SMITHFIELD, R.I. -- Bryant assistant softball coach Nick French is no stranger to coaching with big teams. The 10-year collegiate coach has worked with Arizona, Georgia, and Memphis along with Holy Cross and Towson. He spent a year as an interim head coach at Division III Simmons College.
This fall, though, French had a new type of experience to add to not only his resume but his bucket list: work with an international softball program.
When the International Olympic Committee removed softball and baseball from the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, many countries reduced funding to the national teams. In America, traditionally one of the top teams internationally, having medaled (three gold, one silver) in the four sponsored Olympic Games, the funding was eliminated entirely by the U.S. Olympic Committee shortly after the 2008 games.
However, when the IOC voted to restore baseball and softball to the Olympics beginning with the 2020 games, most teams ramped up their investment in the sports to be competitive on the national stage.
China was one of those countries. The Chinese National Team joined the National Pro Fastpitch for its 2017 season and was coached by Teresa Wilson, the former head coach of Oregon, Minnesota, Washington and Texas Tech. In the fall, the team was training in Vero Beach, Florida, gearing up for competition in the Asian Games. To break up the monotony of eight weeks with three coaches, Wilson and her staff brought in guest coaches to help work with the Chinese National Team in October.
"Teresa was the pitching coach when I was at Arizona," French said. "Their hitting coach, Tom Hazelhurst, was a student manager when I was there. He and I got to talking a bit and I ended up going to help out.
"It was a really awesome experience to one, get a chance to coach with an international team and two, really immerse yourself," the Bryant assistant coach said. "You're communicating with body language, cues back and forth. You have to make sure you look someone in the eye. You physically demonstrate the things you're working on with them because they'll get that quicker. You choose your words more carefully. Baseball and softball clichés don't work because they don't translate."
For Bryant softball head coach Shayne Lotito, French's now-international coaching experience bolsters an already impressive resume.
"Nick's been around some big collegiate programs already," Lotito said. "This experience will help him work with our team to not only bring knowledge of the collegiate game with him but international experience as well. It's a really great experience for him and I'm glad he got the opportunity to do it."
French spent some of the time in Florida just taking in the experience. The team trained at the historic Dodgertown, home of the first dedicated spring training facility.
"There is so much baseball history there that connects the last half-century of baseball," French said. "It was cool to eat at the same cafeteria and stay in the same rooms as Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax."
French reflects on the experience fondly. He went to Florida to coach and spread his knowledge of the game to athletes from another country. Coming back, though, French said he learned a great deal, as well.
"I've coached for a long time," French said. "This probably helped me a little bit rethink how I'm doing things and how I'm communicating things. The experience helped get to a point where you're rethinking how you do everything, in a good way."
As for the Chinese National Team? French's coaching helped the team qualify for the 2018 World Championships, which will be held in Japan this August.