SOFTBALL: A SPORT FOR ANY AGE
by Paige Townley

Millions of kids and adults around the world are playing softball, and for many reasons. No matter age or gender, the sport provides an opportunity for physical activity in a fun and social atmosphere, as well as many learning opportunities. “There are many life lessons that are taught around the game of softball,” said ASA/USA Softball Director of Membership John Miller. “It is a team game where all nine players must work together toward a common goal.”

ASA/USA Softball Promotes Education & Outreach

ASA/USA Softball currently fields teams with more than 2.5 million athlete members and is promoting the sport as much as possible to help increase that number. Specifically, the organization’s leaders are helping its local associations with social media outreach by providing workshops and conference calls to educate them about using social media to promote the game. “We want to help our local associations stay current with the trends, so we’re helping them with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts,” Miller said. 

ASA/USA Softball is also improving upon its game for current players. High-performance bats are now allowed for use in the masters/senior divisions. New divisions of play have also been added to the offerings. Last year, a new division called 18 and older was added to women’s fast pitch, which is an attempt by the organization to attract more college-age players to play during the summer months. This year, a new division of play was added to the men’s slow pitch side called 21 and under. “With the new men’s division, we are trying to get more young people playing within this age category instead of playing with the older ages,” Miller said.

PONY Expands Its Ranks

PONY Softball estimates there are approximately 45,000 players who play PONY league, and the numbers continue to increase, especially among girls. The organization has put major emphasis on reaching out to more communities and more people in order to continue growing the game. “We are reaching into areas where we don’t already have PONY Softball and into states and regions where we don’t currently have a strong presence, said PONY Softball President and CEO Abe Key. “We are also working with our local organizations to do more community outreach to make sure more people are aware of PONY Softball and the benefits of playing the game.”

Seniors In The Game

Softball isn’t just growing in the younger age groups. Groups like Senior Softball USA are also experiencing growth. In fact, the organization saw more than 500 teams participate at the LVSSA/SSUSA World Masters last year. “That was a record for us,” said Fran Dowell, executive director. “Thankfully, we continue to grow, both with men and women.”

With approximately 30,000 members, Senior Softball USA is doing all it can to help that number continue to increase and are listening to member recommendations for improvements. “We try to stay up-to-date on what our members would like changed to make the game better,” Dowell said. “One way we do that is having a meeting at our annual convention where they can give suggestions and ideas on anything they would like changed. While we don’t always say ‘yes’ to those ideas, we are always open to their suggestions and listening to their valuable input.”

International Senior Softball Association is experiencing growth as well, especially in its 50 and over division. “We have been experiencing approximately a 20 percent growth in our program the last couple of years,” said RB Thomas Jr., International Senior Softball Association executive director. “One of the reasons we’re seeing this growth, especially in our 50 and Over division, is that more people are playing the sport longer.”

International Senior Softball Association is always looking for ways to make it easier for current and prospective members to get involved and enjoy the game. “We try to help encourage participation and so we’ve simplified the entry system, which is why we don’t require a player to purchase a card to play in our program,” Thomas said. “We also make it easy for teams that are traveling to participate in a tournament by allowing pick up players. Sometimes teams have to drop out of tournaments because they don’t have enough players, so we’ve created a situation to make it easier for teams to add players as long as they are listed at the same rating. We’ve been very successful with this.”

With more than 20 tournaments per year—some of which have at least 100 teams participating—International Senior Softball Association knows that hosting great events has been a significant part of its success. To make those great events happen, the association focuses on finding the best destination possible for the particular event. That means the city must offer championship-quality, adult-sized fields, quality facilities and reasonable hotel rates. “Destinations that are good vacation spots are good senior tournament sites, but it can be difficult to organize events at a location that might have nice facilities but isn’t really a place where individuals would want to vacation,” Thomas said. “So, we tend to host a number of events in ocean resort destinations as we know that’s a preferred place the players want to go. Generally, amenities there are superior so you can build a larger tournament. That’s one thing that works for us.”

Another aspect that Thomas feels improves the quality of the tournaments for participants is developing a relationship with the host community. “We can’t travel halfway across the country with enough staff to deal with every issue at an event, so we need the host city to be a partner and provide some local services to facilitate the tournament and make it a great event for participants,” he said.

Key issues International Senior Softball relies on the host city to provide include a maintenance staff to prepare and maintain the fields properly and ensuring items like water is placed in the dugout for all games. “The little things really add up when we are talking to a potential host city,” Thomas said. “This is one of the reasons we must have a site visit because some cities oversell what they will do and what they can offer.”

Senoir Softball sanctions approximately 70 events per year, and to make each and every one a success, association leaders rely on a strong relationship with the host city. “We have been very fortunate because many of our host cities have been working with us for a long time,” Dowell said. “Long-termed partnerships are great because not only do you get to know the people, the properties and the fields, but you also come to rely on the CVB/sports commission to help with anything that you need. They become familiar with you and are true to their word. That’s how it becomes a great event.”