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Travel Ball Letter By Steve Keener

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  • Travel Ball Letter By Steve Keener

    This should be the Gettysburg Address on travel ball by Steve Keener-President and CEO of Little League International...this is a must read!

    Each August, the Little League World Series celebrates children playing baseball, and families and fans of Little League Baseball come to Williamsport to trumpet the success of these champions, but the final score and world championship banner are certainly not the most important things.


    Little League is about playing, having fun, and learning some of life’s lessons along the way. Too many times in recent years stories have been told about children playing and sacrificing for baseball where the only thing that seems to matter is the outcome.

That is most definitely not what Little League is about.



    Terms like “overuse,” “burnout,” and “epidemic,” have been unjustly linked to the Little League program when these stories surface involving children as young as 10 who are playing dozens and dozens of baseball games during the summer and continuing throughout the year.



    Too often, the tradition and worldwide respect Little League Baseball and Softball has established has created the misconception that all youth baseball is Little League Baseball.



    To the contrary, Little League remains true to its values of character, courage, and loyalty by regulating its program to create an environment where children from any walk of life can participate.



    Throughout its 66-year history, Little League has been fortunate to have volunteers who join the program to do their part in nurturing future generations. Building strong citizens and improving the quality of life for families in their communities is paramount.



    Regrettably, there is another cross section of society that seems aimed at profit and self-satisfaction that is fed by a twisted sense of commitment to children. These people look like Little League volunteers. They may even talk like Little League volunteers. But, their willingness to disregard the dramatic difference between “play” versus “work” for nothing more than a chance to exploit the children they are entrusted to mentor, has the potential to cripple the future of youth athletics.



    The evolution of ultra-competitive, excessively-expensive, and loosely-regulated “travel ball” has brought Little League unwanted and unwarranted criticism, especially at tournament time.



    Because of the misleading comparison between tournament-hopping travel teams, and the “Road to Williamsport” traveled by Little League International tournament teams, critics claim the tournament is detrimental and contradictory to Little League’s mission.
In reality though, those who support travel ball are in many cases fulfilling a self-serving goal by seeking out a “higher level of competition” for the expressed purpose of supposedly increasing their child’s chances of landing a major college scholarship, or professional contract.



    The intent of the various World Series tournaments is, and has always been, to reward local players and leagues for their participation in the Little League program. No local league is obligated to play in these tournaments, yet most do. Why? Because it’s fun.



    In the Little League division more than 7,000 teams play in the World Series Tournament that concludes here at Howard J. Lamade Stadium with 16 teams vying for the title of Little League Baseball world champion. Yet, 90 percent of the teams entered in the World Series tournament are done playing in the first three weeks.



    In years past, Little League’s critics have called the tournament too long, too stressful, or too competitive, but now come horrific reports of children and teenagers enduring arm and shoulders surgeries to repair ruptured tendons and broken growth plates as the result of playing too much baseball.



    Little League’s mission has always been to create an environment that promotes a healthy, fun experience, and never has it been about grooming Major League prospects. As noted author, and Little League volunteer, Stephen King once wrote, “A Little League field is a place where excellence should always be applauded, but never expected.”



    Do we expect too much of children today? For the parents who each year spend hundreds of hours traveling to “elite” tournaments, and thousands of dollars for private coaches and the like, these questions have to be asked: What’s important? At what point does the child, who is playing several games a week, in different baseball programs, have to take a stand and say enough is enough? Should the child have to say anything, or is it time for the moms and dads to cast off the unfulfilled dreams of their youth, and focus on what is in the best interests of their children?



    Little League is unyielding when protecting its players and adult volunteers. Whether governing the number of innings a player can pitch in a week, conducting background checks on volunteers, enforcing mandatory play rules, or requiring a player to solely commit to a Little League International Tournament team, all Little League rules and regulations are rooted in what is collectively believed to be most beneficial for local leagues and their participants.



    Little League can not manage, and is not responsible for, the operation of other youth baseball programs. Instead, the parents of the players who play on these travel teams are responsible. Moms and dads must in turn hold these people accountable and evaluate why they feel it is necessary for their son or daughter to be there.



    It was not long ago when such specialization was frowned upon and diversity was in. Playing multiple sports made for well-rounded athletes with balanced skills, and an energy level that was peaked by new teammates, different challenges and variety of competition.


    New York Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina, who is on our Little League International Board of Directors, grew up minutes from Williamsport in Montoursville, Pa., and he was a three-sport athlete. Mike has reminded me during several conversations on the subject that the cream of crop is destined to rise to the top regardless of how hard he or she is pushed at 9 or 10 years old.



    In today’s society so much is based on numbers, so the numbers I use when describing the long-range prospects of any youth baseball player go like this … For the five million children playing baseball in the United States, 400,000 will play ball in high school. Of those 400,000, around 1,500 will be drafted by a professional baseball team. From those 1,500 or so, 500 will play two seasons or less in the minor leagues. Of the 500 in the minors, 100 will reach the Major League level, with one making it to Cooperstown, N.Y. and the National Baseball Hall of Fame.



    Travel ball is the latest degree of separation between the haves and the have-nots, but is it best for the children? Little League does not think so, and for that reason will not subscribe to the interpretation that the Little League program is too competitive, or not competitive enough, because being a Little Leaguer is not simply about competition.



    This is the time to relish youth. The best way for grown-ups to respect the next generation of Little League coaches and volunteers is through their involvement, and understanding of what in means to be a role model to the children of today.

In life, perception too often is reality, and if a parent perceives his child to be a prodigy, then that child must prove that to be true, or not. If the answer is the latter, isn’t a life-altering injury too high a price to find out, especially for a pre-teen?

I thank you all for coming to the 59th Little League Baseball World Series, and wish you an enjoyable time while you are with us in Williamsport.



    Stephen D. Keener

    President and Chief Executive Officer

    Little League Baseball and Softball
    Last edited by Benny Blades; 04-25-2008, 08:11 PM.

  • #2
    I feel the article has a great deal of merit. As many of you know I am an advocate against small-field travel ball. Travel ball is plagued with overzealous parents and uneducated coaches whose primary goals are self-serving. TB parents equate skill development with TB and refuse to listen to those of us who have coached HS and college that there is no direct correlation between TB and HS and higher ball. I would argue that small-ball TB prevents more kids from excelling than it does helps them. The primary concern for the parents of small-field players is developing a love for the game. On this score I feel LL does a pretty good job.

    If I have any criticism of Keener's article and/or position it is LLI should have developed a more pro-active position against TB years ago.
    "He who dares to teach, must never cease to learn."
    - John Cotton Dana (1856–1929) - Offered to many by L. Olson - Iowa (Teacher)
    Please read Baseball Fever Policy and Forum FAQ before posting.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Jake Patterson View Post
      I feel the article has a great deal of merit. As many of you know I am an advocate against small-field travel ball. Travel ball is plagued with overzealous parents and uneducated coaches whose primary goals are self-serving. TB parents equate skill development with TB and refuse to listen to those of us who have coached HS and college that there is no direct correlation between TB and HS and higher ball. I would argue that small-ball TB prevents more kids from excelling than it does helps them. The primary concern for the parents of small-field players is developing a love for the game. On this score I feel LL does a pretty good job.

      If I have any criticism of Keener's article and/or position it is LLI should have developed a more pro-active position against TB years ago.
      I have seen those parents, coaches, etc. However I feel they are the minority. As in anything, the minority drives the majority of the perception.

      And there are layers to TB, the ones where you play against a wide local area and some tourneys, to the driving hard everyday and massive amounts of out of state travel to play the best etc etc etc.

      And I'd say the culture of your area has an effect. Just 100 miles away the TB is MUCH different then in our area, and I'm sure ours is different from another area.

      Comment


      • #4
        I feel the paragraph when Steve breaks down the numbers is really eye opening.

        Comment


        • #5
          I totally disagree with this article, mainly, as any article touting the benefit of one at the expense of the other is self-serving poop.

          Our TB team is a local only team (comprised of our LL All-Star team) and competes in tournaments in So Cal only. We play in a tournament once every two weeks (at most) and once a week in a local PONY league. The kids play 50/70 and basically MLB rules. They receive quality coaching, with an emphasis on preparing them for the next level, which in So Cal is High School baseball. On average, we play three months then take one month off.

          My experience with LL (coaching my son's minor and major team, and his all-star team) is as follows: Each team is comprised of 2-4 good players, 4-5 average players and the rest should be home taking up the piano. A majority of practice time is devoted to the piano players, attempted to develop their potential - usually at the expense of the rest of the team. Parents pay their money and expect little Johnny to play as much as the team's 12 year old stud.

          Having said that, our LL Major and All-Star time was some of the best times for my son and I. But in the long run, it is just not for us. Each has its own merits and drawbacks...it all just depends on what you are looking for.

          BTW - Jake, your statement that TB is plagued by over zealous parents and uneducated coaches gave me a pretty good chuckle. TB is by no means perfect, but HAVE YOU BEEN TO A LL GAME LATELY?

          Comment


          • #6
            Parts of this letter make me shake my head. Again it seems the minority is driving the perception of the majority here.

            Here is a nice cliche.
            "or is it time for the moms and dads to cast off the unfulfilled dreams of their youth"
            Sure we see that but the vast VAST majority of parents are not like that at all.

            Sounds like this guy is smarting about the mis-conceptions of LL and is lashing out. Tear down what's around you to make yourself more innocent.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by AltaLomaStorm View Post
              BTW - Jake, your statement that TB is plagued by over zealous parents and uneducated coaches gave me a pretty good chuckle. TB is by no means perfect, but HAVE YOU BEEN TO A LL GAME LATELY?
              Point taken, but the limited number of games, the emphasis on safety, pitch count, emphsis on fun, minimum play time, etc. makes LL much different than most small-field TB.
              "He who dares to teach, must never cease to learn."
              - John Cotton Dana (1856–1929) - Offered to many by L. Olson - Iowa (Teacher)
              Please read Baseball Fever Policy and Forum FAQ before posting.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Jake Patterson View Post
                Point taken, but the limited number of games, the emphasis on safety, pitch count, emphsis on fun, minimum play time, etc. makes LL much different than most small-field TB.
                Now you are talking about the philosophy of each league, as opposed to over broad and unfair jabs at the TB personnel. Exactly what I mentioned above...It all has it's + and -, it just depends on what you are looking for.

                And I am sure "small field TB" is a veiled insult, but for the life of me I can not figure it out

                Comment


                • #9
                  Tonight we played in another LL game, we won again something like 22-2 because the losing team wanted 1 more inning otherwise it would have only been 17-2. My wife left early with the younger child and we hitched a ride with my other coach. On the way home his boy asks us while we are chatting when are we gonna play the good teams(travel/tourney), this league is boring. Mind you this boy is 8 and my boy is 7, playing in minors 9/10 LL. His boy pitched 2 innings and fanned 4 or 5 kids, my boy went 3 for 3 with a inside the park HR, triple with an error at second. We are 6-0 and beat every team by 12 to 15 runs, I had my worst kids playing infield from the 2nd inning on.

                  THERE IS A PLACE FOR TRAVEL BALL!!

                  The only thing holding us in LL at this point is the tourney. My boy cannot even play in allstars for a couple more years due to age and he is probably one of the top 15 in the league this year(sad). So is that travel balls fault LL won't seperate the kids. Soccer has no problem putting kids with there own talent levels, why should it be any different.


                  Cally

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by AltaLomaStorm View Post
                    And I am sure "small field TB" is a veiled insult, but for the life of me I can not figure it out
                    I interpret that to mean kids still young enough to play on the "small field" shouldn't be playing travel ball. I'm curious though Jake, by "small field" do you mean anything smaller than the full 90' bases, or just the smallest (50')? I've seen that before and I've always wondered when a small field becomes a big field.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I've known a number of good kids go onto travel ball, and some have had good experiences, where their parents are careful and have done their homework to make sure that the coaches are knowledgeable, impartial and protective of kids' health. Funny, though, several of the kids have had to move on because their fathers were thrown out of rec leagues for being too zealous. So it's not really about the kid at all.

                      AltaLomaS, I'm not disputing your breakdown of the skill levels of the kids on the average team -- though there's something quite condescending about your conclusion that "the rest should be home taking up the piano." My son always struggled -- particularly at the plate -- because he's a late developer (it runs in our family), and would have fallen in that category of yours early on. But, he was a solid and savvy defender, supported his teammates, and made a bunch of clutch hits, and he's become a pretty good player. If he'd given it up for the piano, he would have lost all the benefits of baseball.

                      What fries me is the assumption that somehow a 10 year old kid's talents are being wasted unless he's playing teams with top players throughout their lineup. What does it matter who else is out there? The pitchers he'll face will always be the top guys on other teams, and -- if he's pitching -- his mechanics and effort shouldn't change just because half the lineup isn't all that good. Unless he's throwing perfect games, there's always room for him to improve. And, as you mention, he's hanging with kids in his neighborhood or school and the whole family is part of a greater community. IIn TB, you've got one team and parents who, even if they're not focused entirely on their own kid, probably don't have much free time to hang around after games and talk baseball over a beer. Even if the rec coaches aren't the best, take some of the money you would have spent on entry fees and hotel rooms and hire a decent coach to both teach techniques to your kid and teach you what you should be monitoring.

                      With all this said, I think that relying on LL Baseball Int'l to somehow be the voice of reason about travel ball is unfair and improper. It's losing membership to a variety of competing forces (both baseball and non-baseball), and so it has an incentive to discourage emigration to competitors. But, it's certainly a fair effort by them to make sure to distinguish themselves from the unregulated world of travel ball when the issue of overuse comes up. And I give 'em props for their work with "Challenger Division" players; when I see Challenger Division travel ball, then I'll know that the world has turned upside down.
                      sigpicIt's not whether you fall -- everyone does -- but how you come out of the fall that counts.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Both entities are culpable in selective ignorance of the physiological facts.
                        The information is there. Kids under biologically 12 years old should not be pitching competitively for more than their spring season, even then their pitch count is still way to high. If Little League would cut the innings down to two a week more kids would take up the stress and get a chance to develop.

                        Until they look into non-injurious mechanics will they ever endorse them?
                        They still believe pitch count is what injures throwers.

                        Club teams would only be good for separating the accelerated maturers also only during the spring.

                        So far this year with the new catcher and pitch count rules (ASMI recommended) there seems to be no change in the injury rates everywhere during spring LL. Surgeons are still practicing on our kids! I wonder if Dr.Andrews will change his recommendations now.

                        Looks like Mr. Keener needs to ratchet it a bit up again next year and he will see no improvement again and have to ratchet it up again and again.

                        The way it’s going injury free mechanics are being accepted very slowly but for the first time I feel like I can see a little light in there.
                        Primum non nocere

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Ursa Major View Post

                          AltaLomaS, I'm not disputing your breakdown of the skill levels of the kids on the average team -- though there's something quite condescending about your conclusion that "the rest should be home taking up the piano."
                          UM - your description of your child does not sound like my "piano" kid. These are the kids who have no talent (which is ok), little or no desire to improve (which is not ok) and don't want to be here in the first place (which is common). In our PONY league, we had to draft three kids onto our TB team. One has NEVER played baseball before and knows nothing about the game. After two months, he can now throw the ball properly, catches semi-properly and finally made contact at the plate (double and single). This kid has a desire to improve which is reflected in his attitude. He wants to be here and he is a pleasure to work with.

                          Originally posted by Ursa Major View Post
                          And I give 'em props for their work with "Challenger Division" players
                          As do I. Our kids attend challenger game's and play the positions alongside of the challenger kids. Both groups of kids (and coaches) have a blast.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Jesse View Post
                            I interpret that to mean kids still young enough to play on the "small field" shouldn't be playing travel ball. I'm curious though Jake, by "small field" do you mean anything smaller than the full 90' bases, or just the smallest (50')? I've seen that before and I've always wondered when a small field becomes a big field.
                            I mean anything under 90'. Look, this debate has waged for a long time and I have no problem with the U12 team that plays in three tournaments during the summer. TB in general is about winning and the people who are most convinced that it's a great thing for the developmental journey of the player is the parents who are involved. Few who coach HS and above feel TB has helped. ONCE a player makes it to MS or HS I feel it's becomes a different ball game (pun intended). It makes me sick to see these U4, U6, U8, U10, U12 teams who are playing foolish amounts of games for "AAU or the USSSA National Championships." The lower end of the spectrum is what I call Diaper Ball.
                            "He who dares to teach, must never cease to learn."
                            - John Cotton Dana (1856–1929) - Offered to many by L. Olson - Iowa (Teacher)
                            Please read Baseball Fever Policy and Forum FAQ before posting.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Dirtberry View Post
                              So far this year with the new catcher and pitch count rules (ASMI recommended) there seems to be no change in the injury rates everywhere during spring LL. Surgeons are still practicing on our kids! I wonder if Dr.Andrews will change his recommendations now.
                              Based on what source?
                              "He who dares to teach, must never cease to learn."
                              - John Cotton Dana (1856–1929) - Offered to many by L. Olson - Iowa (Teacher)
                              Please read Baseball Fever Policy and Forum FAQ before posting.

                              Comment

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