After a record-breaking 1,687 attendees last year who attended the NFCA Convention in Las Vegas, the Convention hits the Windy City this week and will run from Wednesday through Saturday at the Sheraton Grand Chicago.
Having been to the NFCA Conventions all over the country, I can say it is always educational, fun, entertaining, and informative plus it’s a great way to reconnect with old and new friends in the softball world!
With it kicking off in earnest tomorrow (Wednesday), here’s some insights into what I think will make your experience the best it can be…
1. Have a Game Plan
With so much going on, you don’t want to just show up and decide on the spot what you want to do. This isn’t Costco where you meander and sample!
Every day before you go--and ideally before the whole trip--lock in what you want to check out, where it’s at and how long it takes compared to your other must-see, must-do adventures.
The main days where everything happens are Wednesday-Sunday and there’s a LOT to take in. Click here to see the SCHEDULE of everything happening day-by-day!
2. Use the NFCA Convention App
Speaking of being organized, this is the third year of existence for the NFCA Convention App and it’s a key time and headache-saver if you’re smart phone savvy. It has everything you need right at your finger-tips including schedules, speaker info and outlines, agendas, exhibitor locations and real-time changes or updates in the curriculum.
Think of it this way: you have enough to lug around… this will save you from carrying booklets, fliers, schedules and everything else around the Convention which you’ll now have right in your beloved cell phone all in one location.
3. Great Speakers
Wow. The list of speakers this year is, as usual, loaded with talent and experience.
The roster includes everyone from standout college coaches like Florida State’s Lonni Alameda to record-setting players such as Lauren Chamberlain to Hall of Famers like Sue Enquist to successful club coaches such as Mike Stith of the OC Batbabusters and Gerry Quinn of the Illinois Chill.
Everyone is really looking forward to hearing Holly Rowe, the long-time ESPN reporter who has done so much for college sports coverage and courageously battled cancer for several years, when she speaks Wednesday at 5 pm in the Sheraton Ballroom. Said one NFCA rep earlier today, “Holly is overly excited to be here!” And she’s sure to deliver a spell-binding presentation when she tells her personal and professional stories covering more than two decades in sports.
Also, a huge recommendation to not skip out early Saturday, but to make sure you check out a very relevant topic in softball today: “Protecting the Mental Health of the Student-Athlete,” which will be addressed Saturday at 3 pm by four outstanding USSSA-conneted speakers: Lauren Chamberlain, Jami Lobpries, Mike Stith and Michelle Montero.
There’s something for everyone and the trick will be to make sure you maximize your schedule to hear all the great speeches and speakers who are talking on subjects you want/need to hear. Click here to see the ROSTER of speakers!
5. Exhibitors Galore!
Everyone and anyone that has a product or service relative to softball will be at the NFCA National Convention Exhibit Show Thursday and Friday (Dec. 6-7).
From Axe Bat to Yakkertech technology and everyone in between--including major companies like Wilson, USA Softball, Premier Girls Fastpitch (PGF), New Balance, Mizuno and many more--there’s something for everyone and it’s particular interesting to check out the new technologies and products that are just coming out.
Sold out for the 3rd year in a row, Exhibitor Hall is a fun place to stroll and learn so plan on spending several hours walking around and talking to the booth exhibitors. Click here to see the EXHIBITOR LIST!
6. Share the Warmth
Love, love, love this idea! Chicago weather over the next few days will have lows in the 20’s and highs in the 30’s with Friday the low being 20 degrees and the high being 25. Brrrrr.
With that in mind, the NFCA has had the foresight to invite attendees to pack additional new or gently-used cold weather gear to be donated to local Chicago elementary and middle schools in need.
Those who can do this are asked to bring Youth and Adult sizes to the Merchandise booth at the convention. Kudos to whoever thought of this idea…
7. Rookie Orientation Presented by Triple Crown Sports
As noted above, it’s easy to be overwhelmed if you don’t know what to look for and this Wednesday panel at 2 pm is perfect if this week is your first at an NFCA Convention or even if you’ve gone before, but are looking for an overview of what’s going on.
What’s cool is three top head coaches--Pat Conlan (Georgetown), Mickey Dean (Auburn) and Rhonda Revelle (Nebraska and a past NFCA President)--will cover all the key points.
Think of it as the softball version of going to Disneyland and getting the “MaxPass” to help you avoid all the unnecessary lines!
9. Pregame Chatter: A Discussion of Issues Surrounding the Game of Softball
This panel is at 3 pm on Wednesday and is a must-see 90-minute “State of the Union” that will be emceed by current NFCA President and Tennessee Co-Head Coach Karen Weekly with reps from the NFCA Board of Directors covering every college, junior college and high school/club level.
It’s a great venue to allow all the coaches in attendance to listen and speak on the current issues of the game.
If you want to hear the pros and cons of relevant issues--ranging from recruiting to player safety and much more--this is one you circle on your schedule (or flag on your smart phone!).
10. Important Caucus Thursdays & Fridays
A heads up that not everyone can go to these key meetings, they are for NFCA members at each level (DI, DII, JC, high school, travel ball, etc.) but, if you can, don’t miss out because these are where major issues are discussed, reviewed and plans and proposals submitted.
Last year in Las Vegas is where the Early Recruiting Rules really got launched and build the momentum to be passed just a few months later. It will be very interesting to see what developments come out of this week’s caucuses which will impact the direction of the sport!
-- Brentt Eads, Extra Inning Softball