The Rise Of Overuse Injuries in Youth Baseball

On the Pearland Little League team in Texas just about every 12- and 13-year-old takes his turn on the pitcher’s mound.

This is one strategy coach Andrew Solomon, whose team placed second in the country in the 2015 Little League World Series, has taken to avoid the increasingly common elbow and shoulder injuries that plague youth baseball players. Mr. Solomon’s rigidity with adhering to established Little League rules such as pitch counts and days of rest, along with plenty of stretching, strength training and making sure each pitcher has proper form have made his team injury-free in the six or so years he has been coaching them.

“A lot of teams rely way too heavily on two or three kids to pitch and those kids are getting overpitched from a pretty young age,” he says.

Surgeons are seeing big increases in young players with damaged ulnar collateral ligaments (UCL) in the elbow, says Brandon Erickson, an orthopedic surgeon resident at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago who has studied the issue. A UCL tear is an overuse injury of the elbow. The surgery to fix it is commonly referred to as Tommy John surgery after the first baseball player, major league pitcher Tommy John, to undergo reconstruction surgery for the injury. The surgery involves remaking the UCL with a tendon from another part of the body or a donor.

Older teens, age 15 to 19, accounted for significantly more Tommy John surgeries than any other age group in a study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine last year. Dr. Erickson and colleagues analyzed a database of 790 patients who underwent the surgery between 2007 and 2011. They also found that rates of surgeries among 15- to 19-year-old patients were increasing more than 9% a year.

Pearland Little League players celebrate during the 2015 Southwest Little League Regional in Waco, Texas. Under coach Andrew Solomon, the team of 12- and 13-year-olds has almost every player take turns pitching to avoid overuse injuries, among other measures.ENLARGE
Pearland Little League players celebrate during the 2015 Southwest Little League Regional in Waco, Texas. Under coach Andrew Solomon, the team of 12- and 13-year-olds has almost every player take turns pitching to avoid overuse injuries, among other measures. PHOTO: RODNEY BLACK

James Andrews, an orthopedic surgeon and chairman of the board of the American Sports Medicine Institute, has spearheaded many of the efforts to create pitching guidelines. Youth baseball injuries to the shoulder and elbow have gone up five-to sevenfold since 2000, he said. In 2000 he did maybe eight or nine Tommy John surgeries on children and teens a year.

“Now it’s the number one age bracket of all the Tommy Johns we do,” he says. “The majority are coming in from high school.”

Shoulder injuries are common too, he says, and can include injuries to the rotator cuff and tears in the labrum. Surgeons are often more reluctant to operate on the shoulder because the success rate is much less than it is for the elbow, he said.

A group of medical experts, including Dr. Andrews, convened by the Major League Baseball Commissioner devised pitching guidelines in 2014, called Pitch Smart, which are broken down by age. They determined that 7- to 8-year-olds should pitch a maximum of 50 pitches in a game. The numbers increase up to 105 pitches by age 17.

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The guidelines have been adopted by most national youth baseball programs, including Little League, which has had its own, similar guidelines in place since 2007. A problem is that even though most teams abide by the pitching guidelines, many youth baseball players are playing on more than one team at a time.

In a study published in May in The Journal of Arthroscopic and Related Surgery, Dr. Erickson and colleagues filmed a group of 13- to 16-year-old pitchers in a simulated baseball game. They found that as players got tired their core muscles started to weaken, which affected their pitching motions. Now they’re planning to test if strengthening core muscles could be a way to prevent pitching injuries.

Shoulder injuries tend to appear earlier. A study published in March in the American Journal of Sports Medicine looked at proximal humeral epiphysiolysis, or Little League shoulder, which is similar to a stress fracture in the growth plate.

It only occurs in youth and adolescent athletes because they are still growing and therefore have still functioning or “open” growth plates, which are made of cartilage, says Benton Heyworth, an orthopedic surgeon there and first author of the study.

The researchers reviewed 95 patients, age 8 to 16, at Boston Children’s Hospital and found the number of diagnosed cases increased annually between 1999 and 2013. About 13% of patients also had elbow pain. The most common age for the condition was 13.

The treatment for Little League shoulder is resting it for three months, which is essentially a season. Some doctors will also prescribe physical therapy.

Eric Small, assistant clinical professor of pediatrics, orthopedics and rehabilitation medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, says about 10% of the patients he sees in April, May and June are typically baseball players with growth-plate injuries in their elbow or shoulder. Most are 10 to 12 years old.ENLARGE
Eric Small, assistant clinical professor of pediatrics, orthopedics and rehabilitation medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, says about 10% of the patients he sees in April, May and June are typically baseball players with growth-plate injuries in their elbow or shoulder. Most are 10 to 12 years old. PHOTO: ERIC SMALL

Children shouldn’t have any pain or soreness in their shoulder or elbow during or after a game, says Eric Small, medical director of sports medicine at Westchester Health Associates in Mount Kisco, N.Y. He advises against pitching and catching in the same game. He also recommends that pitchers play other positions and that children play different sports to develop other muscle groups.

Dr. Andrews’s best advice to parents and players: don’t play year-round baseball or on more than one baseball team at the same time. He also advises against pitching curve balls until a player can shave, around puberty.

“We recommend that they not specialize in one sport until they’re a senior in high school,” he says.

Jared Wojcik, a 16-year-old in Lakemoor, Ill., started playing T-ball when he was 3. By 8 or 9, he was pitching. He plays on school and travel teams, pretty much year-round.

In November his elbow started hurting and he ended up having Tommy John surgery in February. “I read articles about Major Leaguers getting it but I was surprised I needed that surgery,” Jared says.

Once he recovers, he no longer wants to pitch. “It’s too much of a risk,” he says.

For now, he is a designated hitter. He will start a strict, gradual throwing program later this month but won’t go back to full-time playing until next spring.

His dad, Matt Wojcik, says the pitching counts seemed more strict at the younger ages. “In the high school years it’s gotten a little more lax,” he said.

Dave Batchelder’s 14-year-old son, Adam, was diagnosed with Little League shoulder by Dr. Heyworth at Boston Children’s when he was 12. Adam has been pitching since age 7. “He can be on two, three, four teams at a time,” his dad says.

Adam’s shoulder injury came back this year early in the season and shut him down for six weeks. He is still playing on his middle school team, mostly hitting, and doing some fielding with his uninjured, left hand.

“He’s using a left-handed glove,” says Mr. Batchelder. “He figures it’s better to throw with the wrong hand than not at all.”

 

Reddy, Sumathi. “Youth Baseball and Surgery for Overuse Injuries.” WSJ. Wall Street Journal, 06 June 2016. Web. 10 June 2016.

Update on Carmel youth baseball player who suffered near-fatal hit

CPR training of coaches and parents and defibrillators stationed at the park’s concession stands saved his life.

The 13-year-old Carmel baseball player whose heart stopped after he was struck in the chest by a ball recently is home, itching to play baseball again.

His dad updated IndyStar Tuesday about his son’s miraculous recovery, which he credited to the quick work of coaches and parents at Grand Park in Westfield — and a defibrillator pulled from the concession stand at the park.

“Without that, it probably would have been a totally different result,” said his dad, who was put in touch with IndyStar by his son’s Carmel Hounds coach, Paul Wright. The boy’s father asked that he and his son not be named because he doesn’t want the youth to be overwhelmed by attention.

The father of the boy said he was at work May 22 when his son, playing second base for a 13U travel team that is part of the Carmel Dads’ Club, was hit in the chest by a throw from his catcher that he didn’t see.

“It’s kind of the phone call from hell,” said his dad, “that no parent ever wants to get.”

The ball hit in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time and caused the boy’s heart to stop. That he will suffer no permanent damage, brain or otherwise, is a miracle.

His dad said the family is forever grateful to all who rushed to his son’s side, getting involved in a “scary situation.”

Doctors have told the boy that he will make a full recovery and, within three weeks, can be back out on the field playing.

And he’s antsy to do just that.

“Oh, he would get back out there today if he could,” his dad said.

Original story published May 26:

The baseball hit with a thud to his lower chest, right by his heart.

The second baseman for the Carmel Hounds youth travel team — who didn’t see the catcher’s throw coming his way — collapsed on the field Sunday at Grand Park in Westfield.

As he lay motionless on the ground, his skin turning gray, coaches and parents rushed to help, administering CPR.

But the 13-year-old boy didn’t have a pulse. He wasn’t responding.

And then came the tool that ultimately saved his life: an automatic external defibrillator pulled from the concession stand.

An AED, which restores a regular heart rhythm during sudden cardiac arrest, is rarely found at a baseball field. Most youth leagues — travel, recreational or sanctioned Little League — don’t require them.

Little League Baseball and Softball, with about 2.5 million kids playing each year, recommends that local leagues have AEDs but doesn’t mandate that they do. The reason, according to the league, is cost.

Small, lower-income programs may not be able to afford a defibrillator, which on average costs about $2,000, according to the American Heart Association.

At Grand Park, a 400-acre sports complex with dozens of athletic fields, including 26 baseball fields, AEDs are stationed inside all concession stands and buildings, said Michelle Krcmery, marketing manager.

There are at least seven permanent defibrillators at the park, a decision that was made “in order to be prepared for an incident such as this,” she said, adding that the park’s safety protocols were written by the medical director at Westfield Fire Department, who is also a trauma physician.

“Youth sports embodies family, fun, healthy competitiveness and teamwork, so when a player is injured it is troubling to everyone involved, including the organization,” Krcmery said in an email to IndyStar. “As a continued measure, we are reviewing our public safety procedures as we speak to make sure we are always best equipped for an emergency.”

Baseball has a reputation as a nonviolent, low-impact sport, and, for the most part, it is.

Though there is no organization that tracks deaths in youth baseball leagues, a limited study commissioned by USA Baseball between 1989 and 2010 found that 18 children younger than high school age died of baseball injuries. Most of those happened when a pitcher or batter was hit in the head by a ball.

The other deaths occurred when a high-speed ball hit a player in the chest, causing sudden cardiac arrest.

That’s what those at the game Sunday think happened in Westfield during the tournament. Scott Foppe, the coach of the opposing Rawlings Tigers from Ballwin, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis, was among three adults who administered CPR to the Carmel boy.

Foppe said he didn’t really want to talk about the incident. The story should be about the boy, his condition, his fight to live and not about a few adults who did what any adult would do, he said.

But Foppe did say one thing on the record.

“I think people should get the training,” he said, “especially coaches — high school, college, youth — you should all have the training in CPR.”

And there should, without question, be defibrillators stationed at every youth baseball field in America.

The Carmel player, whose name is not being released because of privacy issues, was on second base Sunday. The game was in the third inning when a Tigers player tried to steal second and the Carmel boy didn’t see the catcher’s throw.

After paramedics arrived, he was taken to St. Vincent in Carmel and was in the intensive care unit as of Sunday night. His condition as of Tuesday evening was not known.

Carmel Hounds coach Paul Wright, responding to an email from IndyStar, declined comment and referred the reporter to the Carmel Dads’ Club Travel Baseball, the league the Hounds play in.

An email to David Cutsinger, commissioner of Carmel Dads’ Club, and Jack Beery, president, was not immediately returned.

This isn’t the first time a serious youth baseball incident has happened in Indiana.

Dylan Williams, an 8-year-old boy from Union City, died in July 2013 when he was struck in the neck by a baseball. His death spurred a nonprofit to donate eight defibrillators to the area about 75 miles northeast of Indianapolis.

The Union City Baseball Boosters organization now requires all coaches to receive training in CPR and on how to use AEDs. One defibrillator was placed with Dylan’s family so they could always help should an incident arise similar to what happened to their son. Another was put at the baseball diamonds where he was killed.

All athletes, no matter the sport, should be within four minutes of an AED and someone trained to use it, according to the American Red Cross. In fact, the organization says all Americans should be that close to one, athlete or not. Improved training and access to AEDs could save 50,000 lives each year, Red Cross says.

Momentum for AEDs in youth baseball is growing nationwide and in at least one league in Indianapolis. Broad Ripple Haverford Little League recently acquired two defibrillators for use at its games. The devices will be kept at the concession stands at its two fields.

Earlier this month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a law that requires all baseball fields on city-owned land to have a defibrillator onsite during youth games. The bill was sponsored by city councilman Steven Matteo, a youth baseball coach, who said at the time the law would “save lives.”

The defibrillators and training on how to use them will be paid for by the city.

Westfield, too, pays for Grand Park training. All staff and support staff at the park are trained on CPR and using the defibrillators.

“In this case, we are extremely grateful for the quick reaction of the parents and the first responder, a Westfield police officer,” said Krcmery, “as they both contributed to saving this player’s life.”

 

Benbow, Dana. “Update on Carmel Youth Baseball Player Who Suffered Near-fatal Hit.” Indy Star. IndyStar, 31 May 2016. Web. 07 June 2016.

13-year-old Carmel baseball player suffers near-fatal hit

CPR training of coaches and parents and defibrillators stationed at the park’s concession stands saved his life.

The baseball hit with a thud to his lower chest, right by his heart.

The second baseman for the Carmel Hounds youth travel team — who didn’t see the catcher’s throw coming his way — collapsed on the field Sunday at Grand Park in Westfield.

As he lay motionless on the ground, his skin turning gray, coaches and parents rushed to help, administering CPR.

But the 13-year-old boy didn’t have a pulse. He wasn’t responding.

And then came the tool that ultimately saved his life: an automatic external defibrillator pulled from the concession stand.

An AED, which restores a regular heart rhythm during sudden cardiac arrest, is rarely found at a baseball field. Most youth leagues — travel, recreational or sanctioned Little League — don’t require them.

Little League Baseball and Softball, with about 2.5 million kids playing each year, recommends that local leagues have AEDs but doesn’t mandate that they do. The reason, according to the league, is cost.

Small, lower-income programs may not be able to afford a defibrillator, which on average costs about $2,000, according to the American Heart Association.

At Grand Park, a 400-acre sports complex with dozens of athletic fields, including 26 baseball fields, AEDs are stationed inside all concession stands and buildings, said Michelle Krcmery, marketing manager.

There are at least seven permanent defibrillators at the park, a decision that was made “in order to be prepared for an incident such as this,” she said, adding that the park’s safety protocols were written by the medical director at Westfield Fire Department, who is also a trauma physician.

“Youth sports embodies family, fun, healthy competitiveness and teamwork, so when a player is injured it is troubling to everyone involved, including the organization,” Krcmery said in an email to IndyStar. “As a continued measure, we are reviewing our public safety procedures as we speak to make sure we are always best equipped for an emergency.”

Baseball has a reputation as a non-violent, low-impact sport, and, for the most part, it is.

Though there is no organization that tracks deaths in youth baseball leagues, a limited study commissioned by USA Baseball between 1989 and 2010 found that 18 children younger than high school age died of baseball injuries. Most of those happened when a pitcher or batter was hit in the head by a ball.

The other deaths occurred when a high-speed ball hit a player in the chest, causing sudden cardiac arrest.

That’s what those at the game Sunday think happened in Westfield during the tournament. Scott Foppe, the coach of the opposing Rawlings Tigers from Ballwin, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis, was among three adults who administered CPR to the Carmel boy.

Foppe said he didn’t really want to talk about the incident. The story should be about the boy, his condition, his fight to live and not about a few adults who did what any adult would do, he said.

But Foppe did say one thing on the record.

“I think people should get the training,” he said, “especially coaches — high school, college, youth — you should all have the training in CPR.”

And there should, without question, be defibrillators stationed at every youth baseball field in America.

The Carmel player, whose name is not being released because of privacy issues, was on second base Sunday. The game was in the third inning when a Tigers player tried to steal second and the Carmel boy didn’t see the catcher’s throw.

After paramedics arrived, he was taken to St. Vincent in Carmel and was in the ICU as of Sunday night. His condition as of Tuesday evening was not known.

Carmel Hounds coach Paul Wright, responding to an email from IndyStar, declined comment and referred the reporter to the Carmel Dads’ Club Travel Baseball, the league the Hounds play in.

An email to David Cutsinger, commissioner of Carmel Dads’ Club, and Jack Beery, president, was not immediately returned.

This isn’t the first time a serious youth baseball incident has happened in Indiana.

Dylan Williams, an 8-year-old boy from Union City, died in July 2013 when he was struck in the neck by a baseball. His death spurred a nonprofit to donate eight defibrillators to the area about 75 miles northeast of Indianapolis.

The Union City Baseball Boosters organization now requires all coaches to receive training in CPR and on how to use AEDs. One defibrillator was placed with Dylan’s family so they would always be able to help should an incident arise similar to what happened to their son. Another was put at the baseball diamonds where he was killed.

All athletes, no matter the sport, should be within four minutes of an AED and someone trained to use it, according to the American Red Cross. In fact, the organization says all Americans should be that close to one, athlete or not. Improved training and access to AEDs could save 50,000 lives each year, Red Cross says.

Momentum for AEDs in youth baseball is growing nationwide and in at least one league in Indianapolis. Broad Ripple Haverford Little League recently acquired two defibrillators for use at its games. The devices will be kept at the concession stands at its two fields.

Earlier this month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a law that requires all baseball fields on city-owned land to have a defibrillator onsite during youth games. The bill was sponsored by city councilman Steven Matteo, a youth baseball coach, who said at the time the law would “save lives.”

The defibrillators and training on how to use them will be paid for by the city.

Westfield, too, pays for Grand Park training. All staff and support staff at the park are trained on CPR and using the defibrillators.

“In this case, we are extremely grateful for the quick reaction of the parents and the first responder, a Westfield police officer,” said Krcmery, “as they both contributed to saving this player’s life.”

 

 

Bembow, Dana. “13-year-old Carmel Baseball Player Suffers Near-fatal Hit.” Indianapolis Star. Indy Star, 24 May 2016. Web. 25 May 2016.

 

 


When you disagree with volunteers and refs — do so politely

By BEAU DURE

Parent coaches. Soccer club board members.

These people are volunteers. Be nice. If you disagree with their vision, do so politely.

Referees make a tiny bit of money. Be nice to them, too.

Dealing with referees can be tricky. Through a certain age (in our area, U8), we have no referees, and coaches are responsible for making games fair and safe. Then coaches hand over that responsibility to referees who are often young, inexperienced and timid. These referees might not call the fouls that would have made coaches stop the game and talk to the kids. They might not even understand the simple mechanics of keeping a game running smoothly.

Most youth clubs — and certainly most referees — will tell coaches to say nothing to the refs other than “thank you” after the game. And that should be the goal. But you’ll run into some practical problems.

Some young refs don’t make clear signals — which team takes a throw-in, whether a free kick is direct or indirect, and so on. Many a U9 coach has yelled instructions to his team for how to take a free kick, something not often covered in practice, only to find that the other team is the one taking the free kick. Oops.

The bigger concern is safety. What do you do when a ref isn’t controlling the games, and the fouls are getting harder? What do you do when a kid gets bonked in the head, and you’re caught between obeying your licensing course’s concussion protocols and your club director’s admonition against yelling at the ref?

I’ll give two situations from my experience — one of which I’ll apologize for, one I won’t.

We had an All-Star tournament in which our guys were getting fouled a good bit. In the second game, with our second laissez-faire referee, I had to go out on the field to check on an injured player. I made a sarcastic comment to the ref: “You know, you can call fouls at U9.” He chirped back that they were 50-50 plays. Things went downhill from there. The ref could’ve handled it better, but I could’ve, too. When I surveyed youth referees about what I should’ve said in this situation, the responses ranged from “nothing” to “Pardon me, but this is a little more physical than we’re used to.”

Back in our House league, a hard shot nailed one of my players in the head. Somehow, he didn’t fall. He just held his head and started crying. Play continued. I screamed to stop play. The ref didn’t, the other team didn’t, and our team did. After the other team’s inevitable goal, I went out to check on our team’s injured player, and I yelled to my team not to worry about the goal they had conceded.

I’m not apologizing for the latter. My responsibility for my player’s safety trumps my responsibility to let refs build up their self-esteem.

The ref and I had a good conversation afterward, so all was well. Some of the other team’s parents might’ve thought I was a freak, but they could deal with it.

But that is, of course, a rare situation. Don’t yell at refs over offside calls. They’re going to get those wrong. And it’s often tough to see who played the ball before it went out of play for a throw-in. No harm will come from getting those plays wrong. Give the poor kid or well-intentioned adult a break.

So to sum it up: Safety first; shut up otherwise.

Source: Dure, Beau. “Youth Soccer Insider: When You Disagree with Volunteers and Refs — Do so Politely.” SoccerAmerica. N.p., 07 Sept. 2015. Web. 07 Sept. 2015.

 


Working Together to Prevent Injuries in Youth Sports

victoria2We’ve all been there: getting hit or knocked down during a game and saying “I’m fine!” instead of taking a seat on the bench and determining whether or not we are really injured. No player wants to let the team down or feel weak for admitting that he or she is hurt and in need of a break, but this mentality can actually hurt a player even more down the line. According to safekids.org, a youth sports injury that results in a visit to the emergency room occurs once every 25 seconds. This adds up to about 3,397 children in the hospital every single day. Safe to say, youth sports injuries are not uncommon and need to be taken seriously. That number would be even higher if more players were willing to admit their pain and take the necessary steps to find out how to heal it, but this would at least prevent further damage or repeated injuries of the same kind from happening. 54 percent of athletes said they have played injured, and 42 percent of athletes have admitted to “hiding or down-playing an injury during a game so they could keep playing”, according to safekids.org. This practice of hiding injuries needs to be curbed so that children stop repeatedly playing on an injury, and putting themselves in even more danger.

At the beginning of the season, players need to be told by the coach to come forward and be honest if they are feeling less than okay and ground rules should be set to agree on how the team will approach injuries. It also becomes the parents’ responsibility to report to the coaches in the event that their child has admitted to feeling pain, or has been diagnosed by a doctor and given specific instructions about how to treat an injury. Similarly, the coach needs to be open with the parent and inform them that their child has been injured during a practice or a game so that the parent can take the necessary steps to keep their child healthy and safe. Considering that 62 percent of organized sports-related injuries occur during practices, according to youthsportssafetyalliance.org, it is clear that many injuries occur when the parent is not around to witness them, making communication necessary.

bundleWhile the responsibility does lie on the player, we cannot always trust that children will take an injury as seriously as they should or that they will be open with both their coach and parent and admit to one. According to safekids.org, less than half of coaches are certified and know how to prevent and recognize sports injuries, while 53 percent have said they’ve felt “pressure from a parent or player to put an athlete back in the game” after an injury. To make the playing field a safer place, coaches need to be certified or, at the very least, aware of the health issues of their players, just as parents need to focus on their children’s health rather than their goal count.

What all of this comes down to is communication. The gaps between players and parents, players and coaches, and parents and coaches leave room for more harm. A player who tells his parents that his ankle hurt during the last practice and gets a note from the doctor that he should skip gym class should not be playing in their soccer game the next day. The player might not want to tell their coach about this for fear of being benched, but the parent should recognize the importance of resting for their child’s safety and keep the coach informed. Similarly, if a player was complaining of dizziness during practice and had to sit out, the coach should report this to the parent so that they can go to a doctor or keep an eye out for their child. If a coach or a parent doesn’t know there is something wrong with the child, then they have no way of fixing the problem. Where communication stops is where injuries can go from bad to worse. The more aware that parents and coaches are about a player’s injuries, the more help and support they can give. When players, parents, and coaches work together, athletes are kept safer and the team becomes stronger as a whole.

laydown


Good Riddance to Little League

By JUSTIN PETERS

Is Little League participation on the wane? And, if so, should we care? Those were two major questions raised by a Wall Street Journal piece from last week documenting the apparent decline of casual sporting leagues in a nation of kids who have either been bewitched by video games or encouraged to specialize in one sport year-round—or both, if the sport in which they specialize is competitive Minecraft. Whether you find the WSJ report convincing and conclusive—and there are good reasons to be skeptical of it—it should raise in your mind an overwhelmingly important point: Little League and other youth sports leagues are terrible, and we should not be sad to see them go.

Citing a study conducted by the National Sporting Goods Association, the Journal reported that while 8.8 million children between the ages of 7 and 17 played baseball in 2000, only 5.3 million children in that age group did the same in 2013. It’s worth noting, though, that the study seems to document declining youth participation in almost all sports, not just baseball. Basketball participation in the same age group and over the same time period dropped from 13.8 million to 10.3 million; soccer participation dropped from 9.2 million to 6.9 million. The only sport highlighted by the Journal with increased participation from 2000 to 2013 is tackle football, proving once again that Americans do not read the newspaper.

The Journal also reported on the declining fortunes of a youth baseball league in Newburgh, New York, a city “on the front lines of the fight for baseball’s future.” Whereas 206 children played Little League in Newburgh in 2009, only 74 signed up to play this year. Extrapolated to the wider world, this purported Little League participation crisis is bad news for Major League Baseball, given that the boy who plays baseball grows up to be the man who spends $149 on a Mark Trumbo jersey.

Is the Newburgh Little League crisis truly indicative of broader Little League trends? Or is theJournal’s piece just a small-sample-size look at the amateur sporting fortunes of an impoverished city in a cold-weather region? And does it matter? Along with Mom and apple pie, Little League baseball symbolizes wholesome Americana. But just as apple pie is fattening and Mom won’t stop nagging you to come visit, neither is Little League an unalloyed good. Little League was founded in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in the 1930s by a man named Carl Stotz who grew to hate what his creation became. “Originally, I had envisioned baseball for youngsters strictly on the local level without national playoffs and World Series and all that stuff,” Stotz later said, according to Mark Hyman in his book on youth sports, Until It Hurts. Then, in the 1950s, businessmen essentially staged a hostile takeover, forced Stotz out of the league, and proceeded to turn it into the worldwide entity that it is today, with its international World Series and its ESPN affiliation. “The national organization with headquarters here [in Williamsport] began developing into a Frankenstein. I became utterly disgusted,” said Stotz. He died a bitter man.

Stotz found the bigness of Little League to be awful in part because it seemed like an exploitative ploy that used kids’ athletic ambitions to fill adult-sized voids. As the league grew and became more corporate, there was less and less opportunity for kids to enjoy the thrill of low-stakes, good-natured organized competition. In his fascinating paper “ ‘A Diamond Is a Boy’s Best Friend’: The Rise of Little League Baseball, 1939-1964,” University of Chicago historian Michael H. Carriere argues that Little League was a force for normative morality in a postwar America terrified that children would fall prey to sexual perversion, juvenile delinquency, and, presumably, the beatnik menace. For children, Carriere argues, Little League served to reinforce social order; it was “a highly supervised activity that engendered in children a healthy respect for law and order, taught proper gender roles, and, most importantly, brought families together.”

For the postwar corporate man, coaching Little League was a way to manifest the initiative and aggression he was unable to show at work. The league helped compensate for the denatured character of postwar corporate labor while simultaneously preparing boys to enter the workforce and “accept such dispositions as specialization, rationalization, and bureaucratization.” By formalizing unstructured youth sporting play, modeling it on professional leagues, putting adults in charge, and keeping score and maintaining league standings, Little League “began to be seen as simply one stop on the trajectory of young people’s professional lives.” Today you’re signing up for Little League, tomorrow you’re signing up for a lifetime of toil at General Motors.

So why should this bother us? Because youth sports leagues are stressful and regimented at their worst, and even at their best, they promote the idea that organized, performative play is the most valid and important kind of play. The mere fact that adults take such a keen interest in the sporting activities of children invests those activities with an importance that just screwing around in a vacant lot will never have.

That’s a horrible attitude to promote. I played organized youth baseball until I was 14 or so, and the fun moments I remember are vastly outnumbered by the terrible and stressful ones: botching a critical play and feeling horrible about it for a week, failing to make all-star teams because the coaches nominated their own kids, the tension and agita of pretending these games have actual stakes, and the sense that if you don’t perform at your best, you’re letting everybody down.

In contrast, the most fun I had in childhood was with ad hoc games with other kids from my neighborhood: basketball on my driveway until dark, baseball with maybe four other kids in a vacant lot. Spontaneous play is better than organized play. The two can coexist, of course. But spontaneous play allows children to be in charge of their worlds for a while, to set and explore their own rules and boundaries, to exercise their imaginations in addition to their bodies.

So who cares whether youth baseball really is waning in Newburgh? As long as they can play pickup games, the town’s children will be fine.

Source: Peters, Justin. “Little League Is a Stressful, Oversized Monstrosity. It’s Time for It to Die.” N.p., 26 May 2015. Web. 26 May 2015.


Even More Reasons Why Children Are ‘Abandoning’ Baseball

By BOB COOK

If you know any baseball fans or people with kids in baseball, they’re furiously sharing a recent Wall StreetJournal piece called “Why Children Are Abandoning Baseball.” For years there has been justifiable hand-wringing over African-American youth “abandoning” baseball, but the Journal article shows how the Great American Pastime has become the Great American Nichetime for children of all ages and races.

It turns out, in the Journal’s telling, the decline is driven by many of same trends blamed for the decline in black youth participation — a greater emphasis on so-called elite, travel sports, baseball and otherwise, that has made the sport more expensive, forced children to specialize in a single sport at an earlier age, left beginning and casual players out in the cold. That could leave Major League Baseball out in the cold, too, as fewer kids growing up playing baseball become fewer adults interested in its product. From the Journal:

But MLB faces headwinds that have been years in the making and forces that are outside its direct control. In 2002, nine million people between the ages of 7 and 17 played baseball in the U.S., according to the National Sporting Goods Association, an industry trade group. By 2013, the most recent year for which data is available, that figure had dropped by more than 41%, to 5.3 million. Likewise, youth softball participation declined from 5.4 million to 3.2 million over the same span.

Other popular sports, including soccer and basketball, have suffered as youth sports participation in general has declined and become more specialized. A pervasive emphasis on performance over mere fun and exercise has driven many children to focus exclusively on one sport from an early age, making it harder for all sports to attract casual participants. But the decline of baseball as a community sport has been especially precipitous. …

In more affluent areas, the best alternatives are merely inconvenient. Nearby towns pool teams together for an interleague schedule or merge their leagues outright. At its entry level, the sport requires players to leave their communities for games more often than before.

But in poorer cities … a viable, self-sufficient league is necessary to keep some children from abandoning the game. Many parents lack the means to easily transport them to and from neighboring towns.

And this article doesn’t even get into how early specialization is resulting in a spike in overuse injuries and treatments, including Tommy John surgery, in young players, ending their careers before they begin, or sending players to the majors with 22-year-old bodies and 55-year-old arms.

But let’s forget about Major League Baseball, which is financially strong and should be so for many years to come, and talk about youth baseball and softball. Based on my personal experience as a youth coach and parents, including two sons who abandoned baseball pretty quickly themselves (my 15-year-old daughter played softball through age 13, and my 9-year-old daughter will keep playing for the foreseeable future), here are some other theories I have for the decline of stick-and-ball participation:

1. Baseball has long stopped being the default starter sport for America’s youth. That’s soccer, where kids start younger and learn the game’s basic concept quicker. No offense to soccer people, but at least with a 5-year-old you can point to a net and say, “Kick the ball into that.” By comparison, baseball is like explaining calculus, and for some kids, just as boring.

2. Baseball also has suffered the most from a long decline in kids playing pickup games, in part because it’s no longer like explaining calculus if you’d had a chance to play it with buddies in the neighborhood. It’s not that organized sports killed the neighborhood game. It’s that organized sports got stronger as people had fewer kids and moved to suburbs with bigger yards, thus creating a situation where it required organization to get enough kids together in the same spot to play a game.

3. Baseball, like every other sport, faces a lot more competition. I mentioned soccer in point No. 1. But in many places, kids can choose from sports many of their parents never played or heard of, such as lacrosse, or get swept up at earlier ages in intense programs for theater, music, dance, art or scads of other activities. Look at the options your children have at earlier ages, and compare that to the choices you had. It not only can crowd out baseball, but for any sport or activity, it means a child will try it for one season and move on, rather than do it for a few years just because that’s where all his or her friends are, or because there’s nothing else to do.

4. I haven’t blamed video games, which often comes up in these conversations, such as this 2014 Wall Street Journal story talking about participation declines in multiple sports. And I won’t blame them. It’s not as if kids who play sports don’t play video games. I just don’t see a connection.

5. However, I will blame adults, though not as the primary factor. In my experience, a child excited by a sport will suffer through jerkface adults trying to ruin it. A child not excited by a sport will not fall in love even if the coach is a cross between Phil Jackson and the Good Witch of the North. However, I suspect children who are on the fence about sticking around will take the adult coaches’ — and parents’ — conduct into consideration whether deciding to go on. This is not unique to baseball.

6. Finally, you’re going to see a lot of “decline of…” participation stories for a demographic reason: the economic collapse of 2007 has been a drag on the birth rate. The recession kids who do exist are the current starting talent pool, and there are less of them from which to choose.

Source: Cook, Bob. “Crowdfunding Comes To Paying For Youth Sports.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 22 May 2015. Web. 22 May 2015.


Youth Rec Sports – Mistakes happen, but learning from them is key

By TOM GRADY

The National Alliance for Youth Sports ran a piece on its Sporting Kid Live site last week, suggesting failure can offer some positive lessons for young athletes.

On its face, or in looking at the notion on a single level, it seem to be counterintuitive. But on more layers, we know we can all learn from our failures and successes.

I have often noted that in learning a new skill, an athlete gains more from what they do correctly. The muscle memory kicks in, for example, when you perform a skill properly, with repetition..

But skill development and developing an overall mentality for more success are two different things.

Only one team in any league for any season wins the championship. Everyone else is at least a bit disappointed. But I don’t think anyone can really suggest the other teams come away with nothing.

The article included a quote from former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden: “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”

The key for all of us is to learn from our mistakes and miscues on the field or court.

And coaches need to be aware of how they react to these situations. A coach can turn an opportunity to learn from a mistake into a slam on a player that robs them of a learning experience.

I have on many occasions, especially with older teams, noted the difference between mental and physical errors. A physical error would be on the order of misplaying a grounder. A mental error would be throwing to the wrong base because you didn’t take in the situation at hand before the last pitch.

A coach should handle both situations appropriately, to more frequently turn what some might take as a failure into a positive learning experience.

Name game

Okay, let’s be clear about this: Tom “Brady” is the guy currently in a bit of a pickle of a pickle over deflated footballs in an NFL playoff game. He plays for the Patriots.

Tom “Grady” has never been involved in any rule-breaking such as that. Just wanted to make sure people didn’t confuse the two of us.

Sure, all one needs to do is look at the mug shot that is published with the column and any possible confusion is wiped away. But again, just to be clear ….

Even if I modified the amount of air in the footballs we used in sandlot games at local parks back in the 1970s, it was within the ground rules of the day.

Source: Grady, Tom. “Youth Rec Sports – Mistakes Happen, but Learning from Them Is Key.” StarNewsOnline.com. N.p., 11 May 2015. Web. 11 May 2015.


Baseball is struggling to hook kids — and risks losing fans to other sports

By MARC FISHER

Rob Albericci saw the curve coming. He saw his son Austin’s Little League baseball team struggle to recruit enough kids to fill a roster. He saw the rising demands of Austin’s football team, the growing pressure for kids to focus on a single sport, to specialize even before they hit puberty. And he saw a sharp swerve in his son’s passion.

The father tried to steer his son toward sticking with baseball — because the injury risk is lower than in football, because baseball is “a thinking man’s game,” and because baseball is how father and son first bonded over sports. “I threw with him,” the father says, and he looks at his muscular son with a softness reserved for the littlest of boys. “I’d take him to cages and throw and hit. He always wanted to bunt.”

But Austin, 15 now, a high school freshman in Demarest, N.J., wasn’t listening to his father’s pitch. Austin recognizes that “hitting a 90-mile-an-hour ball is the hardest thing to do in sports.” He still admires baseball: “There’s nothing better than a sick double play on the Top 10” on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” he says. But with Derek Jeter having retired, there’s not a single active baseball player on his list of sports favorites. Austin had had it with the imbalance in baseball between anticipation and action.

“Most of the time, I was in center field, wondering, ‘When is the ball going to get to me?’ ” he says. “Baseball players are thinking ahead all the time, always thinking of the possibilities — ‘If I can’t get it to second, do I throw to first?’ Baseball is a bunch of thinking, and I live a different lifestyle than baseball. In basketball and football, you live in the moment. You got to be quick. Everything I do, I do with urgency.”

Rob Manfred hears Austin’s words read to him, and the new commissioner of Major League Baseball lets out a bit of a sigh. “That’s a particularly articulate kid,” he says. “Those are the sorts of issues we need to address, because the single biggest predictor of avidity in sports is whether you played as a kid.”

Baseball, for decades now the national pastime only through the nostalgic lens of history, is a thriving business. Revenue is at an all-time high. Attendance in the 30 major league parks and in minor leagues around the country is strong. Baseball players on average make half again as much money as football players. But since he took office this year, Manfred has been sounding a startling warning bell: The sport must address its flagging connection to young people or risk losing a generation of fans.

On opening day of the 140th season since the National League was founded, baseball’s following is aging. Its TV audience skews older than that of any other major sport, and across the country, the number of kids playing baseball continues a two-decade-long decline.

The rise and fall of baseball cards(4:10)
After years of increased production and higher pricing in the baseball card industry, collectors are slowly disappearing and stores are feeling the pain. (McKenna Ewen/The Washington Post)

Baseball has been defying predictions of its fall — because of overexpansion, or because of the decline of small-town America, or because Americans soured on nostalgia — since the 1920s. And the game remains the second-most popular sport for kids to play, after basketball. “Baseball is an extraordinarily healthy entertainment product,” Manfred says.

But the pervasive impact of new technologies on how children play and the acceleration of the pace of modern life have conspired against sports in general and baseball in particular.

According to Nielsen ratings, 50 percent of baseball viewers are 55 or older, up from 41 percent 10 years ago. ESPN, which airs baseball, football and basketball games, says its data show the average age of baseball viewers rising well above that of other sports: 53 for baseball, 47 for the NFL (also rising fast) and 37 for the NBA, which has kept its audience age flat.

Young people are not getting into baseball as fans as they once did: For the first time, the ESPN Sports Poll’s annual survey of young Americans’ 30 favorite sports figures finds no baseball players on the list. Adults 55 and older are 11 percent more likely than the overall population to say they have a strong interest in baseball, whereas those in the 18 to 34 age group are 14 percent less likely to report such interest, according to a study by Nielsen Scarborough. Kids ages 6-17 made up 7 percent of the TV audience for postseason games a decade ago; in the past couple of years, that figure is down to 4 percent.

Last fall’s first game of the World Series was the lowest-rated ever, with 12.2 million viewers. Still, in a fragmented media landscape, with some fans forsaking TV to follow sports on their phones, 12 million viewers “is a significant achievement,” says Stephen Master, Nielsen’s senior vice president for sports. As Yogi Berra, the legendary Yankees catcher and philosopher, once said, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”

Baseball’s economic model is different from that of other sports. Its TV audience is primarily local and strong in pockets. In 11 markets where the sport does well — St. Louis, Detroit, Cincinnati and Boston top the list — the home team’s games are the most-watched programs on TV all summer.

And the sport is moving aggressively into digital culture — its mobile app, MLB.com At Bat, is the nation’s most popular sport-specific app, according to Nielsen. But in an era when local identity is taking a back seat to a national digital culture, the sport runs the risk of losing its place in the national conversation.

“If baseball does nothing, they’ll probably stay flat for another 10 years,” says Rich Luker, a psychologist and sports researcher who has run ESPN’s polling for two decades. “But 20 years from now, they’ll be moving to a secondary position in American life, doomed to irrelevance like Tower Records or Blockbuster Video.”

Less likely to ‘have a catch’

On a late March afternoon in the bedroom community of Closter, N.J., with stubborn clumps of snow still standing sentinel against spring, eager parents, some in business suits, squeeze together on a narrow bench inside the Northern Valley Baseball Academy, a gleaming indoor facility staffed by coaches with college and pro experience. Every few minutes, a father or mother sidles over to a coach, eager to boost a boy’s chances.

“He’s a little rusty ’cause he hasn’t been out there with all the snow, but he’s got a good eye,” one father says.

“He just loves baseball,” a mother offers. “He sleeps with his glove.”

The coaches nod and stare across the room to where the boys field grounders. At these Little League tryouts, decisions are being made about which level of ball these kids will play this season. The 41 boys are in first and second grade, and they are bouncing around like pinballs.

“I’m seeing a lot of nervous faces,” Jim Oettinger tells the boys. He is Closter’s recreation commissioner, and he has the clipboard every parent is watching, the scoring sheet that will determine where their sons play. “There’s nothing to be nervous about. Everyone here is going to make a team, so have fun.”

The turnout looks great, but the image is illusory: Until last year, Closter ran its own Little League. So did the neighboring towns of Demarest and Haworth. But a severe decline in the number of kids signing up to play baseball led the towns last year to disband their own leagues and create the Tri-Town Little League — the kind of consolidation that officials at Little League headquarters in Pennsylvania say is happening more and more nationwide.

“We have seen a decline in participation over the past 12 years, 1 or 2 percent every year,” says Patrick Wilson, Little League’s senior vice president of operations. “There is a generation of parents now that don’t have a connection to the game because they didn’t play it themselves, and if you didn’t play, you’re less likely to go out in the back yard and have a catch.”

For many years, Little League detailed youth participation in baseball and softball, but as those numbers declined, from nearly 3 million in the 1990s to 2.4 million two years ago, the organization stopped releasing tallies. A Little League spokesman declined to explain why it no longer puts out those numbers.

The number of kids trying out for the Tri-Town league declined sharply across age groups this spring: Despite the good turnout for first- and second-graders, fewer than half as many fifth- and sixth-graders showed up. Among seventh- and eighth-graders, only 11 boys tried out. Cost is no barrier; the towns pick up the fee.

“If that’s not an indictment, I don’t know what is,” says Mike Tsung, manager of the baseball academy.

The three towns combined now field only one-tenth the number of youth baseball teams that Closter alone had 30 years ago, Oettinger says.

Those who love the game remain deeply passionate, and in affluent northern New Jersey, there are enough such families to support a facility that charges $90 an hour for private coaching. But the academy has had to rent practice space to community soccer leagues — generating considerable whining from some baseball coaches.

‘It’s kind of like fashion’

Starting this week, Major League Baseball will push its millionaire performers to speed up their act. Hoping to catch up to the pace of a generation weaned on instant messaging and real-time video, baseball this season institutes the first clock to be associated with a proudly timeless pursuit — a countdown timer in the outfield that will limit the break between innings to two minutes and 25 seconds, plus a new rule requiring hitters to stay in the batter’s box to trim hitters’ fussing and fidgetingbetween pitches.

“It’s a reflection of the fact that our society’s constantly becoming faster-paced,” says Manfred.

But the commissioner is adamant that there’s no need to alter the basic character of baseball. “It’s kind of like fashion,” he says. “Some people buy really flashy things, and they end up in the discard pile. We are like the kind of clothing that’s classic and stays with you all your life.”

Professional baseball has concluded that if the game can be shaved from last year’s average of three hours and two minutes (compared with 2:33 in 1981), an impatient society may find more to like.

But many of those who study baseball’s appeal say they don’t see evidence that pace is the problem or the solution. Football games are often longer than baseball games, and few complain about their length, says Michael Haupert, an economist at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse who studies the business of baseball. “The problem isn’t the length, but the perception that nothing’s going on in the game.”

Haupert says boosting the game’s offense offers more promise; tweaks such as lowering the pitcher’s mound, limiting defensive shifts and restricting pitching changes are under discussion in pro, college and youth baseball.

But baseball’s troubles have at least as much to do with larger changes in society as with the rules of the game. In a time of rapidly shifting family structure, increased sports specialization and declining local identity, baseball finds itself at odds with social change.

Participation in all sports has dropped by more than 9 percent nationwide over the past five years, according to an annual study by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. Only lacrosse has shown double-digit growth over that period. Baseball participation dropped 3 percent, basketball fell by 2 percent, and football lost 5 percent of its tackle players and 7 percent of touch players. About half of American children do not participate in any team sport.

What’s distinctive about baseball’s decline is that kids leave the sport at a younger age than they fall away from basketball or football, though the dropoff is even steeper for soccer. A primary reason for kids switching out of baseball is rising pressure on youths to specialize in one sport.

Travel teams and other selective, intensive programs — including high-priced showcases and year-round academies — have had strong growth in recent years, as has the Cal Ripken Division of Babe Ruth League, which features a larger field than Little League uses. And some travel leagues have had so much demand that they have started teams for less-advanced players.

But some coaches, parents and researchers say the trend toward specialization has disproportionately hurt baseball. David Ogden, a University of Nebraska at Omaha researcher who focuses on youth baseball, says selective teams produce better-trained players for high school and college teams but diminish baseball’s appeal to the casual player.

The high cost — about $2,000 a year in many cases — limits opportunities for lower-income families, and the high level of play leaves more broad-based organizations such as Little League and YMCA teams with “a lot of kids who can’t get the ball over the plate, so the game is less fun and kids drop out,” Ogden says.

Specialization troubles baseball’s commissioner. “You’re not going to stop the natural funneling that goes on,” Manfred says, “but we’re interested in kids like me, who were not great players. Our goal is to make the pipeline as big as you can in the beginning.”

‘Few had held a glove’

A significant impediment to widening that pipeline to baseball may be the changes that have altered the structure of American families.

In a 15-year study of 10,000 youth baseball players, Ogden found that the sport is drawing a more affluent, suburban and white base than it once did. In another study he conducted, 95 percent of college baseball players were raised in families with both biological parents at home — at a time when only 46 percent of Americans 18 and younger have grown up in that traditional setting.

“We’re looking at a generation who didn’t play catch with their dads,” Ogden says, “and that’s at the core of the chasm between baseball and African Americans. Kids are just not being socialized into the game.”

The proportion of black players in the major leagues has fallen from 19 percent in 1986 to 8 percent last year. Ogden found that blacks make up only 2.6 percent of baseball players on Division I college teams.

Latinos, on the other hand, are both the fastest-growing component of major league rosters and an expanding part of the fan base; Hispanics are more likely than whites or African Americans to be avid baseball fans, according to Luker’s analysis of ESPN polling data.

Last winter, the Washington Nationals opened a youth baseball academy in the Fort Dupont section of Southeast, where 108 elementary students get after-school academic instruction as well as baseball training on three fields and in a state-of-the-art indoor facility. Similar programs are launching in other major league cities, and Manfred says the sport is investing in other programs to lure African Americans and others who feel disconnected from the game.

Visiting the new academy this winter, Manfred said, “The single most important thing for our game is getting kids to play.”

Later, in his 31st-story conference room overlooking New York’s Grand Central Terminal, Manfred recalled his own, more traditional introduction to the game: “When I was 10, my father took the time to drive me from Rome, N.Y., for a weekend full of Yankee baseball, and that made me a lifelong fan.”

Hardly anyone at the Nationals academy has had that kind of experience. The students arrive enthusiastic but with “knowledge of the game that is minimal at best,” says Tal Alter, 39, the facility’s executive director. “Very few had held a glove or bat before. But it’s not a lack of interest, more a lack of resources. Baseball does require a lot of resources — parent volunteers, equipment, fields. Our job is to make up for that gap.”

Last week, the Nationals began giving away team uniforms to all 4,500 Little League players in the city, to build the team’s brand and ease the financial burden of playing. But for many kids, the barriers are as much social and cultural as financial.

DeAndre Walker, 22, teaches and coaches at the academy and wishes he’d had such a place to go to when he was little. “A place to come and feel safe,” he says. “This here was a field of rocks when I was coming up, all dirt and rocks.” Walker fell for baseball in second grade even as his friends were into basketball and football.

“I was kind of like the outcast,” he says. In middle and high school, Walker had to spend hours persuading track and football players to sign up for baseball, too, so the school might reach the threshold for fielding a team.

“It would take not a miracle, but some convincing, because baseball’s looked at kind of like a taboo. To them, it’s a white sport. White kids learned it from their fathers. I never knew my dad. Your dad gets you your first glove, your first bat. My mother didn’t care if I went to practice on time.”

The commissioner, researchers and coaches all see the transmission of baseball fever relying heavily on the father-son dynamic, whereas other sports are often taught in school or by peers. “If somebody doesn’t teach you the art of hitting, which takes a very long time and usually has to happen at an early age, you’re not going to learn the game,” Argenziano says.

Walker says his friends eschew baseball because it’s too quiet, too reserved. Baseball coaches often note that the same celebratory on-field behavior that can help an NBA or NFL player become a fan favorite could get a batter beaned in baseball.

“Baseball has no LeBron James, who doesn’t take [guff] from anybody,” says John McCarthy, who runs Home Run Baseball Camp in upper Northwest Washington and has worked for years to revive baseball in the inner city. “Baseball has a very conservative culture where you don’t draw attention to yourself. You play every day, so you have to get along. Baseball’s culture is less celebratory, and that’s a problem for a lot of kids today.”

‘We’re not going back’

Manfred learned baseball in what he recalls as “Mayberry,” an idyllic small-town environment where kids played backyard catch with their fathers, where the grass had base paths worn into the turf, where errant Wiffle balls dotted the garden like so many bulbs awaiting spring.

But the commissioner is clear: “We’re not going back to the ’60s. Society has changed. The days when your parents sent you off to the park for eight hours and didn’t worry about you are gone.”

Baseball has lived for the better part of a century on its unchanging character, its role as a bond between generations, its identity as a quintessentially American game that features a one-on-one faceoff of individual skills tucked inside a team sport. Can a game with deliberation and anticipation at its heart thrive in a society revved up for nonstop action and scoring?

Baseball officials are confident that the game, which overcame a serious drop in attendance in the 1950s, will endure. Young people are often eager to express different passions and values from their parents, but so far at least, each new generation has returned to the fields of its fathers.

The answer this time will come from kids such as Austin Albericci, the New Jersey teen who dropped baseball to focus on football, the boy who, to his father’s disappointment, doesn’t sit with his dad and watch Yankees games like they used to.

Austin has put baseball aside for now, but he figures he may return to the game someday. “If I ever have a son, he’ll definitely have to try baseball,” he says. “Because my father loved baseball. That means something.”

Source: Fisher, Marc. “Baseball Is Struggling to Hook Kids – and Risks Losing Fans to Other Sports.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 05 Apr. 2015. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.


Adult Roles in Youth Sports

By PAUL WRIGHT

Unfortunately, we’ve gotten used to hearing about scandals in the world of professional sport, but recently professional scandals took a backseat to one from Little League Baseball.

I’m not going to focus on the Chicago story or the boys on that team who did nothing wrong. I want to talk about what I expect from the adults who run youth sport programs.

A lot of problems in youth sport start with adults modeling it after professional sport. In some programs, the competition is too intense, the training is too intense, and even the fans are too intense.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big advocate of youth sport. It can help kids develop physically, socially, and emotionally. It’s a place where they can learn about working hard, playing fair, losing gracefully AND winning gracefully. Oh, and I almost forgot – it should be fun! We’re talking about children playing games, right?

Unfortunately, children can learn negative lessons from sport, like “it’s only wrong if you get caught” and “winning is everything”.

The lessons and values children get from sport depend on the adults in the situation.

Administrators who run organizations, coaches on the fields, and parents in the stands need to understand that the purpose of youth sport isn’t to boost their own personal glory, it’s the healthy, positive development of children.

When the adults in charge commit to putting kids first, wonderful things happen in sport programs. So why don’t we let the kids “play ball” and leave the scandals to the pros.

I’m Paul Wright, and that’s my perspective.

Source: Wright, Paul. “Adult Roles in Youth Sports.” Adult Roles in Youth Sports. N.p., 05 Mar. 2015. Web. 05 Mar. 2015.