Best Player Development? – You Need A Passport

Don’t pack just yet but numbers tell a story.

There is no doubt historically that the odds of developing from youth ball to a professional baseball player were greatly enhanced if the child was actually born in and/or was raised in the USA. Baseball is America’s pastime; this is where you learned to become a better player. But what if I told you that currently a child born and raised in some other country has a 6 – 10 times more likely a chance to become a professional baseball player than one born and raised in the USA?

Regardless if you or your child has any desire to play ball beyond the high school or college level, the point is there are countries presently during a better job of developing youth players than the USA. How is this connected at the youth level? The totality of athletic development (structured and unstructured) of a future college or professional athlete is not just a year or two. We could be talking a decade or more of overall physical activity to develop that level of athleticism. The point is something different either is or isn’t happening in these countries at the youth level that has impacted the numbers. Now don’t knee jerk your response that these players/parents from other countries just want the “American dream” – that dynamic has existed longer than baseball. So something has changed and you don’t have to take my word for it …

A blog post on Thread Athletics website includes these quotes: (Click For Full Post)

“In 2015, 83 out of 750 players on opening day were Dominican (compared to 520 US-born), accounting for roughly 11 percent of the major leagues. To put this in perspective, there is one Dominican big leaguer for every 63,000 people, compared to one American big leaguer for every 307,000.”

“In the minor leagues, it’s not uncommon to see even higher numbers. By my count, 44% of players in the first two levels of the White Sox minor league organization are Dominican-born, and that number climbs to well over 60% at these early levels if you take into account other foreign-born players as well (Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico, etc…).”

“However you slice it, these numbers are staggering, especially when you consider the sheer amount of resources and coaching available to the majority of American-born athletes.”

“So how does the Dominican Republic produce MLB talent at 5 times the rate of the US (and pro talent at closer to 10 times the rate), all while spending easily 10 times (and probably more like 20 or 30x) less per year on the athletes’ development?”

A March of 2018 article on Major League Baseball’s website has the following information: (Click Here For Full Article)

“A total of 254 players represented an all-time record 21 different countries and territories outside of the 50 United States on 2018 Opening Day 25-man rosters … the Dominican Republic again leads the Major Leagues with 84 players born outside the United States. Venezuela ranks second with 74 players, while Puerto Rico places third with 19 players, its highest total since there were 20 in 2011. Rounding out the totals are Cuba (17); Mexico (11); Japan (8); Canada (6); South Korea (6); Colombia (5) …”

Here is a comment from a current professional infielder from Dominican Republic talking to kids and parents at a youth camp in the USA. The player is responding to a question about the difference between youth ball in the USA and the Dominican Republic. He responded, “USA kids spend way more time and money playing and traveling to games. We played one game a week on the same field and practiced or did some kind of fun physical activity 4 – 5 days a week my whole childhood – this is the norm in my country.”

The why and how this has happened might be subjective but the reality of the current youth sports culture in the USA is not – and therein might be an answer. If you are over the age of 40 and have at least a current passing interest in youth baseball or softball in the USA, there is a good chance you have a good idea of at least one thing that has changed. Two best-selling books on player development entitled “The Talent Code” and “Outliers” both recommend a practice to game model that is roughly 85% practice/free play/develop athleticism to 15% games(includes travel time to and from games). The current norm in youth ball in the USA basically reverses these proportions. A kid under the age of 13 playing 50 – 100 games over a year is not exactly rare these days. While this level of repetitions annually does increase visible game skill it does so at the expense of overall athleticism over the course of time – which is the difference maker after a player starts shaving. Less than 15 years ago it was nearly possible for most youth kids in the USA to play the same sport (official/formal games) 10+ months every year. Now a great many parents have “bought into” the though this has to be the norm or their child will fall behind or need to keep up with the Jones. Athletic early bloomers will always be more dominant in youth sports no matter how many more games they play but it this late bloomers that dominate when things matters most.

So the question may not be how these other countries have “passed up” the USA in youth player development but more about how the current USA youth culture has regressed in long-term player development. Maybe back-in-the-day when more USA kids experienced varies types of free play, spent less time doing the same structured activity over the course of a year, played different sports, and so forth was actually the better way to increase long-term athletic development – in any sport.

Get Better.

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