One of the measures of the health of a sport is youth participation. As times change and there is more competition for kids’ time, how can you keep them invested in a sport like baseball, which has complex rules and proficiencies? Major League Baseball (MLB) is taking a close look at baseball in America, particularly among young people. Recent measurements show that the number of 6-18 year-olds playing baseball dropped 7% from 2008-2012, and MLB attendance rates overall are down 8% from 2008. While attendance rates have plateaued for several years, they have never fully recovered to the attendance rates of 2007 and 2008.
To combat these declines, MLB looked to their Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, a sports based youth development program designed to get more young people in urban areas involved with baseball. They wanted to know how they could keep baseball exciting for kids today, while at the same time keeping true to the values that make baseball so special.
To do this, MLB and the RBI program looked to Sports System re-Design (SSrD) – taking what we know about baseball and challenging those truths. How could we make baseball more appealing to young people? What could we change about the structure of youth baseball to help keep kids engaged? In the quest to find these answers, Edgework Consulting, in partnership with Up2Us and the Boston University Institute for Athletic Coach Education, joined over one hundred RBI program administrators and coaches across the nation to brainstorm how best to use sports based youth development to bring baseball back to cities. As a group, we looked at five areas where baseball could stretch to make the game as healthy and appealing as possible:
- Skill Development
- Physical Activity
Everyone at the conference had their own idea of what “baseball” is - the traditions and elements that are essential to the most hallowed of American sports. But we also challenged some of these assumptions and asked: if our intention is to preserve baseball for later, how can we re-design it for kids to help show them what makes it great? Here are a few of the ideas that really stood out to us.
- Have coaches in left and right field to hit balls to the outfielders in between at-bats
- Six batters per inning, every inning, regardless of outs
- Change the scoring system so there are points for fielding
- Change from 9v9 to 6v6
- Time transitions from the dugout to the field, and award points for the faster club
- Teams must have a minimum number of boys and girls on each team
- Reverse the direction of the bases so first base becomes third and third becomes first
- Rotate positions after each inning
- No strikeouts
- Every team makes the playoffs
- Smaller fields for younger players – everyone gets the chance to hit a homerun
- Nine players per roster so everyone gets to play all the time
- Make the games shorter
For each proposed change there was an intended outcome, but many had secondary outcomes as well. If you eliminate strikeouts for younger players, they will learn more about the mechanics of a good swing – a skill development. At the same time it can boost retention as fewer players get discouraged from a night with no hits. And if you make each roster capped at nine, it increases the inclusion as more players get a chance to hit, but it also boosts physical activity from the extra innings each player plays.
Of course not all these rule changes could be implemented – especially as some would contradict each other, but through Sport System re-Design (SSrD), MLB was able to have an honest, thoughtful conversation about their game and what about it they want younger generations to enjoy. While you can use SSrD to target a number of outcomes, MLB looked to use it to boost baseball’s long-term prospects. More kids playing baseball now, means a greater talent pool later, and more fans for life.
This is part of Edgework Consulting’s Sports Based Youth Development series. Each Sports Based Youth Development post is designed to enlighten and inspire new thoughts in the youth sports world. For more entries in the series click here.