Picking the right youth baseball league is critical to a child’s success in baseball. Some institutions are aggressive, some are easy-going, and others have problems. But don’t worry, I’m going to fill you in on what you need to know when picking your first Little League organization. My goal is to provide you with the info and tools you need to find the perfect baseball league for any age group. I might not have all the answers for you, but with my fifteen years of experience, I hope that I can steer you in the right direction.
Let’s Start At The Beginning
There are three forms of the little league: Baseball, Softball, and Challenger. Typically, baseball is for the boys, softball for the girls; however, it’s universal now. Some girls play more aggressively and want to play baseball. I can’t tell you which branch you should play on; just know that there are opportunities for everyone in youth baseball. The same thing goes for Challenger, which offers the excitement of youth baseball for those who live with physical or intellectual challenges. I’ve observed several Challenger leagues, and I have to say, they’re run with some of the best people around. If your son or daughter struggles with some demanding activities, please check out the website I provide below; hopefully, you can find something right for you and your child.
Where Do I Find A League?
Some towns have local leagues. These leagues provide training, competitive teams, and fundamentals for every baseball player. Check out Littleleague.org for details. The website has links to baseball, softball, and challenger leagues. Simply put in your address on the website to find one, and all of the regional teams will populate.
Some leagues won’t populate on the website (I’m unsure why), so monitor your local baseball fields and community centers for sign-up details. I’ve seen some cities advertise with banners at the baseball fields, and that’s the length of their advertising, so you might have to keep a lookout during fall and spring.
Little League is broken down into age groups, so I’ll first show you the essential information.
- Tee Ball (ages 4-7)
- Minor League (ages 5-11)
- Major Division (age 9-12)
- Intermediate (ages 11-13)
- Junior League (ages 12-14)
- Senior League (ages 13-16)
Luckily, baseball starts young. Your kids will have a great chance to learn the fundamentals early on and take what they know to higher and higher leagues. It’s typical to see boys and girls play together in Tee Ball before they branch out into softball and baseball leagues. Also, because the kids are so young, some Tee Ball leagues are non-competitive to keep the kids excited and wanting more. Because winning and losing can be hard on the little ones at a young age, scores are private, except by the parents.
Once your player gets out of Tee-Ball, the games get exciting. It’s in the minor league that your child will hit balls pitched to them instead of off a Tee. It sounds simple, but it can be difficult for a child to process the change due to the increase in injury and threat of a ball flying at them.
Unlike Tee Ball, this age group has the kids try out for a team. Don’t worry; the leagues always find a home for the player. Tryouts allow the coaches to see if the player is strong enough or fast enough to skip the Minor League and jump up into the Major Division. Kids around this age range have a considerable age gap with a significant strength gap. The Minor League and Major league divisions are more about safety than about talent, so don’t worry if your child doesn’t make it into the majors right away.
It’s at this point that the pitcher starts to throw heat. I know it seems young, but I’ve seen strong pitchers throwing the ball 50-60 mph. Imagine that you’re nine and catch that ball flying towards you. I remember being that age and having the pitcher bean me on the hip. It hurts, but don’t worry. Not everyone gets hit with balls like this.
Now you might’ve noticed that the Minor League and Major Division overlap with ages. I can tell you that the two divisions were strategically formed for safety. Kids who show to be stronger, faster, and have more talent tend to play in the Major Division. It’s vital to separate kids with more strength and skill because no one wants a child to get hurt. Separating kids by their strengths in these two divisions helps those in the Minor League hone in on their strengths and learn other fundamentals for the next league.
Again, these two leagues separate the little leaguers by strength and talent. The pitchers start to show their skill with fastballs and curveballs, and the players are stronger. Some kids take it to heart when they don’t make the same league as their friends; I’ve seen it too often. But to be fair, these two leagues are again about safety. Some pitchers are throwing the ball over 60 mph. Those balls are flying off the bat even faster when it comes to batting. These two leagues are the final point before little leaguers consider playing high school sports. If your minor leaguer is losing faith in their talent, it might be wise to mention that these two leagues prep players for the final levels of competition.
Junior League/Senior League
These two leagues are aggressive, filled with kids throwing the ball as fast as possible, running the bases as quickly as possible, and playing as hard as their bodies will allow. It’s highly competitive and as close to AAA baseball as these kids can get while they’re in high school. Pitchers are throwing as high as 80 mph, and hits fly over the fence. It’s an aggressive league, but if your little leaguer made it this far, they’re sure to have the time of their life.
Seasons are too short; what can I do?
If your child can’t handle how short the standard Little League season runs and still wants a challenge, don’t worry. I’ve got one more thing.
The Travel Ball League is for little leaguers who want baseball year-round. But this league isn’t just for the kids who commit to the sport; the parents and guardians need to know that there is more responsibility on their shoulders too.
How Is It Different?
Team size, rules, and ages are standard to the Little League’s rules and regulations for travel ball teams. But where your child is going to play is not a standard. Local cities/towns tend to run little leagues with designated fields that only the league can use every week. Parents/guardians must travel to other cities to use a rented baseball field. The constant traveling can be tricky for anyone who doesn’t want to drive to a new town every weekend. Depending on your travel ball league’s rules, some games can be as far as 50 miles away. I’ve seen some games go further, but usually, there is a standard of no more than 50. Don’t quote me on that, though. The rules on distance are unique, so check with the league’s rules.
Travel ball tends to cost a lot more than a little league group. Instead of making a one-time fee to a little league organization, travel ball leagues tend to have weekly payments for umpires and field fees. I can’t tell you how much this will cost you, but it will be more than double the price of a standard little league. Always consider this before signing up for a travel ball team.
Spot on the Team
This is not a standard, but parents and players should be aware of it: Little League organizations guarantee players a spot on a team, but travel ball teams might not. It’s rare, but I’ve seen kids have no place to play. Parents need to understand that many travel ball teams are unregulated, so the rules and regulations created by the Little League do not apply to Travel Ball teams. Parents/guardians must get as much detail about any Travel Ball Leagues before they agree to sign up.
There are many benefits to travel ball, and for many players who love the sport, this is the best one. Players, coaches, and parents take this league seriously, and it’s not uncommon to see pitchers throwing faster than the average little league speed, batters hitting further, and more action than expected. Kids who play have a real passion for the sport, which is needed because the travel and training are for those who want a real challenge in the sport they love.
Where do I Find a Travel Ball League?
Travel Ball Leagues are not as simple as finding a little league. In my experience, the coaches of little league teams tend to coach travel ball teams. If a player is talented enough or desires the sport, the coaches talk to the parents/guardians about their travel league. I’ve seen this when I played as a kid and coached as an adult. More significant associations set up kiosks in malls or parks to inform players, but it’s hit and miss. It might be hard to find one if you don’t already know someone on a travel team. If the league is big enough, they have a Facebook page or website dedicated to finding more players. I would google travel ball leagues in your area and see what you can find. Travel Ball Leagues are more significant than ever, so finding one today will be a lot easier than when I was a kid in the 90s.
Summer Camps/Summer Clinics
I know it’s a little off the rails, but I want to mention it because summer camps and clinics are a fun way to expose your kid/kids to the sport. Many cities offer summer clinics and camps for kids who want to get outside and play and learn some fundamentals. Sadly, not all towns run these programs, but those that do, offer a non-competitive atmosphere that exposes many kids to the sport. I’ve seen these camps inspire kids to play the sport in the fall and spring because of what they learned during their short summer. Plus, these workshops tend to be cheap or accessible to the community. There’s no specific website or place I can direct you to but call them up and see what they offer if you have a local Parks and Recreation Department.
Now That I know, What Should I Pick?
Now that you know what’s out there, you’ll have to determine which league or organization is suitable for your child. I can tell you from experience that starting a kid in Tee Ball can be difficult. Just imagine nine to twelve five-year-old’s sitting on a bench waiting for their turn to hit the ball. It’s funny to think about but hard to handle. I’ve seen coaches get stressed, but I’ve never worked with a coach who doesn’t want what’s best for the players. Tee Ball coaches tend to be the nicest people and have kids who play the sport, so they understand how difficult the season will be. If you’re concerned that your child won’t have the attention, don’t worry, you’re not the only parent with that concern. Coaches often utilize team Moms to help keep the kids focused. The first season can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding for your child.
There aren’t a lot of Travel Ball associations that focus on Tee Ball. They exist, but they’re rare and usually run by a private party that doesn’t operate on a standard circuit. I know it’s strange, but some parents want this. If I were you, I wouldn’t worry about travel ball yet. Well-organized Travel ball leagues don’t pop up until your child can play in the minor league.
If your child is in their teens and has never played baseball before, don’t worry. There aren’t any rules that state you have to play in every league or division before you play in a higher one. Little League is built to offer the sport for everyone. It can seem scary at first, but joining a baseball league is one of the most fulfilling things I ever did as a kid. Giving back to the league as an adult has given me great insight into how important coaches are to kids. Yes, little league is for the kids, but coaching little league is for the adults who want to help kids safely get outside and get active.
Please check out the following websites for more details:
Thanks for stopping by ~Jeremy