Since she retired as an active player, Natasha Watley, a former NCAA softball champion and two-time Olympian, has maintained her focus on making an impact in the lives of the next generation of softball players.
Part of her work includes her current post as Major League Baseball’s youth softball ambassador, a position she’s held for the past three years.
MLB’s celebration of Black History Month continues by shining a spotlight on its commitment to youth softball and baseball, and the mentors who assist with its many showcase events throughout the year.
A 2003 NCAA national champion with the UCLA softball team, an Olympic medalist in 2004 (gold) and ’08 (silver), a three-time National Pro Fastpitch Champion (2010, ’13, ’14), and a 2014 UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame inductee, Watley has accomplished virtually everything a young softball athlete could ever dream of. She was also the first African-American player to appear for Team USA Softball in the Olympics.
Reflecting on what it meant to win the national championship and Olympic gold and silver medals, Watley said it was what she had been working for throughout her entire life.
“It was awesome. When I was [in high school], I was just dreaming of going to college and playing,” she said. “You put in all this work — and all I thought about was playing for a national championship in college. … When I had the opportunity to play in the Olympics, it’s like a fulfillment. Once you taste winning, you just want to keep replicating it, and it makes you fall in love even more with the game.”
Watley has been involved with many events, her favorites of which so far have been the Breakthrough Series and the Elite Development Invitational. She hopes to continue to help grow youth softball by raising awareness and explaining how girls can benefit from the game.
“I love the opportunity to impact a young girl’s life,” said Watley. “Obviously, having the opportunity to impact and inspire [young women] seems heavy. …The most fulfilling thing is when a young girl says, ‘Thank you.’ When you get to impact someone else’s life in a positive way, there is no greater feeling. Taking this role as an ambassador has been the biggest honor, to be able to have that opportunity to impact young girls’ lives.”
Not only does Watley make an impact with the youth programs of MLB, but she also has her own foundation, the Natasha Watley Foundation, and started her own travel organization, the Watley Crew. As a woman of color, she wants to set a great example, and offer all aspiring softball players the opportunity to play the game she still loves today.
“I wanted to start it [the NWF] because after the 2008 Olympics, I went on a speaking tour in south L.A. Predominantly, the demographics are Hispanics and African Americans,” she said. “I’m just going on and on about how great softball is, and I have my medals. … This young African American girl raised her hand and said, ‘Ms. Natasha, this story sounds great, but what is softball?’
“For me, I was like, ‘How can this young girl not know what softball is? She could be the next diamond in the rough, All-American, Olympian.’ Purely, my motivation was just to get the game in front of everyone. How can we make the sport more inclusive? I didn’t want there to be any barrier for anyone to learn the game.”
As Watley continues to coach the next generation of top softball athletes, the sport appears to be in solid hands — not only in her ability to help kids learn offensive and defensive skills on the softball field, but also to teach life lessons off the diamond. These athletes are learning the importance of teamwork, communication, and hard work as well.
“I think if I can be an example that it doesn’t matter what you look like or where you come from, we all can achieve something if we put our mind to it,” said Watley. “I hope [diversity] continues to grow. I think that in the last couple of years, there has been a great movement behind creating inclusivity, creating more diverse environments, and giving all access and all opportunities.
“I hope that continues to grow because I just think that there is so much to gain in sports specifically. Sports is for everybody — there are just so many things that we gain from playing.”
Credit: Source link