Probably not a big surprise that the development of baseball “team programs” in the Midwest region has moved a little slower than in the Southeast and Texas. But, things are now moving fast and furious in the region — due to three factors:
- No one — parents, players, coaches — wants to be “left out” when the music stops
- Reality => Relax … there will always be good teams for good players to play on and for good coaches to coach. Focus on finding the right fit.
- Instructors/coaches think it is an opportunity to make money without working
- Reality => Sorry, that might sound good but it is called stealing and it is not sustainable.
- It looks easy to start. Just recruit a couple of big, fast kids per age group and you have “a program”.
- Reality => Easy to start, very hard to sustain over 2-3 years.
When we started the Gamers program 5 years ago, we spent a year reviewing other team programs across the country and talking to their directors. Based on that benchmarking, plus the five years experience since then, there are some important litmus tests for a good “team program”:
- First, it should feel more like a school or academy than a business. If it acts like a business, then money will trump instruction and baseball every time. BTW, the easiest way to make money in a baseball program is to divert money from coaching, instruction, practice facilities, uniforms, tournaments, vans and hotels into your own pocket. Some people are very creative at this.
- Other than some admin support, no one in the team program should put a dime in their pocket unless they instruct or coach. No freeloaders or figureheads getting a cut of the action. The leaders of the program need to be passionate about coaching baseball and actually know the kids.
- The teams need to practice at least as much as they play. 50 games @ 2 hours = 100 hours of game time. So, they need to practice 100 hours too. Even at the high school ages. And, coaches/instructors need to be at the practice. Practice time needs to be organized, managed and challenging. If not, the players will not develop. There is a place for “all-star” teams that do not practice (Aflac Games, Area Code, etc..). But, these are individual programs, not team programs.
- The program leaders needs to focus on developing young men. It is not just about baseball. If a kid dedicates 100 hours playing games and 100 hours practicing, he needs to learn more than just how to field a ground ball. Baseball is a great platform to teach young men how to succeed in life. If coaches are not capable of or inclined to deliver those messages, the baseball experience will have little impact on the players’ lives and a great opportunity is wasted.
- It can’t just be about the name on the front of the jersey. “Brand-name” teams are not the same as a team program. The program needs to “add value” to the teams and players, meaning:
- Better instruction/coaching and mentoring
- Better facilities
- Better organization, planning and scheduling
- Better competition, better exposure, etc…
- The program needs to be well organized and well managed, with a lot of communication to players & parents. Rosters, coach assignments, game schedules, practice schedules, etc.. should be communicated months in advance. A “unorganized program” is an oxymoron — but it is too often the case.
- And, finally, it starts and ends with Quality People. Are the coaches and leaders of the program good role models? Are they good teachers? Are their priorities and values consistent with yours?
A whole lot of team programs across the country pass these litmus tests and are great programs. I hope that every “team program” in the Midwest is working down this path. It is quite challenging and there is a steep learning curve. But, as in most things, it starts at the top and must be sustained through the program.