This past weekend, a number of Gamers teams made the annual journey to Southaven MS for the Super NIT event, comprised mostly of teams from the mid-South — AR, TN, MS and AL. A few teams from St. Louis and a few from Louisiana. Midwest teams that make the trip down usually end up with a short game schedule and rarely make it past round 1 of elimination play. And, the scores at young ages (say 10-12u) get way out of control. It sometimes looks like men playing against boys at young ages.
By contrast, when the Gamers 15-17u teams play these same mid-South teams/programs in the summer, the competitive levels are very close and we tend to win more games than we lose. What explains this difference in outcomes?
First, there are clearly important regional differences between the sports environment in the mid-South versus St. Louis. Here are the obvious ones:
– Soccer and hockey are only minor sports in the mid-South. Kids play baseball, football and basketball. In St. Louis, a number of very good athletes are playing these sports instead of baseball. This makes a big difference at 10-13u.
– Baseball is just a bigger deal in the South. Despite the Cardinals fanfare, St. Louis is not a baseball town. Just compare the quality of baseball fields and facilities in the mid-South versus those in the Midwest. It is night and day. Small high schools in TN have better fields and practice facilities than any college in the St. Louis area, including SLU. 10 year olds in Memphis play and practice at better facilities than high school players in St. Louis.
– Not only is baseball a bigger deal in mid-South, so is youth football. Football training, even without weightlifting, makes kids stronger and faster. Athleticism from football translates immediately to the baseball field. The 11 year olds hitting home runs in Southaven are probably great offensive tackles. Not many young offensive tackles in St. Louis are athletic enough to also play baseball.
– Finally, and most importantly, baseball is a warm weather sport. The 4-8 weeks of warmer temps in February/March makes a huge difference. Many of the teams in Southaven this weekend had already played 40+ games — versus 20 games for our teams.
The net impact of all the factors above is that kids play more baseball against better competition in the mid-South than they do in the Midwest from ages 7u-14u. You get good at baseball by playing baseball. There is no other way. For example, the Memphis Tigers 7u team played 47 games last Spring/Summer. Repeat that difference at 8u and 9u and it is a hard barrier to overcome.
I strongly believe the “10,000 hour rule” discussed in Malcolm Gladwell book “Outliers”.
Below is my rough estimate of the cumulative hours of practice/game baseball time for kids in the Mid-South versus St. Louis. I also added the Gamers program hours of games/practices from 10u on. Eventually, because of how we run the Gamers program, our players catch up — usually at around 14u. At 14u, we play head to head vs. good mid-South teams every year. But, we are definitely playing catch up from 10-13u.