Croatia, Slovenia, Malta and Belgium (three times!) have all hosted weekend ESF Slowpitch Clinics over the past few years, run by coaches and umpire trainers from the British Softball Federation.
On March 19-20, the Swiss Baseball and Softball Federation was the latest host for an ESF Slowpitch Clinic, with 20 people attending at the Wittenbach Baseball and Softball Club near St Gallen and enjoying a great weekend of learning and playing the game.
The clinic was delivered by GB Slowpitch Team Assistant Coaches Lukas Kelly and Sara Vertigan and BASU umpire trainer Mike Jennings.
Making up the Rules
One of the first problem the clinicians encountered was that slowpitch isn't played to a fixed set of rules in Switzerland, and every tournament or league has its own! In addition, while some of the trainees had played slowpitch, fastpitch or baseball before, others had never encountered concepts like "tagging up" or a "double play".
But as Mike Jennings said, "They were already keen on playing slowpitch and were determined to improve their knowledge and playing skills. They wanted to take the sport more seriously and contributed wholeheartedly to the practical sessions.
"The course seemed to inspire a desire to standardise the rules they use (ISF being the most accessible common standard), to recognise how and why co-ed rules differ from the single-sex disciplines, and to improve their umpiring skills in parallel with playing competence."
The first day of the clinic began with theory but soon moved on to practice.
Sara Vertigan reported, "They began with a classroom session on umpiring, including the basic playing differences between slowpitch, fastpitch and baseball and height regulations and strike zone definition in slowpitch pitching. We then moved on to practical exercises designed to enhance that learning.
"Early on, we blended pitching drills with umpiring practise so all three of us could be involved, and I must say that over the two days the umpiring skills showed a huge improvement."
The participants then worked through sessions on basic skills and personal tuition on hitting techniques. The first day concluded with a vigorous indoor scrimmage game, since it was snowing outside. According to Mike Jennings, "Those umpiring for the first time found it an interesting challenge!"
The second day started with an extended GB Softball-style warm-up session, emphasising discipline and team work, as a demonstration of the techniques participants could use to prepare their own teams for games.
This was followed by on-field drills that demonstrated when and why to make certain plays. Sara Vertigan said, "Many of the players had no idea what a double play was, no understanding of tagging up etc, so it was important to talk them through everything."
The course concluded with another indoor game during which all the participants demonstrated their newly-developed skills, including the designated umpires calling an inning behind the plate and in the field. The learning came together during this competitive game and it proved an enjoyable and energetic end to the course -- a way to pull everything together and promote the fun side of the game.
Lukas Kelly said: "In all the basic areas we explored, from warm-up to warm-down, we saw a substantial improvement in basic skills including disciplined warm-up, throwing, ground balls, hitting techniques, infield exercises and outfield exercises. I was certainly tired by the end, and I'm sure they would have been too! We put them through their paces but they rose to it without complaint. They were totally respectful and a joy to coach."
Sara Vertigan added: "For me, having two coaches there for the 18-20 players we had was fantastic. With the varying levels of experience among the players, it meant a lot more one-to-one coaching than I was able to give at the clinics I did in Belgium and Malta last year. Overall, I had a great time and I felt that we made a positive difference."
Mike Jennings noted: "Throughout the course, volunteers from the local Wittenbach Club, the Vikings, provided morning croissants, coffee, water and fruit, plus lunchtime pizzas and sausages. We were grateful for the gracious hospitality provided by the club and Swiss Federation throughout our stay."
By the end of the clinic, the trainees were talking about sending a team to the UK to play in a tournament this summer, and they hope to be entering ESF slowpitch competitions before long!