Megan BartlettChief Program Officer Up2Us Sports - When you live in Boston, there are a few constants of summer that are hard to imagine ever changing: weekends on Cape Cod, lobster rolls, complaining about the humidity and the Red Sox. In fact, just this weekend with the Yankees in town, all eyes were turned to Fenway, despite the fact that the Red Sox are having what might be called a less than stellar first half of the season. As a baseball fan, I can’t imagine a summer without the Red Sox. But as an advocate for youth sports, I know that my summer staple might soon disappear.
According to Major League Baseball (MLB), participation in youth baseball is on the decline, falling more than 7% between 2011-2012. In particular, kids in underserved urban communities are staying away. Fewer kids playing means fewer future professional baseball players and fewer future fans.
The good news is that MLB is taking this situation seriously.
One of the first things that Commissioner Manfred did upon taking office was launch One Baseball, an initiative aimed at getting more players into two baseball pipelines: one that leads to better baseball players and one that leads to lifelong fandom.What’s great about both of these outcomes is that to get there, we have to start with kids who love baseball. And getting kids to love their sport, and learn important lessons from that sport, is what Up2Us Sports is all about. That’s why we’ve partnered with MLB’s Revitalizing Baseball in the Inner-City (RBI) initiative- to get more kids to play, love and learn from baseball and softball.
First, Up2Us Sports is placing trained, paid coaches through Coach Across America in RBI programs around the country. These coaches help RBI programs reach out to new kids, support the training of existing volunteer coaches, and are setting the tone for a new way to teach baseball - one that focuses on having fun, developing baseball and life skills, and building relationships that will keep kids coming back year after year.
Second, Up2Us Sports offered a series of workshops to league administrators on creative strategies for changing the game of baseball to appeal to and retain more young people. Co-facilitated by Edgework Consulting and Boston University’s Institute for Athletic Coach Educations, the workshops leveraged the creative power of more than 200 RBI league administrators to make baseball more appealing and fun. This means leveraging the opportunity to develop efficacy through skill-building, and changing the rules to make the game more active and engaging for every player (including the ones in right field who might not otherwise get a lot of action). For more on the workshop, check out this blog.
Third, Up2Us Sports is working directly with teams around the country to put a stake in the ground that says that youth baseball coaches can and should be the best of the best when it comes to developing players and people. With the Miami Marlins, we’ve partnered on a city-wide initiative to offer a sports-based youth development certification to youth sports coaches in Miami and Miami Gardens. The Washington Nationals Urban Youth Academy has been host to Coach Across America coaches for years, making a commitment to quality coaches in their programs. Additionally, we’ve helped the City of Chicago’s Park and Recreation system evaluate and improve their summer baseball and softball leagues.
Raising the quality of coaches in the RBI programs will go a long way towards developing the quality of baseball players and the pool of lifelong fans. Kids who have a good experience playing baseball or softball will want to keep playing. Kids who keep playing will get better at the sport and grow to love it even more. Well-trained coaches create the environment in which this growth and love for the game can happen. By investing in coach-mentors, RBI is taking a huge step towards making sure that baseball remains a fixture of summer. Now, if only it weren’t so humid.