By Ty Webb
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side. ……………….Hunter S. Thompson
Your kid wants to play travel baseball? Your kid plays travel baseball but you’re a little jaded? OK. I’m here for you. This article is intended to help you deal with Youth Baseball and Youth Baseball FOMO (fear of missing out), and to help you refocus on the more important stuff. The names and scenarios used in this article are purely fictional in order to protect the innocent and potentially guilty. If I made you laugh, I did my job. If I made you angry, I did my job. I can’t please everyone.
If you start with these 5 pillars of youth baseball, you’ll be on your way to a stress free baseball season.
1. Youth baseball is a broken system in need of serious repair. While baseball, like many sports, teaches fantastic life lessons and has its share of great coaches, it’s a train wreck.
2. The method by which success is determined by seeding and runs against feeds a system of “win at all costs” that can be detrimental to the physical and mental development of youth players. (Don’t confuse this statement to mean that winning isn’t important. It is, but at what age is it the be all end all?)
3. Trophies cost less than $1.
4. There are programs out there that do it right, so all is not lost. However, you must do your homework to find them, as they are typically few and far between.
5. The sooner you rid yourself of Youth Baseball FOMO, the happier you will be as a parent.
Let me tell you the story of an imaginary kid from an imaginary family who moved to an imaginary suburban town from the Midwest. His name is Buddy, and he moved from Nebraska because his father took a job out “here” – wherever here is. Let’s say that here is on the west coast. Buddys’ parents think he should try out for the 7U town travel team.
Too bad. Buddy is already behind the 8 ball because he didn’t grow up in town. Everyone knows each other, so he is an outsider. All the moms and dads sit on the League Boards because they have older kids, and no one will dethrone them. You’re already screwed, even if Buddy is actually good, and apparently, Buddy is good.
This town also had a 6U team, so there’s no way in the world some scrappy kid from the Midwest is knocking off their kid from the 7U Travel Team. It’s a proven fact that 39% of every current MLB player was a 7U All Star at one time.
After Buddy shows a very advanced Baseball IQ and skill set at tryouts (and is the only kid who can tie his shoes), he makes the team. Congratulations! There’s one family out there who hates you because their kid was “bumped” to the B team and another 6 families lost their drinking pals, yet Buddy did nothing wrong but play his best and smile.
As pre-season training nears, you better look the part. You’re not going to show up with a beat up old bat bag and a bat that looks like it came from a garage sale. You better come out with the nicest stuff if you want to compete. Need to open a second credit card? Do it!
Mom, get some yoga pants. Black only please.
Buddy used to play SS, CF and pitch back home. Good luck with that. Coach’s kid bats 1st and plays SS, even if he goes 0/26. After the 5 other assistant coaches have their say, and their kids get the remaining IF slots, Buddy will find a spot somewhere. As Buddy matures and plays on a club team outside of town ball, you’ll still see remnants of this, but typically tied to financial motivations. (That is the topic of an entirely different article for another day)
Stressed? Here comes baseball season. Is it normal to practice 3x a week, and finish the season in late July having played almost 50 games at 7? Yep. It’s the new normal. Throw common sense intro the trash (but do throw a curveball when you can).
“The Social Media Youth Baseball Roller Coaster”
If you aren’t posting daily about all the things your kid is doing to train and the plays they make, you’re left in the dust. You might be working with your son all the time, but if it doesn’t get noticed by others, then it never happened, right?
Actually, wrong – but that is not how things seem to work these days.
Perhaps you are a more private person who doesn’t feel that the process of what your kids do is really something you want to post. Maybe you feel it looks arrogant. Maybe you realize that at this age it means nothing. Boy, you’re a real sucker.
Even a swift review of Instagram will reveal every baseball facility posting their workouts in an arms race for social media supremacy. There are kids who have self-created a mystique and have thousands of followers by accounts set up and used by their parents. Some kids have their own clothing lines and have been elevated as if they are the next superstar at age 12. Get used to it. This is a major FOMO issue, so take a deep breath.
I’m all for small doses of social media use, but someone should tell the folks posting that when the dust settles, for the 99% of youth baseball players in America, their brains are going to get them to the “next level” – whatever that even means these days.
Should I post that my son has a 4.0 GPA, plays a mean violin and volunteers at a soup kitchen? Or that he throws the ball really hard? It all depends what you think is most important. You must keep things in perspective or else you’ll be bankrupt and crying on the couch.
As for the program you didn’t play for? Don’t worry, you can watch as they throw barbs out about your kid “not wanting it enough” and other assorted comments. Don’t let it get to you. Stay the course and flush the FOMO.
“The Club Baseball Conundrum”
Now back to Buddy. Well, he made it a few seasons in town, but things just weren’t working out as you thought after a few years in town travel. Buddy seems to have taken a step back, he’s not having much fun and he’s questioned baseball at times. As a parent, that’s not what you want to see or hear.
Do you have other options? Yes! Welcome to the world of club baseball. (Insert sinister laugh).
You’ll first have to move past the whispers and comments of the parents on your current team. You’ve heard them. You want to say something back but you take the high ground. You tell yourself, yes my kid was good enough, but he just needs a change. If he isn’t skilled enough, as a parent you need to be self-aware of that – I’m not letting you off the hook on that. Let’s assume Buddy can hang with most of the competition in your area for purposes of this article.
As club ball wasn’t around you much where you lived because most kids played Little League, you’re new to this. Imagine that you’re at a trade convention and 100 different vendors are vying for your business. Some have flashy booths. Some have “Go with the Best” banners. Some say “2012-2019 Southwestern AAAA USSSSSSSSA Champs.” (For extra credit, make up your own banner now)
Life is about options, and there are plenty out there. First, you need to ask some questions to the programs to get a feel for if this might be a good fit for Buddy.
Wait. What? You’re going to ask questions of an “established,” “winning” organization? You must not disrespect the great and powerful Oz. Actually, you should. My cheap advice is that if you don’t ask the questions you want to ask, you might regret it later. In my opinion, many programs do not want you asking them questions because you become a “problem.” Many programs would rather take your money and would prefer to view parents like lemmings. Or sheep. Or sheep shaped like lemmings.
You should ask questions about a program’s philosophies on certain items that matter to you most, where they see your kid fitting in, who is coaching your kid’s team and what the commitment is. Those are basic questions before you hand over thousands of dollars.
Folks with far more experience in youth baseball have discussed these very issues, so it’s safe to say that the more legitimate programs actually welcome questions from parents to give both sides a fair assessment of where things stand, so all is not lost yet. Just do your homework.
In closing, you see and hear this phrase a lot: Trust the Process. I agree with it, but for one major caveat. If the process is undefined and riddled with false promises, don’t trust the process. Trust your gut.
Good luck Buddy.