From little things, big things grow

Kingsley Collins

7 June 2016

 

Recently back from a ground-breaking baseball programme in Indonesia, a squad of Aussie Emeralds players, coaches and officials took massive steps towards promoting women’s baseball while providing unique opportunities for personal development and confidence-building through sport-related and social awareness activities.

 

Funded as a women’s development initiative by the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Diamonds in the Rough programme was an outstanding success that will help provide serious impetus for our national team as it prepares for the Women’s World Cup in September. 

 

Australian Baseball Alumni spoke to tour Operations Manager Narelle Gosstray, who has been a dynamic force in Australian women’s baseball over many years.  

 

Designed with clear social and altruistic purposes, the Diamonds in the Rough programme may well become a watershed in Australian women’s baseball and in the sport more generally, while providing learning and awareness opportunities that may prove of great benefit to the Indonesian community with which our contingent became engaged.

 

“We have just returned from an outstandingly successful Diamonds in the Rough program in Jakarta, with a team of Emerald squad members and emerging coaches delivering coaching clinics for Indonesian girls and boys, and playing games against local men’s teams,” Narelle Gosstray said told Australian Baseball Alumni this week.

 

“The program purpose was empowering Indonesian girls, but we did more than that,” she said. “We started changing hearts and minds around traditional gender norms, we raised awareness about domestic violence issues, we showcased the skills of our squad members and we provided an opportunity for our own players and coaches to develop both on-field and off.”

 

“As a sport development program funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs, we achieved all we set out to and more. Our Emeralds Coach Mentors acted as the perfect sport diplomats.”

Spending invaluable time at The Hit Factory – Indonesia’s indoor baseball and softball training facility – the Australian Emeralds squad was exposed to high-level instruction in baseball fundamentals.

 

“The training we received from The Hit Factory in Jakarta was gold for the players who will go on to play in Korea,” Narelle Gosstray said. “As well as that, it will have long-lasting effects for the other squad members, who will be in a better position to make the team in future years. While the players are all athletes, for the most part they get by on athletic ability, and few have had consistent quality coaching in the fundamentals.”

 

“With The Hit Factory they were shown important fundamental and modern techniques, and then had the opportunity in the very next session to share their newfound knowledge with the Indonesian Diamond participants - thus embedding their learning to make it even more powerful.”

 

Aside from the technical and skills development accruing for players with the Emeralds touring group, there were other demonstrable and potentially far-reaching benefits to be derived.

 

“One of the exciting parts of the trip was the opportunity to put our players into uncomfortable situations and watch them work out ways to get things done despite the conditions,” Narelle Gosstray said. “We saw personal growth and confidence building and the development of what we term “an ability to be comfortable being uncomfortable”. The players will this take back into not just their sporting performance, but into everyday life, increasing resilience and capacity to achieve despite barriers or in sub-optimal conditions.”

 

“This is not something our players get exposed to at home,” she continued. “There has been a lack of high quality competition to test and push our players to improve, and it’s this kind of program - one that is a bit left of centre - that can help us do that when our traditional pathways don’t.”

 

“What is also exciting is that this is the first time a women’s development program has been fully funded, building on our 2014 World Cup Campaign which was the first time the women’s national team had ever travelled fully funded, thanks largely to the support of the Australia-Japan Foundation and the generosity of many supporters of women’s baseball.”

 

Narelle Gosstray is guardedly optimistic about the future of women’s baseball in Australia and she is certainly supportive of initiatives at least mooted or already put in place – including the Women’s Baseball Advisory Panel announced earlier this year.

 

“One of the first things the panel did was to hold a forum during Nationals, for people to help create the future of women’s baseball,” Gosstray said. “We had a great turnout - with nearly 100 people contributing before, during and after the event - and we developed an enormous list of action items. They were all fantastic ideas. Although they won’t all be implemented in one hit, some will take time to change and others may not happen at all, they still create a great framework for the future of our game.”

 

“I am hoping in the coming weeks that we will be able to share some good news about some of the action items, though I must highlight that the Diamonds in the Rough program ticked a number of boxes - including more international opportunities for women, fully funded opportunities, and more accredited coaches.”

 

“That includes seven new female coaches we accredited while in Jakarta,” she said.

Funding of the 2014 Women’s World Cup and the Diamonds in the Rough project have created a precedent for women’s baseball and will provide many with the hope of future times to come when elite players will not be placed under sometimes enormous financial pressure to represent our country at their chosen sport.

 

“In terms of future fund-raising strategies, women’s sport is currently well placed to start receiving more and more support and I believe we will see some positive outcomes for baseball,” Narelle Gosstray said. “The key to receiving this funding is making sure we grow our numbers at grass roots levels, provide quality coaching, multiple pathway opportunities, and funded development opportunities. We have seen in other sports such as tennis, cricket, netball - and now AFL - that if you provide the opportunities then the quality of competition will result.”

 

“Generally our squad members still have to pay to play at every level, from club ball, to high performance, to selection camps,” she said. “Our squad members are all paying $500 each to attend a camp on the Gold Coast, to show the selectors what they are capable of and how much work they have been doing since they were selected in the squad.”

 

We are running a fundraising campaign selling Entertainment Books that we will be publicising more about shortly. The great thing about this type of fundraiser is that everyone benefits from the money that is raised. The Emeralds get 20% from every sale, the purchaser will make their money back after two romantic dinners, and the advertisers get more business.”

 

“It’s a great model, and now you can even get a digital version.”

 

In an earlier article posted on Australian Baseball Alumni (Women's Baseball Enters Bold New Era), national Women’s Head Coach Simone Wearne provided some detailed insights on her view of the future of women’s baseball. Coming off the enormously successful Diamonds in the Rough sojourn in Indonesia, Narelle Gosstray is equally upbeat in her approach and reflective on the role that baseball can play in our lives.

 

“I think the key to the women’s game continuing to grow, is continually embracing positive energy, and not letting the nay-sayers win,” she said. “It’s way too easy to sit back and complain about what isn’t working and waste your energy on that, but if you just get in and make things happen, the crap in the background just becomes less important. It doesn’t go away, but it just doesn’t matter so much. Also, I have always said that the bigger the game gets, the less influence the negative nellies have. So let’s grow it!”

 

“Some days I think I am fortunate to have been given opportunities in the game I love, some days I wish I had never heard of the game. But at the end of the day I also believe I have forged my own pathway, made my own luck and created many of my own opportunities through staying positive and focussing on the process rather than the outcome. I am excited about what I have done for the game and for the people that also share my love for the game.”

 

“And I am super excited about the future!” she said. “Sport for social good is something that we have only just begun to scratch the surface on."

 

Among the range of elements in its charter, Australian Baseball Alumni seeks to promote and nurture our sport at all levels – from juniors, grassroots competition, Women’s, Masters, Australian Baseball League through to international representation. The Alumni organisation encourages all people with an engagement in baseball to join us - and support us – in helping provide coverage, promotion and tangible support for Australian baseball programes.

 

“I signed up for Australian Baseball Alumni the other day, and I was so excited to see an option of “support the women’s national team”,” Narelle Gosstray said. “It’s the little things like that that make the difference - on the field we call them the one percenters, and I think the analogy still applies. The fact that the Alumni is showcasing the achievements of the women’s game is one step more than many others are doing right now.” 

 

“Given the male dominance of baseball history, I expect there are a lot of dads who are members of Australian Baseball Alumni,” she said.

 

Dads with daughters are one of the keys to the future of women’s baseball. A recent encounter with the baseballing father of a six-month old highlighted to me how important it is for us to continue to grow the women’s game. Prior to the birth of his daughter, he was pretty much of the same opinion as the rest of the world – that is, girls play softball and boys play baseball. Some months after the birth he wondered whether there might be the opportunity for her to play baseball, the game he loves, not softball, a game that while similar to baseball, is … Just NOT Baseball.

 

So for Alumni members, if you have a daughter, treat her like a baseball player. Put a ball in her hand before she is even old enough to grasp it, find her a mini plastic bat that she can sleep with in her cot. Tell her stories of the game, create the love of the game within her, share your love of the game (oh, and buy her a Cardinals uniform!). And when she steps out for the first time in her baseball uniform, be her biggest supporter. Whether she plays for her country or plays for the love of the game, supporting her choice to play baseball can and will lead her to being a strong, confident woman and increase her grades at school, improve her career prospects and reduce her risk of falling prey to drugs, predators and family violence.”

 

“And that’s gotta be worth it!”

 

Australian Baseball Alumni extends its sincere thanks to Narelle Gosstray for her assistance in the preparation of this story. Narelle continues to be a committed and inspiring baseball person respected for her fine work with International Women’s Baseball Commission, Aussie Hearts, Australian Women’s Advisory Panel and as Programme Co-Ordinator for the Australian Women’s National team.

 

We are delighted to have her on board as an Alumni member and we look forward to further contributions that she may choose to make in the near future - including our projected day-by-day coverage of the 2016 Women's World Cup.

 

Click HERE for a bank of images from the Diamonds in the Rough tour

(supplied by Narelle Gosstray)