The landscape of youth and high school sports has been changing over the past decade, and not for the better. Many parents and players feel as though they are falling behind other players if they don't get on the best travel team, quit all other sports, have them exposed to the most training in the offseason, and play the most games possible during the summer. For a few players, this schedule will work fine, and they will actually benefit from this type of schedule. The majority of young players will not benefit from this schedule for one or more of the following reasons:
Just like adults, when kids do the same thing over and over again, they begin to grow tired of it. The more games, the more leagues, and the more months they play, the more likely they become to resent the game and will likely end up not playing when they get older. Burnout numbers are on the rise, and the increased time demands places on athletes at a younger and younger age are a big part of the problem.
Lack of development
The ideal practice to game ratio for young players is 3:1 for youth players and 1:1 for high school players. Most summer baseball schedules come no where near this ratio, and it hurts player development. Many of of the practices a young player gets are hitting or pitching lessons. While these can be beneficial, they teach only skills, rarely do they work on tactics or actually playing the game (www.cornerstonecoachingacademy.com/play-the-game).
Research indicates that if athletes repeat the same motions over and over all year, they increase the likelihood of over-use injuries. This is especially true for pitchers since most injuries to pitchers are caused by over-use. Staying active by playing multiple sports throughout the year, and giving their main sport a significant break (minimum 2-3 months) throughout the course of the year.
Here is a link to a New York Times article about Dr. Jobe (performed the first Tommy John surgery). At the end he says "Justin Verlander does not pitch year round. Why do teenagers?"
They will never reach their potential
Yes, that’s correct. If you stop playing all other sports to play only baseball, you risk not reaching your baseball potential. Other sports teach players to be athletic, how to use your body, how to move in different ways, and increase overall athleticism.
They may not be as mentally strong
Allowing athletes to play different sports in different seasons keeps them competing all year round, and helps them learn how to perform under pressure. There is no pressure on you when in a batting cage with a hitting instructor. There is no pressure when throwing a bullpen to a target in January. Athletes face real pressure when they are on the free throw line with the game hanging in the balance.
The numbers just aren’t in their favor
Parents and players feel that specialization is the best way to ensure a college scholarship, but getting an athletic scholarship to play baseball is not an easy thing to do. With only 11.7 scholarships (maximum) available at each Division I school, the reality is that very few players will pay their way through college playing baseball. Most college baseball players are on a partial scholarship or walk on. Many player’s odds are much better getting academic or private scholarship to help pay for college.
None of the above information is intended to discourage players from working hard or trying to realize their baseball dreams. Taking individual lessons and training for baseball in the offseason will benefit most players, but by playing multiple sports, they decrease their risk of burnout and injury, and become a more well rounded athlete.
There does come a time in a young player’s life when they should be allowed to make the decision to focus more on one sport, or fully dedicate themselves to a sport, but they should never be forced or pushed to focus on only one sports. It is a decision that must be made on their own once they are mature enough to consider all possible consequences. Each player matures at different times and will have the capability to make these decisions at different times in life.
The reality is, there is very little chance that even the best youth player will play professionally, so let them fun! "Play Ball!"