Why Teeball should be the cornerstone of every baseball and softball club


Matt Crawshaw

BaseballSoftballUK approached me earlier this year to write a series of case studies focusing on a number of development initiatives I have been working on recently.

Of all the programmes I’ve been involved with, the one which is closest to my heart has been the Little Sox Teeball programme.  This isn’t just because I have a five-year-old son on the programme.  It runs deeper than that, as it is my firm belief that Teeball should be the cornerstone of every baseball and softball club the length and breadth of the land.

Why?  Because I feel very strongly that we need to attract players to the sports of baseball and softball at the youngest age possible, so that we build a lifelong advocacy for our sport -- not just with players, but also their parents/family.

Consider the following, as a parent of a typical four or five-year-old child.  Many traditional football programmes are not interested in taking on players this young; they would rather wait until they are six years old and then before you know it, they are being shipped off to regional academies from the age of seven. The story is similar for cricket, rugby, basketball and other sports.  Therefore, baseball and softball clubs have a very small window of opportunity to attract the very youngest players before other sports do.

Leicester Blue Sox Youth Baseball

Having coached kids in schools aged 10-14, it is extremely difficult to turn them on to baseball and softball as it is very likely they have already developed a fondness for a different sport at an earlier age.  Whether we like it or not, we are in competition with these other sports and the younger we can attract players to baseball and softball, the better.

The curious thing I have experienced with our Teeball programme has been the large number of parents that are already keen on baseball.  After all, you can’t expect a four-year-old to decide what sport he or she likes or Google search for their local club.  The child has joined your programme because a) the parent is keen on baseball and b) keen for their child to try the sport locally.

As a result, not only have you attracted a new young player to your club, you may have recruited a potential future baseball coach or volunteer, scorer, club photographer, hot dog vendor etc.  The possibilities are endless if you have 10-20 Teeballers on your programme and a dozen or more parents who wish to help you out so that their child gets the best possible experience.

The Little Sox programme has just finished its third season, and has grown steadily over the years.  We initially started it after running a club promotion at the annual Western Park Festival in Leicester.  The majority of families that stopped by to try the sport had children in the 4-6-year-old age group, while our club at the time only had one junior team mainly consisting of teenagers.

We decided to trial Teeball during the school summer holidays and finished our first brief season with about half a dozen kids.  Last year (our first full year), things really took off as word of mouth spread, and we finished the season with a dozen youngsters.  On opening day in April 2015, we had 24 children attend our first session, which was quite scary!

The programme is pretty simple to run, as most of the equipment should already be owned by a typical baseball or softball club:

• Pin-down or throw-down bases.
• A batting tee.
• Safety balls (baseballs or softballs).

In addition, Teeball baseball bats can be purchased quite cheaply online, at around £25 for a bat.  Youth batting helmets are ideal and similarly affordable. The biggest expense would be baseball gloves, but it is often a one-time investment as families usually buy their child a glove eventually, so you may only need to get a dozen or so to get started.

Little Sox Baseball

Teeball is best played on a 50-foot diamond, but is equally possible on a standard 60-foot youth baseball/softball diamond or even an unmarked grass field.

We run our sessions for an hour on Sundays, usually when our adult baseball games are being played.  We have had a number of adult baseball players who have brought their kids to play and it is great to see the traditions of the sport being passed on.

The majority of kids we have attracted seem to be from families that have gone on holiday to the United States and have had a positive experience watching a Major League Baseball game in the flesh.  The Tampa Bay Rays seem to be the most popular club, I guess due to a lot of British families now holidaying in Florida, but we also have kids who are fans of the Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays and even the Arizona Diamondbacks!

We reinforce this advocacy towards MLB by handing out baseball cards to every kid at the end of each session, accompanied by a sweet or two – it’s usually the most exciting part for the kids!

It is pleasing to see so many girls interested in Teeball, and we have a split of around 30% girls and 70% boys.  This really bodes well for the future of our junior girls’ fastpitch programme, which I hope to write more about in a future blog.

Little Sox Baseball

Our sessions run for about an hour, and the keener kids like to stay a bit longer to get some extra reps in while the field is being broken down.

This year we started to introduce coach-pitch baseball, which has gone a lot further than we expected.  By June of this year, we organised a trip to the London Youth Baseball League in High Wycombe to play a doubleheader of coach-pitch games.  This happened to coincide with some of the UK Little League Qualifier tournaments being hosted at RAF Daws Hill, so there was a real All-American atmosphere at the venue that has clearly rubbed off on the kids.

My son Reuben keeps reminding me of his ambition “to play for London Baseball” when he “grows up”.  I wonder what the other kids on the Little Sox programme dream of?  Our club is fortunate to have a handful of teenage boys from Leicester that have made the cut for the GB Baseball programme, so could this current crop of 6, 7 and 8-year-olds follow in their footsteps?  They probably have about eight years of extra practice on their side, so the future is very exciting!

All good things come to an end, and we closed out our season in early September with a “Heroes and Princesses” fancy dress finale.  I found it hard to say goodbye to the kids this time around, but I know they will be back in force come April 2016.

Teeball at our club has become too good to miss.  Hopefully, more and more baseball and softball clubs will feel the same way, seizing the opportunity to grow long-term participation in our sports from the ground up.

Leicester Blue Sox Heroes and Princesses

tagged under: baseball, coaching, fastpitch, youth, teeball

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About Matt Crawshaw

Matt Crawshaw

Matt has been involved with British Baseball since 2008.  He is the British Baseball Federation’s Southern Youth League Commissioner and works closely with BaseballSoftballUK’s National Development Manager Will Lintern to grow youth participation across the country.  He is also Chairperson and a Junior Baseball Coach at Leicester Blue Sox Baseball Club.  Matt primarily coaches Under-9 and Under-14 age groups both at the club and in local schools.

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