How to boost softball recruitment the RG Blue Sox way

Wed 31 Jul 2019

BaseballSoftballUK South East Development Manager Patrick Knock recently spoke with Eric Lukazewski, Recruitment Officer and Head Coach at the RG Blue Sox from Reading, about how the team has successfully recruited new players.


The RG Blue Sox are a two-team adult softball club based in Reading that plays in the Windsor & Maidenhead League and in weekend tournaments.

Since 2018, the club has been running a successful programme of free taster sessions to recruit more players and has been tinkering with the format to find what works best for participants.  The club has found that monthly sessions serve to space things out and create a sense of anticipation, and that both uptake and retention is increased if softball is introduced through a phased approach. 

So once-a-month sessions are held throughout the year, outdoors in summer and indoors in winter, on the first Wednesday of every month.  This is the same night as the club's normal training, making it easier for new players to join in and see how the sport is played.  The social element is also regarded as very important, with all club members getting involved.


Recruitment

Over the 2019 season, around 10-12 people have been coming regularly to taster sessions and have either signed up as a member or expressed an interest in doing so. 

A typical taster session will include instruction and drills on throwing and catching, hitting and fielding (fly balls and ground balls), with 20-30 minutes spent on each skill and the final 30-45 minutes used for a game.

The club aims to have as many existing club members at these sessions as possible so there is the opportunity for the beginners to have more one-on-one time with current players.  And they are keen to develop the social side, creating an environment full of friendly faces. 

Different members of the club might coach different skills; this helps introduce that person to coaching and gives them a platform to help new people into the sport.  It also helps spread the workload and builds buy-in from other club members for the programme.

Eric Lukazewski, who recently qualified as a BSUK Level 2 coach through a course run in Spring 2019, is the lead coach, and feels that completing the course was very helpful in allowing him to become more confident and absorb more ideas.  Through what he learned on the Level 2 course, Eric has been able to deliver more structured sessions and build on his existing knowledge of the sport and how to present that knowledge to new players.  Overall, he says, it has "sharpened my skills and helps me to make the sport fun and easy to understand.”

Eric said, “Hosting regular softball taster sessions has helped us achieve a steady flow of new members who bring enthusiasm and energy to our club.  As we look to grow within our community, we will continue to use taster sessions as a way to achieve our goals and introduce more people to softball in Reading.”

Promotion

To promote the taster sessions, Eric feels that Meet Up, an online forum for sessions and events, has been really good for connecting with new participants and then linking them into the club’s Facebook groups.

Social media has been important, mainly through Twitter and targeted Facebook promotions.  Sometimes the club has held women-only taster sessions, organised and run by female club members.

Flyers in public places and on community boards around Reading have also been effective recruiting tools.


Atmosphere

The club acknowledges that retention is as important as recruitment and believes that creating a welcoming and positive attitude and then following up with people is key.  Sending a personal note after sessions through texts or emails (without harassing!) is a nice touch and helps break down any apprehension the individual might have about returning.

The club has sought to make the environment at sessions as friendly as possible, with an ethos of “we all started from this point” and “come back again, as you will learn something new each week”.

One player who has recently joined the club, Herjeet Randhawa, said, “I was looking to get into a new team sport and one which I could play outside.  I’ve absolutely loved the training sessions and games at Reading Softball Club.  Playing co-ed is a plus as you can learn a lot from many skilled players from a wide variety of ages, backgrounds, experience and ability.  Honestly, it’s the friendliest sports club around and some top-notch coaching too!  I would highly recommend it to anyone wondering if softball is for them!”


Future plans

For the rest of 2019 and beyond, the RG Blue Sox plan to:

  • Continue running monthly taster sessions, moving them indoors throughout the autumn and winter.
     
  • Enter developmental tournaments, such as the Raiders Tournament and the Maidenhead Hit & Run Tournament, with seven or eight new players along with a couple of experienced players to complete the team and coach on the day.
     
  • Set up a third adult team from the 2020 season and dedicate a team purely to development.
     
  • Explore more female-focused sessions and perhaps build a specific programme around this.
     
  • Keep trying to be creative in how and where to promote the taster sessions.
     
  • Capitalise on the interest and buzz from the MLB London Series and the 2020 Olympic Games.
     
  • Carry out facility development to give even more visibility for softball in Reading and improve the playing experience for existing and new players.

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