Our partners at New York Sports Connection provide our Kidz Central Station families an insider guide to finding the right youth baseball program for your child.
Baseball is the national pastime and something many kids grow up playing. Yet, knowing when and how to introduce young players to the sport can be confusing. Below we explain some of the particulars of youth baseball, as well as, the different options available to the burgeoning ballplayer.
When considering organized programs for young players, we recommend parents focus on those that make the game fun while also providing much-needed instruction from coaches with experience with specific age groups.
Age Determines Play Level in Youth Baseball
In youth baseball, the level at which a child plays is normally determined by their age not their skill level. A child’s “baseball age” is set by their age on April 30th each calendar year. For example, if a child turns eight on April 29 they play 8U that spring and summer. A child who turns eight on May 1 will play on 7U teams (because they were still seven on April 29th). While players can play “up” and join an older team if they have the skills to do so, they cannot play “down” and play with younger kids even if their skills match those of the younger players.
Field Sizes Vary for Different Ages
Different age teams play on different size fields. Field sizes are listed by the distance from the pitching rubber to home plate and the distance between the bases. For example, Little Leagues (11 and 12 year olds) play on 46/60 fields, meaning the pitching rubber is 46 feet from home plate and the distance between bases is 60 feet. There are various incremental steps (50/70, 54/80) before players advance to a regulation 60/90 field (actually 60’6”). Most advance to the larger field around the time they play 13U ball.
Tee Ball May Be Your Child’s First Step into Youth Baseball
The first step for most young players is tee ball (usually ages 4-7). As the name implies, batters hit a ball placed on a stationary stand (tee) that is secured to home plate rather than a pitch thrown from the pitcher’s mound. The thinking is that young players don’t have the hand eye coordination to hit live pitching. Tee ball fields are even smaller than the 46/60 Little League fields. The goal at this level is to teach kids hitting and fielding fundamentals and to get them to enjoy the game. In many tee ball leagues, scores and outs are not recorded. Instead, each player on a team gets to bat each inning. Remember, the idea is to make it easier on hitters while keeping kids engaged.
Try Coach Pitch After Tee Ball
Tee ball can eventually evolve into coach pitch, the theory being that young kids are not adept enough to throw strikes consistently. Coaches are not trying to get batters out. They want batters swinging and hitting. Coach pitch is usually for ages 6-8, but can begin earlier or last longer for some. There are many variations of coach pitch leagues with some having no walks, or a coach coming in to pitch after a kid pitcher has “walked” a batter. As with tee ball, the aim of coach pitch is for kids to develop a love of the game and to encourage them to want to continue playing at higher levels.
The Evolution to Kid Pitch Leagues and Baseball
This is when baseball begins to feel like the sport kids watch on TV. Kid pitch leagues can be recreational/community leagues, accredited Little Leagues (the ones that culminate with regional and national championships held in Williamsport, PA), and travel teams.
- Little Leagues are governed by Little League Baseball. The spring/summer Little League season runs from late March or early April to mid-June. There are strict residency rules with players only allowed to play for leagues in zones where they live. Some Little Leagues also play fall schedules. In Little League, players are generally assigned to teams in the hope of forming balanced teams. The main Little Leagues (often called “Majors”) is for 11 and 12 year olds. After that players graduate to Junior (13 and 14) and Senior (15-18) teams.
- Challenger Baseball. Both Little League and many recreational leagues provide Challenger Baseball for children with disabilities to enjoy the sport. Outs and runs are often not counted.
- Rec Baseball. Most rec leagues play two games per week, usually a Saturday or Sunday doubleheader. These leagues are open to all players regardless of skill. Rec teams normally only practice before their scheduled games.
- Travel Baseball. Travel or tournament baseball can start as young as 7U. Travel baseball is more competitive, has more talented players (teams hold tryouts for open spots), requires more of a time commitment (more practices and travel to tournaments), and costs more. Some travel teams play three seasons – spring, summer and fall.