Thoughts for Thursday! The Fastpitch BUSINESS! |softball is for girls

The softball world as we know it has spiraled from sandlot games and tube socks on Saturday to a full-scale arena where words like ‘recruiting’ and ‘college’ are being baited into the minds of parents with girls as young as 10 and 12 years old. 

Think about that for a minute. 10 and 12 years old. Heck…13 or 14 years old? What were YOU doing at that age?

Let’s also add that fastpitch softball has become a million, if not billion dollar industry. Which in other words means that coaches and recruiters and whoever else you may be PAYING doesn’t necessarily always have your daughters best interests in mind.

Because it is a BUSINESS. Businesses are in place to make money. sweet-as_display

By instituting the thought process that developing our children earlier and younger than ever will make them BETTER and somehow give them an advantage in their future, we are changing the fast-pitch landscape in what can actually be detrimental ways.

Larry Owens, the head coach of Bellarmine University criticizes the structure of travel baseball and insists that it is actually detrimental to PLAYER DEVELOPMENT in baseball. And quickly, fastpitch softball is beginning to follow the same models. He believes there is too much emphasis being put on getting teams on titled teams and less on player development – emotional, physical and otherwise.

Parents today are being PRESSURED to believe that by presenting more competitive opportunities at a younger age, we are somehow fabricating ELITE players. And with that pressure, whether you realize it or not – is a tremendous amount of pressure put on the athletes playing, because they in no way want to disappoint of ‘fail’ the parents who have put so much at stake. 

But today, with A ball, Gold, Select ball (whatever you call it) being so watered down with players and parents willing and able  to fork over thousands of dollars for this ‘competitive edge’ how many actual ‘elite’ players are there really?

No one, especially us – can or will negate that these players exist, but from region to region – and team to team the standards are extremely pliable.

And how many of them end up sitting on the bench or being replaced with the next best thing?  Or being stagnated before they are able to realize their full potential? And being labeled and earmarked as specific positional players before their bodies are even fully developed enough to truly realize their future potential and talent?

We were at an A ball tournament a few weeks ago, and many of those teams hand anywhere from 13-19 players in the dugout? How much playing time does that really equate to?

For so many people, once you cross the bridge from Rec ball to travel ball, the bashing begins. My daughter plays TRAVEL. My daughter plays “A BALL” are always said with a sense of disdain and elitism as if Rec ball is the bottom of the barrel when it comes to softball.

silly_boys_displayBut when done right, which in a lot of place it is – Rec ball is the true measure of heart and development.

When we think of Rec ball, we think of young kids playing ball within their communities and with their school friends, with minimal financial investment for parents – so that the kiddos can get a taste of the game and develop heart. We think of Rec ball as the roots that will grow deep and secure the tree to the ground when the real winds start to blow.

Sure, many of the coaches are volunteer parents. But this….this “REC BALL’  is where it all starts. Or should start. Less pressure. More emphasis on fun. Skill development.Relationship development. Why bash it? It has long been the cornerstone of  sports.

We have evolved from a place where athletes had until their late teen years to decide on one sport, to nearly forcing because of the level of commitment required – for our kids to make decisions on what they want to do for the rest of their childhood, in many cases before they can even tie their shoes or read a chapter book.  

Allowing the girls to grow into the sport so that their bodies can catch up to the skill sets needed to play softball well. (Which may we add, happens at different times for different girls)

Giving the kids opportunities to try other things because the time commitment is not so great. Rounding out young girls so they can find their interests and TALENTS gently and without pressure.

What we feel a lot of parents do not understand is that the formula for future success does not simply lie in playing on a travel team at a young age, or playing the game after game against the better competition that travel ball offers.

You can purchase the best running shoes on the market and it’s certainly not going to make you a better runner. My feet may be more comfortable, but I still may not complete the 5K.

It’s not necessarily a guarantee just because you pay for it. And teams are taking money (and a lot of it) from parents of players today, who in actuality need more time down in the trenches before feeling as if they are elite – college material players.

And our girls aren’t instantly awesome, elite, or better athletes simply because they play for an “A ball” team. It sounds good. It looks good on a resume perhaps. But it is not the TELL ALL about a player’s ability or talent. 

Yes, playing with and against better competition and having trained coaches can and WILL make a difference.

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But the real question is, when actually is the BEST time for that to happen? And how do we transition to that point without risking burnout (and injury) to the players. Longevity is key, and the key to longevity friends, is making sure the child is enjoying the activity.

As actual parents of softball playing 18 years old, we have been shocked to see how many of the stud ball players back from the trenches of rec ball – the ones whose parents were talking recruiting and D1, and got their kids on high level teams as soon as possible – decided to play tennis, or golf or who took up band full-time once they got into high school and never looked back at the cleats in the closet. And given time if your kiddos are still young, you will be VERY surprised at who actually is STILL playing by the first year of 16U.

The warm feeling of satisfaction that comes from perceiving our daughter as an A ball player, or for making the amazing Gold team comes with quite a hefty price tag. And with the fast growth and travel softball becoming so ‘in fashion’ as opposed to ‘rec ball’ many of us are literally buying our way in., and being lured in by the sparkle. Certainly this is NOT TRUE for all teams, all organizations etc. but it’s getting harder and harder to tell these days which are the REAL A TEAMS and which are not. 

In fact, down in the trenches of Rec ball, there are A LOT and we mean A LOT of girls who can truly play ball! True, a college coach may never lay eyes on them because showcases and elite teams make it easy on them (And LOTS of money for them as well) by assembling girls in one place at one time – and holding those that don’t play on these teams hostage by not allowing them to participate.  

But unfortunately, some families cannot afford the high price tag or the time of travel sports. And some people simply don’t want to go that route.

But at the end of the day they are ALL softball players and should be respected as so.

Does this mean that they should not be considered for middle and high school teams? Does this somehow put a scarlet letter on their back that they are not worthy or good players? Truth is, there quite a lot of these girls out there NOT seeking out A ball teams, or organizational ball – that are simply amazing ball players and can put a lot of our travel girls to shame.

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The jersey doesn’t make the player. The player makes the jersey. Money can buy your way onto nearly any team nowadays and we apologize to anyone who finds that offensive, but it is the truth. A better team doesn’t instantly make your player better. Only hard work, and practice and commitment can do that. And rec ball girls have that TOO!

Even as girls get older and start craving more competition and the exposure train hits, and the pressure to recruit begins – so many parents today are failing to realize that RECRUITING is a million dollar business.

And since so many softball players are out there searching for A BALL ONLY TEAMS, locations rich in players are actually getting watered down with players who looking for the immediate promotion of an A ball team. Which means a lot of B level players are filling up A ball teams…

There is not a recruiting organization around that will turn down your money. But if you look at the stats….the real stats about recruits and available scholarships and how many of the girls make it D1….and even MORE IMPORTANTLY how many of those 14 year olds will actually still want to play college ball after graduation (trust us folks, these girls change their minds), things get murky.

For instance. Playing on an A ball team with a price tag of $2300 for the season. $400 for uniforms. Then you have to travel, say a minimum of 8 weekends out of the spring and summer for the big tournaments at a low-end of average of $500 per weekend for accommodations. Now add in attending just 10 college exposure camps or tournaments per year at the average cost of $150 (low-end)  plus more travel expenses. Suddenly you are also paying a recruiter to get your daughter’s name out there, make videos, get through the politics and in ‘the know.”. And parents are paying around  $10,000 PER YEAR. Do this for 2-3 years and you’ve spent nearly $25-$30K on fastpitch softball. Nearly enough for college.

Compare that amount with the average scholarships that your daughter could receive if she is actually one of the ELITE players in the nation. Look at these tables taken from the NCAA website.

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It just doesn’t always add up. Especially for bragging rights, and the adoptive nose turned down to a girl who play rec or “b” ball. There are so many girls that look back to their rec ball days, and easily admit those were the BEST times of their lives. While the glory may have been small, they will never forget their home town fields and the girls they started out with.

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There is also something tobe learnt from travel baseball. Interestingly, many in travel baseball – which is a good 15-20 years ahead of the girls fastpitch softball frenzy, are now looking to develop youth developmental instructional leagues that put more emphasis on the fundamentals and less on winning. This goes back to the idea that the focus of youth sports should be focused more on providing opportunities and making a sport fun than winning berths and championships.

At the end of the day, participation in travel level softball at ANY LEVEL will not alone be the determining factor in whether your child can go on to play in high school, college or collegiality. Opportunity is key!

And while many folks can afford and want to be part of highly intense levels of plays, it is also estimated that around 50% of the girls who start out playing travel under the age of 13, will quit before it really counts due to the ‘win at all costs’ limitations that actually stunt development in players and pigeon-hole players before they have even reached their peak level of performance.

We realize that everyone has to do what they feel is best. The dream is ALIVE and the growth of this sport is amazing and is offering so much opportunity to our daughters. That is a fantastic thing!

But we do need to stay realistic!

And stop behaving as if the name on our the front of our jerseys somehow makes our kid automatically better than someone else’s – or is the absolute shoe in to getting a scholarship (Which may not be as much as you are expecting considering 12 scholarships divided by a roster of 22 doesn’t equate to that much for utility positions.) The snobbery and politics of fastpitch softball has become sort of insane. 

Rec ball, A Ball, B Ball, school ball. It’s all softball. It’s shouldn’t be a keep up with the Jones’, or something that we feel pressured into, It’s softball folks.

And from experience we can tell you this. The team, the players, the parents that you see at 12U will totally change as you approach the high school years.

We don’t believe there is anything wrong with playing the highest level ball that you can play and comfortably afford.

The most important thing is that the GIRLS ARE ON the field playing a sport they love- no matter where they play, or what team they play for. 

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