My National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) 2017 Convention Highlights

My National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) 2017 Convention Highlights

I just returned from my first National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Convention. Over 1600 college, high school, and travel coaches from around the country gathered in Las Vegas for the annual opportunity to learn, share, and network. I had no idea what to expect when I checked in at the conference registration desk at Bally’s, but I quickly learned this was going to be a unique experience.
I have attended many conferences throughout my business career that were mandatory for my continued employment. From what I could tell, almost all of the NFCA convention attendees were there because they wanted to learn from their peers at the various educational sessions, share their personal experiences with other coaches who were looking for new ideas and wisdom, and take advantage of the many networking opportunities. I was there for the same reasons.
I’m always a sucker for a good speaker. I do a lot of public speaking, so I appreciate anyone who has the courage to get up in front of 1600 peers to tell them something new and interesting. Here are three of the many speakers who I thought did a great job informing and/or encouraging an audience eager to listen and learn.
Melissa (Missy) Frost—Head Coach, University of Indianapolis

MIssy Frost

At the top of my list is Melissa Frost, the Head Coach at the University of Indianapolis. Missy, as she is known to her friends, graciously received the Donna Newberry “Perseverance” Award. She recounted her battle against cancer after receiving the startling diagnosis just over a year ago. As she described her journey, I was impressed by her strength and courage. I was also moved by how cancer caused a historically self-sufficient person to learn to lean on others and her faith as valuable partners in her new battle. I related to Missy’s story because I often try to deal with adversity on my own. Her message may not have changed me, but if reminded me to rely on God more for my strength. My favorite Bible verse is Philippians 4:13“I can do all things through Him who gives me strength”.
At the end of her message to a spellbound audience, I was happy for her. I wasn’t happy that she had to endure the physical and emotional pain of her cancer treatments. I was happy that she learned to tap into the strength of others when hers was depleted. I was happy that her lifelong relationship with God became a real refuge for her. And, I was happy she received this award, but not because she had cancer. It was obvious the NFCA selected her because she is a shining example of what coaches and educators are called to do every day. By sharing her story, Missy Frost was doing what she does best—leading, teaching, and motivating.
I introduced myself to Missy after the session and I added the University of Indianapolis softball website to the favorites on my phone. I’ll check up on her team throughout next season, but my interest will have little to do with their win-loss record. Every time I visit the website, I’ll remember the life lessons Missy successfully shared with me.

Maggie Livreri—Assistant Coach, University of Utah

Maggie Livreri

Whenever I share my hitting mechanics with peers, I always hear a little voice telling me that my words may be met with skepticism and even disdain. I have learned how to drown out this faint voice with the confidence and passion I have for what I teach. This young assistant coach from the University of Utah confidently took the stage at a general session to share her love for catching. With her parents in the audience, Maggie Livreri described her catching philosophy and shared some of her favorite drills to develop catchers who can positively impact the outcome of a game.
I was impressed with Maggie’s knowledge and passion, but it was her poise and sense of humor that made her presentation a winner. She had a stage presence and a communication style that will serve her well as she moves up the coaching ranks. Some coaches are successful because they are blessed with great players. These coaches will enjoy success on paper, but the long-term impact on their players and the game will be limited.
Great coaches are great communicators. For two days in Las Vegas, I had a chance to interact with some of the most successful and highly respected coaches in softball. They are all blessed with interpersonal skills that will impact their players long after they graduate from their programs. I’m not sure what the future holds for Maggie, but her contagious personality, knowledge of the game, and her passion, are ingredients for a long and successful coaching career.
Mike Candrea—Head Coach, University of Arizona
Nothing I can write about Mike Candrea will be novel. He is one of the giants of the sport of college softball. His talk was a review of his 40+ years in coaching and his love for the game. Mike’s comments resonated with me because he is a proud Italian-American and a man in a sport dominated by talented women.
Mike told several stories to the audience, including some that were very personal and tough for him to share. During my many discussions with coaches about his message, it seemed like everyone took away something different. An effective speaker has the ability to reach individuals in the audience as if the words were tailored and intended just for them.
Coach Candrea spoke directly to me when he said, “Be where your feet are” and “We don’t coach players for four years, we coach them for life”. As busy, multi-tasking people, our thoughts are sometimes at a different location than our feet. His simple message was to be present where we are. If we are on the field at practice, then that’s where our thoughts and focus should be. Conversely, when we with friends and relatives, we should give them our undivided attention. When are thoughts and our feet are in the same location, everyone benefits.
All coaches are aware of the responsibility that comes with teaching young people, but how often do we think about the long-term impact our words and actions have on our players? At the Hall of Fame Dinner, a video preceded the acceptance speech of each honoree. Every video included touching comments by past players who were impacted well after graduation. Many went on to become coaches because of these Hall of Famers, while others went on to successful careers outside of softball. A coaches’ greatest satisfaction rarely comes from something that happened on a ball field. Mike reminded us that we really never stop coaching our players. Sometimes, we actually continue to have contact with former players, but most of the time we continue coaching them through our past words and actions that stay with them long after our contact ends.
It was an honor to meet Mike after his talk. If I never speak with him again, he will continue to coach me through his inspirational speech.
Other Impactful Speakers
The variety of speakers at the NFCA Convention was impressive. Other speakers who I thought were noteworthy included, Mark Larriba, a high school coach from Flower Mound, Texas. Mark didn’t have a long speech as he accepted the NFCA Humanitarian Award, but his was not surprising to people who know him, because his actions speak louder than his words. Mark was recognized for his selfless dedication to the community and his charitable activities in the service of others.
One of the most compelling speakers had to be Meg Aronowitz, Coordinating Producer at ESPN & SEC Network. Meg gave the audience an update on the visibility of women’s softball on television and the plan for the future. She detailed the how ratings for the playoffs in 2017 exploded compared to 2016, as ESPN televised every game! Meg painted a very optimistic picture for additional college softball networks and the encouraging television and online future for the sport.
I attended the 2017 Champions Panel, where the winning coaches from each college level provided their insights and experiences that led to a championship season. I was impressed with all the coaches on the panel, but Patty Gasso, the University of Oklahoma Head Coach, was particularly engaging. Her answers to the moderator’s questions were thoughtful and even entertaining. I didn’t get a chance to meet Patty during the convention, but I went away from this session with a good feel for her personality, deep faith, love of family, and her dedication to her players. Her insights and advice were invaluable for everyone in the audience, especially young coaches.
Some Room for Improvement
I thought my first NFCA Convention experience was fantastic. My only suggestion for improving the experience has nothing to do with the convention itself. Rather, I would like to see continued openness when it comes to how softball players at all ages should hit. I don’t have all the answers, but I was frustrated with an encounter with one of the exhibitors at the softball trade show that accompanied the convention.
I visited the HitTrax booth and watched hitters take turns trying to hit “bombs”. The HitTrax system allows hitters to see the path of the ball on a monitor after contact. After the path of the ball is traced on the screen and the distance is displayed, other metrics of the swing can also be viewed, including “exit velocity”. This is a cool new technology that will allow hitting coaches like me and my hitters to see the actual distance and trajectory of each swing without having to be outside on a field.
After watching one of the employees of HitTrax take a few swings, I introduced myself as a hitting coach and asked her for more information about the system. She did a nice job explaining the features of the product and then she asked me if I had any suggestions to improve her swing.
On the screen, her home run swings were traveling around 205-210 feet. Her swing was smooth and powerful, but I did notice that her hands were relatively close to her body before impact with the ball. In my new book, Hitting with Torque: For Baseball and Softball Hitters, my first (of eight) hitting key is to move the hands back toward the catcher when setting up in the batter’s box. As I wrote, I can prove using any bat speed measuring device that by simply moving the hands back (and keeping them back and still), bat speed and power will increase immediately.
So, after moving the hands of this ex-college softball player back only a few inches, her next swing was 240 feet! Her surprised expression was fun to see, but I was used to seeing this same reaction every time I make this simple adjustment during the first workout with hitters of all ages.
When I came back to the HitTrax exhibit the following day, I was expecting to see this young woman hitting more 240+ foot bombs, but what I saw was something that was disappointing, but not totally unexpected. Her hands reverted back to the same position prior to my simple adjustment and her home runs were back to scraping the fence, instead of landing in the parking lot.
What I continue to find in the fastpitch softball coaching community is a reluctance to accept some new hitting ideas, even when these new ideas result in obvious and measurable improvements. Softball hitting has come a long way in the past few years, but old ideas and myths are still holding back many players at all levels, especially high school and college hitters
As coaches continue to gather to share ideas at great events like the NFCA Convention, I am confident softball hitters will continue to evolve to make the sport even more fun to play and more fun to watch.
** Please click on the link to read about my other simple hitting keys that will increase bat speed, power, and consistency immediately.

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One Thought on My National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) 2017 Convention Highlights

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  1. Good article! Thanks for sharing.


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