Another successful season comes to a close for The Academy

Thu 1 May 2014

Blending a recipe that’s proven successful over the years with some new features and faces, BSUK'S  Academy programme has just provided the nation’s aspiring baseball and softball players with another winter of playing and practice opportunities.

Between October 2013 and April 2014, BaseballSoftballUK delivered 25 sessions around the country, developing players’ skills, game IQ and mental approach before culminating with an Academy Series for each format at Farnham Park.

Similar format

Both Academies followed a similar format to previous years, with four national practices held in Milton Keynes, supplemented with regional sessions. 

Academy Baseball visited Manchester three times, Hemel Hempstead twice and Waltham Abbey in Essex once.

Academy Softball held four practices each in Uxbridge and Nottingham.

As in previous years, a national membership allowed players to attend both national and regional sessions, offering tremendous value for money.

Changes

While this format has proven successful over the past few years, the new Director of Academy Baseball, Liam Carroll, implemented some changes this winter to keep things fresh.  The most notable was giving each session a theme designed to focus the players’ minds and to ensure that the baseball education they were receiving was broader than just fundamental skills and included developing mental skills and a baseball IQ.

The themes, which were also adopted by Academy Softball by the end of the year, included:

  • Win This Pitch (to focus the players’ minds on giving their best effort in the present moment).
     
  • Teamwork (reminding players that winning is a result of everyone giving 100% to their role).
     
  • Intent (to help players identify and execute a plan for each pitch or play).
     
  • Process (to encourage players to focus on executing their skills rather than on the results, which are out of their control).
     
  • W.I.N. N.O.W., which stands for “What’s Important Now? No Opportunity Wasted.” This was to encourage players to make the most of every opportunity that they are given and to reinforce the first theme of staying in the moment.
     
  • Positive (reinforcing a commitment to practice and self-improvement even when the task or skill is hard, and encouraging players to “want to” do things rather than “have to” do them.
     
  • Compete (encouraging players to try to do the best they possibly can, regardless of the result).
     

Liam Carroll said, “The Academy will always provide drills and instruction to develop players’ skills, but they’re going to need hundreds more reps to master them than we can provide in a few sessions.  What we can do in that time is reinforce values that will stand them in good stead to be good ballplayers and great people.  Regardless of how talented these players are or how much quality practice they get outside of the Academy, if they are great teammates, have a positive attitude and always compete, the future of our sports is in great shape.”

Coaches

The Academy is always reliant on the commitment of volunteers from the community, but the recruitment of new coaches for both sports over the past winter meant that the players were in capable hands throughout the Academy season.

From novice coaches in a shadow role to coaches with high level experience to national team players wanting to pass on their expertise, both sports were incredibly well served.  It’s no secret that that the better the ratio of coaches to players, the better the experience will be for everyone involved.  That ratio was better than ever this year and featured coaches with high-level youth, club, international and even professional experience.

Administrators

Add to that the tremendous efforts made by those who have continued or stepped into administrative roles, and the ratio of staff to players at The Academy has never been better. Over 50 coaches and support staff were involved this year.

Special mention must go to:

  • Julie Spittle, who stepped into the role of Academy Softball Administrator.
     
  • Paul Cooper, for coordinating the regional softball practices in Nottingham.
     
  • Ben, James and Jonathon Pearson for masterminding the regional Academy Baseball practices in the North.
     
  • Phil Edmonds, Colin Whitton and Anita Atkinson for making Academy Baseball practices with over a hundred players, parents and coaches all in one place run smoothly.
     
  • Beth Perkins for leading the Under-13 softball programme.
     
  • Jeremy Thomas for leading the Under-16 softball programme and Joss Thompson for excellent coaching assistance throughout the softball programme.
     
  • Alan Dean (baseball) and Larry Rushin (softball) for leading the Strength and Conditioning programmes.

Competition

Both programmes culminated with Academy Series competitions at Farnham Park, an opportunity to put to the test the skills that had been honed over the winter.

Following the very wet winter, these events (two days in March for baseball and one day in April for softball) also served as the first spring training games for many players ahead of the BBF and BSF seasons.  While there were definitely cobwebs to be dusted off, the progress was evident and the UK’s best facility was put to one of its most important uses, with children and young adults taking over the fields for three days.

The softball series included intra-squad games for the Under-13 age group, while the Under-16 and Under-19 age groups were mixed up to create two teams, bolstered by some older GB players who helped out on the day.

For baseball, a series of four games was played at the Under-16 and 18-25 age groups.  Thanks must go to Mark Flaherty, Head Coach of the Dodgers team from the London Youth Baseball League, who joined the Academy Series to give the Under-13 members games.

Buying in

An important positive from this year’s Academy was seeing how the players are buying in to treating the game with respect, including “dressing like ballplayers”, hustling on and off the field and developing their game IQs as well as their physical skills.

An important area for improvement is finding ways to increase the number of Under-13 players involved in Academy Baseball and Academy Softball.  At an age where perhaps the numbers should be the highest, they are the lowest of all the Academy age groups.

As BaseballSoftballUK, with the support of Major League Baseball, re-launches the Play Ball! programme for local baseball and softball league play across the country, hopefully we’ll see more young players involved in the coming years.  For more information on the Play Ball! Programme, click here

Further along the spectrum, the High Performance Academy (HPA), a talent development programme funded by Sport England, has been providing elite coaching to the best 14-to-19-year-old baseball and fastpitch players in England over the past few months.

A recap of the inaugural HPA programme will be published soon.

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