Europeans love softball – so much so that they invited the Americans to share their approach to the game with them.
Through a grant from the European Sports and Culture Commission, Croatia invited the national softball teams from Slovakia and Spain to join their team in Zagreb, Croatia for seven days of softball instruction with two American Coaches, Antonio Bravo, Head Varsity Softball Coach at Wakefield High School and the Assistant 18U Coach of the Elite Travel Softball Team called the Shamrocks, as well as Lena Ferris, Head Coach of the Shamrocks 12U Travel Softball Team.
Accompanying the coaches were three USA travel players and college softball prospects from the Shamrocks including Julia Ferris, Varsity Captain, George Mason High School, Olivia Bravo, McLean High School and Skye Ferris, 12U Shamrocks.
The two American coaches and three players accepted the invitation to share their combined experience playing and teaching the game.
On an unseasonably cool morning in late March, participants convened for Sportmania 2015 at the two Croatian softball training fields located in the Jarun Sportsplex, a sprawling former World Games and Olympic training facility nested in the sleepy suburbs of Zagreb.
There were 45 players, ten coaches, and the three American player-instructors dressed in the colors of their respective national and club teams.
The sound of Croatian, Slovakian, and Spanish was peppered with English terms like hitting the outside pitch, drop-curve ball, and slide-byes. A shared love of the game united all participants.
Each morning one of the national teams would lead warmups, demonstrating that there are many ways to get ready to play. Other days warmups were lead by visiting instructors using techniques from the Brazilian martial art Capoeira and even a Rugby-themed warmup.
The Europeans love softball and greatly admire the American approach to the game. According to the Slovakian National Team, a hallmark of the American style is hustle and intensity, especially as demonstrated by our players’ diving for balls and aggressive base-running.
They called it the “dirty-shirt style of play.” They also begged for special instruction on “slapping” which they consider to be an American specialty.
Friendship & Sports
The American coaches structured each day around a morning and afternoon softball instruction session.
A typical day included a two-hour morning session on glove-work, infield and outfield technique, and defensive strategy.
The three hour afternoon sessions included station work on hitting and pitching.
One day was devoted to team scrimmages, and each day was capped by a cultural event. Each National Team was proud to showcase their country and cultural customs, including sweet and savory foods and drink. The Slovakians were a group favorite with their traditional outfits and dance, and generous portions of honey-wine.
On day seven, the final day, players gathered in their dirt-stained uniforms to bid farewell. T-shirts and wrist-bands were exchanged, along with emails and Facebook pages.
Despite their fatigue, all wished for just one-more day of softball. It was clear that all of these players shared a common passion – and new friendship.