One of the most debated decisions every Little League family faces is how best to manage player development. Since every child is different, it is very hard to mandate a one-size-fits-all mentality.
Never is that more evident than with the move from non-competitive to competitive baseball. For our league, that happens when players move from Farm to Minors.
Every year, the same conversations come up, and we thought it would be useful to answer some of those questions here.
Minors is PVLL’s first entry into competitive baseball. Typically, it is designed for 8 and 9-year-old players, and follows modified rules to help ease that transition.
The Game Play is simple. For the first half of the season, a Machine is used on the pitching mound for the first three innings. The other three innings are pitched by the players, with a maximum of one inning per player per game. As the season hits the midway point, this shifts to two machine-pitch innings and four kid-pitch innings. PVLL chooses this format, which is different from other local leagues who do not use machines, because we think this is a better transition into competitive baseball and it helps develop many players in all facets of the game. For example, during machine pitch, kids who might be afraid of a pitcher have a real shot at getting a hit without fear of being hit. Similarly, the fielders in this situation have more fielding opportunities.
The time commitment is bigger than Farm and other non-competitive divisions and sports. Instead of one practice and one game per week, Minors teams will typically have two games (one mid-week and one on Saturday) and two practices (one on Sunday and a short batting cage session mid-week). This increased commitment is often the source of hesitation for many. However, it ends up not being as much as you think.
The biggest impact of this time commitment is the increased playing abilities. What all of that time at the field does, more than any other sport or league that we have seen, is develop the kids into real baseball players. Throwing and catching becomes second nature. Hitting now has purpose. Plays begin to be made in the field. They learn the rules of the game naturally. Every year, parents look back and see the new Minors kids and say, “there is no way my kid was that inexperienced when he played Minors.” But, they were. And the same cycle happens every year. And what endures is that the progress that each player makes and the love of the game that each player builds is exponentially increased.
I don’t think this should be over-thought. If your son or daughter has previously played, and he or she seems similar to his or her peers, don’t think twice. Minors is the right decision. Even if they are not yet throwing and catching (most aren’t that are fresh out of Farm). They will be playing in a division where approximately half of the kids are the same ones they played with the prior year.
For players that struggle with being part of a team and listening to a coach, then the decision is harder, and you could easily reach out to a league official to ask the question and get more insights.
What is really difficult is losing a year of baseball. As we mentioned, kids make HUGE leaps each year. That 8-year-old year is when they become baseball players. But, in the 9-year-old year, they now get to compete already knowing how to do everything, and against half of the league being first-year Minors players. This is the year where the confidence grows and love of the game is cemented. It is not a surprise that we see that, if a player makes it to the 9-year-old season, they almost always play through age 12 (unless another sport takes them away). If you hold them back in the 8-year-old year, then their 9-year-old year is their first year of minors and they never get that confidence of being a returning Minors player.
For many veterans of PVLL, Minors is the favorite division. It is the division that players make the biggest jump in skill and maturity. They learn what being a team is all about. They make life-long friends and memories. While the score is kept and standings posted, the kids are far less concerned about that stuff. They get their chance to have game-changing hits and make game-saving outs. There is so much fun that happens on the field.