Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

In which I throw my 10-year-old daughter to the youth sports-industrial complex

with 6 comments

As I believe I’ve mentioned multiple times, my 10-year-old daughter is a three-time All-Star (as in, every year she’s played) in softball, though so far she has eschewed (to my delight) travel ball. The intensity of the parents and the cliquishness of the girls scared me, as well as the $900 price tag (not including actual travel). Plus, I’m not sure I can be involved, particularly as a coach, because I don’t have a goatee.

Despite my hesitance about getting too deep into the youth sports-industrial complex (go figure, with what I named this site), I couldn’t help but get excited when I found out one of the local travel softball teams was sponsoring two clinics at Dwyane Wade High, my local school. And, those clinics featured college coaches. Plus it was only $30 for two Sundays, and I didn’t have to grow a goatee for my daughter to join.

Anybody remotely sentient understands that clinics and camps serve a purpose higher (or lower) than teaching your child. Here is what all the participants involved in my daughter’s camp get out of it:

Oak Lawn Ice, the sponsoring organization. It spreads its names to the girls and their families, so when it comes to time to shell out the travel team bucks, they will think of the Ice first. Also, the Ice makes more contacts with the high school coach and, more importantly, the college coaches that are coming by and might want to recruit some Ice players, thus getting more families willing to shell out for the team.

— Julie Folliard, the Dwyane Wade High softball coach. Though it’s a public school, it has to recruit against at least three nearby all-girls’ Catholic high schools and one coed Catholic high school, all of which are sizable and have their own strong athletic traditions. By hosting the clinic on the T-Mobile D-Wade Court, she makes contact with a slew of potential high school players, strengthens her contacts with a local club team, and strengthens her contacts with college coaches who might someday want her players, thus giving Folliard a feather in her visor when she’s coming back to young kids to get them to her school, thus building a tradition so smart-asses like me say she coaches at Richards High, not Dwyane Wade High. Also, I’ve heard her complain (in a coaches’ clinic I attended when I coached my daughter’s team) about the lack of fundamentals of a lot of players, so Folliard gets some hope that maybe a few players coming up will know what they’re doing.

— The college coaches. Specifically, Illinois-Chicago assistant Amanda Scott, DePaul assistant Liz Jagielski, and Northwestern head coach Kate Drohan, the attending coaches. They get a very early line on talent, and they get to give that talent a very early line on them. They strengthen their contacts with a high school coach. They strengthen their contacts with a travel organization. They get to plant the seeds of knowledge early, before they have to get players to unlearn what they did wrong at earlier levels.

[youtubevid id=”nN8cOpyOqIE”]

Amanda Scott’s pitching drills were pretty much what you see in this clip. Except that my daughter tells me she also taught them how to throw a changeup.

— The girls themselves. They get to showcase themselves to a prominent local travel organization, and put themselves on the radar of at least one high school coach, and if they show inordinate talent, some college coaches.

However, for my daughter, I figure the advantages are more prosaic. By getting cheap access to quality high school and college coaches, she can learn more in two Sundays than she’s learned in three years under volunteer moms and dads. No offense to them, especially because for two years that limited-knowledge parent was me.

Whatever the undercurrent of semi-professionalism running throughout the camp, as long as my daughter can learn how to control her pitches, field consistently, and figure out the new lefthanded-batting stance she today decided to adopt while at the clinic, I don’t care what everybody else in the youth sports food chain gets out of it.

6 Responses

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  1. Hi Bob- I enjoy all your posts and read you faithfully. Quick question about this one: How does one become an all-star softball player at 7? Just curious.

    Meggan Bateman

    January 11, 2010 at 8:32 am

  2. Thanks so much for reading, Meggan. As for how to become an all-star at seven, her house league, beginning with seven- and eight-year-olds, has a year-end all-star game, with three or four girls from each team. I know that’s a subject of some controversy, having all-star teams that young, and I wrote about two years ago after a Beachwood, Ohio, league got all sorts of grief for canceling its all-star selections and game. The piece includes my own thoughts when, as a manager, I had to pick girls for an all-star softball team (that part comes on the second page).

    Bob Cook

    January 11, 2010 at 10:26 am

  3. As someone who played high school varsity softball and club softball in college, and as the parent of two teenagers, I’m pretty repulsed by the insane level of competition you describe for the tween set. My kids dropped out of Little League and AYSO soccer at around age 11 when it was clear that only the kids out for blood would get playing time and when the parents started to get pretty out of control on the sidelines. I lament the lack of pick-up games in the neighborhood parks because, guess what? All the fields are solely reserved for the adult and kid leagues.

    It’s a sad day for childhood when 10-year-olds (or should I say, parents of 10-year-olds) are thinking about which clinics to attend in the hopes of making a name for themselves on the road to college recruiting.


    January 11, 2010 at 10:41 am

  4. Oh, and one more thing: the time commitment for practices and games borders on a schedule the pros would be afraid of. One wonders when the leagues think the kids will get their homework done. Or is school secondary to their semi-pro careers?


    January 11, 2010 at 10:45 am

  5. IMHO: I’m not sure the 10-year-olds were thinking about making a name for themselves. My daughter certainly wasn’t, and I wasn’t for her. There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage to learn a few skills. No doubt, though, there were probably some parents who were hoping to get their children exposed to someone who could help their future softball career.

    To your point about dropping out at 11 — on the way home my daughter talked about what teams she might want to play on in high school. I didn’t want to discourage her, but her own lack of interest in club sports is likely to hold her back. And as I’ve said repeatedly, that’s fine by me. I’d rather continue to encourage her interest in animals and becoming a veterinarian. (I sprung for zoo camp over the summer, which was a lot more than the softball clinic.)

    Bob Cook

    January 11, 2010 at 10:48 am

  6. Re: lack of club experience to compete at the high school level–I guess that’s exactly my point. Back in the dark ages when I was growing up, there were no girls’ leagues and girls were not allowed to play with the boys on teams. I learned to play at summer camp and was confident enough in my skills to worm my way into pick up games the boys were playing in the neighborhood. The shame of today’s environment is that there are few opportunities, if any, for kids wanting to play recreational ball to do so. The current leagues are all one long feeder system to competitive high school and club play, weeding out those who just want to play for the fun of it. We need the equivalent of a co-ed beer league for the K thru 8 crowd; just a bunch of kids getting together to throw a ball around for the fun of it.


    January 11, 2010 at 11:05 am

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