The Road to the Tokyo Olympics: GB Softball

Thu 1 Oct 2015


GB Management Committee member Bob Fromer looks at the possibility that the Great Britain Women’s Fastpitch Team could qualify for the softball tournament at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, and sets out what it might take for that goal to be achieved.
 

The announcement on 28 September that softball and baseball have been proposed as sports to be added to the programme for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo has re-energised players, coaches and administrators around the world.

While there are still a couple of formal processes that need to take place to ratify the proposal by the Tokyo Organising Committee, there is now very little doubt that our sports will be back in the Games in Tokyo, even if the future beyond 2020 remains uncertain.

Softball and baseball in Britain suffered more than perhaps in any other country when the sports were dropped from London 2012, because had they not been, our national teams would have competed in the 2012 Olympics, with all the joy, glory, public interest and potential funding support that would have brought.  How many new players, and especially children, would have joined our sports after seeing GB softball and baseball teams perform in prime time on the BBC?

In 2020, the Olympics will be in Tokyo, and rather than getting automatic qualification as a host country team, the GB Baseball and Women’s Fastpitch Teams will have to earn the right to an Olympic place through qualification – though in the case of softball, procedures for doing so have yet to be finalised by the World Baseball and Softball Confederation.

In addition, whereas eight countries competed in previous Olympic softball and baseball tournaments, there will only be six places for each sport in Tokyo, which means that qualification might be even harder.

In the past, only one team from Europe was able to qualify for an Olympic place (unless, as in 2004 in Athens, the Olympics was hosted in Europe).  Now, the European winner might have to play off against the qualifier from some other continent to get to Tokyo.

So with qualification perhaps more difficult than ever, how likely is it that the GB Women’s Fastpitch Team can realise the dream?
 

Building blocks

As I argued in a recent blog piece on the BSUK website one of the key building blocks of our assault on Tokyo 2020 has to be money.

At the moment, our youth and senior national fastpitch teams do not lack talent – we are in the middle of a particularly rich period as far as both home-grown and overseas-based talent is concerned.  But what we lack is the resources to bring our teams together for training and competition between major tournaments, and the resources to ensure that GB-based players can get the competition experience often enjoyed by their overseas-based teammates.  Without being able to make our teams more cohesive and give our UK-based players more high-level experience, our teams will always have hurdles to overcome that are not faced by most of our opponents.

BaseballSoftballUK, on behalf of the British Softball Federation, will be talking to UK Sport, the agency that funds elite sport in Britain, about what kind of support we can expect as a sport newly restored to the Olympic programme.  While a blog piece I wrote earlier this year suggested that the chances of getting a sympathetic hearing from UK Sport may not be very good, the Olympic news announced this week puts the agency into a changed environment that calls for new attitudes and responses.

Another key building block will be putting a coherent programme in place that runs from the Softball Academy and High Performance Academy through our age-group national teams and up to the GB Women’s Team.  We need a continuity of curriculum and approach, we need coaches who are constantly acquiring more knowledge and skills, and we need all our coaches to be working together to create a GB philosophy and a GB way of doing things.

Planning for this has already begun, and will be helped by the fact that as we move into 2016, and for the first time in many years, all of the Head Coaches and Assistant Coaches for GB female fastpitch teams will be UK-based.  They are likely to be joined in early 2016 by a new BSUK staff member, a full-time Fastpitch Development Officer whose main role will be to get more young girls playing the game, but who will also be able to mentor and support our Academy and national team coaches.
 

Success

In order to make the case for funding and to build our own self-belief, we will want to see increased success in international competitions over the next few years.

If we look at the season just past, the omens are good.

The London Cubs, representing the GB Under-13 programme, won games for the first time at the ESF’s annual Massimo Romeo Youth Cup, which began in 2012.

The GB Under-16s finished fourth at the ESF Cadette Championships in Sardinia, our highest-ever placing in that event.

The GB Under-19 Women had a seemingly disappointing 13th-place finish at the ISF Junior World Championship, but that was only because the tournament is strangely structured.  Both our results and our play deserved a higher placing, as shown by the fact that we were one of only four teams in the tournament who didn’t lose a game by mercy rule and we were one of only two teams (the other was the USA) who never gave up more than four runs in a seven-inning game.  Against two of the top teams in the world – Japan and Canada – we lost by scores of 4-0.  We will not have to beat teams as good as that to get to Tokyo in 2020.

GB Under-19 pitching coach Joke van der Hulst wrote after the tournament: “This truly was an incredible two weeks and these young women have set the bar very high for our future teams.  We know we can compete with the best in the world, and not just hang in a game; we earned respect and appreciation from top softball nations and fans.  While we probably had a range in skill as wide or wider than ever, all our players fought hard and continuously and the sum of our team was greater than its individual parts.  It was probably the best team effort that GB has ever put forward.”

It’s worth remembering that the players on this team, along with some players currently in the GB Women’s Team programme and some that are still in the Under-16s, will probably form the core of the team that will play Olympic qualifying matches in 2019.

And as for the GB Women’s Team, while they failed to achieve their goal of a medal at this summer’s European Championships, finishing fifth for the second time in a row, they played an outstanding game against perennial European Champions Holland, losing 2-0 in a contest where they had excellent chances to win.

So there is lots of talent, lots of promise and results starting to move in the right direction.  How all of this can be harnessed and augmented over the next four years will determine our chances of getting to Tokyo.  But there is certainly reason to believe – and for players, coaches, parents and others to make the commitment and effort required.

The chance is there for the taking.
 

For a companion article on “The Road to the Tokyo Olympics: GB Baseball”, click here

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Comments

01
Oct

Rich Brown (Exeter baseball player/coach) 21:10

This has got to be the best news of the year for all aspiring GB baseball
players and GB female softball players, When the Going get’s Tough. The Tough Get Going. The time has come for our GB players to find that personal key, that will unlock their hidden ability,desire and talent that is inside each and everyone of us as a competitive player, be it male or female. Then use this new found strength to accomplish your personal/team goals. By training hard, playing hard, listening to your coach’s and mentors, an Olympic Dream can come true.

10
Oct

gareth dunn 19:11

GB teams will not progress until they learn to bat. Too much focus is placed on fielding and not enough on batting. What is the point in keeping the other team to 6 or 7 runs a game when GB score 0 in reply? Too many times you read struck out swinging, struck out watching.
The way to fix the game in the long run is to focus on schools and school leagues. Spend the money training PE teachers, setting up school leagues, kitting out schools, get the kids playing. Its no good getting teams where players either live in London or have to travel miles to attend half a dozen academy sessions a year. US, Canadian and Japanese players play week in week out and have coaching sessions in between. Our focus shouldn’t be on Tokyo it should be on the Olympics in 2024. Get the schools playing and then you’re in with a chance.

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