Should the travel baseball player play rec baseball?

The comments below are from a parent of a current GoWags 10U player. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of myself or any GoWags staff member.  The purpose of this blog is to open an honest dialogue about the pros and cons of rec baseball.

Please feel free to contribute to the discussion.

Here goes…..

I have a son who plays for a GoWags 10U team.  He loves the game, and really wants to be a very good baseball player.  He works hard, would play baseball every day if possible and he is very motivated to keep up with his 10U teammates.  Playing with a GoWags team and his GoWags membership allows him to get a lot of quality reps, whether that entails hitting/pitching at the facility, the twice a week outdoor practices or the 10 weekend tournaments he is scheduled to play.  But every spring we debate the value of augmenting his training by joining his local rec baseball league.  Is it worth the time commitment?  Will he face or play with quality competition?  Will he learn anything?
Since many travel team kids face the same questions, and now that we are half way through our rec season, I thought I would share my perspective and open the discussion.Pros:

  1. First, he definitely gets a lot more reps – including more batting cage time, more practices and more games.  In addition, he is also faced with more game situations and the need to know, in advance, where to make the play.  At 10 years old, I think it is a critical piece of his development.  Runners at first and third; one out; ground ball to the first baseman – what’s the correct play?  The more scenarios he can be exposed to the better – right?
  2. A second benefit of rec baseball is the chance to play positions that he normally can’t on his travel team.  As a lefty, he is typically relegated to the OF on his travel team, but has an interest in learning how to pitch and playing more 1B.  His travel team, being competitive, is not the place to learn how to play new positions, but it’s a real value of playing rec baseball.
  3. Given his relative experience playing baseball, my son is looked up to by his rec baseball teammates, which provides him with a chance to develop his leadership skills.  He is not asked to provide a leadership role on his travel team, and at 10 years old his skills are just beginning to emerge.  Rec baseball provides an excellent avenue for travel kids to identify and hone these skills.
  4.  Rec baseball also provides an avenue to participating in the All Star tournament, which provides a significant upgrade in the play and the competition.  But it also provides an opportunity for kids to express their pride in playing for their local team and area.

Cons:

  1. Reps vs. Quality Reps?  Many of the rec baseball players are very new to the sport or, at a minimum, do not have the experiences or exposure that most travel team kids receive.  The result is games and practices that can border on chaos.  There are a lot of walks, errors, passed balls and strike outs, and routine plays in the field are often adventures.  As a result, compared to travel games and practices, the quality reps in rec baseball require a much greater time commitment to achieve.  In addition, it’s easy for the player to get caught up in the chaos and lose his focus.  If your son does not have the ability to maintain focus through the chaos, he might not be able to take advantage of the quality reps when they finally do arrive.  For instance, despite the chaos, does he go through a pre-pitch routine to know the correct play?  Or does he mentally “check out”?
  2. Don’t expect travel kids to get much individual training or development as most (all?) training is designed for the vast majority of the kids with far less experience.  Clearly the coaches (and there are some very good coaches in rec baseball) are motivated to improve the game’s competitiveness and nearly all their time is spent with the less experienced kids.
  3. Time.  Balancing travel schedule and practices with rec games and practices can be difficult.  We are often in the position of having to choose which practice or game we are going to attend on a nightly basis.  We don’t want to miss any travel practices or time at GoWags, but some conflicts are inevitable.

From my perspective, rec baseball can co-exist with, and even augment, a travel baseball schedule – but with certain caveats:

  1. Does your son wants to learn a new position?  If so, then you should play rec baseball.
  2. Can your son maintain his focus/discipline through the unsteady quality of play?  If so, then there will be sufficient reps that rec baseball should provide value.  If his focus is easily distracted to make practice/games meaningless then the answer is probably no.
  3. Do you and your son have the ability to maintain the time commitment necessary to take advantage of the inconsistent quality reps?  The time drain can be exhausting.  If you are going to take advantage of the quality reps, it requires a commitment.  Rec baseball is certainly not the most efficient way to achieve quality reps, but some of the opportunities are unique.

The ultimate question is whether the time committed to playing rec baseball provides enough quality repetitions and opportunities for improvement to warrant time away from a more singularly focused commitment to the travel program.  Given my son’s desire to work at new positions, I think the answer is probably yes – this year.  But I also know that I will face the exact same internal debate next year, and I’ll spend a few sleepless nights trying to do the right thing for my son’s development.  I’d love to get other feedback/discussion on the value of participating in local rec baseball leagues.

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  1. #1 by Doug on May 15, 2013 - 3:00 pm

    Very well written Bret. My first question for the mom: has she asked her son what he wants to do? Parents who are focused on what is the best path to the major leagues need a reality check. Does your son want to play with his schoolmates and friends in the rec league and be the hot shot on the team? Then, the answer is clear. But, if playing with his friends is not important and/or he does not enjoy himself playing among lesser competition, then playing only travel ball is best for him.

    Here is what parents of gifted players too often forget: Kids are only 10, 11, 12 once. From a development standpoint, it is way too early for a kid to be pigeonholed into a single position and not experience different positions. If he is good enough to play on a travel team, then he is good enough to play all positions on a rec team. As Bret stated, his rec team will offer him the experience at those different positions that his travel team may not offer. Most importantly, I bet the child will enjoy playing those different positions with his rec team. “Enjoying the game and having fun”….let’s not forget the importance of that.

    Rec ball offers a great opportunity for the gifted player to excel among his friends and represent his locality. He will surely obtain experiences and memories that will last a lifetime. He will never forget the time he pitched a no hitter, hit a home run, make a diving catch to win a game etc…. I am sure he can do some of those things on a travel team, but surely not at the same level of success. Those experiences builds the self confidence and self esteem that a child needs moving forward in baseball, other sports, school and life. Those experiences are what we forever cherish looking back at our childhood. It’s what brings a smile to our face as we fight through life’s challenges.

    I ask this question to many folks: “Looking back, would you give up your last year of little league?” The answer I always receive is “no way!” That is usually followed by telling me their memories and accomplishments from that year (funny how they remember all that). Once they stop, I ask, so why are you considering not having your child play rec ball this year and experience the same thing? “Well, it’s not best for his development.” Really? You don’t think he’s going to make the high school team because he played rec ball when he was 12?

    Ultimately, the decision should not be dictated by the parent’s ideas of how to develop the next Chase Utley. Find out what is important to the child and what he wants. Discuss the pros and cons as outlned by Bret above. Respect your child’s wishes even if doesn’t fit into your own model of how to become a major leaguer. For reasons stated by Bret above, playing all travel may be not only best for your child, but, most importantly, what he wants.

  2. #2 by Ross on May 15, 2013 - 3:26 pm

    I believe each situation and the child’s realistic personal expectations may yield different answers as well as results. In our world, rec gives him more opportunities to learn and grow by applying and fostering what he’s learned and trained at a higher level for that will also help him at travel level. My son has been training at Gowags for about 6 months now. We have been to numerous training facilities over the past year and a half and none of them have yielded the results or affords the complete system that we have found with Gowags. He has participated in numerous camps and private lessons from all of the staff there. He is participating in rec and travel this season. Here is my take on our experiences. Please be advised, this is unsolicited and not a paid endorsement. 😉

    My son definitely gets more reps in by playing rec. Reps vs. quality reps? My son’s mindset is always with the intention of getting in good quality reps whether it’s travel or rec. That’s his focus. For us, this is also where the advanced level training comes in to play. His quality reps are also put in at the facility as well as down in our basement where we focus on the minutia details of his mechanics and execution down to base running reflexes and reactions. I agree that rec practice can sometimes border on chaos and see my share of kids that goof around. They’re also the one’s making simple errors during game time. Again, for us, this is where advanced level training has benefited us so we can put in the work and reps regardless of leagues. What happens if you don’t get any practices in during the week due to bad weather? I have been working tirelessly with my son on the mental game. He will steer clear of the one’s goofing off or will call them out to try and get them back in the practice or game. He understands that the practice is the most important part. That’s what prepares you for the execution on game day. Some kids are lost causes, but they are the coaches problem to deal with, not his. I have always told him to be keenly aware of how you act because someone is always watching you whether it’s a teammate, a younger player looking up to the older kids, a parent, coach, etc. As a result, this is building his confidence and poise. Both of which are essential in travel. The kids on his team look up to him and he doesn’t play down because he is playing rec. The other kids see he and I doing some throwing and batting warm-up routines and come over to ask what we’re doing. After I explain it’s purpose and results intended, they want in. The seed is planted? They ask me where I picked it up from and I gladly tell them.

    He doesn’t require the hands on individual attention or development by rec coaches and they recognize that. They are able to focus on the other kids that need more attention. Please allow me to clarify this. By no means does he have it figured out at all. It’s quite the opposite and he knows and respects that. This knowledge, respect and discipline comes from the training he has had at Gowags and the countless hours he and I put in on our own time. I’m not a certified Gowags coach, trainer or instructor. I concentrate on replicating what they have worked on with him as it’s proven method of getting incredible results for him. He absolutely gets called out if something goes wrong (and it does, he’s only 13, not a million dollar major league phenom) or is executed wrong and I make sure he respects and pays attention to what is being said by the coach. Just because it’s rec doesn’t mean all coaches are clueless or incompetent and there is nothing to be gained. I tell him to respect the game regardless of where he plays. This will also build his overall character and discipline as he knows travel is at another level as is the expectation of him by his coaches and teammates. He is playing rec at travel level and excelling because he is focused on using rec to sharpen his skill set.

    For us, time management is essential. If it becomes a conflict as to where one is suffering due to the other, maybe it’s not so much a matter of time management rather than a matter of over committing and time for us to take stock in what is more important and commit just to that rather than both. If the rec team is looking to your kid as a leader and they’re not there because of travel, what kind of leader is he to them? What message is it conveying to the rest of the team? Fortunately for us, the two schedules do not conflict. He knows and understands that just because it’s rec, it doesn’t diminish it’s importance to be there as well as the importance of his presence and participation to the team he committed himself to. So, long story long, playing rec ball has been a great tool for him to sharpen the skills necessary for travel. That said, for us, we also know that it’s the hard work put in at the training center that assists the growth and development by taking stock and ownership in the ongoing development. So, for us, it’s been a great experience. We had a rec game last night and have another tomorrow followed by travel tournament this weekend. In the meantime, we’ll be in cage 1 tonight working. Full reps!

  3. #3 by Greg Lauer on May 15, 2013 - 4:47 pm

    I can be done. In fact I say go for it. Now you will most likely have to explain to your child that in rec the coach was wrong when they told you to swing level or other advise dad coaches get wrong but he can still play have fun and like you expect play other positions. My son was bounced around between rec and travel he now plays any position but first and very well. The down fall is coaches seem to have a difficulty of where to put a kid that can play so much. I see it as a blessing the coaches are confused because it goes against what they a use to and my son sees it as a curse until he got to high school ball.

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