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To Tier, Or Not to Tier, that is the question, or is it?

Is it time for some of the smaller Little League associations to consider tiered baseball for Spring? Or maybe the entire system should be reviewed.

This conversation pops-up every year around this time.  You see players who have been playing Little League for a number of years who still have not grasped (or been taught) the basic fundamentals. You also see the growing disparity in abilities at every age level (from Coach-Pitch to Majors).  There are players in Majors who would be better suited in coach-pitch and conversely players in Minors that would excel in Majors.

I think in order to figure out what system is best for our local Little Leagues, we should ask the fundamental question: what is the goal of Little League?

Is it to win the League Little World series?  Well, of course, not. That would be like saying, my retirement strategy is to win the Lottery. In fact, for a Canadian team, the odds of winning the Little League World Series are likely worse than your odds of winning lotto 6-49.

However, in many ways, Little Leagues in Canada, structure their entire programs with that aim in mind?!  The structure of Spring baseball is based around eligibility for the Summer District playdowns (dates/times/schedule/practices for spring are all based around District play eligibility). The irony is that only a handful of Spring players, play Summer.  The spring baseball is rushed and there isn't much time for practices before the season is over.

I think the goal of Little Leagues should be to attract, retain and develop youth baseball players. 
In order for this to happen, baseball needs to be fun

So how do you make it fun?

  • First, you remove/reduce the 'fear' factor.
  • Second, you increase the 'game play' and the pace of games.
  • Third, you find an appropriate balance of development vs game play.
  • Fourth, and most importantly, you taylor the teaching and game-play to the appropriate skill level.
So how do you accomplish this?  There's likely a number of possible solutions to restructure the existing system.

Here's one approach:
You re-group levels according to age + ability and allow overlapping ages:
  • Development 1 (4-6) 
  • Development 2 (6-9)
  • Gameplay 1 (8-11)
  • Gameplay 2 (9-12)
  1. You conduct 2 separate sort-outs based on age. Players ages 4-7 attend a sort-out together and players ages 8-12 attend a sort-out together.
  2. Players are assigned to the 4 levels above based on a combination of age, abilities and knowledge of the game.
  3. Players are assigned to the Gameplay levels first. There must be a minimum of 2 teams at these respective levels. Then players are spread among the other levels appropriately.
  4. For Development 1 + 2, there are 30 minute practices before the start of each game. There are 2 games each week. An extra practice may be scheduled.
  5. For teams in D1, they use a batting T for the first half of the season, then move to a pitching machine. For teams in D2, they use a pitching machine for the entire season. 
  6. The season for Development 1+2 runs May - July.  Players playing D2, may be used as call-ups for summer baseball teams.
  7. A standard, League-wide practice plan is developed and followed by all teams for Development 1+2.
  8. For Gameplay 1+2, there is a minimum 12 game schedule.
  9. For Gameplay the spring season runs May - June.  Players pitch at these levels. Practices are scheduled on separate days from game days.
  10. Players playing Gameplay levels are eligible to play Summer baseball (A or B), but upper age limits must be respected for A teams.
You run this program for 3-5 years and then you measure its effectiveness. Your measurements are enrollment, retention rate, and summer participation.

I think its time to try a new approach.
Let me know your thoughts.