Any time you have a group of people from different backgrounds, skill levels, experience levels, etc. trying to achieve a single goal, one of the staples has been team building. Whether you’re a corporation, charitable organization or girls fastpitch softball team, a little team building can go a long way.
Some of you may remember how the USA National softball team approached it during their run-up to the 2004 Olympics. They worked with the Navy SEALs to get some strength-building as well as military-style lessons in teamwork and bonding.
Sounds cool doesn’t it? Maybe you’re thinking you’d like to do something like that with your team – put them through military-style training to help them learn how to work together, overcome obstacles and learn to function as a tighter unit. But of course the SEALs have more important things to do than work with every youth fastpitch softball team that wants to give it a try.
Luckily, at least if you’re in the Chicago area, there’s now an alternative: Hot Ground Gym. Currently located in Northbrook (with a second location set to open in the next few months in Buffalo Grove), it offers that kind of military-style training to kids and teams. They also have a mobile option that will come to you if you have an organization that would like to do it. (FULL DISCLOSURE: My son Adam is one of the trainers, which is how I learned about what they do. This is not a paid advertisement, just an FYI for coaches looking for something different to do with their teams.)
Hot Ground Gym was started by two military veterans, one a former U.S. Marine and the other Israeli Special Forces, to help kids build confidence, discipline, problem-solving and leadership skills in a fun, supervised environment. A lot of what they do is regular classes where kids come almost every day. But they also have birthday party and team-building options where they will do a 1.5 hour or 2 hour program for a specific group.
The core of the Hot Ground Gym program is obstacles. They have all sorts of them, most of which they built themselves, to challenge kids and teach them how to work together. If the trainers see the kids aren’t challenged, they rearrange or alter the course to get them out of their comfort zones and working hard to improvise, adapt and overcome.
The nice thing about this is it’s both mental and physical. Your team parents will likely love it if you do it because their kids will probably pretty sleep pretty well afterwards. The kids are kept moving constantly, running through, around and over obstacles, climbing, crawling, swinging from ropes and so forth.
At the end of the session you can either just go home, or you can have a little celebration (bring your own food and drinks) to talk about what the team learned and enjoy their successes. And maybe have a few laughs about their failures.
The video on the website home page provides a pretty good idea of what they do, although it’s constantly changing. And don’t be discouraged by the fact it’s mostly boys in the video. Adam says they have a lot of girls do their programs, and those are some of their best performers.
If you’re looking for a way for a fairly new team to get to know each other, or for a cliquish team to break down some barriers, or just a way for your team to learn a little more about how to push past their personal boundaries to do more than they thought they could, it’s worth checking out.
You might even ask that Adam be one of the trainers. He’s an Illinois Army National Guard veteran who did a tour of combat duty in Afghanistan so he knows the whole military aspect. And he earned a couple of medals during training for his leadership skills so he knows how to get groups of people working together for a common goal. He also has a wicked sense of humor, so your players will be entertained as well as challenged.
I was out watching a high school softball game today (as I often like to do) on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. It was a well-played game overall, with a few good hits and some excellent defensive gems as well.
There was one thing I saw, however, that kind of bothered me. First let me set the scene.
The home team was in the field, and was trailing by a few runs. The visitors had a couple of runners on base. Bases may have even been loaded – I usually don’t pay that much attention to the specifics.
The pitcher threw a pitch and the hitter turned on it, driving a sharp two-hopper between the shortstop and third baseman and into left field. The left fielder came charging up to field the ball gloveside. That’s when disaster struck.
The ball took a nasty hop right over her glove and to the fence. Two runs scored, extending the visitors’ lead, and there were still runners on. That’s when I heard it.
The pitcher lost her cool and yelled “Outfielders, you have to get in front of the ball.”
She was correct, especially in that particular situation. The left fielder was going to have no play by charging the ball hard, so should’ve made sure it stayed in front of her. But…
It’s not the pitcher’s place to chastise her fielders. She needs their support. Pitchers should either say something positive and encouraging to their fielders or keep their mouths shut, in my opinion. Chastising the fielders is the coach’s or the catcher’s job. Giving the fielders a hard time will do the pitcher no good, but it could do some harm.
Personally, if I were that left fielder and got called out like that, I would not have been happy. When the pitcher rolled the first pitch to the next batter into the plate (as she did) I might’ve been tempted to yell “Pitchers, you can’t roll the ball in to the plate.” See how she likes it.
Pitchers have to understand that just as they don’t usually walk batters or hit them on purpose, fielders aren’t trying to make errors. They just happen. Also keep in mind that runners on base don’t just materialize from nowhere. If there weren’t other errors already, they got on by a hit, walk or HBP, so the pitcher has some culpability for those baserunners that scored.
Again, unless they can strike out every opposing batter every time, pitchers need everyone pulling in the same direction behind them. Getting mouthy to their fielders isn’t the way to accomplish that.
They’ll be better served by staying cool and demonstrating leadership. It’s the better choice not only for the immediate game but for the season.