Little League Baseball turned 75 years of age this year, and the anniversary had shone a media spotlight on the organization even before a hard-throwing female pitcher stole the show at the Little League World Series last month.
Little League’s veteran CEO Steve Keener gave Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal (Aug. 4-10) the same words we’ve said often to ourselves about school-sponsored sports. He said: “. . . our mission today is the same as it was 75 years ago. We just have to find different ways to tell the story . . .”
One of Little League’s responses to this challenge parallels our own. In the words of Sports Business Journal, Little League “has turned its website into a vast resource” for league administrators’ tools, for coaches education and for parents.
Like school sports, Little League has different parents today than years ago. “For them, the youth sports fields aren’t so much a destination as a path;” and they need help navigating the pressures from instructors selling lessons, travel leagues promising exposure to college recruiters and professional scouts, and coaches of other sports who threaten that without year-round specialization, the “next level” will be beyond their child’s reach.
Like school sports, Little League still preaches the benefits and encourages multi-sport participation; but Little League has succumbed to pressure and now offers a fall program in addition to its late spring and summer program. Keener explained to Sports Business Journal: “. . . leagues were going to offer a program in the fall with Little League or without it, so he’d prefer they be subject to the same oversight as they are in the traditional season. ‘We offer it because we can’t stop it,’ Keener said. ‘We can’t make it go away. So we have to live with it and manage it.’ ”
We have often talked about taking a similar approach to summer basketball, 7-on-7 football and other programming that is currently outside the quality control that some school administrators and coaches think is needed.