In addition to winning every possible event this year on the international stage, USA Baseball has taken more steps as a governing body in amateur baseball, attempting to encourage proper youth development and increased participation in the sport.
On Wednesday, USA Baseball announced its Long Term Athlete Development Plan (LTAD), which will attempt to increase participation, aid in performance and try to increase enjoyment of the sport across the country.
According to USA Baseball’s Chief Development Officer, Rick Riccobono, the LTAD was written as a scientific document with input from on-field baseball personnel, off-field baseball personnel, experts in the medical safety industry and sports performance experts in other sports, in an attempt to look at trends in the game comprehensively.
What the science showed was that kids don’t really need to be playing baseball every day, year round.
“The LTAD was not written as a rebuttal to any specific trend going on in the market place,” Riccobono told Baseball America. “It was written as a scientific document, but what the science showed—and in talking with medical professionals obviously, but also with the larger contributing groups attesting to this as well—there were trends within the game, where the culture of the sport is trending towards this notion that, ‘If I don't play seven days a week, if I don't have what could be deemed as this really high-end experience in the game, that somehow I don't belong.’ And that's absolutely not what we believe. That's not what the science says.
“Specifically if you're a 12-and-under kid, you really don't need to be playing seven days a week. Your experience could be much more narrow than that and still be complete or holistic. I think we were encouraged by what the science came back with, which is that there still very much is a place for recreational play. And if not recreational, at least play that allowed for time and space for other activities, other sports, specifically at younger ages. I think making sports fun and making sure there's an emphasis that your experience in baseball is part of your adolescence, but it shouldn't necessarily define it—especially at very young, young ages—that's not the end of the world, that's not a bad thing.”
The goals of the LTAD are to offer solutions in six specific areas with the sport:
- Enhancing all participants' experience within the sport
- Promoting age-appropriate physical literacy and psychosocial development
- Underscoring best practices for player health and safety, including postponement of single-sport specialization
- Encouraging age-appropriate skill development progression
- Prolonging individual engagement through improved infrastructure
- Promoting life-long engagement through mentoring and recreational play
While Riccobono acknowledged that all athletes are different and—to varying degrees—need individualized development tracks, he believes that the LTAD includes elements that are beneficial to every player—regardless of age or skill.
Perhaps more importantly, the LTAD serves as valuable asset for parents and coaches.
“We do feel like there is value to having these kind of standardized guidelines available that people can use as a reference and hopefully shape a better experience for their kids,” Riccobono said. “The parents are the common denominator . . . They without question have an important role to play.
“The fact remains though, coaches are the ones who have more of an impact on more players. And for that reason, obviously it's important that we have a relationship, we provide resources to them.”
That’s why USA Baseball decided to house the LTAD on its online education platform, which provides close to 700 free articles and courses catered to coaches, parents, players and umpires, with more advanced skill-set oriented courses coming out this fall. The full-length, 36-page LTAD report can also be found on the site.
“We want to continue to provide holistic, comprehensive solutions for people to enable them to have a more well-rounded and positive experience in the game.
There are six specific stages that the LTAD is built around, which cater to different age and skill levels, but which all aim to increase participation, assist in performance and attempt to increase enjoyment. USA Baseball breaks down each of these six stages (Activate, Discover, Progress, Develop, Apply, Excel and Inspire) in detail on its website here.
“As the primary steward for the sport in the United States, USA Baseball recognizes and embraces the powerful impact that their organization has on players and fans across their lifespan,” said Joseph Myers, Ph.D., ATC, Director of Baseball Performance Science for the Tampa Bay Rays and the LTAD Group Working Chair, in a statement. “Given this role, USA Baseball sought to develop a Long-Term Athlete Development Plan that is rooted in scientific literature, in order to provide a roadmap for players, parents, coaches, and administrators to participate, instruct, and govern the sport of baseball. An interdisciplinary working group of leading sport scientists with expertise in coaching, strength and conditioning, neuromuscular control, biomechanics, motor learning, injury prevention, sport psychology, and clinical care of athletes was assembled to develop an evidence-based LTAD.
"On behalf of the working group, we feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to collaborate with leaders from all across amateur baseball, in order to provide the scientific content to this important project," Myers continued. "This collaboration resulted in a program that provides players, coaches, parents, and fans with a positive, fulfilling experience where talents can be maximized, healthy levels of fitness can be achieved, and ultimately the sport of baseball can be enjoyed for their entire lifetime."