I had thought I could finally put this to rest but apparently I can't. Every day it seems I get some e-mail which espouses the rotational swing. I should set up my e-mail system to just dump these into the trash. I should resolve to never again answer such things. But for whatever reason, I just cannot. I just cannot seem to close my big, fat mouth and let this thing rest.
What's worse than the e-mail side is the in-person, conversational side. Everywhere I go the thing pops up. I get into far too many discussions about this and it makes me wonder why that is. In order to get a handle on it, I have to go back and discuss some fundamental issues.
There is apparently such a thing as a pure linear swing. It is not what I mean when I use the term. It is not anything I would ever teach. I guess I never realized just how linear the rotational advocates think I mean when I espouse linear hitting. The pure linear swing is a peculiar animal. It involves keeping the hips closed and slamming the back leg into the front one. You have to excuse my ignorance because I have just never seen this type of swing. Oh, maybe I have but I always considered anything like it to just be a mechanical mistake.
To be clear, I have never, ever seen any batting coach teach the kind of swing that I am now calling "pure linear." There may be some fellows or gals out there who teach this but I've yet to come across a single one. To me, the swing rotational advocates criticize just does not exist.
On many occasions, folks have pointed me to video of top level hitters and then said something like, "see how the hips rotate, that's a rotational swing, I dare you to deny it." Deny it I must because I've watched several rotational coaches at work and seen many more rotationally schooled batters ply their trade. There is no comparison between the swing rotationally trained hitters exhibit and those of most top level baseball and softball players, particularly not the ones rotational advocates cite.
Most recently, I heard a term regarding swing mechanics which is, to me, new. That is the swing which involves a "linear start with rotational finish." By rotsational finish, these coaches mean hip rotation. You mean to tell me there is a swing which involves no hip rotation? Show it to me! In order to be more clear in the future, I'm going to call this new-to-me swing definition, the "combo-swing" because that is the way most folks I have run into recently refer to it.
Going back to the rotational side for a moment, what is considered to be the classic rotational swing is not merely something in which the hips are rotated when the swing is complete. That would be broadening the technique well beyond its limits. As I often say, if you want to see classic rotational, just look at its father and founder, Ted Williams. Go to Youtube and look at videos of his swing.
Rotational advocates often point to Williams as supporting their hitting style. They don't so much analyze his swing. Instead what they do is throw his lifetime stats in front of you and proclaim his method superior. But Williams was a lefty batter in a game which at the time was dominated by righty pitchers. Williams had perhaps three times as many at-bats against righties as he did against lefties and his batting average was 50 points higher against righties. His style was best suited to righties who tried to come inside on him rather than lefties who got him out with curveballs.
If you spend time analyzing Williams' swing, it doesn't take long to identify the elements which characterize it. First of all, he does not step forward with his front leg. Instead, he bows his knee inwards - practically shows the back of it to the pitcher. Secondly, he doesn't so much reverse load as drop his hands. If you watch this closely in slow motion, it is pronounced. Third,and most importantly, his hips fly open before his hands start forward. This has the effect of moving his hands towards the plate. Then, and only then - after the hips have flown open - his hands start to come forward. His front arm straightens to contact while his back arm remains slightly bent, and moves underneath his chest. Finally, almost all his weight is on the front foot when his swing is comnpleted. His back leg looks as if it has no weight at all on it and is reaching forward.
If you take these observations to the local rotational hitting instructor, very often you will find they teach the same elements. The result of time spent training is girls often develop a swing which is very obviously similar to Williams. I have seen more than a few rotational hitting girls swing nearly identically to Williams' swing mechanics. This is what we mean when we discuss rotational swing mechanics. We do not mean merely a hitter who rotates their hips, at least not in common parlance.
It is almost impossible to view any complete rotational swing discussion that does not make reference to Ted Williams. He has always been considered the father of this technique. He and his swing are as identifiable with rotational as any single person. Many rotational advocates try to move beyond Williams and make reference to other hitters - usually top hitters in baseball's major leagues. Frequently they'll cite Manny Ramirez. Of all the e-mails I receive which try to lead me somewhere to defend rotational hitting, the majority point to Manny. But even a cursory view of Manny's swing shows him to be an entirely different hitter than Williams.
For starters, Manny takes a step. He doesn't go far forward but he, unlike Williams, takes a step. He very definitely does not bow his front knee inwards like Williams. That step is directly towards the pitcher - it is linear in nature. When most non-rotational batting coaches discuss swing mechanics, the first step is most frequently what they are talking about when they reference the term "linear."
Next, Manny does indeed reverse load. This is slight and economical just like his step. You might call it "quiet" which is what most batting coaches, particulary "linear" ones, desire. He also keeps his hands high. In no way is he similar to Williams at this point.
Next, Manny's hands and hips work in unison. They operate simultaneously rather than as different motors. Whereas Williams' hips almost appear to pull the upper body and hands since they start first, Manny's hands and hips go at the same time. Some hitting instructors claim the hands push the hips rather than the hips pulling the upper body. But that is impossible. Pure rotational advocates espouse the hips pulling the upper body. And they teach girls to start the swing with the hips rather than moving both simultaneously. In fact the open hip or hip-trigger motion is what characterizes rotational swing mechanics as much as anything else. That's pretty clear from watching Williams tapes. It is also clear to anyone watching rotational girls swing on the softball diamond. But the so-called linear coaches do not teach the hands to puch the hips as some claim.
Next, Manny straightens his front arm through the contact point while also fairly much straightening his back arm. When the two come into conflict - you cannot straighten both arms after the midpoint of your swing because the back arm would have to be longer than the front - Manny lets go of the bat with his back hand. Williams does not do this. In fact the back hand release that is practiced by Manny, A-Rod, Mark McGuire, Pujols, etc. is something which characterizes the teaching of Charley Lau, a rotational critic. We don't have time to go into Lau here but suffice it to say this is not a technique but rather the result of a swing which is proper in Lau's mind.
Lastly, Manny finishes his swing with a firm front side but with weight still on the back leg, about 40% of it. His back leg is bent with the foot turned inwards in what rotationalo advocates ridicule as the "squish the bug" move. No non-rotational coaches really want their hitters to do what you would if you were squishing a bug. Many times folks criticize this by showing someone moving their foot back and forth as they grind the theoretical bug into the ground, killing or squishing it. Nobody in their right mind actually wants a hitter to do that.
In short the Williams swing is easily distinguishable from the Manny swing. Williams is clearly identical to what most rotational coaches teach. Manny's might be said to be Lau-inspired or more of a linear nature. This swing, and others like it are generally what most, if not all, non-rotational batting coaches in the US teach.
A few rotational advocates accuse certain Japanese hitters, like Ichiro Suzuki, of being "true linear hitters." I disagree with this characterization if, by that, they mean Suzuki does not rotate his hips at all. The only time Suzuki keeps his hips closed throughout a swing is when he hits more in a slapper style. Almost every other swing he uses involves a pretty full hip rotation. What Suzuki does is he keeps his hips closed as long as he can so he does not got beaten by outside pitches. In this sense, he is the anti-Ted Williams.
To close out this discussion, I have recently become aware of something I'll call the "combo swing." It is described by advocates as linear start/rotational finish. To me, it is nothing more or less than what I always called "linear." There is no swing I have ever seen which approximates that which rotational advocates describe as being linear. There are stark differences between the rotational style of Williams and the non-rotational style of Manny Ramirez and more linear style of Ichiro Suzuki. If you want to discuss this further, please do not write to me. Instead, watch some video tape and then talk to your rotational friends about it.
I want to approach a subject from a slightly different angle than I have in the past. The subject is related to intercollegiate athletics but not focused on Div I or II athletic scholarships. Rather, my focus is sports as an approach towards preparing kids for life and, incidentally, to get into the college of their choice. There are really two prongs to this, the first dealing with actual admission and financial aid for college, the second more general in nature.
Recently one local girl was accepted by an Ivy League school which was, by far, her first choice. She is a softballer who, in conjunction with her academic acceptance, has been recruited to play for the school's team. I have no idea what her academic credentials look like but I assume they are quite good. Ivies don't recruit you unless your grades and test scores meet their requirements.
I have no idea what sort of financial aid package this girl received but, again, I must assume that it was fairly substantial. Her family is certainly neither poor nor wealthy. And before long, they'll have two kids in college simultaneously. They may be able to handle Ivy League tuition but I'm sure they needed some level of aid in order to wing it. And the Ivies do provide such aid.
This, of course, brings me to the subject of college athletic scholarships with respect to Ivy League schools. Most people understand that Ivy League schools do not offer athletic scholarships. However, apparently not everybody understands this. I recently had a conversation with someone who attended a softball clinic put on by the coach of an Ivy League softball team. This fellow was somewhat surprised to learn that they do not give athletic scholarships. It was a crushing blow to him since he knew he would never be able to put his daughter through such a school no matter how smart she was.
The best I could offer to assuage this fellow's grief were some words of wisdom I recently read on a coaches forum. The phrase the coach-posters used went something like: the Ivy League has only "need based" aid. If they need you on their sports teams, they'll find the aid to get you.
No, the Ivy League does not offer athletic scholarships. Yes, they do offer "need based" financial aid. Yes, most of that aid is offered to those who have financial need. But within this context, as you might imagine, there may be some wiggle room for athletes. That is, even the Ivy League has such a thing as financial aid which is based on a candidate's athletic ability. You'd have to meet the academic requirements, of course, but assuming you do and cannot otherwise afford the tuition, etc., you should at least consider the possibility that the coach may be able to get you the aid you need to pay for the school.
If the Ivy Leagues did not offer any sort of inducement to athletes, it is very possible that their sports teams would be really horrendous. That would be an embarrassment to them. Ivy League athletics, while not the envy of the top 25 in money sports, are at least decent and competitive.
A while ago, I read a news story about an Ivy League coach in a "money sport" who got himself in trouble while recruiting some players. I won't go into the details about what happened because they are unimportant. The bottom line is the coach was willing to do almost anything to get these couple of kids, top recruits in their sport, to join his program.
The concept of non-athletic money as a recruiting inducement applies not only to D-I Ivy League colleges, but also D-III schools which, like the Ivy League, do not offer athletic scholarships. One of the frequent readers of this forum had a lengthy discussion with me about the topic. His daughter plays softball for a D-III school and while she certainly does not receive an athletic scholarship, he doesn't much care because most of her tuition and other costs are covered by "academic aid." And, as this fellow pointed out, whereas an athletic scholarship is really only offered on a year by year basis, an academic scholarship, once offered, can be for the full term of your attendance and is contingent only upon your academic performance. If you receive academic aid and keep your grades up, you get to keep the aid.
I think the part that most folks don't realize is that sports coaches can point prospective student athletes in directions to receive financial aid that are not available to other students. Of course, this stands to reason since the colleges need to fill their sports teams and they don't want a bunch of walk-ons populating the rosters.
The way the mechanism works is a coach provides an applicant he or she is recruiting with a code to put on the school's application and financial aid request forms. This code puts a candidate into a separate class of applicants. All other things considered, an applicant will have an easier time being accepted by an institution and will receive more financial aid with this code than without it. Some financial aid is not available to all students - some is earmarked for student athletes. Without the coach's code, you won't be considered for this aid.
As I said, these schools do not want to leave the success or failure of their athletic programs up to chance. Because D-III schools tend to be far smaller, their concerns regarding recruitment can run fairly deep. If they left their sports teams up to chance, the likelihood that they'd be able to field a team in any given sport is not all that good.
Long ago, a person I know attended a small Div III college which has one of the highest academic reputations in the country. It is a small, private institution with a student body of just 1,500. It fields varsity teams in about 10 or so women's sports. Of the approximately 750 women students, probably more than 150-200 are involved in varsity athletics. That's about a quarter of the total student body playing varsity sports! According to one web site, the college provides "financial aid" to participants in several sports.
They have to provide such aid and actively recruit or they will get themselves a student body filled with geniuses who have never held a field hockey stick or composite bat. Oh sure, they could just wait for the incoming freshman class and try to pull together teams from their high achieving student body. But that would result in some coaches not fielding teams in certain years and the ones who were lucky enough to fill rosters would not be very competitive. It doesn't take much imagination to see a school's softball team on which some kid is told to pitch and throws a sling-shot style fastball, her only pitch, at 45 miles per hour. They wouldn't be able to beat a decent middle school team. Why would any college bother to field a team in a sport in which they couldn't beat many middle school teams?
These colleges do recruit and they have ways to induce kids to come to their school. This often comes as a complete shock, particularly to those who don't try to get recruited. A fellow in my neighborhood sent his kid off to a good D-III school with the idea that he might try out for several athletic teams in the sports he played during high school. When he got there, the kid was disappointed. He tried out for soccer and, later, baseball. Now, this kid was a standout in high school who just didn't know how to or care to go after athletic money. He was a top flight travel soccer player. He also was a darn good baseball player, probably good enough to play for many D-IIIs. Had he pursued either or both of these sports, he might very well have landed somewhere, perhaps even D-II, on an invite. But that's not the route he chose.
What really troubled this young man was the manner in which the tryout process was conducted. He reasoned, this is D-III so everybody is a walk-on. Yet several of the other freshman apparently had practiced with the team prior to his arrival at school. They knew they had made the team long before he stepped into a dorm room for the first time. They were already in separate housing for athletes. They had better accomodations and meal plans than he did. They weren't stressed about making the team. He just couldn't figure it all out. Finally, what really got under his skin was, while these other freshman walk-ons were already on the team, he was hard-pressed to get the coaches to even notice him. He had, by his own account, great tryouts, better than many of the others, but the coaches didn't seem to care. They never watched him. He does not believe they ever considered him for the roster.
The kid was upset particularly by the baseball coaches' failure to even consider him. So he went to a coach to ask why they cut him. One coach told him that he was not fast enough to play at this level. The kid happens to be a legitimate 4.4 40-yard sprinter. He was a very succesful base stealer in high school. He gets down to first in under 4 seconds, the major league baseball average!
When he wasn't satisfied by the coach's answer, he asked another walk-on, a sophomore who had made the team the previous year but been cut this year, what the story was. The kid said, "every year they put two walk-ons on the roster and the next year they get cut in favor of two new freshman walk-ons. Even if you made the team, you would never play and then you'd get cut next year so don't take it personally." And this happened at a no-athletic scholarship, D-III school!
Unfortunately, that's the way it goes even at D-III. The schools need to fill athletic teams. They don't want teams filled with just any old kids who happen to choose their schools. They want to be competitive. They recruit. And while recruits are not offered athletic scholarships, there can be other inducements in terms of "academic" financial aid.
While I made reference to money sports and the fact that say a USC, UCLA, Michigan and the like would have incredible facilities for basketball, football, etc., most folks would be surprised at what many D-III schools have in terms of athletic facilities. Many of these small, private, high ranking academic institutions have alumni of considerable fame and wealth. The one I made reference to earlier has several Nobel Laureates, many extremely successful business leaders, some famous actors and actresses, etc. Their endowment fund is considerable by any standards. And as long as they don't provide athletic scholarships, they are pretty much free to otherwise do as they like.
The school's athletic facilities are first rate. In most cases, what they have to offer athletes aside from aid are facilities which rival and often exceed those of D-I institutions. Their facilities exceed anything I have seen associated with any D-II school. Their athletic fields are among the very best. Workout facilities are first rate. They have many well qualified trainers associated with the athletic department. There isn't much which a top athlete would need which they don't provide.
I was explaining all this to the friend who was so disappointed to learn the Ivy League offers no athletic scholarships and as I did, a light bulb went off in his head. He suddenly understood what some friend had been trying to tell him. My friend's friend had a softball playing daughter, a very good softball player, who went to a small, private D-III institution and is playing for their team. My friend understood that D-IIIs do not offer athletic scholarships. The girl chose the school because it offered a master's degree in a particular discipline which not every institution offers. While he knew the girl to be a very good athlete and student, he was a little surprised that she would attend a school like that and spend so much time involved with a sport since that could cause her academics to suffer.
My friend asked the fellow what the cost of the institution was and was flabbergasted by his answer. The pricetag was only a little less than an Ivy League school and far more than the state schools, some offering similar degree programs, this girl might have attended. He could not understand how the man was able to afford the extravagant price tag. Further, he could not imagine allowing one's daughter to spend this much family money while devoting so much time to softball. He wouldn't pay such a tuition and then allow his daughter to "waste her time" with sports.
The fellow responded that he only has to pay for two of the girl's four years and has four years to save up for that, thanks to softball. My friend repeated this to me and explained how he had been confused. He knew the girl had enrolled with the idea of attending for 6 years to get her masters. But the man's reference to paying for two years had confused him. Once he realized the girl was receiving "need-based aid" in the form of academic assistance because the coach wanted her to come there, it all made sense.
To be clear, I suspect that not every Ivy or D-III offers a huge amount of aid to its athletes. But small schools do have to fill athletic teams. They must recruit. Those who are not recruited are often not considered very much for the teams. D-IIIs are not always quite what they seem.
The reason I mention this is many newspaper articles critical of youth sports are quick to recite the "facts" regarding how much, or how little, actual dollars there are available via athletic scholarships. Most such articles completely disregard non-athletic scholarships and other aid offered exclusively to athletes. Most such articles never even consider the manner in which student athletes are considered for admission.
Perhaps more important than the aid or facilities parts of the equation, is admissions. For a long time in this country, admissions people have sought to build an incoming freshman class that is ethnically, economically, and otherwise diverse. The negative side of this, if you happen to be white, middle class, own your residence, etc., is you have a decreased shot of getting into many schools unless your grades are absolutely stellar and nobody with better marks or scores from your high school also happens to apply. In short, getting into the school of one's dreams is often very difficult, if not impossible. So parents work hard to build the "resume" of their kids to make them more attractive to admissions officers.
Many experts opine that the breadth of one's resume is less important than its depth. That is, college admissions people are less interested in a candidate who has at one time or another been involved in every activity known to mankind. They'd rather invite someone who has spent 10 years doing one activity than they would another who spent two years in Scouts, helped out at a soup kitchen once during tenth grade, spent a year playing softball, another with the track team, after which she quit all sports so she could participate in band for a year, chorus for another, a church group for yet another, etc. Colleges prefer kids who have a depth of experience involved with one or two particular activites rather than a smattering of many. And if that experience involves leadership skills, so much the better.
Some experts have suggested that athletics is a superior extra-curricular activity to all others, sometimes all others combined! In one case, something I read, written by an expert, suggested that athletics are the most powerful nonacademic factor in the admissions process. A girl who is an athlete has essentially the same or better profile with college admissions as someone who is a minority or had a parent who attended the institution. This opinion reflected views of large institutions - this expert had been President of a large institution - but he elaborated that at smaller, elite universities, it is more so the case. In short, if you played softball since you were 8 and continued through high school, you excelled and took on leadersip roles, you are way ahead of the curve in terms of your appeal to college admissions people. And if the sports coach at a particular institution wants you, well, that's even better.
Just to be fair, there are certainly other activities which can play an important role in this process. I know a local kid who is very serious about his music. He plays for, among other groups, the high school marching band. He was good enough to earn several honors including the county's and state's bands. This kid muddled along through the college application process and applied to schools the way the experts advise. He applied to schools he absolutely knew he would get into, some more difficult ones and finally, a few "reaches." One of these "reaches" was the school of his dreams. But he held out little hope of being accepted because the school was on many top students from his high school's radar screen. Several kids with significantly better academic credentials from his high school had applied there. He felt his chances were exactly zero.
For whatever reason, not the ones I'm writing about, this kid wrote the marching band leader at the school to inquire whether he would have a shot at playing for the band. The leader saw his band credentials and invited him to come down to the next football game and sit with the band. The kid took him up on the offer and has been accepted to the school already. He had not expected to receive notification so early. None of the kids from his school have heard back yet. And the financial aid package he is going to receive is better than his parents expected.
This aspect to sports and cetain other activites is, I think, one of the most important pieces of the equation. I never got my kids into softball in order to achieve the elusive college scholarship. I just wanted them to get out of sports what I did - I'll get to that at the close of this discussion. I never got them involved in sports to fill in some blanks on a college application. But the fact is, kids today need something, anything, which will make them stick out in the crowd. Anybody who aspires to go to college needs to be involved in non-academic activites. Parents are charged with the responsibility of getting their kids involved in these activites. And these activies must be engaged in at more serious levels than many suspect.
Back when I was suffering through the many softball inaccuracies espoused by people involved in our local recreational league, I didn't realize it, but I was also receiving poor advice with respect to parenting. Many people talked about the need to have one's kids involved in non-academic activities for the college application but these folks talked as if the breadth of one's extra-curriculars was more important than the depth. It was common for people to question my daughters' involvement in softball when that involvement took away opportunities for them to participate in other activities. They suggested that it would be detrimental to have one's child involved so deeply. Rather, a kid should participate in a bunch of sports on a more cursory level and get involved with other activities like clubs, music, and charity work. That's apparently a myth. Sure, you should do charity work and something aside from school and sports in order to be well rounded and well experienced. But reducing one's involvement in softball or any other particular sport in order to make time for other things is probably fairly silly.
Now, to the crux of why I want my kid involved as deeply as possible with one particular sport. I never encouraged my daughters to play softball to the exclusion of other sports. They chose that themselves. What I wanted was for them to be involved in any sport on a more than superficial level. I wanted them to participate in some sport in the same manner I had which included several times a week practice year-round. I felt that doing this would aid in their health, make them physically fit, and focus them on operating in life with a busy schedule. There are many aspects to sport which will help you get through life, probably too many to list here.
I cannot count the number of times I have read an article which discussed how former athletes do better and go farther than those who never competed. They have more drive, stronger work ethic, are more goal directed, and generally not satisfied unless they achieve a level of accomplishment above the ordinary. While this is true for all people, it is more so true for females.
When I was young, quite obviously, the business world was a man's domain. Culturally, everything about it was the work of men. During my lifetime, women have entered the working world in a very meaningful way. Also, back when I was in high school, very few girls played any kind of sports. We had some pretty good girls' teams but they were always populated with the same group of ten to twenty kids. 95% of all girls never even considered playing any sport. That has markedly changed thanks to Title IX. As the father of girls, I am happy about these developments.
In my personal business experiences, I have had the opportunity to work for and with many women. While doing this, I have made some observations regarding those women with whom I have worked. Of the top people - those who were not only competent but also rose very high within the several organizations - more often than not, they participated in sports throughout high school and many did so through college. If I listed the top 100 women in my work experience, probably 75 were athletes. So, mathematically, the top 75% came from a particular group of 5% who played sports.
To go a bit further, those successful women in business I encountered who did not play sports, really struggled regardless of how smart they were. They were not used to team concepts the same way their athletic counterparts were. They tried to affect certain behaviors in order to offset their handicap. For instance, one non-athletic women began studying professional sports in detail so she could converse with the men for whom she worked and build repore so they would promote her. Another, to be blunt, taught herself how to curse because she felt that might help her get ahead. There were other, sometimes rather odd, behaviors asffcted to make amends for lack of team sports experience. It was all very comical though often many of these tactics backfired.
The women who tried to talk about baseball came off sounding like ex-presidential candidate, John Kerry, when he talked about being a huge Red Sox fan whose favorite player was Manny Ortiz. In case, you don't know, the two big players for the Sawks were Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. It got to the point where the men around this woman would deliberately make things up just to see her reaction. Then they would laugh about them when she wasn't around.
The woman who tried cursing never really got any good at it. At first it is entertaining to listen to someone trying hard to swear appropriately in business circumstances. But after a while, it becomes rather annoying. After a while, when such a person swears inappropriately, the entire conference room goes silent as people shake their heads or begin to chuckle. I recall the COO of one employer mocking a mid-level executive woman who swore inappropriately to make herself "one of the guys." He said, "guess who I am ... " and then repeated soemthing she had done recently. He never took her seriously again. By the way, I've heard very high level women do the same regarding both men and women who tried such affectations.
The women who played sports prior to joining the executive ranks never seemed to have these problems. They all intuitively knew something about sports, never affected inappropriate behaviors, and were generally the equals to, if not always superior, to any man they encountered in the business world.
I worked for many such successful former athlete women. I have to say that by comparison, I always felt like I spoke the same language they did while I always had great difficulty working with those who had never played any sport, male or female. That could be my own personal bias, but the women I knew in business circumstances who were never athletes, did not rise as high as those who had played team sports.
Lest you think these are merely the musings of a sexist male, the person who has been the singularly most encouraging person with respect to my daughters' participation in softball is my mother-in-law. She was a pretty successful telephony engineer for over a decade (talk about being a woman in a man's world!). Now she is an entrepreneur but she laments not having been able to rise higher in the engineering field. She had a masters degree and was nearing completion of her doctorate before she decided to leave the field. But this didn't seem to matter to her male colleagues. In her words, they treated her like a secretary. She firmly believes she suffered from a handicap due to her lack of participation in sports. She feels we are giving her grand daughters exactly what she lacked, what held her back from further promotion.
Finally, I recently read a discussion regarding a 12U softball team which was trying to recruit a player or two. They noted that they had already begun praticing four times a week. The team was a successful one but one or two players had left so they needed to fill empty a (few) roster spot(s). Several people bashed the team because they practiced way too much.
The criticisms went something like: "let kids be kids," "practicing four times per week is way too much," "they barely have time to sleep," "these kids are being treated like they are professional athletes," and/or "this attitude is what is ruining youth sports." I beg to differ.
There is nothing new about youth "athletes" playing or practicing sports four times per week. It may be new to the youth softball world but it is not new in terms of youth sports generally. Back when I was a kid, as I've told you many times, I participated in swimming along with two of the "big three sports," football and baseball. Swimming practice was held at least four times a week for all kids from about age 9 or 10 on up. That was for 9 or 10 months of the year, maybe longer. The same was true for the several ice hockey players I knew, one figure skater, several gymnasts, those serious about running, particularly distance running, some serious tennis players, etc. Many youth sports have involved four-a-week practicing for several decades, some longer than 50 years. The sports most people played did not involve such commitment but I'm not sure that was a good thing.
When I was a kid, until the age of 15, there really was nothing but the typical baseball season. We practiced once a week and played perhaps 15 or so games. One of the regrets of my youth is that I didn't get to play anywhere near as much organized baseball as my daughters get to play softball. While they know very little of my experinces, I believe they feel similarly. Several practices per week and an extended, multi-season, game playing experience is desirable to them.
Every year we go through a period my wife and I refer to as "withdrawal." For most months of the year, my kids go to a pitching lesson once a week (my older daughter goes to three per week), they attend sessions with a physical trainer twice, we practice pitching three times in addition to lessons (except the older one - but each pitches four times per week), they go to at least two team practices, they play games all weekend long, and they work out on their own when they don't have anything else to do. During "withdrawal," we have neither team practices nor games of any sort. All I ever hear is complaints from them about not having games and "when are we going to start practicing again?"
But understand that my kids are not one-dimensional, single minded athletes who have no other interests, social or otherwise. Recently, one of them, who happens to be a very good student, began slacking off on one of her homework responsibilities. Her Language Arts teacher required the girls to read a book outside the one they are reading in school but they have to pick a book from a fairly small library of titles. My daughter stopped reading her supplemental book for about four days to a week. The reason she stopped was because she had been filling the time supposedly set aside for reading the supplemental book with her reading of another very popular book. She had become, in her words, addicted to the Twilight series.
Also, understand that neither I nor my wife impose their busy athletic schedules on them. When we discovered the one had not been doing her required reading, we suggested that she give up one day a week of her physical training and/or skip basement pitching practice for a week or two and/or maybe miss one lesson in order to get caught up. The kid actually cried and screamed that she didn't want to do that. This is a 14 year old kid, not some little one prone to crying. She was completely unwilling to give up any of her physical training. She was upset at the prospect of not pitching on her normal routine. She begged us to let her continue, if she promised to complete her reading and catch up to where she was supposed to be. We agreed and she caught up in three days.
My point is my kids do what they do in softball because they want to, not because of some externally imposed training regimen. They wouldn't have things any other way. And just try to take one of their self-imposed sports responsibilities away from them and you are in a world of hurt. It takes me many minutes and hours of convincing when I determine that they need to take a break for a few weeks. To be honest, catching their pitching practices is a burden on my nearly 50 year old, broken body. I've been taking heavy doses of tylenol for a long time in order to deal with the pain I suffer while catching them. My knees are bad, my back gives me constant trouble, I have arthritis growing in my shoulders and neck, I have almost constant tendonitis in my catching wrist and elbow, and that says nothing about the times when I get hit by a dropball that bounces off the plate. I would like nothing better than to catch them a little less often. But they ask to pitch and I am not able to say no, unless I get convinced that they need to take a break.
In summary, sure the Ivy League and D-III schools don't offer athletic scholarships. Anyone who does their homework knows that. But there's more than one way to skin the cat. And even when you don't get money for playing a sport, you may have opportunities others never see. Like how about getting into the school you want to begin with? Sports is not the only activity which can get you into a school but it is an important one, one which can position you equally to a minority applicant or a legacy. If you do get into a D-III school, maybe they do provide opportunities for walk-ons to play for their sports teams but, then again, perhaps those opportunities are not quite what they seem. If you go to a D-III school to play softball, you may be surprised what you find there in terms of facilities. Aside from this, participation in youth sports on a serious level gives you so many benefits that will payoff in the future, long after college is over, that is difficult to list them all. Kids will be kids but there is nothing new about a busy practice schedule in a youth sports environ or anything that will actually harm a kid or prevent them from finding happiness. Provided you are smart and monitor your kid, there is no reason to shy away from a busy practice schedule simply because, facially, this just seems like too much for anyone. Parenting is about raising kids and preparing them to go it alone. Sports can play an important role. Softball can be a tool for raising your daughters well.