Monthly Archives: March 2012
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This is one of those mysteries of fastpitch softball coaching that just stumps me. Every year when the HS softball season starts I hear tales of coaches trying to “rebuild” the swings of players in the two or so weeks they have before they start playing every day.
It’s pretty unrealistic to think you can make significant improvements in a swing in such a short amount of time. What really gets me, though, is that these coaches rarely focus where it might do them some good, i.e. the kids who can’t hit a lick, and for whom any instruction might yield some benefits.
No, instead they decide to focus on the team’s top hitters. That’s just wrong on so many levels. The most significant of which is there is a reason those players are your top hitters.
There’s an old coaching saying that says if a player can hit .400 standing on her head, the coach’s job is to get her a pillow. In other words, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Now, I’m not in 100% agreement with that way of thinking; truth is it’s always broke to some extent. But if the player is a good hitter the odds are she’s had some training and all she might need is a little tweaking here or there. Yet Mr. or Ms. “Helper Coach” ignores that fact and instead tries to completely change what these players are doing.
When you have limited time and a wide range of ability, it’s not the top of your order you need to mess with. Let’s face it. On most HS teams if you’re lucky you have five good, solid, reliable hitters. That means nearly half your lineup still needs help. A smart coach will work with those hitters and try to get them up to the level of the top five to give them a better chance of avoiding the dreaded bottom of the lineup black hole — that place where hopes of victory go to die.
Yes, it’s tempting to want to put your own stamp on good players. Everyone wants to claim they helped those players get to where they are. But that’s not where your efforts will pay off.
Instead, work with the players who really could use the help — the ones without a clue — and not only will you raise their games, you’ll avoid screwing up the players who are your best hope of gaining more wins. Just sayin’.
What has your experience been? Do you know coaches who mess up their top players (and teams) by trying to change what’s working? Or do you disagree and think the coaches should work with the top ones instead of the bottom-level players?
Here’s a little softball humor for you all.
Q. How do you get a girls fastpitch softball team to play .500 ball?
A. Find a team capable of playing .800 ball and make them feel bad about themselves.
Funny, because it’s true.
This is the third part in my series about working with various ages of fastpitch softball players. Today we’re looking at high school age and up — generally speaking 16U-18U and college players.
As a private instructor, working with older players is a lot of fun — assuming they are there voluntarily and not being forced to come to me by their parents. Usually these players have experienced some form of failure, so they’re highly motivated to listen, learn and get better. They work hard on their own, and tend to make quick progress. They often have a broad enough experience base to understand certain concepts quickly, and want to know the “why” behind what we’re doing instead of just executing it because I say so.
At a team level it can be a little more challenging. If you have the right players they will also learn quickly. But you may find you have some who aren’t interested in learning anything new. They want to do what they’ve always done — especially if they’ve had some level of success. For them, the best thing you can do is expose them to players with better skills so they can see they’re not quite as all that as they thought.
What does make it fun with the right team is you can get into more complex concepts and plays. The game is faster, so execution becomes more important.
There’s nothing like the satisfaction of seeing your players recognize a situation and make an adjustment without you having to tell them what to do. It could be a defensive change — moving into slap defense against an obvious slapper — or something as simple as recognizing a changeup when it’s thrown and stealing a base.
Of course, at that age they can definitely have attitudes — some more than others. But if you take the time to get to know them as people you can often overcome that. In fact, you can build relationships that will last long after the last pitch is thrown. Just tonight I had a Facebook exchange with a girl who last played for me about 10 years ago.
Most importantly, with players this age you can really make a difference in their lives. Giving them confidence, helping them to overcome adversity or fear and teaching them to give everything they have to whatever they do. You can also help them build softball memories that will last them a lifetime.
With younger players coaches tend to need to exert a lot of control. With the older group, if you’ve trained them properly, you get to sit back more and watch all the hard work pay off. Which is a lot like parenting when you think about it.
Gotta love Facebook for keeping up with people. This week I saw that one of my long-time students, freshman Mary Chamberlain, was named Pitcher of the Week at Blackburn College. The honor came during their Spring trip to Myrtle Beach, SC.
Mary is a great player and a great person. Nice to see her getting this kind of accolade so early in her career. I’m sure it’s the first of many!
Saw a reference to this blog post show up in my Twitter feed today, courtesy of @jbmthinks, and just had to pass it along even though it’s not directly about fastpitch softball. It tells the tale of Olympic skiier Edie Thys Morgan and how she ultimately learned more from losing than winning — and how losing made her a champion.
Yes, no doubt as a parent it’s hard to watch your child lose, especially if it seems to be turning into a habit. I’ve certainly been there. We all want our own kids and our players to win and experience success. Yet if they’re constantly the big fish in the small pond, sooner or later there will be a day of reckoning when they run up against other big fish who are better-prepared.
We’ve certainly all seen those tales of woe. A kid who was always the big gun (and therefore didn’t have to work at it) gets passed by one who may not be as athletically gifted but has a better work ethic. It can be a real shocker for that player who is used to winning.
The same goes for teams that play in tournaments or leagues that don’t challenge them so they can brag about how many trophies they won. We’ve all known them as well. If you’re going to get better you have to challenge yourself, even if it means going home early on Sunday now and then. Because again, sooner or later you’ll have to face that level of competition and it could be a real shocker if you haven’t truly paid your dues.
In any case, check out the article. I think you’ll find it really strikes a chord.
Sorry, this took a little longer than planned, but here is the second in my series of articles on what I like about working with different age levels of fastpitch softball players. The first installment covered the very young players, essentially up to 10U. Today we’re talking about the next level, which I’ve pegged as 12U-14U — which is basically the pre-high school group.
To me that’s the most critical age for instruction, the one where doing a good job means you can really make a huge long-term difference. While you’re also setting a good foundation when working with the younger group, they can still get away with weaker technique. At this age, however, the difference between well-trained and poorly trained (or untrained) players really begins to show up.
As a rule, girls in this age group are starting to get more command of their bodies. Yes, they are often changing, but they still tend to feel more comfortable with themselves which means they can cut loose a little more. Their coordination is also improving at this point, and they are getting stronger. All of those things contribute to achieving good results.
Often they are aware that other players are improving as well, so they are motivated to try new things in order to become better players. They usually have some rivalries or things to prove, which also helps keep them working hard.
At this age most have gotten past their initial shyness so as a coach you can talk with them a little more. They’re becoming interested in more adult things (TV shows, movies, books, music, etc.) so you can base your relationship with them on more than just softball.
If you treat them right, girls at this age level are more willing to run through a wall for you. (Of course if you don’t they’ll shut you out completely.) They don’t have the distractions of boyfriends, jobs, college plans and all the other things of high schoolers so you can get more of their attention on the field or in a lesson.
There are some downsides though, too. If they experienced success in the past, even if it was just being a big fish in a small pond, they may be reluctant to listen or change what they’re doing to improve. Their limited experience has shown them that they are the best player in the league, so they assume that translates across the board.
It doesn’t, as they will eventually find out. I’ve seen plenty of kids who loved being studs in their rec league only to find out they went to the bottom of the pile in high school when they had to compete against experienced travel ball players.
As anyone who has had or been a 12 to 14 year old girl knows, they can also get some real attitudes on them. If they don’t want to be somewhere or doing something it’s not too tough to tell. That can get frustrating as you can see the potential but know it will never be unlocked until they lose the attitude and start listening. For those with helicopter parents you often have to break down that inward focus so they can learn to be a real part of a team.
Still, I’ve found those are the minority. Most are sponges, eagerly learning, and they really appreciate you not just telling them what to do but showing or explaining why it needs to be done.
Again, for a softball player this is a critical time. You can give players at this age a huge advantage going forward, teaching them skills and strategies that their peers will have to learn much later. Instead of catching up, they’ll be the ones showing well. And that’s a beautiful thing to see.
Ok, now it’s your turn. Why do you like coaching this age group? What challenges have you found? Having done it would you do it again?