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?

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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 March 4, 2012, in Coaching. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I am currently coaching a 12U travel team and the high school team. I find that the 12U players are much more willing to try new things and listen. Experience high school players tend to have a routine and are reluctant to change that routine. I would definitely enjoy coaching a 12U team again. High school players have a definite advantage also they’re much more independent. In my opinion 12U players are much more driven by the love of the game than the need to impress colleges or scouts for the next level. At 12U you definitely can tell that the girls are maturing. When they get to that point they make great improvements much more rapidly. This is also the point where players start to separate skill levels. On my travel team I have a half 12-year-olds turning 13 this year and half 11-year-olds and the difference in physical ability is typically greater. I find that the older girls on my 12U travel team take the games much more seriously than they have in the past. This transition in the players is very fun to watch. I love coaching 12U and high school players especially since I get the opportunity to see how their skills at 12U translate into high school play.

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  2. Greg, you definitely get to see both sides of it with what you’re doing. One of the things that’s fun when you start with them at 10U is seeing them start to “get” things you’ve been working on for a while. The other fun thing at 12U is it does start to resemble actual softball. That keeps going at 14U, although there can be some big gaps in ability between younger 14s and older ones. Strength and maturity too. Enjoy those young ones. It goes by fast!

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