In an era when year-long training and early sport specialization is creeping into younger and younger age groups, one local coach is bucking the trend—and achieving success doing it.
Cloverdale softball coach Shannon Maion thinks year-long specialization offers no tangible benefit to young athletes.
Along with coaching softball, Maion is also on the Cloverdale Minor Softball Association (CMSA) executive and is in charge of long-term player development (LTPD).
“For the last five years, I have been working on modifying our district rules and playing season structure to better represent Softball Canada’s long-term player development model,” Maion told the Cloverdale Reporter. “I have restructured our U7 learn to play program and our U9 playing rules all with LTPD at the heart of it.”
She’s also been working with Softball B.C. to develop modified playing rules province wide for U9-U13. Her goal is to get more balls in play thereby increasing player development.
“Traditionally in U11, associations can choose to put teams together to go into a Supermite league which is like a rep league,” Maion explained. “At CMSA, we chose not to do this, but to have all our players playing on various house teams to compete within our district and then putting together two select teams to play in some of the Supermite tournaments including the Canada Day Classic at Squint Lake.”
Maion does this because Supermite players (U11) play by U13 rules.
“I am on the committee that wrote the new U11 rules, so it would make sense that my teams played by them.”
Maion added the Softball B.C. U11 modified rules were implemented so kids could only play one position for a maximum of two innings per game. This is different from U13 rules where players can play the same position for the whole game except for pitching where they can only play four innings per game.
“This meant that our athletes learned multiple positions,” she noted. “We have at least three pitchers per team and (kids) really learn the game.”
She said they also modified rules to decrease the amount of walks in a game.
“Many of the teams in the Supermite league have also been practicing 2-3 times a week since September, which falls out of the guidelines for a season structure based on the LTPD model for this age group,” Maion explained. “My focus with CMSA has been on long-term player development and the ability to be multi-sport athletes.”
She said Cloverdale’s U11 players only began at the end of January with an eight-week training program that was open to all, irrespective of skill level. After the season-intro program, kids were all placed on house teams for a “spring” season. In U11, Cloverdale has six house teams that competed against Fleetwood and the Surrey Storm.
“We held tryouts for 2011 and 2012 Supermite teams at the end of April,” she said. “These two teams then each played in two Supermite tournaments prior to competing at Squint Lake.”
And compete they did, with the U11 Fury winning the provincial gold. The squad also won the two other tournaments they competed in and only lost one game the entire summer, their opening game at the Squint Lake provincial tournament.
“The win at Squint Lake for our 2011 team was big for development in sport as we showed that you do not have to be playing year round at this age in order to be successful,” Maion said. “I believe our athletes should have a start and an end to their season and they pick up other sports in the off season.”
She said there’s a time for specialization and intensive off-season training, but that’s not at 10 and 11.
She said their 2012 (U10) team also did very well in the provincial tournament and was one of the highest finishing 2012 squads. The U10s ended up losing a knockout game 6-5 to South Surrey White Rock—a team the 2011 Fury beat in the tournament semifinal.
“A team that was together for the shortest amount of time was able to show that they were not behind in their skills and they could compete with the year-round training teams.”