A Schism in Youth Baseball and its Lingering Effects: A Case Study of One Community’s Experience

Richard M. DeMarco, University of St. Thomas

Abstract

This case study explored the experience of parent coaches in an urban, Midwestern youth baseball setting. Data collection included personal communication with fifteen expert coaches, along with an examination of historical emails, league records and newspaper articles. The initial research questions focused on how coaches create meaning for youth sport participants. However, a schism event and its effects emerged as a significant theme, along with the resulting challenges faced by Little League coaches. The Little League organization operated as the sole option for youth baseball since 1951. In 2001, an alternative “Traveling” option began competing with

Little League by branding itself as “competing at the highest level of competition.” Little

League symbolically became a “recreational” option, inconsistent with the myth of the

Little League World Series. This increasingly competitive context made the job of a Little League coach more difficult. Participants discussed managing perceived favoritism and balancing the objectives of “competing” and “having fun” as the top challenges, and identified the attributes of an effective coach as relating to others, managing talent and leveraging rules. A dynamic coaching model emerged with four coach types, differentiated by baseball intelligence and talent management skills. Findings suggest additional research on the value of a child committing to a single sport, how to improve youth coach recruiting and development, and to better understand the business of youth sports.