of the game at younger ages. let them progress to that level.
- Parents, don’t relive your athletic success or failure through your kids. We all know we shouldn’t expect our kids to fill the void my own athletic failures might have left but too many people fall into this trap. Let them play the game for their own enjoyment, period, Remember, “WE” really aren’t playing, they are!
- Beware the ride home. This is the biggest nightmare for many players of all ages. The questions, the anger or the frustration felt by a parent about their kid’s performance can set off an avalanche of negativity that makes the ride home unbearable. Remember, your kid already knows they had a bad day. The intentions of teaching them about their mistakes might be well intended, but it isn’t working. Follow her lead, if she doesn’t talk about the game, you shouldn’t either!
- Coaches must be knowledgeable. Many people coach for may different reasons. Some to look out for their kid, some because they love the game and others because they got blackmailed into doing it to keep the team afloat. Coaches need training, they need to learn about the game, they need to be prepared to do a good job. We think of coaches as another level of teacher for our children, we want them to know their stuff or at least be willing to try to learn.
- Ease up on the umpires. We need umpires to play our games and if we don’t changeout attitudes towards them we are going to be in really big trouble. Coaches, players, parents and fans all need to learn to treat the umpires with more respect. Also, never forget that many of the people umpiring in some of these leagues are volunteering their time or at best grossly underpaid.
There are many issues with youth sports and softball in particular. We aren’t going to solve everything in one shot, but if we are more aware of the problems, we can start so solve them. We love this game but we are stewards of it. Let’s make up our kids to do a better job!