With travel baseball, kids' love of the game is tantamount


November 05, 2006|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

DEAR CAL -- What are your feelings on travel baseball teams/leagues for the younger players, say ages 8 to 14?

Jeanne Ambrose, Elizabeth City, N.C.

DEAR JEANNE -- Before my son started playing travel ball, I had reservations about the concept. While I thought it was great that kids today have an opportunity to play more baseball than I ever did, I worried about the game getting too serious too quickly for my son, as well as the possibility of burnout. Some travel teams play more than 70 games during the summer, which I thought might be too many. So, I decided to take a wait-and-see approach and monitor his situation closely. For a while I even limited the number of games that Ryan could play to be safe.

What I've found after a few seasons observing Ryan is that the travel baseball structure is fine for kids who really love the game. As long as it is the child's decision to pursue the sport at that level and not the parents', and the child really is enthusiastic about the game every time that he or she takes the field, I believe it is OK for kids to play travel ball.

There aren't too many summer days I can remember that I wasn't somewhere playing some type of baseball game - whether it was an organized game, a pickup game in a sandlot or some variation of baseball in the backyard. So, maybe kids who play travel ball really aren't playing any more than I did growing up. However, the difference is the amount of pressure that an organized game or tournament setting can place on a young player. I think that allowing kids to play travel ball is fine, but I place a lot of responsibility on the parents and coaches to make sure that they are not overdoing it in terms of the intensity of the program and the number of games being played.

DEAR CAL -- We have established a travel under-11 team. What is the ideal number of games to play in a season for this age group?

Bob Schildt, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

DEAR BOB -- My answer can be found in the answer to the question above sent in by Jeanne from North Carolina. It's hard to make a blanket statement that says all under-11 travel teams should play so many games. First of all, at that age level, time must be set aside for practice. Too many teams play 70 or 80 games without taking advantage of the fact that the best way to help young players get better is by practicing.

Game day usually is too hectic and filled with excitement to allow coaches much of an opportunity to teach, so many game situations that could have been handled differently never are addressed; there simply isn't enough time to practice with such extensive game schedules.

Thus, my first suggestion for a coach who is trying to formulate a schedule would be to not schedule extra games at the expense of practice time. Coaches at the under-11 level have a responsibility to help their kids develop as baseball players, not to see how many games or tournaments they can win in a given summer.

Second, it is incumbent upon the coaches and parents of travel players to monitor their kids closely throughout the season. If the kids are really fired up to take the field for every game and seem to enjoy testing themselves often against top competition, then everything is OK. But, as a coach or parent, if you can't look in the mirror and honestly say that your kids are as excited to play a game in August as they were in June, you might be overdoing it a bit.

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

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.