As part of a continued celebration of its award-winning Girls with Game Initiative, Little League® International had the opportunity to sit down and talk with three members of the Italian National Softball team who grew up playing for Lombardia Little League (Milano, Italy) and had the unique opportunity to participate in one of its World Series events.
Below you will find a brief interview with:
- Melany Sheldon – 2009 LLSWS; 2012, ’13 SLSWS
- Lara Cecchetti – 2011 BLSWS
- Elisa Cecchetti – 2008 LLSWS; 2009 JLSWS
Little League (LL): What advice would you give to female athletes today?
Melany Sheldon (MS): Follow your dreams, no matter how big they are. That is my motto. I’ve always chased everything with the mindset that nothing is too big if you want it bad enough. Give 200% and you’ll have no regrets.
Lara Cecchetti (LC): Do the best you can to chase your dreams. Don’t let anyone tell you that only because you are a girl, you aren’t strong enough or good enough. Don’t wait for anyone to make things happen for you. If you want to accomplish something, you have to be the one putting the work in to reach your goal.
Elisa Cecchetti (EC): Never give up. There are so many reasons why it can still be hard to be a female athlete in today’s world. But every time we are told no, we do it anyways. Every time they tell us that we’re not good enough, we prove them wrong. We’re making the sport grow, and we’re doing it for every single girl that wants to be an athlete.
LL: What impact do you think playing softball has from a young age on the development of young females?
MS: A huge impact. Playing softball shapes our personality for the best. It makes us stronger. It shows us that we are capable of big things, by ourselves or with other females.
LC: There are so many ways that playing softball from a young age can positively impact a young girl’s life forever. Learning to respect your teammates, coaches, and opponents. Learning to make choices that are team oriented. Learning to make sacrifices, like putting aside your free time with friends and family holidays to be on the field with your team.
EC: Playing softball helps young girls grow up respecting each other and pushing each other to be the best versions of themselves. Young girls learn how to work together and support each other to be better. You learn to cheer on your teammates and respect opponents, not be jealous of them. These young girls will grow into women that stand for each other in a society that too often wants to push them down.
LL: How do you think playing Little League, specifically in the World Series, has helped shape you into the woman you are today?
MS: Playing Little League Softball® opened my eyes to different cultures. It showed me that the game is so much more than I could imagine. I was able to see that there were so many girls out there chasing the same dreams as me, and I needed to work more and more, season after season, but also day after day. It also showed me how the entire group is important, and teamwork is crucial.
LC: It was a great experience, and I am glad I had the chance to be a part of it. It was great to see how so many people worked together to make sure everything ran smoothly. The way the organization and our host families welcomed us is something I will never forget and I have been carrying out those values and lessons that I learned in Little League ever since.
EC: Playing in the Little League Softball World Series was the first time that I traveled to the United States and was one of my first international tournaments. It showed me a different softball reality from the one I’ve been used to back in Italy for so many years. It pushed me to be a better athlete and a better softball player. A few years later, I got to play college softball for four years and played international softball for the Italian National Team, and I believe that playing Little League helped me realize my dreams and expectations from life.
LL: How does it feel to be able to represent your country at the highest level of the sport?
MS: That’s a feeling that has always been hard to put into words. Representing your country is an important responsibility and the biggest honor. It’s what pushes you every day to go a little bit further and give it that one percent more.
LC: Wearing the Italian jersey and representing my country is an honor. It makes me feel great to know I am an example to follow for younger girls.
EC: It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to represent my country at this level. I feel like I’m not doing it just for me, but I’m doing it for the Italian softball community and for the young girls that want to do the same thing in the future. I’m proud of my country and my people and I love to play for them on the biggest stage.
LL: Who was your biggest influence growing up and why?
MS: My dad. When I was younger, we didn’t have access to all this social media, so it was harder to follow athletes like we can today. I did have my “idols” in the softball world, but my daily inspiration was my dad, who used to be a baseball player and competed at the Olympics. He was working hard all the time, and actually still does, but he has always been the most humble player and person I know.
EC: My biggest influence growing up was my childhood coach, Angelo Nicolini. He used to be a baseball player and taught me to be humble and respect the game. He believed in me and was there any time I needed him, for an extra practice or just for a chat about softball. He knew what my dream was and he shared my passion towards it. His motto is “if you don’t suffer, you won’t win. And even if you suffer, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to win.” He taught me that you have to make sacrifices and put in the extra work. That’s the only way to make it and even then, you might not make it. But you have to do everything in your power to make it happen, no regrets.
LL: When you hear the phrase, “Girls with Game,” what do you think of?
LC: I think of girls and women being successful in sports and in life. I think of determination and will power. A woman that knows what she wants is hard to stop.
LL: What does it mean to you to see the game played all around the world?
MS: It’s awesome. All we could want for this game is to spread all around the world and to be accessible to everybody. My dream is that baseball and softball could become part of the Olympic program permanently again, and for this to happen, our game needs to be as popular as ever around the world.
LL: What was your favorite Little League memory?
EC: Getting to know and play against teams from all over the world. We might have spoken a different language, but the love for the game united us.
LL: What impact do you think Little League creates for the future of the game?
LC: Little League is a very fair and healthy environment. It sets the right standards for young athletes to follow in sports and in life in general, from learning about diversity to understanding fair play.
To learn more about Little League Softball, including each of its three World Series events, visit LittleLeague.org/Softball.
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