Change · Coach Matt · Coaching · Development · Education · Leadership · Success · Youth Sports

Baseball – State of the Game Part I

2014-04-12 08.26.52Today was opening day for the local little league and my daughter, Elodie, is playing on a t-ball team with other children aged four and five. The day started off great as there was a parade that traveled all through the town ending at the ball fields. Following the parade, we had an opening ceremony that energized the crowd and kids as they prepared for their first game of the season. What a great opportunity and experience for the kids. Hundred’s of people in the town welcomed the kids and cheered them on. The kids in the truck that I was riding with had ear to ear grins on their little faces. This joy and excitement was the perfect start to creating a memorable experience with regards to the game of baseball.

This is where the experience then began to take a turn. After waiting for over 45 minutes past the game start time to get our team and individual pictures taken, it was finally game time. If you have ever waited with a five year old for anything, they become impatient rather quickly as they have a limited attention span.  We had ten children on the team that were five years old or younger.

For the first half inning our team was in the field.

Over the course of our time in the field throughout the game, numerous observations were made:

  • With participants aged four and five they want to be involved in every single play. The ratio of one ball to eight to ten kids fielding the ball made this type of involvement impossible.  Excitement for one child was disappointment for all of the other fielders followed each time the ball was put into play.
  • The older/bigger kids often got the ball much more than anybody else. When they did not get the ball, they were told to let the other kids take a turn.
  • The total number of touches while fielding a ball were between one and three per kid for the entire game.
  • The pace of the activity is super slow. So many kids are left to standing around waiting for the hitting team to organize as each player bats per inning.
  • Numerous “coach” helpers for the team increased the likelihood of the game looking more like baseball as the kids would have a better idea of where to go or what to do after hitting or picking up the baseball.

Upon each member of the other team batting, our team was able to hit. Observations about this portion of the activity follow:

  • Speeding up the game must happen to increase greater levels of fun and enjoyment. Using multiple balls would allow this to happen where a helper at first base collects the ball from the player at the base and puts it in a bucket while the helper at home plate simply puts a new ball on the tee. These type of timesaving activities would increase the pace of the game.
  • Having helpers at each base enabled the opportunity to create more excitement for the kids who are running the bases. Unfortunately, we still had more than five participants waiting at the dugout to participate during each at bat.

009My big question is with the limited number of opportunities to be involved, how is a positive experience being created? With the kids being four or five years old and very impressionable, the only focus should be on creating an experience where they have so much fun they either do not want to leave or cannot wait to come back. The kids need to have increased involvement with a lot less down time. The experience that is created now will determine the future of the sport in each of these kids’ lives. It is very easy to see why baseball participation is dropping with the youth throughout America.

Could baseball be reinvented for children this age to make it more exciting and developmentally appropriate?

In my next post, I will talk about my observations and how we can create better experiences with some simple game modifications. If modifications do not happen, baseball will most definitely continue to lose participation numbers for youth baseball leagues which in turn would limit the number of future viewers of Major League Baseball.

Thanks for taking part in the EducatedCoaches.com Blog and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on how we can make youth baseball a more fun and exciting activity for our youngest players.

Coach Matt

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “Baseball – State of the Game Part I

  1. Your observations are astute and accurate, and it has always been puzzling why more don’t see it that way. Some ideas to consider, in addition to the whiffle ball that was already noted, would be: (1) “Soccer Baseball” (the “pitcher” rolls the soccer ball and the :”batter” runs up and boots it – everything else is the same. More success, lots of fun. Best to use a volleyball to avoid injuries and get more distance off of young ones’ legs; (2) Fewer players per side – why not six kids per team, or even four? Get rid of he outfielders and simply have the infielders go chase the balls that get past them. More at bats. More involvement on defense; (3) Bases that honk when you step on them – they are in the marketplace now. Kids can’t wait to get to them; (4) To maximize development, divide the group up and have one-third of the kids working on a skill while one-third is batting, and one third is on defense. Yes, game action is the most appealing thing for parents and players, but our game to practice ratio in baseball sucks in most regions. In this scenario, on one pass through the practice area, those six kids could each get in 20 swings off a tee (not in a row please – give them 6-7 swings then switch with partner, so as not to tire and and wind up developing a bad habit). The next pass through could be a ground ball context. Next time a throwing to a target contest. Next time a fly ball (age-appropriate) contest, if real young kids, then use tennis balls or rolled up sox. Etc.Thanks to Darin Van Tassell at http://www.clubhousestatesboro.com/ for sending me your article.

    1. Tom,

      Your ideas of ways to enhance experiences within the baseball are great and do not seem very challenging to implement. How I see it is that with coaches working all day, who lack time and knowledge to develop practice/game plans, this game will not improve. A curriculum that not only has practice/game plans but that also has coaching and parental education programs will create a game that will be as exciting as ever. I am ready to help create this curriculum. The time is now as I cannot see the game that I love fail future generations anymore.

      If you or Darin Van Tassell are interested in helping to create a youth baseball curriculum please contact me.

      Please check out the next few installments of the State of the Game as we would love to see your thoughts

  2. Bases loaded Fat bat Whiffle ball, 6 on 6

    Never figured out why Little League and Whiffle ball never partnered up. Whiffle is the only way to play baseball with small groups and all ages love it. If teams are smaller, more teams and more kids playing.

    1. Jake,

      Seems so simple yet it’s not happening. America’s Pastime is still living in the past. With a mindset of “this is how I did when I was growing up” is a major hurdle for this sport. Once change is embraced this game will thrive once again.

  3. Great observations MAtt. Saw very much the same back 12 yrs ago when my son took up T-ball, and then baseball. While there were several well meaning coaches, none of them (or me) realized that the kids crave activity! Not watching…but doing. My son wanted to give soccer a try – even though none of our familiy knew anything about it. He has never looked back, and has evolved into playing soccer year round. Candidly, we don’t always do our best with rec soccer at involving ALL the kids simultaneously …but it involves more than 1 batter and 1 fielder. I think your suggestions would improve the baseball experience…until they grow to learn the patience and beauty of the strategy baseball requires.

    1. Chuck,

      Other sports have made adjustments which is why they are thriving. Look at soccer and lacrosse – two fast growing sports in America. Now if these sports fail to continue to change, then they will be in the same situation as baseball 15 to 20 years from now.

      Thanks for the post. Check out the next installments and can’t wait to see your thoughts.

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