'Playing up' in age can help a gifted player, but only for a time


May 07, 2006|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

My 12-year-old son is a very gifted baseball player who has played against high-level competition since he was 8. Unfortunately, this year's 12-year-old travel team disbanded. One of the options for him was to play for the town team, where he can do some pitching, but will face weak competition until All Stars begins. The other option was to try out for the 13-year-old travel team. He decided to try out for the 13-year-old team, and he did great, going head to head with 20 other kids who are older than him. The coach called after the tryout and said he could see why my son excelled on his 12-year-old travel team. He said he thought my son was as good as the 13-year-olds trying out, but he needed him to be better than them to explain to people why he was taking a younger player. My son was upset when heard the news. He has never been rejected from a team. He's fine now and is looking forward to All Star season. But do you think a younger player "playing up" would have a chance to excel in the older age group?

Debbie Feldshon

Cheshire, Conn.

DEAR DEBBIE / / My answer to your question is, "yes," I think that there are younger players who can benefit by "playing up," but this has to be a case-by-case decision. You have to determine if the younger player has the emotional and physical makeup to be able to handle playing with the older kids. I "played up" for many years. I enjoyed the competition and was able to handle myself pretty well.

On the other hand, there are times when I think it can be a good thing to let a kid dominate within his correct age group, especially as the kids approach the 12-13-year-old age groups when the fields start to get bigger and the extra year on a small field can be beneficial. At times the feeling of competing with older kids and having to overachieve all the time can have a negative effect. Sometimes spending a year with kids your own age can allow you to relax a bit and regain some confidence that may have gotten lost over time. After years of "playing up," I was able to play with kids my own age as a 16-year-old and found that it was very helpful to me to be able to display my talent against players my own age.

Whether to allow a kid to "play up" is an individual decision. If a child has the desire, the skill set and the mental makeup to do so, it can be a good experience. But don't be afraid to allow a "catch-up" year at some point. Letting your child excel and perhaps take more of a leadership role with kids his or her own age can have a positive impact.

Our 13-year-old son has a bad habit of dropping his hands when he starts his swing. What are some drills that might help him? Or where we might get some information to help him with this?

Joey and Taylor Ellis, Wilson, N.C.

Dear Joey and Taylor / / When a batter drops his hand as the pitch is being delivered, it is known as having a "hitch" in the swing. A "hitch" is not always a bad thing if it takes place early in the swing as a timing mechanism or a way to "load up" before the pitch is delivered. Many great players, including Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, have been extremely successful despite having a "hitch." The important thing is that the hitter gets his or her hands back up in a position to swing as the ball is actually being released.

When I was visiting Yankee Stadium once, I spent some time in the batting tunnels under the stadium and saw Jorge Posada and Tino Martinez executing an interesting drill. They took a regular batting tee and raised it to the point where it was very high in the strike zone. With the tee in that position they swung, trying to drive the ball by staying on top of it. To accomplish that you have to keep your hands higher than the ball, which makes having a "hitch" impossible. Give this a try and see if it helps.

Have a question or issue arising from your involvement in youth sports? Send it by e-mail to askcal@baltimoresun.com.

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