Chapter 15 - Coaching Potential Reps

Chapter 15



Players who represented Australia in the Test Series against New Zealand in the 1940s and 1950s were chosen at the national championship. There was little time for them to train together since the Tests in Melbourne were played immediately after the national championship. When the Tests were played in New Zealand the Australian team met just prior to departure. The victorious World Championship team of 1965 benefited from the majority of the players being Melbourne-based with coach Myrtle Edwards. Those from interstate like Nina Menner (WA), Nancy Whittingham (SA) and Lorraine Woolley, Margaret Dodds and Sandra Somerville (Queensland) were provided with written fitness programs to follow as best they could. Pre-departure camps became part of the routine in the 1970s. Weekend camps were added during the 1980s along with requests for fitness testing to be conducted at local tertiary institutes and supervised by members of the State associations. Travel to World Championships usually included matches in one or more countries en route to mold the Australian team. However, the Australian team came under increased pressure at each successive World Championship when other nations began to prepare their teams over longer periods of time. In the lead up the 1982 World Championship the Taiwanese team spent seven months together.  From 1984 the ASF had access to the AIS in Canberra as part of the National Sports Plan which assisted with the preparation of national teams. Training camps for all women’s Under 19 and Senior teams were held in Canberra. After the creation of the AIS Softball Unit in Brisbane, the ASF continued to use the Canberra facilities for preparation of the men’s teams.  The ASF also realized that it needed to prepare younger players for possible national duties and the Under 16 Girls and then Under 19 Girls national championships were introduced. Then followed talent identification camps and clinics.


Talent identification camps
At the urging of the NCAC the ASF conducted a series of talent identification camps after the Under 16 Girls’ national championships. State/Territory coaches submitted a list of potential participants with the final decision resting with the camp Coach and his/her assistants. During the championships girls were selected for the camp and remained in the host city for an extra week. The first camp was held in Perth in 1981 with four players from each State. This format was followed for three years when ability rather than strict numbers determined eligibility. The 1984 camp in Darwin had varying numbers from each State. The scheme was expanded in 1985. The top eight players from WA, SA and the NT attended the Adelaide camp. Similar numbers from the eastern States went to Sydney. Some of the younger players attended two successive camps, however the coaches differed each year. In 1989 there were two camp programs. One funded by the Rothmans Foundation consisted of regional junior coaching clinics while Under 19 players attended the ASF 1989 Softball School which was held in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane with American coach Carol Spanks.  
The introduction of the Under 19 Girls World Championships in 1981 lead to the annual selection of an Under 19 Development Squad as a step in talent identification.   Following the 1996 SCD annual meeting, Schneider reported that the ASF Development clinics in 1995 proved far too costly and many problems arose regarding air travel of participants. For 1996 it two coaches travelled to each State during the year and conducted weekend clinics with of a camp at the AIS for 25 players.

Pitching Clinics

The Senior Australian women’s team struggled during the 1970s and 1980s. The ASF determined that the weakness stemmed from a lack of elite pitchers and set about remedying the situation. In 1987 Margaret Sutter from the International University, San Diego, USA, toured Australia. In each State she worked specifically with young players who showed potential to represent Australia and with State under age and higher grade club pitchers with potential to develop into top-level pitchers. All participants had to be under 25 years of age. As well she conducted sessions for would-be specialist pitching coaches who had responsibility for pitching clinics to assist beginning pitchers.  In 1990 the ASF established its Softball Pitching Academy. It was a week-long programme for pitchers who were at least 20 years of age and had a minimum 10 years pitching with at least 3 years A grade pitching. They had to have shown a proven interest in teaching other pitchers and be willing to improve personal teaching skills. After the academy they spent some weekends working with pitchers in regional affiliates.

National Softball Academy

In 1988 the ASC gave the ASF a grant of $20,000 towards a National Talent Identification and Elite Training Programme. National Executive Director, David Robertson, foreshadowed that the Softball ‘School’ would provide the foundation for a permanent softball academy.1 This came to fruition in 1991when the ASF set up its National Softball Academy for female players. Each State Association nominated players thought likely to be selected in national teams for special consideration at national championships. Those who impressed the national selectors were named in the Academy and entitled to specialized, intensive training in their home State. The Academy coaches were State-based coaches chosen by the National Coach to implement program designed by her. The ASF provided funding for each State to enlist the services of a qualified strength and conditioning coach to assist Academy members. This often provided a link to the State institute of sport. In its second year the National Softball Academy was expanded to include males with the potential to play at world championships. That year the Academy had 129 females, 89 males and 26 coaches. NSW and Queensland dominated the women’s allocation while WA featured strongly in the men’s. With participation in the Summer Olympic Games dominating the women’s international focus and increasing government demands for accountability, the ASF ruled that from August 1994 any player who did not attend Academy training without a valid excuse would not be considered for Australian selection at the next national championship.  As the ASF established its Academy, the ISF intensified its lobbying of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to have women’s softball included in the Summer Olympic Games. After some false starts softball was included in the 1996 Atlanta Games. In anticipation, the ASF was became a full member of the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) in 1991. Two events in 1993 elevated softball’s status: The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) Softball Unit was established in Brisbane; and Sydney won the right to host the 2000 Olympics.

Australian Institute of Sport

The ASF joined the AIS as its twentieth sport in July 1993. Its headquarters were in Brisbane with Head Coach Margaret Reynolds overseeing a program that was decentralized and non-residential. Players remained in their home States and were supervised by local coaches directed by Reynolds. The initial squad of 19 included all members of the Australian women’s squad. The total budget of $329,000 covered scholarships for the players, staff salaries, administration and travel to international events. Reynolds resigned in July 1995. Bob Crudgington, Queensland Senior Women’s coach and national Under 19 Women’s coach, took charge of the AIS programme.

Olympic Athlete Program/

Intensive Training Centres

The focus shifted to the Olympic Athlete Program (OAP) which gave considerable funding to Olympic sports, especially those deemed genuine medal contenders like softball which was ranked in the top three nations. A network of Intensive Training Centres (ITC) for elite female players was established in each State except Tasmania and the NT in 1995. Each ITC had 20 players working with a full-time coach and access to a raft of sports scientists in the link up with the State institute/academy of sport. The National Academy was re-directed to focus on preparation of male players who were potential members of national Under 19 and Senior teams to compete at World Championships. Tasmania and the NT were retained in the Academy program.

National Elite Training Programme

All the components of elite development including international events leading up to the Sydney Olympics, were united in one program in 1995, the National Elite Training Program (NETP) which was resourced by the ASF, the OAP and the AOC. Dr Bob Murphy, the High Performance Manager, directed it.  The ITCs were re-badged as National Training Centres (NTC) for the 2001-02 season. They were located in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. AIS/Australian players in other cities were supported by the ASF Satellite Program. The ASF and AIS worked on four-year plans with tenure always dependent on the continuity of softball in the Summer Olympic Games. The decision not to include softball in the 2012 London Games lead to intense lobbying of the IOC through the ISF’s ‘Back Softball Campaign’. It was not successful and softball was not re-instated for the 2016 Games. The AIS Softball Unit was disbanded. Softball Australia restructured its high performance programme into the National Elite Development Program which also included two developmental programs: ‘Unearthing the Stars’ and the ‘Pitching School of Excellence’. Bob Crudgington continued as High Performance Manager. The AIS Canberra facilities were still used for specialist camps.  The Under 16 national championship was replaced by an Under 17 one to provide a more consistent transition between the age divisions. The Deason and Allsopp Shields were retained. There is the possibility that an Under 15 division may be introduced in the future.


Elite players require elite coaches and the ASF slowly developed programmes in addition to the NCAS to assist coaches who aspired to the highest levels of the sport. Most emphasis was placed on exchanges of information and ideas with coaches left to undertake the practical implementation in their own jurisdiction.

National coaching meetings

The National Coaching Seminar was first held at Monash University in September 1983. Each State/Territory association sent between two and five representatives. Funding was provided by the Rothmans Foundation and on a cost share basis, that is, all State/Territory associations contributed the same amount regardless of distance traveled. The keynote speakers were American coach, Donna Terry, and New Zealand coach, Bill Massey. The 46 participants ‘liked what was voted the best idea the ASF has had in the coaching field’.2 Towards the end of the 1980s the clinics became the Elite Coaches Seminar with each State entitled to send three coaches. When the National Softball Academy was set up in 1991, the Elite Coaches Seminar targeted the Academy coaches located in each State to ensure uniform development of elite female players and players identified as possessing the potential to become future Australian representatives. The national coach, Margaret Reynolds, and NCD, Robyn Peters, lead the Academy and Seminar. The focus of the Elite Coaches Seminar changed from year to year. The 1994 seminar concentrated on offensive skills.

Coach Development Program

The Coach Development Program was introduced in 1994. The inaugural intake included the ITC coaches. As potential future national coaches they worked with a current national coach on a tailor-made program and where possible attended clinics/camps for national teams/squads.

National Coaching Scholarships

The ASF also nominated athletes for ACC National Coaching Scholarships. In 1996 Australian pitcher Melanie Roche was successful. Her activities included the Pitching Development Program whereby she held clinics in each State for potential national pitchers.

Softball Australia National Coaches Association

Coaches had the opportunity to unite through the Softball Australia National Coaches Association (SANCA) which came into existence during the 1998-99 season. From 2000 fliers distributed to coaches 90 coaches joined in the first year with a steady increase thereafter.


The priority for the WASA was to produce teams capable of winning national championships. Some individuals aspired to a place in a national team. Assisting them has been a special challenge because of WA’s distance from more frequent elite competitions along the eastern seaboard.


Talent Advancement Clinics in the 1980s

In the mid-1960s the WAWSA realized that it had to pay attention to the identification and support of talented juniors. In the 1964-65 season a State junior team of Under 16 girls was selected to train under coach Shirley Roberts. The following season the State Junior team competed against teams in Bunbury. This quickly became an annual event and gave talented juniors a stepping stone to the Senior women’s State team. Thus WA was well prepared when the AWSF introduced the Under 16 Girls national championship in 1970. The players were ready and the administration was willing to take on the workload associated with hosting the inaugural championship.  The players in the State Junior team benefited from an annual camp held each year since the 1968-69 season at one of the NFC/DSR outer suburban campsites such as Bickley and Ern Halliday (Hillarys). Numbers varied but there were usually between 30 and 40 participants. The selection of attendees varied from an open invitation to all junior players to targeted invitations to members of the State squad or players identified by selectors observing junior matches. Another format required girls to attend a number of clinics or training sessions from which camp attendees were selected. The camp was organized by the Junior Committee. People like Don Leyland, Joy Marsland, Lorraine Page and Lorraine Malcolm with current and former State players took on instructional and leadership roles. The camp was always distinct from the trials for the selection of the Under 16 team but on several occasions country players attended on the assumption that the trials were held during it.


In addition special clinics were held on a weekly basis over four to six weeks and these became talent advancement clinics conducted as part of the Junior Development portfolio. Bob McKibbin, Under 16 and then Under 19 State coach, took responsibility. The Advancement Clinic for Under 16 and Under 19 players was held over six weeks in June-July 1981. Fifteen clubs nominated 120 participants of whom 90 attended at some stage with 68 completing the full clinic. Some players were channeled into a four-week basic group with players being instructed in two positions of their choice followed by two weeks of two games per week under supervision. Further coaching focused on game situations with separate coaching for pitchers. McKibbin considered the participants were ‘equal to the best in Australia’. Future development depended on them experiencing ‘pressure softball’ on a more regular basis. Clubs were urged to think of the advancement of the juniors by including them in the highest senior grades rather than ‘stacking’ junior teams to win premierships.


In September 1982, Shirley Schneider suggested that the next clinic place more emphasis on basic skills which brought to the fore concerns about what clubs were doing. Some clubs lacked the expertise to teach young players. The popularity of the Junior Clinics was highlighted in 1983 when 95 youngsters took part in the six-week program. Fifty-nine youngsters completed the assessments and were awarded certificates denoting their level of skill on a variety of tests. Under the leadership of McKibbin, a core group of instructors was drawn from current and former State coaches, assistant coaches, players and Level 2 accredited coaches. The clinics were held at night at the teacher training colleges such as Nedlands and then Churchlands, which had suitable outside lighting and indoor space in case of inclement weather.


When the WASA restructured in 1987 the Junior Development Officer (JDO) was a member of the Management Committee. In the 1988-89 Annual Report, McKibbin provided a comprehensive summary of Junior Development which blended talent development with the promotion of softball to as many youngsters as possible. There were three objectives: (1) identification and promotion of talented juniors throughout the State; (2) the introduction of softball to more young people; and, (3) the expansion and improvement of junior competition. To act on these objectives a number of initiatives were undertaken: Junior Talent Identification Camp for girls and boys although it was decided single sex camps would be best; Junior Talent Identification Clinics in Geraldton although country affiliates were not attracted even with 50-50 funding; Talent Advancement Clinic on a weekly basis for Under 16 and Under 19 female players; Junior Competition via increased competitions in primary schools (at a time when competition per se was out of favour), Come n’ Try Days during school holidays and representation on the Western Australian Government Schools Sports Association Committee for Schoolgirls Softball in1989. Overall, there had been major steps forward with 33 of the 44 potential State representatives attending the1988 Talent Advancement Clinic. The response of the Winter Competition and affiliates was particularly disappointing.


The following year McKibbin recommended the decentralization of junior development to the affiliates. In October 1991 McKibbin argued from his experience that the WASA needed to rethink the job of the JDO. It was too demanding for a volunteer. He suggested the WASA should pay a nominal fee to top players to run clinics and they would answer to the JDO. All affiliate associations were asked to indicate what they required in the area of junior development. However, WASA opted to persist with a volunteer and Tom Maher was elected to replace McKibbin. During Maher’s tenure the emphasis changed from advancement of elite juniors to grass roots promotion of softball. (See Chapter 16)


The establishment of the ITC in 1995 led to a rethink of the clinics. At first emphasis was on lower age groups and borderline players but the clinics eventually ceased. Camps were attempted again when Chantelle James was appointed Junior Development Officer in 2000. She oversaw Camp Chuck it to Me which continued for several seasons. The State Development Camp was also revamped in the 2000-01 season with 12 girls, 25 boys, 5 coaches and 8 guest coaches.  In 2001 a new 18 and Under Specialist Skills program was attempted. Two four-week blocks were held during which 20 players received coaching from WA’s own elite players. Chantelle James and Darren Stern coached pitching; Rachel Allen and Kristy Sleth coached catching while Gary Butler and Kylie Watkins focused on batting.

ASF Clinics

A handful of WA girls participated in the ASF talent identification program in the 1980s. Natalie Robertson attended an elite training camp organized by the ASF at the AIS in 1984 and she was subsequently selected in the Australian Under 19 team for Third World Championship in 1987.  WA always filled it quota at the Under 16 Girls camps which began in 1981. With one or two exceptions all the players progressed to represent WA in Under 19 and Senior State teams. WA’s junior coaches were also recognised by the ASF which appointed Bob McKibbin as Co-ordinator and Lorraine Page as a coach at the 1984 camp held in Batchelor (NT). McKibbin was appointed again in 1987 along with Glenda Jackson. McKibbin also lead the Junior Development Clinic in Port Hedland held in 1984 sponsored by the ASF and federal government. Unfortunately West Australian players did not attract attention from the National Selectors. Kerry-ann Joseph and Jodie Payne were included in the 1989 Junior Development squad and five years later Kendall Leggett and Nicole Mizen made the Australian Under 19 Girls Squad.


Pitching clinics

There was a two-pronged approach to developing elite pitchers. First, the WASA attempted to overcome the pitching weakness in WA by inviting interstate/international coaches and coaches-in-residence who were acknowledged as experts. Secondly, Chantelle James initiated PitchWest during the 2000-01 season. Fifteen clinics were held Statewide with approximately 150 pitchers and 5 coaches attending. The following season Pitchwest ran as a 10 week pre-season training program for 65 pitchers. They were organized into 4 squads with 15 coaches assisting with instruction and providing individual feedback. WA players were also included in the ASF’s attempts to increase the quality and quantity of elite pitchers. The 1990 ASF Softball Pitching Academy was attended by Robbie Sommers (Winter Competition), Gail Clarke (Summer Competition) and Shirley Schneider (SCD). The intention was to have them set up a pitching school programme school for WA. In 1996 Australian pitcher Melanie Roche conducted the National Pitching Development Program. After analysis of 10-minute videos of pitching performance pitchers were selected for the program. WA representatives were Nicole Humble, Tracey Fricker and Tania Williams.


National Softball Academy representatives

When the ASF set up the National Softball Academy in 1992 WA had 17 players and 2 coaches in the inaugural intake. NSW with most recent successes at the national championships had 28 players and 5 coaches, followed by Queensland 18 players and 4 coaches and Victoria with 18 players and 2 coaches. WA was fourth which was commensurate with performances at national championships. Each State/Territory nominated players considered to be of a suitable standard prior to their national championships and the National Selectors determined the final group. The ASF appointed coaches in each State/Territory – Bob McKibbin, and Shirley Schneider - who worked under the direction of the NCD and National Women’s coach. Schneider’s appointment was controversial because of the failure of the WA Senior women’s team to win a national championship and a media campaign was instigated in WA promoting Sue Brakovich over Schneider but failed to acknowledge the appointment was made by the ASF not the WASA.


The second Academy included both male and female players. The women’s rank order remained the same, however, WA had just one less male player than NSW reflecting the men’s excellent performances since the introduction of their national championships.

What was disappointing was that no WA women were included in the inaugural list of 19 AIS Scholarship holders of whom 8 were from Queensland, 6 from Victoria, 4 from NSW and 1 from the ACT. For the 1994-95 season Maree Fish, an Olympic hockey gold medalist and Sports Science graduate took charge of the fitness program for the Academy. From 1995 the 20 most promising elite female players became part of the ITC squad which joined the WA Institute of Sport (WAIS). The National Softball Academy continued for men but only in those States which abided by the ASF’s guidelines. WA did not manage to do so in 1997 but rejoined in 1998 with former WA and Australian player Tony Bull as coach. In 1999 the Academy was again directed at elite male players. In 1999 WA five women were again included in the Academy along with five men. The women’s coach was Bruce Freeman while Dave McKenzie oversaw the men’s program.


WA Softball Academy

To offer high profile coaching to more talented players the WASA opted to establish its own WA Softball Academy in mid-1994. The 1993 Coach-in-Residence, Dave Pearce, was included in planning meetings. He recommended the scouting and selection of approximately 20 female and male players aged about 14 to 15 years who would attend a series of camps for instruction by the best available coaches with a focus on preparation for a national team. By August 1995 development clinics were held on Saturday mornings plus camps during school holidays for Under16 boys.


Further refinements in 1996 resulted in three tiers in the State-based academy program: Talent Identification (Under 16); Talent Advancement (Under 19) and Open. All were open to males and female players. For the 1997-98 season the WASA expanded the Academy to eight divisions with the addition of an Under 13 girls pitching and catching group of 12 and an Under 13 boys division. A Junior Satellite Academy operated in 2000 for female players aged between 16 and 19 years. The purpose was to give young players the opportunity to improve their skills in the off-season. It was a separate initiative from the State Training Squad with Academy players eligible to nominate for the Squad. While the coaches and WASA Board understood the relevance of the Academy program to the improvement of performances by WA State teams, the elite players did not respond as expected. Gary Butler, Coach of the Under 19 Men’s team expressed his surprise that only 14 of the 23 nominees attended the 2000 Academy. Butler had assumed that after two weeks (of the 20-week program) he would be have to reduce the squad to a manageable number, instead his efforts were directed at maintaining those who did attend and of trying to recruit more. Butler was further frustrated by the lack of basic skills of many players and found that he spent his time and effort working on these thus losing valuable time on advanced work.


The next logical step was taken in 1998 when Satellite Academies were established with various affiliates. As the ASF ITC Coach Donnan drove this. The major challenge was to co-ordinate the academies with WAIS, the State teams and State League. The Head Coaches were to be accredited and the affiliates able to conduct Level 1 Sports Specific courses. ITC/WAIS Coach Donnan coordinated meetings of coaches of the Satellite Academies. The initial Satellite Academies were in Rockingham, Bunbury, Geraldton, Kalgoorlie, SEMSA (female only), Dale (male only), Hills, Joondalup and Yokine Reserve. In her 2000 report SCD Donnan noted that there were satellite academies only at SEMSA, Dale, WASA Summer and WASA Winter. However, by 2001 the WASA was forced to admit that the Satellite Academies were ‘struggling to maintain and gain momentum since their inception four years ago. They were put on hold till suitable infrastructure and adequate support was available from the affiliates’.


Intensive Training Centre - WAIS

An Intensive Training Centre (ITC) was set up in Perth in 1995 with support from the ASF and WASA. Two years later – after softball had proven itself at the Atlanta Olympics – the ITC became a joint WASA- WAIS program. Coach Donnan was based at the WAIS complex at Challenge Stadium where the players accessed the sports science services. Softball specific training was held at Mirrabooka. The WASA underwrote the program to the value of $10,000 while the bulk was contributed from the ASF and OAP. A review of the WAIS-WASA program by the ASF High Performance Manager, Bob Murphy, and AIS-ASF Head Coach, Bob Crudgington, in late 1997 recognised the leadership and organizational skills of Donnan and her involvement in the Australia-wide ITC scheme and the support of the WASA and WAIS but noted the need for specialist pitching/catching coaching, more competition like the NFSL and a diamond with skinned infield as at most international venues.vAt the beginning the ITC had 20 players working with Donnan. For the 1997-98 season the program was divided into two tiers. Tier 1 had 10 players who had full scholarships and benefits while Tier 2 had 7 players who had reduced training loads and for whom the experience was a means of providing a transition to elite training. A highlight for the 1998 scholarship holders was a tour of New Zealand which accustomed players to the demands of international travel. A major fillip for the program was the inclusion of the Perth Thunder team in the revised National Fastpitch Softball League. Perth Thunder included both WAIS scholarship holders and Senior women. (See Chapter 11) The WASA provided the softball specific training and competition while WAIS provided the physical fitness and psychological training.


After these highlights came a low when in April 1999 WAIS notified the WASA that the softball program was to be reduced. Among the reasons given was that government funding had been reduced because selection of athletes for the Sydney Olympics was well advanced and players from WAIS were not likely to be called up. Donnan resigned as coach and WAIS did not feel a suitable coach could be attracted for the remainder of the contract. Problems with the State Softball League had also come to WAIS’s attention. In essence four years of investment of resources had not seen a commensurate improvement in the Senior women’s State team. WAIS emphasized that it had not cut the program completely because it recognized the commitment of the WASA Board as well as the financial support until July 2000. The WASA obtained a copy of the WAIS program for in-house development and purchased the WAIS softball equipment. The WASA decided to use the balance of funds to assist members of the current squad and identify additional players. However, an exchange of letters suggests that there confusion over the final payment from the WASA to WAIS to cover costs associated with Perth Thunder and for the equipment purchase. In the absence of a reply WAIS threatened legal action but then dropped their claim. What is clear is that the WAIS Softball Unit was closed. Softball regained its full-time status with WAIS following joint submissions from the ASF and WASA in 2001. Kere Johanson was appointed Head Coach in March 2002. A former New Zealand Black Sox player, Johanson had substantial experience as Senior men’s coach in WA as well as being Assistant Coach for the Australian Under 19 Women’s team. Johanson’s position at WAIS complemented his role as WA Senior women’s coach. The deletion of women’s softball from the Summer Olympics resulted termination of the WAIS Softball Unit in 2009.


Diamond Sports Academy

In the 2008-09 season Softball WA entered a partnership with Baseball WA and DSR to form the Diamond Sports Academy (DSA). Drawing on the common elements of softball, baseball and tee-ball the DSA was an attempt to provide pathways from tee-ball to elite softball/baseball. It also reconciled the need for specialist coaching with the realities of reduced funding for all three sports. The DSA was overseen by Softball WA’s High Performance Manager, Kere Johanson, and open to both males and females.


WA coaches regularly attended the Elite Coaches Seminars organized by the ASF. However, there was little sharing of expertise between coaches and they managed their own development. Joanne Donnan, as ITC coach, was included in the Coach Development Program launched in 1994. This gave her the opportunity to work with national coaches during camps for national squads.



Robertson, David. (December 1987). Softball “School” to be a winner in 1988. Softball Australia Newsletter. No. 5, p. 1.

[i]Coaching seminar a success (1983). Softball News. 2 (4), p.2.