The Spirit of GB Softball

20
Dec

Bob Fromer

Around the middle of December, the European Softball Federation (ESF) circulated a list of all the countries that had sent teams to European Championship and Cup competitions in 2011, and where those countries finished in each event.

I started poring through the list to get a sense of where GB might come overall in terms of results -- but then I realised something else, and something that truly amazed me.

No other country in Europe except the Czech Republic sends teams to as many European softball competitions as we do.

It all gets a little bit complicated because the ESF is in the process of rationalising its competitions, and the list in future won't look exactly the same as in the past.  But essentially, the ESF runs seven European Championships for national teams over a two-year cycle and five annual Cup competitions for club teams.  Over the last two years, both Great Britain and the Czech Republic have entered 11 of the 12 available competitions, more than any other country in Europe.

Of the other leading softball countries, the Netherlands and Belgium have each entered seven Championship and Cup competitions over the past two-year cycle, while Italy, Russia and France have entered six tournaments each and Germany, Israel and Croatia five.  In other words, all of them are way behind the Brits and the Czechs.

You can find more details on this in a story currently on the BSF website.

Of those 12 European competitions, two are slowpitch (the European Slowpitch Championships and the European Slowpitch Cup), and of course it's not a surprise that we enter them every time they occur.  For similar reasons, the Irish do as well.  But to their credit, so do the Czechs, one of the leading fastpitch countries in Europe. 

When European slowpitch competition first began in 1998, the Czech Federation pledged to support it, and so far they have been true to their word, entering almost every ESF slowpitch competition since that time and hosting more of them than anyone else.  Given that a major goal for the BSF and British softball in general is to promote and develop slowpitch competition on the European continent, we owe the Czechs big-time.

But it's our record in entering nine of the ten available European fastpitch competitions that is truly remarkable, especially considering the obstacles that GB fastpitch teams have to overcome.

First of all, we probably have the smallest fastpitch player pool among the top 15 or so countries in European softball, even though, thanks to slowpitch, we are among the European leaders in overall participation numbers.  Fastpitch in Britain is squeezed by the overwhelming weight of the slowpitch majority and also by the fact that none of BSUK's funding from Sport England is targeted at fastpitch development specifically and very little at schools, which is where we have tried to run fastpitch development programmes since 2002.

Secondly, and unlike many of our European competitors, we have no external (government) funding for any of our national teams.  The GB Women had a small amount of funding from UK Sport from 2001-2004 and rather more from 2005-2007, when it was felt the team had proved it had the potential for Olympic qualification.  But after softball was dropped from the Olympic Games, UK Sport funding went back to zero, and there's no possibility of that changing in the foreseeable future.

The only financial help our national teams get -- fastpitch and slowpitch -- is generous infrastructure support from the BSF.  But the amounts are dwarfed by the costs of competing overseas, most of which are met by players and their families, or through whatever donations or sponsorship teams can secure.  Needless to say, sponsorship and donations are difficult for a minority sport with little public profile in a time of recession.

So it's really a small group of very dedicated people and parents that keep our fastpitch programmes going -- and growing. 

Over the past two years, and especially in 2011, fastpitch league play in Britain has developed significantly, and more slowpitch players are giving the format a go.  In 2011, a GB Under-19 Men's Team was brought back to life and entered European Championships for the first time since 2004.  In 2012, with a new and more open format for ESF competition at Under-13 level, we're hoping to send two teams to what will now be called the Massimo Romeo Youth Cup.  In 2011, the BSF secured a £10,000 grant from Sport England's Small Grants fund to boost youth fastpitch development efforts.

And over the past two-year cycle, GB teams that travelled to European competition included the GB Slowpitch Team and six fastpitch national teams: the GB Women, GB Men, GB Under-19 Women, GB Under-19 Men, GB Under-16 Girls, and GB Under-13 Girls.  Meanwhile, Chromies and Dragons competed in the European Slowpitch Cup, London Angels in the European Women's Cup and Richings Park in the European Men's Cup.

The results haven't been bad either, with the GB Slowpitch Team eight-time European Champions, the GB Women and Men each ranked third in Europe and Chromies currently the holders of the European Slowpitch Cup.  Results by our youth fastpitch teams reflect their lack of competition experience, but all of them are on an upward path, thanks to the excellent coaching structure now established through Academy Softball and the GB National Teams programme under the direction of Hayley Scott.

Another remarkable feature, particularly with our female fastpitch teams, is how many parents, relatives and friends travel throughout Europe and sometimes across the world to support our players and the programme.  It's not unusual for British teams to have the largest number of supporters at ESF or ISF events apart from the host team.  Though true to traditions of British cultural reticence, the loudest supporters are usually the Czechs or the Dutch!

I think the fact that we have carved out such an active and successful fastpitch programme in Britain despite all the obstacles is a huge tribute to the spirit of people who have worked to keep fastpitch alive over the years.  There is no room to mention all of them, but special credit has to go to Natalie Fox, Lin Bowdery, Geof Ellingham, Mark Osman and Allan Mole back in the 1990s, and since then to Mark Berman, Tanya Price, Steve Fullan, Libby Moss, Russ Snow, Bobby Simpson, Steph Jardine, Emily Clifford, Craig Montvidas, Hayley Scott and more recently Stan Doney, Carmel Keswick, Vicky Hall, Joss Thompson, Celine Lassaigne, Chris Macleod, Ross Smith, Sarah Jones, Liz Knight and Caroline Champion -- and I've played a part as well.

Without funding, national team programmes are always a struggle.  But ever since I discovered that we are leading the way in European participation along with the Czechs, I've been really proud of that statistic. A lot of other people -- not least our players -- should be too.

tagged under: fastpitch, czech republic, tournaments, esf, european softball, international

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About Bob Fromer

Bob Fromer

Bob was the founding CEO of BSUK and now works for the agency as a Communications Consultant. In a volunteer capacity, he was General Manager of the GB Fastpitch National Teams programme for many years, a former Team Manager for the GB Women and GB Under-19 Women and still serves on the GB Softball Management Committee. Bob has been involved with slowpitch and fastpitch softball in Britain since the sport’s earliest days, and travels abroad with many GB Softball Teams to report on their achievements for the BSF website.

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