The Emeralds, Australia’s women’s national baseball team, have been a baseball powerhouse since their inception in 2001. The WBSC has them ranked 4th in the world for 2016 and they have finished in the top four in every World Cup since it began.
This past May fifteen players, along with coaches and officials packed their bags for a different kind of baseball trip. The group traveled to Jakarta, Indonesia where they spent seven days preparing for the World Cup. While on the ground they also participated in the sports diplomacy program, Diamonds in the Rough. More than 50 Indonesian girls, called Diamonds, participated in practices and lessons coordinated by Emeralds players.
The program is funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and the Asian Sport Partnership program, and is managed by the Aussie Hearts, which is part of the Champions International organization. “We are very proud of the Diamonds in the Rough program. It suits our values, and mission, in many ways”, said Robert Novotny, founder of Champions International. “Our goal is to offer both baseball and softball players opportunities to travel the world, play ball and develop as a player. More importantly, we want to offer them the opportunity to grow as a person. We encourage the cultural exchange.”
Diamonds in the Rough has a strong social approach. The program offers participants the opportunity to learn the basics of baseball but it provides them life skills as well. “We use baseball as a method to teach girls team work and goal setting. We want to improve their self-confidence, encourage them to dream and help them to believe they are capable of fulfilling those dreams,” said Narelle Gosstray co-founder and head coach of the Aussie Hearts.
A program like this is needed in Indonesia. The country ranks 110/188 on the United Nations 2015 Human Development Report’s Gender Inequality Worldwide Index. The metric measures the inequality in achievement between men and women in a given nation. “It is not that simple to change deeply rooted cultural manners. I am, however, positive that we are starting to change hearts and minds regarding traditional gender norms,” Gosstray said.
The participants and their parents were happy for the opportunity given to the girls. Anisa mother to Nasya, who is one of the Diamonds, said, “Not only did they have the chance to learn new and effective approaches to the basic baseball skills, they also got to learn about self-confidence as girls, as part of a community. They now know that they have the right, and honor, to choose for themselves and to defend themselves, in the most positive ways.”
“It was such a positive event for the girls,” Arie, the mother of multiple participants, said. “It is very beneficial from many different perspectives. Not only are my girls learning about baseball but many other things as well.”
According the self-evaluation forms completed before and after the event, the program had an immediate impact on the self-confidence of the participants. Prior to the start of the program, 36% agreed that they are able to reach their goals. After the program, that number increased to 47%. 9% of the Diamonds thought they were as smart as others before the program; afterwards, 20% believed this same fact to be true. This sense of confidence also translated to how the Diamonds’ perceived themselves in the classroom. After the program, 33% strongly agreed that they can understand the ideas and skills taught at school, compared with just 18% before the program.
It was not only the Diamonds who learned. For the players, the program was unlike anything the Emeralds had ever experienced. “It was so much more than another baseball trip,” said team member Victorian Bronwyn Gell. “The experience taught me so much about the world, about baseball, about the Indonesian culture and, most surprisingly, about myself.”
“It was the first time we did something that was about building and understanding relationship between two countries,” added Victorian Shae Lillywhite. “We talked about family violence and it helped to grow the bond between our own team members.”
The Emeralds will return to Jakarta for a second Diamonds in the Rough program in late October and early November. At home the national team supports NOMORE, which raises awareness of domestic violence. Players and their hometown crowd can be seen at games linking arms as a symbolic gesture of their support. The #Care4Her is visible on many of the participant shirts throughout the photos and video. This is a hashtag used by those who support the respectful treatment of women.
Indonesia is not the first country where The Aussie Hearts organization has coordinated player tours but it was a first of its kind because of the Diamonds program. Co-founder Gosstray says it will become a staple in the organization’s future plans. Since establishing themselves in 2005, they´ve arranged 13 tours to three continents. Their teams have played in seven countries and on 50 baseball fields.
Next year the Hearts are touring in Europe. They will visit the Netherlands, Germany and the Czech Republic. Whether they will send an elite or a development team has not yet been decided. “We are really looking forward to Europe. It will be our first European tour,” Narelle Gosstray said. “Europe has a strong baseball history and the tour will encompass both that history, and the history of the countries we visit.” In addition to the women’s baseball program Champions International has a similar softball program.