Softball enthusiasts in Southeast Asia must communicate and exchange ideas to grow the sport in the region, says the chair of Softball Asia Coaching Committee and Japan Softball vice-president Yutaka Miyake.
Miyake, who was recently in Penang for the inaugural World Baseball Softball Confederation-Softball Asia Coaching Certification Seminar for Levels 1 & 2, added the level of women’s softball in Southeast Asia was still low despite athletes having the potential to be on par with their peers in softball-developed nations.
Held on Jan 10-14, the seminar was organised by Softball Asia in collaboration with the world body and supported by the Softball Association of Malaysia, Penang Softball Association and Penang Sports Council.
Sixty-eight participants from Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, India, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore attended the programme which was to update coaches’ on latest techniques and to streamline the coaching syllabus.
Below is Miyake’s interview with Twentytwo13 about the scene, the softball industry and what needs to be done for softball to thrive in Southeast Asia.
Twentytwo13: How would you describe the level of softball in Southeast Asia?
Miyake: The level of women’s softball in Southeast Asia is low compared to other Asian countries. However, some pitchers in Singapore are as good and talented as those in Japan.
They need to enhance their skills. I truly hope the nations that participated in the seminar grow further and move forward.
Twentytwo13: Football and other team sports seem to dominate in this region. Can softball turn into a truly Asian sport?
Miyake: Softball is supposed to be a sport that everyone can play. However, sometimes people think there are hurdles to get started in the sport due to the equipment and hard yellow balls. It might be a good idea to use soft rubber balls for beginners.
Yes, I believe softball has the potential of becoming a major sport in Asia.
Twentytwo13: The lack of facilities is apparent in this region but such investments are not cheap. How can the stakeholders get the right infrastructure and mileage to grow the sport?
Miyake: The lack of decent playing fields and facilities is a problem. Even in Japan we only have a few softball fields. Most of the major softball games are held in baseball fields or other fields. But the difference between Japan and Southeast Asian nations is that we are supported by the national association.
We cannot progress without the national body. We need to keep communicating and expressing the beauty of this sport.
Twentytwo13: Is the softball industry sustainable in Southeast Asia?
Miyake: In Japan, many sports teams are supported by companies or by the prefectures or cities. This is very fortunate for athletes to continue playing even after graduating from school.
Whether the softball industry is strong or not in Southeast Asia is a difficult question but clubs and national associations need to ask for support from companies or industries that dominate in their respective nations. If we had a professional league in Asia, we could find sponsors (easily).
Thus, it is crucial for us to partner the right industries and have more teams. This will eventually make the industry stronger.
Twentytwo13: Isn’t it time for the national associations to ensure softball is played at the lowest level to stir interest?
Miyake: I totally agree. In Japan, softball is part of physical education and is taught in junior high school. One reason why softball is popular in Japan is because we use rubber balls or soft balls, not the hard yellow balls. So this makes it easier for anyone to play in their neighbourhood.
Instead of trying to pursue high skills, we should first start with safe equipment, understand the rules and have fun!
Twentytwo13: How can the sport grow in Southeast Asia?
Miyake: Every Southeast Asian nation should communicate with one another, exchange information, skills and ideas to grow together.
The national associations should not just focus on the national players but think of softball as a sport that your citizens would truly enjoy and make it part of their lives.
By doing so, softball will eventually grow and be popular in other Southeast Asian and Asian nations.