Six And Under Softball Written By Renee Ferguson
I have a few friends who have young daughters (9 and younger) that play tournament softball, so when I saw a Facebook Post by Matt Lisle that stated, “It blows my mind that there are 6U softball/baseball tournaments and state/national championships. SIX AND UNDER!?!? This is one of several reasons the youth sports “industry” is completely screwed up.” I thought I HAVE To write about this. I am going to give you my knee jerk reactions to both sides of this scenario in the below article. Some statements and generalizations may not be PC but I want to be as real as possible and show you how I evaluate most situations before deciding what would be best for my family or personal situation.
My initial reaction when I learned that my friend’s daughters played tournament softball at the age of 6, I was completely shocked. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why someone would want to subject their 6 year old daughter to 6 game weekends in 100 degree weather. On top of that my thought was that their daughters were going to hate softball by the time they reached high school or college age. I mean by that time they will have played hundreds upon hundreds of games especially if they play the same sport both in the fall and spring. Having played an average of 100 games a year from the time I was 14 and dealing with all the drama that comes from being on a team of 12 girls I can totally relate to the question of burnout.
Then I immediately turned my attention to the fear that these kids are going to be subjected to overuse injuries which have been seen more and more recently in softball. It all just seemed very scary to me. My true thought was am I knowingly putting my daughter at risk for an overuse injury at the time when her career may be beginning to peak during high school and will she then miss out on being recruited to play softball at the college level because of the injury all because I wanted her to play so competitively so early in her softball career?
Almost as soon as I was finished worrying about the potential long term problems that could occur from a program like this I went right back at evaluating the situation and honestly thought, man I wish we had something like that around here. I know it’s not for everyone but that doesn’t mean that it’s not for ANYONE.
I immediately thought of all the potential benefits that could come from creating a sort of test the waters partnership with local organizations where you start kids in a more competitive program like the one my former college teammate, Kelley Griffiths started, called the Tri County Comets out of East Tennessee. While most kids there are still being introduced to softball through recreational softball leagues and are asked to move over to the tournament side of softball, I thought what if we reversed that? What if we put everyone in a tournament league like the Comets? According to Kelley, the “Coaches are more focused on teaching the games as the front runner.” Could this be in lieu of putting our girls in a league where they receive minimal instruction or incorrect instruction depending on the skill level of the coaches? (Disclaimer: I am not saying all rec leagues or their coaches are bad I am more using this as a generalized statement, I know plenty of rec coaches who are just as committed as the next guy to teaching the ins and outs of the sport, please don’t take it personally. It is just how the Rec side of the sport is perceived.)
How would softball evolve as a sport if the format to the introduction stage of softball changed? Honestly this thought still makes my head spin, why not have a starting place for kids to find out if they love the competitive side of softball instead of giving them no choice but to fall in love with the more passive side of the sport which focuses on the girls level of fun instead of increasing their overall skill and knowledge level of the game? As Cara Morgan, who is also a former college teammate of mine says, “That's why I can see the need for rec and select at even at 7 years old., there is a huge difference in development in some girls…even in my own family! Interest level, commitment, skill…why hold girls back that want to eat, sleep, breathe it? Rebecca (her daughter) could do it all day every day.”
My next question is, are we afraid to challenge our daughters as we would challenge our sons and if so why? There is no difference between having a 5 year old boy playing flag football, which requires 5 nights of practice for the first month and then 3 nights of 2 or 2 and half hours of practice for the rest of the season in order to train him properly and having a 6 year old softball player attend practice 3 times a week to further enhance her skill level and understanding of the game. Having the younger select or tournament option would allow us to further enhance our daughter’s level of confidence both in softball and in life, if we assume that they want to live and play with passion and effort instead of assuming that they just want to have fun.
So long story short I can see it from both angels, I think we need to do everything we can to protect both the long term and short term safety of the girls who participate in softball at every level. I just hope that sooner than later rec and select softball realize that both are here to stay and both have a place within this sport. Bottom line is this, you know your daughter better than anyone, is she a driven person who thrives in challenging environments or not? All these leagues are trying to do is provide a place for the girls who do thrive in a more competitive environment a place to grow; will it work out in the long run? I guess only time will tell.
Renee Ferguson Renee has over 30 years of combined playing and coaching experience at the select and college levels. After a 3 year stint as Division I, Morgan State University’s pitching coach; Renee was appointed the Head Women’s softball Coaching position at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland. Where she lead the Pioneer Softball team to an 8th place finish, in the NJCAA DIII Nationals in Rochester MN after taking the helm only weeks before the 2013 season started. Renee’s goal is to instill the love and passion that she has for the game, into each and every one of her players and students. Keep up with Renee Ferguson by visiting her site at DirtInTheSkirtSports.com.Join Renee On: Facebook.
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