Reflecting on my Largest Contribution to Society

There is an episode of The Big Bang Theory in which Penny invites Leonard to watch a college football game with her and her friends. Being the geek he is Leonard knows nothing about football, and spends a scene trying to figure the sport out by watching a game. This scene:

Had I started the project I am about to tell you about a few years ago, Leonard could have gone on YouTube, watched a few videos, gained an understanding of the game, and had a lot more time to make out with Penny. It would have saved Sheldon some time too. Everybody wins. Well, except me, as I never got to make out with Penny.

Anyway…

Last year in March I started a series of YouTube videos with the goal that they would teach a person to play baseball, even if the viewer had no prior knowledge of the sport. While you can find a baseball rulebook online, beginners are more likely to understand a topic when someone well versed in the topic explains it.

The videos were inspired by The Khan Academy, a website devoted to giving anybody anywhere a world-class education, free of charge. Its main tool of instruction is YouTube videos, which have multiple advantages over the way students have been taught in schools for the past century. In one of his talks, the site’s founder Sal Khan says that everyone has their own area of expertise and thus practically anyone could make their own videos on their own area of expertise.

While the important topics like Algebra should probably be left to Khan, I choose baseball and copied his style of making videos using Microsoft Paint with a narration. The low requirements to make a video—a microphone, Paint, a free screen capture program, and an internet connection—allowed me to quickly start churning out videos. While there was some preparation to each one, the videos did not take much longer to produce than their length. And uploading each video did not take more than a few minutes.

Each video is on a single topic—starting with the field’s layout and what the defensive positions are—and are not usually more than ten minutes. I see the videos as one collective lesson designed for a baseball beginner: someone from the other side of the world or a first-time Little League mother. One lesson leads into the next. And were created in much the same order they are intended to be watched. I would not plan more than two or three videos ahead, but continuously used terms that I realized required further explanation in a video of their own.

I did not want to be a rulebook on tape, which led to some videos on topics such as the catcher giving signals, pitch type, and other strategies. I was also able to include explanations of how to calculate statistics like batting average and ERA, and explain why and how they were used. I feel these are largely valuable to someone just learning the game, and not something they can find in the rulebook. One of the advantages of the unlimited space of YouTube is that one cannot go too far in-depth on any topic.

Evolving

I will be the first person to admit that some videos are of weak quality, for a few reasons. The first being the ease of their creation, which in my early excitement led me to choose quantity over quality. Other videos suffer from my lack of outlining the lesson, which led me to stutter throughout. Fortunately I have been able to re-recorded many of these weaker lessons, though a few remain.

Regardless of the weaker videos, the vast majority of feedback has been positive. Many comments have come from people just moving to the United States or saying they had always wanted to learn the game. I once received an email from a gentleman in Brazil asking if I could explain the Infield Fly Rule to him. Few notes have appeared in my inbox that I enjoyed more.

The small amount of criticism is often based around videos in which I would stray too far from the main topic. The video on the Infield Fly Rule is a good example of this. After a controversial play in the most recent MLB playoffs the video was viewed over 6,000 times in the three days following the incident. Because I created the video with the mentality it was intended for people with little to no baseball experience, I start the video with an explanation of how runners must return to their original base after fly balls. If explaining the rule to someone who understood baseball, likely most of the viewers after the incident, this multi-minute review would have been completely unnecessary. I am working on a few solutions to this issue now.

One change came after watching a few other videos explaining baseball statistics. I realized that while they were faster paced, the ease of pausing and re-watching the video (two primary bonuses of videos over live lectures) rendered the pace less meaningful than I had originally thought. Khan’s videos are created with him both drawing the visual portion and recording the narration simultaneously. And I copied that format for the first hundred baseball videos. This style inevitably slows lessons down because people can speak faster than write. This may not be such a bad thing for beginners, but speeding up the lessons may be a bonus for people who have some understanding of the game.

I have since experimented with writing and recording the narration in its entirety, then going back and recording the visuals. While I have not produced more than a handful of the videos with Paint and even PowerPoint in this new style, it will likely be how I create future videos. While they do take longer to create, the process allows greater time to concentrate on each the audio and visual aspect of the video. The creation style is based on the creator, though. I suspect numerous formats can be effective if used by the right person.

The Future

I have realized that this is an endeavor that could, and should, expand beyond baseball. I have recently begun to delve into the rules of football, which have received more of a response than the baseball videos did in their early days. And I am happy to see that it is just as positive. My ultimate goal would be to have a series of videos on every sport that could teach a person with no prior knowledge of the game how to play.

The final question I would like to reflect on here is why: I feel it is important to share how to play these games with others because sports have brought a great deal of joy into my life. I hope to share this joy with others, but they cannot have it unless they understand how to play first! The only other rule I abide by is that the videos will always be free.

While I created a simple blog in conjunction with the videos, I have done very little in the ways of promoting them elsewhere. Simply allowing people to find them on YouTube has led to around 100,000 views in under a year-and-a-half. This is minuscule in comparison to the 212 million views The Khan Academy has had, but hey, I am just the gym teacher.

You can find the complete list of baseball videos here.

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