In this edition of "@ the Plate," we delve into the life of Lawrence Allen, a passionate Wellingtonian softballer who has not only dedicated himself to playing the game but has also spent several years coaching in multiple European countries.
In his early coaching career, Lawrence crafted his coaching skills while successfully leading Wellington to secure three national U19 age grade titles. Recognising his talent Dave Sorenson asked him to lead the Hutt Valley NPC team. Lawrence accepted and immediately dropped the whole team! Dave summoned Lawrence to a committee meeting and said it was unthinkable the team he had selected. The Committee allowed Lawrence’s selection who then went onto win every game at the 2005 NPC in Palmerston North.
Lawrence's international journey began in 2003 when he received an unexpected opportunity from the head coach of the Czech Republic men's team, Kevin Henderson. Henderson invited him to work as a video analyst for the Czech’s at the upcoming 2004 World Championships in Christchurch. This opportunity marked the start of Lawrence's coaching journey in Europe, taking him to countries that remain unfamiliar to many of us.
At the world series, Lawrence's role involved scouting other teams through video analysis, developing game plans and calling every pitch during the tournament. One standout player on the Czech team was pitcher "Lubos Vrbensky," who would later be known as "Robo-Cop". With Lawrence calling the pitches, the Czech team performed remarkably well, narrowly missing out on a top-eight finish by losing 0-1 to Japan in the seventh inning. Despite the loss, Lubos's exceptional pitching earned him the title of Top Pitcher of the tournament, and Lawrence was thrilled to have been part of such a remarkable accomplishment .
Following Czech’s impressive showing, Lawrence was invited to the Czech Republic in 2005, which led to additional coaching opportunities in 2007 and 2008. His primary objective during these tours was to help the Czech team prepare for the 2009 World Championships in Saskatoon, Canada. Whilst at the tournament, Lawrence's expertise caught the attention of Japan. Japan expressed interest in working with him during the tournament and beyond. The encounter sparked a relationship that would see Lawrence enrolling in a Japanese Language School and discussing a partnership with Japan at the Softball World Cup in 2011 in Prague.
Gold medal - Men's Euros, The Netherlands 2011 | Gold medal - Men's Euros, Czech Republic 2013
Returning to New Zealand, Lawrence took up coaching the Island Bay U13 Girls softball team, believing that a great coach can effectively communicate with athletes of any calibre, age, gender, or background. He dedicated himself to developing his coaching skills, exploring different methods of communication, including body language, tone, reflective listening, and the "sandwich effect" technique. Lawrence wanted to ensure that each athlete understood the plan and mechanics on an individual level, making his coaching more personalised and effective.
In 2011, Lawrence decided to return to Prague permanently. The Japanese coaching staff had changed, and the previous deal to work with Japan was no longer on the table. Nevertheless, he continued coaching the Czech team.
Domestically, Lawrence deliberately chose to coach a team near the bottom of the league, Club Tempo Praha, and witnessed their ascent from the third league to the premier league in just three years. Under his guidance, the men's team qualified for the European Clubs three times.
Czech Republic then qualified for the 2013 Men’s World Cup in North Harbour where Lawrence travelled as the team’s Hitting Coach.
Czech had never had a hitter in the top 10 batting stats after a world championship! After 5 days of play Czech had three hitters sitting at the top of the leader board, all with an average of over .500.
“However, we bleed runs through our pitching. I was summoned to the Head Coach on our return. He told me I was no longer hitting coach! I am now new pitching coach!” Say’s Lawrence.
Lawrence's coaching journey extended beyond the Czech Republic, as he was also flown across Europe to conduct coaching clinics on behalf of the European Softball Association. He gained confidence in the Czech team's abilities and systems, believing that they could compete at the highest level in the next World Championships and secure a top-six finish.
Lawrence's adventure took another road when he received an invitation from the Serbian Softball Assocciation to conduct a weekend clinic in Belgrade. As he sat down for lunch after the first training session, a man in a black Mercedes approached him and sat at his table. The stranger revealed that he would be living in Serbia for the next 12 months, coaching the U19 and senior women's teams. In a whirlwind turn of events, an enticing offer was extended, including provisions for Lawrence's partner and son to join him in Belgrade.
Serbia, considered the underdog of European softball, had never experienced the taste of victory on the field. Sensing the immense potential for growth, Lawrence eagerly accepted the role of head coach, viewing it as the perfect opportunity to make a significant impact. The first major tournament for the Serbian team was the "Balkan Cup" in Sofia, Bulgaria. Unbeknown to Lawrence, the historical animosity between the two nations added an extra layer of complexity to their stay. Nevertheless, against the odds, the team achieved three wins and secured a bronze medal, marking an unprecedented milestone for Serbian softball.
While in Serbia Lawrence received an opportunity to coach the Slovenia Slow Pitch team at the Womens' European Championships in Holland.
As Lawrence's coaching journey progressed, he found himself coaching the Serbia U18 Boys rugby team during the Balkan Cup in Zagreb, Croatia. The region's turbulent history lent an intense backdrop to the competition, but Lawrence's determination and coaching expertise allowed the team to overcome the challenges and shine.
Lawrence's time in Serbia also gave him a deep appreciation for the country and its people. The Serbian locals displayed an incredible sense of hospitality, reminiscent of Lawrence's native New Zealand. The bonds forged during his stay left an indelible impression on him.
The next position he held was the head coach of Austrian National Women’s' Team where they competed in the 2015 Women’s European Championships, Bollate, Italy.
While Lawrence's coaching career was flourishing, fate had other plans. He was diagnosed with kidney failure, which meant spending nine hours a day for four years hooked up to a machine. Retirement from international coaching became a necessity, as he focused on his health and survival. Nonetheless, Lawrence continued to coach premier clubs in Prague, using his passion for softball as a source of strength during his trying times. He juggled coaching responsibilities during the day and underwent lifesaving medical treatments at night.
Despite his health challenges, Lawrence's indomitable spirit led him to embark on entrepreneurial endeavours. He started a street food company, traveling throughout Germany and Austria for 42 weekends a year, showcasing his culinary skills and introducing the "Native NZ Kiwi Burger" Kiwifruit Chutney, with Smoked Manuka Salt in a beef burger. When Lawrence was unable to travel, he established another company in Prague called "HAKA PIES,". "I started off putting all the Czech national dishes into my pies, then added the Kiwi favourites." Say's Lawrence.
Lawrence coaching Austria
“I persevered in staying active despite being sick, determined not to let my young son perceive me as a victim. I have always seen myself as resilient, and I firmly believe that a strong mind can positively influence the body. Even if I were to pass away in Czech, I wanted my son to remember me as someone who embraced each day with unwavering strength.” Say’s Lawrence.
“During that time, I pondered the possibility of never seeing my Whanau or friends again. The knowledge I had acquired over three decades of learning about coaching seemed too valuable not to share. It would have been a shame to keep it to myself.” Say’s Lawrence.
After enduring years of illness, Lawrence received a life-saving kidney transplant, infusing him with newfound hope and vitality. Three months later, he was able to return home through an emergency MIQ.
While in Prague, he encountered a lovely Maori woman and decided to move back to the bustling city of Picton with her.
Lawrence is actively promoting and driving the game locally as co-president of the Marlborough Softball Association. He has restarted the Waitohi Softball Club after 3 years with 4 teams, and targeting an additional 2-4 teams this year.