With the summer fully upon us, many high school and younger aged pitchers and their parents see it as a time to play in travel baseball tournaments across several states as well as potentially playing for their high school summer league or a local competitive recreational league or 1-2 specific baseball camps/showcases. But is this the best use of their time in terms of long term development if their goal is to play Division 1 baseball or professional baseball?
The answer can be yes or no depending on the specific kid involved. What we do know is to play at a high level requires a very specific degree of physical ability and actual baseball skill. Spending the bulk of the summer traveling, staying in motels and playing games which can range from 1 per day to 2-3 per day depending on tournaments as well as playing during the week is not ideal for either a physical development or skill development standpoint.
Lets look at things from a physical development standpoint first. Most young athletes (12 and under) should be developing physically by playing multiple sports, riding bike, playing tag (or other made up games) with friends, swimming and generally just being a kid. If their travel is limited to weekend tournaments and they are otherwise spending time in free play or on other sports during the week, they likely have things covered. It’s the high school athletes that I see this being a bigger issue.
Now don’t get me wrong, if your son is a high school pitcher throwing upper 80’s/low 90’s or a position player already displaying great hitting prowess and power, then by all means go showcase that talent. But for most kids that’s simply not the case and playing more games won’t help them get there. The summer can be used as a great physical development time for HS kids. No stress from school, able to get the required sleep needed for recovery, can train 3-4x per week, and can eat all the food they want all day long. However what often ends up happening is kids leave mid-week for motel rooms and multi-day tournaments and I can tell you that trying to get solid strength training and the right amount of calories while traveling, staying in motel rooms and playing baseball during the day is not easy. Likewise, it’s not uncommon for kids to throw an inning or two for their HS summer league team or a competitive recreational team during the week. Oftentimes that means either not training that day or backing off the volume/intensity of the training session in order to avoid compromising their performance that evening. Now instead of having 3-4 full days of training and recovery, these kids might only have 1 solid training session a week. During the summer that’s just not acceptable for optimal physical development.
Physical development not only means gaining strength, power, speed, and mobility; for baseball players and especially pitchers, it also means developing proper rotator cuff and scapular strength to reduce injury risk. There are two components to physical development: training stimulus and recovery and without either one, physical development will be compromised. Pitching is a highly stressful activity (add in newton load with each pitch and IR speed) and and we know pitching for more than one team at a time increases injury risk dramatically. In essence, the shoulder simply can’t get the recovery it needs which means the physical development is compromised from the beginning.
In terms of skill development it’s also very hard to actually improve skills by only playing games during the summer. Athletes, especially young kids become outcome based oriented in a competitive game setting. Meaning they will do/use whatever skill technique comes easy for them even if hinders their long term development. In reality, true long term development should be processed based until the skill and physical ability reach a high level where wins/loses actually matter. In some cases that’s college, but in most cases that’s pro ball.
Here’s another way to think about it; would you become a better basketball player by playing basketball every day during the summer with NBA players? Of course not because your skill level is nowhere near that level and the game would simply overwhelm you. Now imagine if you took 2 hours a day and focused strictly on ball handling and shooting drills; how much of an improved basketball player would you be from a skill standpoint? With the skill level in place, it will be much easier to compete in games at a higher level and use the actually game speed to refine your skills.
Don’t get me wrong, kids do need to play some games to gain an understanding on tactical awareness, be in a competitive environment and put the skills they are developing to the test. But the pendulum has drastically shifted to overplaying and underdevelopment both in terms of physical ability and skill development which is also a big reason for the rise in youth and pro baseball injuries. Talent always wins in the end and no D1 or pro scout will recruit your son if they only throw 80mph or hit singles all the time no matter how many games they see him play. However, if your son sticks to little league, all-stars, high school baseball, multi-sports and improving his physical ability and then goes to some showcases, plays travel ball junior/senior year throwing 90mph plus or hitting bombs, I can promise you he will get noticed.
The summer can be a time for kids to make big jumps in both their skill and physical development. Don’t wast it!