After polling our newsletter and social media audience about the top coaches in Europe in 2022, a number of European and import coaches were nominated. Will Swindling’s story stood out to us as our first coach feature, not only because of his accomplishments as a coach in 2022 but because of the entire story behind the community effort his club spent to bring him to France and set him up for success.
The Valenciennes Vipers are a second-division team in France who back in late 2020 signed up for the BBJO Scouting Service looking for a coach to be their long-term Director of Sports Development. The candidate would need to be french-speaking and would have to commit to a two-year, coaching diploma to make him legally qualified to coach in France, in addition to his coaching duties with the Vipers. The candidate would be responsible for coaching the men’s second-division team, developing all of the club’s coaches, and running all practices across all teams within the club. He would also be responsible for recruiting new players, going to schools, social centers, etc. to introduce the game of baseball.
BBJO Virtual Coaching Conference January 20-21, 2023. Learn more HERE
After a couple of French-speaking candidates passed on the opportunity, we started looking closely at Will Swindling. Will checked all the boxes except the ability to speak French, which was obviously a big box that needed checking. However, Will had indicated to us previously that he was looking to move to Europe long-term to coach and was ready to dive into the language and culture of wherever he ended up. We decided to discuss it with Marc Williamson, the club president, to hear his thoughts.
After thinking outside the box and with a little effort, Marc was able to confirm that Will’s Bachelor of Science in recreation management/sport studies was transferable and that he would not have to complete the schooling. This meant that Will would only need to learn enough French to get by on the baseball field or during school recruiting sessions. After a few more Zoom meetings to clarify some things, Will was offered the contract, provided they could successfully transfer his degree. Will accepted, it was late January of 2021, and he had seven months to learn as much French as possible to prepare.
Photo: Will receives his jerseys from Marc during his official welcome.
Initially, the club always had a coach, parent, or player supporting Will at practices and in the schools to translate until his French was at a level where he could communicate well enough. Now, almost two years later, Will is much more comfortable with the language and continues to work hard at improving.
“The French people really appreciate it when you work hard at speaking their language.”
As soon as I was offered the job I started learning French.
First up, transferring Will’s college degree.
“Marc and Louis (Dupont) were a great help translating and helping me put together a huge document to get my French College Equivalency Degree,” said Will.
In fact, it took hours upon hours to complete and then months to find out if the French Education Federation allowed it.
“Apparently, it is a huge accomplishment for France to recognize a foreign education and grant an equivalency, so it was awesome when mine was granted!”
Next up was the work permit, tax information, long-term visa, residency permit, bank account, phone, and more.
“It can be a complicated process to get everything right in order to legally stay in France. I think Marc and I team-worked it well,” said Will.
Photo: Will sightseeing the north shore in Etretat, France.
Aside from learning French and all the paperwork, Will had the task of adjusting to living in a country much different than his own and where English was not widely spoken. The culture shock was immense but the Vipers baseball family made Will feel welcome from the start. When he first arrived, the club threw a big barbecue welcoming him and held a ceremony to give Will his jersey.
“I have felt part of a big family from the minute I got here,” said Will. “It’s only been a little over a year and I feel at home. This is the culture of North de France. They are very friendly and quickly accept you as part of their own.”
Photo: Will also plays for the Viper’s second-division team, winning the league batting title by hitting .600 in 23 games, including 5 home runs
In fact, numerous families have invited Will to dinner and on outings in the area. Will was even invited to a traditional Thanksgiving Day with a family that celebrates the holiday. He has celebrated Christmas with a family in Paris and celebrated New Year’s Eve at Marc’s house with his family. The club even threw Will a surprise birthday party with a “very generous gift”.
“I get gifts of Belgian chocolates from the parents of the kids I coach and French pastries from an older couple that also often take me to dinner and traveling around France,” said Will. “Marc took me to his family home in Brittany for a week this summer and along the way, we did a lot of WWII historical adventuring. I greatly appreciate and enjoy the club and community.”
“Will has quickly become a true friend with whom many club members enjoy spending time outside of club activities,” said Marc.
Photo: Will out for dinner with Jean Piere and his wife Pascale who work at the indoor facility where he trains
This support Will received came around full circle in the form of results on the field. In Will’s first year with the club, the men’s team qualified for the French D2 final, the highest result of the club in its history. Will started a 15U and 16+ academy, and for the first time a youth player —Gabriel Sobcziak— was selected to a French National Team (12U). Additionally, Theo Deplanque went from a non-dominant 2021 regional 2 pitcher to a very effective 2022 D2 pitcher while Emilie Gomes became a European champion with the French women’s baseball team.
“Never has the club progressed so much in such a short time in 33 years of existence,” said Marc. “The goal when Will arrived was to make it to the D2 championship within five years,” said Marc. “We accomplished that in his first season with us.”
Photos: On the left, Will congratulates Gabriel after he learned he was selected to the French 12U National Team, and on the right, Will and fellow BBJO import Michael Vochelli pose with the French Second Division 2nd place trophy.
The Vipers’ 2022 second-place finish allows them to promote to the first division in 2023, but the club decided to remain in the second division and continue to develop before making the jump.
In addition to his role at the club, Will has worked with coaches and players in all of Northern France. He is a coach with the ‘Hauts de France’ 15U baseball team, an all-star team of the best players in the Northern France area. He is also a coach with the north France women’s team.
“Will has been providing more technical and strategic physical training to teams,” said Marc when asked what has led to Will’s success in his first year. “He spends a lot of one-on-one time with the players to correct their flaws and develop them physically. He knows how to utilize the experience of others to support him and he passes on his knowledge to the coaches who assist him. Additionally, Will is not only a coach during the regular season but someone who knows how to plan and exploit the off-season to its fullest.”
Never has the club progressed so much in such a short time in 33 years of existence.
“Our confidence is total and Will has already shown us several times that we are right to trust him in his choices,” said Marc.
The Vipers are truly invested in Will, and with this support, the sky is the limit for a coach.
“We can’t wait to see the progress of the players in 2023 following the creation of the two academies.”