“We’re Talkin’ Softball”
Softball has been inextricably linked with baseball since its invention in 1887 – even acting as the inspiration for one of The Simpsons’ best ever episodes.
Now the ECB seeks to change that; though it’s attempts at doing so might be considered a little clumsy at this point.
The launch of women’s soft ball cricket earlier this week was accompanied by the slogan ‘Ditch the Ouch’, whilst the ECB’s website promotes the new initiative using the term ‘No pain, all gain!’.
The initiative is laudable. The marketing less so at this point.
The success of the Kia Super League during it’s inaugural season combined with the upcoming ICC Women’s World Cup and the increasing coverage women’s cricket is receiving nationally make the summer of 2017 an almost perfect time for the ECB to seek to increase participation.
Women’s cricket is arguably the biggest potential growth area for the sport. Aside from the well documented physical and social benefits of playing sport, a more cynical mind might also point out that greater interest in women’s cricket could also lead to more revenue as well.
It’s very much a win-win type scenario if the ECB get it right.
Again, the idea is admirable and worthy of praise, both at a recreational level but also for the gains it could provide at the top level in the future if it acts as a gateway to get more people playing ‘proper’ cricket.
But the ‘you won’t get hurt’ angle feels somewhat condescending, even when viewing it as a middle aged white man…
This is perhaps where it gets difficult – cricket does still have something of an image problem among some (most?) members of the public and ‘selling it’ can be difficult at times, especially when trying to attract people who are very new to the sport.
Cricket is mired in oddities (just take one look at the cricket lexicon, which includes terms such as googly, silly mid on and the horrendously outdated ‘chinaman’) and while it may be easier for the ECB to push the talents of Joe Root because he is that much closer to being a ‘household name’, at this point the same could not be said of Heather Knight or Anya Shrubsole
In some (most?) cases the ability to relate to ones heroes can be key in getting them in to a sport – that in itself may sound condescending but heroes and an ‘I can/want to be like them’ inspiration can be so important.
And so creating entry points for a sport is key – which again the ECB deserves some credit for here.
Ditching some of the slightly more intimidating elements (for ‘beginners’ anyway) in favour of just letting people get on with it is a simple but effective method – especially when it is being run in a festival format, as this initiative is.
It doesn’t need to be sugar coated. Women don’t need to be treated like they are made of glass or enticed in with pink fluffy things or free miniature bottles of prosecco.
Just make it open and accessible – something the initial 180 soft ball cricket festivals can hopefully achieve without the need for silly slogans.
You can find out more about the ECB’s Women’s Soft Ball Cricket Festivals here.