BSUK Highlights of the Year

Tue 10 Dec 2013

In many ways, 2013 was a momentous year for BSUK.  It was the beginning of a new Whole Sport Plan cycle, with baseball/softball one of the few sports to get an increase in funding. The dedicated fields at Farnham Park opened for play.  New participation targets were reached.  Below, key BSUK staff members pick out their own highlights from 2013.

Joint CEO and Head of Operations

2013 has been an interesting year, and there are a number of highlights I could have selected. I’ve picked two, one that was a public event and the other that is about the internal workings of BSUK.

Farnham Park Opening Ceremony

A lot can and should be said about Farnham Park, but I am focusing on the Opening Ceremony.  We were always clear that the facility opening for play was something significant that should be marked; the difficulty was knowing when it might be.  As we came to learn, building a facility, particularly one that involves land and weather and grass growing, is not an exact science and there was a lot of uncertainty about when it would be ready.

@ColinMurray Farnham Park TweetLike so many things, this meant that our lead time for the Opening Ceremony was less than we might have hoped.  We always knew that we wanted to include baseball and slowpitch and fastpitch softball in whatever we did, and by definition that meant a lot of people having to work together on the project.  What really makes this a highlight for me is that there was a communal commitment to the event that came from the Federations, the playing communities, volunteers, the Local Council, the funders, external partners and the BSUK staff and Board.

On the day itself there were a number of 'known unknowns' that went well when they might so easily not have done.  It didn’t rain.  We knew our celebrity host, Colin Murray, was a baseball fan; but we didn’t know that would make him so engaging and enthusiastic and that he would spend the day hanging out, rather than his contracted 90 minutes.  We had extended many invitations, but we didn’t know that over 500 people would gather on site to mark the occasion.

Most of all, 20 July was a highlight, not because the day itself went well, but because it was clear that the facility at Farnham Park meant so much to so many people.

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At the risk of navel-gazing, self-assurance is an internal audit that BSUK is required to do each year by Sport England.  It is a rigorous test of everything operational that we do.  From strategic planning to finances, policies and procedures and much more, we have to clearly evidence what we do, and prove that we meet a very high standard.  2013 was our seventh straight year of being rated ‘green'.

Over the years, we have received positive recognition for our work in these areas and been told that we stack up favourably against a number of much bigger governing bodies.

This is obviously an internally-facing highlight, but relevant because it provides a level of quality assurance.  Our sports are fortunate to receive public money to help grow participation and for this reason it is important to demonstrate that the money is in good hands.


National Development Manager

National University Softball Championships

National University Softball ChampionshipOur focus work in the University sector has taken time to gather momentum, but staging the first BSUK National University Softball Championships at Farnham Park in October 2013 established a major staging post in the growth of the sport with students and universities.

Meanwhile, the impact of the University Softball Officer programme is there for all to see and proves that softball has a big appeal for students.  With publicity behind it, future softball championships at both regional and national level will provide a a competitive outlet for the growing number of universities now playing softball.

For more, see:

BSUK Development Team structure

Having made the bold decision to restructure the Development Department at BSUK, the impact of the new structure is beginning to emerge.  There is already a much greater connectivity between established clubs and leagues and our development programmes as the basis for reaching out to new players.

Examples include the Essex Redbacks supporting the Wickes expansion into the Essex area as well as supporting development work at Writtle College and the Manchester Softball League working to support the Manchester Workplace Games.

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Joint CEO and Head of Development

First season at Farnham Park

@LiamCarrollBSUK tweetAs this country's first baseball and softball complex, Farnham Park has given the UK a permanent home for baseball and softball, with excellent playing facilities that the sports have long needed.  It's been really well received by the playing communities and it was a coming together of a number of partners that helped make it happen, most notably Sport England, the Baseball Tomorrow Fund, South Bucks District Council and the British Baseball and Softball Federations.

Some highlights at Farnham, apart from the Opening Day, were the BBF National Baseball Championships, the Beep Ball event that was played there and the move to use Farnham as a home ground by a number of Windsor League Teams. 

For an example, see:

Forming a Commercial Committee

The BBF, BSF and BSUK have started working together to build commercial activity.  This is a long-needed approach and may lead to exciting new opportunities to raise resources and profile for our sports. 

We're looking both externally – to corporate relationships including sponsorship and using our sports to enhance business objectives – and internally to develop new ways of channelling money within our existing playing communities back into the sports.


National Development Manager

Youth Baseball Review and UK Little League Qualifier

The Youth Baseball Review I carried out this year in conjunction with the BBF was a highlight because for the first time we were able to develop a really clear vision for where we want youth baseball to go.  We brought in a number of different voices from within the community as well as learning from international experience, from Little League and from how youth baseball works in other countries to give us a strategic view of local competition and, crucially, a mechanism to get more kids playing baseball locally.

What this also did was give us an indication of what the next couple of steps need to be to move forward in terms of youth league structure and monthly tournament-based competitions.  Fundamentally, we want to give clubs a template that can be replicated around the country and then supported nationally by the BBF and BaseballSoftballUK.

I was particularly excited by the level of buy-in we had from the community, the number of people that contributed to the Youth Review and the positive responses we got from the survey.  As a result, people are now starting to feel more positive about the approach that will be taken to youth baseball over the next couple of years and this seems to be echoed by the club development discussions that BaseballSoftballUK staff members and BBF Board members have had with various baseball clubs around the country since the AGM on 9 November.

As for the Little League Qualifier that was held earlier this year, it was a really successful tournament and it was fantastic to see us running a qualifier tournament for the first time in a number of years in the UK with a great level of competition.

The best outcome has been the large expression of interest from other clubs that now want to get involved in the tournament next year, so it looks like it will become a regular event on the youth baseball calendar.

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Birmingham Softball League inaugural season

Birmingham BobcatsFor a long time, Birmingham has been our largest city without a softball league.  The club development support that BaseballSoftballUK has provided to the Birmingham Bobcats and then to the nascent Birmingham Softball League over the past few years has finally resulted in an organised, functioning softball league back in the city.

Thanks mainly to the efforts of a number of key individuals within the Birmingham area, particularly Kate Page-Smith and Neil Robinson as well as other members of the Birmingham Bobcats, we had a trial league in 2012 and then had a successful year of competition in the Birmingham Softball League in 2013. The fact that the league entered representative teams into the BSF Nationals in 2013 was a huge step forward. 

What’s really exciting now will be the next steps for the league, which has engaged with community members from the Birmingham Maple Leafs as well as the Stourbridge Titans baseball clubs but also with further education colleges and universities.  Exciting times lie ahead for softball development in Birmingham.

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