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Many kids have no interest in playing baseball as they enter into their adolescence years. Two million kids, ages 5-12, play Little League, but only 240,000 kids’ age’s 13-18 play, according to Little League Baseball spokesman Christopher Downs. One has to ask themselves ‘what happened during the early years in contrast to the later years?’ According to Downs, he says their organization is working on retaining older players and on involving teenagers in other ways, as volunteer coaches and umpires, but nothing definitive clearly explains this situation.
I’m certain we can all agree that there are a number of reasons kids don't want to play baseball but it all falls under one umbrella… if it's not fun they don’t want to play. Again, we must consider the personality and age of the player. A high school pitcher may think its fun to practice as hard as he can in order to be successful. The competition of it all is what makes it fun and kids recognize this. For younger kids the competition isn't as important. They are more interested in the action and excitement of playing. Winning and losing most often means a lot more to the coach and parents than it does to the kids.
Kids love learning new skills. Just watch the joy of a child making contact for the first time or catching a ball for the first time. As their skill level improves, the challenges must also increase. If they are not challenged they will lose interest.
Now giving Downs and today’s kids the benefit of the doubt, maybe it's inevitable that kids' priorities change as they mature. They have more homework, new social lives, hormones, and many may have lack of discipline to put in long hours of practice for the love of the game. In addition, is it fun cleaning up the baseball field? Yup!!! In baseball, as in softball, players of the home team are responsible for the basic up-keep of the field. Sure, they are not out there cutting grass and applying fertilizers, or at least I hope not, but they are chalking the lines, picking up and putting down the bases, raking the dirty, etc…
Secondly, ask yourself, which sport do you actually get fan participation at this level? Not baseball! If a kid plays multiple sports, they begin to recognize which sport gets more fans and attention. Not to mention, as a child enters middle school they are often able to start specializing in one sport versus another, rather than alternating with the seasons.
From this, I visited www.Kiwibox.com, a social networking site for teens and 20-something's, and asked ‘why kids do not play baseball in high school?’ and ‘how many baseball (softball) games have you attended?’ From this, I received a number of interesting responses:
“Baseball is so slow.” Detroit, MI
“I occasionally go watch my cousin play but most of the time I’m doing homework in the stands.” Silver Springs, MD
“Baseball doesn’t do well up here with our weather climate. In most cases the weather is worst during their season than during football when it should be bad.” Milwaukee, WI
“None.” Raleigh, NC
“I’ve attended two games but I don’t’ stay the entire time.” Houston, TX
Rick McBride, who blogs about coaching at www.TheLittleLeagueCoach.com, says the best thing adults can do to keep teenagers playing "is to keep the game fun and simple. Notice I didn't say 'noncompetitive,' just inviting and friendly. Kids want to be part of something, they need to belong and be accepted. It is up to us as adults to create welcoming environments where they are not chastised or ridiculed. If they are not superstars, they can be encouraged, and positive reinforcement will build character and self-confidence."
Don’t get me wrong, baseball does have its positive attributes: it’s truly a sport that promotes team work and good work ethic, as well as good social skills. Baseball also puts an emphasis on fitness. Before every practice and/or game, the kids have to stretch their unused muscles as well as jog (sprint) to open their lungs (cardio).
And the icing on the cake is if they have a good coach, they can learn as much about life as they do about the game.
It is important as a coach and parent that you realize that there are a variety of reasons that kids play. Making sure that your approach matches the desires of the players is essential in providing them with a rewarding season. Finding out what motives your child, and the players on your team, will help you develop a plan for the season that fits in with their desires.
Now I don’t want to paint all kids with a broad brush and I do recognize that kids are different and participate in sports for a variety of reasons, but the fact still remains baseball is loosing its luster, and I think we have to find a common ground to resolve this issue. Maybe it’s time for Major League Baseball to get involved because if kids don’t play today there will not be a league for tomorrow.
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