Pre-school children in Japan have been enjoying asoball ©WBSC

A new version of baseball and softball developed for pre-school children is proving a hit with Japanese youngsters.

The format, called asoball, sees children aged between three and six hit from a tee using a soft ball and a ball made of sponge.

Hitting, throwing, catching and running are included in the game, allowing children to learn the basics of baseball and softball while having fun.

Taeko Utsugi, a former manager of Japan’s women’s softball team who is a World Baseball Softball Confederation Executive Board member, is behind the new initiative.

"Asoball is a baseball-type experience programme to nurture baseball-softball talent among toddlers and preschoolers," said Utsugi.

"The athletic abilities to throw, catch and hit a ball are basic motor skills everyone should master.

"These skills enhance the development and maturation of both the brain and body and improve social communication skills.

"Another critical aspect is that parents can also participate in asoball.

"It is so accommodating and flexible that the whole family can join the game, enhancing interaction between children and parents.

"Children are happy to discover new aspects of their parents through asoball.

"It is rewarding to see their happy faces."

Children are divided into two teams of approximately 12 players.

The offensive team lines up in order to hit the ball, while the defensive team spreads out to catch the ball.

"We hope children who experience asoball will become baseball/softball players in the future," said Utsugi, who is serving as vice-president of the Japan Softball Association.