A Discussion with Three of the MLB World Series Contenders
October 26, 2021
Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has frequently reflected on the importance of youth sports development through equal access to baseball and softball experiences, “The single biggest determinant of whether a kid becomes a baseball fan for life is whether or not they play.”
There are many league-wide initiatives designed to encourage participation at all levels of the sport, including casual play through the PLAYBALL program and the Pitch, Hit and Run competition that will culminate at the World Series.
Yet, the future of the sport will be built locally. It will begin with youth sports development programs run by thousands of dynamic leaders in communities across the country. As we approach this year’s Fall Classic—the pinnacle of any MLB season—the teams who captured our attention in the League Championship Series each uniquely embody how the sport’s present investments in youth development will forever define its future.
LeagueApps took a moment to celebrate their postseason successes and get the perspectives on local youth development from:
- Danielle Bedasse: director, community affairs & executive director of the Atlanta Braves Foundation
- Mick Blume: program specialist at the Red Sox Foundation
- Sean Mulligan: manager of youth programs at the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation
Connecting Youth Sports Development Efforts to MLB
- We had a banner year in our youth sports development efforts, with more than 400 youth engaged in our Braves RBI Summer League, another 250 through our partnership with City of Atlanta Parks and Recreation, and 1,500 + in our RBI Affiliate program presented by NIKE. We sent two RBI teams to the RBI World Series this year, the Sr. Girls Softball team coming in second and the Jr. Boys winning it all. We had a Jennie Finch Empowerment Award Winner this year in our Sr. Girls softball team and have started a nice pipeline of kids coming through our programs getting exposure to collegiate and major league scouts. Our RBI Fall Development program presented by NIKE has 180 high school-aged kids accessing Major League level training 2 nights a week for eight weeks this fall. As the Braves have advanced in the playoffs, we have been able to host many of our youth and coaches thanks to the generosity of NIKE, and they have been as excited to cheer us on as we are to celebrate their successes.” — Bedasse, Brave
- With Boston being such a great sports town, our community definitely comes together to cheer on their teams. Since our youth are no longer in-season during the Sox playoff run, we’ve turned to our virtual platforms to keep them engaged in baseball throughout all of the excitement of playing late into October. One thing we’ve done is create a Postseason Playbook. The playbook takes some of the great moments the Sox have had this postseason and aligns them with drills that youth can do at home or at a local field. Seeing a perfect relay throw from Kike and Bogaertsto throw a player out at home in the Wild Card game, we knew we had a drill the players could use to ‘replay’ that in their backyard. Or, seeing Christian Arroyo drop down a perfect sacrifice bunt in a big situation against the Rays, we knew we could provide a drill for our kids that could help them do the same. We’re hoping to be able to continue to add more as the Postseason continues. — Blume, Red Sox
- Dodger fans are arguably the most loyal and dedicated fanbase in all of MLB and when they’re playing well, it really brings a sense of pride to the city. The fanbase is full of families who pass down their love of the Dodgers from one generation to the next. Having youth watch the Dodger players support each other through the ups and downs of the MLB Postseason, I believe, helps them understand how important supporting your teammates and team chemistry truly is. Because the youth look up to the players as role models, having them see those qualities amongst the players will help teach them the importance of teamwork and never giving up.” — Mulligan, Dodgers
The Lifelong Benefits of Playing Sports
- Given the economic impact of travel baseball on our sport, we have made a concerted effort to create high-quality, affordable opportunities for play in communities that are often overlooked or outpriced by the movement to high-cost tournaments and travel clubs. We decided that we could find a niche in focusing our efforts on player development including not only the skills needed to play competitively but also game acumen and character development while ensuring a fun and safe environment and plenty of opportunities for exposure. We have focused on capacity building for local associations with great leaders, on high-quality accessible facilities and equipment, access to technology, and cool uniforms. We have created opportunities for sessions on health and wellbeing, coaching clinics, college prep, and added performance measurement with Rapsodo for real-time feedback. Focusing on access and equity ensures that we are reaching a broader cohort of kids with an interest in baseball and softball. — Bedasse, Braves
- Baseball and softball are amazing sports that can offer long-term physical, academic, and social-emotional benefits for youth who are physically active and have a positive role model in their life. Knowing this, we’ve invested a lot into our coach training to ensure coaches throughout New England are getting training from some of the best-in-class organizations. Those trainings are crafted to ensure we connect on key topics that fuel success for our youth. We’ve also put a number of resources up on our online platforms for both coaches and players that showcase some incredible resources in player and character development. — Blume, Red Sox
- It all boils down to the way we help train our coaches and support the parents in our program. We are so lucky to have an amazing group of volunteers supporting our program. Research clearly shows the importance of adult role models in the lives of youth. The more tools and resources we can provide to them in terms of Sports Based Youth Development, will give them skills way beyond what you see on the baseball and softball field. We want the youth to develop not only on the field, but in the classroom, at home—and beyond. Mulligan, Dodgers
How Data and Tech Has Changed Youth Sports Development Programs
- Our use of data and technology has evolved immensely over the past three years, beginning with the incorporation of LeagueApps for league management. In 2020, we incorporated Rapsodo, offering the technology to 10 HBCU partners as well as our RBI program. That real-time feedback and access to relevant reporting for scouts has been game-changers. Using data and innovative technology allows our programs to excel and provide the highest quality instruction to our youth athletes. — Bedasse, Braves
- Technology is always changing, and over the past few years, we’ve leaned into using data and technology to really help us understand our community and achieve our goals. LeagueApps is at the center of our program because of the ability to collect registrations, host schedules, accumulate data, message groups, and so much more. The platform allows us to better prepare for upcoming events and eliminates a lot of the extra administrative time that we spent entering data manually which in turn gives us more time to focus on the young people and coaches in our programs. By having the data and information updated in real-time, we can make better-informed decisions and stay on top of our goals. We’ve also created online platforms and leveraged the ability to video chat in order to stay connected with youth, coaches, and league admins all year round, which was lacking a few years ago. We are now just as excited to engage with communities during the extreme winter months here in New England as we are for the next baseball/softball season!— Blume, Red Sox
- Technology has had such an amazing impact on LADF in terms of the way we’re able to collect data. Our program was still utilizing hard copy registrations and surveys up until recently and we’ve been able to completely transition away from that. It’s made all of our processes so much easier to manage. Whether it’s measuring the SEL growth in our program, receiving survey feedback which we can then quickly transform into an online dashboard or even just making our registration process for our program simpler. — Mulligan, Dodgers
- Moving forward, our goal is to build out a full year-round program to keep metro Atlanta youth engaged in baseball and softball year-round. We will improve our programs by creating that consistency so that we’re not losing anyone during breaks in the schedule. Ultimately, we hope to stay fully connected with athletes in our network on a year-round basis, offering entry-level programs for youth 4-11 and ongoing from age 12 to the time they graduate high school. – Bedasse, Braves
- 2022 marks the Red Sox Foundation’s 20th Anniversary and we couldn’t be more excited for our youth baseball and softball programming. Our team is hard at work on a number of items that we think will continue to elevate our youth baseball and softball programming throughout New England. While we don’t want to give anything away before our 20th Anniversary announcement, we can say that we are excited to expand on our programming here in the city and throughout New England. We will be traveling to a number of communities for Play Ball events, offering additional resources to coaches, players, families, and league admins, providing opportunities for youth to visit Fenway Park, and much more! Stay connected with us on Twitter or news and updates! — Blume, Red Sox
- Our Dodgers RBI baseball and softball program is always about all youth, regardless of zip code, being able to have access to safe spaces to play and grow. We continue to reach out to the different leaders in the SBYD space to give our families the best experience possible. Heading into 2022, we want to continue to provide more resources and tools for the volunteer coaches in the program so we can see the best outcomes as possible for our youth participants. — Mulligan, Dodgers
What’s True On the Field Is True Off It, Too
As youth athletes, we learned there were few things more important than the team. We were taught that amazing things happen when people come together to achieve a greater purpose.
Each of these MLB Clubs—the Braves, Red Sox, and Dodgers—model that in their youth sports development programs, proving that what’s true on the field is true off the field.
Establishing a sense of team and community through an ongoing commitment to youth development locally ensures the sport’s future shines as bright as its storied history.
Watch the Braves take on the Astros in the 117th World Series. It begins tonight at 8:00 p.m. ET on FOX.