By Shayne Combs, firstname.lastname@example.org
A recent email in the inbox has allowed me to have some great discussion with people over the past few weeks. Below is the email followed by my response.
EMAIL: Hey, love the podcast show and always enjoy looking at the website. I understand from the show that you are not a big fan of little league sports right now, but what about AAU, Club, and other various travel team stuff in the summer? Some of this stuff is so expensive! Do you think it is beneficial? THANKS!
My opinion on this matter is different than most people. For the longest time, I have been unable to figure out why this is the case, but within the last few years, I think I have realized the reason. Like in any discussion, the viewpoint of the person is going to play a key role. The reason two (or more in this case) sides will disagree on something is usually because the two sides are looking at it with different interest with different goals in mind.
For me, I watch sports at the younger levels with big picture in mind. As a person who teaches middle school and as someone who has coached multiple varsity sports, I have trouble watching little league baseball, junior basketball, club volleyball, or whatever sport at whatever venue without looking at how the experience is influencing the future of that player and his or her high school team.
I have trouble getting excited about the little league hitter hitting homeruns with an extremely big stride and swing that will never fundamentally transition to varsity baseball. I have trouble watching the volleyball player pay $600 to play a position or against a competition level that is not equal to their role in their high school program. I have trouble watching a player, who needs to work on his left hand in the off season, exclusively use AAU to get better while only touching the ball out of position and driving right in a game-like situation. From a team perspective, I have trouble watching little league strategies used to win little league games. Be it running the bases in an unrealistic way in “C-league” baseball or sitting in a zone in basketball, I think it is important to teach things with future in mind. This is especially true if the little league team is the best team. If a team has really good little league players, it is even more important to teach things at an advanced level.
As I try to understand this growing movement in sports, I finally have been able to take off my coaching glasses and just observe people. I now realize that I must understand that different people are going to look for different things from sports. I realize that not all people care about winning games and winning championships. Often times people just like the participation in sports. I realize not all kids, and families for that matter, have a desire to ever play certain sports past junior high. I realize sports at a younger level are looked at as an avenue for life skills. Exercise, teamwork, communication, and respect are just a few of a long list that sports at all levels can teach. Some families may enjoy the travel experience simply from a social experience. Players may enjoy making friends from different schools and different areas of the state and even country for that matter.
I am finally seeing it…I just don’t get it. Sure I played some AAU in high school, but it just wasn’t the same as the “school” experience. If I wanted to play basketball, I called up as many people from my school as possible and had the coach (Thanks Coach Hoffner) open the gym every weekend.
I am not saying AAU basketball or Club Volleyball is wrong, but I am saying it can’t replace the necessary individual work that is necessary in all sports. You cannot become a better hitter with three legion at-bats a night unless you are willing to take the practice cuts in preparation. You cannot become a better shooter in AAU unless you are willing to get in the gym and get thousands of off-season jumpers. You cannot become a better hitter in volleyball if you only play the back row for your club team.
The perspective also changes from kids to adults. When I was growing up as a student-athlete, I remember how bad I wanted to win championships at the varsity level at my high school. Now as an adult, do I realize there are more important things? Well obviously the answer is absolutely, but outside of having an amazing upbringing in a great family, the biggest lessons I ever learned took place in sports. Learning how to be a part of something bigger than you is an amazing process. If travel teams and other club teams can teach these things and that is why families choose those opportunities than I say it is money well spent.
In conclusion…do I think it is beneficial? If you would have asked me a year ago, I would have had a set answer regardless the sport or the individual. Now, I will tell you it depends on your perspective. It depends on what you want from sports. With every passing year and more financial issues hitting schools, you hear about “club” teams perhaps eventually taking the place of high school teams. This would be unfortunate (or fortunate depending on your viewpoint), but I am starting to see why this is so intriguing to today’s society.