Are you familiar with GameChanger?
Unless you know a kid immersed in the world of travel softball or baseball, chances are you’ve not heard of the real-time scorekeeping smartphone application. But once you know GameChanger, it dominates life: schedule updates, directions to a mystery park in some far-flung town, grandparents following names around the bases or watching a live video stream. Even in-person fans use the app to confirm the score.
In order for the app to work, someone has to log the outcome of every pitch and play. Some teams have a dedicated GameChanger operator. Others scramble before each contest to find the lucky volunteer. The result of all that screen-tapping is reams of data about players, positions, pitches and performance.
Every so often, GameChanger puts an uncomfortable truth in plain text: young players throw way too much. To dive deeply on this topic, visit PitchSmart.org, a combined effort of USA Baseball and Major League Baseball. One recommendation is kids up to age 12 should throw a maximum 85 pitches per day. Any player who throws 20 or more shouldn’t pitch the next day.
Yet more than once we’ve seen boys from other 11-year-old teams pushed past 90 or 100 pitches in a single day – including breaking balls – or a kid who tossed 60 one day and 90 the next during a tournament. Some organizers have hard rules, either firm pitch counts or innings and outs limits. Many print the guidelines in tournament rules and just encourage coaches to be smart.
Then there are concerns that don’t show in the scorebook, like a coach who yells for seven full innings, profanity from players and adults, forcing kids to play through injuries, a 12-player team where one or two kids rarely get off the bench. Once while umpiring, a coach stormed out of the dugout after a shortstop’s brain fart and ordered him to center field in the middle of the inning loudly enough for the whole complex to hear.
In all my baseball days I’ve never once seen any adult attempt to interfere with a coach putting young athletes at risk – be it their child or a stranger. Umpires must enforce concussion protocol, but otherwise have little authority to intervene.
We’ve clung to coaches who prioritize development and health over winning and have never once worried our sons or their teammates were put at physical or mental risk. We have quiet conversations away from the park and let coaches know their positive attitudes are appreciated.
Other families are different. We don’t know their values, don’t get to make decisions for them, don’t experience any potential consequences.
GameChanger is in black and white, but real life is a full-color spectrum.