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What keeps kids from signing up for baseball? Hint: not video games

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The article I’m going to react to has been out for more than week, but I needed time for my slow burn to transition to full-blown foaming at the mouth.

The article is about a perceived decline in the number of children in stick-and-ball sports, and it comes from the Daily Herald, the official chronicler of Chicago’s north and northwest suburbs. I found it thanks to True/Slant’s resident Suburbanista, Hilary Shenfeld. Something stuck in my craw, which I think is near my cockles, right from the start:

Suburban youth baseball and softball coaches can expect to find fewer players on the ball fields this summer, according to many league directors.

And while the finger can be pointed at everything from the recession to competition from other sports, experts increasingly are blaming children’s habitual video game playing as a key reason why droves are ignoring America’s No. 1 pastime.

And the better children get at video games and more used to the fast-paced action they get, the less likely they’ll give them up to play the real game, experts say.

“Instead of going out to play sandlot baseball, kids today are content to sit in front of a computer to play a video game,” said Rich Honack, a professor at Kellogg School of Management.

Studying generations, he says his data shows the computer is the reason for the decrease in kids playing competitive sports.

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So this is how we’re going to do it — again. It’s video games’ fault. It’s always video games’ fault. Video games sexualize children, make them fat, and make them drive too fast. Video games are sure to be blamed for bank bailouts, the Toyota recall and CPAC.

But that’s a facile, knee-jerk argument. I emailed Honack (technically, a senior lecturer, not a professor — an actual professor would be quick to point that out) to ask where the research is proving his point, but I never heard back. I certainly couldn’t find it.

Some northwest Chicago suburban recreational leagues are reporting 20-plus percent drops over the last five years, accelerating during the last two, and particularly acute in the 10-to-14-year-old age group. But video games weren’t just invented five years ago. A lot of factors are contributing to the decline of baseball in that area and others, such as:

— Increased specialization in a single sport.

— The increase in travel and elite leagues. Note that recreational leagues are noticing a drop. It’s possible (not down 20 percent possible) that at least a little bit of the drop comes from parents signing up their kids for travel leagues instead of recreational-level ball.

— The large number of kids who drop out of organized sports by the dawn of teenager-hood. It’s practically an article of faith in youth sports that there is a huge dropoff in participation by age 13, as kids who aren’t interested or aren’t pursuing a scholarship or pro career drop out in favor of other activities. I would not be surprised if a lot of that dropoff comes as early as age 10. I know in my area, the line of demarcation between when baseball and softball are fun, and when it’s time to get serious, comes at age 9.

— And, of course, money. One league in the Daily Herald’s area is reported to charge a $325 entry fee. I hope everyone gets their own steroids for that. Even if the fees aren’t much, the economy is dictating choices. Kids, you can’t do everything anymore. It’s like how I told my oldest son, who had an interest in hockey and loved to skate, whether he kinda liked the sport or whether he LOOOOVVVVVED it. “I kinda like it,” he said. So I didn’t sign him up. I wasn’t going to spend $1,200 in league fees for something he kinda liked. I imagine even in some of the posher suburbs of northwest Chicago, parents are making similar decisions. (Two years ago, the Chicago Tribune wrote a story about the same area saying just that.) After all, why waste time and money signing your kid up for something he or she doesn’t want to do? Plus, the foreclosure crisis isn’t leaving your tonier suburbs unscathed. The money just isn’t there for everything.

If video games play any role, it’s only as a time-killer for kids who decide (or have it decided for them) not to play baseball or softball. I’ve never known a kid to quit to play video games, although I do remember my oldest son getting pissed, at age 7, when his third baseman wasn’t paying attention when he tried to get him the ball on a force play. “He was probably thinking about video games,” my son said.

If kids aren’t interested in sports, they’ll fill it with whatever they’re interested in — theater, music, jerking off or, yes, video games. If kids explicitly choose video games over sports — and parents allow them to do so — I would bet that also has something to do with not wanting to spend hours upon hours in stupid practices getting yelled at by the knuckle-dragging coach for the right to ride the bench all game. Hey, if you’re going to sit, why not in the comfort of your home, with no one barking at you?

Written by rkcookjr

February 24, 2010 at 1:04 am