It Takes a Village of Volunteers to Raise Baseball and Softball Players
I remember my excitement the day I signed up for Little League. Nervous for my first tryout, and anxious until I received a phone call from my coach, Mr. Bendel, I was drafted by the White Sox. It was a magical process that I remember to this day. Coach Bendel did not have a son on the team. Coach Hockenberry of the Pirates, our rivals, had no kids in the league. My dad dropped me off at practices and picked me up afterwards. "Some guy" umpired all the games. Fields were always prepared despite never seeing anyone with a rake or wheeling a chalk box. Based on my 3-year experience with Little League from 1979-1981, my expectation when my daughter signed up for Tee Ball was that I would pay my registration fee and then just drop her off and pick her up from practice.
Imagine my shock when at her first practice I saw one coach, who had never coached softball before, herding thirteen 5 year old girls through practice. I and others quickly stepped up to help and I've actively volunteered for Little League ever since. This interaction with Little League put into focus how my perception was misinformed.
Whether you're brand new to Little League or have been in the league for a few years and don't understand why you keep being asked to volunteer, we hope this article clarifies what Little League provides to players and families and how volunteers optimize the experience for both.
Little League's Mission
Founded in Williamsport, PA in 1939 with just three teams, Little League now has over 7000 charters (i.e. KNLL), in over 100 countries, serving 3 million kids. Over the last eight decades, Little League has had to evolve its philosophy and operational systems to adapt to changing times. How leagues operated when we were kids, may be very different today. Little League's Mission Statement currently reads-
Through proper guidance and exemplary leadership, the Little League program assists children in developing the qualities of citizenship, discipline, teamwork and physical well-being. By espousing the virtues of character, courage and loyalty, the Little League Baseball and Softball program is designed to develop superior citizens rather than superior athletes.
As the worldwide ambassador of youth Baseball and Softball, Little League's priority is to develop future citizens through learning to play baseball and softball. Little League (and KNLL) have partnered with the Positive Coaching Alliance which promotes "better athletes and better people". Despite the fact that there are 6 World Series events annually- the pinnacle of competition on an internationally televised stage- Little League is about teaching kids to be future pillars of their community.
What better way to achieve this goal then by enlisting local members of our community to positively engage with players through development and competition? When you volunteer with KNLL, you are actively mentoring the future leaders of Kirkland.
Volunteering helps control registration fees
KNLL is a 501c3 non-profit that operates under the non-profit umbrella of Little League International. Registration fees provide the main capital to manage and operate each league however they typically aren't enough to cover even the direct costs for running a season. Charters rely on volunteers and donations (direct, matching, and volunteer time paid by Microsoft, Boeing, Alaska, etc.) to ensure that we can keep registration fees as low as possible so that we are inclusive to our local community. Enlisting and deploying volunteers in all facets of league operations is critical to making this possible.
How can you help?
We understand that not everyone has 10-20 extra hours a week to volunteer for KNLL. But in some cases, even just 5-10 minutes after games is a HUGE help for the league and the players. Here are a few areas where KNLL can always use help!
KNLL Board members are not paid by KNLL or Little League, nor do they receive discounts on registration or clinic fees, free equipment, or even free burgers at the concession stand. To make our Spring seasons work requires 20-25 Board members working with the City and County to secure field rentals, create game schedules, update local rules, form teams, train umpires, send out email reminders, etc. Our board is a working board where local members of our community donate their time and talents to improve the experience for players and families every year.
Managers and Coaches
Players and parents have the most interactions with managers and coaches and they are a crucial group of volunteers for the league. These volunteers set the tone of how the local league is perceived by the community as they are responsible for actively mentoring players to be "superior citizens". They also have the biggest impact on whether players elect to continue to play each year. Because we rely on managers and coaches to balance the development of better athletes and better people, they need to be familiar with the game but also lead by example and inspire players to become the best they can be. Without managers and coaches, practices would not take place, player development would not happen, and games could not be played. To find out more about becoming a manager or coach, please contact one of our league directors or attend our annual Manager and Coach Information Meeting which typically takes place in late November or early December.
Little League requires that all games have at least a home plate umpire in order to be considered official and prefer field umpires at upper levels. There is a shortage of umpires and this is an area where we need the most help. Some leagues locally have moved to paid umpires and while that might seem like an easy and obvious solution, many of those same leagues are looking to move back to volunteer umpires due to previously unforeseen issues.
Paid umpires typically are unfamiliar with Little League rules and Local League Rules. As a result, the misapplication of rules arises often enough during games to cause confusion among players and frustration among coaches and parents. Because they are not officially part of the league, they typically do not respond positively to the league Umpire in Chief or President, making it difficult to resolve major issues when they arise. Most are used to managing games with hard time stops and will pack up and leave, mid game, at 2 hours forcing managers to pull parents out of the stands to umpire the last inning. Finally, Little League will only use volunteer umpires for post season play. The reason All-Star seasons are expanding and starting earlier is due to a lack of umpire talent to manage multiple tournaments on the same weekend.
Umpires properly trained to understand Little League's rules and goals provide a positive experience for players, coaches and parents. Our Umpire in Chiefs can provide new umpires with the minimal training that you would need to make a positive impact on the league and your local community as an umpire.
While GameChanger may by the official scoring App for Little League, we are still required to track games on paper to avoid technology failures. Scorekeepers are often invisible to the average parent but play a key role in ensuring the game state and pitch counts are accurately logged so that players have a quality game experience and young pitchers are protected from injury.
While we'd love to say that every field is properly prepped 100% of the time, the reality is that mistakes happen and they're not. We also have multiple games on Saturdays and fields need to be reset in between games. Managers leaving the field are trying to quickly herd their players off to the side to review the game while those arriving are working quickly to get players mentally prepared and warmed up for their next game. Parent volunteers performing 10 minutes of field prep is of huge value to teams.
The league cannot operate without volunteer help. If you are able to assist even in a small capacity and are looking for ideas on how you can help, please contact our Parent Liaison firstname.lastname@example.org and they can work with you to find tasks suited towards your interest and availability that also have a positive impact on our league.
Hope to see you out on the field this Spring!