Jennie Finch Remains at the Top of Her Game

Jennie Finch is probably the first name that comes to mind when you think about softball. In 2004, she cemented her place in history by pitching the U.S. Olympic team to gold at the Summer Games in Athens, Greece. The win propelled Finch to the fame she’s used to launch successful youth camps and give motivational speeches like the one she will give as a keynote speaker at Olympic SportsLink on Aug. 25 in Grapevine, Texas. But the sport Finch loves has not had similar fortune. As has been the case since 2008, softball is missing from the Olympic action in Rio de Janeiro—a fact Finch finds hard to believe. But softball is back on the upswing—it was recently added to the lineup for the 2020 Games in Tokyo. Ahead of her SportsLink address, Finch talked to Connect Sports about what softball’s return to the Olympics addition means for the sport, her memories of the two Summer games she competed in and the long road to equality for women in sports. What do you look back upon the most from your Olympic experience? Any particular lessons learned? Playing in 2004 alongside my heroes I’d grown up idolizing was amazing. Standing on the podium next to Lisa Fernandez, whose autograph I’d waited in line to get, was just incredible. Being able to represent our country was a dream come true, and I believe the greatest honor in all of sports. We, of course, got silver in 2008, and that was tough because we knew it was our last Olympics for softball and we had worked so hard. It was a sad ending. But coach [Mike] Candrea pulled us aside after and told us to be proud of ourselves and that life would hand us a lot tougher things than a silver medal. He’s right. I still don’t like losing, but that put it in perspective. Going back before the games, what do you recall most from your days in youth sports? Growing up, I had the opportunity to travel quite a bit. My memories are of my family all together at tournaments. We competed all over the U.S.—it was such a great opportunity. Those were our family vacations. I remember learning about myself, growing as a person—as a teammate and a competitor—and dealing with failure to use those tough moments to dig deeper and turn frustration into determination and motivation. What do you focus on with your youth camps? I’m a big proponent of safe mechanics, so we have the best instructors—former Olympians who have had long careers and can speak to all aspects of the game. And, of course, we talk to the kids and have a dialogue about life, self-esteem, friends, recruiting, playing and all the things that go along with it. Most importantly, we want them believing in themselves and having dreams and goals to work toward. The fundamentals are important, but we try to stress the intangibles and the lessons we have learned beyond the field. You must be excited to see softball return to the Olympics in 2020. How would you like to see it capitalize from the exposure? It is incredible to see softball come back. I hope youth softball players are be inspired and motivated by the idea that they could someday possibly play in the Olympics, and that would encourage future participation in the sport. Not to mention funding from the IOC really helps in terms of access to the sport in other countries, so hopefully with that and how connected the world is through social media, we’d see an explosion in growth of the game globally. What was the best advice you were given that contributed to your success, and from whom? My mom and dad would always remind me in the game to take it one moment at a time—one pitch at a time. And that’s especially true for my life now. There’s sometimes a lot going on with kids and work and being a wife and a friend and everything else, and my mom will still remind me to take it one moment at a time. It’s important to be present. You just made history managing a professional men's baseball team. Where does progress stand with gender equality in sports now, and how much better can it get? Huge strides have been made. We’re definitely getting there, but there’s room for improvement. I look forward to the day when there are full-time women managers in baseball and when the pro softball league gets as much attention as Major League Baseball. But we live in a time when I can truly look at my kids and say to all of them that if they can dream it they can make it happen. They can follow their dreams, and that’s pretty amazing.