DEAR CAL -- I am a coach for my son's instructional league baseball team (7- and 8-year-olds). It seems like I have been given all the new boys in the league, and our team has been outscored 110-32 in eight games. My kids are in the field for a half-hour at a time while other teams are batting through their order most innings. How can my players learn when they aren't really getting a chance? Do you have suggestions on how I can address this issue?
Chris Harris, Westminster
DEAR CHRIS -- There's no question that the 7-8 age group is very much developmental - even for the teams at that level that consider themselves "travel" programs.
In fact, it is one of the most important stages of development, because in many leagues it represents the transition from T-ball to baseball.
For any recreational program, I am a strong advocate of holding a series of preseason clinics in which the league's coaches turn out to teach the kids the basics of the game. Stations can be set up for pitching, hitting, infield, outfield, etc., allowing the kids to learn and practice.
I prefer this to the "evaluation" days that most programs have, because the word evaluation can be intimidating to a kid. The idea of trying to perform and show how good they are can make kids get uptight and not play their best. A clinic format allows the players to relax and learn while still allowing the coaches to evaluate their play.
At that point, coaches should be able to group the kids by ability. Those who appear more advanced can be asked if they would like to play in a more challenging league or if they are interested in playing travel ball. The other kids can be dispersed so the teams have balanced talent. There's no excuse for a youth program not taking steps to ensure all teams in its leagues are competitive.
Of course, there is no foolproof solution. Some teams will outperform others, but it shouldn't be that hard to distribute the talent enough to avoid the situation you are in, and to allow the kids to enjoy competing.
Practices are where the kids in your age group learn and improve, but they need to be able to play games, too. Games are supposed to be the fun part of baseball that keeps kids coming back for more; so, spreading the talent as evenly as possible among the teams is very important.
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