The State of Travel Sports… “What Are We doing?”

Courtesy

Robert Porfido 

 

Last fall my son tried out for the Passaic Valley Junior Hornets 12U 2021 Spring/Summer Travel Baseball Team, and did not make the team. When I asked why my son did not make the team I was told that my son and three other kids did not make the team. I was also told that the team would be carrying 11players for the 2021 season, and that because the numbers were down that there would not be a B squad.  

Yes, I was disappointed, not only for my son, but for all of the kids that were not going to get an opportunity to play. These kids are not going to experience playing on a competitive team, are not going to get a chance to keep developing their skills, and are not going to get a chance to learn the values of commitment and the life lesson of working hard to become better at something! The thing that was troubling to me was that only 11 players were being selected from Totowa, Woodland Park, and Little Falls. My question was why did any of the kids have to be told that they did not make the team? Why can’t you carry fifteen players, even if they all don’t play? At the very least they would be able to practice and continue developing their skills. Why not give more kids an opportunity, and not determine their athletic fate at 12 years old? What are we doing? I was told that carrying more kids would take playing time away from the kids who have already played on the team.  

Please understand I am not writing this article as a disgruntled parent, and I am in no way trying to discredit anyone affiliated with the Junior Hornets. I am writing this for all of those kids and parents that have had the same experience, in hopes of maybe changing the mindset and approach for the selection of future players for travel baseball teams. I was prepared to just move on, sign my kid up for recreation baseball, and leave it alone. Then I came across an article by John Sullivan that was so dead on with what I experienced, that I felt the need to share it with others that have shared the same experience. The following Excerpts are taken from that article which is titled, Our Biggest Mistake: Talent Selection Instead of Talent Identification. 

  1. Many youth sports coaches claim to be great talent identifiers.  Yet they are not talent identifiers. They are talent selectors. The difference could not be more striking, or more damaging to our country’s future talent pool in many sports.

 

  • Talent selection is the culling of players with the current ability to participate and be successful in events taking place in the near future. Talent identification, on the other hand, is the prediction of future performance based upon an evaluation of current physical, technical, tactical and psychological qualities. Talent selection is pretty simple; talent identification is an art. One yields great results today; the other builds elite athletes and winning teams for the future. When you are focused on talent selection, you are picking athletes to help you win now, and cutting ones that will not. You are looking at current athleticism, technical ability, and traits to help achieve short term success. You naturally select the biggest, strongest and fastest young athletes, and play them extensive minutes. You limit playing time for the kids who are not up to snuff, and tell them they need to work harder, get tougher, etc., if they want to play more. 

 

  • Talent identifiers are searching for young players who may not be elite athletes yet, but possess the physical and psychological attributes to eventually become one. Perhaps they have not yet grown, or been exposed to high level coaching. Perhaps they are not as skillful yet, but show a high level of coachability, sensitivity to training, and the motivation to learn. Identifying talent requires the skill to weigh all the physical, physiological, psychological, and technical components of an athlete, as well as a measure of “gut instinct” of which kid has what it takes to become elite, and which kid does not. 

 

  1. American youth sports are far too often focused on talent selection, and not talent identification. We are not identifying and developing the kids who are most likely to become elite competitors after puberty. This is why nations with 1/100th of our population can compete with us on a world stage in many sports. They actually identify and develop future talent, instead of selection based upon current results. How do we fix this? Here are a few simple thoughts for youth sports that to be honest, should not be that hard to implement:

 

  • Stop cutting players at young ages, and develop large numbers of players instead of just the elite ones. I recently read that Sweden, for example, produces more NHL players per capita than any other country and they do not cut players till age 17. Hmmm.
  • Focus on developing all players at the youngest ages, with particular attention given to helping the less skilled ones catch up technically to the stronger ones. Thus, when they finish their growth spurt, we have a much larger pool of adequately skilled individuals to choose from. 
  • Better educate our coaches to understand the difference between selecting and identifying talent, and then teach and encourage them to develop it. 
  • The best part about making all these changes? We will allow coaches to actually coach, and develop both better people and better athletes.

Will any of this actually happen? Probably not, but I couldn’t agree more with John Sullivan that it should! 

 

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