WRITTEN BY JASON CLYMORE
Originally posted on August 8, 2012 on our old website.
You’ve decided to enter the travel baseball maze. You’ve had the discussions, done the experiments and allowed your son’s goals to lead the way. You are already ahead of 90% of those in the maze with you, so your chances of having a great experience have greatly increased. Now, you need help navigating the maze.
I saved this as part 3 because I think this part is better served for those that have players that have goals of a higher level travel experience. This part of the conundrum involves more specific goals and expectations that might require more time, energy and effort than the casual player wants to put in to baseball. Baseball is a game that requires 1000s of reps and hours in order to become great at. Therefore, you need to have a passion for the game in order to be willing to put in that kind of effort. It’s certainly not the path of least resistance, but is definitely the path with the most reward if a commitment is made to it.
The travel baseball maze has numerous exits, so in order to navigate it you need to know which exit you are heading for. Do you want to play the best competition, do you want the highest caliber of teammates possible, do you want great practices, do you want a great off-season workout program, do you want a coach that teaches a certain pitching or hitting system, do you want mental training? The list could go on and on. In any case, you need to list all the things you would like to get out of the travel experience and then prioritize them.
For the sake of my next analogy, we are going to call this prioritized list your baseball religion. It should be well thought out and be fairly detailed. The priority order should define what you want your travel baseball experience to be. For example, if playing on a team that wins a high percentage of games is at the top of your priority list then it is extremely important that you find a very strong team that wins a lot of games regardless of some of the other pieces that make up the travel baseball puzzle. I would warn those with winning at the top of their priority list that winning should be the outcome of a well executed process and not just the result of a bunch of talent thrown on the field with no real plan. If a prospective team is winning as a result of a well executed, well rounded process then players will be knocking down their doors to play for that team.
In my opinion, the hitting system and pitching system that is being taught should be high on any priority list. This is where we get to the heart of the “people don’t know what they don’t know” issue. There are basically two schools of thought on how to teach pitching and two schools of thought on how to teach hitting. I will agree that there are variations, but that’s not to debate in this discussion. In the pitching world, there is a balance point teach and a momentum teach. In the hitting world there is a swinging up through the ball (rotational) teach and a down to the ball (linear) teach. It is absolutely vital that you understand what system your player is being taught. This is where my religion analogy comes in.
If you attend a Catholic church and you decide that there is something about that church that you don’t like (the Priest, someone in the congregation, etc..), you aren’t going to go look for a Methodist or Lutheran church. You are going to look for a different Catholic church. When I give this analogy to people in terms of religion it is blatantly obvious. However, people just don’t understand that it is just as obvious in the baseball world. You have to understand what you believe in and make sure your player is on a team that supports those beliefs.
If you are a momentum pitcher and a rotational hitter and you join a team that teaches balance point pitching and linear hitting then that’s the baseball version of going from a Catholic church to a Pentecostal church. What’s funny, or sad, is that people know exactly what religion they belong to and believe in, but most have no idea what hitting and pitching teaches they believe in. The other unfortunate thing is that most would consider religion, regardless of what religion, a positive thing. However, being a rotational hitter and going to a team with a coach that teaches linear could actually be detrimental. In some cases, not having a pitching or hitting coach is better than having one that teaches the wrong thing or teaches something totally different than what you are use to.
Hopefully now you can make more sense of the crazy world of travel baseball. The key is to have a goal of what you want out of it, define your baseball religion and then start your search for the right team using those things as your filter. For the most part, travel baseball is a positive thing. However, it’s gotten out of hand in recent years with teams splintering off in a million directions. In my opinion, there are way too many kids playing at the wrong level of travel for a multitude of reasons. If you look at travel baseball the way you would look at the Minor League and Major League structure, the recreational level would be your A ball level. The lower level travel teams and programs would be your AA level. The higher level teams would be your AAA level and the elite teams would be your Major League level. Those top two tiers require kids that have a great passion for getting better at the game of baseball, and I think there are way too many kids attempting to play at those levels without the passion to go along with it.