A big argument among youth baseball is travel-ball vs rec-ball.
Travel-ball is a broad term that was derived from teams formed to travel to just play in tournaments. For this instance though, and for the broad argument, it includes any teams formed with only top players to play competitively.
Rec-ball is usually a term reserved for the lowest level of baseball where the less talented kids play. Most kids start out in rec-ball, but the more talented the kid, the more likely he’s been plucked off by a travel-ball team.
Talented players leaving weaker teams is a common issue that’s happened for a long time. Lately though, it’s only been escalating. Youth baseball is a money-driven industry, and from what I understand, the money is pretty good. Tournaments costs hundreds of dollars, trophies are as tall as 9-year olds, teams travel hundreds of miles to compete, and each one of them is decked out in fancy uniforms. Just looking around at a tournament, you can see the dollar signs adding up quickly. Look at all the fancy bats designed to kill the ball for a mere $300.
To compete in these tournaments, coaches start to get greedy. If most slowed down for a moment, they might realize who they are trying to win for, and they might find that person in the mirror.
Baseball academies are offering a chance for your kid to play competitive baseball. YOUR kid. No need to tryout, just dish out $1,000 and he’ll be on that team. He might not play. It might be the lowest form of competition available. But he’s on a competitive team, so you can go tell your friends!
Let that sink in for a moment, and even a moment longer if this is you.
Some of those baseball academies produce some really strong teams. Well, to compete with those teams, the other local coaches are going to have to make their teams stronger. So, they cut the outfielders and start a search for new ones.
The scenario can drift down so many paths, but there’s so many issues in just what I mentioned above. Your 12-year old is an outfielder? He’s not enough done with puberty, and he’s locked into a position? Seems absurd to me.
There’s an argument that can be made that for a more talented player to grow, he should be playing with and against tougher competition. This, I can understand. But it doesn’t mean you have to abandon rec-ball.
When all of the talented kids are pulled off the recreational teams, the slower developing kids suffer. Their competition drops off that much more, and it hinders their chance at maximum improvement. The players pulled off of the teams can also face negative consequences. They’re most likely going to be put in a lot more pressure-packed situations, and a lot less fun and laid-back encounters. Sure, a pressure packed situation can build character, and I believe they’re necessary in doses. But what good is that when the kid gets burnt out because all the fun has drained from the game he loved.
There’s a portion of kids across the country that are finding a happy middle-ground. They are still playing with their rec-teams, but they are also on other teams so that they can get the amount of baseball they want. These kids get the best of both worlds, fun and competitive.
Everyone has to choose the path that suits them best, but the bottom line is, baseball is baseball. Repetitions are king. If a kid wants to improve at baseball, all he has to do is go play.