National softball coach returns for annual pitching clinic

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Matt Gardner
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The head coach of the Canadian Men’s National Softball Team is coming back to Prince Albert this month to host an annual pitching clinic for kids.

Canadian national softball coach Don Bates works with young athletes at one of the previous pitching clinics organized annually by the Prince Albert Minor Softball Association. Registration is currently open for the 2013 clinic, with the first sessions set for Thursday, Jan. 24.

For the last 10 years, national coach Don Bates has handled teaching duties at the clinic, which is sponsored by the Prince Albert Minor Softball Association and targets children between the ages of 10 and 18 who wish to improve their pitching skills.

“The program here in P.A. has … a rich tradition of producing a lot of top elite athletes, and part of that is because of Don Bates and his ability to connect with our youth in P.A.,” the Association’s executive for player development Charles Mullner said.

Many of the children who participated in the clinic over the years have gone on to receive college scholarships, such as Saskatoon native and William Jewell Cardinals pitcher Maria Buckingham.

For Bates, a longtime physical education teacher, it is the chance to work with the young pitchers that keeps him coming back year after year.

“I love the kids,” he said. “They’re awesome. They’re kids that want to be there. They work hard, they’re enthusiastic, they’re pumped up about what they’re doing and it’s always fun to be around people that are doing something that they love to do.”

He added, “I see a lot of the same kids year to year, and you look forward to seeing them each year and you see them grow (and) develop … It’s rewarding and it’s great to see the kids out there doing well.”

The clinic lasts five weeks in total, meaning five sessions for each group of pitchers. Participants are divided into different groups according to age, experience and skill level.

As one of the main figures running the program, Mullner helps assign kids to groups by determining where they are in their athletic development.

“I generally look at their registration form and determine how many years of experience (they have), whether they’re pitching on the provincial teams or whether they’re pitching on the house league teams,” he said. “And from there, you can kind of determine … the different levels.”

The program here in P.A. has … a rich tradition of producing a lot of top elite athletes, and part of that is because of Don Bates and his ability to connect with our youth in P.A. Charles Mullner

Sessions begin with the basics of softball pitching on the first night and gradually escalate in complexity. On the second night, teachers review participants and help them build up their skills. New skills are added to the workload each week.

For those wondering what the secret to a great softball pitch is, Bates will tell you you’re asking the wrong question.

“I think it would be (the) pitcher more than a pitch, because really, a top-level pitcher is going to have more than one pitch,” he said. “Their velocity is very important, control is very important. You need to be able to have some movement on the ball, have good change-up. So all of those things are very important to become a top-level pitcher.”

At the end of each clinic, Bates usually videotapes the pitchers before sitting down with each and reviewing their footage, pointing out strengths as well as areas where they can improve.

There are three session times for this year’s clinic. All spaces have been filled for the 7:15 p.m. to 8 p.m. time slot, but young pitchers can still sign up for the 6:15 p.m. to 7 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. to 9 p.m. sessions. Sessions take place at Rivier Academy on Jan. 24 and Jan. 31, at St. Francis School on Feb. 5 and Feb. 12 and again at Rivier on Feb. 14.

Registration costs $120 and is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Fees must be paid ahead of time by cash or cheque payable to the Prince Albert Minor Softball Association. Each player is responsible for bringing their own glove and inside running shoes and must provide their own catcher.

Anyone interested in registering should contact Charles Mullner by e-mail at cmullner@sasktel.net or by phone at 922-1203 or 961-8554.

Organizations: Prince Albert Minor Softball Association, Rivier Academy, Francis School

Geographic location: P.A., Saskatoon

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