Better Competition Makes You Better?

I talked to a dad who was proud that his 14-year-old daughter was playing 18U travel ball. “Better competition makes you better, right?” Sometimes.

There are several reasons why kids move to higher age brackets. If she is dominating the competition or she is not feeling challenged, those are good reasons. Sometimes a family may choose to keep two daughters on the same team for logistical reasons. Often, however, you will go to tournaments and find that half of the teams in the 18U division are loaded with very young kids. This simply waters down every age group. You may play 18U but find you could have gone to another tournament with legitimate, strong 14U teams and had better competition.
There is another side to the story. The dad I mentioned earlier had his daughter on a terrible team. They rarely won. Does that make her better? Adults can have a long-term view, but a kid who repeatedly gets trounced has a much harder time keeping the faith and working to develop. They went “up” in age before they learned to win so they are always waiting for the opponent to drop the hammer. What does that say about the coaching? Does it sound like the kind of people who are going to lead her to her dream of playing in college?
I recently helped a very high level 18U team during a tournament and invited a young pitcher to pitch as a guest. We wanted her to experience this level so she would know what to expect in a couple of years. I helped her in warmups, helped her assess each part of her game between innings, and showed her things that she would need to know by the time she reached this level. She did very well. Armed with that knowledge, she can better prepare for the day when she pitches against teams like this every weekend.
Better competition can make you better, but I still remember the conversation I had with the coach who asked our daughter to go straight from 14U to 18U. Would she be safe, would she be allowed to get comfortable before having the pressure to win, and would he patiently help her learn and grow into that level? He gave us proper assurances. He kept his promises. It was a great experience.
I suggest you ask the same questions when thinking of allowing your daughter to move to a higher age group. In addition, think of the social aspect. A couple of years make a huge difference in the maturity of girls, so she can get very lonely in a crowded dugout. If you ask the right questions and the answers make you feel positive, see if this new team will allow her to play a tournament before deciding.
Better competition can make her better, but the first considerations are to make sure she is safe, happy, confident, and healthy. If any of those are at risk, this might not be a move you want to make just yet.
Footnote: Denny will be conducting the pitching portion of the annual Lynchburg College Softball Camp in Virginia July 14-15. We would love to see you. For information, check the website: Camp information is on the right side.

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