Is Softball a Team Sport?
Guest post by Mike Hanscom
Softball is often a series of 1:1 battles. The pitcher against the batter or the runner against the fielder. I always used to say it was a team sport, because everyone else did too. Then I started coaching and realized it is all about individual match-ups and got away from believing it was a team sport. All you need to do is get a bunch of good individuals on the field at the same time so you can win more of those individual battles and then you will dominate, right? I mean, if you win more of those 1:1 battles, how could you not dominate?
I would watch the opponents warm up and know when their individuals were better than ours, or vice versa. I always knew the outcome of that game long before we played it, until we actually played it and it ended differently than I expected. For those games I would sit there afterwards trying to figure out what happened and why. I could pick out that certain player that made the critical error and privately put the blame on them, or on the #4 batter who struck out 3 times, or our pitcher who didn’t strike anyone out or the runner who got thrown out at the plate. There was always another reason nagging at me but I usually ignored it.
That feeling that I would ignore was the underlying feeling that we outplayed them as a team or vice versa. I wasn’t sure what that meant though – this sport is a bunch of individual battles – not a team effort. Seriously, how many players really get involved on a typical play? The pitcher pitches, the batter hits it, the fielder gloves it and throws to first. Four players on the average play, but it was all sequential. Nothing like football where you have running backs and lineman going one way and blocking just so you peel back and throw the opposite direction to a WR down the field. That’s at least 8-9 of the 11 players all doing things at one time to protect the QB, misdirect the defense, free up the WR – now that is teamwork!
Luckily I was an assistant then and simply helped out where I could, and luckily I had other coaches to help show me what it meant to be a team before I became a head coach. I realized that the feeling I was ignoring was the ability to have each player moving at the same time to accomplish a specific task.
I previously only saw the 4 players in the typical play. Now I was understanding that what I was missing was the right fielder moving to back-up the throw, the left and center fielders running to back-up the SS, the 2nd baseman covering 2nd in case the ball gets away and the runner continues to 2nd, the catcher yelling where to go with the ball, the third baseman staying close to the SS in case the ball caroms off the SS.
That is 8-9 out of 9 players involved on the play. Huh, now that is teamwork! That is what I’ve been feeling! Those good teams, they are the ones who have it all synchronized, their players are on the same page and move on every play – nobody is just standing there. Softball isn’t just about teaching the typical play, it is about teaching the kids how to plan for mistakes and what to do when mistakes happen – because they WILL happen. Sounds like a life-lesson if you can teach them to do that for life too.
It is teamwork that prevents the big innings, the big errors. If your left fielder isn’t backing up SS, how far does that grounder that went through the SS’s legs roll and where does that runner stop? Does she score because of it? With teamwork that runner stops at first.
Teamwork is that sac bunt that moves a runner over to get her closer to home to try to get that winning run in. It is that solid hit off the pitcher that gets the bats going because hitting is contagious. It is the batter who struck out on 3 pitches, who comes back to the dugout with her head held high (as opposed to sulking or crying) and tells the next batter what pitches to expect or how they move so she now has a better chance to get those bats going. It is that 2nd baseman yelling the runner is going so the catcher knows to throw her out. It is that catcher acting as a field general yelling where plays are to go that enable good plays to happen. It is the 1st baseman going out for a cut-off to prevent the tying run from coming in. If your kids are doing these types of things on a regular basis, then you are coaching a team and not a group of individuals.
You can see it in the teams that have good teamwork – there is a flow to them with how they warm up, how they encourage each other, how they huddle, how they communicate with each other on the field, how they know where to be in each situation.
Some say it is good coaching, I say it is teamwork, I say it is attitude. Some kids don’t get it – they are there for themselves and don’t care about the team and you can usually see those attitudes from far away. They are the ones standing there without a role after the play has broken down.
You know the kids who have the team attitude and give the extra effort. Not in stretching a single into a double, but the ones who help the other players become better players, team players. Those are the ones who help define that group as a team. They are the kids who others listen to and want to learn from, not necessarily in technique, but in how to make the group of kids work together as a synchronized unit, as a team. You need those kids to help the team be the best it can be. They are the ones who in the end can make the difference between winning and losing.
So if you feel you have a good group of individuals on your squad, then you are probably winning games because you win more of those individual battles (or a bunch of those games if you have that untouchable pitcher and you only need to score one run per game). Are you dominating though, or at least winning the ones you should? If not, then take a look at your kids and decide if you have a group of individuals or a team. If you have a group of individuals, then find those kids who can help you make it a team and get them working on it. If you are one of the better clubs in your area, then I bet you already have those team players on your team and are one of the better teams out there.