That ability to play an outdoor sport like baseball — or football, or lacrosse, or soccer — on a year-round basis has fundamentally changed the game, pun intended.
Where past generations would play football in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring, today’s competitive youth and prep athletes play the baseball regular season in the spring, travel and AAU ball in the summer and some variation of fall ball in the fall.
Same goes for the other sports and most coaches, across the board, will be frank and say that kids who are serious about playing their chosen sport at the collegiate level have to play it year-round, for club teams in the “offseason,” to stay competitive.
Perhaps football is the most glaring example of this trend.
It used to be that, simply because of its physical nature, football would have to be relegated to staying in its slotted time of the year, with offseason activity generally consisting of strength training and conditioning.
But then along came spring football — something that has gotten bigger and bigger over the years — and these days some youth football programs even offer a spring season.
Now, there’s the unofficial summer season for football where skill position papers are generally expected to play in 7-on-7 passing leagues.
It has become essential to offenses looking to get their quarterbacks and receivers as many reps as possible — a must as the game becomes gradually more pass-happy and more programs embrace variations of the spread offense.
So, sure, it’s a good thing in a way.
There are plenty of young athletes who get a chance to get noticed by college programs in the summer — and that’s a good thing.
But as we continue to erode the concept of an offseason and substitute a couple weeks of downtime in its place, perhaps we should be just a little more cautious about the vicious cycle our young athletes are participating in.
“I also want the kids to be kids,” Foundation Academy football coach Brad Lord said. “In this day and age, the media and the college attention forces them to become adults quick and some of them aren’t ready for that.”
Lord, a Northeasterner by birth with the accent to prove it, remembers playing a different sport for every season as a kid. He’s decided to ease off the loaded schedule other programs might embrace during the summer season — if only a little — to allow his players time to rest and enjoy their summer.
One of the downsides of the movement towards kids’ specializing in a sport at progressively younger ages is that they put more pressure on the muscles and movements specific to that sport.
More than ever before, baseball players are having Tommy John Surgery — a trend that people much smarter than I are generally attributing to pitchers throwing too often for too many years.
One of the benefits to athletes who played two or three sports was they become well-rounded after performing various tasks and challenging their bodies in a multitude of ways.
Less a scathing condemnation and more food for thought, perhaps a step back is needed for some perspective.
After all, just because you can play every day of the year here in our beautiful state doesn’t mean you should.