Evan Longoria – The Changing Face of Youth Baseball [Guest Post]

Evan Longoria playing youth baseball as a child

Evan Longoria is an exceptional baseball player. More importantly, he is a leader of men. Independently, these attributes are impactful. Together, they can be earthshaking. Inhabiting a locker next to his during his 2nd and 3rd seasons, I witnessed the development of a man with something to give and to say. Several years later, he is beginning to make use of his ever expanding platform.

I’ve been around enough superstar athletes, from A-Rod to Manny, to know when one is positively different for reasons unrelated to their athletic prowess. Evan can teach; he has a simple, concise message to share.  I’ll shut up and listen.

Youth baseball has changed so much since I played; I barely recognize it any more. Instead of pushing your son or daughter from behind and removing their balance in the process, take them by the hand and walk next to them.

When I was 10, I played baseball because I loved the game. I also played football, basketball and even some water polo. I enjoyed all of my youth sports experiences and perhaps appreciated baseball more because I didn’t play it year round. I was lucky enough to have parents who supported me in anything I chose to do.

I understand that the game has changed since the days of my childhood. Kids are specializing much younger and have advantages now that I could only dream of then. These advantages don’t come without a price. Baseball is meant to be fun, but that aspect seems to be lost amidst all the pressure from parents and coaches, a nomenclature all to itself and more money invested than some college teams spend.

Youth baseball has become filled with “travel teams” comprised of only the “elite” players and coached by adults promising to take these 9 and 10 year olds to the “next level,” whatever that means. Scouts show up at local fields, ranking these youth against all their peers. Tryouts are competitive, and kids who make it are thrust into a whirlwind of daily practices, year round training and multiple games a week spread out all over the area.

Instead of a bunch of kids getting together and being kids, baseball becomes a full-time job. Some of these outfits play 120 or more games a year, more than some minor league teams. Parents are spending thousands of dollars a season, and their kids feel the pressure to perform.

It doesn’t take long to find the stories of coaches thrown out of games for arguing, parents fighting in the stands or kids having surgery because they played too many games and got hurt. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that playing on a travel team is inherently wrong. It should be the kid’s dream, however, not the parent’s. I have an issue when we begin asking our youth, who are still physically and mentally immature, to take on the adult responsibility of a job.

I only ask one thing, let your kid dream on his own. Encourage and support your kid, but let him be a normal adolescent too. I promise that if he is meant to be standing where I am now, he will be. He’ll be standing there because this is the game he loves and is meant to play.

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  • Johnny Utah

    Kap-

    What’s your last meal of the night? Please suggest anything but cottage cheese

    • Gabe Kapler

      Whatever I eat for dinner, my man. Typically a piece of humanely raised animal and an organic yam.

  • https://www.facebook.com/BenRyan5 Ben Ryan

    Well said Gabe. Very well said. I think its a shame how much things have changed, where AAU and Travel Teams have become the “norm” vs. the exception. Growing up, I played soccer, basketball and baseball. I also dabbled in swimming, where I got my first “taste” of true competition and a view of what it would take to be an elite athlete – the time, the commitment and the drive. I was too young to grasp it and hold onto it. But I HAD FUN! When the fun was drained by coaches who could not teach and only wanted to win, I stopped. As an adult, I’m a fierce fan, but needed something to drive me – so I started running. I’m not an elite runner – but I can compete and it is FUN. I will continue to do it until my legs tell me I can’t – because my body is loving the energy and health.

    I want to pass my good experiences on to my daughter – who is a dancer. She should have fun, love what she does and be a positive force with her group of dancers. I was too quiet and did not speak up when I could have been a leader. I see that she is impressionable enough to ENCOURAGE her to be a leader – not shove her into it or force it onto her. I see how it motivates her to motivate her team – and she’s only 10. I hope she’ll take this experience with her the rest of her life – dance or no dance.

    • Gabe Kapler

      Love your energy, Ben.

  • http://www.mindbodysoulshift.com Chris Davis

    Its pretty shocking to see how much its changed just in the last 10 years alone. Parents and coaches living vicariously through their kids and youth sports is so prevalent these days, it seems like an epidemic sometimes. Its incredibly sad. If parents aren’t shoving their own dreams onto their kids, the other issue becomes the “investment” mentality. Once parents start seeing what the cost of playing “club” or “travel” sports actually is, they begin treating it as an investment because the cost is so exorbitant, with the perceived payoff being a college scholarship/pros. Just my opinion, but its never a good idea to include your kid as an asset in your investment portfolio.
    Thanks for writing about this Evan. I’m a Rangers fan but I’m moving to the Tampa soon, so hopefully I can make it out to a game at The Trop this summer!

    • Gabe Kapler

      Thanks for the quality thoughts, Chris.

  • Ryan

    Gabe didn’t write this post Evan Longoria did, and it is a darn good read. As a father of a 10 year old who eats, sleeps, and dreams baseball who also happens to play travel ball I can totally relate. I even admit to sometimes thinking like “one of those parents”, but it is my son who wants to play ball all the time and if he told me tomorrow he didn’t want to anymore and he wanted to pick up something else then I would fully support him. I’ve seen first hand dads yell at a 9 year old boy who just looked at a strike 3 pitch to end a game. That kid surely felt bad enough and these parents rip their kids apart on top of that. I am going to print this post out and share with other parents because I think we as parents sometimes lose our way when dealing with our kids, and we have to remember that they are playing out their dreams not ours and we need to support them no matter what that dream may be.

    Thanks Evan and Gabe, this was perfect timing for my family.

    • Gabe Kapler

      Great to hear and thank you for chiming in.

  • Ryan Briggs

    Thanks Evan, As a father of a 6 and 8 year old boy who loves the game of baseball. Thx for example on and off the field , you’ve been a class act since day one. You’ve got some little fans ( my boys) in Utah cheering you on!
    Keep it up!!

  • Ed H

    Not to take anything away from Evan, but you could compare fresh manure to Manny and ARod and have it looking pretty good too. They are pretty horrible examples of superstars, though your point of superstars putting themselves above others is not lost.

  • Ed H

    As for this editorial…. One word. OUTSTANDING!

  • JB

    Truer words have never been spoken. As a parent and a coach, I have seen how youth sports have been broken by overbearing parents and coaches who are trying to earn a living running travel programs. Let the kids be kids. Asking parents to “take their son or daughter’s hand and walk next to them” is the best advice I have ever heard.

  • Tabitha Bemis

    Thank you for this article. Perspective is an amazing gift. My husband and I have 6 kids (yours, mine and ours) ages 12-23. All of them are athletes in their own right, as were my husband and I. The way the kids view sports differs drastically from one child to the next. Speaking strictly of my three kids, my oldest (19) played baseball until he had a serious atv accident and spent 6 months with pins and bars and a wheelchair, then he wrestled, until he destroyed his knee, skateboarding is a lifelong obsession. My daughter played baseball until 9 when they told her she had to play softball with the girls. She quit because she didn’t like the girls. In high school she played again for the school and parks and rec. she worked harder then anyone else we knew but was not naturally gifted with coordination and talent, but she had fun and gave 100% regardless. My youngest started football, baseball and wrestling at 4. He is young for his grade so worked harder to compete with older kids. He gave up wrestling, enjoys and is good at football, but baseball is his passion. He has not played travel ball because he went from one sport right in to the next. With an open schedule where wrestling was, he has been showing an interest in travel ball, but it is less for the love of the game and more to “prove” himself. Being younger, he hasn’t hit his growth spurt yet (he will. Brothers are 6.1, 6.3, 6.4)He has spent the past two years being bullied for his weight, or because he isn’t the fastest, hardest hitter, etc. on the field. He didn’t grow up here and has been treated as an outsider since starting ball here in 2010, he didn’t have this problem with the kids he learned to play with. Due to all of these extra problems, he is hard on himself and disappointed in himself and feels that travel ball would make him more competitive, because if he doesn’t make the middle school team next year he can kiss the freshman team goodbye and then varsity is gone and…and… and… When did the love of baseball turn into something that can take a great kid and good ball player and have him thinking his baseball career is over at the age of 12. As parents and a family, we do sports together. I will always be there to cheer my kids on, I have never missed a game and I challenge him to do his best, but never in a way that will make him think my pride in him is connected to his performance on the field. So all of that said, what do we do? I am honestly at a loss. I would love to say, no travel ball, it’s too much. Am I then taking away a possible advantage that could increase his self confidence, as well as improve his skills? I am really torn on this and would love any and all feedback.
    Thanks a bunch,

    • Gabe Kapler

      Hi Tabitha, I’ll keep this really simple. Let your youngest lead the way. What does he want? Find out, then get out of the way. Support his desires and fade into the background. Allow him to develop as a young man and don’t make decisions for him. He’s got this.

  • Chris Rogerson

    Here in the uk we have the same thing happening with kids soccer, half wit brainless coaches who are try to live the dream thru the kids, extremely pushy parents who like you have said end up fighting on the side lines and using the most disgusting language,
    Here it is a lot of kids dream to be the next David Beckham,
    the trouble is it is more their parents dream !!
    And you are spot on, let the kids enjoy what they do and they may well be the next Beckham, or Longo or jeter etc

    We have only ever been to see the rays play but on our next vacation I think we should go a watch some kids play and hopefully really enjoying it,

  • Bob W.

    Bobby Orr just put a book out in which he promotes the same message regarding youth hockey: let kids be kids, and let them play to have fun.

    • Gabe Kapler

      Thanks for the heads up, Bob.

  • Amanda

    My husband is a head college baseball coach and is outspoken about the unnecessary risks of travel ball for young kids. It’s nice to hear from an MLB player who feels the same way. Often parents have unrealistic expectations about their kids being a major league player one day. Statics show otherwise, trust me. It’s refreshing to see a pro player who grew up playing various sports, who didn’t play an insane amount of games as a youngster, speak out about how dangerous this is for kids. Whatever they are meant to do in life as an adult will play itself out. Parents can’t force that and I speak as a parent of 2 myself. My husband is trying to change the attitude about travel ball and I applaud Evan’s efforts as well. And Gabe, thank you for getting Evan’s words out. I hope it changes a few minds and in the process allows kids to be kids…

    • Gabe Kapler

      We’re with you, Amanda.

  • Frank

    Kap… thanks for posting… good stuff… the seriousness placed on youth sports and “travel” baseball in general is an epidemic… much like energy drinks… such harm to society and its not going away… I am coaching my son’s summer tournament team… working to develop young ball players the right way… and having tons of fun… hope all is well in your world…. Frank V.

    • Gabe Kapler

      Thanks for bringing your energy to those kids, Frank. They need you.

      Kap

  • http://www.MarkDanielAdamczyk.om Mark Daniel Adamczyk

    Great Article and something that should be emailed to every parent of a little league kid right now

    • Gabe Kapler

      MDA, thanks for chiming in.

      Kap

  • http://www.mikeu.net Mike U

    This is fantastic Gabe. My daughter plays competitive softball, but our coaching staff is totally tuned in to letting them be kids. We just returned from a two day tournament in San Diego and the best part of all was watching the girls run around the hotel, laughing, hanging out and bonding! Can’t lose sight of it.

    • Gabe Kapler

      That’s what I’m talking about, Mike. Great stuff.

  • http://www.educatedcoaches.com Matt Nein

    Gabe & Evan,

    Great article! It is amazing to see the game today at the youth level. It is almost embarassing to watch as you see coaches with no focus on development and playing with a win at all coast mentality. If you close your eyes and just listen you will the pressure from the parent put on the kids. Just the other day I was sitting at the little league field just listening to the coach, parents, and kids ant this comment comes out of a parents mouth. “Chris, you can do it, no pressure.” An inocent comment now became a thought of Don’t Fail. This thought overcame the positive focus and the kid struckout. Was the no pressure comment necessary?

    If you get the time, please check out my blog at http://www.educatedcoaches.com where I talk about the game today at the youth level (http://educatedcoaches.com/2014/04/15/baseball-state-of-the-game-part-i/). The time is now to help growth occur. I would love to chat with you about helping my dreams of positive youth experiences in baseball come to life.

    • Gabe Kapler

      Good stuff, Matt. thanks for the link. I’ll check it out.

  • http://twitter.com/TomSwyers Tom Swyers (@TomSwyers)

    Hi Evan,

    What a wonderful article. I plan to link it to my social media accounts today.

    Over the past several years, I experienced the what you described in your post. Four years ago I decided to write a novel about it; in a few days, on June 27th, it will be officially released.

    The novel is entitled “Saving Babe Ruth” and it’s based on a true story. In it’s broadest terms, it’s a story you outline above.

    What you’ll experience in the novel is a behind the scenes look at modern youth baseball that has never before seen the light of day in print. It;s the underbelly , pure and simple. You’ll experience the ridiculous challenge of trying the run a community based volunteer baseball program today in the face of ridiculous expectations planted in the heads of parents and a youth sports for-profit juggernaut that will think nothing of rolling you or the community over to get its profits to the “next level.”

    You can read more about “Saving Babe Ruth” here:

    http://www.tomswyers.com/saving-babe-ruth/

    What seems to get lost in the chase for the personal next level is the inherent damage that is caused to communities at large when their community baseball program (Little Legaue, Babe Ruth, Cal Ripken, Dizzy Dean, Pony… you name it) is ravaged or destroyed as a result.

    In a world where schools and local governments are cutting back on sports programs or trying to bring in revenue by renting their fields, baseball is being threatened as a viable sports outlet available to every child regardless of skill level. That should concern everyone because where there are no outlets, kids will find trouble soon enough.

    I have been contacted by several communities and they all have their stories to tell about how this is happening. It’s real and it’s in your face and we are well on our way to having a world have “haves” (those who can afford or are willing to spend for expensive travel baseball programs) and “have-nots” (those who cannot afford them and who must find something else “to do” when a community baseball program folds because the haves are playing travel, exclusively).

    I think I have a solution to this problem, one we have instituted in our region. But that’s another story.

    I have also written a number of articles at my site that will get folks thinking about a number of issues. Follow the link above to my novel and look at the entire blog for articles that might be of interest.

    Gabe and Evan, Thank you for taking the time to shed light on this issue

    Tom Swyers
    Author, “Saving Babe Ruth.”

    http://www.tomswyers.com/saving-babe-ruth/

    • Reece

      Started reading your book this week. Your main character is a little nuts himself, but I like him and am pulling for him. I too have spent the last 6 years trying to save PONY baseball in my town, but swimming against the strong tide of full time travel baseball. Travel parents say their player can’t be burdened with playing on a rec team because the other players aren’t good enough to help him get better. Over the years we have found some success in giving our PONY players an opportunity to try-out for and play on a separate challenge team that plays on off weekends and after the rec season ends. It gives the better players a taste of tournament baseball without playing 65 games and paying thousands of dollars for full-time travel ball. And every year there is a chance for all PONY players to try-out again. It has not been perfect and has required a ton of volunteer work on the part of a few people, but it is surviving and providing a good non-travel option for many players and parents in our commiunity.

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  • Tyler

    Kap,

    This post just got you on the front page of Yahoo. You owe your boy Longo.

  • Ben

    Hey Gabe,

    I’m a bit torn as I see things from a different perspective. I feel as though at times that I am “that dad.” Let me start with me. I played baseball at the Div I level and was quite good. I was three days away from signing out of a tryout camp (according to the cross checker who told me the Reds had signed five catchers in the draft three days prior.) Not that that means anything because it doesn’t. I was never on your level but in hindsight I do feel if I would have had someone there for me, maybe I would have gotten to your level.

    Along comes my son. He is a really awesome little five year old. He started enjoying baseball at a very early age. He wanted to do what his dad enjoyed. I have taught him quite a bit and he has become very good for his age. I don’t want to ever be accused of pushing him but at the same time I don’t want to let him down by being passive. I was the youngest of five boys and I don’t feel my dad was there for me. I made a promise to be there for my son and not let him figure things out on his own as much. (I injured my throwing elbow at the age of 12 that never really healed. It ended my baseball career. The coach misused me as a pitcher.)

    I believe in the school of hard knocks and don’t coddle my child. The only time I push him a bit is when he doesn’t try. When he says “I can’t do it” gets me the worst. I am very kind to him but will not let him use the lame excuses. We play all kinds of different sports throughout the year. Right now is tennis. When he is old enough he will likely play basketball. I want my child to have a happy youth and I think I’m going about it the right way but came across this article and now I question myself. Sometimes objectivity from a complete stranger helps. How did your dad parent you when it came to sports and more specifically, do you feel I’m going down the wrong path?

    • Gabe Kapler

      Ben,

      Are you cool if I answer you in a new post?

      Thanks,
      Kap

      • Ben

        Sure Gabe. There is certainly much more to my story but I gave the “cliff-note” version so not to bore you. I feel like I’m a good dad and I have full custody of my son. Thanks for the response.

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  • Dan

    Great post, I am reading up as much as possible as I am in this dilemma. My 10 year old is most passionate about baseball. Can’t get enough, if it rains, it’s as if the world ended. He and my two younger sons are always outside, organize various pick up games (even old school like Capture Flag) in the neighborhood we live in and play other rec league sports. He plays in a Little League and for their All Star team now. The dilemma I have is a terrific guy who has all attributes I love (self made, tough childhood, teaches at a school, development first…) asked us to play for his travel team. A couple other families from current league are joining as well. Meaning several kids will leave the rec league. The league is great, it’s full of our social network and I have huge respect for the volunteer parents. My wife and I work, it is a huge struggle to make the rec league games and practices as well as the All Star team practices and games. If we do travel ball, it will far more easier to organize our lives as it will be one team and same schedule/coach every year. My ramble here is that I feel awful about being part of the problem that Rec Leagues are facing with contraction but also know we have to do what’s best for our family. I hate to admit it but besides the logistics part, it’s hard to be on a new rec team each year that is several hours of commitment per week but lacks the skills development and passion my son and other players have. The All Star program is great, only minor challenge is dad coaches but only minor, the challenge is you have to play in Rec league at same time. Conclusion is Travel people do make decisions when considering their sons desire and impact to others. I may be more fortunate than others in that our Little League is in populated city, no risk of dying, just continued loss of more skilled players.