Reflections On Our First Summer of Tournament Baseball

by | Sports Parenting | 0 comments

Well, we were warned.

We were warned about the tryouts and heightened pressure on the kids, the long days at the ballparks, the expense of tournament fees, uniforms, and gear, the inability to plan family travel, and most of all, that we wouldn’t be able to wait for the season to finally end.

We were warned – and we loved every minute of it.

Our 7-year-olds just finished up their first summer of all-star tournament baseball.  The team ended on a very high note which, in retrospect, is truly remarkable given the way it all started.

Our local little league program does things a bit differently than others in the area, for better or for worse.  Our 6-, 7- and 8-year-old leagues all utilize machine pitch for recreation play.  They also use soft-core baseballs that are spongier and bouncier than regular hardballs.  Many believe these prescripts enhance safety and help action on the field move more smoothly, thus giving the developing player more opportunities to learn and improve.

While there are varying opinions on these benefits at the rec level, one thing is for certain – they don’t do any favors for the advanced player playing tournament ball.

Imagine hitting against perfectly grooved pitches for years, albeit with velocity, but then having to adjust on the fly to coach pitch with inconsistent speed, location, and timing.  Without the velocity of the machines, too, hitters had trouble generating power and hit an endless number of weak groundballs to shortstop.

Defense posed new challenges as well.  Our boys have been programmed to anticipate big, bouncy hops in the field.  Regulation hardballs in tournament play don’t bounce that way, however.  It’s hard to say just how many balls went through our players legs but it was enough to demoralize the team and raise doubts about our belonging.

The first couple of tournaments were brutal.  Many of the teams we faced had been playing together by tournament standards for years, while we were playing real, big-boy baseball for the first time ever.  Let’s just say it wasn’t an easy acclimation.

After two weeks the team had a 1-5 record, but honestly, it wasn’t even that good.  Many of the loses were mercy rule games with double-digit run differentials.  I understand that winning and losing isn’t the main goal at this level, but we had our fill of learning how to lose with grace and needed desperately to experience some success.

This is where the story and our summer changes.  These boys, to their immense credit, didn’t quit.  Either did the coaches.  They made adjustments to practice that emphasized the skills needed to compete at this level.  Little by little, the kids learned to use their legs when swinging and get their backsides and gloves down when fielding. And things began to click.

It wasn’t a straight line – not by a longshot – but by the last weekend of the summer, the team played well enough and consistently enough to actually win a tournament.  It was glorious – the joy on the boys faces as they received the championship rings they rightfully earned.

Winning that final tournament is not the reason we loved summer ball, however.  It was because of the incredible growth that occurred, both individually and as a team, right in front of our eyes.

The boys don’t realize it, but their resilience, perseverance, work ethic, and courage in the face of adversity was truly commendable.  They overcame obstacles other kids and teams hadn’t had too, and in the end, were rewarded for it.  This summer will end up laying the groundwork for their future growth both on and off the field, and that’s what youth sports and healthy competition is all about.

And now, for as long and as difficult as it all seemed at the time, it’s over.  Time to decompress, take back our weekends and maybe even go on a family vacation.  Which will all be great.

But for all those still playing ball this summer, be warned…you’re not going to want it to ever end.


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