marketing anthropology: an example

Wed, 8 Jun 1994 12:24:15 CDT

We use our training in all sorts of ways other than publications, grant
applications and the like. For example, I got into coaching Little League
baseball as an assistant when my kids entered the league. Over the years,
I've picked up a lot of data just by watching what kids do, observing how
other coaches instruct and drill kids, and by asking questions. What I've
noticed with alarm is how hard it is to get parents to volunteer as assistant
coaches. The difference between a team with one coach trying to run practices
for 15 kids and 4 coaches doing it is obvious when you watch the kids perform
in a game. I'd been thinking about a manual for assistant coaches for a couple
years, and this year I finally did it for the parents in our league.

I used a systems approach to the information I had, and I sunk it into the way
the manual was organized. I also used information on neurological development
in children to design drills for certain skills. Parents don't care about any
of that--they just want to know what to do, and they're more likely to try
coaching if they have help. It's worked out fine. But I went one step further
too. I contacted the public relations folks at my university (which is trying
to promote community outreach efforts) and told them about the manual. They
jumped on it and sent out the following release to news bureaus all over the
country. Version sof this release have appeared in the Detroit Free Press and
in local community papers in Chicago, and my phone hasn't stopped ringing since
then. Take a look at the reslease and compare it with Eve Pinsker's note about
letting people know what we do.

May 9, 1994 Contact: Carolyn Arden
(312) 996-3457

Editors: Please note local interest.

It's a question that has puzzled most Little League coaches:
Why do kids always come in to catch a pop fly, even when it's
way over their heads?
Michael Lieber, an anthropologist at the University of
Illinois at Chicago and a Little League coach at Welles Park
on the city's north side, wanted to know the answer. So he
consulted with colleague Jack Prost, who specializes in
For Prost, the problem was simple: Kids have trouble
seeing a trajectory, the curved path of a ball as it flies
through the air. He advised Lieber to drill his team by
tossing pop flies to the player's left or right, making them
move sideways to catch the ball so they could see its
As a result of this and other discussions on the science
of Little League, Lieber has written a coaching manual for
parents, "Coaching Outfield in T-Ball and Pee Wee Minors."
It offers a step-by-step program for building physical and
teamwork skills for children ages 6 to 10. Published by
UIC's anthropology department, the manual is divided into
three parts: the system of outfield play, a series of skills and
drills, and suggestions on positioning and training kids to
communicate better with each other during a game. The
techniques are being tested by coaches of T-ball and Little
League teams at Welles Park, located at Montrose and
Lieber, a cultural anthropologist who works in the
Pacific Islands, used his experience on a Polynesian Atoll to
design the drills. "I look at learning baseball as something
like learning how to operate in a new territory. The skills and
drills are a map of the territory."

Polynesians map a territory by naming every
significant part of it, and those names mark places with a
certain look and a known history. Lieber applied the same
technique to the coaching manual. Every drill has a name,
which encodes information about a skill and how and when
to use that skill.
For example, a drill called "The Tiger Shuffle" is a
three-step move for catching ground balls.
"To remind a kid about details of play, all a coach has
to do is use the name, and the kid will know what the coach
means," says Lieber. "I provide names in the manual, but
coaches can make up their own. By the end of the season,
the kids will have a working map of the game that they can
remember easily."
Teamwork in Little League is key, and Lieber
emphasized that by applying his knowledge of systems theory
to outfield play. "In any system, the parts are designed to
interact with each other to produce outputs," he explains.
"It's the same for a Little League team. You have to train
the kids to work with each other in all kinds of situations.
Every skill and every drill has to prepare them to interact. If
one kid misses the ball, then there's another one behind him
or her to get it.
"It's important that you teach little kids that they don't
have to be able to catch a fly ball to play good outfield."
He hopes that the manual will convince more parents
to get involved with the game -- as coaches or assistant
coaches. To obtain a copy of the manual, contact Michael
Lieber at (312) 413-3570 or (312) 334-6011. He can also be
reached via. e-mail at u28550@uicvm.bitnet.
Lieber lives in the 4500 block of North Paulina.