Does the Intentional Walk have a place in youth baseball?
Deciding whether the intentional walk has a place in youth baseball is one of those tough questions that has no obvious answer. The debate will always be there, unless one simple rule is implemented for youth baseball.
The intentional walk at the lower levels of baseball is one of those hot button issues that I can see both sides to. As with any controversial issues, the most important thing is how adults deal with the controversial issues. When coaches and/or parents make a huge issue of the debatable issues in front of youth players, unfortunate incidents occur. When adults choose to treat the situation as a teaching moment with the players and then deal with it away from the kids, everything is usually fine.
When coaches recognize situations where they feel the opposition was out of line for the level played, league or tournament officials should be notified. When there is no league, the offended coaches should speak to the opposing coaches about it in private, and in a civil way. Letting coaches know you feel they went too far for the level of ball is necessary. Of course, the coaches may disagree, but it brings the matter to the fore, for which coaches will be better prepared to deal with the next time.
Getting back to the matter at hand, here is my opinion on whether the intentional walk in youth baseball is OK. First though, a couple of things I believe about youth sport:
I believe it is OK to coach to win at the youth baseball level, as long as the rules of sportsmanship are followed.
Youth baseball encompasses many levels, from recreational levels all the way to high level travel tournaments, so degrees of trying to win vary also.
A win at all cost philosophy is not acceptable at any level of sport.
A big part of youth sport is helping kids deal with life situations, as winning and losing, so the responsibility lies with coaches to teach the appropriate lessons.
Necessary Rule for Intentional Walk in Youth Baseball
With that in mind, I believe the intentional walk is OK as long as it is in the rules. However, I also believe youth baseball leagues and tournaments should incorporate this rule for the intentional walk, so that it limits the controversy and helps limit the confrontations the debate encourages, while still allowing coaches to play to win.
Suggested New Rule – Coaches can use the intentional walk only once in a game.
With this rule, coaches cannot abuse the intentional walk by walking the opposing team’s star player all the time or by over using the strategy throughout the game. This leaves in the playing to win philosophy, but does not abuse the intentional walk use.
Many will say that is not real baseball, but I would say youth baseball should not be professional baseball, either. The interpretation of what constitutes the rules of sportsmanship and playing to win at all cost are murky too, and another story. As mentioned, an opportunity for teaching life lessons by coaches or adults is there, at times like these, so the key thing is not the baseball rules, but the teaching of lessons for the rules that are in place.
Finally, when there are no governing rules about the intentional walk, coaches should inform the opposing coach before games of their philosophy concerning it.