Team Canada’s Larissa Franklin on the state of softball and its Olympic return

Team Canada softball veteran Larissa Franklin. (Photo courtesy Softball Canada/World Baseball Softball Confederation)

Larissa Franklin has been on Canada’s national softball team for more than a decade, and when the outfielder found out her sport was officially a part of the 2028 Olympic Games, her reaction was a surprisingly nonchalant: “Oh, cool.”

The 30-year-old from Maple Ridge, B.C. has learned not to get too excited. “You can’t get too high or too low — you never know what’s going to happen,” Franklin explains.

That’s especially true if you’re a softball player with Olympic aspirations.

Softball has had an on-again, off-again relationship with the Olympic Games since its initial inclusion in 1996. The current status is off, and it won’t be featured at next summer’s 2024 Olympics in Paris.

A couple of weeks ago, though, the sport was added to the schedule for 2028, a return to the stage since its last appearance in 2020, which came after a 12-year absence. When softball was taken out of the Olympic program following the 2008 Games, it marked the first time in 69 years that a sport had been removed. 

Phewf. Here’s hoping you’re still following.

Team Canada’s softballers are currently in Chile for the Pan American Games, where they’re about to wrap up round-robin play. Silver medallists at the last Pan Am Games, Canada has a 2-0 record so far, with the gold and bronze medal games set for Nov. 4.  

Before she headed to Chile, Sportsnet caught up with Franklin to talk about softball’s return to the Olympics, the state of her sport at the highest levels, and her plans for growing the game.

This conversation is the second of six with top Canadian athletes involved in the six sports added to the schedule for LA 2028. The first in the series featured flag football player, Sara Parker.

SPORTSNET: How would you describe softball’s relationship with the Olympics? 

FRANKLIN: We’re on this constant rollercoaster of emotions. I like to tell people we’re on an eight-year cycle instead of four. Between 2008 and then 2020, I guess that was 12 years, and now 2028. I feel like because of that, we’ve taught ourselves not to get too high or too low, not to get too ahead of ourselves.

There was an announcement about a week [before softball’s inclusion for 2028 was made official] that they short-listed sports. And I was kind of surprised that I did feel excited about that. We work with a lot of uncertainty and unknowns. Especially having been on the team for 11 years, having gone to the Olympics, I personally felt a lot of uncertainty. I didn’t know what that meant for my timeline as an athlete. Am I going to have to make the decision to retire? Is my body going to tell me it’s time to retire?

But now this sets a timeline where it’s like, ‘Ok, we have five years to prepare for 2028.’ It’s a lot easier to wrap your head around if there’s less uncertainty. It’s easier to allow yourself to get more excited.

So … you are excited.

Yes [laughs], it was funny because that day [of the announcement] my teammates and I were getting together to practice and you could tell everyone had a little bit more pep in their step. They were a little more bouncy, a little happier, I guess. We all communicated that we felt more motivated about everything. I think the excitement just spread into all different areas.

Can you give us a scouting report on yourself?

Ok. Umm…

You have to brag a little.

That’s the challenging part… I think I’m a consistent threat to get on base, I can’t be taken lightly. I have speed, so people need to ensure they’re ready to make a quick play. I think what’s coming to mind is people know what they’re going to get and they need to be prepared to take it on.

You steal a lot of bases.

Yeah, and there’s an anticipation right before you get the signal to steal the base. And even though it’s only 60 feet between the bases, it feels like it takes forever [laughs]. You don’t know if the catcher’s going to make a good throw. You can feel if you got a good jump or not, and then that split-second when you can feel your hand or your foot touch the base before you feel the ball and the glove hit you, it’s pretty invigorating.

You’re also known for being very consistent at the plate. How do you manage that?

I have a very short-term memory. I think I can stay quite level-headed but also have a fire and a confidence that really fuels me when I get up to the plate. I’ve had moments throughout my career where I’ve noticed my mindset being a little bit more fragile, and I’m always quick to blame my mind over what I physically can do. So the first thing I’ll do when I notice that is get back to work meditating, reinforcing positive self-talk, reflecting on what I’m thinking and how I’m feeling in those moments. For me, it’s less about getting physical reps and more about getting mental reps.

What was your first Olympic experience like, in 2021, with all the delays and uncertainty because of COVID?

I think I had an idea what the Olympics would be like because of the Pan American Games. They are very similar, and I do think the Pan American games help us prepare for the Olympics. It’s the closest we can get to the Olympics without being in Paris next year. However, it was weird playing without fans. There were no distractions, absolutely no one in the stands to sway us either way.

But I was surprised because we had always competed on the international stage against these teams and then we’re at the Olympics and, all of a sudden, everybody cared. Everybody was interested. I remember feeling caught off-guard about that. I felt like this was something we had always done. It goes to show the buzz the Olympics gets and the excitement. That’s what was so great to me, was how many young kids loved softball so much more just because it was on that stage.

Where’s your Olympic bronze medal?

It’s often in my backpack because I’m very willing to take it to events. That’s such a special part. I have the memory from training and playing in the Olympics, but the medal is something I actually get to share with people.

How’d you get your name in the Guinness Book of World Records?

Back in 2019, someone from my local softball association in B.C. [Katelyn Ross] approached me and asked if I wanted to get a Guinness World Record. I was like, ‘Okay, that’s intriguing, tell me more.’ It was for the most consecutive catches and throws in an hour, and we got 2,278. The cool part was, [Ross] built it into a community event. We raised money for KidSport Canada as well as breaking the record for the most throws in an hour [the previous record was 1,200]. A super random record, but it made for a really great, positive community event.

You’re at Queen’s University for a Master of Management Innovation and Entrepreneurship. How much longer to go before you earn that degree?

The program is a year long, so it’ll be done next August. It’s very quick, but it’s very applied. It’s allowing me to flush out ideas that are related to softball.

Like what?

My professors would kick me in the butt for getting ahead of myself, but I’m looking to create more opportunities. Right now, the gap that I see with the girls coming out of college, we lose a lot of players in our program in that stage where they’re kind of in limbo, they don’t know if they can play for the national team. They don’t have opportunities, and I think that kind of bridges into our conversation today, is that when we’re not in the Olympics, we don’t have the funding to keep those players involved. We lose a lot of really great players just because there’s no place for them to go. That’s the gap I’m looking to work through in the program and develop.

What’s your club team at your level? How do you get enough reps between major competitions?

That’s the golden question. That’s partly why I’m in Toronto, because there’s six of us that train together. A lot of other girls are kind of spread across the U.S., or they’re playing in college if they’re still young. But for those of us that are out of college, we practice on our own. The main thing we have to work on is hitting, so we need a cage and equipment.

We don’t play games, really. The unique part about softball is the seasons tend to be in the summer, and other than that there’s a couple pro leagues overseas. They’re difficult to get into because they only allow so many foreign players. So, we just practice our skills and then get back together in the summer to play some games. Florida State University is kind of our second home where we’ll do a training camp because our head coach coaches down there.

Now that it’s back in the Olympics, I imagine there will be some more funding and hopefully we can get together more and potentially play some more games — whether it’s against college teams or other international teams. It’ll just allow us more freedom to do that.

Is softball growing in Canada?

Canadian softball is in really good hands. We have our catcher from the Olympics [in 2021, Kaleigh Rafter], she became our head coach, so she understands the process. She’s very motivated to grow the game in Canada and she has incredible knowledge about the game. And if we didn’t get back in the Olympics, she would’ve still grown the game and done a fantastic job, but I’m super excited to see not only the impact we can have on the sport being in the Olympics but also with her at the helm.

And just to snowball off that, I want to comment about my teammates, because every single one of them are incredible role models. They want to give back to the game, their team. I think our team says yes to more things than most athletes would. I think that’s what really special, that young athletes have a group of very positive role models that they can look up to, and the Olympics is only going to help embellish that.

And this time you’ll have fans watching, and family members will be allowed to attend, unlike your first Olympic experience.

Just you saying that makes me smile. I owe so much of my sports career to my family, and for them to not get to experience that in person was the hardest part. I was okay because I could just focus on playing, but I would love the opportunity for them to get to see us play and watch and be proud and take it all in and get their Olympic experience as well.

Unless the organizing committee changes their mind and takes softball out of the Olympics again. Kidding!

[Laughs.] Right? That’s the thing with our sport. I mean, we don’t know about 2032 now, right? The World Baseball Softball Confederation has done a good job at listening to what they’re looking for and pitching this for us. I’m just very thankful that there’s so many people that are fighting for the inclusion of baseball and softball in the Olympics.

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