Just because we call ourselves Kiwis doesn’t mean we can’t fly. We like to spread our wings and embrace that overseas experience. Heading overseas is considered a right of passage that all Kiwis need to do at least once in their lifetime. It lets us experience different cultures’ way of life. You can try different foods, meet new lifelong friends, and create memories that you’ll never forget. Over the past few years the NZ softball community has seen more and more players being recruited to play overseas through either USA College Ball, Men’s North American Fastpitch circuits, or through the European Leagues. Players get to embrace different coaching styles, face off against top competition, and learn from rigorous practices including strength/conditioning programmes to really up their game. The more Kiwis who go overseas to play ultimately benefits the standard of NZ Softball. These players bring back a wealth of knowledge & experience with them, not to mention they get to enjoy Summer year round! So how can you be one of the lucky few to embrace a softball season overseas and what is it like?
Who’s Gone Overseas?
When you look up the rosters of Black Sox and White Sox players within the past 10 years, you will find that at least half of them have played an overseas season. Currently several of our NZ Black Sox players & prospects are playing in the USA/Canada circuit for a few months. You may have seen some streaming links and photos on our Dugout Social Media pages with some updates for Jerome Raemaki, Patrick Shannon, Cole Evans, Ben Enoka, Tyron Bartorillo, and Brock Attewell. And that’s not even all of the Kiwis who are playing abroad! The North American Men’s Fastpitch teams are certainly taken with our Kiwi players, and given their record of World Championships and top level softball, who can blame them!
Many female players get recruited into the USA College system, where they get to receive a top education in addition to playing top level softball. There are currently a handful of players spread across the country from Arizona to Florida, who return back to New Zealand during the USA offseason months. White Sox Outfielder, Krysta Hoani, spent a couple years at Tallahassee Community College in Florida, USA. Krysta knew that the opportunity was once in a lifetime. “I had to grab it with both hands to better myself and my softball career, especially if I wanted to continue playing internationally.” White Sox Captain, Lara Andrews, competed at the University of Delaware and was the first Kiwi to join the USA Women’s Professional Fastpitch League on Team Rebellion. Over the years we are starting to see more female athletes in 2-Year Junior Community Colleges. Others such as Lara committed to a 4-Year College to finish off getting a USA Bachelor’s Degree, and recently her Doctorate.
The Differences Between NZ & Overseas Ball
Kiwis playing overseas get thrown in the deep end and quickly learn that the work ethic of other countries is what helps make them the best in the world. Players in the USA College Softball Circuit not only need to maintain their grades as full time students, but they also train 5 days a week for a minimum of 3 hours a day. That doesn’t even include their strength training & conditioning programmes! It is definitely a full time job being a student-athlete in the USA, compared to most NZ Club teams who train twice a week for two hours a day. Your general Monday to Friday routine includes the early morning workout followed by 3-4 hours of morning lectures. After lunch time you continue with 3-4 hours of training and finish the night off with an occasional night class or study hall. Then it’s dinner and home time after finishing a full-on day! Rosters are stacked with 15-20 players and the internal team competition is fierce. Each training and each game you need to make sure you play your best to secure your spot. Good work ethic, great attitude, and time management will help you be successful both when you play overseas and in life overall. The schedules may sound overwhelming, but if you want to continue to play top level softball then it is well worth it.
Krysta Hoani reflected on her time playing in the USA, stating it helped make her who she is today as a player and person. “I knew traveling to America where some of the best softball is played would benefit me in the long run. It opened my eyes to see the level of softball and how putting the hard yards in the weightroom, conditioning, and practicing on a daily basis benefits you. I knew the hardest part would be leaving my family & friends, but knew I could always come home. I’m so grateful to have been given the opportunity and made lifelong friends along the way.”
Black Sox Prospect, Brock Attewell, is currently playing for the Naigara Stompers overseas and knew that he couldn’t miss out on the experience. “That’s where the best in the world go to play and getting experience in that environment can only make you better as a player. So far it has definitely helped me physically and mentally.”
The Recruitment Process
The recruitment process to play overseas can be overwhelming. There are so many teams, organizations, colleges, and clubs that are available, it’s difficult to even know where to start! A million questions immediately flood your mind. What are the clubs like? Are the people friendly? What is the weather like? Do they speak English? What will I do if I don’t know anyone? What visa do I get? It’s enough uncertainty to give anyone anxiety.
A select few players were able to pave their own way by getting recruited completely on their own or going through a recruiting agency. This would involve doing research into identifying where you want to go and then establishing contact. Many teams will request video footage to see you play before they offer a contract for you to play. Once a team has decided they want you, then it’s putting it in writing and signing a contract. Once that contract is signed and you are confirmed to play, you will need to apply for your Visa and submit a College Application (for female athletes). Junior White Sox Head Coach, Kiri Shaw, is familiar with the college application process as her daughter (White Sox Prospect Denva Shaw-Tait) plays for East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania. Kiri notes that the application process requires quite a bit of time and effort, and recommends applying at least one year in advance.
A NZ Recruiting Agency could help get you through all of the visa and college paperwork, but they would charge for their services. Each player will have to decide if they want help from an agency, or if they’ll apply on their own. There are also immigration consultants who can help with your visa paperwork.
NZ National & Junior National Players have an upper hand because international tours potentially have scouts watching their games. But if you haven’t made a National Team yet, don’t be discouraged! Because in natural Kiwi Fashion, it’s about WHO you know and working through your connections. Get in contact with other NZ coaches and players, see who they know overseas, and make that connection. Krysta recalls, “I was fortunate enough to have another Kiwi Player already on the team, so who you know really does help.”
You can see that connection with many of our current overseas players. The New York Gremlins includes Jerome Raemaki, Cole Evans, and Ben Enoka. In the Women’s College system, White Sox Player, Pallas Potter, just finished playing at the Florida Southwestern State Buccaneers. Kiwi Players involved in that programme before her include White Sox Players Mereana Makea, Mikayla Werahiko, and Courtney Gettins. Traveling with fellow Kiwis or traveling to teams who have had experience with Kiwi players can be a relief because you won’t be alone and you know you will be looked after based on the experience your fellow Kiwis had before you.
If you are a young Softballer with a dream to play overseas, be prepared that the journey to get there will require hard work and determination to get there. But there is somewhere for everyone. Do your research and find the right school or club for you. Any overseas experience will make you a better player and create memories for you. And most importantly, remember Kiwis are in this together. Talk to your softball connections and you will find someone who can help your dream come true.