The implementation of the Erasmus+ Sports: Small Collaborative Partnerships project, Inclusion & Gender Equality Through Softball (IGETS), reached its climax with the 3rd transnational meeting held on July 23-28 in Zagreb, Croatia. The U17 youth teams of partners Għajnsielem Redcoats from Malta, and Honk- en Softbalvereniging Olympia Haarlem from the Netherlands, converged on Zagreb to participate in a triangular softball training camp and tournament along with their hosts and partners Softball Klub Princ Zagreb.
Two US coaches, Nicole Thomas and Lisa Maulden, joined the coaching staff of the three clubs for the training camp. Head coach of the senior team at Olympia, Stanley Doney, was also at the camp along with youth coaches Cindy Blüm, Eveline van Dongen and Lars Looyen. IGETS project coordinator and coach of the Redcoats, Joseph Scicluna, was accompanied by coach Charles Attard. Petra Cizmic Pokrajac, Nikica Pokrajac, Lorena Oreščanin and Tea Fleck of Princ along with Natalia Malarowska assisted in the coaching and ensured that the camp was run efficiently.
The focus of the training camp was on positional play. Besides sessions dedicated to pitching and catching there were sessions for the middle infielders, the corners as well as the outfielders. An entire session was dedicated to hitting where coaches Nicole Thomas and Stanley Doney pitched so that the players could bat off live pitching. The coaches were very pleased with the efforts put in by the players of each of the three clubs, and were impressed by their level of skills.
The Zagreb training camp was not just skills, drills and games, other aspects of softball were covered during several off-the-field activities. Among the activities which were organised for the members of the three partner clubs, there was a very interesting and informative walkabout in the city with an IGETS theme. This was intended to further increase awareness among the girls with regards to inclusion and gender equality and at the same time provide an opportunity for the players to get to know each other. Players and coaches were split into seven groups, and each group had to visit several places of interest in the centre of the city. At each place of interest, they had to take a photo and post it on the IGETS Facebook page with a comment in three languages that had to do with inclusion, gender equality, or softball. This turned out to be a great experience for everyone involved and the comments that the players posted were very good.
The camp also focused on other very important aspects of the game such as nutrition, sports psychology, discipline, and developing a professional attitude. A nutritionist gave a seminar on the diet for players before and after practices, games and tournaments, as well as during tournaments. He stressed on the importance of hydration, especially during summer tournaments. The nutritionist also showed the players how to prepare a meal that does not exceed the desired number of calories. They were shown how to calculate how much of certain nutrients they should consume in the meal based on their body weight, and then how to choose certain amounts of different foods to reach those nutrient goals.
A sports psychologist tackled issues that have to do with mental preparation for practices and games, self-confidence and battling adversity during a game. He identified the difference between effort, over which the athlete has full control, and performance, which does not always depend on the athlete herself. He insisted that the athlete should focus on giving maximum effort. The sport psychologist asked the players to list situations of adversity that they encounter before, during and after games or practices and how they normally react to them. They also had to come up with a better way to react when faced with such difficult moments.
The players also had a forum on how IGETS impacted them over the past 18 months. They also filled out a questionnaire on the topic, providing valuable feedback to the project coordinators and coaches on the training camp, on playing softball, as well as on IGETS as a whole.
The highlight of the training camp were the three tournament games which saw the three partners take on each other along. In the opener of the IGETS Tournament the Għajnsielem Redcoats came from two runs down in the final inning to defeat Olympia Haarlem 7 - 6. In the second game the co-ed team of SK Princ Zagreb tied the Redcoats 5 - 5. While in the final game Olympia put on a great hitting display to beat Princ 15 – 12. With that result the Redcoats won the tournament. In the two exhibition games which were played, the U15s of the Redcoats beat Princ 13 - 11 but lost to Olympia 10 - 5.
There were also meetings between the project coordinators of the three partner clubs. Joseph Scicluna, of the Redcoats, Mirjam Willemse, of Olympia, and Petra Cizmic Pokrajac of Princ, assessed the performance of the partnership and planned ahead for the final few months of IGETS. The most important remaining activity is the conference which is intended to disseminate the findings and the results of the entire project to key stakeholders within European softball. That conference is scheduled for this Autumn.
The IGETS Zagreb training camp was a wonderful and memorable experience for everyone involved and the multiple objectives of the project were achieved. Several players exchanged their social media details so that they could stay in touch with the players from the other teams. There was plenty of capacity building and sharing of best practices between the coaches of the three partners with the important contribution of the two US coaches. The players gained from the sessions and showed improvement during the course of the camp. Playing the games also boosted their confidence. They also benefited tremendously from the seminars and forums that were organised for them. Still the greatest achievement of the camp was that the players have grown to love softball even more, and as a result are more likely to continue to play the game for many years to come. This could be the most important legacy of the Zagreb training camp and maybe of IGETS itself.