Blue Mountains putting the fun back into softball

Blue Mountains putting the fun back into softball

Blue Mountains Softball Club, affiliated with Penrith City Softball Association in NSW has been crowned Homeplate Ladder club champions for 2017/18. The club finished in 1st place nationally, achieving Homeplate status, amassing 100 points, including a 44% growth in membership.

The club attributes this success to targeting new players and focussing on engaging them – a three-year strategy that has well and truly paid off. The club’s Vice President Trent Atkins explains, “people mostly play sport for fun so we wanted to make sure that everyone that joins our club feels part of something, to give them a positive feeling or experience so they want to stay.”

Over the last three years, the club placed more importance on teams having fun and less on winning. This helped attract and retain new players as they didn’t feel the pressure of having to perform to a certain standard and prevented them from not feeling good enough to be part of the team. Trent states, “you can have growth, but retaining new people is harder unless you make them feel included. Creating a fun culture and environment has led to the players forming strong friendships and mateships which has then led to these players talking to people and encouraging them to join the club because of how much they enjoy it.”

Examples of initiatives the club has implemented to create a fun culture include having a family gathering each Saturday after a big day of softball for all to discuss the highlights of the day and organising family outings during the year, with food, dancing and karaoke to socialise outside of the normal club environment.

The club encourages parents, relatives and older juniors to take up coaching, umpiring and scoring and to attain accreditation. “We have taken the pressure off volunteering by not enforcing people or teams to have their turn but by rewarding those who want to do it. The main push for people to do the accreditation courses is to mainly get them more involved in the sport and feel a part of something. We have found that this has had many benefits, including teaching people new skills to teach others but also the awareness and positive impact that this creates. For example, someone completes a new course and achieves something it makes them feel good, they talk about it and tell their friends and so on. It also gives people confidence to help and volunteer as they feel they know more about the game and feel more closely connected to the club,” says Trent.

Now, having more people with accreditations, the club has found it a lot easier to find coaches or helpers each season with the right knowledge, skills and experience. The other great benefit, the club has found from having its members complete a coaching accreditation, is they have learnt to coach in the right spirit as the Level 1 coaching course has a big emphasis on fun, which aligns well with the club’s strategic focus. Trent expresses, “many of our coaches use different teaching and training techniques learnt from the Softball Batter Up program to help bring a lot of game-based fun to training days. We also hold additional training nights for anyone to attend with the focus on fun.”

This season, the club has had six Level 1 and two Level 2 coaches accredited. In addition, a few of the Blue Mountains coaches were chosen for assistant roles in representative teams at association level, which is a great acknowledgment of their ability.

The club conducts a formal presentation at the end of each season to recognise their volunteers. Trent explains, “we have a traditional formal presentation at the end of each season, where our coaches and helpers are recognised on stage with gifts or medals, in front of the whole club, to show our appreciation for their effort and achievement.”

The club also completed the Australian Sports Commission Club Health Check to identify any other areas they need to address to improve how their club is operating. From the club health check they were reminded of the importance of reviewing policies and procedures to ensure they are up to date. It also highlighted the need for the club to develop a Working with Children Check register which is diligently updated and monitored to ensure all adults involved with children have current certificates. The club highlighted the need to rewrite its “Code of Conduct” which was recently approved. “It has helped create a topic of conversation amongst club members and spread the message of the behaviours that the club stands by,” says Trent.

Another major focus for the club over the last three years was to generate additional income through sponsorship, which they have achieved with great success. The sponsorship has had a massive impact as it not only enabled the club to reduce the cost for families to play, but with links on websites and cross-promotion it has raised the awareness of the sport to a completely different group of people who were existing customers of their sponsors but had not been aware of their club or softball. Trent informs “we have been able to raise $13,000 in sponsorship which has assisted us in so many ways to grow our club. Our entire club were given free team shirts and all our new members for the last two years have also received free playing shirts. Our junior teams also received free training shirts and some new kit bags. We are very grateful to all our sponsors, including Steve Bear Home Loans, Ezi-Bin Skip Bins, Button Face Recruitment, A Step Ahead, Sinclair Ford, Ame’s to be Spotless, Eco Blue Homes, Swot and Simplicity Funerals.”

Congratulations to the Blue Mountains Softball Club – a wonderful example of a well-managed, proactive, welcoming and inclusive softball club and a very deserving recipient of Homeplate Ladder club champions.