BSF Executive Meeting Report: 28-29 October 2017

Mon 6 Nov 2017

The BSF Executive held its annual face-to-face meeting in London on the weekend of 28-29 October.  Below is a journalistic account of the main discussions and decisions.


Attendance​

Present:  Jenny Fromer (President), Stella Ackrell (Administrator), Liz Graham (Competitions Director), Mike Jennings (General Officer), Chris Moon (BASU Representative), Laura Burkhardt (Treasurer – by phone).

Apologies:  Jana McCaskill (National Teams Officer), Steve Getraer (General Officer).

ournalistic account of the main discussions and decisions.  Bob Fromer (BSUK).


NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS
 

National Softball League and NSL National Championships

The 2017 season was the first with full NSL 1 and NSL 2 league competitions, leading to qualification for Premier Nationals and NSL 2 Nationals.  This worked well, and almost all NSL 1 and NSL 2 teams are expected to return next year, with only a couple of teams in doubt.

The NSL concept is becoming more popular, and Competitions Director Liz Graham reported that up to eight teams are already interested in a qualification route leading to the NSL competition structure.

After discussion, the Executive decided that:

  • One team from NSL 2 (the KK’s, who won the NSL 2 league competition) will be promoted to NSL 1 for 2018, and one team (the Leeds Terriers, who finished last in NSL 1) will be relegated to NSL 2.
     
  • The bottom two teams from the NSL 2 league standings, the Maidenhead Royals and Portsmouth Dodgers, have been demoted, and have been replaced by two teams from a waiting list of teams that have applied to join NSL 2: the Honey Badgers from Glasgow and Havoc, one of two B-grade teams run by the Blitz Softball Club.
     
  • An NSL qualification route aimed at B-grade and top C-grade teams, will be trialled next year -- not with a full league schedule, but with a National Championship tournament to be played, ideally, alongside the Premier and NSL 2 Nationals next year on 1-2 September at Farnham Park.  This tournament will consist of a full round-robin plus a Championship game, and the top two teams will be promoted to NSL 2 for 2019.
     
  • A minimum of six teams will be required to sign up for this tournament to happen, and any teams interested should contact Liz Graham (liz@softball.org.uk).
     
  • Should this additional structure attract sufficient interest, it will probably move to a full “NSL 3” league schedule in 2020.  The BSF will need to sort out the logistics of how this can happen, as it is unlikely that the Diamond Series can accommodate NSL 1, 2 and 3 league games in its schedules.
     

League National Championships

The BSF wants to revive a Platinum Division at the League National Championships that will be played on 11-12 August next year at Farnham Park, and will offer two places each to Bristol, Windsor, Manchester and the Greater London Softball Mixed League.  The winner of the Gold Nationals from 2017, the Fuzzy Ducks, will also be invited.  There will be no limit on NSL players allowed on these teams, and a minimum of six teams will be needed for this competition to happen.

For the other League Nationals competitions, Liz Graham will, as usual, offer places to league and divisional winners in leagues around the country, and to second place teams if winners decline to enter.  There are restrictions on the number of NSL players who can play on teams in these competitions.
 

Dispensations

The issue of teams requesting and acquiring dispensations to add unqualified players to their roster for National Championships has presented difficulties over many years, and the BSF Executive wants to ensure that the system is not abused.  So the following criteria and regulations will be in place for 2018:

  • Teams offered a place and wishing to play in League National Championships must apply for their place, and pay the entry fee, by the end of June.  There will be a later payment deadline for the NSL Nationals, since these places are determined by league placing and are not decided until Diamond Series 3.
     
  • Dispensations for League or NSL Nationals must be applied for by a date that will be published later, but the deadline will probably be two weeks before the tournament.
     
  • The BSF will retain the discretion to award a later dispensation, but only for an emergency situation, such as an injury occurring between the dispensation deadline and the tournament.
     
  • If a team can bring six qualified men and six qualified women players to the tournament from its own roster, requests for dispensations will not be considered.
     
  • The main criteria for awarding dispensations is the loss of a player through injury or pregnancy.  Any other reason will be considered by the BSF on its merits.
     
  • No team may have more than three players through dispensations.
     
  • Where a dispensation is given, the replacement player must be from a league or division at the same level as the team requesting the dispensation, or lower.
     
  • If a team seeking dispensations subsequently withdraws from a National Championship, their entry fee will not be returned.
     

Improving National Championships

The BSF Executive wants to make Co-ed National Championships the pinnacle tournament of each season, and is looking for ways to improve them.  A number of ideas were considered, including:

  • Ensuring that the scoreboards in place at Farnham Park are used during Nationals.  An alternative would be the use of portable electronic scoreboards.
     
  • Creating play areas for children.
     
  • Using line-up cards – at least for playoff games.
     
  • Having longer games during group play.
     
  • Using a PA system for final games, and having teams line up before these games as at European Championships.
     
  • Providing live and on-demand webstreaming of final games.
     

Anyone with further ideas for enhancing National Championships should contact Liz Graham (liz@softball.org.uk).
 

Single-Sex Slowpitch Nationals

Liz Graham reported that more fields will be fenced at the 2018 Single-Sex Slowpitch Nationals, to be played on the weekend of 30 June-1 July at the Moor Lane Sports Ground in Perry Barr, Birmingham.

The BSF is looking for someone to serve as Tournament Control at this event.  Anyone interested should contact Liz Graham (liz@softball.org.uk).
 

Uniform regulations at National Championships

Finally, the BSF Executive discussed the issue of uniform regulations for National Championships and penalties for teams that fail to conform.  The basic regulations are:

  • Players must wear identical team shirts.
     
  • Players can wear either trousers or shorts, and a mixture is allowed within the team, but all must be the same base colour.
     

Starting next season, the BSF will add a £50 “uniform deposit” to the fees charged for entry to National Championships.  This amount will be returned after the tournament to all teams conforming to uniform regulations.


Softball World Series

The BSF is now solely in charge of running and supporting the annual Softball World Series tournament.  This tournament is designed for “national or regional” teams, whether they come from abroad or are made up of local or ex-pat players resident in Britain, and the BSF wants to ensure that:

  • As far as possible, teams are made up of players with a connection to the country or region the team represents.
     
  • For local or ex-pat teams whose players are based in Britain, there should be a reasonable turnover of players each year, so that more people get the opportunity to take part in this very popular event.
     

To help achieve these goals, the BSF will publish names and contact details of UK-based World Series team captains early next year, so that players with a connection to that country or region can contact the captain and trial for the team.  These teams will be required to have at least two new players on their roster each year, and will be required to apply for dispensations to include players who do not have a connection with the country or region the team represents.

With regard to teams coming to the World Series from overseas, the BSF will give first priority for entry to genuine national slowpitch teams, and after that, to club or composite teams likely to play in ESF slowpitch competition.

In all cases, teams coming from abroad must be sanctioned to compete by their national federation.

The Executive also discussed the possibility of moving the World Series from the Heston Venue (formerly the BA Concorde Club) in Cranford to Farnham Park, but there are significant logistical issues to this as well as pros and cons on both sides.  The question will be considered again in discussions with BSUK.


GB v Ireland Series

A proposal has been made to set up an annual or biennial competition series between Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland, to alternate between the two countries, where the national slowpitch, fastpitch and baseball teams from each country will play each other.

The possibilities and logistics for this concept will be pursued by Softball Ireland and BSUK.


BSF Registration

The BSF needs to have, at a minimum, a name and contact email address for all its affiliated teams, and that is what the Executive will attempt to achieve in 2018. 

Contact details are needed for all member teams: the BSF insurer’s requirements for identifying members increase every year and the BSF itself needs to be able to communicate directly with all its members.

At present, a majority of leagues provide such details through the registration process, via Spawtz and/or the BSF Registration Form, but a number of leagues still do not.

For 2018, all registration will be online, and the BSF will create a new online registration form that takes recent changes to data protection requirements into account.  All data received through these forms will be stored centrally, and will be subject to BSF’s privacy policies re: non-disclosure to others.

Meanwhile, the number of teams using the Spawtz system on the BSF website for team administration is declining, and the BSF will probably continue to offer this system (and pay for teams to use it) for one more year while looking to see if better functionality can be provided.

The number of university softball teams has been growing steadily (14 teams took part in the bi-annual National University Softball Championship in October), and the BSF would like these teams to affiliate in future.  This will be discussed with BSUK, who has been responsible for the growth in university softball and baseball clubs and teams in recent years.


Helmets in slowpitch

The use of helmets in slowpitch softball has been a hot topic since news spread of the death of a slowpitch player in Canada in August who was hit in the head by a thrown ball and was not wearing a helmet (see:[http://www.britishsoftball.org/news/view/helmets-become-a-hot-topic-in-british-slowpitch).

Previously, batters, baserunners, on-deck players and base coaches under the age of 18 have been required to wear helmets under BSF regulations; but the number of leagues that will require helmets to be worn by all players next season is growing.

Some leagues that do not require the use of helmets still provide them so that can players who want to wear a helmet can do so.

After discussion, the BSF Executive will not require that helmets are worn in slowpitch play under its jurisdiction, and will leave this decision up to leagues.  But the BSF will support any league making an active choice to promote safety.  This approach is consistent with the WBSC practice of encouraging but not mandating the wearing of helmets at the upcoming Slowpitch World Cup.

Leagues or teams can apply to the BSF for grants to purchase helmets as safety equipment (contact BSF Administrator Stella Ackrell on: stella.ackrell@britishsoftball.org) and each application will be judged on its merits.


Pregnant players

The Executive also revisited the issue of women playing while pregnant, which was the subject of a long debate at the BSF AGM in 2014.

At that time, the BSF commissioned a report from its then-Administrator, Vicky Hall, and her report concluded that the dangers of harm to a foetus from playing softball were small but of course not non-existent, and that the risks increase during the later stages of pregnancy.

As in the case of helmets, the BSF Executive will not issue a ruling on this issue and will leave it to leagues to make their own regulations.  However, the BSF has decided on the following:

  • Women playing in BSF competitions are not required to disclose the fact that they are pregnant.
     
  • If a team becomes aware that a woman on the opposing team is pregnant, individuals on that team who do not wish to play under those circumstances are free to withdraw from the game.
     
  • However, if the team declines to play, it will forfeit the game.
     

This topic will be on the agenda at the BSF’s annual League Heads Forum, scheduled for 11 November in Birmingham, and the BSF may review its recommendations following that discussion.


LGBT work in softball

The BSF Executive noted the work that BSUK has been doing for some time to promote the participation of LGBT+ people in softball, and to make softball a safe and welcoming sport for this group.  The most recent element in this effort has been the formation of an LGBT Panel to look at ways in which the sport can become even more open and inclusive.

The result has been that the percentage of LGBT+ people playing softball in Britain is roughly double the percentage in the population as a whole.  More information about this will be published on the BSF website shortly.


COACHING AWARDS, BSF ANNUAL AWARDS AND THE BSF HALL OF FAME

The BSF will shortly be asking the softball community for nominations for its annual awards, and also for new inductees to the British Softball Hall of Fame, where inductions are made in even-numbered years.

Most of the awards will be presented, and the Hall of Fame inductions will take place, at the 2018 BSF AGM, scheduled for Saturday 24 February in Manchester.
 

Coaching awards

However, BSF awards for Adult Coach of the Year and Youth Coach of the Year in 2017, along with a number of other coaching awards where nominations can be made from either softball or baseball, will be presented at BSUK’s Coach Summit, to be held on Saturday 27 January 2018 in Milton Keynes.  The softball-specific awards will be referenced at the BSF AGM, and the BSF will reward the winners by buying their tickets to the next BSUK Coach Summit in 2019.  

Nominations can be made for any of the following awards to be presented at the Coach Summit by Thursday 30 November (please send nominations and supporting information to BSF President Jenny Fromer: jenny.fromer@britishsoftball.org):

  • Young Coach of the Year (a club or national team coach in softball or baseball under the age of 22).
  • Softball Coach of the Year for a youth team (club or national team).
  • Softball Coach of the Year for an adult team (club or national team).
  • Participation Coach of the Year (for a softball or baseball coach working at the grassroots).
  • Services to the Sport Award for an individual working in softball or baseball in any capacity.
  • Volunteer of the Year in a non-coaching role in softball or baseball.
     

The softball award for Umpire of the Year will be presented at the 2018 BASU AGM, scheduled for Saturday 10 February, and will be re-announced at the BSF AGM.
 

BSF Awards

The BSF’s annual awards are given in the following categories if nominations are received:

  • The Glover Cup for outstanding long-term services to softball by an administrator or organiser.
     
  • The President’s Club Award for outstanding performance or development by an affiliated club or team.
     
  • The League Glover Cup for outstanding development achievement by an affiliated league.
     
  • The Adult Coach of the Year Award for the coach of an adult team.  This is one of the two BSF awards that, as mentioned above, will be presented at the 2018 Coach Summit.
     
  • The Youth Coach of the Year Award for the coach of a youth team or programme.  This is the other BSF award that, as mentioned above, will be presented at the 2018 Coach Summit.
     
  • The Tournament Umpire of the Year Award.
     
  • The Tournament of the Year Award.
     
  • The Youth Team of the Year Award for outstanding performance or development achievement.
     
  • The Betsy Holden Award for outstanding achievement by a young person in developing or promoting the sport.
     

Hall of Fame

The categories under which people can be nominated for the British Softball Hall of Fame are:

  • Players.
  • Umpires.
  • Coaches (adult and youth).
  • Managers (of clubs or national teams).
  • Organisers/Administrators (of leagues, BSF, BASU etc).
  • Development work.
  • Media work.
     

The criteria for nominations are:

  • To be nominated, the person must have been active in the category in which they are being nominated for at least two years.  This applies across all categories.
     
  • People can only be nominated for the Hall of Fame after they have been “retired” for one year from being active in the category for which they are nominated – unless they have been active in that category for 10 years or more.  In that case, they can be nominated even if still active.
     
  • People can be nominated in a category in which they are no longer active even if still active in other categories.
     
  • People can be nominated and elected in more than one category, but nominations for different categories will need to be made and will be voted on separately.
     
  • Non-British nationals can be nominated and elected to the BSF Hall of Fame provided they meet relevant criteria.
     
  • In considering nominations, the BSF is not necessarily looking only for the “best of the best” in each category, but can also elect candidates for superior and/or inspirational performance.
     

All nominations for the BSF’s annual awards or the Hall of Fame should be sent to BSF Administrator Stella Ackrell (stella.ackrell@britishsoftball.org) and should be accompanied by information supporting the nomination.  The deadline for nominations will be 5.00 pm on Friday 22 December.


Governance

The BSF, BBF and BSUK have, after long discussions, agreed on new Articles and a revised Agreement covering relations between the three organisations that comply with the new Code of Governance promulgated last year by the government.  Compliance by 31 October this year was required by Sport England as a condition of funding.

Term limits for members of the BSF Executive have already been aligned with those of BSUK and the BBF.  Directors serve for two-year terms and for a maximum of three such terms.


Report from the GB Management Committee

The GB Management Committee (GBMC), which supports and oversees GB Softball National Teams and has an advisory brief on fastpitch development, held its own annual face-to-face meeting in London over the weekend of 21-22 October.

On Saturday, the GBMC met on its own, and on Sunday with staff members from most GB National Teams.  In addition to a general session with GB staff, de-briefs were carried out on 2017 programmes and tours for four national teams: the GB Women, GB Under-19 Women, GB Under-16 Girls and GB Under-13 Girls.

Bob Fromer, who is a member of the GBMC, gave a report on the meetings to the BSF Executive.  Some of the key topics covered were:

  • GBMC and national team finances, which are all in the black following a summer in which every GB National Team travelled to an official ESF or WBSC tournament.
     
  • Safeguarding issues, including a new policy statement that the GBMC has developed on the use and misuse of social media by players, staff, parents and supporters.
     
  • Plans to host the London Cup in 2018 at Farnham Park.  This is an international women’s fastpitch tournament that will serve as a warm-up event for the GB Under-19 Women, who will begin the defense of the European Championship they won in 2016 a week after the London Cup.  It is likely that two or three European national teams will take part in the London Cup.
     
  • Plans for the Great Britain Fastpitch League in 2018.
     
  • A planned re-organisation of the GBMC, so that the five GBMC members deal with core functions while other areas are devolved to committees.
     
  • Plans to create a GB Under-22 Women’s Team in 2018 that will enter the European Under-22 Championship.  This team will help young players bridge the gap between playing at Under-19 level and making the jump up to Senior level.
     
  • Potential staff changes for GB Teams in 2018.
     
  • The need for the GB Men’s Team and GB Slowpitch Team to become more involved with the GBMC.
     

The BSF Executive has asked for more information from BSUK Fastpitch Development Manager Johanna Malisani on the number of young GB-based players who are being developed through the Academy, High Performance Academy, national team programmes and fastpitch development programmes, and on realistic expectations for the number of home-grown players who are likely to be selected for national teams in the short and medium term.


Finances

BSF Treasurer Laura Burkhardt was not able to attend the weekend meeting in person, but phoned in on Sunday morning to update the Executive on the state of the BSF’s finances.  The BSF’s financial year ends on 30 September, and accounts for 2016-17 are near enough to completion for a general picture to be presented.

Over the past few years, the BSF has generated income pretty much as expected, primarily from team fees, but has not spent as much as planned.  This has allowed the BSF to maintain its intended level of reserves (around 80% of annual income) and still have money available to spend on development.

This pattern was repeated in 2017, with underspending in areas including usage of Spawtz functionality by teams, which the BSF supports by paying the fees; development projects, mainly slowpitch coaching and requests for BSF development grants; and expenditure on national teams.  In addition, £5000 set aside for legal fees in the event of the agreed merger of the BSF, BBF and BSUK going ahead was not required as the merger has been put on hold.

Although the BSF contributes a significant proportion of its income each year to support our national teams’ development and overseas commitments, the bulk of the finance for these activities is actually contributed by the athletes and their families.  The BSF has asked for summary financial data from the national teams to better appreciate the extent of these contributions.

Apart from the areas of underspend mentioned above, Laura reported that there were no significant variances between budget and actuals for 2016-17.

The Executive has decided to continue to offer financial support to the BSUK Coach Summit, and may subsidise some places at the event.  The Executive will look for additional projects to take on that could be positive for softball.


Safeguarding

The BSF delegates its safeguarding responsibilities to BSUK to oversee, as does the BBF, and the BSUK Board has recently issued a document setting out new requirements for youth teams, youth national teams and adult teams with players who are under 18.  Any adult team with three or more players under this age will be regarded as a youth team with respect to the new requirements.

For youth teams, at least one coach will need to have an appropriate safeguarding qualification, all coaches will need DBS checks and each team will need to have a designated and qualified Safeguarding Officer.

In the case of youth national teams, the Head Coach must be the one to have a safeguarding qualification.

All coaches on adult teams with youth members must be DBS-checked and all such teams must have a designated Safeguarding Officer.

The paper contains further requirements around parental permission for youth players to play and what needs to happen on overnight trips.  The paper will be on the agenda at the upcoming League Heads Forum so that all slowpitch leagues are aware of the new requirements and the steps that can be taken to comply with them.

The BSF will be prepared to provide financial support in some cases for people who need to take safeguarding courses.


World Baseball Softball Confederation Congress

BSF President Jenny Fromer and General Officer Mike Jennings attended the World Baseball Softball Confederation Congress held in Botswana in October. 

A comprehensive report on the Congress, including a blog written by Jenny, can be found on the BSF website here

Summarising the Congress, Mike Jennings told the BSF Executive that following elections and the adoption of a new Constitution, the main concern is whether softball will continue to be regarded as an equal partner with baseball, especially with regard to the Olympics.

The new Constitution, Mike said, had put a lot more power into the hands of the WBSC Board, and has raised concerns that softball may be seen as the junior partner in the now-combined Olympic sport.

Other items of note from the Congress are:

  • An Intercontinental Men’s Fastpitch Cup will be held next year in Prague just before the European Men’s Fastpitch Super Cup, bringing top men’s fastpitch players from all around the world to Europe.
     
  • Future softball World Championships are likely to continue as open events rather than requiring qualification and restricted to a set number of teams.  But to avoid too many uncompetitive games, World Championships are likely to be played in two stages, with lower-ranked countries competing first and the winners then joined in the second stage by the top-ranked teams.  The ESF is also considering changes to its Championship formats.
     


Coaching

BSUK has overall responsibility for coach development, but over the past few years the BSF has taken the lead in supporting a programme of slowpitch team clinics delivered by GB Slowpitch Team coaches and players, and in bringing top international slowpitch coaches to the UK to run clinics.

While the programme of clinics delivered by the GB Slowpitch Team still has value (and raises funds for the team), Jenny Fromer told the Executive that the BSF needs to talk to BSUK about what they can deliver to the slowpitch community in particular in the way of both coach education and player clinics.  BSUK’s coaching curriculum is now more flexible and responsive, and includes modules on different skill-based topics that can be tailored to the specific needs of teams or leagues.


Hosting an ESF tournament in the UK

The final topic of the weekend was a discussion about whether the BSF could host an official ESF competition in the UK in the near future.

Farnham Park presents an excellent venue to do this, better than many in Europe, especially with the catering provision that came on line in 2017.

However, the main issue is the funding required to host an ESF tournament, which will be in excess of £20,000 – and the BSF would have to be the final guarantor for the money.

Other issues are whether enough volunteers could be found to run an event that would take place over a week, and whether enough people would turn up to watch, even given that a GB team would be taking part.  One way to ensure an audience might be to build a slowpitch tournament around the European event.

The tournaments that we are most likely be able to host on the basis of numbers of teams competing would be the European Slowpitch Championship or Slowpitch Cup, the European Men’s or Under-19 Men’s Fastpitch Championship and the European Under-16 Girls’ or Under-22 Women’s Championship.

More discussion on this topic will take place in future, especially with BSUK, which is keen to host European events at Farnham Park.


Next meeting

The next BSF Executive meeting will be a conference call on the evening of Monday 27 November.

Anyone with topics for the agenda should contact BSF Administrator Stella Ackrell (stella.ackrell@britishsoftball.org).

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