I've seen a disturbing thing (for a baseball fan) at the local little league field near my home. On a daily basis there are about twenty 10-12 year old boys practicing lacrosse on the baseball field. When I was 10 years old, almost 30 years ago, we fought over baseball fields to play BASEBALL!
I have nothing against lacrosse. It is an excellent fast-paced sport. This of course, may be the difference for today's youth. Baseball is a methodical sport. In our fast-paced world, baseball goes against the grain of instant satisfaction.
My concern, despite recent growth, is that baseball's youth participation rate will fail to keep up with lacrosse. US Lacrosse reports in its annual survey that youth participation (under age 15) grew by 10% in 2010. Overall youth participation in the sport has grown by over 159% since 2001. According to National Sporting Goods Association's 2010 survey, baseball enjoyed an annual increase of 8.9% in 2010, but is still down a total of 15.7% since 2001.
So how do we pass along to our children our love of the game? For one, we can not rely on Major League Baseball alone. MLB has made numerous changes each season with the intent of speeding up the game. In some cases it has worked, but baseball is never going to be fast-paced. Sure, teams can provide entertainment at the park to fill in the gaps, but this will not encourage participation.
We need to invest time to teach children why we love the game. Wear your favorite player's jersey. Kids will ask, "What does that say"? Then talk with them about your love of the game. Tell them stories about how you became interested in the game. Show them pictures or video of you or a relative playing at a young age. Kids are usually very interested about what their parents/relatives did when we were their age.
Bring them to the local little league park and watch PART of a game with them. They'll better relate to other children playing the game and be more receptive if they are not forced to sit through an entire game. ASK them if they want to play at home with you. If they answer yes, then you can start to teach them the fundamentals, but keep it light and fun. Don't make it stressful for them. This is an important thing for parents to understand. If they don't want to learn, don't force the issue. They will either come around or not, but forcing the game upon them is counterproductive.
If they begin to play competitively, take them to minor league games and show them how these young adults are fighting for their dreams. Put things in perspective for them. Teach them that we have to work hard to reach our dreams. When they have shown more than general interest in the game, bring them to a major league ballpark. They will be in awe of the differences between a minor league and major league stadium. Explain to tell them that it takes plenty of practice, determination and some luck to get this far.
Relate the game to other aspects of life as they get older and can appreciate the lesson. Tell your children that is OK to fail, but to remain determined. Explain to them that there is not a prize for everything (even though they will undoubtedly receive a "Participant" trophy at some point). If baseball taught me anything about life, it is that you can expect failure a good amount of the time. Going 3 for 10 is considered above average in baseball. By all means introduce your kids to as many sports as you want and can. Selfishly, my hope is that I'll drive by the little league field and see baseball being played, not lacrosse.