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Inclusive Baseball Tips

The benefits associated with organized sports in children and youth are well recognized. Sports participants experience developmental growth while improving in physical, emotional and cognitive domains11. Recent efforts of comprehensive surveillance of sports participation revealed that sports participation rates in youth ages of 6 to 12 declined to 26.6 percent from 30.2 percent in 2008. The same trend was experienced for youth ages of 13-17 years old, to 39.3 percent from 42.7 percent in 200811.

US Census data reported that 5.2 million (8.4 %) of children under age of 15 years had a disability3. Youth with physical disabilities are less likely to participate in physical activity4, 13, 15 due to the presence of physical, programmatic and attitudinal barriers7, 10, 14. Barriers such as lack of knowledgeable staff or lack of intention to implement adaptations to sports and physical activity programs have a profound impact on participation rates8-9. The purpose of this article is to provide a series of adaptations that baseball staff can implement in their programs to facilitate and encourage participation of individuals with disabilities.

Baseball Variations

Wheelchair softball/baseball is a version of softball/baseball played by individuals using wheelchairs. It is very similar to standard softball, following the large majority of rules established by the Amateur Softball Association of America (ASA). However, to accommodate the use of wheelchairs and athletes with varying ability levels, a few changes exist in terms of classification of athletes, field of play, and rules to ensure games stay both competitive and fair.

Beep baseball is a version of baseball that is played by individuals who are blind or have visual impairments. Beep baseball bears some similarities to softball in terms of hitting, fielding, and pitching, but with modified rules regarding scoring and outs. Additionally, sound emitting bases and balls, as well as audible pitchers and defensive spotters, are used so that individuals can play without any sight whatsoever. The governing body for beep baseball is The National Beep Baseball Association (NBBA).

Equipment Adaptations

Equipment modifications might be necessary to ensure that athletes are mastering baseball skills and to facilitate athletes' success while practicing or playing baseball. Be creative with your resources. Some of the materials to make equipment modifications might be laying around in your sports storage. Here is a list of some equipment adaptations:

  • Use a tennis racket and tennis ball.
  • Use athletic tape, Velcro or an Ace bandage to maintain proper grip.
    • For safety, do not allow batters to run with the bat strapped to their hands.
  • To keep the athlete stable on the chair, use a positioning strap across the waist and/or thighs.
  • Grip devices are designed specifically for athletes who do not have the grip strength to hold a racquet or bat.
  • Arm prosthetics can be adapted to grasp a bat or tennis racquet.
  • Use a larger and lighter bat.
    • A bat can be made with a two-liter soda bottle, tape and a broomstick. Note that the ball needs to be lighter if you are using this type of bat.
  • Use scoops for catching instead of gloves.
  • Use Velcro balls and mitts.
  • Use beeper balls for athletes with visual impairment.
  • Use bases that can be tagged with the use of the hands instead of the feet (i.e. flag, off the ground signs).
  • Vary balls (size, weight, color, texture). Use bright colors.
  • Increase the size of the bases (use yoga mats instead of regular bases). You can fold the yoga mats to a desirable square shape and size.
  • Use a noodle or other piece of equipment to assist in expanding a student's reach (i.e. tagging a runner).

Environment Adaptations

The environment in which students participate in must be safe, secure and welcoming. The playing field must be clearly defined. The use of taped or painted areas makes it easier for the student to see boundaries. Create a safe place for the students and make sure the students know how to find it. Here are some considerations when adapting the environment:

  • Mark positions on playing field.
  • Decrease distance of the bases.
  • Use well-defined boundaries.
  • Use an AccessMat™ between bases to allow the athlete to move from base to base while using a manual wheelchair.
    • Plywood might be an alternative but for safety issues do not use a ball that bounces too much. Do not allow the athletes to slide when reaching a base if using plywood.
  • Minimize unnecessary background noises.
  • Use poly dots to help athletes round the bases.
  • Reduce the field size.
  • Allow the use of mobility devices.
  • Play on a flat, level surface, such as a gym floor, outdoor basketball court, or smooth parking lot to accommodate for students using a wheelchair.
  • Use proper lighting and color contrast.
    • A ball can be covered with bright yellow tape to contrast with the floor and walls. Color tape can be used to mark the playing areas on the floor or walls.

Rule Adaptations

Rules can be "relaxed" to allow the student to achieve the desired goal. If, for instance, when tagging somebody out instead of throwing the ball to the athlete covering the base, a student with a disability can throw the ball through a large hoop to be counted as an out. Strikes and outs may also be eliminated. Here are some more examples of rule adaptations:

  • Decrease pitching distance.
  • Allow athletes extra time to move between bases (e.g. after fielding a student will count to five before attempting to tag a runner). 
  • Allow athletes to use a batting tee to hit the ball.
  • Allow the batter to sit in a chair.
  • If an individual is in a wheelchair, allow them to push the ball off a ramp, off their lap, or from a tee.
  • Provide a peer assist.
  • If an athlete fails to catch a fly ball allow for extra time to pick up the ball from the ground.
    • The batter is considered to be out if the fielder picks up the ball within the time allotted. As the fielders get better and faster allow for less time to pick up the ball.
  • Instruct the athletes to use underhand throwing at all times to reduce the speed of the game.
  • Reduce the amount of bases (i.e. first base and home plate only). This adaptation will allow athletes to run in a straight pattern from and back to home plate. 
  • For running, use a partner assist by holding hands, use brush contact (continuous touching of hand, forearm, wrist, or any part of the arm), a loop of a flexible piece of material can be held between a guide runner and the student with a disability. A student can run by themselves holding onto a rope stretched between two points
  • Allow everyone to bat before switching innings.

In addition, make sure that the athletes are aware of rule modifications and how to utilize them. The staff needs to deliver the instructions clearly. Instructions may be printed out in large print and hung up for the student to see during play. Verbal prompts can be given. A good practice is to model these instructions/rules before they are incorporated.

It is important to consider the athletes when making adaptations. The most successful adaptations are the ones that are made by a collaboration of the athlete and the staff. Do not be afraid to ask for the athlete's input. Adaptations should focus on their abilities and not the disabilities. Ask yourself what can you do to make the athlete more successful? Will the individual achieve success with minor or no adaptations? How can you ensure peers will also enjoy the activity?

References

  1. AccesMat™ http://accessrec.com/beach-access-mat/
  2. American Softball Association http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Softball.aspx
  3. Brault, M. W. (2012). Americans with disabilities: 2010. Current population reports, 7, 0-131.
  4. Philpott J, Houghton K, Luke A. Physical activity recommendations for children with specific chronic health conditions: juvenile idiopathic arthritis, hemophilia, asthma and cystic fibrosis. Paediatr Child Health. 2010;15:213-225.
  5. Rimmer JA, Rowland JL. Physical activity for youth with disabilities: a critical need in an underserved population. Dev Neurorehabil. 2008;11:141-148.
  6. Rimmer, J. H., Riley, B., Wang, E., Rauworth, A., & Jurkowski, J. (2004). Physical activity participation among persons with disabilities: barriers and facilitators. American journal of preventive medicine, 26(5), 419-425.
  7. Rowland JL, Fragala-Pinkham M, Miles C, O'Neil ME. Scope of pediatric physical therapy practice in health promotion and fitness for youth with disabilities. Pediatr Phys Ther. 2015;27:2-15.
  8. Rowland, J. L., Malone, L. A., Fidopiastis, C. M., Padalabalanarayanan, S., Thirumalai, M., & Rimmer, J. H. (2016). Perspectives on Active Video Gaming as a New Frontier in Accessible Physical Activity for Youth With Physical Disabilities. Physical therapy, 96(4), 521-532.
  9. Schreiber J, Marchetti G, Crytzer T. The implementation of a fitness program for children with disabilities: a clinical case report. Pediatr Phys Ther. 2004;16:173-179.
  10. Shields N, Synnot AJ, Barr M. Perceived barriers and facilitators to physical activity for children with disability: a systematic review. Br J Sports Med. 2012;46:989-997.
  11. The Aspen Institute Project Play http://www.aspenprojectplay.org/the-facts
  12. The National Beep Baseball Association (NBBA) http://www.nbba.org/
  13. US Department of Health and Human Services. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Chapter 3: Active Children and Adolescents. Available at: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/chapter3.aspx Accessed November 18, 2014.
  14. Verschuren O, Wiart L, Hermans D, Ketelaar M. Identification of facilitators and barriers to physical activity in children and adolescents with cerebral palsy. J Pediatr. 2012;161:488-494.
  15. Zwier JN, van Schie PE, Becher JG, et al. Physical activity in young children with cerebral palsy. Disabil Rehabil. 2010;32:1501-1508.