It is a shame to hear that fewer Coastside kids are playing Little League baseball and in the Half Moon Bay Girls Softball League. Generations of local kids have learned the value of fair play, enjoyed the benefits of healthy exercise and created lifetime friendships by participating in two of our premier youth sports leagues.
There is likely no single reason for dwindling participation in these leagues. There may be many reasons, some perfectly understandable. There also may be things that parents and league administrators can do to convince young players of the value of playing competitive sports, primarily for the fun of it, close to home.
In many ways, little has changed in the 50 years since the Half Moon Bay Little League splintered from the Pacifica league. About 300 people gathered at Smith Field on a June day in 1969 for those first four games. Volunteers manned the snack bar. The mayor spoke, and Boy Scout Troop 263 raised the flag for the national anthem. Virtually the same scenario will play out on Saturday at Smith Field.
While those of us who remember fondly the dusty fields of our youth find Little League opening day cause for celebration, it’s clear that many kids don’t share that thrill.
For starters, there are many more diversions in 2019 than there were in 1969. In 2017, the Aspen Institute studied youth sports for its Project Play initiative designed to promote greater participation in American youth sports. It found that nearly 4 million American kids between the ages of 6 and 12 play baseball on teams, down about 10 percent from a decade earlier. The numbers were down even more for tackle football (though some of that loss in participation was absorbed by an increase in flag football) and for soccer as well. In 2017, nearly 10 percent fewer kids in the age range reported playing soccer regularly than in the previous year.
But such changes miss a wider truth. Fifty years ago, most American kids didn’t have the choice to play lacrosse or indoor volleyball. Kids in 1969 had television, of course, but personal computers were still a fantasy. Today 91 percent of kids play video games, often for more than an hour a day. While that may not be a bad thing in itself, it is clearly not a good thing for Little League and local softball leagues.
Parents and league officials can help get their kids off the couch and on the diamonds. For starters, they can stop promoting the idea that their cherubs will one day be in the major leagues if only they focus on one sport year-round. One survey found that .02 percent of Little Leaguers play so much as one inning in the major leagues. Your kid will not be Bryce Harper. Relatedly, adults can make youth sports less stressful and more fun. Stop yelling at the umpire and don’t stress out about the score.
It’s worth noting how the Review treated the results of those first Half Moon Bay Little League games. “Following are the scores for the games played on the first day of the season,” the Review reported. “Coastside Jaycees 14, Cunha Jets 1, HMB Firehouse 9, Kent’s Grocery 1, HMB Lions 5, Sam’s Market 1, Patio Panthers 3, Coastside Market 0.”
Just who played whom seemed to be immaterial, as was any individual performance. We’re guessing everyone who played had a great time.