There is no question that this sport is the most amazing, exciting, and challenging of them all. Well, in our opinion anyway right? That’s why so many play fall ball as well as their regular season.
I believe though that even though sometimes it is tempting to participate in all ball, throughout the year, it is not necessarily a good idea to be playing year round. If you are a professional athlete you may be training during the off season and perhaps playing in 2 seasons which is plenty to maintain your skills. Or if you are an adult and playing in a slow pitch league and another league you are making your own schedules as an adult and can plan accordingly. For the minor ball player however it can be more of a detriment than a benefit. There are a number of reasons why such as:
Early specialization promotes burnout
Athletes who do not participate in other sports and play softball only at a high level year round are not developing skills like coordination, agility and flexibility. They also do not hang out with their friends as much even though many of them may be on the team. They spend their free time studying for school to get the scholarships and training and not enough having fun.
The fatigue factor
Burnout is a result of sometimes over training, a less than ideally managed nutrition program, not enough sleep, and stress related to things off the field that are not being dealt with adequately. Add to that the demands of playing competitively year round and having to perform to “keep their spot”. These athletes are always trying to be on top so they don’t have the down time required for adequate rest and recovery.
Youth should not be training hard until they are 14-15 years old. Their bones and muscles are not yet prepared for the demands of many high intensity programs which often include weight training. If the athletes are trained properly from a young age, with the correct techniques and activities that are adapted for their level of physiological maturity, then it can be done under strict supervision. Too often though players are spending too much time in the gym working their body to exhaustion.
The Cost of it all
Tournaments and travel cost money. Registering with an association or team to find out that you will be in tournaments for 10 months of the year is costly and the travel can be gruelling. Considering all factors is critical to keeping supporters being supporters.
Promoting multiple sport participation at the younger ages is critical to development of athletic abilities both physically and mentally. I believe that our goal as coaches and promoters of this sport should be to ensure long lasting participation by our players always. All you have to do is look at the number of adult leagues and teams that are folding because players are not wanting to continue playing once they have graduated unless they are going to college. The success rate should be determined in part by the return rate of your program and in the interest of the long term health of our players. That is an athlete centred approach. And it can be done while building a successful program with good planning.
I think that the determination to succeed is what sometimes clouds the judgement of the one making the schedules, usually the coach, without truly considering the needs of the athlete. For some reason, coaches believe that they need to be in multiple tournaments and playing every single weekend in order to get ahead of the other teams. Well I am here to tell you that it’s not true. I can guarantee that if you only play in tournaments every other weekend and have a single productive practice on the other weekend instead, your team will have more energy than the other teams and will be enjoying the playoffs much more. You may not have the most advanced team but with good rest and a good program that is well planned, you have as much potential as any when big competition arrives.
If you can remember something from this, you may know this already but the ideal practice to game ratio is 3 practices to 1 game. Unfortunately though most programs are the opposite. I challenge you to try it and see what kind of results your team gets.