Little League sending mixed signals with All-Stars
I am willing to bet you one of those yummy Burgerville shakes that someone on your block is involved with Little League baseball/softball. It is estimated that more than 50 million kids in the United States and 100 million kids worldwide play Little League. It is also incredibly popular in Clark County which boasts two of Washington’s 14 Little League districts.
This is the time of year when Little Leagues all over the county, state, nation and world begin gearing up for “tournament play” or more commonly known as All-Stars. I have participated in All-Stars as a player, a coach, a parent and as a board member. I have even written a process for one of our leagues to follow for All-Star selections. Which makes me as qualified as any to say that the All-Star concept sort of contradicts what Little League is all about.
What is Little League about? Glad you asked… Little League prides itself on providing a safe place for all players to play the game of baseball or softball. Each player must play a minimum amount of innings each game and bat a minimum amount of times, and pushes the player experience so much that one of its rules is parents or coaches cannot play catch with the kids (kids should play catch with kids so they are increasing the amount of repetitions). Simply put, every kid regardless of ability gets a chance to play.
Before I dive into why All-Stars is contradictory to this, a short background first. There are several divisions of All-Stars in both baseball and softball from the under 10 division all the way up to the under 18 division. Teams usually represent a league and compete against leagues in their own district and then the state. For those U12 and higher you can progress past state to regionals and the World Series. Players (and coaches) are usually selected by a combination of votes from their peers, their coaches and their board members. While some kids get to experience the sheer joy of being selected others feel the disappointment and one of the toughest things I had to do as a Little League coach was tell a kid why he didn’t make the All-Star team.
There are kids who play on travel teams who merely play just enough Little League games to be eligible to play All-Stars and there are even some leagues who field teams that play in tournaments more or less selecting the All-Stars before the Little League season even starts. And I don’t even want to get into the politics and ugly side of parents that rears its head when it comes to these All-Star teams.
Sure, some leagues try to continue with the concept of equal play when it comes to All-Star teams and fields a team of kids just so they can get the experience of being an All-Star. The problem? A lot of times these teams get steamrolled by another league’s elite players. This happened to a team I was coaching and three kids from that team never played baseball in our league again because of it.
So, back to the question… what is Little League truly about? Is it about the regular season portion, where all kids get to take part? Or is it about the tournament or All-Star portion where a select few get to play and a lot of kids walk away with hurt feelings.
My thought? Do away with the “tournament” or All-Star teams and have your regular season and then have a “postseason” where regular-season teams play in a league tournament with the winner of that going on to face the top teams from other leagues in the district tournament, state tournament, regional and World Series (the Little League World Series is one of my favorite all-time sporting events). No selection process, no shunning of kids and for those who are overly concerned about who’s the best can find out on the field. Sure, there comes a time in everyone’s life where they will be told they aren’t good enough, but Little League shouldn’t be the place to do it. Keep it about the kids, keep it about baseball, keep it about what’s on the field, and keep it fun.