For those of you involved with youth baseball administration you will no doubt soon be attending the first of many "district" meetings. These generally take place in the early spring. Our league holds charters with Babe Ruth and Cal Ripken which follows a district, state and regional tournament format. The core discussions at these meetings are the locations and dates of tournaments which lead to the Babe Ruth and Cal Ripken World Series. Well a few days ago our locations and dates were announced and I was surprised to see a new addition to the summer tournament schedule.
Prior to last year these baseball tournaments were limited to 9 year old teams and up in Cal Ripken. However, in 2007 it was decided to hold a district level tournament for 8 year old teams. At first this sounded a bit over the top to me. After all these are 8 year old kids who are still learning how to field a ground ball and reach first base. Now they want them playing in a district level competitive tournament?
Our league had been accustomed to forming two equally balanced teams at the 8 year old level and we were not about to depart from this philosophy. After polling the manager's of our 8 year old teams our league decided to participate with two balanced teams. The location was only 15-20 minutes away for parents and coaches to drive so the logistics didn't seem too daunting. The kids played 3 games against other teams from our area and reported a great experience for all involved. The pageantry of standing on the foul lines with hat over heart singing the National Anthem made for many great photo opportunities of our young ball players. Overall the event turned out to be a positive one for our kids which is the main purpose we do this thing called Youth Baseball.
Now fast forward to 2008… Rather than just let the 8 year old district tournament experiment continue, the wisdom of Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken has decided to hold district, state and regional level tournaments for 8 year old teams. Yes, let me repeat that…. 8 year old kids playing in a regional tournament for Cal Ripken. This is one of the most absurd ideas I have ever heard of since getting involved with youth baseball.
At the 8 year old age level winning any game is pot luck … now they want these teams to spend the better part of the summer traveling all over who knows where to play in these games. Do they really think parents of 8 year olds want to drive 200+ miles, stay with host families and spend the cash required for a regional tournament?
The most important question though is… What does an 8 year old gain out of being propelled into a competitive tournament at such a young age? IMHO this does not foster what is important at this age.. helping them fall in love with baseball. Aren’t we tasked with this and focusing on teaching the core fundamentals of the game at this age? Where are the Ripken brothers with their great message of growth through youth baseball? Mr. Ripken please help us understand what 8 year old Jimmy will get out of playing in a regional tournament game 215 miles from his home?
As youth baseball administrators we need to come to our senses and get back to what’s important…. Helping kids learn and love the game while learning about life through youth baseball. Kids at such a young age really gain nothing by playing in these competitive environments. They would be just as happy if we gave them some old equipment, drove them to a field and let them play ball on their own. And after the game… some ice cream! Now that’s youth baseball!