Title:
Backstop and Portable Training System for Bat-and-Ball Game
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A universal backstop for various a bat-and-ball games such as cricket, baseball and basketball, including a body made of smart textile such that the backstop acts as a contact indicator, and target areas on the backstop for improving player skills. The backstop is portable and adjustable for use in different locations, and can be adjusted to adjust the level of difficulty of game play. The backstop is thus useful as a training aid, whether at home or in a school or club environment (e.g., used as a sporting or physical education activity).



Inventors:
Dodds, Peter A. (Gladesville NSW, AU)
Application Number:
14/713262
Publication Date:
10/01/2015
Filing Date:
05/15/2015
Assignee:
DODDS PETER A.
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63B71/02; A63B69/00; A63B69/38; A63B71/06
View Patent Images:
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20120178545MODULAR GOLF TRAINING SYSTEMJuly, 2012Bowlby
20020068649Golf ball having a dimple combination patternJune, 2002Thomas III
20020169030Golf ball retrieverNovember, 2002Chun-sheng
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Primary Examiner:
VANDERVEEN, JEFFREY S
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
MANDELBAUM SILFIN ECONOMOU LLP (WHITE PLAINS, NY, US)
Claims:
1. A bat-and-ball game backstop including: (a) a body made of suitable material to aid in preventing a ball thrown towards a batter from exiting a playing area, wherein: (i) the body comprises a central portion flanked by a side portion on either side; and (ii) each side portion is adjustable at an angle less than 180 degrees relative to the central portion so that the backstop is capable of standing substantially upright on a supporting surface; and (b) one or more target areas on the body, wherein each target area is configured to act as one portion of a hook and loop fastener for attaching to a corresponding portion of the hook and loop fastener on sporting equipment such that when contact is made between: (i) a target area within the backstop, and (ii) said sporting equipment, the target area fastens to said sporting equipment, thereby interfering with movement of said sporting equipment.

2. A bat-and-ball game backstop according to claim 1, wherein each side portion of the body is able to be configured at an angle relative to the central portion such that the backstop is adaptable for use in a range of locations.

3. A bat-and-ball game backstop according to claim 1 or claim 2 wherein the angle is between about 90 and about 155 degrees.

4. A bat-and-ball game backstop according claim 1 wherein the angle is between about 130 and 140 degrees.

5. A bat-and-ball game backstop according to claim 1 wherein each target area is configured to act as a hook portion of a hook and loop fastener, and the sporting equipment serves as a loop portion of the fastener, for fastening the sporting equipment to a target area when contact is made between the target area and the sporting equipment.

6. A bat-and-ball game backstop according to claim 1 wherein each target area is positioned on the body so as to represent a component from one or more of the following groups: (a) a wicket or catcher; (b) a fielder; (c) another component of a playing area such that fastening of the sporting equipment to the target area corresponds to a scoring event.

7. A bat-and-ball game backstop according to claim 1 wherein the backstop further includes reversible attachment means for attaching the target areas to the body to allow one or more of the following: (a) removal of one or more target areas from the backstop; (b) addition of one or more target areas from the backstop; (c) repositioning of one or more target areas on the backstop, such that the backstop is adjustable to enable difficulty of game play to be adjusted.

8. A bat-and-ball game backstop according to claim 1, wherein the body further includes attachment means for attaching the body to support means, the support means enhancing structural rigidity of the backstop.

9. A bat-and-ball game backstop according to claim 7 wherein the attachment means is any suitable means for attaching the body to the support means.

10. A bat-and-ball game backstop according to claim 9 wherein the attachment means include one or more channels on the body of the backstop such that the support means can be retained within said channels.

11. A bat-and-ball game backstop according to claim 8 wherein the support means is any suitable elongate material.

12. A bat-and-ball game backstop according to claim 8 wherein the attachment means are positioned along the body such that the support means are able to function as points of inflexion about which to angle the side portions relative to the central portion.

13. A bat-and-ball game backstop according to claim 1, wherein the backstop further includes a securing means for securing the backstop to a supporting surface for further securing the backstop to the supporting surface during game play.

14. A bat-and-ball game backstop according to claim 13 wherein the securing means includes: (a) one or more guy ropes having opposing ends, one end of each said guy rope being attached to a part of the body; (b) one or more pegs, each peg securing an opposing end of each said guy rope to the supporting surface, such that tension on the guy ropes secures the backstop to a supporting surface in a substantially upright state.

15. A bat-and-ball game backstop according to claim 1 wherein the bat-and-ball game is cricket.

16. A bat-and-ball game backstop according to claim 1, wherein one or more target areas further include an auditory feedback means such that a sound is emitted when the respective target area is struck by sporting equipment.

17. A portable training system for a bat and ball game including: (a) a backstop according to any one of the preceding claims; and (b) sporting equipment.

18. A portable training system for a bat and ball game according to claim 17 further including one or more independent target areas.

19. A portable training system for a bat and ball game according to claim 18 wherein the sporting equipment includes equipment from one or more of the following groups: (a) a conventional tennis ball; (b) a modified ball; (c) a modified bat or similar hitting apparatus.

20. A portable training system for a bat and ball game according to claim 19 wherein the modified ball is a ball including a strip of hook and loop fastener for fastening to a target area.

21. A portable training system for a bat and ball game according to claim 19 wherein the modified hitting apparatus is a bat including a strip of hook and loop fastener for fastening to a target area.

22. A bat-and-ball game backstop according to claim 1, wherein the body is made of a printable textile.

23. (canceled)

24. (canceled)

25. A bat-and-ball game backstop comprising: (a) a collapsible, self-supporting frame, wherein the self-supporting 15 frame is capable of self-supporting on a supporting surface, and wherein the self-supporting frame is capable of self deploying to a self-supporting state from a collapsed state; (b) a body made of suitable material extending across a substantially vertical portion of the self-supporting frame to aid in preventing a 20 ball thrown towards the backstop from exiting a playing area; (c) one or more target areas on the body, wherein each target area is configured to act as one portion of a hook and loop fastener for attaching to a corresponding portion of the hook and loop fastener on sporting equipment 25 such that when contact is made between: i. a target area within the backstop, and ii. said sporting equipment, the target area fastens to said sporting equipment, thereby interfering with movement of said sporting equipment.

26. A bat-and-ball game backstop according to claim 25 further comprising a piece of skirting material attachable to the lower portion of the body to assist in preventing passage of a ball under the body.

27. A bat-and-ball game backstop according to claim 25 further comprising a pocket seam extending around the upper periphery of the body to assist in preventing movement of the frame in a direction outward from a midline.

28. A bat-and-ball game backstop according to claim 25 wherein the self-erecting frame comprises one or more loops of resiliently deformable material, wherein the frame is bent along the circumference to form an elbow such that a lower portion of the frame sits along a supporting surface 20 and an upper portion of the frame stands substantially vertical to the supporting surface.

29. A bat-and-ball game backstop according to claim 28 wherein the elbow forms an acute angle between the upper portion and the lower portion 25 of the frame.

30. A bat-and-ball game backstop according to claim 25, further including a reversibly attachable brace, wherein the brace is reversibly attachable to the frame to hold the upper portion of the frame substantially vertical to the supporting surface.

31. A bat-and-ball game backstop according to any claim 25 wherein each target area is configured to act as a hook portion of a hook and loop fastener, and the sporting equipment serves as a loop portion of the fastener, for fastening the sporting equipment to a target area when contact is made between the target area and the sporting equipment.

Description:

TECHNICAL FIELD

The present invention relates to portable backstops and training systems for bat and ball games such as cricket, baseball and softball.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Playing nets are used for training in the playing of bat-and-ball games such as cricket. The purpose of playing nets is to act as a backstop—that is, to stop the ball travelling out of a designated playing area when the batter hits the ball, thus saving time and minimising the need for fielders. Therefore, playing nets are useful for training, and for when playing “backyard”, “street” or “beach” cricket—when typically there are few or no players to act as fielders to cover the playing area.

Playing nets are typically supported by a fixed frame or posts so that the assembled net stands well above the height of the player (e.g. cricket nets typically stand between 2.5 meters to 3 meters high).

Cricket nets consist of an elongate rectangular cricket pitch (the central strip of the playing area) into which two wickets are placed (one each at opposing ends of the cricket pitch) and a net surrounding three sides of the playing area, with the bowling “end” left open. Similar playing nets exist in the form of baseball batting cages, for baseball.

Playing nets may be installed as a permanent structure on many ovals, cricket centers, clubs and schools. “Portable” nets are available—e.g. in the form of:

(a) foldable nets or practice cages that can be extended to their full length for use then folded away to save space,

(b) a mobile net system (tunnel cage), in which the cage-style frame is mounted on wheels for mobility.

However, these “portable” nets utilize a metal frame and are still substantial in structure (e.g. the resulting structure of the foldable cricket net stands at over 2.5 meters in height), making them unsuitable for many home environments or as a portable system to transport to a park.

The playing of ball games in the backyard or at a park or beach has a long history in many cultures. Various portable devices have been devised for playing ball games outdoors, including portable soccer nets. However, these devices are generally not suitable as backstops for bat-and-ball games like cricket, baseball, softball, tennis or golf.

In soccer and basketball, the entire portable backstop (net or goalpost) serves as a target so that a ball landing anywhere within the area defined by the backstop will result in a score. Bat-and-ball games are different because the backstop may serve a dual purpose of stopping a ball from exiting the playing area behind the batter, but also presenting a target which, if hit or missed (depending on the game), can cause the batter to get out. For example, in cricket hitting the wicket and causing the wicket to “break” will cause the batter to be “out”. Therefore, the playing of cricket involves protecting the wicket (target) behind the batter from balls bowled toward the batter. In softball and baseball, a pitcher must throw a ball to the batter within the strike zone. A batter is called out for failing to hit three balls pitched toward the batter that pass through the strike zone. A batter is also called out if he or she hits a ball and it is caught by the back catcher. In all of these bat-and-ball games, hitting a “target” behind the batter is to be avoided by the batter.

Various portable bat-and-ball game targets are available, such as:

(a) U.S. Pat. No. 3,986,719: a ball target for practising golf, including a rectangular frame mounted on unidirectional rockers and a mesh net secured within the perimeter of the frame. The device is configured so that when a golf ball is driven anywhere into it, the force of impact causes the frame to rock backwards on the unidirectional rockers (to tilt the top of the frame away from the golfer),

(b) U.S. Pat. No. 4,643,423: a pitching target including a self-supporting frame (A-shaped at each end) and a weighted, flexible screen (having a “strike zone” depicted on it) hanging from a crossbar at the top of the frame. A trough positioned beneath the screen receives balls impacting anywhere on the screen and falling downwardly therefrom, and

(c) U.S. Pat. No. 4,148,555: a target scoring device formed of resilient material such as a net supported by elastic members and a frame, with a complex mechanical, spring-loaded trigger system that is triggered to move a scoring indicator into view when the target has been hit anywhere on the target,

(d) U.S. Pat. No. 4,497,485: a baseball pitching target comprising a rectangular peripheral frame staked to the ground and having a mesh backstop having a centrally located insert that represents a target (e.g. with sight indicia representing parts of the baseball environment such as a catcher's mitt). Pitched balls that travel anywhere within the strike zone are collected in a compartmentalised ball-receiving bag. Balls that miss the strike zone entirely are projected back toward the pitcher by the action of the spring-mesh structure of the backstop,

(e) AU 2003100878 describes a cricket training apparatus for use in cricket nets. The apparatus includes shaped target devices to affix to the sidewall nets of a cricket net. While the apparatus is intended for use in improving player skills by providing a mechanism for players to visualise the correct placement of shots, it needs to be secured to a cricket net and provides no information about the precise location of contact on the target. The target is merely a visual target to aim at but does not provide any signal when it has been struck. Therefore, AU 2003100878 suffers a disadvantage in that its use is limited to circumstances in which a cricket net is readily available and does not provide any area of contact information,

(f) AU2008101055 describes a portable training aid for use in practising the game of cricket. The training aid includes a target that is located in front of an arrestor, the arrestor including an opening and one or more walls behind the opening. Balls that miss the target will be stopped by the arrestor in an area behind the target, while balls that strike anywhere on the target will rebound away from the training aid and generally be found in front of the target. However, AU2008101055 cannot differentiate between balls that strike the target but still pass through the opening of the arrestor and balls that miss the target and go directly through the opening of the arrestor. The former balls would result in the batter being “out” while the latter would not.

U.S. Pat. No. 3,986,719 is a target that sits in front of the batter and therefore is not suitable as a backstop for games such as cricket. Further, U.S. Pat. No. 3,986,719 and U.S. Pat. No. 4,643,423 are cumbersome to assemble and bulky to transport. U.S. Pat. No. 4,148,555 involves a complex trigger mechanism with various moving parts unsuitable for scoring in cricket as the trigger “target” is tilted away from the player and, as such, does not simulate the effect of a wicket. U.S. Pat. No. 4,497,485 does not involve moving parts but the trampoline action of the backstop is not suitable when playing ball games such as cricket, particularly when cricket is played with a tennis ball or other similar ball since the backstop will tend to sling the ball too far in a direction away from the target. None of the above backstops provides a precise location of contact on a target—only that the target has been hit somewhere within the target zone.

It would be useful to have a universal backstop and training system suitable for use in a variety of bat-and-ball games such as cricket, baseball or softball, and that is suitable for use in the typical home environment or as a portable system to transport to a park or other outdoor playing area when there may be as few as two players. It would also be useful if the universal backstop provided accurate information about a precise location of contact—for example, the part of a wicket that a ball has struck or the precise part of a strike zone that a ball has travelled through. This is very useful for training purposes (and also assists to verify scoring events in game play). None of the above “targets” can provide information about a location of contact—only that a target area has been struck somewhere within a designated target area.

So-called Hawk-Eye technology is used for officiating line calls in tennis (among other uses). This gives accurate contact information about the area (location) of contact of a tennis ball relative to the tennis court but requires a number of high speed video cameras (ten in tennis) positioned at different locations and angles around the area of play. Data needs to be received from all of the cameras and analysed. The location of contact is calculated based on the principle of triangulation—that is, comparing the position of a ball on at least two physically separate cameras at the same instant in time and then a 3D representation of the trajectory of the ball is created. This technology is complex, costly and involves significant infrastructure—all of which make it unsuitable for home use or as a portable contact indicator for recreational play or training.

It would be useful to have a universal backstop suitable for use in a variety of bat-and-ball games that can provide a simpler contact indicator, without the need for complex and expensive equipment.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,394,824 is a thermochromic sensor system for locating an area of contact that indicates where a ball contacts a playing area (tennis court). The sensor of U.S. Pat. No. 5,394,824 is made of thin material coated with thermochromic liquid crystals and placed along the boundary lines of a tennis court. The boundary lines change colour where contact is made. The sensor system of U.S. Pat. No. 5,394,824 includes a temperature controller for maintaining the temperature of all the layers of the sensor below the “trigger point” at which a colour change is triggered.

However, the sensor system of U.S. Pat. No. 5,394,824 suffers a number of disadvantages, including the following:

(a) contact information is limited to where the sensors are placed and it is impractical (and expensive) to cover the whole playing area with material coated with thermochromic liquid crystals. Further the sensor system described involves installation of temperature controllers for each sensor, which makes the sensor unsuitable for home, recreational and training use,

(b) limiting the sensors to placement along the boundary lines of a tennis court (as described in the specification) means the system can only register contact on a boundary line. The system cannot distinguish between a ball that is just inside or just outside a boundary line. As such, the system is also not useful for assessing the precise area of contact, which is useful to training in or practising ball placement as part of game play.

It would be useful to have a contact indicator that can identify a precise location of contact within a playing area, which does not rely on cumbersome installation methods.

It would be useful to have a readily transportable and assembled backstop and portable system for use in a variety of bat-and-ball games such as cricket, baseball and softball and that also provide players with a scoring indicator, so as to improve player skills. It would be useful if the scoring indicator could provide a simple and cost effective contact indicator (e.g. does not involve installation of equipment) that identifies the location or area of contact between a ball (or other sporting equipment such as a bat in cricket) on a backstop.

None of the prior art devices above is able to provide an indication of when a target area has been struck by a bat—a situation that affects scoring which is unique to cricket—or when a scoring event such as a ball caught by a fielder or back catcher has taken place.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

It is an object of the present invention to provide an improved or alternative universal, portable backstop suitable for a variety of bat-and-ball games such as cricket, baseball or softball that can directly identify a location of contact by sporting equipment (e.g. a ball) without a need for data to be sent to and analyzed by a remote computer or official or requiring additional equipment.

According to an aspect of the invention there is provided a bat-and-ball game backstop comprising:

(a) a body made of material suitable to prevent a ball from exiting a playing area,

(b) a frame to support the material in a substantially vertical position,

wherein the body is secured to the frame at its peripheral edges such that the body extends across the frame,

wherein the frame is collapsible into a compact configuration for portability, and

wherein the material is a smart textile capable of reacting to a contact force applied to the body, wherein a reaction by the smart textile includes identifying a location of contact at any position on the body.

Preferably, the smart textile is from one or more of the following groups:

(a) a thermochromic fabric capable of changing color to indicate a location of contact,

(b) a conductive or semiconductive textile capable of conducting electricity to a signal mechanism to indicate a location of contact,

such that the material of the body acts as a contact indicator, changing color or conducting an electrical signal, respectively, in the location of material contacted by sporting equipment.

Further preferably, the body further includes one or more target areas, wherein each target area is configured to act as one portion of a hook and loop fastener for attaching to a corresponding portion of the hook and loop fastener on sporting equipment, such that when contact is made between:

(a) a target area within the backstop, and

(b) said sporting equipment,

the target area fastens to said sporting equipment, thereby interfering with movement of the sporting equipment.

According to another aspect of the invention there is provided a portable training system for a bat and ball game including:

(a) a backstop, and

(b) sporting equipment,

wherein the backstop comprises:

i. a body made of material suitable to prevent a ball from exiting a playing area,

ii. a frame to support the material in a substantially vertical position,

wherein the body is secured to the frame at its peripheral edges such that the body extends across the frame,

wherein the frame is collapsible into a compact configuration for portability, and

wherein the material is a smart textile capable of reacting to a contact force applied to any part of the body, wherein a reaction by the smart textile includes identifying a location of contact at any position on the body.

The invention thus provides a universal backstop suitable for a variety of bat-and-ball games, in which the body of the backstop is made of a smart textile. The invention also provides a portable training system including a universal backstop made of a smart textile, in which the backstop is suitable for a variety of bat-and-ball games, and sporting equipment.

By having the backstop made of a smart textile, the entire body of the backstop is able to act as a contact indicator, reacting to contact by sporting equipment (e.g. a ball or a bat) in the location of the body that has been contacted by the sporting equipment.

This is an advantage because it does not require the installation of equipment or sending of data to a remote computer, rather relying on the characteristics of the material of the backstop to directly indicate the location of the contact.

The smart textile may also be a printable, so that areas on the backstop can be demarcated to represent parts of a playing field, such as:

(a) a wicket, in cricket,

(b) the mitt of a back catcher in baseball or softball, or

(c) a strike zone in baseball or softball.

In this way, the location of contact by sporting equipment (e.g. a pitched ball) on the backstop represents the location of contact by the sporting equipment on the playing area (e.g. on a wicket, within the strike zone).

Further, the smart textile enables any point of contact to the backstop to be identified, because the contact indicator is not limited to the location of sensors placed in different locations. This is another advantage because the backstop is able to indicate (through the location of a contact) one or more of:

(a) whereabouts in a strike zone a ball that hits the backstop was travelling,

(b) whether a ball that hits the backstop was outside the strike zone,

(c) whether a ball has hit a wicket represented on the body and the location of the hit on the wicket,

(d) whether a ball has travelled to or beyond the outer boundary of the playing field (e.g. indicating a home run or a six).

Typically, backyard or street cricket is played using a ball having a looped (including fibrous) fabric surface such as a conventional tennis ball or any similar inflated ball having a fibrous felt, fabric, hair or wool covered surface. Tennis balls or similar fibrous felt balls are commonly used in this context because they are less likely to inflict injuries (to players and/or people nearby in a yard, park or public area) or cause damage (e.g. break a window) than a hard, leather-covered ball such as a cricket ball, softball or baseball.

Fibrous balls are also cheaper and more readily available than conventional leather-covered balls (e.g. as used for cricket, baseball and softball) and easier to hit due to different aerodynamics than leather-covered balls. The fibrous felt or similar surface also has more friction than a smooth ball when making contact with a target, a bat or other hitting apparatus, and with the backstop itself. The friction further assists in registering contact by a ball on the backstop.

In an embodiment, the backstop may also include one or more target areas on the body for improving player skills. Each target area is configured to act as one portion of a hook and loop fastener for attaching to a corresponding portion of the hook and loop fastener on sporting equipment, so that when contact is made between:

(a) the target area of the backstop, and

(b) the sporting equipment,

the target area fastens to the sporting equipment (e.g. a ball or a cricket bat), thereby interfering with movement of the sporting equipment (i.e. securing it to the backstop).

Although the target areas are described using hook and loop fastener, any mechanical fastener suitable for securing sporting equipment to the target area upon contact while allowing for regular separation and re-fastening would also be suitable (e.g. interlocking islands).

The combination of a smart textile contact indicator and discrete areas of hook and loop fastener provides different feedback for different kinds of contact events that occur in various bat and ball games. For example, the adherence of a ball to a representation of a baseball mitt on the backstop through hook and loop fastener represents a batter being caught out by the back catcher. By contrast, three thrown balls passing through the strike zone but not struck by the batter will hit the backstop in an area demarcated on the backstop as representing the strike zone. These “strikes” may not attach to a target area representing a baseball mitt on the back catcher (who crouches behind the home plate) but can still be identified as travelling within the strike zone by the location of contact indicated on the backstop (seen as a change of color or a light emitted at the location of contact). Prior art backstops do not differentiate between types of contact.

By providing a textile backstop attached to a collapsible frame, the preferred embodiments overcome the problems of existing backstops and contact indicators in sport, which are generally not suited for home use, are too cumbersome and bulky for transportation to a park or other outdoor playing area, or that rely on expensive and extensive infrastructure (e.g. multiple video cameras and/or analysis by a remote official or computer).

For a better understanding of the invention and to show how it may be performed, a preferred embodiment will now be described, by way of non-limiting example only, with reference to the accompanying drawings and example.

DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a front view of one arrangement of a preferred embodiment of a backstop for a bat-and-ball game according to the invention.

FIG. 2 is a top view of the embodiment shown in FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 is a front view of another embodiment of a backstop for a bat-and-ball game according to the invention, showing securing means for retaining the backstop in a substantially upright state during game play. Securing means are shown at each end of the backstop and, as shown in ghost, intermediate to the ends.

FIG. 4 is a front view of another arrangement of the embodiment shown in FIG. 1.

FIGS. 5A and 5B show two views of exemplary sporting equipment in the form of a ball suitable for use with the backstop shown in any of the preceding Figures.

FIG. 5A is a front view of a conventional tennis ball or other similar fibrous or felt covered ball.

FIG. 5B is a perspective view of a modified ball (e.g. a cricket ball or rubber ball) with a portion of looped fabric for use with a target area providing corresponding hooked fabric.

FIG. 6 is a back view of exemplary sporting equipment in the form of a cricket bat suitable for use with the backstop shown in any of the preceding Figures.

FIGS. 7A, 7B, 7C, 7D, 7E, 7F, and 7G show views of an embodiment of an independent target area according to the invention. In this embodiment, the independent target area is capable of functioning independently as a backstop or portable training system for a ball game such as cricket.

FIG. 7A is a front view of an independent target area showing an exemplary arrangement of patches or strips of hook and loop fastener. If the independent target area is to be used as a fielder, the arrangement of hook and loop fastener may differ.

FIG. 7B is a perspective view of the embodiment in FIG. 7A, shown from the back and demonstrating an exemplary support means.

FIG. 7C is the independent target area of FIG. 7A showing a different exemplary support means than that of FIG. 7B.

FIG. 7D is a front view of the independent target area of FIG. 7C.

FIG. 7E is a side view of FIG. 7D, showing detail of the “bend” or elbow of the stand or frame.

FIG. 7F is a side view of the independent target area of FIG. 7C, showing detail of a holding mechanism to hold material in place on the stand or frame of the independent target area, to prevent the material sliding in an upward direction from the ground.

FIG. 7G is a side view of the independent target area of FIG. 7A showing yet another exemplary support means than that of FIGS. 7B and 7C. The embodiment further includes a reversibly attachable brace to support the upper portion of the frame in a substantially vertical position to the supporting surface (e.g. ground or floor).

FIGS. 8A, 8B, 8C and 8D show various views of the smart textile of a universal, portable backstop according to an exemplary embodiment.

FIG. 8A is a top view of two layers of thermochromic textile.

FIG. 8B is a top view of a layer of conductive or semiconductive textile (bottom layer) and a layer of piezoelectric fabric (top layer). The layers are not necessarily arranged in this order.

FIG. 8C is a front view of an exemplary embodiment of universal, portable backstop having a body made, on the left, of a thermochromic textile (made of 2 fabric layers). On the right of FIG. 8C is a backstop body made of a layer of conductive or semiconductive textile and a layer of piezoelectric fabric.

FIG. 8D is the universal, portable backstop of FIG. 8D in which the contact indicator feature has been activated—at the bottom, a change of color indicating a location of contact of a ball, and at the top, a signal mechanism (light or sound emitter) that has been switched on to indicate an area of contact.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

Preferred Embodiments of the Backstop

The invention thus provides a universal backstop suitable for a variety of bat-and-ball games, in which the body of the backstop is made of a smart textile.

Referring to FIGS. 1, 3, 4 and 7, various embodiments of the universal, portable backstop 100, 130 and 210 are illustrated. In all embodiments, the bat-and-ball game backstop comprises:

(a) a body (e.g. item 103 in FIG. 1) made of material (e.g. item 112 in FIG. 1) suitable to prevent a ball from exiting a playing area,

(b) a frame (e.g. item 117 in FIG. 1) to support the material 112 in a substantially vertical position.

The body 103 is secured to the frame 117 at its peripheral edges so that the body 103 extends across the frame 117 to provide a substantially vertical surface to stop balls bowled toward a batter.

The frame 117 is collapsible into a compact configuration for portability. The material 112 of the body 103 is a smart textile capable of reacting to a contact force applied to any part of the body, wherein a reaction by the smart textile includes identifying a location of contact at any position on the body.

By making the universal, portable backstop 100, 130 and 210 out of a smart textile (see item 113 in FIG. 9), the entire body 103 of the backstop (100, 130, 210) is able to act as a contact indicator, reacting to contact by sporting equipment (e.g. a ball or a bat) in the location of the body that has been contacted by the sporting equipment.

This is an advantage because the contact indicator does not require the installation of equipment or sending of data to a remote computer, rather relying on the characteristics of the material of the backstop to directly indicate the location of the contact.

The smart textile 113 may also be a printable, so that areas on the backstop can be demarcated to represent parts of a playing field, such as:

(a) a wicket, in cricket,

(b) the mitt of a back catcher in baseball or softball, or

(c) a strike zone in baseball or softball.

In this way, the location of contact by sporting equipment (e.g. a pitched ball) on the backstop (100, 130, 210) represents the location of contact by the sporting equipment on the playing area (e.g. on a wicket, within the strike zone).

Further, the smart textile 113 enables any point of contact to the backstop (100, 130, 210) to be identified, because the contact indicator feature is not limited to the location of sensors placed in different locations. This is another advantage because the backstop is able to indicate (through the location of a contact) one or more of:

(a) whereabouts in a strike zone a ball that hits the backstop was travelling,

(b) whether a ball that hits the backstop was outside the strike zone,

(c) whether a ball has hit a wicket represented on the body and the location of the hit on the wicket,

(d) whether a ball has travelled to or beyond the outer boundary of the playing field (e.g. indicating a home run or a six).

Backyard or street cricket is played using a ball having a looped (including fibrous) fabric surface such as a conventional tennis ball or any similar inflated ball having a fibrous felt, fabric, hair or wool covered surface (refer item 180 in FIG. 5A). Tennis balls or similar fibrous felt balls 180 are useful because they are less likely to inflict injuries (to players and/or people nearby in a yard, park or public area) or cause damage (e.g. break a window) than a hard, leather-covered ball such as a conventional cricket ball, softball or baseball.

Fibrous balls are also cheaper and more readily available than conventional leather-covered balls (e.g. as used for cricket, baseball and softball) and easier to hit due to different aerodynamics than leather-covered balls. A ball with a fibrous felt or similar surface 180 also has more friction than a smooth ball when making contact with a target, a bat or other hitting apparatus, and with the backstop itself. The friction further assists in registering contact by a ball on the backstop.

The backstop (100, 130, 210) may also include one or more target areas on the body (e.g. see item 120 in FIGS. 1 and 4) or improving player skills, in which each target area 120 is configured to act as one portion of a hook and loop fastener for attaching to a corresponding portion of the hook and loop fastener on sporting equipment, so that when contact is made between:

(a) the target area 120 of the backstop, and

(b) the sporting equipment,

the target area 120 fastens to the sporting equipment (e.g. a ball or a cricket bat), thereby interfering with movement of the sporting equipment (i.e. securing it to the backstop). Fibrous-covered balls 180 or modified balls with a strip of hook and loop fastener 190 can adhere to a target area on contact (e.g. when thrown at the backstop).

Although the target areas are described using hook and loop fastener, any mechanical fastener suitable for securing sporting equipment to the target area upon contact while allowing for regular separation and re-fastening would also be suitable (e.g. interlocking islands).

A backstop combining a smart textile (as contact indicator) with discrete areas of hook and loop fastener is able to provide different feedback for different kinds of contact events that occur in various bat and ball games. For example, the adherence of a ball to a representation of a baseball mitt on the backstop through hook and loop fastener represents a batter being caught out by the back catcher. By contrast, three thrown balls passing through the strike zone but not struck by the batter will hit the backstop in an area demarcated on the backstop as representing the strike zone. These “strikes” may not attach to a target area representing a baseball mitt on the back catcher (who crouches behind the home plate) but can still be identified as travelling within the strike zone by the location of contact indicated on the backstop (seen as a change of color or a light emitted at the location of contact). Prior art backstops do not differentiate between types of contact.

By providing a textile backstop attached to a collapsible frame, the preferred embodiments overcome the problems of existing backstops and contact indicators in sport, which are generally not suited for home use, are too cumbersome and bulky for transportation to a park or other outdoor playing area, or that rely on expensive and extensive infrastructure (e.g. multiple video cameras and/or analysis by a remote official or computer).

The portable, universal backstop (100, 130, 210) is suitable for assembly on grass, sand, around a concrete cricket pitch or facing a pitcher's mound. This enables various bat and ball games such as cricket, softball and baseball to be played without the need for fielders. The contact indicator feature of the material and use of target areas provide player feedback and enable scoring without relying on visual assessment, complex scoring devices or collection means such as a ball pocket or bag, which are inconvenient to use when there is a small number of players because it interrupts game play.

The Body

The body 103 of the backstop 100, 130, 210 is made of a smart textile capable of reacting to a contact force applied to any part of the body. Contact, say by a pitched ball striking the body causes a reaction in the smart textile, which identifies a location of contact. The advantage of using a smart textile is that the entire backstop (body) can act as a contact indicator, identifying an area or location of contact anywhere on the backstop. This is in contrast to prior art contact indicators that rely on sensors being positioned at specific locations on a playing area.

A smart textile is any textile that can sense and react to environmental conditions or stimuli from mechanical, thermal, chemical, electrical or magnetic sources. In embodiments, the backstop 100, 130, 210 may be made of a smart textile including:

(a) a thermochromic fabric capable of changing color to indicate a location of contact (see item 113a in FIG. 9, depicting a backstop of exemplary embodiment 210 made of a thermochromics fabric),

(b) a conductive or semiconductive textile capable of conducting electricity to a signal mechanism to indicate a location of contact (see item 113b in FIG. 9, depicting a backstop of exemplary embodiment 210 made of a semiconductive fabric).

The smart textile enables the body to act as a contact indicator, changing color or conducting an electrical signal, respectively, in the location of material contacted by sporting equipment.

Thermochromic fabric changes color reversibly with a change of temperature. A temperature change will arise from friction caused by ball (or bat) contact on the thermochromics fabric of the backstop.

The body (e.g. item 103 in FIGS. 1, 3, and 7) may be constructed of a single layer of thermochromic fabric that changes color as a result of thermochromic dyes (liquid crystals or micro-encapsulated dyes [leuco dyes]) applied to the fabric. FIG. 9D is an exemplary depiction of a backstop 210 with a thermochromic textile body 103 indicating an area of contact 800 made by a baseball. The body 103 has been printed with the representation of a mitt of a back catcher 810 at the approximate height of a catcher crouching behind a batter. The contact indicator feature of the backstop 210 indicates the ball would have made contact with the mitt 810 and, as such, would have been caught out if the ball had been batted to that position by the batter.

Alternatively, the body 103 may be constructed of two layers of thermochromic fabric (e.g. as depicted in FIG. 9A) with one layer using thermochromic dyes change from colorful to clear, revealing the color of the fabric underneath. In either case, temperature changes caused by the force of contact by a ball (or other sporting equipment) will change color in the area of contact, accurately indicating where the ball has made contact.

In an embodiment, the smart textile 113 of the backstop body 103 may be made of a conductive or semiconductive fabric (refer item 113b of FIG. 9). Conductive textiles include metal strands woven into the construction of the textile or fibers coated or embedded with electrically conductive elements. Semiconducting textiles are normal textiles (e.g. polyester or other hard wearing material suitable for heavy duty or sporting use) impregnated with carbon- or metal-based powders.

The backstop body 103 may be constructed using a layer of conductive textile (e.g. 113b in FIG. 9) that can conduct electricity and a second layer of piezoelectric fabric (e.g. see item 113c in FIG. 9) responsive to mechanical force (e.g. a piezoresistive fabric that decreases electrical resistance between the conductive threads). Decreasing resistance (e.g. through contact pressure on the backstop body) allows the body 103 to conduct electricity. The piezoelectric fabric 113c thus acts as a switch to turn on or off an electric signal carried by the (semi-)conductive textile 113c of the backstop body 103.

The backstop 100, 130, 210 also includes a signal mechanism, which requires electricity to operate, and is connected to the (semi-)conductive textile 113b. A contact force on piezoelectric fabric layer 113C switches the (semi-)conductive textile 113b so that the signal mechanism can operate. In embodiments, the signal mechanism (e.g. item 900 in FIG. 9) may be one or more of:

(a) a light emitter,

(b) a sound emitter,

so that the material of the body is able to emit a light or a sound, respectively, from the location of material contacted by sporting equipment.

The light emitter may be one or more of:

(c) a plurality of light emitting diodes,

(d) a layer of polymer light emitting diodes,

within the material 112 of the body 103, and is capable of being switched on or off at the location of contact anywhere on the body of the backstop.

In different embodiments, the light emitter may be arranged so that different parts of the body 103 emit different colored light or a different kind of lighting (e.g. flashing or still). This allows the contact indicator feature of the backstop to be seen from a distance. Similarly, the sound emitter can be arranged so that different parts of the body is demarcated by different sounds. This provides an indication of the location of contact according to the type of sound made (rather than relying on where the sound has been emitted. Again, this allows the contact indicator feature to be perceived at distance.

In embodiments, the smart textile 113 is also a printable textile (e.g. as illustrated in FIG. 9), so that areas on the backstop can be visually demarcated to represent different parts of a playing area. For example, the backstop body 103 may include visual representations of one or more of the following (as applicable):

(a) a wicket,

(b) a mitt of a back catcher (e.g. as depicted in FIG. 9D), or

(c) a strike zone.

Printing of the backstop allows a location of contact by sporting equipment (e.g. a ball) on the backstop to represent a location of contact by the sporting equipment on the playing area (e.g. a ball in a catcher's mitt as shown in FIG. 9D).

In an embodiment (100 in FIG. 1), the body 103 includes a central portion 105 with a side portion 110 on either side. The body 103 may be made from continuous or discrete, adjoining portions. In one arrangement, the portions of the preferred embodiment are configured as shown in FIG. 1. In an alternative arrangement, the portions of the preferred embodiment are configured so that the body takes the form of an arc (see FIG. 4).

The backstop 100 is configured so that it is able to be self-supporting in an upright state (i.e. substantially perpendicular to a supporting surface such as the ground 115—as shown in FIG. 1). The backstop 100 is capable of being self-supporting by virtue of:

(a) the relative positioning of the side portions in relation to the central portion. As shown in the arrangement of the preferred embodiment shown in FIG. 1, the side portions 110 of the body 103 are able to be positioned on an angle relative to the central portion 105. In the arc arrangement showing in FIG. 4, the angle of curvature of the side portions relative to the angle of curvature of the central portion achieves the same result as the angled arrangement between side and central portions of the embodiment shown in FIG. 1. The side portions are delineated from the central portion in the arc arrangement shown in FIG. 4 by dashed lines, however, as for the arrangement in FIG. 1 these portions may be continuous or discrete adjoining portions, and

(b) the inclusion of attachment means on the body. The attachment means provide the ability to attach the backstop to one or more structural supports such as battens (not shown in FIG. 1). The structural supports enhance the structural rigidity of the backstop 100.

The positions of the side portions 110 relative to the central portion 105 of the embodiment in FIG. 1 are better seen in FIG. 2, which shows a top view of the preferred embodiment of the backstop 100. The angle between the side portions 110 and the central portion 105 of the body 103 is depicted by the letter X. When measured from the front of the backstop (that is, the surface of the backstop facing toward the playing area in which the batter and bowler are positioned), the angle is less than 180°, preferably between around 90° and 155°, and ideally around 135°. The ability to adjust the angle enables the backstop to be adapted for use in a range of locations—e.g. on different types of supporting surface such as on grass or sand, or configured around a concrete cricket pitch.

The structural supports may be any suitable elongate shaped solid material such as a batten, post, pole, pipe, guide or other suitable material (such as wood, fiberglass, metal [e.g. aluminum], rigid plastic, rubber, etc). In the preferred embodiment, the backstop is attached to structural supports which provide the required structural rigidity to assist in retaining the backstop 100 in an upright state. The structural supports also act as pivot points about which to angle the side portions 110 relative to the central portion 105. In this way, the structural supports act to define the side perimeters of each portion of the backstop 100.

For example, as illustrated in FIG. 1, the body of the backstop is attached to a structural support (such as a batten) at each of its free ends (at the points marked A) and pivoted around the structural supports (e.g. batten) at each point of inflexion (i.e. where the central portion meets a side portion—see the points marked B). Attachments secure (attach) the structural supports to the body, and may include reversible attachments (e.g. ties, strips of hook and look fastener attached to the body, channels on the body for receiving the support means) and/or permanent attachments such as glue, rivets and the like.

In one arrangement, the structural supports sit on the ground. In another arrangement, the structural supports (e.g. battens) are able to be partially inserted into a supporting surface 115 (e.g. lawn or sand) to further enhance structural rigidity.

In the arc arrangement, there may be additional structural supports such as battens to provide structural rigidity to the body along its curvature, inserted into channels along the curvature of the body (indicated in ghost by the item labeled 170).

Target area(s)

In an embodiment the backstop 100, 130, 210 also includes one or more target areas on the body 103. These are represented as the shaded areas labelled 120 in FIG. 1, which are illustrated by way of example only.

Each target area 120 provides one portion of a hook and loop fastener (exemplary arrangements are depicted in FIG. 4) so that when contact is made between a target area and sporting equipment bearing the corresponding portion of the hook and loop fastener, the sporting equipment is capable of fastening to the target area. This corresponds to a scoring event (e.g. a caught ball or a wicket being knocked over) and provides player feedback during use.

For example, the target area may provide a hooked fabric surface having one or more hooks capable of hooking on to one or more loops of a looped (including fibrous) fabric surface. Thus the target area is capable of attaching to sporting equipment having a looped (including fibrous) fabric surface upon contact, such as a tennis ball or other ball with a similar surface, or a modified bat having a strip of looped fibrous fabric attached to back of the bat. Conversely, the target area may be configured to act as the loop portion, capable of attaching to sporting equipment bearing a corresponding hook portion.

In this way, each target area is configured to act as a portion of a hook and loop fastener, while a tennis or other sporting equipment with a suitable surface provides the corresponding portion, for fastening the sporting equipment to a target area within the backstop when contact is made between the target area and the sporting equipment. The fastening of sporting equipment to the target area corresponds to a scoring event.

For example, a fibrous felt ball such as a tennis ball 180 (FIG. 5A) or a modified fibrous ball of any kind (e.g. leather, rubber or plastic) covered with a strip of one portion of a hook and loop fastener (see item 190 in FIG. 5B) bowled toward a batter in the playing area and that strikes a target area behind the batter will fasten to that target area.

In an embodiment, at least one target area represents a wicket behind the batter (e.g. the target area has the appearance of a wicket and includes strips of hook and loop fastener positioned along the parts of the wicket that represent the stumps and bails). Alternatively, the target area may represent the strike zone in baseball or softball—roughly, the area between the shoulders and the kneecaps- or a catcher's mitt of the back catcher. A ball fastened to the target area representing the wicket indicates that the wicket has been hit by the bowled ball. A ball struck by the batter and fastened to the target area representing the wicket indicates that the wicket has been hit by the struck ball (cricket) or caught by the back catcher (softball or baseball).

Similarly, a modified bat 200 (FIG. 6) or other similar hitting apparatus 200 having a strip of, say, looped fabric surface attached, say to the tip or back of the bat, which fastens to the hooked (corresponding) fabric surface of the target area representing a wicket indicates that the batter has struck the wicket with the bat. In all these examples, the sporting equipment fastened to the part of the target area representing a wicket indicates that the batter is “out”.

One or more target areas are positioned on the body of the backstop so as to represent (including taking on the appearance of) one or more components of the playing area (e.g. a wicket, a fielder, a base, net or fence). Contact between a target area and the sporting equipment (as corresponding portions of a hook and loop fastener) interferes with movement of the sporting equipment. This interference with movement (e.g. fastening of a ball to a target area representing a wicket) provides feedback to a player during game play, training or practice, by simulating a scoring event.

In some arrangements of the preferred embodiment, one or more target areas are included in addition to the wicket (or strike zone). These additional target areas represent fielders. A struck or bowled ball that fastens to one of these additional target areas indicates a ball caught by a fielder.

The target areas are attached to the body of the backstop, say by stitching, adhesive or other suitable attachment means. In some arrangements, the attachment means are reversible (e.g. zippers, buttons, press studs, or hook and loop fasteners) to enable one or more target areas to be removed or added, for adjusting the level of difficulty of game play (e.g. the inclusion of more fielders increases the chances of being caught out). Reversible attachment means also enable fielders to be ‘portable’ so that they can be repositioned on the field represented by the body of the backstop as desired.

Alternative Embodiments

FIG. 3 shows an alternative embodiment of the backstop 130 which includes channels 140 for receiving support means such as battens 150 into the backstop so that the backstop is securely attached to the support means. The channels run along the side perimeters of each portion in a direction such that when in use the channels are substantially perpendicular to the supporting surface (e.g. the ground).

The support means can be retained within the channels during transport, storage and use, thereby assisting to reduce the steps involved in assembly and disassembly.

The support means 150 serve the same purpose as the support means as described in the preceding discussion—namely, to provide structural rigidity and support for retaining the backstop in an upright state and to serve as pivot points about which to angle the side portions relative to the central portion.

The embodiment 130 also includes securing means 160 for further securing the backstop to the supporting surface such that that the backstop is retained in a substantially upright state during game play. The securing means 160 may be any suitable means for securing the backstop to the ground or other supporting surface during use such as:

(a) one or more guy ropes, each guy rope having opposing ends, one end being attached to the body such as a part of the body at or near the support means 150, and

(b) one or more pegs, each peg securing a guy rope to the supporting surface,

such that tension on the ropes secures the backstop to the supporting surface in a substantially upright state during use.

Assembly of the embodiment 130 thus involves the step of using securing means such as guy ropes and peg assemblies to secure the backstop to the ground in a substantially upright state. For example, the embodiment 130 includes at least one guy rope attached to a batten or post at each free end of the backstop 130. Preferably, there are two guy ropes at each free end, splayed from each other and angled away from the backstop as they travel toward the ground—as illustrated in FIG. 3. A further guy rope secures each end of the central portion, extending from the top of a batten down to the ground at the back of the backstop (i.e. the surface of the backstop facing away from the playing area). Each guy rope is attached to the ground by a peg, stake, spike or other suitable retaining means for securing the guy rope in position.

In experiments by the inventor, this embodiment 130 is capable of withstanding the rigors of outdoor use even in windy conditions. This embodiment can also be left assembled, say in the backyard, for several weeks and will be maintained in a substantially upright state.

In yet another embodiment (not illustrated), the backstop is made of a printable textile upon which is printed a wicket and one or more fielders, or a back catcher and one or more bases or other fielders. The wicket and fielder(s) represent one or more target areas, each of which will have attached to it a hooked fabric surface to enable fastening of sporting equipment having a looped fabric surface - as described above. Other details may also be printed on the backstop. The printed backstop assists in simulating play as though on a sports field.

In some arrangements, the target areas may include auditory feedback means such as a sound emitting device so that a sound is emitted when the target area is struck. An example is the sound of a ball or bat striking a wicket. This provides players with auditory feedback to further assist in improving player skill and to enhance the game experience.

Specific examples of a portable backstop for bat-and-ball games is provided below.

Example 1

A body made from a smart textile, in which the body is demarcated into three continuous portions, each portion being approximately 1200 mm high (although up to 1800 mm is also suitable) and about 1500 mm wide. Four channels (pole pockets) are located on the body—one at each free end of the backstop and one at each end of the central portion. A readily available rigid plastic tubular post is inserted into each channel and pushed into the ground. The posts extend a few centimeters higher than the channel—so that guy ropes can be wound around the top of the post, extending down to the ground at an angle. Tent pegs are used to secure the guy ropes to the lawn.

The body may be printed continuously in one sheet to represent a cricket pitch on an oval or a baseball field. Alternatively, the body can be printed in sections and joined, such as at the channels (pole pockets). The print includes game-appropriate players or targets such as a wicket keeper or back catcher, and, say two, further fielders or bases. It may also include a wicket or home base, and a hand (or mitt) of each fielder. Alternatively, stand-alone backstops can be used to represent each of a base or fielder.

Assembly takes around a few minutes with two people (the minimum required to play with the backstop—namely, a batter and a bowler or pitcher).

Example 2

A body made from a printable smart textile extending across a substantially vertical portion of a self-supporting frame to aid in preventing a ball thrown towards the backstop from exiting a playing area. The frame is made of a resiliently compressible material capable of being collapsed into a small shape by twisting to form two or more substantially concentric loops. The concentric loops are capable of sitting substantially flat one on top of the other and can be secured together (e.g. by applying a compressive force such as by wrapping a strip of hook and loop fastener or other mechanical fastener around a common point along the circumference of the concentric loops, or by insertion into a carry bag or sleeve). The frame (and hence body of the backstop) self deploys to a shape ready for use (i.e. a self-supporting state) when the frame is taken out of its carry bag or sleeve, or when the compressive force is removed from the common circumference of the concentric loops. This is analogous to deployment of a self-erecting sunshade or pop-up tent.

The textile body is secured to the frame by any suitable means such as by threading frame through a pocket seam that sits around the periphery of the body. The printable textile is printed with game-appropriate players or targets. For example, a wicket keeper or back catcher, and, say two, further fielders or bases. It may also include a wicket or home base, and a hand (or mitt) of each fielder. Alternatively, stand-alone backstops can be used to represent each of a base or fielder.

Deployment takes moments and can be performed by one person. The backstop is immediately ready for use.

Preferred Embodiments of a Portable Training System

The invention also provides a portable training system including a universal backstop made of a smart textile, in which the backstop is suitable for a variety of bat-and-ball games, and sporting equipment.

The backstop of the training system may also include one or more target areas on the body for improving player skills. Each target area is configured to act as one portion of a hook and loop fastener for attaching to a corresponding portion of the hook and loop fastener on sporting equipment, so that when contact is made between:

(a) the target area of the backstop, and

(b) the sporting equipment,

the target area fastens to the sporting equipment (e.g. a ball or a cricket bat), thereby interfering with movement of the sporting equipment (i.e. securing it to the backstop).

The portable training system may also include independent (standalone) target areas that may be used in combination with the universal backstop, the backstop representing a wicket or home base (i.e. behind the batter) and the other independent target areas representing fielders or other bases (i.e. in front of the batter).

The universal, portable backstop (see FIGS. 1-7) is as described earlier in this document.

Suitable sporting equipment includes traditional bats and balls, and fibrous felt surfaced balls (or bats with a strip of hook and loop fastener) that are able to act as a portion of a hook and loop fastener for engagement with a corresponding portion of the hook and loop fastener on one or more target areas on the backstop.

Such sporting equipment includes:

(a) a conventional tennis or similar ball 180 (FIG. 5A) having a fibrous felt, fabric, hair or wool covered surface,

(b) a modified ball 190 (FIG. 5B) of any kind (e.g. cricket, leather, rubber or plastic) covered with a strip of one portion of a hook and loop fastener,

(c) a modified bat 200 (FIG. 6), racquet or similar sporting equipment (hitting apparatus) covered with a strip or patch of one portion of a hook and loop fastener at an appropriate position (e.g. the tip or back of the bat—see FIG. 6).

In another embodiment, the portable training system includes one or more target areas discrete or independent from the body. These “independent” target areas 210 (FIG. 7) represent (typically in appearance as well as by positioning) a wicket keeper, catcher, fielder or other component of the playing area, such as a fence, and can be positioned separately from the backstop. This allows the size of the playing area and/or the difficulty of play to be adjusted further than by adjustment of target areas on the backstop alone.

The independent target areas share most of the features as target areas positioned on the backstop described earlier in this document, other than being separate from the backstop. Importantly, independent target areas include strips or patches of hook and loop fastener (an example is depicted in FIG. 7A) so that the independent target areas are able also to function as the corresponding portions of hook and loop fastener to suitable sporting equipment.

The independent target areas 210 may be free standing (achieved by any suitable support means) and easily moveable. Examples of suitable support means 220 (FIG. 7B) for independent target areas include:

(a) a stake or peg for use on a soft supporting surface,

(b) a stand or frame such as a bent oval-shaped stand (as shown in FIG. 7B). The stand or frame may be any suitable shape that can be bent so that the stand is self-supporting. Suitable shapes include oval or substantially oval, elliptical, circular, or a square or rectangle with rounded or squared corners, or

(c) a brace positioned at or around 45 degrees between an upper portion of the frame (this portion being substantially vertical) and a lower portion of the frame (this portion lying along a supporting surface).

FIG. 7A is a front view of an independent target area 210 showing an exemplary arrangement 120 of patches or strips of hook and loop fastener on material 112, the material 112 forming the body of the backstop. The arrangement of hook and loop fastener 120 on the material 112 may differ, depending on use—for example, If the independent target area 210 is to be used as a fielder rather than a wicket keeper.

The material 112 of the independent target area 210 is shaped to sit on the frame 117, or stand, in analogous fashion to the body of the backstop 100 of FIGS. 1, 3 and 4 (see item 110 in those figures). In other words, the material 112 is capable of preventing a ball thrown towards the frame 117 from travelling through or between the legs (117a, 117b) of the frame 117. If the independent target area 210 is being used in the wicket keeper's position (or catcher's position), the independent target area 210 is thereby capable of functioning as a backstop.

FIG. 7B is a perspective view of the independent target area of FIG. 7A, shown from the back and demonstrating an exemplary support means 220. FIG. 7C is the independent target area 210 of FIG. 7A with an alternative exemplary support means than that of FIG. 7B.

Referring to FIGS. 7C and 7D, the material 112 of the independent target area 210 is secured to the upper portion of a stand or frame 117, the frame 117 and material 112 together functioning as self-supporting support means 220 (FIG. 7D). The upper portion is the portion of the stand that is substantially perpendicular to the supporting surface (e.g. ground or floor). The lower portion of the stand lies along the supporting surface.

The material 112 is fitted to the frame 117 so that it is stretched between leg 117a and 117b to hold leg 117a and leg 117b in the desired shape and to resist movement of the legs outward (that is, away from the midline). This assists in retaining the independent target area 210 in a substantially vertical position. The material 112 can be secured to the frame 117 by any suitable means such as by threading the legs 117a and 117b through a pocket seam 116 that sits around the periphery of the frame. The inner edge of the pocket seam 116 is delineated in FIG. 7D by a dotted line.

A piece or flap of skirting material 124 (FIG. 7D) is attached (or attachable) to the lower edge of the material 112. This assists to prevent balls from rolling under the material 112 during play, into the area bounded by the legs of the frame 117. The skirting material can also be weighed down by placing a weight (e.g. hand weight, a rock, brick, sandbag or any other suitably weighted item) on the skirting material (e.g. on far sides of the flap). This will facilitate blockage of movement of balls under the material 112 and can also assist in weighing down the independent target area backstop 210 in windy conditions.

The shape of the frame 117 also assists with the self-supporting nature of the independent target area 210 of the embodiment shown in FIG. 7D. The frame 117 is bent to form an elbow 118 (shown in ghost) at the point it makes contact with a supporting surface (e.g. hard ground). The frame 117 may be formed from a single loop of rod-like material (e.g. fiberglass, steel rod, carbon fiber rod, or a resiliently deformable material such as spring steel connected at its free ends to form a closed loop, bent at the circumference to form an elbow) or two or more interconnecting rods.

In an embodiment, the independent target area 210 is a pop-up backstop, moveable between a collapsed state and a self-supporting state. This is achieved by having a frame 117 made of resiliently compressible material, which is collapsed into the collapsed state by twisting the frame 117 to form two or more substantially concentric loops. The concentric loops are capable of sitting substantially flat one on top of the other and of being secured together (e.g. by applying a compressive force such as by wrapping a strip of hook and loop fastener (or other mechanical fastener) around the a common point along the circumference of the concentric loops, or by insertion into a carry bag or sleeve). In this embodiment, the independent target area self deploys to a shape ready for use (i.e. a self-supporting state) when the frame is taken out of its carry bag or sleeve, or when the compressive force is removed from the common circumference of the concentric loops. This is analogous to deployment of a self-erecting sunshade or pop-up tent.

The elbow 118 may be covered with a protective sleeve 119 to further assist in retaining the bent shape of the frame 117.

FIG. 7E is a side view of FIG. 7D, showing detail of the “bend” or elbow of the stand or frame. The frame 117 is shown in ghost. At the upper portion of the frame 117, the bottom edge of material 112 can be seen. The inner edge of the pocket seam 116 is represented by the dotted line. The elbow forms an acute angle (marked X in FIG. 7E). This further assists the stand or frame 117 to be self-supporting on the ground or floor.

A holding mechanism 121 assists to prevent the material is prevented from riding upwards upon the frame 117. In an exemplary arrangement, the holding mechanism 121 comprises a tail 122 extending from the lower edge of the material 112 towards the ground. The tail 122 may be an elongate or strap-like piece of any suitable material that extends from the material 112 of the independent target area 210 towards the elbow 118.

In FIGS. 7E and 7F, an exemplary arrangement of the holding mechanism 121 is depicted. A tail 122 is secured to the lower corner edge of the material 112 and extends long the frame 117 towards the elbow 118. The tail 121 is secured to the frame 117 around the elbow area by passing it through a holding sleeve 123 then crimping the holding sleeve 123 once the tail 122 is in position, to prevent movement of the tail 122 out of the holding sleeve 123 passing through.

The holding sleeve 123 sits on the frame 117 between the elbow 118 and the material 112. As seen in FIG. 7F, the holding sleeve 123 can be slid down along each leg of the frame 117 to secure the lower edge of the material 112 proximate to the elbow 118.

The tail 122 is held to position on the frame 117 by crimping the holding sleeve 123, by using a holding sleeve made of resilient material, glue or any other suitable securing means.

FIG. 7G is another form of supporting structure—namely, a brace 230 positioned between the upper portion and lower portions of the frame to hold the upper portion substantially vertical. In this arrangement, the frame is made of two self-deploying loops of resiliently deformable material. Each loop is joined to the other along a common edge of their respective peripheries. The brace 230 is any suitable means for maintaining the upper portion of the frame in a substantially upright position. The brace 230 is reversibly attachable to the frame, enabling removal for easy storage and transportation.

The independent target areas 210 can be used as an alternative to the full backstop (see item 100 of FIGS. 1 and 4) if the playing area is not large enough or if the supporting surface (e.g. ground) is not suitable for inserting the securing means of the backstop. In this embodiment, the independent target area 210 is capable of functioning independently as a backstop or portable training system for various bat-and-ball games such as cricket.

Thus in an embodiment, the backstop/training system comprises one or more independent target areas 210. This provides flexibility for use of the independent target area 210/portable training system indoors, on a hard surface, or when space is limited. It also provides flexibility for the training system to include a plurality of independent target areas, set up in a limited space—such as for clubs or schools when using multiple training systems simultaneously at a single venue may be desirable, or simply to allow different arrangements of a desired number of independent target areas for training purposes.

An advantage of the universal, portable backstop 100, 130 and 210 is that the entire body 103 of the backstop (100, 130, 210) is able to act as a contact indicator, because of the construction of the backstop from a smart textile.

This is an advantage because the contact indicator is not limited to specific locations of sensors and does not require the installation of equipment or sending of data to a remote computer, rather relying on the characteristics of the material of the backstop to directly indicate the location of the contact.

By demarcating different areas on the backstop to represent different parts of a playing field, the backstop provides valuable information about the precise location of contact by sporting equipment (e.g. a pitched ball) on the backstop, which is very useful for training.

This is another advantage because the backstop is able to indicate (through the location of a contact) one or more of:

(a) whereabouts in a strike zone a ball that hits the backstop was travelling,

(b) whether a ball that hits the backstop was outside the strike zone,

(c) whether a ball has hit a wicket represented on the body and the location of the hit on the wicket,

(d) whether a ball has travelled to or beyond the outer boundary of the playing field (e.g. indicating a home run or a six).

By combining a smart textile (as contact indicator) with discrete areas of hook and loop fastener on a backstop, the universal backstop and training system is able to provide different feedback for different kinds of contact events that occur in various bat and ball games (e.g. a strike versus being caught out). This is yet another advantage over prior art backstops, which do not differentiate between types of contact.

By providing a backstop with a contact indicator in textile form supported on collapsible frame, the universal backstop overcomes the problem of many existing backstops and contact indicators in sport, which are generally not suited for home use, are too cumbersome and bulky for transportation to a park or other outdoor playing area, or that rely on expensive and extensive infrastructure (e.g. multiple video cameras and/or analysis by a remote official or computer) to indicate a location of contact.

An advantage of the preferred embodiments of the backstop and portable training system is that they provide a universal, portable and simple to assemble backstop for use in various bat-and-ball games such as cricket, softball and baseball. The backstop is suitable for use in the typical home environment or as a portable system to transport to a park or other outdoor playing area (e.g. for playing backyard cricket, or for training in the school or club environments). The body of the backstop can be rolled up or collapsed into a compact configuration for storage and transportation (e.g. in a bag), then unrolled (unpacked and deployed) for assembly. This is useful for environments such as schools and clubs in which it may be necessary to have several teams playing simultaneously.

A further advantage of the preferred embodiments is that they provide one or more target areas for improving player skill with both bat and ball. This is because a clear indicator of a scoring event is provided when sporting equipment (including balls and bats) strikes a target area, removing the need to rely on visual assessment, complex scoring devices, devices such as ball bags or pockets that capture balls (which are inconvenient to use when there is a small number of players and play must be interrupted to retrieve a ball from a pocket or bag behind the backstop). This makes the preferred embodiments useful as a training aid, whether at home or in a school or club environment (e.g. when used as a sporting or physical education activity).

The invention provides a universal, portable backstop and training system for a bat-and-ball game such as cricket, baseball and basketball, including a body made of a smart textile and one or more target areas on the backstop for improving player skills. However, it will be appreciated that the invention is not restricted to particular embodiments or applications described herein.