by kevin uhles
The decline of youth participating in baseball leagues has drastically declined in the United States over the past ten years. According to the National Sporting Goods Association participation has declined 31.1% in children seven to eleven years old and declined 35.9% in youth ages twelve to seventeen with all participation being down 17.3%.
Though there are more leagues today then ever before, youth baseball is still on decline. But what is the difference between the Babe Ruth League, Pony Baseball, American Legion, USSA Baseball, or even Little League? The answer is simple, the rules and level of competition. I believe the extreme pressure put on youth to specialize in a sport has driven many who simply do not have the skill level to compete at an elite level to just stop playing the game all together.
Though there is success for many who get together and travel the country playing in elite tournaments, the number of youth who have that skill is limited, thus the overall participation in baseball and other youth sports declining. (Ripken Jr) In many cases our society has put more emphasis on winning then teaching values, promoting positive ideas, or fostering community.
Youth sports should be a microcosm for life. What this means is that the league is creating an atmosphere and community where it’s participants are learning just as much about life as they are about attaining skills that allow them to be competitive. (Fine) This does not mean the league cannot be competitive or in touch with culture, it just means their values have every child’s best interest at stake, not just the elite and standout athletes. (Harris)
A great example of this is Little League Baseball. Little League is the largest youth baseball program in the world even though it’s built around fair play and teamwork. According to LittleLeague.org, there are more than two hundred thousand Little League teams in fifty states and growing around the world. As many know, the Little League World Series is televised yearly through their partnership with ABC/ESPN. At the LLWS, video replay is utilized mostly to appeal to the television audience. They do it quickly with an average review time of 52 seconds; this is from the time the umpire or coach requests video replay, to the decision from the reviewing official. Little League is staying true to its mission but also taking steps to appeal to more people while making sound business decisions.
Please do not misunderstand my argument and think I am arguing against competition; my argument is this, elite competition does not appeal to every kid, and since youth sports are becoming more and more competitive, the lack of appeal has been seen in the form of children and families choosing not to participate. This is just one of many factors for the decline, but if youth sports are not a place where life-lessons are taught in a fun atmosphere, leagues will continue to not appeal to the average family, and youth participation will continue to decline.