The BSF convened a remote Autumn League Heads Forum on the evening of Tuesday 17 October, with many issues discussed at a well-attended meeting.
Six members of the BSF Executive were present – Lesley Morisetti, Liz Graham, Pete Saunders, Nicola-Jane Dyson, Laura Hirai, and Bob Fromer – along with BSF Athletes Commission Chair Tim Bishop and former BSF Executive member Mike Jennings.
CEO John Boyd, Head of Operations Erica Barrett, and Acting Head of Development Leah Holmes attended for BSUK.
Leagues represented at the meeting included Bristol, East Midlands, London, Leeds, Manchester, Edinburgh, Milton Keynes, Oxford, Solent, Windsor & Maidenhead, the London Publishers League, new leagues from Coventry and Swindon, and the Great Britain Fastpitch League.
Previously, League Heads Forum meetings were held once a year, but following agreement at the most recent League Heads Forum in February, meetings will now be held twice a year – before and after the season.
One of the questions posed at this meeting was whether there was a desire to have at least one League Heads Forum each year held in-person, as they were before the pandemic, so that formal discussion could be supplemented by networking. However, the feeling was that meetings should stay remote.
At the start of the meeting, a few leagues reported on the season just past.
Bristol, Manchester, and the London Softball League said they had all enjoyed really good seasons, but the London Softball League, with close to 50 teams, is wrestling with the loss of existing fields and an inability to find new ones.
In contrast, the Leeds Softball League has found a great new venue but is struggling to recruit players – especially women – and is now down to seven teams.
Earlier this year, the BSF established an Athletes Commission consisting of Tim Bishop, Dani Briggs, Matt Tomlin, and Jenny Horton, who among them cover all formats of the sport.
Tim Bishop, who currently acts as Chair, told the meeting that the Athletes Commission exists to support players and to ensure that feedback from the playing community is taken on board and passed upwards to the BSF or BSUK as required. He hoped that League Heads would ensure that information and contact details about the Commission was passed on to their teams and players.
The Commission has already achieved some good results, Tim said, in getting clarity for players on issues around insurance, NSL rostering, Softball Academies, and the roles and responsibilities of the BSF and BSUK.
Review of coach training and provision
Following representations to the BSF early this year about inadequacies in BSUK’s provision of Level 1 coaching courses for slowpitch, and subsequent BSF-BSUK discussions, BSUK has recently appointed an external consultant to review the structure and provision of coach training for softball and baseball.
Bristol League Head Neil Butterfield and Mike Hayward from baseball have represented the BSF and BBF in the appointment process and in defining the parameters of the consultation, and they will continue to monitor progress and results.
Neil told the meeting that his main concern was that the consultant may not be able to gain a feel for the specific needs of slowpitch, and he asked League Heads to let him know what each league feels it wants and needs in terms of coach-training and coach provision.
Whitney Hollis from the London Softball League pointed out that there is currently a thread for coaching on the Slack channel that exists to further communication between BSUK’s development staff and league representatives, and that this could contribute to the discussion.
There was a suggestion that Neil could update League Heads on the outcomes from the review at the next League Heads Forum early in the new year.
Personal Accident Insurance
Public Liability Insurance for all BSF softball leagues is provided through team affiliation fees, but the provision of Personal Accident Insurance has been optional, with leagues choosing to opt in on behalf of all their teams. In 2023, the cost for Personal Accident insurance amounted to about £22 per team in those leagues that opted in.
Currently, 12 out of 18 leagues affiliated to the BSF purchase this insurance, and the BSF is considering whether to make Civil Liability and Personal Accident insurance mandatory as part of a single insurance package.
The leagues that currently opt out do so because they feel the number of incidents that would bring Personal Accident insurance into play is low and so the insurance is not worth the cost.
The BSF will have further discussions about how to proceed, and will go back to leagues before making a decision.
Individual player registration
In an effort to tighten up on governance procedures for softball and baseball as required in the wake of the recent Whyte Review (https://www.sportengland.org/guidance-and-support/safeguarding/whyte-review), BSUK will be installing a new and comprehensive data management system called Sport:80, which is customised to the needs of individual sports, and is currently used by over 50 National Governing Bodies and sporting organisations.
This system, as BSUK Head of Operations Erica Barrett told the meeting, will be able to store and use data on different scales and for different purposes, including for league as well as BSF administration and for communications, administration of coaching and umpire databases, and provision of necessary data to insurers and funding bodies.
But the key to maximising its value will be registration by individual players from all BSF teams -- though some of the information players would be asked to provide would be optional.
The BSF Executive is still discussing this system with BSUK and has yet to make a decision on whether individual player registration will be required in 2024.
BSF safeguarding requirements
Before the meeting, a request was received from the Windsor & Maidenhead League that if the BSF planned to introduce any safeguarding provisions for 2024 that would require the purchase of equipment, these provisions should be publicised as early as possible so that the required equipment could be sourced.
The Executive is happy to do this and will shortly be deciding whether the requirement for under-18 players to use helmets with built-in faceguards, which is a mandatory WBSC requirement for under-16 players and was extended by the BSF to include under-18s, will be in force for 2024. The issue is still whether such helmets can be easily sourced at an affordable price.
The BSF will also be considering whether it can provide some subsidy for this.
There was also a discussion in this section of the meeting about whether the outcomes of Incident Reports submitted to BSUK in the event of accidents and/or injuries could be reported back to the leagues that submitted them, probably to the Safeguarding Officer and League Head.
As far as the BSF knows, pretty much every league has “Ringer Rules” – rules that govern when and how teams can use guest players in league competition.
BSF Administrator Bob Fromer has asked all leagues to send their Ringer Rules (to email@example.com) so that the BSF can see if there are common approaches and any interesting ideas that could be fed back to leagues for consideration.
This is not about standardising Ringer Rules, just about sharing ideas.
So far, four leagues have sent in their Ringer Rules, and hopefully more will follow.
There has been a fair amount of talk recently about confusion around team gradings and how teams can be assigned to appropriate divisions at tournaments, as well as the appropriate numbers of NSL players to be allowed.
So the BSF Executive asked the League Heads if they would like the BSF to undertake an exercise to standardise gradings for all BSF league and independent teams. However, the general opinion was that this would be complicated and that Tournament Organisers were best placed to do this for their events.
Social media policy
BSF Administrator Bob Fromer told the meeting that in light of recent incidents, the BSF and BSUK are working on a Social Media Policy designed to promote responsible use of BSF social media platforms, and a Code of Practice that affiliated players may be required to sign.
The aim is to strike the always-complicated balance between freedom of speech and regulation of posts that can cause harm.
Diversity and Inclusivity Review
Former BSF Executive member Mike Jennings attended part of the meeting to thank those leagues that returned the BSF’s Diversity and Inclusivity Survey that was sent to League Heads earlier this year. He is preparing a report on the results for BSUK’s new Head of Development, Leah Holmes, though because of the nature of the survey, this will provide impressions rather than quantifiable data.
While attempting to quantify numbers of players in terms of gender, ethnic background, etc can provide crucial information for funders, several people at the meeting emphasised that this is sensitive information and providing it must always be optional.
The debate on this will surface again when discussions between the BSF and BSUK on a system for individual registration proceed.
BSF Technical Officer Pete Saunders told the meeting that three leagues have signed up for online umpire training courses next year, and that leagues that want a course should contact BASU Training Officer Colin Russell (BasuTrainingOfficer@gmail.com).
The structure of courses will be the same as in 2023, Pete said, but there will be updates to some of the video modules.
BASU was also considering bringing back the Advanced Course next year, but a decision has not yet been made.
Finally, Pete made a plea for Tournament Organisers to send Tournament Packs, rules, pitch layouts and schedules to Crew Chiefs as early as possible next year rather than at the last minute, a practice rather too prevalent in 2023.
Apart from allowing Crew Chiefs to finalise assignments for the tournament, advance notice can often allow them to spot potential issues in the tournament rules.
The final section of the League Heads Forum was presented by BSUK and led by Leah Holmes.
As the Acting Head of Development, replacing Chris Rawlings, Leah would like to have extensive direct contact with League Heads and league Committee members. All but two BSF leagues are currently using the Slack network referenced previously to talk with BSUK about development issues, and the channel has many different threads.
Leah then spoke briefly on a number of BSUK initiatives.
Softball Academies. BSUK has now launched its new and revised Academy offering for the 2023-24 off-season, and for slowpitch softball, it will build on the pilot coaching sessions presented at a variety of tournaments over the summer. The Slowpitch Academy will run from November through February at three locations: in Rochdale, Bristol and London. The London sessions will be at the new baseball/softball indoor centre at The 108 in Brent Cross (see: https://www.britishsoftball.org/news/article/register-now-for-the-2023-24-bsuk-london-indoor-softball-league-at-the-108-in-brent-cross).
Coach Summit. The 2024 Coach Summit will be held over the weekend of 27-28 January 2024 at The 108 indoor centre. More details to follow.
Support for Captains. BSUK Development Manager Luis Arrevillagas is working on a package of support for slowpitch team captains, and has set up a Working Group with captains from different leagues. The package will look at providing centralised resources for team captains, networking opportunities, and mentoring possibilities.
Women’s recruitment programme. Leah told the meeting that BSUK has begun planning a project to address the lower numbers of small ball hitters within our sports, with a particular focus on slowpitch. Some initial questions have been posed to League Heads on the Slack channel. Leah would like to hear from leagues that are struggling in this regard. Coventry Blitz apparently ran a successful campaign to recruit female and non-binary players recently, and it would be good if their experience could be shared.
Facilities Fund. BSUK is launching the latest iteration of its Facilities Fund, to which softball and baseball leagues and clubs can apply for grant funding to create fixed assets such as field improvements, storage facilities, etc. Very few applications have been received from softball over the three years this programme has been in existence, and BSUK would like that to change. Leah told the meeting that BSUK will work with applicants to overcome barriers such as the need for a long-term access agreement to a facility and the need for match-funding. An online Workshop will be held on 27 November to fully explain the scheme and how to apply. Awards for 2024 will be made next April.
LGBTQ+ Network. An online meeting of BSUK’s LGBTQ+ Network (formerly the LGBTQ+ Panel) will be held on 13 November, and all softball leagues are invited to send a representative. More details will be available shortly.
Opportunities for university players. Leah told the meeting that BSUK can support off-season playing opportunities for university players and will do more to link leagues with nearby universities where softball is played. There will be more and better communication with university softball clubs in future to ensure that players are given all the information they need to continue playing after university, ideally in BSF-affiliated leagues.
First Pitch. MLB’s First Pitch programme, part of the London Series Legacy, is designed as a baseball programme, but is really T-Ball for primary schools and thus equally applicable as a softball programme. Leah would like to hear from League Heads about any youth softball activity in their area so that the possibility of bringing in the resources of the First Pitch programme can be explored.