BSF League Heads Forum Report: 12 November 2016

Fri 18 Nov 2016

The 2016 BSF League Heads Forum meeting took place on Saturday 12 November in Birmingham, with representatives from eight leagues in attendance, along with members of the BSF Executive and representatives from BSUK.

Leagues represented at the meeting included Bristol, East Midlands, the Great Britain Fastpitch League, the Greater London Softball Mixed League, Manchester, Oxford, Sefton and Solent.

The main discussion at the meeting was on the proposal to combine the BSF, BBF and BSUK into a single organisation, which will be put to a vote at the BBF AGM on 26 November and at the BSF AGM on 25 February 2017.

But there were also good discussions on coaching, plans for National Championships in 2017, safety equipment, intersections between fastpitch and slowpitch and diversity issues.

A decision was reached at the meeting to start a closed Facebook group for softball League Heads, and there was enthusiasm for some kind of Indoor National Championship to be held next spring, as several leagues now run indoor winter competitions.


Structural Review​

BSF General Officer and former Treasurer Mike Jennings led the session on the Structural Review, which has resulted in the idea of merging BSUK and the two Federations into a single organisation.  The process has been ongoing for nearly three years, and the outcome – the idea of a merger, which was eventually agreed by the Boards of all three organisations earlier this year – is designed primarily to achieve better governance, administrative efficiency and economies of scale.

Those who made up the Structural Review group which produced the current proposal included Stella Ackrell and Mike Jennings from the BSF, BSUK Chair John Walmsley, BSUK Joint CEO Jenny Fromer and representatives from the BBF.

What happens on the ground with the BSF’s current main functions – overseeing softball leagues, running National Championships and other events and supporting and administering national team programmes – will not change much under a single organisation.  Some members of the BSF Executive will become a volunteer Softball Commission if the merger goes ahead, and while BSF fees will then go to the single organisation, money should be ring-fenced for those functions.

Nor will the balance between Federations and independent Directors in the new organisation differ from the current tripartite arrangement between BSUK, the BSF and the BBF.  The current BSUK Board contains three representatives each from baseball and softball plus six independent Directors; the Board of the new organisation would be streamlined, in accordance with current governance practices, to contain two representatives each from baseball and softball plus four independent Directors who will bring external expertise in specific areas. The Board will include the Chair and the BSUK CEO.  Currently, BSUK’s joint CEOs are not Board members.

Meanwhile, the new single organisation will continue to be funded by Sport England to carry out development via its paid employees, who will also provide support in various ways to the day-to-day running of the sports.

The one new element in the single organisation structure will be a body called the Congress, to be made up of 30-50 people representing a wide range of interests and voices from the sports, which will have a key advisory role to the new organisation’s Board, and will be able to nominate sports-based Directors to the Board.

In some ways, from a softball perspective, the Congress will operate in relation to the new organisation much as the League Heads Forum does now in relation to the BSF -- as a source of ideas and advice coming from leagues, teams and players on the ground.

Mike Jennings told the League Heads that neither Federation could have accomplished what BSUK has done over the past 16 years in building up relationships with Sport England and others, meeting development targets, creating a highly-rated governance structure – and attracting £3 million worth of funding in the current four-year cycle.

A single organisation should be more effective than the current tripartite arrangement, with a more integrated approach to developing and administering the sports.  And it will mirror what has happened to baseball and softball internationally, where the International Baseball and Softball Federations have combined to form the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC), a move that allowed the reinstatement of both sports to the Olympic programme, at least for 2020.

As stated, the decision on whether to merge into a single organisation will be made at the next Federation AGMs. 

The BSF Executive is in favour of the merger – and after discussion, the League Heads present at the meeting appeared to agree, although see below for some of the issues raised in discussion.  However, the BBF AGM will take place very shortly, on 26 November, and a negative decision on the merger would pre-empt that of the BSF.

Mike Jennings told the League Heads that even if the merger was rejected by the BBF, the three organisations, although remaining separate, should not go on as before.  New and better ways of working together will need to be found.

In the discussion that followed Mike’s presentation, a number of issues were raised:
 

1) While understanding that team fees, which currently go to the BSF, would go a single organisation instead should the merger be approved (with money ring-fenced for current BSF functions), the question of what would happen to the BSF’s reserves was raised.  Mike told the group that there were a number of options:

  • Pass all reserves to the new combined organisation.
     
  • Hold them back until it was determined that the new organisation was working well, and then specify that they be used only for a softball purpose or project.
     
  • On merger, or shortly thereafter, distribute the reserves to the shareholders – ie, the teams that were members at the time of merger.  Mike’s view was that this was an unsatisfactory option and the League Heads agreed.
     

One League Head told the meeting: “In relation to the merger proposal, our teams are much more concerned about the money than the structure.”   It was the second option that received general acceptance.
 

2) If there is a single organisation, all teams that have been members of the BSF or BBF will be members of the new organisation, and the question of AGM voting was raised by Phil Kielthy from the East Midlands League.  The BSF does not allow proxy votes at its AGMs, but it was suggested that proxy voting might make sense for an organisation that will have hundreds of member teams around the UK.  This should be considered, provided that safeguards to ensure the validity of proxy votes were in place.
 

3) Kat Macann from the Greater London Softball Mixed League wanted to know how the interface between leagues and the new organisation would work, so that league development strategies could be joined to national strategies.  She also wanted an assurance that the Congress would provide space for minority voices within the sports.
 

Mike Jennings has circulated the Powerpoint slides used at the meeting to the League Heads, which set out the structure of the single organisation as currently proposed, and the members, functions and responsibilities for each element in the structure.


Fastpitch development

The meeting was attended by Johanna Malisani, who has been employed jointly by BSUK and the BSF since March 2016 as a full-time Fastpitch Development Officer.  Johanna is a former high-level Canadian player and an experienced coach who has worked at a variety of levels, including taking Ontario teams to national competitions.  The need for such a post had been argued over a number of years by the GB Management Committee and others in order to create a critical mass for fastpitch in a slowpitch-dominated country and to increase opportunities for women and girls, which is a key Sport England objective.

Jo told the League Heads about her work in schools around Farnham Park and the South-East, which should soon result in youth fastpitch leagues in the area, andalso  about her work, in conjunction with BSUK Development Managers, to start fastpitch projects in other areas of the country.  In many of these projects, the young players being introduced to softball play a generic game that could lead either to fastpitch or slowpitch.

And a series of open fastpitch sessions held this past autumn at Farnham Park, which combined clinics and game play, were well received by those who attended and will be repeated next autumn and in the future.

Meanwhile, more slowpitch players than ever before were attracted to play in the Great Britain Fastpitch League (GBFL) at Farnham Park last year, which is scheduled so as not to clash with major slowpitch tournaments.  Trying fastpitch has provided these players with new skills and strategies.  In its current format, the GBFL is always open to new players, who are often drafted into appropriate teams, and the level of play in the league is not particularly daunting.  The GBFL is moving away from being a league designed as practice for GB players and more towards being a community league.

Lee Grafton, who runs the GBFL, told the meeting that he hopes that some GBFL league play can take place in other parts of the country next year and that regional leagues can be formed in future.

“There are many benefits in fastpitch and slowpitch intersecting,” Jo told the meeting, and Mike Jennings added that slowpitch had seen the benefits over the past few years in the form of national team fastpitch players who had experienced early and extensive coaching joining slowpitch league and tournament teams.


Coaching

Jo Malisani also told the meeting about the revised structure of BSUK coaching courses.  The old model of Foundation, Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 has been replaced by an Activator course for people who want to introduce the game to beginners, an enhanced Level 2 course and then a series of nine three-hour modular courses on sport-specific topics such as Slowpitch Pitching, Hitting, Baseball and Fastpitch Catching etc.  Courses on additional topics can be developed.

The new modular courses are priced at £35 per player (or £20 per player if the host organisation provides a venue), and the League Heads questioned whether these costs per player were justified.

BSUK National Development Manager Will Lintern, who was not at the meeting, will circulate a response to League Heads on that point.

Meanwhile, Mike Jennings reminded the meeting that the BSF will continue in 2017 with its programme, managed by Sara Vertigan, that provides coaching to B and C-grade teams on request by a GB Slowpitch player or coach, with the BSF picking up the coach’s fee and travel costs.

Some leagues make their own arrangements direct with the GB Slowpitch Team to organise this.


BASU courses

BSF Administrator Lesley Morisetti conveyed a message to the meeting from BASU Training Officer Chris Moon, who wanted to remind League Heads to book umpire courses for next year as soon as possible, as slots were already filling up.

BASU offers a range of courses, including a three-hour Rules Clinic for league umpires and team captains, a one-day course aimed at creating league umpires, and the two-day BASU Qualifying Course.  But other courses can be designed to fit specific requirements.

Although leagues have different systems for training, assigning and paying umpires, it’s clear that most mainstream leagues have reasonably effective umpire systems in place.


London challenges

Kat Macann from the GLSML, who was the only London League Head at the meeting, expressed the wish to get together with other London League Heads to discuss a number of challenges – most urgently the increasing tendency of London councils to ban competitive sport from commons spaces.

Kat also told the meeting that the GLSML is seeking advice and guidance around a range of diversity issues, including trans-gender players, in order to put out appropriate messages to teams and to demonstrate that the BSF, along with BSUK, regards this as an important contemporary issue.


Insurance and incident reporting

Mike Doe from the Solent Softball League urged League Heads to make sure, when an incident occurs that results in injury, that an Incident Report (downloadable from http://www.baseballsoftballuk.com/uploads/_documents/Files/Insurance/Incident%20Report%20Form.pdf) is submitted as quickly as possible, because otherwise complications can occur.

The Edinburgh Softball League has a member on its Committee whose job is to make sure that incident reports are submitted and to keep records on these occurrences.

This led to a wider discussion of insurance issues.  Mike Jennings plans to ask the BSF’s insurers if they will accept that if a player is rostered to one BSF member team (say, a slowpitch league team), they will still be covered by the BSF’s Civil Liability insurance if they play in a BSF-run or BSF-sanctioned competition for a team that forms for a one-time purpose, such as playing in the Single-Sex Nationals.  This will depend on accurate roster lists being submitted which identify players as members of BSF-affiliated teams.


BSF AGM

It was confirmed to the League Heads that the 2017 BSF AGM will be held on Saturday 25 February 2017 at the Metropolitan Police Bushey Sports Club, Aldenham Road, Bushey, Herts WD23 2TR.  The venue is next to Junction 5 on the M1, and just two miles (10 minutes) by taxi from Watford Junction Mainline Station (trains from Euston to Milton Keynes, Birmingham, Manchester, Scotland etc).

While all positions on the BSF Executive will be up for election, many current members are re-standing and the positions the BSF is particularly keen to fill are President (because Stella Ackrell is stepping down) and Administrator (because Lesley Morisetti took on this role on a temporary basis).

These roles need to be skills-based, and the person elected as President will almost certainly become a member of the Board of a new single baseball/softball organisation if merger goes ahead and will chair the new softball Commission.

The BSF will shortly circulate full job descriptions to League Heads, who in turn can pass them on to league teams.


National Championships

Lesley Morisetti told the League Heads about BSF plans for National Championships in 2017.

The Single-Sex Nationals will be held on the weekend of 8-9 July at the Moor Lane Sports Ground in Birmingham.

On 12-13 August, the BSF will hold Co-ed National Championships for league teams at Farnham Park, with four levels of play offered: Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze.  The winning team from each BSF slowpitch league division in 2016 will be invited to attend, and if necessary invitations will be extended to the second-placed team, but no further.  To qualify, players must have played on four dates in league play for their team.

On 2-3 September, the BSF will hold Co-ed National Championships for NSL 1 and NSL 2 at Farnham Park.  Twelve teams have entered each of these leagues for 2017, and the top eight finishers from each league will compete in the Championships.  To qualify, players must have played on four days for their NSL team, with at least two days played at an NSL event.

Further information will be published by the BSF shortly.

The big change for 2017 is that the BSF is going to be much tougher about granting dispensations.  “The level of dispensations asked for in recent years has become ridiculous,” Lesley told the League Heads – to which the general reply was “Yes – so please enforce stricter criteria!”  Teams should be aware of the full schedule for the year, including European tournaments, and should be able to anticipate availability issues well in advance.

Finally, from leagues running winter indoor competitions, there was general enthusiasm for the idea of a National Championship tournament in the spring for teams or possibly League All-Star Teams.  The BSF will talk to BSUK about how this might be organised.


National Softball League

Both the BSF representatives and all the League Heads expressed the hope that the National Softball League would not be an agenda item at the BSF AGM in February – and it shouldn’t be, since teams are signed up already for NSL 1 and NSL 2 for 2017.

Both leagues will be played on a home-and-away basis on three weekends next year, and the BSF will confirm the dates shortly.

It was suggested that, down the road, there will probably be a need for an NSL 3.


International Rulebook

Mike Jennings told the meeting that he is involved, with others, in completely re-writing the International Softball Rulebook – and the major change will be that there will be a slowpitch-only version, rather than (as at present), slowpitch rules being tucked away as variations of fastpitch rules.

This re-writing involves the rules as they currently stand, but changes or amendments to existing rules can be submitted to the WBSC Softball Division Congress in 2017 and a new Rulebook will be published in 2018.


Safety equipment

The Solent Softball League is thinking about making the wearing of helmets mandatory in slowpitch league play, and League Head Mike Doe was looking for feedback from other leagues.

Bristol makes helmets (and facemasks for catchers) available, but they are not mandatory (except for Under-18 players, which is a BSF rule in force across the country).

In the East Midlands League, helmets are now mandatory, and only one player has stopped playing because of it.

Manchester requires each team to provide four helmets, but wearing them isn’t mandatory.

In the Oxford League, no game can be started unless helmets are available – but again, wearing them is not mandatory.  However, the league encouraged veteran players to wear them to set an example.

In the relatively new Sefton League, helmets have been mandatory – and accepted – from the beginning.

The use of helmets has not been discussed by the GLSML.

Mike Doe reported that the Solent League encourages new players to wear them, but despite a vote last year to make helmets mandatory, there has not yet been a final decision.

It was suggested that leagues should provide the BSF with reports of incidents where people had been hit in the head by thrown balls – this is the real issue as opposed to being hit by a pitch -- so that graphic examples of the dangers could be provided.

A related question was raised about whether adult Sikh players can be required to wear helmets, and in terms of ISF rules, it appears that they can be required to do so.


2017 Calendar

The Softball Calendar for 2017 is currently being compiled and all leagues and other organisers who are planning tournaments in 2017 should provide the name, date, venue and brief description of the tournament, plus a contact name and email address, to Bob Fromer (bob.fromer@bsuk.com).

Mike Doe told the League Heads that the Solent League has now regained use of the venue for the Solent Lastball, and so this popular end-of-season tournament will be on the calendar again in 2017 (date TBC).

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