Will We Ever Put Development Ahead of Games?

mso-8u-sieger-fall16-2361

(c) Liz Zenobi Photography

No sooner had the folks at TeamSnap posted “Do We Play Too Many Games?”, an article I wrote about the erosion of player development as youth sports schedules are increasingly loaded with games, than I received my daughter’s 8U fall travel softball schedule.  In an eight-game season, seven games where packed into the first 15 days.

We play in a self-billed developmental league, but I’m not really sure anyone really knows what that word means.

DEVELOPMENTAL

1 a:  of, relating to, or being development; broadly:  experimental 2   b:  serving economic development

2:  designed to assist growth or bring about improvement (as of a skill)

Source: Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary

I was able to reschedule one doubleheader, though doing so was torture.   Upon settling on a date and time with the coach of one of the teams who also didn’t want to play a doubleheader, I contacted the league to let them know.  After agreeing to pay the umpire (though the umpires are paid for by the league and I wasn’t adding a game I was just moving a game I figured it was easier to agree to pay) and supply game balls (also included in the league fee), I found with these gems in the final email from the league “allowing” the game to be moved:

“Double-headers at the 8U level are the norm, not the exception. . . . Just wanted to make sure you were aware of all the angles.”

Angles?  It’s an 8U fall softball game, not game seven of the World Series.  No one is losing TV or advertising revenue, but some seven- and eight-year-old girls playing coach-pitch softball for the first time just might have a better experience and not come to think of softball as a nonstop chore.

The real issue is the thinking that doubleheaders make sense at the 8U level in the first place.  The trend of jamming game upon game into the schedules of even the kids just starting out is troublesome.  Players get better at practice not in games.  You have to play games because they are fun and there has to be a carrot for the practices.   But in a game, particularly a coach-pitched 8U softball game, a player might get to the plate four times.  What’s that going to amount to, seven swings?  If she’s lucky she’ll have two balls hit her way in the field.  That’s simply not enough “touches.”  Plus, games are not an occasion in which you can really stop and teach or make real corrections.

Leagues and programs need to understand the need for a tiered schedule.  Not every age group needs to play the same number of games.  The younger they are, the fewer games they need.

Parents need to recognize they are putting their kids on the fast track to burnout if the kids’ first taste of a sport is playing four to five days a week.  Sometimes less is more.

We made it through our schedule, which, if not for one rescheduled game, would have included an 11 day stretch between games seven and eight.  Then we waited 14 days after our last game for the playoffs to begin.

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