Carving your own space in one of the most competitive softball environments in the nation requires some strong tools, and since its debut in 2015, Diamond Fury Elite Fastpitch has shown a steady handle on the task.
Founded by Mitch Stamper, the Diamond Fury Elite (DFE) program now features nine teams ranging from 10u to 14u and has become one of greater Houston’s toughest challenges for more well-established competition. As a first-year 10u team, Diamond Fury Elite claimed a 2016 USFA National Championship in Panama City, FL., and there’s every indication the learning curve for each roster is bending in the right direction.
Triple Crown had a chance to talk with Stamper in our first Fastpitch Profile of 2020. He grew up in the Northwest and actually got started as a coach with volleyball, working with the 16s and 18s at Club Catalyst in Seattle. He attended the University of Montana where he studied business and later went back to school earning a Mechanical Engineering degree from University of North Dakota. Mitch and his wife Kristy moved to Houston in 1999 for work in the oil and gas industry.
Q: How did moving into softball come to pass?
A: Our oldest daughter was 5 and said she wanted to play soccer. She then realized all the running was not very interesting. It was too early for volleyball, so she decided to try softball and fell in love. The other dads around it weren’t as experienced, so I got involved.
In 2008 we branched out, took a few kids and started a select team. That year we went on to finish 5th at the USFA World Series.. That’s what really triggered it.
Q: What drove you to start your own club?
A: We put together a business plan in 2014, when a lot of organizations were blowing up. I wasn’t aligned with their model of 15 teams per age group. I thought it looked like quantity vs. quality, more for profit. In 2015, we brought DFE to life, and we wanted to start an organization that was about quality. Our mission statement is -- “The vision of Diamond Fury Elite fastpitch is to be the most highly regarded select softball program in the nation, by developing long-term, low-attrition relationships with highly motivated players in our program while providing top in class structured programmatic coaching.”
We have small numbers, but our teams are extremely competitive. Every year, we’ve added one or two teams. Justin Abke came on board in our second year and has been a big part of the program’s growth and now coaches one of the best teams in the state of Texas and certainly will be a national contender this year.
Q: What are some guiding philosophies and practices that help make Diamond Fury unique?
A: The answer is two parts, one that focuses internally and one externally. The internal piece of Diamond Fury Elite is we are a behavior-based program. Everything we do, all our drills and processes, are to drive a behavior in the athlete. An example: have the player chart the pitches they saw in an at-bat. Prior to your next at bat, you then consult the chart, see how you were pitched, flip up and back a couple spots to see if there’s something similar happening with other hitters. At the end of tournament, these notes get tossed as coaches maintain official pitch charts, but what we are instilling in the athlete is being aware of your approach at the plate. You have to know how you are pitched from your first at-bat to your last at bat. By taking the time to review these charts, you might see you’ve chased two or three pitches off the plate. So your approach should be different.
In 2020 we will roll out player handbooks; they fill it out after each game, make notes on anything from that game that you want to work on. It can be good or bad. It drives the behavior; we ask them to, before the next practice, summarize their tournament and send the coach an email saying, these are the things I did well, and what I didn’t do well. We may use that to put a practice plan together if we see a consistency and other girls with similar issues, or maybe we can drive a behavior that says, when you show up for practice, we want you thinking about the tournament that happened a few days ago, and we want you working on the things you need to work on, that you yourself said.
Being a behavioral based program you start to have success with wins vs. losses and your national finishes … parents start to see that there’s value in our program. We’re very selective with our coaches; we could be at 50 teams if we wanted to, but it doesn’t fit our model of “Quality vs Quantity. We want our recruiting classes small so that when asked about a player we can honestly and on the spot rattle off that players strengths and weaknesses to perspective college coaches.; If it’s not a good set of coaches, parents and kids, then we don’t want to exert the effort into that team. It’s being mindful of the amount of time we have and making sure we are devoting time to those kids who are going to excel and move on, and the coaches that have the same passion.
The program was fortunate in 2019 as we brought on three former players to coach in our 14U division. The addition of Sloan Walker, Thomasina Garza and Sarah Huey have had a significant impact on their respective teams. They bring energy, passion, discipline and an ultra-competitive mindset to the field for each practice and game played. DFE feels that we landed three of the best coaches that Houston has to offer. Our other coaching staff also consists of former college baseball and football players who have played at the next level.
Q: What’s the route you take in the search for players?
A: Externally, we look for good families, and probably focus more on the family first before the player. Once you check that box, we also tend to look at the person before the player, which is probably the opposite of all the big organizations. If the person has the demeanor that fits within our culture, we know they will succeed. We’re a little timid to bring someone who doesn’t fit the culture … then we have to end up cutting them, or exiting them, well, we don’t like attrition. We value keeping our players here, and the longer they are here, the smarter and sharper they are, and they get the longevity of being in the same program when college coaches are looking.
If the person fits the culture, we’ll take a chance on an athlete who isn’t where she needs to be, because we can get her skills caught back up. Big organizations routinely come after our kids, because of how fast they develop and how good they get in our program. The irony here, is that these were the same kids that were in front of them all along We constantly fight that fight, but it has gotten much better as we continue to have success in all age divisions.
We tell our parents that if you stay the course, your kid keeps doing what she’s doing and stepping up her skill level, she will play college ball and DFE will be the conduit for her. In 2019, our hard work paid off as several colleges started to recognize our program and our players. Through multiple discussions with coaches, it was very rewarding to receive positive feedback on our program and athletes.. We don’t have 16s and 18s by design, so there’s not a long list of commits, so parents have to take us at our word. They are entrusting us to take their kids to the next level, and in September of 2022, we’ll have that list and that proof. That will be a huge day for the organization and for the parents in our program; I’m sure there will be many tears and celebrations.