GB Under-19 Softball – what a journey!

16
Dec

Liz Knight

I consider myself very fortunate to be employed in the sports that I love.  The role I started with at BSUK – hands-on coaching in the North West -- has now significantly changed to an office-based development role in London.  But if anything, this shows how much the grassroots of our sports has grown: we now have a large enough coaching workforce to allow us to deliver without the need for full-time coaches on staff.

However, I stay involved in coaching, and I’ve been a volunteer coach for the GB Under-19 Women’s Fastpitch team for the last five years.  Below are my reflections on my time as a coach with the team.
 

2011:

Canadian Open in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada plus Tampa, USA and Cape Town, South Africa

My first weekend in England was spent at GB Junior Training at Upper Heyford, and after a one-day trial I was appointed as Assistant Coach for the GB Under-19 Women.

In my first year, the team competed in the Canadian Open Championship (formerly the Canada Cup), where we played against mainly travel ball teams.  We found the standard of competition very high, but despite some tough results the tour left us in a good place to build from.  The tournament also has an Open Women’s Division, so we managed to watch the USA, Japan, Australia and of course Canada play, who were the top four teams in the world at the time, and it provided a great learning experience for our team.  For me, it was the first time I was able to see Yukiko Ueno, the Japanese pitcher, throw her 75mph bullets with exceptional movement, and she didn't disappoint.

In September, along with Sarah Jones, who at the time was a member of the GB Women’s National Team but also coached the GB Under-16s Girls’ Team, I was privileged to be offered the chance to spend a week at the University of South Florida, where Ken Eriksen, the Team USA coach, is the university Head Coach.  The experience was invaluable and I am incredibly thankful to the American Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and to Coach Eriksen and his staff.  The opportunity was set up through an arrangement between the ASA and the European Softball Federation because the ASA wants to help strengthen the game in Europe (see: http://www.britishsoftball.org/news/view/gb-fastpitch-coaches-to-spend-a-week-with-one-of-the-best).

In December, I was fortunate that a dear friend and the Head Coach of the GB Women’s Team programme, Hayley Scott, had just moved back to South Africa, and she invited me to stay with her while the Junior World Championship was being played in Cape Town.  Great Britain hadn't qualified, but it was great to watch some world-class softball from a neutral point of view and learn the different styles of play.
 

2012:

European Junior Championship in Rosmalen, The Netherlands

In 2012 I was appointed Head Coach of the GB Under-19 Women and took the team to the Junior Europeans. 

We had a great staff, with Robbie Robison as Assistant Coach, Rachael Watkeys as the physio and Liz Keaveney as Team Manager.  The British-based players in the squad all played for their club teams in the Great Britain Fastpitch League (GBFL), and combined with the GB Under-19 Men to play in slowpitch tournaments to get some defensive practise.  We scheduled training on Sundays for all the British-based players and midweek training in London for the London-based players, but my work commitments in Manchester, which included many weekends and evenings, made it difficult to get down to London on a weekly basis.

During the week leading up to the tournament we had a training camp here in England, but we lacked time together before the tournament and a couple of our most talented players missed this preparation due to being away with the Women’s Team squad and came into the tournament a little worse for wear.

We finished sixth, but the team had talent and we had the potential to finish even higher.  At the time, only the top three European teams qualified for World Championships, so despite it being our best-ever European placing we were disappointed with the result.
 

2013:

ISF Junior World Championships in Brampton, Ontario, Canada

The Great Britain Management Committee had made a decision that GB youth team Head Coaches had to be London-based to allow for midweek training, so I became an Assistant Coach with the Under-19 Women and Rachel Watkeys became the Head Coach.  The team was also required to play together in the GBFL rather than scattered across club teams.  Rachael and I have different skills but similar thoughts on the game, so we work well together.  Rachael’s partner, Simon Mortimer, also came on board as Team Manager.

Early in the year, we were contacted by several overseas-based GB passport holders, which increased our talent pool dramatically.  At the same time, the International Softball Federation changed its policy on the Junior World Championships, making it an open tournament without a requirement for qualification.  So we could enter the tournament if we wanted to, and after much discussion about whether we would be strong enough to compete, we decided to take the plunge.

When the schedule came out we found that our opening game was against the USA and our next game a couple of hours later against the home team Canada – on Canada Day starting immediately after the Opening Ceremony.  It was a baptism of fire, but we did ourselves proud.  We went on to have some great games, including a win against New Zealand, who had underestimated us a little -- a definite highlight for me having grown up in Australia!

After the initial round-robin, we’d missed out on a place in the Page Playoffs and were in the Consolation Playoffs instead.  And we ended up in a tough situation on the last day of play, when two of our starting line-up had to leave to join the GB Women’s Team at the Europeans.  We were then knocked out by Mexico 8-7 in an eight-inning tie-break game.

I will always remember this game because of a controversy with a Mexican baserunner returning to the foul side of the safety base and then being tagged.  The call was safe and the game was halted while we questioned the decision.  Earlier in the competition this had been called safe in one game and out in another.  There was a massive language barrier between the four umpires on the field except for the Australian on home plate, who was unable to overturn the decision.  It seems that in Europe, Asia and Australia this would be called out but not in the Americas.  The Deputy Umpire-in-Chief came to hear the case, but as he was North American and safety bases aren’t widely used in North America, our protest didn’t go anywhere.  But at the following ISF Rules Congress, the rule was amended in the official Rulebook.
 

2014:

Europeans Junior Championships in Rosmalen, The Netherlands

BSUK had shuffled some staff around, and as a result I was now based in London and able to get involved in midweek training sessions with the London-based players.

Again, we had a very talented group of players, and the local British-based players had really benefited from BSUK’s new High Performance Academy programme over winter.  We’d also been contacted by several more overseas-based GB passport holders who were selected to join the team, including two young pitchers with very bright futures.

One of the highlights of the European Junior Championships was beating The Netherlands after going into the bottom of the seventh inning trailing 5-0.  Some gutsy batting and a grand slam home run tied the score.  We then gave up two runs in the top of the eighth inning but managed another three in the bottom of the eighth to take the win.  It was the first time that GB had beaten the Dutch at Under-19 level and a great lesson for all involved to never give up.
 


2015:

WBSC Junior World Championships in Oklahoma City, USA

This was by far the most well-prepared GB Junior Team in all my years of involvement.  British-based players had all participated in the High performance Academy over the winter, and in the spring and early summer Rachael and I ran three outdoor training sessions a week.  Our overseas-based players kept in regular communication with us, having been working hard in their college or club programmes.

I know some of you would have read the game reports so I’ll save the details, but we had some great games, including our 4-0 loss to the defending champions Japan, 2-1 to China, 4-0 to Canada and 4-1 to New Zealand, all of which are very good scorelines against top-quality opposition.  We beat Argentina 1-0 and Columbia 8-1.

At the end of the group stages we were fifth in our group, just missing out on the main playoffs, and then faced Brazil in a knockout game.  Going into the top of the seventh inning we were 1-0 up, but gave up a run to send us to a tie-break.  The game went back and forth but eventually we lost in 12 innings.  It was heart-breaking for the team, as our tournament was now over.  Both teams had had their chances but Brazil managed to capitalise.
 

2016: Looking forward

After many years of service, Hayley Scott has stepped down as Head Coach of the Women’s National Team, and the GB Under-19 staff has now been appointed to take over the Women’s programme.  We will be competing in the WBSC Women’s World Championships next year from 15-24 July 2016 in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, and a number of players will be those we have coached at Under-19 level.

Work is already well underway to prepare the team.  A total of 40 athletes – the most ever -- have applied for selection, and final selections will be announced in Spring 2016.
 

Thank yous

There are many people that need thank yous, including all the officials that I’ve worked with along the way, the players themselves, their amazing parents who have been very supportive and have flown around the world to show their support, my colleagues at BSUK for covering my work while I’ve been away at tournaments and of course my family for tolerating me living 10,000 miles from home for these kinds of opportunities.
 

Why?

Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time, money and annual leave to be involved as a volunteer with GB teams, but I’ve been to new and exciting and met people that I would never have met otherwise.

I’ve loved it all and I’d encourage more and more former players to get involved in giving back to the game as a coach, manager, umpire, Federation official or in some other way.


Most of the photos in this story are from the GB Under-19 Women's Team at 2015 WBSC Junior World Championships in Oklahoma City.

tagged under: softball, gb softball, wbsc, isf, great britain

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About Liz Knight

Liz Knight

Liz started playing Tee Ball as a child before moving into Baseball initially then Fastpitch. She represented her home state of South Australia as both a player and coach at many Australian National Championships.

Liz became the North West Summer coach for BSUK in 2009 and 2010.  Since then has has been employed as a Regional Coach in the North West and is currently the Development Manager for London.

Liz is also a coach with the GB Women’s programme and plays Slowpitch in the National Softball League and the GLSML.

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