NFCA Convention Reflects Growth Of Softball
When Carol Bruggeman first started attending the NFCA National Convention as a full-time coach over 30 years ago, the event looked significantly different than it did last week at Harrah's Resort in Atlantic City, N.J.
Back then, Bruggeman, who has been the NFCA's Executive Director since 2016, says the event took place at venues more comparable to a Motel 6 than a resort.
"First of all, it has changed in size and scope," Bruggeman, who is also a college softball television analyst, told Softball America. "The first few Conventions had one ballroom and one speaker at a time. There wasn't an exhibit show. Softball was just getting off the ground then."
Today, the NFCA National Convention is a premier event for a sport that has grown exponentially at nearly every level over the last decade. In recent years, the Convention has consistently hosted more than one thousand coaches from the youth level through the international ranks of softball, while also featuring an exhibit hall with over 100 vendors.
"We call it the greatest softball show on Earth and we really believe it is," added Bruggeman, who previously coached Division I softball at Michigan, Purdue and Louisville. "From the attendees to the exhibit show to everything else we offer, it’s a monumental event. It just shows the health of our sport and the growth of our sport."
But the four-day NFCA National Convention doesn't just come together overnight. Bruggeman says that contracts for the annual event are signed as many as five years in advance, while multiple venue visits are made by the NFCA staff during the full year of planning that goes into preparing for it.
"I think the biggest challenge of planning out that far is having to ask yourself, 'What does our Convention look like in five years? What do our attendees want in five years? What kind of space do we need to keep growing?' Bruggeman said. "It's a fun challenge to have."
But Bruggeman firmly believes the efforts put forth by her team each year are well worth it for the softball community at large. She thinks the event offers opportunities for professional development, networking and education that are second to none in the sport.
"There's just a really good energy and a good vibe each year," said Bruggeman, who was a standout player at Iowa in her college days. "I always tell people who ask about the Convention that it's hard to tell them about it because they have to feel it. You have to feel the Convention."
Perhaps one reason why the energy is so contagious at the NFCA National Convention is because the extensive programming that is offered is often reflective of the current state of the game and the times that it's being played in. With programming concerning diversity in coaching, student-athlete surveys and technology in softball, the Convention is rife with progressive conversations between many of the best minds in the sport.
"We're always going to have programming for pitching, hitting and defense because we need that, but we've also tried to look at what else is relevant," Bruggeman added. "We try to think about each group of coaches in attendance and be very specific about what they might want to hear. It is very important to us to be inclusive."
Beyond inclusivity, Bruggeman also acknowledges the importance of what an event of this size and scope means on a larger scale for women in and around softball. She believes it not only sends subliminal messages to the masses that softball is a growing product, but also that the sport can provide viable opportunities for women both on and off the playing field.
"What the NFCA Convention says for women athletes and women in general is that softball is an option," Bruggeman said. "You can be a great athlete and play softball and have opportunities to play and earn scholarships at the next level, and also have great coaches who are educated and passionate about the game. This type of event helps women in general because our coaches get better from it, and it says our coaches are invested in helping them grow and stay in the sport."