Why I like working with 12U-14U fastpitch players
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?