While this tweet by Joe Marsh is accurate, we should dig into the details. What follows is the first of several posts detailing the creation and the function of Driveline Academy 10U – 18U Youth Teams.
The Driveline Academy represents what we believe youth travel baseball should be, by focusing on:
- Keeping Baseball Fun
- Building Great Baseball Players
- Developing Skills That Scale for Long Term Success
We deliver these program pillars in a team setting that is reasonably priced, with tournament travel limited to Washington and Oregon, a sensible number of games played over a calendar year, and countless skill games in training that orient toward long term athletic development (Did you know we’re currently holding tryouts for teams in the Greater Seattle area?).
This individual progress in the development of our players is made 100% transparent via our TRAQ software that all players and families have access to. Put simply, our players know that they are getting better at the things that matter the most because we make it easy for them to see their progress.
Keeping Baseball Fun
For a number of reasons, both based on common sense and also supported by research on the emotional and cognitive development of youth players, we have to focus on keeping youth baseball fun. Simply put, we gain nothing by making the participants in a youth baseball game feel that the stakes are as high for them as they may be for older athletes.
Youth players are naturally going to orient toward what is fun, and away from what isn’t. With players at this age, we have everything to gain by helping them emotionally attach enjoyment to the game of baseball—and everything to lose if we get it wrong.
Naturally, youth teams that define themselves in terms of wins and losses, or regional or national rankings, will focus on what checks these boxes. The problem is that while the adults running such programs can feel validation and success based on those rankings, nobody seems to ask the children whether these pursuits matter to them.
Are the players having fun? Are they enjoying the time that they spend in practices or games? Do they enjoy feeling this immense pressure every time they’re on a field?
Or do they just want to enjoy playing baseball, get better, and be around their friends on the team?
We keep baseball fun by making fun a priority. That means that we play a ton of fun games in training, helping youth athletes make the emotional connection between the game of baseball and the enjoyment of playing the game of baseball.
Building Great Baseball Players
Driveline Baseball is unparalleled in terms of our ability to develop great baseball players. Whether we’re working with younger amateur athletes, older professional athletes currently playing at the highest levels of competition, or engaging with professional baseball teams who need enterprise-level solutions, we don’t just operate on guesses that masquerade as “insights”. Our staff isn’t made up of a guy or two who played a little high-level baseball. Effective player development is both the function and foundation of our business, and we are really, really good at it.
Driveline Baseball has a completely integrated stack of solutions:
All designed around one simple goal—making players better.
Solutions Applied to Youth Development
We apply the power of our stack of solutions to Driveline Academy teams in order to develop what matters the most for our players at the youth level. This means orienting toward what we call the “A-Level Problems” that they most often face:
- Throwing the ball
- Hitting the ball
- Learning and loving the game
In practice, this means that we spend our training time on what effectively develops these attributes, and not on the minor minutiae that can mean one or two more wins at the youth level, but make no impact on the individual player’s ability to stay in the game—and which usually aren’t very fun anyway.
If your travel team is defined by wins and losses, you don’t have a choice but to orient to solving all of the problems that will be found on a baseball field, and the list of those problems—or opportunities for improvement—can be long, because we’re talking about youth baseball, played by youth players.
Driveline Academy teams are defined by the development of our players, so we orient toward solving the most important problems that can be found on a baseball field, both now and as players grow within the game.
A substantial piece of building great ballplayers is giving them the freedom to succeed or fail on their own actions, as opposed to inaction. What we are talking about specifically are things like 3-0 take signs to young hitters, or instructing a young pitcher that’s behind in the count to “trust their defense”. Are we saying that we don’t want a young pitcher to trust their defense? No, but we are not going to send the other signal that is buried in that message – that we do not trust the pitcher to be able to challenge the hitter.
Both of those examples – the take sign for the hitter or the suggestion for the pitcher not to challenge the batter – are great strategies to win a ballgame, but are missed opportunities for developing a young player’s approach to the game. If the hitter gets a green light on 3-0, swings, and doesn’t catch a good barrel, they still get a chance to learn and evolve their approach.
Maybe the 3-0 green light doesn’t mean a green light from the eyebrows to the shoelaces? Maybe the 3-0 green light means that the hitter starts to learn to only offer at a pitch in that count that they can do damage on? These are only questions that the player has to answer – and opportunities to develop their approach – if they are given the freedom to do so.
Giving young ballplayers these types of opportunities to succeed or fail, based on their decisions and their actions, is always a long term developmental win because they get a chance to learn. Taking those decisions away from them robs them of that same opportunity.
Building Skills That Scale for Long Term Success
If we acknowledge that youth baseball—travel or recreational—will be the lowest level of competition that our players will ever participate in, it should also have the lowest level of consequence. Furthermore, if we plan on keeping youth baseball fun, then it makes sense to develop a training plan that orients toward what matters long term as our players stay in the game because they’re having fun and want to keep playing as they get older.
Our Driveline Academy teams revolve around the idea that the most impactful games a youth player will ever play shouldn’t be on a 60’ youth baseball field, but on a 90’ field. Because of this, we orient to long term player development with what we call the emphasis on Skills That Scale.
Building these Skills That Scale means that we put time into what matters the most to developing players over the long term for lifetime athletic success. We understand intimately, thanks to our years of experience working with the best baseball players in the world, what matters the most for youth players:
- Thrown Ball Velocity
- Helping youth players learn how to throw the ball hard is an area of development that pays dividends all over the diamond. No matter where they’ll be playing in the future, being able to throw the ball hard with intent plays at every position.
- Bat Speed
- The potential for good outcomes as a hitter starts with moving the bat fast. Elite baseball players at every level move the bat fast, and we have a long history of successfully creating programs and environments where players get better in this specific regard.
- Batted Ball Exit Velocity
- Once we establish that players are moving the bat fast, the next step is helping them use that bat speed to hit the ball hard. Hard hit balls produce better outcomes, and orienting toward success with a high quality of contact approach, as opposed to a high quantity of contact approach—while eventually working toward both—helps us set players up for long term success.
One added bonus of pursuing these Skills That Scale is that when we track players’ development quantitatively, the player receives consistent feedback that they’re getting better at what actually matters in the game. It incentivizes them to keep doing what they’re doing—because they know it’s working.
Their progress and development are not tied to the approval or disapproval of a guy sitting on a bucket watching them, finding a new flaw with a player with each rep.
It’s about utilizing our world-class experience at building great baseball players to create developmentally positive training environments that are also fun, then giving players the opportunity to deploy those skills in a low stakes youth baseball game.
Young ballplayers don’t need to be perfect and expecting them to be perfect only sets them up for disappointment. They just need to be kids who maintain a deep love for the game.
The structure of the Driveline Academy is designed to further that most important leverage point of positive emotional attachment to baseball, while they learn the game, develop as ballplayers and receive transparent feedback so they know their skills are improving over time due to their own hard work.
Live in the Greater Seattle Area? Tryout for one of the Driveline Academy teams, age 10U-18U. Sign up for a slot here.
By Deven Morgan, Director of Youth Baseball (@devenmorgan)