Intense training program preparing next wave of softball players

June 19th, 2022

Nothing brings peace to Tori Tyson like serving her players. 

"We have a duty to serve," Tyson said on Saturday from Major League Baseball's Softball Elite Development Invitational at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Fla. "Serving brings me peace. The fact that I get to come out here and I get to serve these student-athletes for some of them in so many different ways. Just being a minority coach number one, and then being able to relate and see someone that looks like them in a coaching position." 

Tyson was hired as the head coach for Howard University's softball team on Nov. 1, 2018. She has led Howard, which is affiliated with the Washington Nationals Academy, to two conference championships in her four seasons at the helm.  

Tyson is one of several coaches who bring strong resumes to the Softball EDI, an intense program that mirrors the USA Softball Women's National team's training camps, giving the players an opportunity to see what life is like as they prepare for international competitions and the Olympics.

The coaching roster also includes Amber Flores and Tiare Jennings, two more coaches who have brought years of softball experience to this event.

Flores has been the head coach of Seminole State Junior College's softball team in Oklahoma for 10 seasons. During her playing days at the University of Oklahoma, she was a three-time NCAA All-American and a two-time Big 12 Player of the Year.

"I think anytime you can get young ladies from communities that may not have the most opportunities or are not getting seen the way they are, sometimes all it takes is one opportunity like this," Flores said. "Anytime you can come together on things like this where you're working with the best players, you're growing the game."

Jennings is a two-time Women's College World Series Champion and is heading into her junior year at Oklahoma. Jennings is also a current member of the USA softball national team, the 2021 national fast pitch coaching association freshman of the year and a two-time first-team All-American.

"This is something I always wanted to do is to grow the game and be there for those people," Jennings said. "For those girls who don't have the same opportunity, and that's all I'm here for."

Of the players participating in EDI, 65 percent of the players come from an MLB Youth Academy or an RBI Program. One of those players, Ana Gonzalez, has played in the Texas Rangers RBI program and youth academy for three years. For Gonzalez, the opportunity to meet the coaches and her favorite player, Jennings, was surreal.

Of the lessons Gonzalez has been able to take with her, the mental aspect of the game along with how to handle life off the field has stuck with her the most.

"It's not just softball, it's life and your career," Gonzalez said. "Softball is basically all mental. To go through that and have someone talk you through it is really cool."

Bria Sewell plays for the DC Elite RBI team. She echoed Gonzalez's sentiment about the coach's impact on the mental side of the game.

"Don't take anything for granted," Sewell said. "There's always a new way to refresh and start if you mess up."

Grace Shary is a part of the Compton Youth Academy. She previously participated in the Breakthrough Series in 2021, but the event was virtual. While she learned a lot from the virtual event, she's grateful to be at the event in person.

"A lot of people don't get this opportunity," Shary said. "We're really lucky to have this and just to learn from the girls."

Flores noted the importance of being around college coaches and familiarizing themselves with the recruiting process. Those experiences can potentially lead to an opportunity that can help take a player to the next level.

The impact of an opportunity helped lead Flores to Oklahoma.

"I see a lot of myself in these young ladies," Flores said. "I just needed an opportunity. One simple opportunity to change my life, and fortunately I was lucky enough to earn a scholarship at [Oklahoma]. A lot of these young ladies just need an opportunity to get out of their neighborhoods and make a change."

Along with being able to play in front of college coaches, Tyson mentioned how it can help players open up, ask questions they might be afraid to ask other coaches and learn about the recruiting process.

"They get to hear so many different stories and get so many different examples and be vulnerable," Tyson said. "A lot of the offline questions I get make my heart warm because I know that it's giving them confidence that, one, going to college is an option, but, two, opening the door to so many different opportunities."