A public plea to youth baseball

It’s no secret that youth sports has taken a significant attendance hit over the last decade. Kids just simply aren’t interested in being part of something. Anything. Unless, of course, it’s digital and has a controller.

The sport with the biggest decline since 2007 has been baseball. America’s pastime.

“Since 2007, according to data from the Sports & Industry Fitness Association (SFIA), the number of kids from six to 12 years old who play baseball has fallen from 5.44 million to 4.34 million. Baseball is not alone in suffering a decline.”

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“A falloff in youth baseball participation is an early warning of losses among adult fans. Seventy-nine percent of avid baseball fans played the sport at some time in their life, according to data from Luker on Trends, a researcher, provided by the league That rate is higher than in other sports. “Baseball is not immediately obvious to people that haven’t played it,” says Chris Marinak, MLB’s senior vice president of league economics and strategy, whose job includes reviving the amateur game.

“The people who really enjoy and appreciate the game are the people that have more of an intimate knowledge of the sport.”

It’s an alarming stat and a tough one to debunk. I’m probably biased, and so will a majority of my demographic (25-30), that growing up there was really only one sport to play from a team oriented standpoint and that was baseball. It was everywhere, every week, and with everyone. It was a way of life and it was tremendous. We didn’t know anything else. Little League and beyond was how it went for millions of families.

Kids rarely played football (thank God kids still are deciding against it. Good call, parents) even to today in 2016. Basketball was more of a recreation sport as was soccer.

Like Major League Baseball, I’m trying to figure out where it all went wrong. When did this trend begin? And most importantly, why?

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Photo/ESPN

Furthermore, what I decided to do rather than simply give you my opinion (don’t worry, I will) I reached out to friends on facebook who gave their own thoughts on this hot button issue.

Matthew McCoog: Too many other sports, kids ‘specializing’ in sports, baseball is comparatively more difficult and changes more as kids grow. Baseball is a lot more boring to watch, and families don’t sit around and watch/listen to a game together anymore.

Vansen Roberts: High quality baseball and instruction has disappeared from a majority of small in town rec baseball leagues.Baseball has become a middle-upper class sport in my opinion. Accessibility to good coaches and playing opportunity has become a privilege afforded to those have the spare income. If you want good coaching and competition you are shelling out a minimum of a thousand dollars to play travel ball. In a small community like ours, rec ball is almost non existent due to rising costs and lack of competition in home town leagues.

Kyle Higgins: Because it’s not easy. Too much of a learning curve and kids/parents don’t have the patience to improve

Rich Miranda:  I think it’s a plethora of things starting with Coach/parent involvement. I’ve seen first hand where parent coaches will bury other talented kids so their kid always looks like the best player. Additionally kids are smart so when they see this happening they start to feel unimportant, after all, so and so will do it. Which in turn bores them and they drop the sport. I disagree about cost because lacrosse which is America’s fast-growing sport has much higher costs and many towns offer little to no assistance to offset the cost because it’s still new to many places, yet like I said fastest-growing.

Dean Holzapfel: Because it’s “easier” to make it in other sports. You could spend 10 years bouncing around the minors and never see the majors and barely make a dime. Look at football and basketball they people who they don’t even know that can play.

Matt Matzer: It’s not just little league baseball that is suffering it is most rec leagues….. I will even go to say that most school sports suffer as well! Technology has advanced so far that kids would rather play sports on a video game online with their friends then actually go out and play it. Our generation video games were still somewhat crude compared to now and if you wanted to find your friends you had to go out and find them outside. Corner street hockey, whiffle ball, street basketball are all things of the past to kids! Funding for rec leagues have also taken a hit with the way the economy took a shit I mean towns do what they can but seriously look at whomsley there is no money there none. It’s a shame it really is! I can’t blame major league sports for technology-era kids not going outside.

Ryan Zeilman: It’s actually the coaching quality and how leagues function. A lot of leagues give in to higher quality baseball to combine with little league so then little league begins to diminish. Those leagues that were “higher quality” become watered down talent and very expensive for a similar experience you would get at little league but the kids become uninterested by then and either chose to play other sports or not at all. A lot of it comes down to the quality of the coaches. Most coaches are working dads and dads today are working much later than in the past and cant really work with their kids even if its at home or on the side. The game is very difficult and nearly impossible to just jump into unless you have natural gifts of athleticism.

Jason Miller: The main problem is most kids are living in single parent homes. That parent has to work to give them their needs. It is difficult with work to drive him to all of these practices. Plus kids have technology, they don’t know how to even have conversations face to face.

Danielle DeDomenico: There are not many quality coaches out there. And when there is a quality Coach, parents remove their kids from that team and develop their own team for their child to be the “star” player. Instead of being an average in a great organization and learning the correct way, they would rather be the best player on the worst team. That’s how I felt at my high school when I played softball there and that is exactly why I left to go to west because I wanted to be better for when I went to college.

Those were just a few of the responses I received on this topic. As broad as this issue the responses varied which is what I was seeking. I was happy to read different, even surprising views on why kids aren’t playing youth baseball or any youth sport for that matter. Some I agreed with and others I completely disagree with but my opinion didn’t matter. I asked the public and they responded greatly.

Here’s a public plea from me. Someone who’s played baseball for 24 years and has coached, trained, and umpired since the age of 14. Keep parents and politics as far away as possible. Honest. That’s the issue. Only 1% of the population will be pro baseball players, if that. There’s a 99.999% certainty that your child will not be Mike Trout or anything remotely close to that. I’m not saying to be harsh and this coming from sour grapes, just facts.

Is the sport expensive? Yes. However, it’s not nearly as expense as hockey, lacrosse, or even football. I believe coaching plays a major role but as does favoritism, hence, the constant conundrum of politics. As a player, coach, brother, umpire, and fan of the sport, I believe parents and politics are what is ruining the youth sports leagues around the nation. I truly believe kids want to play or at least give it a try. But there’s corrupt people running these leagues and it’s been a downward spiral since the late 2000s.

Can it improve? Of course. Life is cyclical. As with everything else these leagues and people who run them need to adapt or leave because this affects the kids more so than it will ever affect us.

More to come…

Quotes: Bloomberg (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-07-14/a-million-kids-stopped-playing-baseball-mlb-wants-to-win-them-back)

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