Further thoughts on the Great Britain national team programme

GbHlSqThe potential future direction of the Great Britain national team programme is continuing to be discussed as the British Baseball Federation (BBF) Annual General Meeting approaches this Sunday.

As clarified in my recent article, the proposed funding contribution from BBF membership monies to the overall national team budget is less than £5,000.  That’s a small amount in terms of international baseball funding, but it’s a tidy sum in the real world and the people who pay their fees toward it have a right to see that the money is being spent for the benefit of British baseball as a whole.

If the programme should continue in a similar vein to the one at present, what are benefits of the existing set-up and does it have a wider impact above and beyond the impressive recent tournament performances of the senior team?

In particular, what is its impact on the most important part of the development of British baseball: the junior players?  Has there been a noticeable improvement in the coaching on offer? Can having a national team programme of a higher standard act as a competitive catalyst to youngsters, setting the bar that bit higher, driving them on and helping them to ‘be the best they can be’  so that they make a strong GB team on merit; a GB team that we can all be proud of?

To answer some of these questions, I thought it would be interesting to hear the thoughts of some people who have been involved in the Team GB programme, or have seen it from close quarters, from both a senior level and a junior level.

Adam Roberts

Adam has written a very thoughtful and intelligent letter addressed to BBF Committee and Prospective Committee Members about the situation and it would be a disservice to simply quote sections of it rather than let you read the whole thing.  So here’s the complete letter as a pdf.

What is made clear by Adam, a point that will be understood by anyone involved in any sport, is that the quality of coaching in British baseball is absolutely vital for the development of players, from adults to young kids just starting out.  He outlines exactly how the current programme has greatly improved the coaching in the national team set-up.  In particular, he shows that it is not simply the senior men’s team that are benefitting from this.  As Roberts states: “it is clear that the mentoring process that Stephan [Rapaglia] gives to his players and junior coaching staff has had a vast effect on Will [Lintern], and now means the next generation of player is getting exposed to a higher level of instruction”.

Roberts goes on to state that “the selection of the National Team Head Coach has far-reaching effects, and the lack of leadership and credibility prior to Stephan’s appointment to this position could be seen to have led to a much slower progression of local-born talent into the national squad”.

Talib Yaseen

This improvement in coaching that has helped junior players and local-born talent is a theme picked up as well in a recent e-mail by Talib Yaseen, an umpire in the British leagues, to the Chair of BaseballSoftballUK, Geof Ellingham.

Dear Mr Ellingham, I have been involved with youth baseball for over 12 years (and prior to this as a player with Cartmel-badly) with Cartmel Valley Baseball Club and actively with adults as a registered Umpire, officiating at youth and adult levels for many years.

In this time I have seen Baseball really develop and personally have seen my own skills, those of coaching colleagues and most importantly the kids (and adults) develop through the regional coaching scheme and improved support from BSUK/BBF experienced coaches or officials.

However during all this time it is also apparent that there has been much in-fighting at every level of baseball. I find all this really tiresome and distracting from what is a great sport, but a minority one in the UK. I for one am not interested in the attempted power plays of the last few years, they add no value to how we develop the sport or improve the skills of the players and officials. What I am pleased to see however is the clear communication from you as Chair, this is very welcome and I believe provides the counter to what has been said on and off line-of which I take no interest or involvement in.

I have worked at senior levels in organisations for many years in my professional life and you are there to be criticised, sometimes unfairly, but at least one could argue you are remunerated. Alas being a volunteer brings no such benefits and I for one am satisfied with the commitment of the BSUK Board and your well argued explanations.

My son benefitted from the improvement in coaching in the UK and the development of the game. The youth leagues have much from which the adult leagues can learn. I for one was proud to tell people GB were at the World Cup and that one of the players came from Cartmel (could not have happened without great local support and great central support). I also realise that the gap in skill level to move to national baseball is huge if we want to compete at a European or world level, but I am not sure how many others understand this. I would love to see many fields of dreams around the country and baseball played at a much higher standard, as a coach, umpire and enthusiast. However I realise this is a much longer term goal, but I see many people tirelessly trying to do this in their own time.

I would like to thank you for communicating the issues, long overdue, and offer you and the Board my support for what it is worth. I would also ask you to maintain this level of communication going forward. I hope to continue my involvement with the sport for many years, and hope that you do the same.

Best wishes

Talib Yaseen O.B.E ABUA GB #34

Talib makes an important point about the standard of play at both European and international levels.  Great Britain needs to build on what it has achieved so far so that we can continue to move the sport forward and the national team programme can be (and currently is) an integral part of this, both from the domestic and international perspectives.

Jonathan Pearson

Talib’s comments are reinforced by Jonathon Pearson, former Northern Youth Commissioner and BBF Board member, in a letter to BBF Members.  We’ve published the whole letter here as a pdf.

He notes the way in which the national team programme is having a considerable impact on the standards of British players and the way in which senior GB players are making personal contributions to this.

“The GB Team, and the excellent coaches in the Adult and Youth Programme, are making real progress in raising the standards of play at all levels, including delivering coach education and coaching at Academy and Youth Team Camps.

Only last week GB World Cup player Matt McGraw volunteered his time to provide 5 days coaching to GB Junior and Cadet players. His advanced hitting analysis and one-to-one tuition produced incredible individual improvements and made a lasting impression on the players and coaches who were there.

And in 2008, Brian Essery, one of GB’s top pitchers, took a sabbatical from his job in Canada and brought his family to London to spend the summer coaching the young players in the London Meteorites organisation. I understand that Brian has always considered his selection to the GB Programme as a privilege, and that he saw this as a small way of ‘giving back’ to the GB community.

In recent years there has been a steady rise in the number of young ‘home-grown’ talented players who can provide inspiration and be role models for the next generation”.

As also noted by Adam Roberts, this is one of the ways in which the current Great Britain senior team has such a positive impact on the future of British baseball, beyond the immediate rewards of their greatly-improved tournament results.  It’s the sort of work that doesn’t get the publicity that it deserves.  Those in the Great Britain programme do this because they want to develop baseball in Britain, not for their own personal gain.  It’s therefore understandable that they don’t publicise it much, but perhaps they should do a bit more self-promotion to make people aware of exactly what they are doing?

Ted and Len Gieschen

Copied below are the thoughts of a young pitcher currently based in Germany, who is so impressed by the GB national team set-up that he is willing to go to great lengths to be a part of it.


I was very surprised and disappointed that the funding for the senior team may not continue. After my father retired, we remained in Munich so that I could finish my secondary education. My father and I plan to return to the U.K. after I complete my exams in 2011, but I desperately want to continue playing baseball at the highest level in Europe. Therefore, I am asking you to please do everything possible to support the Senior National team.

I was selected for the German Junior National team when I was fourteen years old and was a regular starting pitcher in the 1st Bundesliga when I was sixteen. At the end of last season I pitched for the British Senior National team in an exhibition game against Germany before the World Cup …

… I could have gotten a German passport and played for Germany, but I chose to play for the British team. At age seventeen I was the youngest player on the team last year, but the older players really made me feel at home. I was very impressed with my team mates, with Stephan and the rest of the coaching staff and the help that I received from Alan. Compared with Germany, I really appreciate the friendly, relaxed atmosphere on the British team and the unselfish attitude of the players.

I am certain that this made the right choice and I am looking forward to playing for the British team for many years. This winter I have been commuting from Munich to either London or Manchester twice a month on weekends in order to attend practises with the Junior National team. I have really enjoyed the camaraderie that I’ve experienced with the players and coaches. I wouldn’t miss any opportunity to play with them and I really hope that you can work something out to save the senior team.

Yours sincerely,

Ted Gieschen, pitcher

Note that he doesn’t simply want to play for Great Britain, he wants to play “at the highest level in Europe”.  That’s the type of ambition and commitment in young players that should be fully supported. 

In response to my previous article, some people raised the fully understandable question of whether a strong international team really means anything to junior players.  Ted’s comments show that it undoubtedly does mean a lot to them and this is forcefully backed up by his father.

“It would have been much easier for Ted to get a German passport and play for the national teams in Germany. However, because of the people that he’s met playing in the U.K., he has made a strong commitment to British baseball.  Team UK is a first class organization in every way and is now regarded as one of the best teams in Europe. It would be very difficult to regain this respect and the position that the team has achieved, [without] being able to perform at the highest level of international competition.

I have been a baseball coach for over thirty year and I have often seen how the success that a team achieves almost always leads to further success. It stimulates the existing players and draws the better prospects to want to play for the team. If the team loses its momentum now, I believe that it will have a very demoralising effect on the national program in Britain and limit its development. The younger players need to feel the pride that a national team generates and have the goal of possibly playing for the national team themselves.

There is no doubt that Baseball is going through a period of expanding internationally and the U.K. team is now at a crossroads. It can either try to flourish in the new environment and provide many more opportunities for young boys and girls to enjoy the great game of baseball or, if the pride, excitement and goal of playing for a respected national team is lost, it will struggle and probably die out. From what I have seen, there are outstanding people in organisation, who have unselfishly laid the solid foundation on which the team can now build on. I urge you [to] let them continue”.

Len Gieschen

Michael Hunt

Finally, it is worth considering the thoughts of someone who was part of the team between 2006 and 2007.

Subject: Resignation of Stephan Rapaglia and Alan Smith

It is with great sadness that I am responding to the notification of an email regarding the resignation of Stephan and Alan. I competed with the senior national team during the span of 2006-2007 and they were both instrumental in my being a part of the programme.

I can not say enough about their integrity and level of competency they both held in their respective positions within the programme itself. Having been a member of the team, I wish them every success in their future endeavours, but also wish the same for the future of the GB programme as well. In saying this, I agree completely with the proposal that Stephan and Alan submitted and feel that support and funding should be made available if GB wishes to keep making strides and competing at the highest levels, as it has the talent to keep doing so.

Several names will be submitted for consideration of a successor, and I wish to make it known that I fully endorse the candidate of Brian Cleary. He’s a extremely knowledgeable and successful Head coach at the University of Cincinnati, and in my time playing under him with the GB programme, feel he is a adequate successor to Stephan.

I wish the best for the GB programme and hope that the board will do not only what is right for the continued successes therein, but for the development of players within its own borders and those beyond. These are the people who will be the most affected by any decisions made, and I pray that they will be kept at the forefront of any and all coaching/development decisions made in the near future. The board truly has the future of the GB programme in its hands, and I hope it handles it with great care.

Thank-you for your time, and no matter what happens, the GB programme will forever and always be close to my heart. It was a great honor and experience playing under and with Stephan and Alan, and will not soon be forgotten.

Michael Hunt
Assistant Coach
Colby Community College
Colby, Kansas


The above all shows that the national team programme is absolutely fundamental to both the present and future development of baseball in this country.  Their work has been successful and far-reaching so far and we can only hope that the BBF is able to continue to support it.

Further info: note that a resignation statement from Alan Smith and Stephan Rapaglia is available on the BaseballSoftballUK website (the full text is in a pdf linked to at the bottom of the page).  They have also published Geof Ellingham’s response to some of the motions put forward for the upcoming AGM.

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