Q & A with WNT Head Coach Mark Smith
May 01, 2014
Q. Coach Smith, what type of commitment will be involved with the team in 2014?
A. This year is a World Championship year with that event being held in Haarlem, Netherlands in August. Our first event of the summer will be the Eastern Regional Camp in Brampton, Ontario June 11-14th, followed by the Western Regional Camp June 25-28th in Cloverdale, BC. We will select athletes who take part in the Eastern camp to attend the Western camp and then select a final roster following the Cloverdale camp.
Q. How many athletes usually try out for the team?
A. It varies a bit from year to year, however we usually have between 60 and 70 athletes take part in the tryout process for the Senior team each year.
Q. An Athletes’ Pool is posted each winter by Softball Canada. How are athletes named to that pool?
A. We have a network of coaches from across the country that we tap into to learn about players. We monitor play at regional championships, national championships, and international tournaments to identify which athletes are performing well within their age groups. If an athlete is attending College or University, we track their play throughout their school season. We name a Pool in the fall, however we also add names to the Pool as the winter goes on as we learn more information about players.
Q. Is a player who has not been named to the Pool at a disadvantage compared to those who were named to the pool if they want to attend the try out process?
A. It might seem like that to the athletes, but from our perspective, absolutely not. Our goal is to find talent and it does not matter whether or not the athlete is part of the Athlete Pool. A good example of this tends to be athletes who have an exceptional season at school and decide they would like to attend a camp or find out about the camp late. Historically, it has not been uncommon for there to be a number of players attend camp who are not part of the Athlete Pool and there are examples of where non-pool athletes make it to the final camp or in fact make the final roster. We want the best players on our team wherever they come from.
Q. How can athletes who are interested in Team Canada find out what is expected of them at a camp?
A. On our Softball Canada website under Women’s National Team you can review our Selection Criteria document as well as our Testing Protocols. This information has been posted for approximately four years and it clearly defines the type of testing we do and the testing standards an athlete should be capable of meeting.
Q. Does an athlete have to play NCAA Division 1 Softball to have a chance to make Team Canada
A. In recent years we have had a few more players who have come from Division 1 programs, however we also have players who come from Division 2 and NAIA programs as well. Division 1 has the reputation of being the elite division to play in, however, not all Division 1 schools are strong or play in strong conferences. We’ve had as many athletes from Division 2 schools make the team over the years. The deciding factor isn’t where you go to school, it’s how well you play the game.
Q. What advice would you give to aspiring athletes who want to play for Canada’s Junior or Senior National Team programs?
A. Young athletes tend to be very critical of themselves and often don’t feel they are skilled enough to make the national team. International level softball isn’t for everyone, however for those athletes who are serious about their game my advice is that if an athlete plays at a rep level, a Canada Games level, or plays softball at College or University, they should consider attending camp.
Athletes should not be discouraged if they attend a camp or even a few camps but don’t make the final roster. The camp experience, the instruction given by our coaches and the opportunity to train and compete against the top women’s players in the country provides invaluable experience to young players. When you consider the instruction shared and the competition level at camps, it is one of the best investments in softball skills development an athlete can make.
Q. Are returning athletes guaranteed positions on the team each year?
A. If that were true we wouldn’t need tryouts. Every year, players have to attend tryouts and prove themselves all over again. That is what competition is all about. Certainly the experience of playing at the international level helps returning athletes as they have the benefit of experience at the international level. However, if anything, returning players also carry the burden of expectation because they played the previous year and are expected to make the team again.
Q. What results do you expect the team to achieve this season?
A. Our expectations as a coaching staff is that the athletes show up fit and prepared to play. There are many things we cannot control during the course of the season, however, how fit we are, how hard we work, how hard we play, how committed we are to improving each and every day are all things that each individual has the ability to control. If we do these things well we will give ourselves a chance to play well this summer.
Q. What advice would you give to aspiring coaches who want to coach at an elite level?
A. Be a student of the game and learn as much as you can. Pursue the NCCP as far as you are able and take in as many professional development opportunities for coaches as you can. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when it comes to teaching skills you may not be as familiar with and challenge yourself to be a better coach no different than you challenge the athletes to become better players. The pathway to becoming a better coach is really no different than the pathway to becoming a better athlete. Work hard, ask questions and be open to learning new things.
Mark Smith represented Canada internationally as a member of Softball Canada’s Senior Men’s National Team from 1979 to 1994 and was inducted to Softball Canada’s Hall of Fame as a member of the 1983 Pan American Gold Medal team in 1997 and later as an Athlete in 1999. He coached within the Men’s National Team program from 1996-2009, and has been the Head Coach of the Women’s National Team program since 2009.