Participation In Youth Baseball Grows Again As LLWS Begins
The ’19 Little League World Series begins today amid another year in which baseball participation at the youth level showed growth, according to three independent sources that collect data on youth sports participation. MLB Exec VP/Baseball & Softball Development Tony Reagins said, “There are still kids playing the game, which is important.” The annual Topline Participation Report produced by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association indicates that 29.3% of all boys in the U.S., between the ages of 6-12, participate in baseball, which exceeds every other team sport. Meanwhile, baseball and softball combine to have the most amount of youth participants in the 6-12 age group, according to the Aspen Institute “State of Play” Trending and Development Report. Additionally, the ‘19 National Sporting Goods Association Sports Participation in the U.S. Report showed that baseball bucked the trend of overall flat youth sports participation (+0.3%) from ’17-18 with an increase of +2.0% in participation among youth, ages 7-17. On what baseball has done to achieve this growth, Reagins said, “We’ve done well connecting with fans at a younger age through YouTube, through Facebook, through Twitter. Doing those things -- I think we’ve done a lot better job than we’ve done in the past.”
PLAY BALL: Baseball has seen a 21% growth in both casual and core participation in the sport since ‘15, which more than quadruples the growth percentage of the second closest sport (basketball at +4%) and reflects four consecutive years of growth, according to the Topline Report. In that same timeframe, casual participation in baseball has risen 52.8%, in direct correlation to the launch of MLB’s Play Ball initiative. With the program, MLB has gone into communities that it has not traditionally gone into before. “We’re just creating an opportunity to play baseball and softball, and not just traditionally. So, not with 18 players and an umpire. It’s about going out and having fun playing the game, whether that be just playing catch or homerun derby or pickle -- it’s just playing baseball organically and being connected to the sport,” said Reagins. Play Ball also provides digital resources to both parents and coaches. An interactive map online aids parents who can plug in their zip code and see leagues that exist near them. There is also the mobile coaching app, where coaches can find lesson plans and identify the best ways to teach.
CALLING OUT: To address youth sports participation rates in the U.S., ESPN earlier this month launched its “Don’t Retire, Kid” campaign in partnership with MLB and the Aspen Institute’s Project Play. The campaign aims to point out parents and other adults who levy pressure and intensity on children’s shoulders, forcing them to burn out and lose interest. Reagins said that the role of parents in youth sports should be simple. “Education. I think that’s extremely important. Health and safety is No. 2. And just being a good parent and a good supporter. A lot of times, what we’ve seen is that parents can sometimes live vicariously through the player. I think what’s really important is that we allow our young people to be young people. And let them have fun playing the game,” he said. Reagins added, “Parents need to be parents and kids need to be kids.”