If you missed this back in January, this Google Hangout, featuring Team Canada and Team USA athletes, is a must-watch. Filled with insight from some of the top fastpitch athletes in the world, this hour and 40+ minute discussion covers everything from softball’s exclusion and possible return to the Olympics, to recruiting tips from some of the college coaches on the panel, with plenty of fun along the way.

Representing Team Canada on the panel were Caitlin Lever, Jenny Gilbert and Larissa Franklin. Team USA was represented by Rhea Taylor, Amanda Chidester and Taylor Hoagland, who also moderated the discussion. Hoagland and Lever are also college Assistant Coaches at Amherst College and UNLV, respectively.

The discussion immediately launched into the issue of softball’s exclusion from the 2012 and 2016 Olympics along with the movement to secure the return of fastpitch softball to the 2020 games in Japan.

The only Olympian on the panel, Caitlin Lever, addressed it perfectly. “I think it’s something that as women especially, who don’t have as many opportunities at the pro level. Having that option to reach that sort of height before is huge. And it’s a goal, and it’s a reason for a lot of young women to stay involved in the sport. To take that away is a shame. And I don’t think there’s quite anything like that and that’s the reason why a lot of people stayed in the international game for so long so that they train for those four years just to get back involved in it once again.”

Well said, Caitlin! When you take away the pinnacle of competition from a competitive sport, you essentially cripple its athletes’ abilities to achieve at the top level. While we love to see the amazing level of play at the World Cup, there is something to be said for the raw excitement and drive of the Olympics.

But the Olympics are not the end-all, be-all of the sport. Fastpitch softball has many other opportunities for international play. The panel addressed how to gain more exposure for international play, whether it’s in the stands or watching at home.

Amanda Chidester mentioned the use of online streaming as a way to allow fans to watch, while reaching new audiences, without the need for expensive television contracts. Lever nodded in agreement and added that online streaming opens up international fastpitch softball to an international audience, who can watch online from anywhere in the world, not just the States (as would happen with a television broadcast).

This got us excited about the future possibilities. Could you imagine being able to catch every international game on your computer, or even your phone?

The panel then moved onto questions from the audience via Twitter and Google+ messages. One viewer asked if the panelists had any tips for getting noticed by college recruiters. After a humorous anecdote from Rhea Taylor, explaining that she wasn’t really recruited, except by Georgia Tech (whose coaches then recommended her to Mizzou, their alma mater), the two Assistant coaches on the panel delivered some great pointers that went beyond abilities on the field.

Besides your play, what’s one thing that Taylor Hoagland, Assistant Coach for Amherst College, notices?

Hoagland noted, “Handwritten letters are a huge thing.”

Really! It’s a lost art. Whether you’re trying to get noticed by college recruiters, or applying for a job. This simple effort can have a lasting effect.

She explained, “It’s very scarce and very rare that we get handwritten letters. I know I have a drawer full in my office of girls that have sent me cards for holidays or handwritten letters and I remember those girls because it’s just something different – something you don’t really see. And so that in itself just stands out.”

So get out the note cards and nice pens, ladies. It’s all about the personal touch when trying to catch a coach’s eye.

Lever, Assistant Coach at UNLV, addressed the personal touch as well, saying, “Understand that a college coach knows the difference between a mass email and a personal email. And the more you can make it personal to that university shows that you really are interested in that program.”

She then went on to talk about what she sees as a problem with the style of play at showcase tournaments. “I think something that’s not talked about is that there’s so many showcase tournaments out there and they’ve lost a sense of competitiveness because girls are so [much more] worried about who’s watching them and what coaches are there, than they are about the actual game.”

So how do you get noticed at showcase tournaments?

“My advice is to play every game like you refuse to lose,” Lever said.

Amen to that, Caitlin!

This is just a sampling of the almost two hour discussion. We highly recommend watching the whole thing! Sit down your teammates, friends, or any softball fans you know, grab a bowl of popcorn, and enjoy this very intelligent discussion about the sport we all love.

And whenever you’re on the field, take that advice from Caitlin Lever, and play like you refuse to lose..

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