"How much is too much? "
Every year around this time I start getting a plethora of e-mails and phone calls asking about whether or not their son or daughter has played too much baseball or softball for their age. Most are shocked by my standard reply... "What did your son or daughter say?"
To many, leaving that kind of decision up to their 10, 12, 14 or even 16-year old is a bit disconcerting. Especially when we are talking about the toughest position on the field to play. However, the catchers are really the only ones who can answer that question honestly.
Now I am not telling all you parents and coaches to baby your catchers and let them talk their way out of a commitment they made to their team so they can catch a movie with their friends, but they need to know it is okay to say "I need a day off." The key here is to make sure there are clear lines of communication between you and your catcher. Without this mutual trust, it can become very easy to see a promising player get burnt out and never want to play again.
A few years ago, I had a 17-year old softball student. One of the best catchers we had ever trained and among the toughest young individuals I have ever met. In the middle of the Summer I got a call from her dad, explaining that our little prodigy wouldn't be coming in for lessons or Summer Camp any longer. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. After all, I had already begun corresponding with some of the top NCAA Division-1 softball programs in the country about her...and now she's done? Something tragic must have happened, right? Wrong. One day after a weekend tournament in which this young lady caught seven consecutive games - yes, for you baseball folks who think double headers are tough on catchers, SEVEN straight games - she walked up to her dad and said "I'm done, I can't do this anymore. It stopped being fun a long time ago." Her dad's jaw dropped and asked her what went wrong, assuming it had to be something that happened that weekend. She very insistently replied that she had just "had enough." Unfortunately, that was as much of an explanation as her dad or I was going to get for a long time.
Years later I had a conversation with this young lady and we recounted her time behind the dish and she spoke of it extremely amicably. When I eventually asked her what it was that put her over the top, her answer was pretty simple. "I never felt like I could tell anyone 'no' when it came to playing. I loved the game, but it got to the point where I was so worried about what my coach or my parents would think if I asked for some time off that actually playing the games stopped being fun. One day, I just had enough of it. I was burnt out." I asked her why she never said anything, and she told me that she was afraid of letting her team, coach and family down by telling them she was getting burnt out and need some time away from the game. I told her that everyone would have understood if she had just said something. Her answer..."Nobody ever told me that until now."
When I was younger, every few months my dad used to ask me how I felt about playing so much and if I still loved it. He did this so that I knew he would have been supportive if I ever said I needed some time off. That is a conversation that should be had regularly between you and your catcher. Make sure they know that they can always tell you when they've had enough.
Another way to keep your catchers from getting burnt out would be to bookend the season with a few weeks of no baseball or softball. There will always be time to train and practice, but once the game stops being fun, getting behind the plate can actually be a safety hazard and it's not worth the risk.
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From behind the mask,