DENHAM SPRINGS – Youngsters should love any sport they play, and it’s up to their parents to help them find that enjoyment, according to an Olympic gold medalist.

“First, have fun. It’s a game,” said two-time Olympic medalist Jennie Finch during her appearance on Friday, March 24, at Academy Sports at Juban Crossing.

“You hear a lot about pressure,” she said before meeting fans and softball players of all ages in her role as a Mizuno ambassador.

“Society is outcome focused. We forget it’s the journey, the little victories,” she added. “If you’re learning, you’re winning. There is always something good that will come out of it.”

Mizuno, Marucci and Rawlings representatives were on hand at Academy Sports to help softball and baseball players with their equipment needs -- after autographs and photos with Finch.

The California native led Arizona to the NCAA championship in 2001, beating UCLA 1-0 by pitching a perfect game. Her college record was 119-16 with 1,028 strikeouts, at one point winning 51 games in a row.

Selected for the USA National Team, Finch won two games at the 2004 Olympics in Athens as USA won the gold medal. She won one game at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing as USA won the silver medal.

Both medals sat next to Finch, who signed softballs, posed for photos and asked what positions and what leagues fans played in. She also offered simple advice to young players.

“Fundamentals are key. It is a game of repetition; practice is key,” she said. “A good speed (for practice) is game mode. You have to practice at the level you will play at.”

Married to former Major League Baseball pitcher Casey Daigle, of Lake Charles, Finch has two sons and a daughter. Her athletic advice includes parents.

“I’m a mom of three children and the attitude and action of parents is key,” she said. “If you have fun and embrace a sport, you can learn.

“You will fail in sports,” Finch said bluntly, “but you learn a lot from it. But you need to keep the love of the sport on and off the field.”

And that challenges falls to parents.

 “All children are unique. We need to find what each one’s needs are and offer them a path,” to the sport of his or her choice, she said.

As an example, Finch pointed out, “We can’t discipline all children the same. We have to be aware of each child’s personality.

“It’s not always win or lose. You’re helping them find the greatness they can achieve. It’s a life lesson.”

Finch pitched professionally with the Chicago Bandits of the National Pro Fastpitch league before retiring in 2010. Today, she works with Mizuno and as a college softball analysis for ESPN.

“Softball gave me the sisters I never had,” she said, looking at her athletic journey. “I grew up with two brothers.”

When she meets youngsters and teens, they usually “ask for some tip or some word of advice,” Finch said.

“I tell them to have a dream, believe in their dream and believe in yourself. You will have to work hard.”

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Kevin Fambrough is a reporter at the Livingston Parish News. He can be reached at kevinf@livingstonparishnews.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @fambroughkevin.

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