Three high-level slowpitch player/coaches from the United States -- Don Cooper, Johnny McCraw and Christan Dowling -- were in England last week to give clinics at leagues around the country and then to teams at Diamond 1 on the weekend.
The coaches were sponsored by the Seattle-based equipment manufacturer Combat Sports, and the tour was supported by Combat, the ESF, the American Amateur Softball Association, the BSF and BSUK.
Weeknight league clinics
The tour kicked off in England with a clinic for the Manchester Softball League on Monday evening, May 9 after the Combat team had spent the previous three days working with coaches and the national slowpitch team in Ireland.
The Combat coaches then worked with East Midlands Softball League players on Tuesday evening in Nottingham (despite the rain); secondary school players in Coventry on Wednesday afternoon and young GB fastpitch players in London on Wednesday evening; GLSML players on Thursday evening in London; and they finished the midweek part of the tour with a clinic for Windsor & Maidenhead Softball League players on Friday evening at Farnham Park.
Then, on the weekend of May 14-15, the Combat team gave a series of mini-clinics at the first Diamond tournament of the season to teams on game breaks all day Saturday and on Sunday morning before the playoff rounds began.
Feedback from the North
Players who turned out in Manchester on Monday and Nottingham on Tuesday had a great time and clearly found the sessions useful.
Peter Jones from the Manchester Softball League Committee wrote: "Around 75 Manchester softballers enjoyed the intensive training session delivered by the three American coaches at Parrs Wood. Numbers were much higher than expected, despite the thunderstorm and heavy rain earlier in the day, which meant that not everyone could get quite as much attention as had been hoped. But many players picked up tips just listening to the coaches instructing other players. The sessions focused on batting, though there were also throwing and catching sessions, and special sessions for female infielders."
Bob Fromer, who organised the tour on behalf of the BSF and BSUK, commented: "We’ve all learned to play softball in the UK without a whole lot of coaching, and players here are often effective because of their athleticism, but technique is sometimes lacking. That’s what these guys can teach, and a lot of eyes were opened, because that’s really what is lacking in our softball culture on this side of the Atlantic.”
Ellen Fenton, Beth Arrowsmith and Jackie Choudhury from the MSL team Outlaws II certainly appreciated the sessions: “It’s really really brilliant, we’re loving it. It’s given us loads of inspiration. Really useful. They’re very clear and friendly. When are they coming back?”
The women were especially impressed by the coaches’ thoroughness, and would certainly be prepared to pay for another session. “I don’t know how much time we’re going to get," said Ellen Fenton, "but I would love just a whole session on batting. If everyone in a team got that opportunity they would just learn so much."
Harvey Pryor from the East Midlands Softball League Committee said: "We've had some tremendous feedback from the session about all the little tips that were passed on, especially with regards to Johnny's batting training, as people really felt that the coaching had an immediate impact on their performance.
"The ladies who attended Christan's women's training session also gave glowing reports and examples of improvements they'd been able to make, and judging by the autograph-hunting and photos that were being taken in the pub afterwards they were clearly very impressed with her methods! Thanks to all at ASA, Combat Sports, BSUK and BSF for making this possible."
Feedback from the South
On Wednesday evening, the Combat coaches worked on infield drills and hitting with players from the GB Women and Under-19 Fastpitch Teams at Old Deer Park in London.
GB Fastpitch Performance Director Hayley Scott said, "Thanks to the Combat staff, the GB Under-19s had a fun training in Richmond. They were put through some skills and drills that were fun, extremely positive and taught the players that they need more 'swagger'."
After another well-received clinic with players from the Greater London Softball Mixed League at Finsbury Park on Thursday evening, the Combat coaches delivered their final weeknight session for the Windsor and Maidenhead League at Farnham Park on Friday evening, with Christan Dowling doing some extra work on batting and fielding with a small group of A-grade women players.
After the clinic at Finsbury Park, GLSML Majors Officer Paul Duncan said, "The guys were so approachable and their enthusiasm and willingness to talk and answer questions was outstanding. It was brilliant having them over and I've only received positive feedback."
At Windsor, GB Development Squad player Stewart Butcher said, "I've been playing softball for 15 years, and in three minutes they fixed the issue with my swing!"
Over the weekend of May 14-15, the Combat coaches delivered a series of mini-sessions, mainly on hitting, to teams and individual players who were on game breaks at Diamond 1.
Every single hour on Saturday and on Sunday morning was booked by teams who had obviously heard on the grapevine (or though the website) that the clinics were worth attending.
Two teams even got up early for clinic sessions at 9.00 when they weren't scheduled to play until 10.00!
Bob Fromer said, "Reactions from players who attended sessions were almost universally enthusiastic. Even in one short session, people felt that they had been given some coaching with real substance, especially with regard to fault correction on hitting, and they were keen to have more.
"Although it's hard to say that suggestions made by the Combat coaches in a brief session will be lasting, their real achievement, I think, is to have awakened a desire for quality coaching that has always been dormant in the British slowpitch community. Suddenly, people understood what has largely been missing from our softball! Now we have to find a way to make this kind of coaching a permanent feature of British softball culture -- and extend it to other countries in Europe."