Little League vs Pony Baseball: What to Know

First of all, there are a few differences between the rules of play between the two leagues. Pony players are allowed to lead off and steal bases at a younger age than in Little League, giving players more time to develop baserunning and pickoff skills. These baserunning rules are in line with how most travel tournaments are run, so parents looking to prepare their players for travel ball sooner might want to consider Pony. Pony ball also incorporates head-first slides and the dropped third strike rule, both of which are no-nos in Little League. Additionally, both Little League and Pony have a pitch limits in place for pitchers, which is beneficial as arm injuries increase year over year.


In addition to the differences between how the leagues play the game, there are some key differences in how the leagues are structured. Pony structures its divisions by age group, while Little League determines them by skill level. Both have their pros and cons; Pony’s structure is quick and objective, but will likely not assess player skill as evenly as Little League. The fields of play are different too, as Pony fields increase in size by division more gradually. Little League fields stay the same size until the majors division, when field dimensions increase to those of high school ball. Perhaps the most notable difference between the two different leagues is their end of season format. Pony leagues name their strongest players in each division to all-star teams, which compete in travel ball-style tournaments against teams from other leagues. Little League of course has the Little League World Series, which is the same idea, just on an international and televised level. Little League has been around longer and has more participants and notoriety, which allows them to put on such a grand event. Pony all-star tournaments are very competitive and a great experience, but a lot of kids dream of qualifying for the LLWS and playing on TV.

Personally, I grew up playing Pony ball. The decision was sort of made for me as my local league was a very highly regarded Pony league. Based on my experience, I think exposing players to more advanced baserunning rules at an early age is beneficial to their development, and Pony gets my vote. That being said, the age-based divisions can sometimes be an issue. My birthday happened to fall a week before the age cutoff for the division, so I was often outmatched by bigger and more skilled players. This won’t be an issue for everyone, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind. 


That’s just my personal preference. Oftentimes convenience or availability will play the biggest role in making a decision. Wherever your young athlete ends up playing, they will get to reap the numerous benefits of playing youth baseball.