This is a question that many families struggle with in youth sports. What is the right experience – Recreation or Select Travel Ball? Families used to wrestle with this question when their child was around 12 or 13 years old, but now these talks start to take place around the ages of 7, 8, or 9 years old. It is short sighted to just look at the league each plays in – one must consider the overall experience their athlete will have.
This question leads to many stressful discussions within the family.
This question leads to varying advice from those the family may seek for advice.
This question leads to strong opinions that get displayed on social media or in conversations in which one side of the question degrades the other side.
Here’s an exercise for you to get the true barometer on this question . . . go to Facebook and search Select Ball Has Ruined Our Youth and read one side of the coin. Then, type in Rec Ball Has Softened Our Youth to read the other side of the coin.
First let’s ask – what is the actual difference between rec ball and select ball? Make note of who you ask, because you are going to get a “pro-answer” from them on the side they lobby and vice versa. You will hear things like the cost is different, this one plays tournaments and that one doesn’t, this one has better competition and that one doesn’t, this one supports multi-sport athletes and that one doesn’t. Unfortunately through all the debate everyone is missing the actual important question – what is the right experience my athlete should have.
The key in finding the right experience is establishing goals. Goals #1 should be around the love of the game. Only a healthy experience will provide a true love and passion for anything. Goals around having fun, recreation, and activity for health, competition, life lessons, teamwork, and leadership are all components of a healthy experience. Seek out the right experience, not the right tagline.
As a club, we have looked in to the environments and the experiences that the typical 6, 7, and 8 year olds are having in the game of baseball and softball in our region. Currently, the experiences that 6-8 year olds have in baseball and softball are very inconsistent. Some teams at these ages may:
Head down an aggressive path with burnout right around the corner.
Spend most of the time focused on the games and competition portion but neglect the development and team portion of the sport.
Get together for a small 2-month season and kids are picking 4 leaf clovers in the outfield.
We have designed our Junior program to provide the right experience for 6-8 year olds. It is a club-focused, all-inclusive program that provides the roadmap and monitoring needed to assure the right experience for our athletes and their families. We are not a select organization for 6-8 year olds; we are a club that walks hand in hand with the coaches and families to ensure the right experience in youth sports. The right experience should increase the love of the game for the kids each year they play, it should allow for them to pursue multiple sports building on their athleticism, it should combat burnout with a roadmap and a plan to develop the kids skills year in and year out.
It is time for parents and coaches to ask the right question – what experience do I want for my kid and team? That is a deeper question than – what league should they play (select/rec)? When we ask families what experience do you want for your child at the age of 7 we get a answer that is genuine, with out the malice and frustration you see out in social media. We hear that the experience people want for their kids is very specific. They want their kids to get better at the game, be a part of a team, have a coach that loves the game, be taught some life lessons through the platform of sports, we want our child to enjoy some games and success, we want them to have fun and to fall in love with the game. That is the model that our Junior program has been built on.
We are working to educate families that the league (rec or select) is not the entire experience. The league your child plays in (rec or select) is only one component of the experience but it doesn’t encompass the needs of the kids entirely. It leaves out the building blocks of sports – the teamwork, the life lessons, and the other characteristics we discussed earlier that are what we want to help families understand. What should your 6, 7, 8 year old do? They should play in a Junior program that follows the correct roadmap built around providing the 3D experience. The 3D experience provides the right physical and mental development at the right age.
Our sports culture has placed labels on different levels of ball (rec, select, AAU, etc.) – these titles do not represent a consistent experience.
Forget the name – pay attention to the experience. Make sure the experience is a building block for the future for your athlete in the sport.
Part of the 3D Experience in youth sports is making sure that the expectations are set and the priorities are in place for players, coaches, and parents. One of the priorities within our Extreme Skills program is to implement our program’s philosophies to all teams in the Extreme organization. We know that if program philosophies are implemented then the outcomes take care of themselves. It’s the focus of process over outcomes that have the best impact on athletes. Many of our Program teams over our first 16 years as an organization have been focused on this team approach, but without program philosophies documented and transparent, the implementation has been inconsistent thus far.
We know that if you focus on the program philosophies at the age of 7 that may not mean a victory right then and there, we know that it may lead to an error or a mistake or blundered play, but the coaches, players, and families must have the priority set that implementing the philosophy is most important because the effort was there to execute a successful strategy or skill of the game. That effort has to be rewarded through appreciation and excitement for the kids! If we try and implement a bunt defense at the age of 10 and we see the kids working through that philosophy and implementing it and trying to achieve it, as players, parents and coaches we have to celebrate that because we know it is going to lead to great success, outcomes, and consistency throughout their playing career.
As a multi-team program, where graduation from year to year is expected we have to have a system and curriculum in place for team and athlete success. That system has been developed and prioritized by the veteran knowledge within the Extreme Network. Our system includes philosophies on pitching vertically, aggressive hitting counts, how to handle an inside pitch, short game skills, bunt defenses, etc. Part of our evolution as a program was spent researching and meeting the top programs in the nation that we compete against within our Elite teams to confirm and improve our program’s philosophies and the implementation plan within the program.
Through those meetings we developed our team development model along with our best practices & strategies that make them successful throughout our program. One meeting really stuck out to us was with an organization out of Texas. An example of their success lies in a philosophy around when they have a runner on first or a runner on first and second and there are no outs, they sacrifice bunt and move the runner over every time, regardless of score or who is up to bat. This philosophy is implemented all the way down the club into their 8, 9, & 10 year old players. By the time they reach the high school level and are competing on a national scale, there is no signal, no conversation, no timeout to discuss, the player is engrained to implement that program philosophy. We see players on teams in our region including many of our teams that have a very inconsistent approach about how to handle that same scenario – the best hitter never bunts, we only try to bunt the first pitch, we never bunt, etc. An inconsistent philosophy leads to inconsistent success.
Instead of leaving individual instructor philosophies to drive the successes or failures for our teams, we believe in the team development model that was used long before private instruction was such a big focus. We will be putting the Extreme Network to work to combat against the below examples within our teams.
- Pitching – we have kids who are inside of private instruction and their sequence on the mound in a game may be fastball, then to a curve ball or screw ball, and then to a change up. If our experience and philosophy is to go fastball, off speed, drop ball, secondary off speed, rise ball, and then start working into your horizontal breaks of curve and screw balls we have a hu
ge inconsistency throughout our system. We are working to have complete transparency for our coaches, players, and parents. By putting these program philosophies down on paper, implementing them through the Extreme Network, teaching them to our kids, coaches, and also giving that transparency to our families, there is more consistency in the program and a better experience.
- Throughout baseball nationwide, we have serious concern over arm health. As a program, we have to implement arm health check points and a development plan to decrease our risk of injuries in our youth. What pitches do they learn, how many pitches do they throw, at what point do I start throwing a breaking ball, when do I move from the stretch to the windup, when do I do a FLUSH after a start to help my arm recover, what is my arm health routine before a game? All these questions are out there and we have experience within our Network that has developed these answers.
Members of the Extreme Network have the experience and knowledge of how these concepts have been executed well and poorly. We can use that experience to roll it out to our youth through our playbook to bring consistency in development from our youth teams up through our high school system. We see teams in our region that do not have these philosophies in place and they are coached with the short term in mind. We have to be very careful and stay out of that danger zone and stay true to our long term philosophies that if a player does the process of a, b, and c that we will start to see the outcomes of x, y, z take shape. That is what a 3-dimensional experience is in the skill side of youth sports. It is being built on true experienced, seasoned, philosophies that have been around since the test of time and provide a very consistent experience in sports.
As we plan and execute our program philosophies inside our club, we will make those priorities public so that our families know what we are developing within our coaches and players. With that transparency, the physical side of the 3D experience becomes easier to understand and support your athlete and their team as they grow.
We are changing the model for athletes and coaches going into this year. Instead of putting the pressure on the individual development we are rolling out a team development philosophy. It’s time our network is leveraged for the benefit of every team and athlete in our club. The knowledge and experience of veteran coaches will be put to work around getting better outcomes in a team’s hitting and defense, pitching and catching, athleticism around velocity relative to our sport. Our team fees reflect your athlete’s development – an example is your child academic system.
Schools have support systems that help their students in need. Examples of that support system are an ACT prep classes or an academic tutor. An athletic program needs to have a support system for each team as well. The lifeblood of the athletic program has to be the curriculum & philosophies that will transfer as an athlete grows in their sport. Students have class time to learn the curriculum and then are tested through exams. In the athletic world the classroom is team practices and the exams are team games. By using veteran coaches to run skill development with your athlete’s team we are developing a plan to allow consistent coaching throughout the organization. Similar to school, if a student is struggling they reach out for individual attention or take a special class. Same applies to an athlete struggling with a specific skill. Private instructors or camps should be used with an athlete when they are falling behind on their development inside our programs curriculum.
Team sports require team philosophies around the skills of the game. The success of the team should not solely be dependent on an individuals training plan. It should be supported more by team implementation of the curriculum. We use team practices to bring in our veterans and develop your athlete’s team and individual skills. By joining the Extreme you assure your athletes are being mentored with the end in mind – outcomes of the game! If we want to defend against a great bunt then as an organization we need to be teaching a unified bunt defense that has clear expectations and execution points to ensure success as our athletes grow in the organization. We are going to provide you the complete athletic curriculum to ensure your athlete achieves their athletic goals.
So as you gather information on how to provide the 3D experience for your athletes, remember your team fees include your athlete’s skill development. We will provide you the classroom, the book, and all the exams and if your athlete falls behind we will be there with recommendations for private tutoring around their struggles.