Pretty much what I've experienced. Travel ball starts at 9, and kids who stay with the game and move up to High School ball get there by working hard, playing in travel ball, and have private lessons. A few make it by natural ability, but it is an uphill fight without travel ball. The coaches are managers. It’s not their job to develop talent, especially if they have a strong talent pool (i.e. parents who don’t mind the time and money consumption involved to develop their kid.) Parents have choices. 1) Do it themselves, and be on the outside or 2) go travel and private lessons. Private lessons at $75 to $90 per hour isn’t financially feasible for everyone, so less oft communities must act differently than well oft communities. And from my observation, private lessons and travel ball doesn't necessarily increase athletic ability.
For the middle to upper-middle class, baseball skills and development is done away from the field, away from team participation. The hard work of these kids away from the field shows in the playing time they get.
The question comes in what happens with the athlete who has the natural ability and talent, but not the $$ to afford travel ball and private coaches? Where does this kid get the playing opportunity and training needed - assuming he has the talent - to develop into a D1 player? And, does natural ability and talent eventually rise to the top and replace the hard working kid, or are they always in the “wait-till-next-year” game?
Back in the 70s kids we played unorganized baseball every day at the schoolyard, unless of course, it was snowing. Playing these pick-up games developed instinct and listening to games on the radio increased baseball IQ. Coaches spent a lot of times teaching the fundamentals of the game, and very little time on mechanics. Everyone threw FB, FB, FB. The mechanics derived naturally from playing. It never occurred to a parent that a kid would need private coaching, for that’s what the team coaches were doing.
Today, the few coaches who coach emphasize mechanics, and lack fundamentals. What are good mechanics vary from coach to coach, so the kid really never develops anything. Five different coaches will have five different ways to hit the ball. Every pitching coach has a set way to throw, and they’re all dependent on how the pitching coach throws. The fastball is scorned, because anyone can hit a fastball. The curve is praised, because everyone gives up on it, and if a kid can get it over the plate, no matter how fat it is, he’s got a strike. Kids give up on the curve because their coaches/managers tell them to lay off and only swing at the fastball. The fastball are hittable because they’re not fast. So, it’s senseless to expect the athlete will develop from team practices and games. That leaves parents to look outside the establishment to assure their son is getting appropriate coaching, opportunities, developing the right relationships, and everything else that is needed to break into the game. The consequences for not following this system is that the kid can make the team, but will be developmentally behind and therefore not play.
Still, the question remains, will natural talent eventually win out, or is travel ball and private lessons the only way to make it in baseball? Will the kid with natural ability eventually take the position of the kid who works hard, who has played years and years of expensive private lessons and travel ball? And if so, is that fair? I thought about this at length yesterday while watching my son finally get off the bench and onto the field. During the first four games he got off the bench just once, and that was to pinch hit. But yesterday was different. He got in in the fourth inning. One incredible defensive play after another he wowed the parents who sat in the stands, awakening them from their usual boredom. Parent after parent asked why this boy wasn’t playing. The parents loved his hustle, his all-out fully extend diving catch of a long fly ball, and the laser throw from deep right to 3rd to gun out the runner tagging up. The parents started adding up a few other things, like the pinch hit fly out that went 400’ to center. Varsity kids don’t hit the ball that far, let alone the kid who sits at the end of the bench. Then they started thinking even further. Why doesn’t the coach let him and the 90 mph sophomore pitch? Why doesn’t the coach see what they can do and develop them? Suddenly, the kids the coaches chooses to play didn’t make sense. Realization hit them – the coaches don’t play the best players! They play the kids who fit a certain mold and whom they feel comfortable with, such as 1) growing up together playing travel ball, 2) private practices outside of team practices, and 3) year round commitment to baseball, which is shown by 1 and 2.
I’m not sure if any of this makes a difference. Coaches are set and content to make out the line-up. It’s unlikely my son will not develop by practicing with and being on a High School team. As a bench player, he gets little practice. There’s no teaching involved. So, I still strap on the catching equipment, hit ground balls until I get blister’s, analyze his hitting approach, study his delivery and recommend little tweaks, work with him on the mental game, etc., and try to keep him from walking away from the game he was made for. But most importantly I’m trying to instill within him the ability to teach himself, to feel what he’s doing and make his own adjustments. I’m a firm believer that if he works hard, is friendly and encourages others, stays positive, plays aggressively in the field when given the opportunity, and doesn’t hesitate or think about what the coaches think, then when his opportunity comes, he’ll make the most of it and never let it go.
In today’s environment, it seems to me development is by default the parents and child’s responsibility.