Canadian national team player Jenny Gilbert (right) teaches hitting techniques to young athletes at the weeklong BC High Performance Camp that was held at the indoor facility in Arbutus Meadows in Nanoose Bay. — Michael Briones photo

Camp a perfect pitch for Canadian softball

Oceanside Minor Softball high performance camp impresses national head coach

The head coach of the Canadian women’s national team, Mark Smith, saw what the future of softball is going to be like while conducting a high-performance camp here on Vancouver Island.

The huge turnout for the weeklong BC High Performance Camp, held at the indoor facility at Arbutus Meadows in Nanoose Bay just outside Parksville, impressed Smith and also some of the members of the women’s national softball team and national trainers, who came out to help.

“They are the future,” said Smith. “And it’s very positive to see because they’re out here and they’re enthusiastic. Even when they’ve been pushed pretty hard and put through a lot and I am sure they’re tired, but the smiles on their faces, their openness to learning, and listening to feedback we’re giving, I am excited for them and for the future of the game.”

The camp, which was a first for BC, was organized by Oceanside Minor Softball in partnership with Softball BC. It drew more than 125 young and eager-to-learn softball players, aged 14 to 18 years old, who came from across Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland.

Smith tipped his hat to Ian Kellow of Oceanside Minor Softball and Dave Paetkau, national hitting and outfielding coach, for organizing the camp, which he said is important in the development of softball in the country.

“Camps like these are an opportunty for young players to, first and foremost, rub shoulders with our national team players and learn a little bit about what it takes to play at that level,” said Smith. “But more importantly, it is about learning opportunities out of season. So that just sort of really extends our season. If we are able to do these type of things in March and that leads to a competitive season in April, and if there are other things on the other side of fall that allow the athletes to spend more time on task, it means that we’re going from a three-month season to a six-month season. It really means development. Our athletes are going to improve. That’s really what we want to accomplish. Not just here but right across Canada.”

With softball making its way back into the Olympics sports lineup in 2020, Smith said they’re always looking out for potential players and this camp has provided them that rare opportunity.

“We get a chance to see some of it when we attend the Canada Cup each year, which is a senior event, but we don’t get much opportunity to watch the youth because of our own schedule,” said Smith. “So to have a full week of concentrated time to actually watch these young women play and have a look at their skill sets and learn a little bit about the programs they play for, it’s been really helpful.”

The camp focused on positional training, mental conditioning, physical workouts, pitching, hitting, baserunning, catching, fielding and more.

“They are learning some new skills,” said Paetkau. “They also learned how some of our national team athletes train, because a lot of these players have aspirations of years down the road being able to try out for the national team or go on to get a college scholarship in softball. So part of this is giving them that information of what they’re going to have to do to get to that point.”

With softball season getting underway in April, Paetkau said, this camp is going to give them that extra preparation and also improve their game.

“We remind them all the time that they’re not going to remember everything, but we hope they take a few stones out and get a little bit better,” said Paetkau. “And the other thing too for them is to see the national players and use them as mentors to help them to be better.”

Jenny Gilbert, who plays outfield for Canada’s national team, taught hitting techniques at the camp. She was inspired to see lot of young players come out and learn from the best that Canada has to offer. That includes drills, techniques, philosphies, performance and many more things that they undertake at the national level.

“I think it’s really important that at such a young age that they learn these things,” said Gilbert. “The fact that this many girls came out is great for our sport. They are getting pretty much the full, like, echelon of what we do. It’s great for the future of softball.”

Among the athletes who relished and absorbed as much as they could from the camp were Ali Henderson of the Victoria Devils and Megan Marshall from Chilliwack.

“The coaching from the national team is going to improve my game play and make me a better player, said Henderson, who focused a lot on infielding techniques. “The infielding and the footwork is going to help me out. The different footwork I can do for double plays or turning to throw to different bases is gonna help me.”

Marshall, 13, said it was a tiring camp because the sessions were one after another. But she didn’t mind it at all as she was delighted to learn strategies and techniques from the national players.

“It’s really cool to have the best softball players in the world coach you,” said Marshall, who said she just wants to become a better player.

The success of this year’s high performance camp has inspired organizers, along with the national coaches and players to stage it again next year. It’s going to be held again during spring break.

Kellow said Oceanside Minor Softball is proud to have staged this event and is looking forward to doing it again next year.

“It’s the first of its kind here in B.C.,” said Kellow. “We are so lucky to have it here.”

Softball season is set to start in April and Kellow is encouraging those interested in playing to start registering now at www.oceansidesoftball.ca

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