Ahead in the Count

A Valuable Investment: Continuity

posted by John Bramlette

As coaches, we often encourage young athletes to emulate certain professional players or teams.  Perhaps it is time for the professional ranks to embrace one of the simple fundamental truths of youth sports.  

As a lifelong fan of a particular baseball team that has been known for spending recklessly on free agents rather than exhibiting patience with its young players, I was pleased last winter when patience prevailed and the New York Yankees seemingly committed to player development and building from within the organization.   As any baseball fan knows by now, that plan was scrapped this past week (after a mere single year) when the Yankees spent approximately two hundred million and forty dollars on two free agent pitchers. 

Now, I’m not disappointed in these decisions for the same reasons as most other fans.  I’m less bothered by the fact that one of these pitchers has a history of injury and a penchant for performing his best only in his contract year (the season preceding his opportunity to be a free agent).  I’m less bothered by the fact that the other pitcher has logged a staggering number of innings over the past several years and has pitching mechanics that suggest arm trouble is imminent.  What bothers me about this change of course is something much more simple: the notions that continuity matters, that teams play best when they play for each other, and that it is difficult (even for professionals) to build an identity as a team when there are new superstars in the mix each spring. 

While lamenting this dramatic change of course by the Yankees, I started thinking about what I’ve observed while coaching youth baseball the last several years.  Exhibit A – Summer 2004: co-blogger Tal Alter and I are coaching the 16U Gamers down in Myrtle Beach, SC.  Predictably, many of the southern teams have a bit more talent than us.  But the Gamers played hard and hung together – and with a little luck, we found ourselves in the finals of a fairly sizable tournament.  Ironically, our opponent was not a southern team.  Rather, it was a team from Staten Island, the same team that we’d played, and lost to handily, earlier in the tournament.

This team was very impressive.  Size, athleticism and intelligence at every position.  In the middle of the final game, after having seen this team play for about 13 innings over two games, Tal and I concluded that not one of our players would be a starter on the other team.  Nevertheless, our guys persevered.  The result for the Gamers:  an inspired 4-3 loss in 11 innings.  Watching the other team dog pile at home plate after scoring the winning run, tears flowed in our dugout.  But these not result-oriented tears, these were the tears of players who cared about each other, whose season of playing together was over, and who cared not only about winning for themselves – but for each other.  Needless to say, the Gamers (or any team for that matter) could not have accomplished so much had they not cared so deeply for one another. 

I’m well aware that the analogy between professional and youth sports can go only so far.  In professional sports, changes from year to year are inevitable.  Nevertheless, this basic lesson from youth sports still rings true at the professional level.  Every year, the Minnesota Twins, a team almost entirely composed of players who have grown up together through the minor leagues, demonstrates to the rest of the American League that they are more than the sum of their parts.  Meanwhile, the Yankees continue to be less than the sum of theirs. 

Perhaps the Yankees would be well-served to give take a page from the Twins and let their young players grow up together… it might lead to something special like it did for the Gamers.

December 14, 2008 - Posted by | Media Commentary, written by John Bramlette

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