With all of the various options for teams and leagues now available, youth baseball is full of conflicts throughout the spring in every age group. In places like Florida and California, where baseball is played year round, this also applies to the fall/winter. At the lower age groups there are AAU/USSSA and Little League often competing with each other for time, and for the older ages there is travel ball and the high school season. One of the most prevalent questions out there among parents and players is how these should be prioritized.
The dynamic between a player’s involvement in high school baseball and competitive travel ball seems to be the most common area of conflict. This can occur year round, not just during the spring season. Many high schools run some sort of program in the summer and fall, and coaches can be stubborn and require their players to play on their teams in order to “learn their system” or so that the coach can oversee the development of the player themselves. In travel ball, the largest area of conflict tends to be in the 14U/15U age range, where players are possibly not getting the playing time on their high school teams and want to get more reps, or may be playing JV as freshman or sophomores and desire to get out and play more quality baseball. Often times the players on the teams at these ages are split between high school and middle school, so there are active teams in the spring available for those who so choose. Regardless, many high school coaches prohibit or frown upon playing on any other teams during their season, fall or spring.
In general, as a high school player, the spring should be reserved for high school varsity, and travel ball should be the focus of the summer. In relation to college recruiting, colleges are also playing their season during the spring, so there are no essential tournaments or showcases at this time since few coaches could actually show up. The only relevant travel ball events that really take place during the high school season are tryouts, which usually only span one day or over the course of a weekend, and a high school coach that understands the importance of making one of these teams for the summer should be willing to let a player miss one practice. We addressed these tryouts here. The two to three games per week that varsity players partake in is plenty of baseball at one time, there shouldn’t be a need to get additional reps. For JV players, the season is shorter and less demanding, so playing in a weekend tournament here or there up until summer may be beneficial. Generally though, for those participating, the spring season should be exclusive to high school.
Despite whatever happens in the spring, the summer is for travel ball. Some high schools participate in leagues such as American Legion or others, and these are valid options if you cannot find a travel team. However, in general these leagues will be less competitive and will not be recruited as heavily as the major travel tournaments and showcases. We highlighted the importance of travel ball to recruiting over other choices in Top 5 Recruiting Myths and Getting Noticed 101. Some often suggest that going into a demanding summer travel schedule following the high school season is “too much baseball.” The short and simple answer to this question is that in the way recruiting is trending, with this attitude you will be left behind or seriously put yourself at a disadvantage. Also, if a player has serious aspirations of playing at the next level, the grind of the entire college baseball experience will likely be too much to handle if going around to great tournaments and having fun playing quality competition is “too much.” Four games a week, long travel on buses and airplanes, being out of town for four days at a time, and having to keep up with schoolwork on top can be overwhelming if you aren’t dedicated. Not to mention that the college summer leagues start up days after the NCAA season ends and are often another 30-40 games. The summer travel ball season can be a great way to prepare you for this grind, or to see if it is in fact too much.
However, during the fall, both high school and travel ball are not in full swing. Most states have rules regulating the amount of time, practices, or games can be put into baseball during the fall. This leads many high schools to mainly focus on conditioning or weight training programs for the duration of the fall, and when done right these can be very beneficial. Also, many high school players are great athletes and play additional sports like football or basketball, and keep in physical shape that way. If your high school fall training is not as challenging as you like, or is non-existent, you should definitely do what you can on your own to get stronger and faster during the off season. For recruiting, look for quality showcases to attend, like those put on by Perfect Game. There are a ton of fall showcases out there, so make sure you choose wisely. Here is our article on how to find the right showcase
For players who are in high school and are playing at the varsity level, there really is no need to actively participate in travel ball during the spring, and the opposite is true of the summer, which should be travel ball oriented and away from the high school. However, the fall can be spent equally on both.