Don't hastily commit child to a travel team

ASK CAL

The Kickoff

May 20, 2007|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

DEAR CAL -- Over the past five years, elite travel clubs have taken a foothold on youth sports. Years ago these kids were playing in Little Leagues across the county. What do you tell parents who are confused about what program to put their kids into?

Dennis Felix, Oakley, Calif.

DEAR DENNIS -- My advice to parents is to educate yourselves on the pros and cons of travel baseball - really look into what travel baseball means in terms of the commitment and the time for practices and games. Then do the same for the local recreation leagues in an attempt to find the best place for your child to enjoy baseball.

Many parents throw their children right into travel or elite programs in hopes of giving them the best chance to earn a college scholarship or carve out a professional sports career. But when it comes to development as a player, you first have to learn how to catch and throw.

A young player is not going to be in a better position to earn a scholarship or be drafted because of the level of play you choose. Instead, the coach you choose will have the biggest impact on your child's development. If you find a coach who can teach the skills that kids can build upon by practicing, then you have a great situation.

My biggest concern with travel programs is that they put a big emphasis on winning early, and they pressure kids early to specialize in the same sport. When that happens, the kids play a lot of games, a potential negative for a child in terms of developing skills and a love for the sport.

Your child is not going to have a better chance of playing in high school or college because he or she played on a travel team. That's going to come down to the development of the kid's individual talent.

DEAR CAL -- My question concerns soft toss drills. I believe the soft toss should allow the batter to take a complete swing so that the bat goes all the way around and he finishes hard and through the ball. My son's coaches tend to toss the balls in rapid succession, causing kids to stop their bats so that they can get it back in time to hit the next quick toss. Then in batting practice, the kids don't follow through on their swings. The coaches are trying to say it promotes a fast bat by tossing the ball quick. I disagree. What are your thoughts?

Bob Brown, Abingdon

DEAR BOB -- First of all, drills are designed to work on certain aspects of the swing. In our camps we use the tee to communicate the thought of going back to go forward or the weight shift. The ball is stationary and the hitter can start from the balance position and have plenty of time to gather the weight back before bringing it all the way through.

Soft toss can mean many things, but we like to work on quick hands and throwing the bat head. We also have a quick toss drill in which we use a lighter bat and promote balance. By swinging through the ball and getting the bat back into the hitting position quickly, you have to remain balanced throughout the swing to execute the drill.

Certainly if you want to promote quick hands and bat speed, you want them to swing through the ball and finish. If you are working on balance, you still want them to swing through the ball and get them back quickly into the firing position. You have to monitor this, because you don't want them to hit just to the ball; you want them to hit through the ball.

I agree that for the soft toss drill you should throw the bat head, be quick and complete the swing. Even in the balance drills we want to complete the swing. Sometimes if you don't watch closely enough and you get too quick with the rapid succession, you are promoting a half swing, which is never good.

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

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