The principle of interchangeable parts

One of the most common complaints a coach hears at the younger ages is that he/she is playing players in too many positions. This complaint, of course, is only heard when a team is losing.

Fastpitch softball is a sport that requires specialization. Each position is played differently, has different decision trees, and largely requires different skills. Some great infielders never learn to judge a fly ball and are disasters in the outfield, despite being great athletes. Some excellent third basemen don’t have the range to play short. Some second basemen don’t have the reaction time to play third. It all varies.

That, to me, is one of the secrets to success in fastpitch softball — matching the player’s abilities to the position.

Now, at the younger ages, perhaps up to 11U, it’s a good thing to move players around more, at least early in the season. They are nowhere near fully formed yet, so how do you know that the kid you have in right field wouldn’t make a good first baseman with a little work and experience. You won’t until you try her there.

As players get older, though, this scenario becomes less attractive. Moving players around, unless you absolutely have to, can end up in disaster. This goes not only for the average ability players, but also for the studettes.

You see, there is a difference between great athletic ability and the ability to play a position. Trying to force a player into a position where she lacks the skills/knowledge/experience can wind up backfiring on you. I don’t know how others feel, but I’ll take a kid with less raw athletic ability but more knowledge and skill at a position than the reverse.

Now, I know college coaches often talk about taking athletes. Perhaps they have the luxury. Most of us don’t. Besides, their pool of athletes, especially at the upper level, are also pretty darned skilled. And they don’t just arbitrarily stick one of those athletes into a new position on game day and hope they can figure it out for themselves.

Softball players are not interchangeable parts that can be moved around willy-nilly. If you feel a position change is required, be sure to spend plenty of time with that player so she can learn the little stuff about that position. Otherwise, sure as you’re reading this, her lack of experience will come back to bite you at the worst possible moment.

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About Ken Krause

Ken Krause has been coaching girls fastpitch softball for nearly 20 years. Some may know him as a contributing columnist to Softball Magazine, where he writes Krause's Korner -- a regular column sponsored by Louisville Slugger. Ken is also the Administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, the most popular fastpitch discussion forum on the Internet. He is currently a Three Star Master Coach with the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), and is certified by both the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and American Sports Education Program (ASEP). Ken is a private instructor specializing in pitchers, hitters, and catchers. He teaches at North Shore Baseball Academy in Libertyville, IL and Pro-Player Consultants in McHenry, IL.

Posted on May 12, 2008, in Coaching, General Thoughts. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Good points Ken. I would like to add a little. As a parent when my daughter was younger we would always work on the fundamentals at every position. I always told her that the more positions you could play, the better chance you have of finding your way onto the field. And as Ken said, at the older ages coaches just aren’t going to throw anybody in at any position. This has ultimately paid off for her. Last summer she played 2nd base for her travel team, the summer before she played CF and a little 3B, this varsity hs season she has played LF, and next hs season it looks very possible that she may be back at 2nd (just trying to peak into the crystal ball). Having that flexibility not only gives her more opportunity but it also helps her team and coaches. So my suggestion to the younger players is to seriously work on all of the positions while you can, the opportunity may not be there forever.

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  2. I agree in moving little “Jane” around even through U14 because dollars too donuts someone gets hurt or has wedding or??? Now that means some practice time needs to be devoted to “janes” portability but it’s not insurmountable either. I have coached for 10 years and i have had to throw a player into the fray in an emergency a few times and accept the results. But we all need to train our players to be multipostional because when they show up for HS or College there favorite postion may be filled then what????

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  3. Chris, you make some good points. It’s always good to have a plan B at every position. It’s definitely good for the players too, both to give them a better chance to play throughout their careers and to give them greater exposure to the overall game. Besides, some day they may want to coach themselves. The more they know, the better off they’ll be.

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