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Softball Olympic Games 2021 - Official Payoff

Softball Canada head coach Mark Smith adjusts for Tokyo 2020 Olympic curveball, postponement

Softball Canada head coach Mark Smith adjusts for Tokyo 2020 Olympic curveball, postponement
30/07/2020
"I think we will appreciate a whole lot of things in life a little bit more once we get to the other side of this thing.”

As soon as veteran catcher Kaleigh Rafter hit the walk off home run against Brazil that clinched an Olympic berth for Canada at the WBSC Softball Americas Olympic Qualifier last September, the team’s head coach Mark Smith started planning the 11-month training period ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, aiming to win the country’s first ever softball Olympic medal. However he couldn’t imagine at that moment how the plans would be frustrated seven months later.

George Myrer, from The Chronicle Herald, interviewed Mark Smith, the Canadian women’s softball national team head coach, and talked about the experience of passing through the COVID-19 pandemic, that put on pause the sporting life of people around the world, including the Canadian Olympic Softball Team.

“I spent a lot of time through the first month of COVID, almost on a daily basis, meeting with players,” said Smith. “Making sure they were doing OK, that they had things to keep them occupied and reassuring them we were going to get through this as a team. And that we were going to be better for it.

“Most of them had put everything on hold (for the Olympics), with the expectation that after this month their life would change, so we wanted to give them opportunity to give some thought to ‘did they want to continue for one more year?’”

Even when the workouts on the field were abruptly interrupted by the pandemic, the training of the team didn’t stop during these trying times.

“As a staff, we put together what we called a virtual camp because we felt it was too soon to walk away from things,” said the 61-year-old coach. “With anything like this you are going to go through some ups and downs. The world was in a pretty big mess, but we were concerned about the whole grieving process around dealing with the fact we wouldn’t be participating in the Olympics this year. We felt to keep the group together and to give them a little bit of a different focus for the next six weeks was important.

“Scott [Wilgress, the strength and conditioning lead at the Canadian Sport Centre Atlantic] has done a phenomenal job giving them training programs. He was able to give each of them a training program specific to the environment they were in.”

Right now, the Canadian players are enjoying a two-month break before returning to training in September.

“We decided that July and August would be their free time, family time. For many of them, it would be the first time in many years they would experience what summer is like for someone who is not a ballplayer,” said Smith, who steered the Canadian team to win the third place at the WBSC Women’s Softball World Championship 2018 in Chiba, Japan.

The 20-player Canadian Olympic team will return to formal training on 1 September with a camp for Canadian players beginning on 12 September. However, with nine players living in USA, Smith must wait to October or November to train with the full roster.

“One of the nice things I heard from the players since we shut things down, was how much they all enjoyed one another’s company and missed being around each other. For a few of them who were planning to retire at the conclusion of the Olympics, they commented on the fact they are still going to have another year to be with the same group and train. That means a lot to them.”

According to The Chronicle Herald, Smith is retiring from coaching after next year’s Olympics.