In Little League®, all are welcome, and all players should have the opportunity to have a meaningful experience off and on the field. Mandatory Play has long been a hallmark of our program for regular season and tournament play. In Little League International Tournament play, balancing more competitive play and the spirit of Little League’s participation is paramount. Beginning with the 2023 season, Little League International simplified its Tournament Mandatory Play requirement to require all teams to utilize a Continuous Batting Order (there is no Mandatory Play requirement for the Senior League tournament play).
Visit LittleLeague.org/Rules for more detailed information. Additional educational resources on Tournament Mandatory Play and additional rule updates will be available throughout the season.
Why the Change?
While important to the spirit of Little League, the previous Tournament Mandatory Play Requirement had different requirements based on the number of players on a roster, important benchmarks throughout the game where substitutes needed to be entered into the game, and were complex for coaches, scorekeepers, and umpires to track throughout the game. This led to many Mandatory Play violations, both unintentional and intentional. Since 2018, the penalty for those violations was the removal of the manager for the remainder of the tournament, which led to many negative experiences for players, families, and communities, which is the antithesis of the Little League experience.
After discussions with the Little League International Advisory Board, Little League International Board of Directors including the Operations and Rules Committees, and internal staff, continuous batting order was proposed as a way to still ensure that all players on a tournament team had an opportunity to have a meaningful playing experience through the Tournament Mandatory Play Requirement.
What are the Benefits of Continuous Batting Order?
A Continuous Batting Order places all available, eligible players in a simple roster based on batting order. The minimum number of players on Little League International Tournament roster is 12 and the maximum is 14 (Junior League Division and below; 16 maximum for Senior Division). The manager will fill the team’s batting order utilizing all their players, and then the game progresses through that expected 12- to 14-player batting order throughout the game. Rosters of few than 12 players are permitted with District Administrator approval.
This system greatly eases the Mandatory Play requirements. There are no longer defensive play requirements, regardless of roster size, and defensive substitutions and opportunities for players to have a meaningful experience in the field is easier for managers and coaches to provide through free defensive substitution, as outlined in the Little League Official Playing Rules and Tournament Guidelines. Managers must still report defensive changes for the Pitcher and Catcher.
A Continuous Batting Order also potentially increases the number of at bats for all players, while easing the administrative burden on managers, scorekeepers, and umpires throughout the game.
Any violation of Tournament Mandatory Play for Continuous Batting Order is outlined in the “Batting Out of Order” section of the Rulebook, essentially, with an out being recorded. Therefore, the need to remove a manager from their team for a Mandatory Play violation has been removed.
How Can Local Leagues, Districts, and Coaches Make This Successful?
Continuous Bating Order is a common practice at all levels of regular season play within the Little League program, as well as in other baseball and softball programs and tournaments. What makes the Little League experience special is that everyone has an opportunity to play and have a meaningful experience.
Leagues are strongly encouraged to field a full 12- to 14-player tournament team roster, and District Administrators should very carefully review approving rosters of smaller sizes. Little League International has worked to provide more Tournament Play opportunities for its players in recent years, there is more flexibility than ever before in regular season participation requirements for player tournament eligibility based on age, as well as opportunities for players selected to a tournament team to be added to another tournament team once the tournament team their initially placed on is eliminated from competition.
Volunteers can embrace this flexibility to provide opportunities at all levels of the Little League International Tournament for additional players throughout the tournament experience.
As always, Little League International is committed to working with its volunteers to continue to enhance the experience for all players within the program and will continue to monitor the Tournament Mandatory Play requirement, as well as all rules and regulations, for ways to enhance that experience for the millions of children that play Little League around the world.