Please introduce yourself.
My name is Laura Hirai, I'm 18 years old and I'm from London, United Kingdom. I don't play for a specific club right now, but I've been representing the Great Britain national softball team since 2012. I play the middle infield. I'm an absolute sports enthusiast, so everyday I'm doing some kind of sport, whether it's lacrosse and badminton at school, or softball and baseball out of school.

What made you want to play softball?
My softball story is quite a unique one: I started off playing baseball when I lived in Japan back in 2010. After the devastating earthquake that struck Japan in March 2011, I returned to London where I found a local baseball team and I continued to play. The following year, the U13 Great Britain softball coach asked me and another friend to play softball for them. So the first time I played softball was at an U13 European tournament. I wanted to continue playing softball because it was a breath of fresh from the boys in baseball, and although I found both sports similar, they both brought a different kind of excitement for me.

Can you tell me something about softball in your country?
In the United Kingdom, slowpitch softball is a popular recreation for many, whereas fastpitch softball is still developing as a competitive sport. We have the Great Britain fastpitch League that involves a couple months of competitive fastpitch softball for both men and women. This league is the only fastpitch league in the UK, and it's a chance for many players, both new and experienced, to get some game time.

How often do you practice with your national team and what do the practices look like?
The national team rosters tend to be announced around March, which is when practices will begin on most weekends and some weekdays for those based in the UK. As the whole team cannot always come together at the same time, practices are long to pack in as much training as possible.

Is there anything extra your country is doing for the Olympic Games in 2020?
Rumour has it that in 2019, there may be some MLB games happening in London, which is definitely something everyone will be looking forward to! We have the High Performance Academy in the UK, which I’ve been involved with since its founding in 2014. This programme aims to develop the domestic elite athletes to be competitive contenders for the National team squad for tournaments, including the Olympics.

What's your best experience so far with the national team?
The best experience I've had so far with the national team was winning the U19 European Softball Championships in 2016. It was the first time that Great Britain had won a gold medal in a fastpitch tournament, so it meant a lot to the players and the country. There's no doubt that everyone put in 100% during that tournament, so the gold medal was worth it.

Is it hard for your National team to participate in European tournaments?
Compared to other National teams who receive government funding, Great Britain is self-funded. The Olympic cycle for funding sports in the next Olympics has ignored both baseball and softball, which means BSUK and the athletes need to find their own way to achieve as much as possible with the resources available.

What is your goal for the 2018 season?
My goal for 2018 is to represent Great Britain in both the U19 and U22 categories. I also hope to get into my desired university in America! (And to play softball there of course) I understand that each age category in the National program have their own goals: The goal for the GB U19s is to finish as medal winners at the European Championships. As it is the first time that GB are taking a team to the U22 European Championships, the goal is to achieve the highest ranking within their capabilities.

Do you have a pre-game routine?
I have to listen to Country and 80s music because who doesn't love Country and 80s? :) Team handshakes are also very important before every game.

Do you think there is something we could do to make softball more popular in Europe?
I think what we need to do is publicise the sport even more than it has been. We need the whole softball community to get involved and keep sharing their experiences online, at school, on local newspapers, anywhere that can be recognised so we can grow the sport we love throughout the continent. I love what ESF are currently doing on Instagram Story because we can see what's going with softball players from different countries and of different abilities, it's something we can definitely build on. We can try and broadcast more games, even if it's local league games to reach a wider audience.

What do you think is the key to a successful team?
I believe the key to a successful team is cohesion. The team needs to work together to achieve a common goal, and they also need the chemistry to understand each other's roles within the team.

- Romy Marinus -