LOUISVILLE, Ky. — NFCA Executive Director Carol Bruggeman recently traveled to Rimini, Italy, to speak at the Italian Baseball Softball Federation (FIBS) National Coaching Convention, and it was an experience she won’t soon forget.
Bruggeman, a well-respected national speaker, clinician, educator, television analyst and author, has continued to speak and teach since joining the NFCA in 2014. She also remains a fixture on the ESPN, SEC, ACC, and Big Ten television networks during the college softball season.
But this was the first time she spoke in Italy, and while using a translator.
“I’ve had the pleasure of speaking many times, but that was the most unique experience,” she said. “I felt like the first session I did, I was speaking more to the translator than the audience. I learned quickly, though, and adjusted to be more engaged.”
Bruggeman said she received spot-on advice from NFCA Hall of Famer Cindy Bristow, who recommended her to FIBS leadership, and has vast experience speaking and doing clinics internationally as the former Director of Development for the International Softball Federation and through her work with the U.S., Greek and Chinese National Teams. Bristow told Bruggeman if her presentation is slated for an hour, prepare 40 minutes of content, to allow time for the translation.
“The bridge was Cindy,” she said. “One of her favorite (places to speak) was Italy. She was unavailable this year because of her job at UC Riverside, and she told them to reach out to me.”
Bruggeman spoke once to the leadership track and her other five sessions were with the coaches. Topics included competitive practices, defending the short game, middle infield defense, outfield defense, slapping, and hitting. Three translators — all also coaches — rotated during her time on stage.
“The fact that the translators were coaches was really helpful, because they understand the game,” Bruggeman said. “Two of the segments were in big, open spaces with players and it took longer with the players on the field, because they had to translate first.”
Still, that was a neat experience, presenting to a large audience without a projector and screen. By arranging players during her talk, Bruggeman said, “coaches could watch (the presentation) come to life.”
She also participated in a panel discussion that included Baseball Hall of Famer and Italian national team manager Mike Piazza, “Field of Dreams” actor Dwier Brown, and Houston Astros pitching coach Brent Strom.
The Convention brought baseball and softball officials together under one roof.
“They have an educational track, an umpire track, a baseball and softball administrator track, a scorekeeper track and an athletic trainer/medical track,” Bruggeman explained, noting a fun fact that games in Italy typically utilize 3-4 scorekeepers.
She said softball is on the rise in the country, despite not being an integrated part of the school system, as it is in other parts of the world. Players compete on regional club teams and another amazing fact is that all the coaches are volunteers.
“The key is making softball fun and keeping the players engaged at the youth level,” Bruggeman said.
It was a shock last July when Italy — not the favored Netherlands, despite playing at home — earned one of the six coveted spots in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Italy actually rolled undefeated through the Europe/Africa qualifier, blanking Great Britain, 5-0, to clinch the berth.
“(The softball) is getting better all the time,” Bruggeman said. “I’m really impressed that they earned a spot in the Olympics.”
She said that accomplishment will help grow the game in the country.
“When you have any sport in the Olympics, on that big stage, that alone will generate interest,” she said. “When young players see Italy compete in the Olympics, they naturally are going to want to be like them.”
Bruggeman was very appreciative of the time she spent in Italy and the first-class treatment by her hosts.
“I was really taken care of by the equivalent of their Board,” she said. “They were fantastic hosts. They want to soak up as much information as they can.”
She also learned some things herself — about the country and about softball.
“I listened to 3-4 softball speakers in Italian,” Bruggeman said. “Even though I didn’t understand the language, you can still learn. Google translate was clutch.”
“I learned the food and wine is everything it’s built up to be. Breakfast to the nines, dinner to the nines is included (in hotel costs). Even though I’ve been to Europe a few times, I’m always impressed by the culture and history. When you travel internationally, you realize how many languages people speak. It’s fun to meet people.”
She did not go to Italy actively hawking memberships, but the NFCA did get some new international members out of the trip, because attendees were interested in hearing about the Association, and Bruggeman was more than happy to share the benefits of membership with anyone who asked. Her hope is that the NFCA’s relationship with Italy, like all countries, continues to blossom and support the game’s growth around the globe.
“We’re not in the Olympics in 2024 in Paris, which is disappointing, because the funding will be cut, including in the U.S. (as national committees allocate funding to Olympic sports),” Bruggeman said. “So, we have to just keep those relationships open and continue to grow the game in other ways.”