Productive day at the League Heads Forum

Tue 14 Nov 2017

The BSF held its annual League Heads Forum on Saturday 11 November at the West Midlands Police Sports and Social Club in Birmingham, and as usual, it was a day with productive and useful discussions across a wide range of softball topics.

The meeting has been an annual fixture for over 20 years, and provides a chance for those running softball leagues to sit down with people from the BSF Executive, BASU and BSUK and talk about current issues and the state of the sport.

The meeting was chaired by BSF President Jenny Fromer and attended by 21 people.  As well as the BSF, BASU and BSUK, the following slowpitch leagues were represented:  Bristol, East Midlands, Edinburgh, the Greater London Softball Mixed League, Leeds, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Oxford, Sefton, Solent and Windsor & Maidenhead.

Below is a report on the topics discussed:


National Championships and the National Softball League

Jenny Fromer began this section of the meeting by re-stating the conclusions that the BSF Executive had come to at its weekend meeting at the end of October:

  • After the first full year of NSL 2 in 2017, the NSL structure seems to be working well and is popular with players.
     
  • The BSF wants to give this structure another couple of years to bed in before adding to it or making changes.  So, for the next couple of years, there will be one-up, one-down between NSL 1 and 2, moving to two-up, two down in 2020.
     
  • As many as eight additional teams have expressed an interest in getting into the NSL structure by joining NSL 2.  For the next couple of years, the BSF will run a qualifying tournament at the end of the season, ideally alongside the NSL Nationals, with the top two teams from this tournament replacing the bottom two teams in the NSL 2 league standings.  In 2020, if demand continues, an NSL 3 could be created, with its own league schedule.
     

At the moment, the league schedule for NSL 1 and 2 is played entirely within the three Diamond Series tournaments, but comments from the meeting suggested that there is some desire to see NSL play at more tournaments around the country, with Bristol and Windsor interested in hosting NSL competition.  Northern and Scottish teams and players, in particular, would welcome not having to travel to the South East every time to compete in the NSL.

It was suggested that perhaps NSL tournaments could be awarded to leagues through a bidding system, as was the case with National Championships in the past.

David Lee from Bristol said: “The NSL could eventually grow beyond 12 teams in each division, with an expansion in the number of dates and venues.”

One of the advantages of playing NSL games at Farnham Park is of course the quality of the fields, and with BSUK National Development Manager Chris Rawlings was asked whether there are still plans to develop a similar facility elsewhere.  Chris – supported by David Dean from the Manchester Softball League – replied that BSUK is still committed to building a baseball/softball facility in Manchester, but that progress has been stalled by Manchester City Council and the Football Foundation.  Hopes remain that progress can be made soon.


Platinum Nationals

With the League Nationals and the NSL Nationals now played on separate dates, the League Nationals should in theory have Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze Divisions.  But there was no Platinum Division in 2017, perhaps in part because of the rapid growth of NSL 2.

For 2018, the BSF will offer four leagues – Bristol, Manchester, Windsor and the GLSML -- the chance to send two teams each to the Platinum Nationals.  The 2017 Gold winner will also be invited, and other leagues can propose teams as well.  This Division will run if a minimum of six teams enter.

There was general agreement that the League Nationals went well this year because teams at this level finally got to play consistently on the showcase fields at Farnham Park.


League All-Star Nationals

Some years ago, the BSF came up with the idea for a League All-Star Nationals, where leagues from around the country sent All-Star Teams to a two-day competition.  This tournament flourished for a few years, but then interest waned.  Kat Macann from the GLSML wondered whether reviving this tournament might provide something different for leagues that the Platinum Nationals doesn’t.

David Lee said that something like this was already under way in the South West, where an informal All-Star Tournament had been held at the end of the 2017 season, with five leagues sending teams.  Six leagues have committed for 2018.

The BSF will discuss whether it might be worth bringing this tournament back on a national level.


Dispensations

There was general agreement at the meeting that requests for dispensations for Co-ed National Championships have got out of hand in recent years, and Jenny Fromer reiterated decisions the BSF Executive has made to tighten up the system for 2018:

  • There will be a deadline for requesting dispensations, probably around two weeks before each tournament, and the only requests that will be considered after that are medical or other emergencies that have arisen between the deadline and the tournament.
     
  • No team will be granted dispensations for more than three players.
     
  • If a team can field six men and six women from its own roster, no dispensations will be granted.
     
  • Replacement players must be from the same level of play or lower.
     

The meeting agreed that these are sensible measures and, while not fool-proof, should go some way to cutting down abuse of the system.  The consensus was: “Establish the rules and stick to them!”


Uniform rules

The BSF rules regarding uniform requirements for teams at National Championships were re-stated:

  • All players must wear matching tops.
     
  • Players can wear trousers or shorts, but all must be the same base colour.
     

To give these requirements some force, the BSF is proposing to add a £50 “uniform surcharge” to fees for National Championships next year, with the surcharge to be returned afterwards to all teams that comply with the regulations.

Paul Brown from Leeds queried whether these regulations might be a little too draconian, especially for some of the Rec teams that play in the League Nationals.  The meeting agreed that the rules need to be made very clear, with some flexibility exercised around them, and that the BSF should consider whether affordability might be an issue in some cases.


Improving the Nationals

The BSF’s aim is to make the Co-ed National Championships the pinnacle tournament of each season.

At its weekend meeting in October, the BSF had come up with some ideas for improving and enhancing the Nationals, including:

  • Ensuring that scoreboards at Farnham Park are used on all fields.
     
  • Using a PA system and providing commentary for finals.
     
  • Longer games during group stages.
     
  • Using line-up cards for playoff games.
     
  • Providing live and on-demand webstreaming of final games, as in 2016.
     

The League Heads Forum meeting added the following ideas:

  • Field umpires for all games.
     
  • More seating for spectators.
     
  • A party or social event at the Home Plate clubhouse on Saturday night, possibly with a live band.
     
  • More activities around the tournament such as a kids’ play area, clinics, an exhibition match etc.
     
  • A Home Run Derby and other individual contests.
     
  • Sales of tournament T-shirts, and equipment suppliers' stalls on site.
     

The BSF will look at all of these ideas and consider which might be practically and financially feasible.


Softball World Series

The BSF is now solely responsible for the annual Softball World Series tournament, in which players represent countries or regions of the world they have come from or have solid connections with.  A little over half of the 18 teams that compete are made up of players based in the UK, while up to eight teams fly in from Europe each year to take part.

One key rationale for the tournament from the BSF’s point of view is to further the growth of slowpitch softball in Europe.

As far as domestically-based teams are concerned, the BSF would like to ensure that teams are genuinely made up of players with connections to the country or region the team represents, and that more players are given the chance to play in this very popular event.

So the BSF plans to publish names and contact details for all World Series captains early next year so that players from that country or region can contact them; and captains will be provided with contact details for Softball League Heads so they can reach out to see if there are players in regional leagues who might be eligible for their team.

At the same time, the BSF will require that domestically-based teams have at least two new players on their World Series roster each season, and will set up a dispensations system for teams that feel they need to use players who do not have connections with the relevant country or region.

The feeling is that the World Series will be an even better tournament if it gets back to the original idea of a competition between countries and regions, contested by players with solid connections to those geographical entities.


Development

A session on development was started off by BSUK’s Chris Rawlings, who explained that BSUK had restructured its development staff after losing former Co-National Development Manager Will Lintern earlier this year.

BSUK now has six development staff – Chris as National Development Manager, four Regional Development Managers (Luis Arrevillagas in the North West, Leah Holmes in the Midlands, Patrick Knock in the South East and Liz Knight in London), plus Johanna Malisani as Fastpitch Development Manager.

BSUK now works in six main areas, each with a development plan and a development staff member assigned to it:

  • Participation growth.  This work takes place across a number of areas, many of them under the Hit the Pitch programme, including corporate softball, schools and universities and attempts to increase participation by women and girls, members of lower socio-economic groups and the LGBT community.
     
  • Clubs and leagues.  This work involves helping clubs and leagues with governance issues and building foundations for development through programmes like Clubmark.  Given that university softball is one of the fastest-growing areas at the moment, BSUK is urging softball leagues to engage with universities in their area if they don’t already, and can provide support to do so.
     
  • Safeguarding and workforce.  In addition to ensuring that Safeguarding Officers are in place where necessary and that a safeguarding culture is developed in the sport, this area takes in coaching and coach education.  Both BSUK and the League Heads would like to see more female coaches and coach tutors, and perhaps more clinics aimed at female players.  BSUK now has a flexible suite of coaching modules in addition to a Coaching Award that is similar to the old Level 2, so is in a good position to respond to the needs of clubs and leagues for either coach-training or player clinics.
     
  • Talent development.  This is the softball and baseball Academies and High Performance Academies, both organised and supported by BSUK.
     
  • Facilities.  BSUK created and maintains Farnham Park, and is developing a suite of materials to provide technical guidance for clubs and leagues wishing to update their own facilities.
     
  • Little League.  Little League has become the main organisational structure for youth baseball in the UK, and youth softball will soon follow suit.
     

“Development,” Chris told the meeting, “is basically about making things bigger and better.”  Leagues should share their priorities with BSUK so that BSUK development staff can figure out the best way to help them.

He also explained the BSUK Point Person system, whereby each of the four Regional Development Managers is the main BSUK contact for clubs, teams and leagues in that region, while Chris is the Point Person for any area outside the focus regions and Johanna Malisani is the Point Person for things to do with fastpitch.

Chris told the meeting that BSUK’s third annual Coach Summit, scheduled for 27 January 2018, will focus on fastpitch and baseball this time, without dedicated speakers or sessions for slowpitch.  But BSUK will be happy to look at organising a slowpitch-only Summit in future in conjunction with the BSF if the demand is there.  Such an event could incorporate not just coaching sessions, but player clinics and workshops on league and team administration issues.

There were brief discussions around three further development topics:

  • BSUK is keen to provide leagues and clubs with development grants, and over the past few years, the amounts budgeted for this have been underspent.  In general, however, for future grants, the BSF will require recipients to engage BSUK where this is relevant.
     
  • There was some interest from those at the meeting in scorekeeping courses, and the BSF will look at how this might be done – perhaps through a Webinar?
     
  • David Lee told the meeting that he is happy to offer slowpitch pitching courses to any league that might be interested.
     


Umpiring

A session on umpiring was led by Chris Moon, who is BASU’s Training Officer and the BASU representative on the BSF Executive.

BASU offers leagues a range of courses: the two-day BASU Qualifying Course, a one-day course on basic mechanics and a one-day Advanced Course for qualified BASU umpires.

BASU is looking for feedback on the benefits of the Advanced Course from umpires who have recently taken it.  To provide feedback, contact .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Chris stressed that the two-day BASU Qualifying Course makes no sense for those who are completely new to umpiring, and it would be good if leagues could run a one-day introductory course for such people before sending them on a two-day course, probably in the following year.

Various leagues approach this issue differently.   Bristol has for many years run a one-day course to train new umpires to achieve a BLU (Bristol League Umpire) qualification as a stepping stone to a two-day course.  The GLSML runs a three-hour course to train new umpires to be field umpires before they go on to do a one-day plate umpire course and then the BASU Qualifying Course.  Bristol also runs a mentoring system for new blues.

One suggestion from the floor was that BASU might stage short modules at tournaments on specific topics such as the strike zone.  Another suggestion was for leagues to incorporate umpiring elements in taster days.

Chris Moon closed the topic by advising leagues that want to run umpire courses next spring to book early, and to talk to him about particular needs they may have around umpriring.


Helmets

After lunch, the meeting turned to a number of “discussion topics”, the first of which was the question of whether helmets should be required for adult batters and baserunners in slowpitch (they are already required for players under 18).

More leagues are making helmets mandatory; others are making it mandatory for helmets to be available but not to wear them; still other leagues use them with new players in the expectation that use will eventually become the norm.

The rules of the WBSC Softball Division (formerly the ISF) do not require the use of helmets in slowpitch softball, and the BSF position is that it supports any league that wants to take measures to increase player safety, but it will not require the mandatory use of helmets at the present time.

Leagues or teams that want to purchase helmets can apply to the BSF for a development grant to do so, and these requests will be evaluated on their merits.

The expectation at the meeting was that the use of helmets will become more widespread over time.  Leeds made them mandatory a while ago and initially supplied them; now many players own their own helmet and almost all players have embraced their use.

But a different question was raised at the end of this discussion: should some kind of face mask be mandatory for pitchers?


Pregnant players

The BSF position on women playing while pregnant was clarified at the Executive’s recent weekend meeting: it’s a woman’s choice to play, and it’s also her choice whether to disclose the pregnancy.  Individual opposition players can choose not to play against a pregnant woman, but if the team chooses not to play, or is unable to do so because of player withdrawals, they will forfeit the game.

However, individual leagues are free to make their own rules.

There was general agreement with the BSF position, and Kat Macann from the GLSML said that preventing pregnant women from playing could be in violation of the Equalities Act – a point that the BSF will research.


British teams playing in Europe

Jenny Fromer reminded the league representatives that any team playing abroad, whether a club or national team, should let the BSF know in advance of the trip for two reasons:  Federation-to-Federation relations, and the public liability insurance that the BSF provides.

Any team travelling abroad with players under 18 must also complete a simple BSUK Trip Information Form that can be obtained from .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), who is BSUK’s lead Safeguarding Officer, and who may need to get involved if an incident involving a young player occurs during a trip overseas.


BSF website and registration

This year, the BSF is making it a requirement that all affiliated leagues must provide a name and contact email address for all of their teams.

The BSF will be developing a new Registration Form that will take account of upcoming changes to data protection regulations, and this form should be available online early in the new year.

The Spawtz system (the league and team management functionality in the back end of the BSF website) may not be meeting the needs of very many leagues, most of whom have their own websites, but the BSF does need to have centralised online registration.  The BSF will support (and pay for) use of the Spawtz system on its website for one more year, and will set up a sub-group to plan what to do going forward.

“The BSF is still a long way away from being able to contact all its players,” Jenny Fromer told the meeting, “but we are closer to being able to contact all our teams.”


Codes and penalties

Neena Patel from the Windsor and Maidenhead League raised a question about the range of penalties that might follow an ejection, depending on the seriousness of the player’s behaviour, and other penalties for Code violations.

The Manchester Softball League has a whole Handbook on this, while the GLSML is in in the process of developing codes and processes for formal and informal complaints.

The BSF will look at creating a resource bank on its website where leagues can share policies and Codes, and can provide guidance on issues that leagues should be considering.


Safeguarding

The BSF and the British Baseball Federation (BBF) both delegate responsibility for safeguarding to BSUK, and the BSUK Board has recently taken a look at current procedures and has issued a paper designed to tighten some holes in the process.

One important new element is that people who volunteer to be Safeguarding Officers for teams or leagues will now require safeguarding training, preferably via a four-hour “Time to Listen” course that BSUK and many local Councils or County Sports Partnerships can deliver.

Coaches working with players under 18 will be required to undertake at least an online training course; again, BSUK can provide information on this.

Any adult teams that have three or more players under 18 on their roster will be treated as a youth team with regarding to the safeguarding requirements that apply.

As now, Parental Permission Forms are needed before any player under 18 can play in an adult team, but the form can serve for the entire season and doesn’t have to be re-submitted for each event.

Jenny Fromer said, “We need to get into the habit of having these forms and putting trained Safeguarding Officers in place, and we’ll get better at this over time.  Once the culture is in place, we can look at what to do about teams that don’t comply.”


Annual awards

The BSF is looking for nominations from the softball community for its various annual awards, for potential new inductees to the BSF Hall of Fame, and for a series of coaching awards that will be presented at the BSUK Coach Summit in January.

An article to appear on the BSF website will provide full details of what nominations can be made and how to make them.

Bob Fromer reminded the meeting that Hall of Fame nominations can be made for players, coaches, umpire,s team managers and others who are still active in the category for which they’re being nominated as long as they have been active for 10 years or more.

“There are some fantastic players in the slowpitch community,” Bob said, “who have been playing for that length of time and who need recognition in order to bring the Hall of Fame more up to date.”


Thanks

The meeting ended early with thanks to all who attended, and especially to Mike Lott from the Sefton Softball League, who provided a great range of food for lunch.

Travel expenses can be claimed by those who attended by contacting .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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