Baseball? Hmmmmmm…..yes, there are bases, and the players are hitting the ball with a bat, but really, Tee-Ball is a bunch of kids in the park playing a different version of tag.
Sports, especially baseball, are very different when played by 4-6 year olds. The soccer folks have figured this out; baseball has been slow to figure this out. When was the last time we saw a youth soccer game comprised of 4-6 year olds that had two sides of eleven playing against each other? No, they are playing 4 against four on an itty-bitty field. Many youth baseball organizations continue to have teams of 12-14 kids, with all of them playing in the field together.
How much action are those six outfielders having? What is the experience like for this young of a human when asked to sit still for 5-10 minutes waiting for a dozen teammates take their turn to bat? We are fighting human nature to ask a 4-6 year old to sit and watch other kids play, but not be allowed to join in.
What is the logic in mimicking the game played by mature teens and adults and having teams of a dozen or more players and stashing half the team in the outfield where few balls are hit (at least early in the season)?
Let’s give the idea of making Tee-Ball a game of 6 v 6 a chance; played with kids at the four infield positions, pitcher and catcher. l.
These over-sized rosters create additional problems on the offensive side of the game. When we watch the game played at higher levels the players sit patiently on the bench waiting for their turn to bat. We take the game to the Tee-Ball level with delusional thoughts that our little tykes can do the same. Rosters of ten, twelve or more makes the players endure what is an agonizingly long wait, for a very young child, to get a chance to bat.
Let’s re-evaluate our antiquated approach to how Tee-Ball is structured. Could it be that the current structure has resulted in a significant number of players leaving the game, out of boredom, long before they had an opportunity to learn what baseball is all about? Have we been losing the opportunity to fill more rosters at the higher levels within our leagues as a result of how the Tee-Ball level is currently operated?
Cut Back the Number of Kids on a Team
Tee-Ball with six kids on a side makes a lot of sense. Teams can be organized with seven on a roster, figuring that on many days we will lose one player to the sniffles, etc. On days where all seven show up, the extra player can be placed in center field (which is about 10 feet behind second base). The extra player, in this scenario, would only get stuck in the outfield one time per game, assuming we rotate defensive positions each inning.
Almost all the game action is in the infield. When a ball does make it to the outfield, our little infielders are more than eager to run after it. These little bundles of energy are dying to run around. Chasing the ball into the outfield is a major bonus for them.
With fewer kids on the field, each player has a legitimate opportunity to participate in each play. It also makes it easier for each to learn and gain a basic understanding of the game when each is playing an actual position, rather than standing among a mass of bodies. Having a bunch of kids spread out in ultra-shallow outfield depth waiting to accost the infielders each time the ball is put into play is not an environment for learning.
More Reps and Limited ‘Dugout’ Chaos
When we make the change to six against six Tee-Ball, the kids learn more, have more fun and a higher percentage will return to play again next year. The league administrators I have talked to over the years name increased retention as a top priority, if not the #1 goal, for their league. Let’s look at a few ideas that can improve the Tee-Ball experience for the players (and the adults too).
1 – Start each inning with runners on first and second base. Why not? This is not pro baseball; it’s not high school baseball; in fact it doesn’t closely resemble the game our 11-12 year olds play. With two kids on base and a third player batting we are left with only three little monsters to manage in the ‘dugout’. In addition to limiting the number of kids in the dugout, by starting each inning with two players on base we are getting more kids involved in the game. Those on the bases are gaining valuable game experience.
2 – Kids love to hit the ball and run. By cutting in half the number of kids on a team, we double the number of times each player gets to bat each game. More chances to bat means more fun, excitement and anticipation on the part of the players. Double batting opportunities increase skill development. Greater skill development improves the experience and increases the desire to return and play baseball the following year.
3 – Fewer kids on defense allows each player to handle the ball more often. Confusion is decreased by eliminated unneeded bodies running around creating chaos. In this new environment the opportunity for the kids to gain a better understanding of the game increases exponentially.