Ain't Nothin Soft by Tiffany J. Brooks No League? Build Your Own! Part 2 of 2
By Tiffany Brooks
Howdy loyal readers and rabid softballers! Summer has finally...sort of...arrived in Spokane. I just got back from sunny Denver to arrive in the middle of more rain. Now if I lived in Seattle, I'd never mention this, but in Spokane we pay our dues for nice (but often too short) summers with the Fairbanks South winters I've mentioned in previous columns. So we feel entitled to at least three months of sunny, good weather a year, after paying for them with nine months of weather that varies from "Cold, Wet Leaf-Raking Season" to "The %$@*&$ Snowblower Won't Start Again Season." I only give the Weather Report as context for this two-part column on starting a league of your own, because in addition to all the steps I mentioned in Part 1 (and those I'm covering below), the weather has been challenging for scheduling to say the least! But enough with meteorology, on to Part 2!
The quick and dirty review of the first four steps from Part 1:
1) Recon (See what's already out there. Are you re-inventing the wheel?).
2) Gauge Interest (Find out who wants to play and how committed they are).
3) Recruit (Did I mention "Recruit?"... get your first layer of players, then friends, then their friends, their dogs, etc.). NEWS FLASH from experience since the last column: Get twice or three times as many players as you will need for your league to work. Seriously. This is huge. With adult players, many things (from time conflicts to pregnancies to "my dog ate my glove") will get in the way between the "That sounds fun" phase and the "Here I am coach. Put me in" phase. Without players, you have no league and you end up hitting off a tee all summer or alternate bouncing a ball and your head against a concrete wall.
4) Create your Contact List (Stay up to date and communicate often)
If you'd like to read Part 1 in its entirety, it's accessible on the Softball West website, at http://www.softballwest.com/columns then click on the "Ain't Nothin' Soft" May 2011 column.
And now, for your reading and planning pleasure... THE NEW STUFF:
5) HOLD PRACTICES/SCRIMMAGES for fun! We did this in the fall. We had maybe five or six get-togethers with varying numbers turning out. Make sure all skill levels feel comfortable remember... it's supposed to be FUN! Keep it low-key and fun, and hold scrimmages if you have enough. Do BP, fielding, etc. Trust me... everyone loves it...just to play fastpitch again! If all this looks good, then you need to contact, immediately, whatever organization you want to partner with. Here are some choices (with some advantages of each):
? City Parks and Rec access to fields, affordable, handles liability issues (insurance). Likely has access to umpires.
? County Parks and Rec same as above
? Local Private Youth Sports Organizations may have access to better fields (high school, etc.), but is usually more expensive and may have turf wars/political issues for scheduling. If you can find a good one to partner with, though, and keep it affordable, it can be a good choice.
? National Organizations one such I considered was the Women's Fastpitch Softball Association. They will help you get started, give you good advice on how to run the organization, will give you access to national tournaments, and provide insurance. The drawbacks are much higher per-player costs and being locked into specific contract obligations like buying balls only from them, etc. Scheduling is up to you to establish relationships with whoever owns the fields (and pay for them), but as a league owner, you can decide to turn a profit if you wish.
6) PARTNER-UP and SCHEDULE -- My advice is to partner in the Fall or early Winter. This is necessary to get fields scheduled. Most Parks and Rec departments start scheduling in early January for Spring/Summer. Fields are often at a premium, and the "early bird" gets the best fields at the best times. We partnered with the City of Spokane, and thanks to Adriano Eva, who believed in this from the beginning, we're scheduled in and ready to roll! Finding a champion for your league, like Adriano will really help...look for people who support what you are doing. Make sure to e-mail everyone on your contact list and get feedback on best times and days to play, how many games for the season, when to start the season, etc. You won't satisfy everyone, but try your best to serve the majority and get everyone involved if at all possible. Make sure to discuss with your League Partner things like play-offs, prizes (trophies, t-shirts, etc.), umpiring, field preps, and who will provide the softballs. Make absolutely certain you are NOT scheduling on the same days as successful slow-pitch programs!
7) PROMOTE, RECRUIT SOME MORE, and GET THEM TO COMMIT Now... you've got a place to play, insurance, and a core group of dedicated players... now you just need more! Keep recruiting, and start contacting players you think would be good managers. We were lucky the City of Spokane believes in what we're trying to do, so they have helped up by providing an opportunity to schedule "Spring Training" -- a great time to further recruit and make sure we succeed in Summer League. Once you have enough players for the league, get them to commit... on paper! Have a registration form that includes not just name and contact information, but preferred playing positions, how many games the player thinks she or he can make, etc. Finally, collect the player fees. Be firm. Do NOT let players play who haven't paid. You can allow one game grace if you like, but after that, "no pay, no play." Remember it's not fair to other players who have paid, and you DO need to pay umpires and for fields, etc.
8) DECIDE ON DIVISION STRUCTURE If you are like us, we may not have enough for two distinct divisions or levels to begin with. There are a couple of possibilities to handle the mix of levels. One is just to integrate all levels on each team. We are opting to have two "Rookie" level teams and two "Open/Veteran" teams in one division. When the Open teams play Rookie teams, they will be handicapped. Possibilities include max runs per inning, only two outs per inning for the Open teams, or run "spotting" (giving the Rookie team 5 runs or so to start with). The key is to be flexible, find what works, then standardize it so it is fair for all.
9) ALERT THE MEDIA Let everyone know when the "kick-off" even is, and invite them out to cover it.
10) PLAY BALL! Go out and have fun. As the organizer, you'll likely have a few disputes that have to be handled from time-to-time and maybe some inclement weather re-scheduling. The main thing is to make the league fun, and to do something for your community and allow the ballplayers to once again have the opportunity to play the game they love!
I hope this helps any of you who may be thinking about starting or re-introducing adult fastpitch in your communities! You CAN do it! Please feel free to e-mail me any questions you might have.
Until next time, remember, go play hard in your new adult league, cuz even when you're in your 20's, 30's, 40's or more...there "ain't nothin soft" about it!
Tiffany Brooks is a ballplayer and gives lessons in Spokane. She would love to hear your comments and column suggestions. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.