The 2024 American Baseball Coaches Association annual convention took place earlier this month, and, as always, there were impactful messages about baseball at all levels. For those that are not familiar with the ABCA, this is an organization founded by collegiate baseball coaches in 1945 to represent and support all amateur baseball coaches.The convention focuses on the sharing of ideas – from rules discussion and changes, to coach instruction, to trends and research at all levels of the game. The topics in the various ballrooms throughout the convention were fascinating and very applicable to the operations at the MBL and our MBL communities.
In recent years, as the number of youth baseball coaches in attendance has risen, the ABCA convention added a slate of Youth meetings and speakers. This year’s round-tables were excellent! The discussion really hit home for everyone at the MBL. Three topics that were featured at the opening Youth meeting were changes in participation, challenges with coach education and training, and identifying some common goals for youth player development. Keep in mind: these are trends and topics coming from the national level, with coaches and leaders sharing their thoughts from across the country.
Community-Based Baseball Continues to Thrive
Participation in youth baseball nationally is estimated to be down more than 20 percent since 2019, according to the Aspen Institute’s Project Play initiative – but Minnesota and the Upper Midwest are bucking this trend! While the data over the past five years shows a decrease in participation, we are not nearly at the levels the rest of the country is facing. In fact, we are basically holding steady. We couldn’t help but think about why this is the case. What’s different about baseball in our part of the country? One major difference is the commitment to community-based baseball by families and the leadership in our communities. This commitment helps keep baseball affordable at the youth level, as well as limits travel to and from games and practices. This is a major difference between community baseball and club baseball. Nationally, club baseball is the dominant offering.
Coaching Education a Priority for the MBL
Another major talking point at the ABCA was coach education. This aligns exactly with what we have been hearing at our MBL community meetings this off-season. Who is coaching the coaches? What resources and assistance are available to them? Much was made of the USA Baseball coaching app, which has hundreds of drills and articles available for free. The MBL is committed to helping coaches in a variety of ways. We are developing a coach resource center on the MBL site, adding social media posts specifically for coaches, and exploring tools available through the ABCA and other outlets. As a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization, the MBL believes coach instruction is a great place to devote charitable dollars. We are excited for what lies ahead on this front!
Player Development and Having Fun are What the MBL is About!
Lastly, the importance of player development over game results is something national leaders believe in. The MBL could not be more in agreement. There is a strong distaste for the “win-at-all-cost” coach, at all amateur levels. Looking at ways to combat this, national leadership is focusing on coach education and better defining the goals of youth baseball. One speaker defined his goal as “to create more 90-foot baseball players.” He was pointing out that participation numbers tend to drop even more when kids reach an age where they play on regulation-sized ballfields, and he wants his players to enjoy the game and be prepared to play the game when the field expands. The bottom line is that the MBL and all our members need to continue teaching our coaches that having fun and player development rank much higher than win-loss records in terms of importance.