Baseball is a great game. For many of us who played as kids, it conjures images of golden sunshine and green grass, toothy smiles and skinned knees, hotdogs and popcorn – all the iconography of fun and fond remembrances.
Yet some people have only bad memories of baseball. Screaming coaches. Getting hit by stray pitches. Being thrust into the game having practiced no skills. Feeling incompetent and growing more deeply ashamed of yourself with each inning.
What accounts for such divergent experiences in a sport that is supposed to be fun?
Develop skills and adjust the game
Like so many kids’ sports, the problem has often been lack of skills coaching and age-appropriate competition. For far too long, baseball has forced young children to play the adult version of the game and it’s simply no fun. For most kids in pre-adolescence, their bodies are too small, their musculature immature, and their skills have not been developed to meet the demands of the full-size game.
The solution is pretty simple. Kids need a chance to learn the skills before they play, and they need to play game formats that fit their little bodies.
Rally Cap is designed to fit
Enter the world of Rally Cap baseball for kids 6-9 years old. Developed by Baseball Canada and launched in 2006, Rally Cap emphasizes skills development for children who are new to the game. It also promotes a mini-game format with six players on the field instead of the traditional nine players in the adult game.
What’s the difference? When a child goes to a typical Rally Cap baseball practice, they move through a series of stations where they practice fundamental skills in throwing, catching and hitting the ball. At regular intervals during the season, they are given the opportunity to have their skills assessed at these same stations by the coaches. As they demonstrate different levels of competency, they are awarded different coloured baseball caps to indicate their level of achievement. It’s similar to the different coloured belts awarded in martial arts.
More skills equals more fun
With the coloured caps, the primary focus for kids and coaches now becomes skills development. The understanding is that if you have the skills, you will have a lot more fun playing the game. And the allure of getting a higher-level coloured cap is a great motivator for the kids to put extra effort and attention into their skills practice.
When kids play a Rally Cap game, the coaches of the two teams quickly assess which kids have which levels of skills according to the colour of their rally caps. Where necessary, they can switch players around between the teams to balance the skill levels, or they can create separate games between players of different levels of ability. As a general rule, it’s a lot more fun to play against kids who have similar abilities to yourself. It’s also fair.
Importantly, the smaller game format for kids ages 6-9 years means there are few if any kids standing around and getting bored. Since small children don’t hit the ball very far when they go to bat, the three outfield positions are omitted. The entire game happens in and around the baseball diamond because the ball is seldom hit beyond the infield.
When all is said and done, Rally Cap means that each child gets more time throwing, catching and hitting, and that spells more fun.
Rally Cap makes baseball popular again
Baseball Canada developed Rally Cap largely in response to declining enrollments in children’s baseball over the last two decades. Anecdotal evidence made it pretty clear that too many kids weren’t having fun playing the game, and many were migrating to rival sports such as soccer.
In 2009, children’s baseball registrations across Canada increased for the first time in 15 years, and the turnaround was credited to the popularity of Rally Cap.
Surprisingly, Rally Cap still hasn’t been adopted by every community baseball association in Canada. Many associations continue to play the adult format with 6-9 year olds, or they play tee ball with kids five and under.
Baseball Canada does not endorse programs such as tee ball for very young children. In the interests of developing all-round physical literacy, the national association encourages parents of pre-school children to enrol them in a range of physical activities, including exploratory multisport programs that are age appropriate. Baseball Canada doesn’t advise that children focus on baseball any earlier than ages 6 to 8 years, and Rally Cap is designed for this purpose.
Rally Cap in your community
If you are a parent looking to register your child for baseball this spring, look for an association in your area that offers Rally Cap. You’ll be placing your child in the best position to develop quality skills and a lifelong love of the game.
Take it from André Lachance, manager of Baseball Operations at Baseball Canada and head coach of the Women’s National Team:
“Before Rally Cap and LTAD, the first baseball experience for kids was not positive,” says Lachance. “Now we give out between 40 and 45 thousand hats a year, and the kids continue playing.”