What do you remember most about playing rec league baseball? Being in 2nd Grade? Or your first job? The one common link between all of these memories is that there was an impactful experience. This experience may have been positive or negative but it greatly influenced you becoming engrained into your memory. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman states that our memories are made up of experiences that are new, novel and/or those that have greater significance. It is the positive experiences that when repeated and added up enable a passion to develop. As coaches, we should be striving to maximize the athletic experience to help create a passion for sport.
Reflecting back on this year’s past Major League Baseball season, the fan experience in Baltimore was amazing. The enthusiasm and excitement for the game was at an all-time high. This was great to see as the passion consistently grew as fans got to experience clinching the AL East title, the ALDS, and playing in the ALCS before losing in this series to the Royals.
The greater effect of this passion development will be the trickledown effect onto the children of parents who were actively involved with this experience. Whether they watched it on TV or attended games, baseball in the region was extremely popular. This is a positive for the game in the Baltimore and surrounding areas that will help to generate more passion for the game and more money for Major League Baseball.
Although the professional experience was great, there is at least one major problem that still exists with the game. Baseball along with many other sports is lacking positive experiences when playing the game. Some participants are having great experiences and will in most activities they attempt. Unfortunately, there are more that are not having a positive experience when participating in youth sports.
Passion is typically developed with those who are more athletic which is often the athlete whose developmental age is higher than the groups chronological age. They are faster, stronger, the “big kid” and typically play in a position where the ball frequents. With many coaches having a win at all cost mentality, numerous athletes never get the opportunity to have a quality experience as the more advanced athlete receives all of the opportunities.
Kids at the youth level should be given the opportunity to experience all positions. Grouping of teams should no longer be based off of chronological age. With modified games and developmental age grouping, the experience related to the game of baseball will be exponentially better. Once the experiences becomes lasting memories, passion will soon follow. This is where Major League Baseball should interject and help right the wrong because soon other sports like soccer and lacrosse will dominate the youth sports market. To further the point of why passion at the youth level is so important for the games future, the number of players participating in the game past the age of 18 is extremely limited. According to the NCAA, 92.7% of baseball players careers will end in high school. Only 6.8% of high school players will make it to play at the collegiate level and of that percentage, 9.8% will play professionally. 0.5% of high school baseball players will make the leap from playing in high school to playing professionally. Once the playing experience is over, how will passion continue? Was the few experiences that were attained enough? Have this 92.7% as well as those not represented who were not gifted to play in high school further the growth of the game?
Currently, the game at the youth level is following the model of “this is the way it was done when I was playing” methodology. I see numerous people stop playing the game because the experience is awful. Just so that you can see what I mean by an awful experience, I decided to look at my daughter’s first playing exposure to the game this past season. Because I have a background in Physical Education and teaching, I decided to track activity time when on the field. Here are my results:
- When being a fielder, the team averaged 9 minutes of game play before coming off the field.
- The activity time (ball contact to the time the 1st baseman picked the ball up) was under 90 seconds.
- With 9 players on the field, each player had a dedicated 10 seconds of activity in a 9 minute span.
- 3 innings of 30 minutes on the field allows for 30 seconds of activity per athlete.
How does passion develop with such little time to experience the game? How fun can standing around for 9 minutes be? How exciting is getting 1 out of 10 balls (maybe)? Where does that developmentally enhanced athlete fall? This athlete was repeatedly told to not go after the ball so that other kids could have a turn. What have we done and what are we doing to our youth?
The time in which we want to expose our children to Americas Pastime and all the wonderful things it stands for is being lost in an antiquated system that was acceptable in the 50’s and 60’s. Because of the community ball fields where kids would go play until dark with no coaches ever around, why do we feel that this type of 9 versus 9 organized activity for youth baseball players is still the appropriate activity to select. Baseball has yet to evolve which for the long term development of this great game puts it at risk to be overtaken by more active sports.
In my next post, I will talk about how we as coaches can create the playoff experience with our youth athletes at any level of development.