I have seen significant changes to how youth baseball has been "taught" in the U.S. since the 1960s. And the change hasn't been positive. I didn't say "coached" because coaching refers to strategy and competition. The concentration of youth baseball today must be on skill development, rules understanding, and team play. We need teaching coaches to concentrate on these areas because today's players show deficiencies here—more so than previous generations.
When people of my era started playing baseball, it was the most popular sport in America and engrained in our culture. There were many different forms that helped improve individual skills: fast pitch, whiffle ball, ledge, penner, or just throwing pop-ups to yourself.
And we didn't need parents to organize these activities. We called our friends who would call their friends. We threw off walls or our house steps. We had games with whoever was around and made up our own rules. We became better players by thinking and playing baseball every day. Plus, we learned the game by watching baseball on television or going to major league games if we were lucky enough to get tickets.
Most youth players in America today lack the knowledge and experience that we had because they have more options to take up their free time and they therefore have varied interests.
By not spending more time practicing, playing, or watching baseball, our kids are lagging behind kids from other countries in skill development and general baseball knowledge. Why do Latin American players dominate professional baseball? In most cases, playing baseball is the only sport available for kids to participate, and, by playing constantly, they progress quickly.
Can we and should we go back in time to help our youth rediscover the magic of baseball? How can we, as teachers and coaches, make the game relevant and necessary for players who get distracted and sidetracked easily?
We have to show kids what made us love baseball, and pass along that love. That's the challenge we want to take on.