Seemingly every MLB team has initiatives in place to foster youth baseball and softball development in their local communities. The Los Angeles Dodgers are taking that a step further, however, by ramping up investment on a coaching level.
The Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation announced a three-year, $1 million investment in Up2Us Sports, a nationwide coach-training organization that pushes youth development and mentoring with special trauma training to better prepare coaches to be positive influences in the lives of children, regardless of sport.
The investment is the latest piece of the Dodgers Foundation Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, which is now in its sixth season. The program provides support to youth baseball and softball teams, ranging from equipment and uniforms to training and health resources.
Already, the program has expanded a rapid rate. This week, it broke ground on its 51st youth field as part of a commitment to build 75 before 2033, the 75th anniversary of the Dodgers’ move to the West Coast. Its enrollment has also ballooned from 2,000 youth players in the program’s first year to more than 10,500 at 85 locations this season.
The latter posed a key hurdle of how to improve the program and increase its coverage on the ground with reliable coaches, Dodgers Foundation CEO Nichol Whiteman said.
“We always knew we wanted to develop deep relationships with the agencies on the ground,” Whiteman said. “The challenge we were presented was how do we take the coaches we’re training and provide them with another to level to make sure they’re trained for situations of any kind and how do we put more bodies on the ground.”
Up2Us Sports solves that issue. The organization provides “trauma-informed strategies” in 30-plus-hour coaching curriculum to help coaches — often young adults — better mentor and coach children from troubled home environments. Other key aspects of the training focus on developing positive relationships with players, establishing a safe space and developing an understanding of healthy competition.
Overall, the organization has trained more than 2,300 coaches nationwide. According to Whiteman, the new partnership calls for training an additional 250 coaches — 90 specific to the Dodgers’ efforts — to help foster sports accessibility throughout Greater Los Angeles.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts believes the greater investment in coaches is critical, both on and off the diamond.
“Being a coach extends far beyond the field,” Roberts said. “You’re a role model, a mentor and someone who can make a difference in a young person’s life and help keep them on the right path. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the guidance, advice and tough love from coaches throughout my baseball career, and I’m grateful to have had such impactful mentors in my life.”
Up2Us Sports has more than 40 sports represented nationwide at any given time, said Paul Caccamo, Up2Us Sports’ Founder and CEO. Its other official partners include the Baltimore Ravens, Chicago White Sox and Miami Heat. The Dodgers Foundation is the first regional partner in Los Angeles for Up2Us Sports.
“We’re excited to be a trailblazer in this community, and this is a Dodger town, so to be an affiliate is so important, and it’s a reflection of our shared values and vision to impact the community,” Caccamo said.
The Dodgers Foundation and Up2Us Sports will evaluate their partnership following the three-year commitment, Whiteman said, to check the accomplishments and outcomes. No matter where the partnership ultimately leads, though, Whiteman says the Dodgers share Up2Us Sports’ goal of increasing sports opportunities in disadvantaged areas.
“Providing access to baseball, or any sport, gives kids an opportunity to learn life lessons and be a part of something where they can develop work ethic, teamwork and leadership skills,” Whiteman said. “Sports do transform lives, especially in low-income communities. If it’s not part of their routine, and sports are becoming increasingly elite, they’re missing out on those crucial life lessons.
“We need more for an overall impact, not just on the children, but on society.”