BSUK and MLB re-launch Play Ball! programme

Thu 3 Apr 2014

Play Ball! community youth leagues will make a return to the youth baseball and softball development scene this summer in the form of a pilot programme run by BSUK and Major League Baseball in four key locations.

Three of the locations have already been announced – Hull, Halton and Leicester – with a fourth pilot area to be determined shortly.


Following the conclusion of last year's Youth Baseball Review, a joint look by BSUK and the BBF at how youth baseball is organised in the UK, it was determined that for youth baseball to grow, it must be played at the local level.  In discussions with current and former clubs the length and breadth of the country, it was highlighted that in terms of getting more children and young people playing baseball and softball, the travel distance to compete in home and away fixtures is one of the greatest barriers to participation. 

In response, the BBF and BSUK determined that local league play is the way forward, with a vision that every boy and girl in the country will eventually be able to play baseball or softball within 20 minutes of where they live.  This vision for youth play sits nicely within BSUK's wider vision of our sports as “Played in Every Park”, and with growth targets of getting 20,000 people playing by 2013, 30,000 by 2017 and 50,000 by 2021.

What is Play Ball!?

Play BallPlay Ball! is BaseballSoftballUK's flagship development programme for children and young people.  Developed in partnership with Major League Baseball, Play Ball! is a local community-centred baseball/softball “league in a box”, aimed at 10-12-year-old boys and girls.  The primary goal of the programme is to establish self-sufficient and sustainable youth baseball and softball leagues where children and young people can access the sports on a regular basis with a minimum of travel. 

The secondary goal of the programme is to create a transition between primary and secondary education.  The age range of 10-12 for Play Ball! means that clubs running a local league can attract children and young people from both local secondary schools and the primary schools that feed into them.

Play Ball! is designed to be the link between school-based baseball/softball and the community.  A Play Ball! league would ideally be run on one evening or weekend day each week during the season at the local club, or at a school site as part of a satellite programme. 

Play Ball! should be supported through school engagement and taster sessions coached by the club, but it can also support a more extended school offer.

Play Ball! support

Major League Baseball and BaseballSoftballUK will jointly support the Play Ball! Programme, with a three-year commitment.  Both BSUK and Major League Baseball want to see local baseball/softball flourish in the community, and for Play Ball! Programmes to be a success they must produce leagues that are self-sufficient and sustainable beyond the initial support provided.

To achieve this, support will cover a three-year period, but with a reduced level of support each year leading to Year Four, where no financial aid from BSUK will be required.  But standard club and league development support will still be available through BSUK's Point Person system.

The type of support available during the first three years of each programme will include an equipment bag, paid coaching support, coach bursaries, volunteer training and coach mentoring.

Key difference

Play BallWhile the benefits of Play Ball! are clear, the concept of starting a local league can often seem daunting, with many baseball clubs and adult softball leagues unsure of where to start.  With this in mind, BSUK and Major League Baseball have agreed that now is a good time to re-launch the historically successful Play Ball! programme.  Between 1998 and 2009, over 20 new youth baseball and softball leagues were started through Play Ball!, but in recent years a decline in support has seen a drop-off in numbers.

The key difference between this re-launch of Play Ball! and the previous programme is the emphasis on developing self-sufficient and sustainable leagues.  The core funding and development support will be channelled into the development of coaches and volunteers, ensuring they have the tools and skills necessary to start, run and sustain local youth baseball and softball leagues.

The sporting landscape in the UK is very different now than it was at the turn of millennium when Play Ball! was last introduced.  In addition, BaseballSoftballUK has matured as an organisation and is in a position to take advantage of the networks available to our sports through the County Sports Partnerships, Youth Sport Trust, primary and secondary schools and other key partners in the sports development industry.  It was BSUK's demonstrated success in growing participation in baseball and softball over the past several years that led Major League Baseball to the conclusion that now was the right time to invest back into the programme and run a pilot for 2014. 

Jason Holowaty, Major League Baseball’s director of market development for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said “2014 is the right time for Play Ball! to make a comeback here in the UK.  BSUK has an excellent team in place right now, and with their expertise we feel that Play Ball! will rejuvenate youth baseball and softball here in the UK."

Fastpitch softball too

Play BallPlay Ball! is a programme for both boys and girls.  As such, it is hoped that one of outputs of the programme will be to develop a model whereby girls can be recruited and retained in a local fastpitch league. 

BSUK and Major League Baseball are particularly keen to see how softball clubs/leagues and baseball clubs are able to utilise Play Ball! as a pathway from school-based taster sessions to establishing community-based leagues for baseball and fastpitch softball.

Pilot areas

The following clubs have been selected as locations for the Play Ball! pilot in 2014, with one more area to be announced shortly:

  • Hull Scorpions Baseball Club
  • Halton Baseball and Softball Club
  • Leicester Blue Sox Baseball and Softball Club

Hull Scorpions General Manager and Junior Coach Kevin Macadam said: “We are delighted to have been chosen as one of the pilot areas for the Play Ball!! programme.  We look forward to teaching boys and girls in the area how to play baseball and enjoying the fun that playing the sport entails.”

Matt Crawshaw from the Leicester Blue Sox said: "Sustaining and growing existing junior programmes can be even more challenging than setting them up in the first place.  There is such a reliance on new kids and families joining year on year to keep things going, which is often only possible with regular development initiatives such as this.  We are looking forward to lots of new faces trying out baseball and softball for the first time at their schools, leading to an end-of-school-year Play Ball! tournament finale at our baseball field in June.”

Wider roll-out

After the 2014 season, the Play Ball! programme will be evaluated and the scale of a wider roll-out in 2015 will be considered.  Applications to run new Play Ball! programmes in 2015 will be accepted during the 2014/15 off-season. 

Look for more information on the BSUK website, or contact your BSUK Point Person.

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