I have been lucky to have trained some of the best softball players in the world, including Francesca Enea of National Fastpitch's USSSA Pride. The former collegiate All-American from the University of Florida sat down with me to talk about some of the differences between playing in club, college and pro softball.
Matt Meinrod: What were some of the biggest differences between club and collegiate practices?
Francesca Enea: The jump from travel ball practice to collegiate practice is huge. Everything is precisely timed out from offense to defense, and even water breaks. You are required to give 100% for however many hours the coach decides on that day.
Usually the first day of practice you are allowed to make a few "rookie" mistakes, but after that you are expected to be perfect. It might sound intimidating to be that intense for a practice, but when everything is flowing together and your coach is happy, it will end up being a very fun day filled with softball!
MM: What was the transition like going from the University of Florida to the USSSA Pride in terms of preparation?
FE: The preparation aspect is completely different than college. In college everything is planned out for you, your coach tells you what you have to do to prepare. Where as professionally, they give you the tools and you prepare yourself. You go from each second of your life being dictated to complete freedom. It is very different at first, but once you get used to it the freedom is very nice.
MM: Have you been able to learn anything from some of your teammates, such as Natasha Watley, Cat Osterman, Caitlin Lowe or Jessica Mendoza?
FE: You learn things from every player whether they are an Olympian, All-American or straight from college. It is fun to see how each individual prepares before the games; see what their superstitions are and how they get in the "zone." The biggest thing I learned from these Olympians is each girl prepares differently. Some girls need to be relaxed and at ease, while others have to reach an intensity where it looks like they are about to rip your head off!
MM: What advice would you give to younger softball players about preparation in practice, workouts, lessons, etc?
FE: The biggest thing is to focus on your fundamentals. College coaches really hone in on this, and when they see strong fundamentals, they know they can improve a player. Also, love and enjoy every minute you are on the field. Sometimes life can get a little crazy and it clouds how much fun and enjoyable softball is. When you are able enjoy the game, you will play your absolute best.
MM: What are some things that surprised you about playing in the NPF vs. college?
FE: The biggest surprise was relying on teammates for advice on my swing and adjustments both offensively and defensively. You have some of the best softball players on your team and it's silly not to utilize their knowledge.
MM: How much does fan support for yourself and your team inspire you to want to work hard and perform well on the field?
FE: One of the best feelings in the world is hearing a little girl tell you that she wants to be like you some day, or watching these young softball players run around in your jersey. That inspires me to work harder to make this league work.
MM: What personal goals do you still want to reach, and what are you doing to pursue those goals?
FE: I have not been as successful as I would like to be in the NPF. I want to become a more consistent hitter and a bigger threat offensively.
Francesca currently gives hitting lessons during the off-season in the central Florida area. You can contact her through www.trainfastpitch.com to get scheduled.