4 softball coaching traps to avoid

One of the biggest challenges of coaching softball is keeping up with the game. As you coach, you accumulate a set of knowledge; the longer you coach the more knowlCoaching and learningedge you gather.

That’s a good thing in some ways. But it can also be a limiting factor, especially in these days of high speed video and greater interest in analyzing mechanics. What may have been believed to be “true” 15, 10 or even 5 years ago may not be so anymore. The more study, evidence and analysis that goes in, the higher the likelihood that what is considered the optimum mechanics or strategy today is different than it was then.

We certainly see that with the one of the signature plays of fastpitch softball – the sacrifice bunt. Statistical analysis shows that overall teams will score more runs with a runner on first and no outs than with a runner on second and one out. Not necessarily with this runner, this hitter and this pitcher, but in the long. Which means the idea of automatically bunting a runner to second should come out of the coach’s playbook, replaced by a more specific situational analysis.

But I’m not here to discuss the sac bunt specifically. More the ways of thinking that can get coaches in trouble if they’re not aware. Here are a few of the common traps you’ll want to avoid to ensure you are and remain the best coach you can be.

The Backfire Effect

This is the name given to the phenomenon that says in an argument between two people with opposing views, the more hard evidence one side presents, the more the other side will cling to their beliefs. (The Backfire Effect, by the way, can be easily seen in every political argument on Facebook ever.)

You would think that once hard evidence was presented, the other person would change their mind. But the opposite is true. People hate to be proven wrong, and thus will do all they can to avoid that feeling.

For a coach it goes double, I think. You’ve been teaching something one way for years and having success. To all of a sudden find out it’s wrong is hard. Believe me, I know, because I’ve definitely been guilty of it.

Yet as a coach, your goal should be to impart the best information and training to your players that you possibly can. To cling to your beliefs because you don’t want to admit there is a better way than you’ve been teaching is doing your players a disservice.

Best to take a cue from former UCLA head coach Sue Enquist here. She was presenting at a clinic one time and saying things that contradicted statements she’d made in her previous skills videos. When someone in the audience challenged her on it, she shrugged and said “I know more now than I did then.”

As long as you didn’t go out of your way to present bad information there is nothing to be ashamed of. You did the best you could with what you knew. Now you know more. Everyone should consider that a good thing – and an indication that you always have their best interests at heart.

Confirmation bias

This one is often a cousin to The Backfire Effect. Having Confirmation Bias basically means you will look and look for any evidence that supports your current beliefs, and if you find it will value that evidence above all else.

For example, let’s say you’re still teaching “squish the bug” for hitting. You go online and look at dozens of video clips until you find one example that appears to be a player squishing the bug. In other words, you ignore all dozens of others until you find the one that supports your beliefs and take it as gospel.

When you’re looking at the evidence on your own, don’t just look at what agrees with you. Look at everything, and see where the patterns are. Doesn’t necessarily mean the majority is right – most innovations start out with a very small sampling. But if you add in old teaching versus new, you’ll probably start to get a better idea of whether the evidence actually supports you or you’re just discounting the majority that doesn’t.

Fallacies in logic

There are many different types of fallacies in logic. When it comes to coaching, here are a few of the most common.

Post hoc ergo proper hoc. Doesn’t everything sound more important in Latin? Basically, this means B followed A so A must have caused B. This is probably the basis for most of the softball superstitions we love so much.

Let’s take an easy example. I stepped on the chalk line before the game and we lost, so stepping on the line caused the loss. (In this case, everyone chooses to ignore the four critical errors, two baserunning mistakes at home and total lack of hitting.)

Sounds silly, doesn’t it? But it happens all the time, especially when analyzing video clips. The key to so-and-so’s power in hitting is this one move she makes that no one else does. It might be. Or it might not. The two may not be related at all.

Or with pitching, you could say this pitcher bends extra low when she starts, and she’s super fast, so her speed must come from the bend. It makes no biomechanical sense, but because the two things happen in close proximity it’s assumed one causes the other.

Don’t make that assumption. If there is a cause/effect relationship it will become obvious with further testing. If not, that will become obvious too.

Ad hominem. This involves discounting someone’s information because you don’t like or respect them personally.

This is an easy but dangerous trap to fall into. We’d all much rather work with/take advice from people we like and/or respect. But the validity of what they’re saying is independent of their personalities.

Speaking from personal experience, I have learned plenty from people I didn’t particularly care for. Don’t let that fact determine whether you’ll listen. As the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day – assuming you’re working with an analog clock.

There are plenty of others, but you get the gist. You want to be sure any arguments you use, for or against, are based on real information rather than flawed logic.

Seeing what you want to see

Have you ever listened to or read an online argument where two people were looking at the same piece of video and drawing completely different conclusions? If you’re a coach who is always looking for information no doubt you have.

That’s the risk with something like video. I see X, you see Y. We both have our interpretations based on our own experience and beliefs. It’s sort of like confirmation bias, only this time you didn’t have to weed through a lot of videos to find the one that agreed with you. In this case, it appears they all do.

We all tend to filter things through our own lenses. That’s good most of the time, but it can also lead us to conclusions that may not be true.

The best thing you can do is keep an open mind and continually challenge your own beliefs. If someone says something different than you see or believe, try looking at it from their point of view. Make an assumption they’re right, and then see if you can support it. If you can, it’s worth re-examining your own opinions. If you honestly cannot say you see where they’re coming from, after making a real attempt, you just may be right.

Continue to learn

It’s easy to get stuck in your ways, and it’s hard to admit you may not have known as much as you thought you did. But if you can avoid these traps you’ll come out the other end a better coach.

Have you ever been in that uncomfortable position of having to change what you teach/believe? How did you handle it? Was it an easy transition or was it like rubbing a lemon on an open wound? Most importantly, are you glad you did it? Leave your answers in the comments below.

 

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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 22, 2016, in Coaching and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I have actually lost students for some of the reasons you stated here Ken. Parents and other coaches get far to much ad hominem “Advice” from those who do not like my methods of teaching. There is now too much money being made in youth sports by coaches. 30 years ago many were just volunteer dads or moms trying to help kids get better. Now its everyone’s business. So financial gain is now becoming a driver of opinion as well. Base your judgment on results. Not hear say. And if your a coach or instructor never stop learning. You will get left behind if you do. Another great article Ken. Dana Maggs. Excel Hitting and Pitching.

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  2. Thanks, Dana. Yes, that is very frustrating. There can all be all kinds of “reasons” given but the effect is the same. The other side, of course, is so-and-so has a great reputation because he/she got lucky with a few kids that overcame his/her teachings, but everyone assumes it’s his/her coaching. I’ve lost some kids to that as well.

    Agree on the money aspect. You have a bunch of unqualified people hanging out shingles, along with some folks that haven’t learned anything new since before the Internet came along. They’re just there for a revenue stream. You combine that with players being “forced” (or strongly encouraged) to go to the team’s chosen instructor and the value often isn’t there.

    For coaches to serve their players/students they need to keep up with the game. That means challenging assumptions all the time. Parents need to learn all they can as well to make the best decisions on who is keeping up with the game. In my opinion.

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