After near 40 per cent drop in enrolment, Vancouver-based little league tries new approach

After near 40 per cent drop in enrolment, Vancouver-based little league tries new approach

Though Little League is in full swing for many pint-sized baseball players, officials say the 2019 season hasn't been without its challenges.

Children as young as four are heading onto baseball diamonds across the Lower Mainland. But some leagues say they are finding it challenging to sign up more players.

"The problem, I think, stems from younger kids not necessarily being fully engaged in traditional baseball methodology," said Eric Gold, president and coach with the Kerrisdale Little League.

"Meaning that they're not really having a lot of fun."

Gold estimates his league's enrolment has dropped by about 40 per cent over the last two years. He said young children often have trouble with the more static aspects of baseball: standing in the outfield or sitting on the bench for example.

Gold also noted that children in 2019 have a lot of different entertainment options to choose from — many that could be considered flashier than baseball. Due to the decline in membership, Gold has elected to change the way the sport is introduced to young children in his league.

In traditional Little League, children aged four, five, six or seven typically play regular baseball games. Through these games, children learn to swing, throw and run. This season, however, Gold has chosen to flip the process by introducing children to the aspects of baseball (such as throwing a ball or swinging a bat) first — and the actual game, second.

"It's really taking that longer term view of how to engage with kids and get them wanting to come back," said Graham Collins, a former Kerrisdale Little Leaguer turned coach who Gold brought in to pioneer the method.

"Build the building blocks. Get the kids touching a ball as much as possible, throwing a ball as much as possible and then slowly introduce layers [of the game] on top."

So far, said Collins, the new approach has been a home run with players. Over the last month, the league has tried the new teaching method and has received positive feedback from players and parents.

"We had parents coming back and saying 'my kid said ... when do I get to come back?'" said Collins.

"It just warmed my heart. It was fantastic."

With files from The Early Edition