Sam brings a hands-on approach to softball

Sam Poole will make her Aussie Spirit debut at the Japan Cup. Pictures courtesy of Sam Donkin Photography.

Sam brings a hands-on approach to softball

It’s a problem a lot of athletes face: how to balance a professional career with their sporting ambitions. Sam Poole is a classic example.

At age 28, Poole will make her international softball debut for the Aussie Spirit at the Japan Cup next month.

If that sounds like a mature age to be wearing the Spirit uniform for the first time, that’s because it is.

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Sam Poole at last year’s Down Under Challenge.

But there’s a reason for that. A few years ago Poole had a big decision to make. She wanted to be a physiotherapist, and needed to devote countless hours to studying and practical work.

So a promising junior softball career was put on hold while she did what she had to do.

“I decided early on that softball probably wasn’t going to pay the bills,” Poole says. “I really wanted to be a physio, so I studied hard. I actually stopped playing softball for a few years while I went to uni and did my degree.”

It wasn’t until she finished university that Poole had a chance to take softball more seriously. “While I was at uni, softball took a back seat. I played a bit at club level, but didn’t do much high-level competition. My softball career didn’t take off until I was 23, a lot later in life than most.”

Even after qualifying as a physio, Poole has had to manage her time carefully to be able to strike a balance between work and play.

“It has been hard to manage with full-time work,” she says. “But I love it, I love my job and I love playing softball. I’ve been lucky enough to manage the two for the past five years or so, and I think they contribute to each other.”

The major beneficiaries of Poole’s combined careers are her fellow players. After all, who doesn’t want a physio as a teammate when the muscles and joints get sore?

“They think it’s great having a physio on hand all the time,” she  says.  “Although usually I’m just as sore as they are when they hit me up for treatment in the middle of a tournament.”

Having missed selection for the recent World Championship in Canada, Poole was thrilled to make the Aussie Spirit team for the Japan Cup, which will be played in Takasaki early next month.

“It was something I wasn’t expecting. I’m really stoked to get the call-up. It’s such a good opportunity for me to get some international experience and feel what it’s like to be a Spirit player.

“It’s my first international tour, so I’m very, very excited.”

Poole has been to Japan twice before — but on those occasions she went for the snow, not the softball. Travel and snowboarding feature high on her list of hobbies, along with spending time at the beach and visiting the family farm.

Playing in Japan in front of big, raucous crowds and loud live music can be intimidating, but Poole is not daunted. Rather, she sees it as an opportunity to earn a place in Spirit teams for the next few years.

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Sam Poole believes hitting will be the key to making her a regular member of the Aussie Spirit.

“To really put my hand up, it will have to start in Japan. It all starts with hitting. At the worlds, the team weren’t able to convert runners into runs, so my biggest goal for the short term is to prove myself as a batter and hopefully help the girls get some more runs on the board.

“I’m not too concerned about my outfield defence. The team just needs more hitters, so that’s where my opportunity lies, starting in Japan.”

Aussie Spirit Head Coach Fabian Barlow shares that view. “Sam is a right handed-hitting outfielder who has been one of the NSW Firestars’ most consistent hitters for the past two or three years,” he says.

“Sam has stood up on numerous occasions for the Firestars with clutch hits to drive in game-winning runs, and the Japan tour will be her opportunity to show that she can do it at the international level.

“I’m looking forward to watching Sam play and acquitting herself against world-class pitching.”

When the Japan Cup is over, Poole will return to her physiotherapy job and to playing for the Kissing Point Softball Club on Sydney’s North Shore. But, like all elite softball players, she has a long-term eye on the 2020 Olympics.

“I’d absolutely love to represent my country at the Olympics in softball, she says. “I think every softball player from the time they start playing would love to represent their country at the Olympics.

“I’m so happy it’s back in. Hopefully it will help to build softball up again over the next few years, with a little bit more funding, a little bit more recognition.”

And what better place to start than Japan? “It’s such a good time to be going over there. The vibe’s going to be incredible, there’ll be so much hype about it. They’ll put a lot of effort into promoting it throughout Japan, so it’s going to be an awesome experience — very different to what we’re used to playing in Australia.”

The Aussie Spirit team for the Japan Cup

Janice Blackman, Qld Kaia Parnaby, NSW Erin Thras, Qld
Amelia Cudicio, NSW Sam Poole, NSW Taylah Tsitsikronis, NSW
Jemma Freegard, WA Stacey Porter, NSW Clare Warwick, ACT
Sandra Holden, Qld Belinda White, SA
Rachel Lack, NSW Tara Speakman, Qld
Stacey McManus, NSW Gabrielle Plain, NSW