Promoting and Operating a Successful Softball Program
1. Structuring the Board
Little League recommends adding at least two positions to the local league board when starting or operating a softball program: a Softball Vice President and a Softball Player Agent.
Softball Vice President
Appointing a Softball Vice President to oversee local league operations is an important task for any league coordinating a softball program. One of the primary goals of this position is to promote the program within the local community. The Softball Vice President acts as a liaison between the league board and those involved in the softball program.
Responsibilities of the Softball Vice President include:
- Coordinate softball player, umpire and volunteer recruitment and retention efforts.
- Organize and oversee education and training for managers, coaches and umpires.
- Assist the Softball Player Agent with try-outs and player selection.
- Facilitate special events – Opening Day ceremonies, Special Game tournaments, Softball Days with universities, etc.
- Provide the local Little League Board with updates on softball activities at each board meeting.
Softball Player Agent
This appointment allows for a separate Player Agent to oversee the baseball and softball programs respectively. A Softball Player Agent conducts the tryouts, oversees player selection, reviews player eligibility of the softball participants and operates the softball player pool. Generally, this individual would be more familiar with the softball participants, talent level and rules and regulations.
2. Structuring Your Softball Program
The Little League Softball age structure allows for flexibility within the divisions to help increase participation while maintaining a safe and competitive environment. All age divisions overlap allowing leagues to utilize a 2-year or a 3-year (or 4-year when possible) age structure to allow advanced players to play up or to increase the number of available participants in a particular division.
For structuring options, reference the Little League Softball Rulebook pages 36-41. For additional information about how your league can utilize Regulation IV for 12-year-olds (page 37) or work with local high schools in upper division softball, please contact Sara Thompson at 570-326-1921 or sthompson@LittleLeague.org.
Throughout the season, some teams are faced with a shortage of rostered players for a regular season games. In this situation, the local league may opt to create a player pool (Regulation V (c)), or a pool of players from existing regular season players that are willing to participate in extra games during the regular season (within their respective division). The Player Agent will manage the Player Pool and assign players on a “rotating basis” to specific games when teams are short players. This allows a local league to play through scheduling conflicts and gives participants additional playing experience. If the local league would like to create a player pool of participants to supplement a different division, a Charter Committee waiver is necessary.
Combined Teams is a useful option for leagues just starting a softball program or offering all age divisions. This allows leagues the ability to combine with other local leagues (up to three leagues total), when registration numbers are low within certain age divisions. Little League recommends offering softball programs for players 4-18, assessing registration numbers and then determining which age division can be offered in-house and which divisions need to combine. Under Combined Teams, local leagues retain the rights to their players from year to year. The Combined Team form is found online under Forms and Publications.
3. Promoting the Program
Little League recently created the Chartering and Marketing Toolkit (www.LittleLeagueToolkit.org) which was designed to provide board of directors guidance to improving their local league operations, assistance with marketing their league to the public and important information about obtaining local sponsorships and driving fundraising efforts. The Marketing and Registration Tools include marketing tips, customizable newspaper ads, registration flyers and more. The Toolkit also includes a list of important dates to help local leagues with Little League deadlines and help begin to plan for the upcoming year.
Local leagues can also utilize Little League Softball resources at www.LittleLeagueSoftball.org for program and benefits introduction and development. Publications available for downloaded include:
- Little League Softball PowerPoint
- Little League Softball Development Booklet
- Softball Development Flyer
- Rules and Regulation Comparison
- Expanded Special Games Guidelines
Leagues should encourage members and parents to register for Little League newsletters. This will allow officers, coaches and parents to receive up-to-date information and releases.
Additionally, you may want to consider reaching out to your local media, especially if you are getting ready to offer Little League Softball for the first time. Many newspapers, radio stations, and even local TV media will be interested in picking up a story about your league’s new offering and the positive impact that the softball program can have on the community. You can reach out to the local media through a press release, or even a phone call.
4. Finding Facilities
Some leagues are fortunate to have their own field space and resources; however, many leagues need to work with the city and community for fields and facilities. We would recommend contacting your local Parks and Recreation department for their ‘Field Use’ policy. This will outline their allocation procedures, fees, insurance requirements, curfew, etc., and explain how your league can sign-up to use the facilities.
Another resource your league can utilize is the local school district. Many times they will allow the community and non-profit organizations to use their indoor and outdoor facilities. Since the facility use policy will differ between schools and districts, we would recommend contacting the district offices first.
A combination of facilities sometimes works best, especially as leagues begin to grow.
5. Manager and Coach Education
There are many different avenues your league can explore for manager and coach training within your local community and through Little League.
Coaches Resource Center – is a free online skill and drill database for Little League coaches and managers. Filled with baseball and softball articles and videos, a coach or parent can learn the about the basics or game situations from the comfort of their home. To access the Coaches Resource Center, visit www.LittleLeagueCoach.org.
In 2013, Little League launched the Tee Ball program which provides a 10-week practice plan focused on fun, fitness and fundamentals. Leagues can access the information and full program at www.LittleLeague.org/TeeBall.
Softball Excellence - Little League has partnered with Softball Excellence founder Cindy Bristow to develop online training materials for softball coaches. The Little League Coaching Courses will include seven levels of photo and video tutorials as well as printable material, from basic to advanced, to educate coaches on everything from pitching mechanics, to practice planning, to offensive and defensive strategies. Softball Excellence Coaching Courses can be purchased from www.LittleLeague.org/SoftballExcellence for 17.95 per course.
Organizing Coaches Clinics – Local leagues are encouraged to coordinate coaches clinics for their parents, coaches and managers. Many times, leagues will have volunteers with prior softball experience who are inclined to teach the basics or specific skills. Other resources include local high school and college coaches or players, who may be willing to volunteer their time or instruct a clinic for a small fee. High school and college coaches are a wealth of knowledge and can be a great resource for your league. Once a relationship is built, it can create other opportunities for your softball program.
Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) – is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring a positive, character-building experience for young athletes. PCA provides additional educational resources and tools to Little League coaches, parents and local volunteers about teaching life lessons through sports. Learn more about how the PCA can help your coaches at http://www.LittleLeague.org/managersandcoaches/Double_Goal_Coaching.htm
6. Scheduling the Season
Each year, the local board prepares a regular season schedule. The number of teams within each age division will determine if the league can play their schedule in-house or if they will need to interleague with surrounding Little League programs. A league may opt for a combination of the two as well.
An interleague schedule benefits small programs looking for teams to play, programs looking to build skill level and may improve and promote awareness of your softball program within the community. Your District Administrator may be able to let you know what other leagues in the district are currently offering softball and what opportunities may exist for interleague play . The interleague form can be found http://www.littleleague.org/Assets/forms_pubs/App_InterleaguePlay_08.pdf and should be submitted prior to the start of the season.
Special Games are another option for local Little Leagues to add to their season, increase competition and allow all participants a tournament experience. Special Games may be played under Little League Regular Season rules or Tournament rules. Leagues must submit a Special Games Application, http://www.littleleague.org/Assets/forms_pubs/App_SpecialGames.pdf, which needs to be approved by their regional office.
Little League also created a set of modified guidelines that local softball leagues may use during some Special Games. The Expanded Softball Special Games Guidelines, http://www.littleleague.org/Assets/forms_pubs/SpecialGamesGuidelines_Softball.pdf, allow for adjustments in game scheduling, participation, pitching rules and team composition.
7. Post-Season Review
While most leagues take a short break after their Tournament season, we would recommend the membership gather for one last meeting to review the previous season. It’s at this time that the membership should discuss everything from manager and coach training to opening ceremonies and determine what aspects of the program worked well and which ones need to be improved. The membership should feel comfortable giving recommendations and suggesting ideas for the upcoming season. This should allow for enough time to plan and organize committees, if necessary.