How To Manage Academics And Athletics Written By Keri Casas
I have heard countless stories and excuses among student-athletes for their inability to maintain good grades because of their commitment to their sport. To me, it’s a cop-out. It’s reason for a student to be lazy, to under-achieve, and to go through the motions. Furthermore, I see more and more parents supporting their athletes in the belief that they simply cannot juggle it all. Let me tell you, you are only hindering your child’s abilities to be independently successful on the field and in the classroom.
It is unexpected to believe that a child, let alone a teenager, will have the capacity to put themselves on a schedule, stay organized, eat properly, maintain good grades, and stay in the starting line-up. In addition to all of this, your athlete is a female; so let’s factor in the need for social media, friends, school dances, and boys. They need your help, and they need your support.
If your daughter is looking to achieve their sport at the highest level, specifically a collegiate scholarship, they need structure to prepare themselves for an independent world. Collegiate academics and athletics are unforgiving. A professor won’t care that you just got off of a 3 hour flight from your double-header to excuse you from the midterm and a coach won’t care that you need to study for your test to let you skip practice. Your child will be thrown into this world at a rapid pace and unless they have structure and learn to balance all of their activities, they will drown in what was once a dream come true.
Although your child will not want to always follow a structured schedule, they will thank you later in their collegiate years as they will be able to soundly play the sport they love with the ability to be a high-achieving student in the classroom. So how do you go about implementing this schedule? You write it out and stick to is as strictly as possible. Have your female athlete, NOT YOU, write out their full schedule for a typical week, including times, you will be able to see how her time can be managed more efficiently. For example:
Monday: 8:00-3:00pm School
Once the whole schedule is written out, you will notice that there are huge gaps of time that can be organized in a different manner. If all the athlete does on Monday’s is school and practice, her homework should be done before practice begins, along with a meal, then practice, then any unfinished work with relaxation time after practice. Once her whole week is planned out, both of you will see how much time she really has on her hands, leaving no room for excuses to be able “to do it all”. She will be excuse-free and you will no longer have to fight over why she couldn’t study for her test or why she had to cancel lessons. “Too much homework”, or “practice went too long” will no longer be an issue.
Please note, they probably won’t initially like being put on a schedule, or enjoy being given expectations as to maintaining high academics with their athletic endeavors. It isn’t impossible and it truly makes for a better student-athlete in the collegiate world where you can’t bail them out by calling their coach or their teacher. It is a great tool for them to stay organized, achieve excellent scores in the classroom, work hard at their respected sport, and do so with confidence to attain both academic and athletic accolades without the stress of crunching time.
Kids need time to be kids, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need structure.
Implement a plan in your home so your kids can maintain their commitments to academics and athletics.
Don’t allow excuses. Your athlete can handle it all with success of the field and in the classroom; create a schedule, follow it, and enforce it. Soon enough they will appreciate it and want to follow it.
The Fastpitch Cheers App produced By Gary Leland
2, 4, 6, 8 who do we appreciate?
Hey batter, batter, swing batter, batter.
Rip, Shot, Shot, Rip, Send it over, Send it over, Send it Deep, Send it Deep…
Think those are a little out of date? Then you need the Fastpitch Cheers app for the iPhone and iPad. There are links to newest cheers in the softball circuit.
This app contains a large database of cheers for softball players, and new cheers will be added as we find them.
Another great feature of this app is the Fastpitch Training Aid Blog is included at no extra charge. It is a great blog to tell you about all the training aids out there to improve any players performance.
Avoiding The Big Inning Written By John Michael Kelly
“The Big Inning:” It’s every coach’s dream on offense, and every coach’s nightmare on defense! The big inning can and will change momentum of the game and more often than not decides the outcome of most games. This article will focus on the defensive perspective and what you can do as a coach to prevent or, at the very least, minimize the damage of a big (or “potentially big”) inning.
As I write about and teach often dramatic shifts in team momentum are usually started by what may look like a harmless single event on the field. This single “trigger event” followed by another like event and yet another and before you know it…BAM, the big inning is rearing its ugly head and your team is reeling!
Whether due to a pitching or defensive mistake, or even the ”luck of the green” when balls drop just beyond your fielders’ reach or find their way to the chalk, these “trigger events” can quickly deflate any team and turn the collective mindset from “I can” to “I can’t.”
While nearby in the other dugout, almost by some magical transference of energy, the game momentum has changed uniforms and your opponent’s collective energy gets visibly and audibly louder and infinitely more confident. Yes, there are absolutely two sides of the big inning coin.
So how can you as coach keep your defense and pitcher rolling in the early or late innings when the sinister forces of the game seem intent on inflicting damage to your team’s hopes of coming away with a “W?” Here are a couple of scenarios and ways you can short circuit the big inning:
1. I preach to my pitchers every inning to get ahead in the count and hyper-focus on getting that first out of each inning (since statistically 60+% of all lead-off hitters that reach base score). This strategy is CRUCIAL when trying to protect a lead. Nothing is more deflating to a team and coach to see their pitcher walking people or pitching consistently behind in the count with a lead late in the game. When a pitcher loses control it is often due to one of three things: fatigue, fear or lack of focus.
–Fatigue is obvious and as a coach don’t hesitate to go out to the circle for a visit to give your pitcher a breather, or to replace her. Ever pitcher has a clock ticking on her effectiveness. Get tuned in to it. And never leave her out there to fry when she is physically and/or emotionally done!
–Fear is often the cause when a pitcher enters an unfamiliar and uncomfortable game situation; maybe in a big game, maybe late in the game, or because she is worried about your showing or voicing your disapproval with her. I have always found that going out for a visit to take a little pressure off her by saying something funny, reassuring her of your support and allowing her to get back into a better pitching rhythm can be a very effective way to improve her performance.
–A lack of focus is often the culprit for a big first inning as the pitcher can be wild, putting her defense asleep. Focus is always a choice and I have little patience when a pitcher doesn’t begin to lock in mentally during her pre-game warm-ups. Some athletes are more easily distracted than others so monitor your pitchers’ warm-up intensity and stay involved in her focus before and throughout the game. Keep your catcher attuned as well as she can be a great asset in helping your pitcher keep her focus up, particularly during the biggest moments of the game.
2. On defense the big inning often starts as the result of an error on a seemingly harmless grounder or fly ball (if not by a walk). But it is at this moment that you often hold the key as to how bad the inning will get. I have unfortunately seen far too many coaches start ripping into their kids after a couple of errors and you can just see all the players’ energy just vanish; heads down and predictably worse results then follow. Don’t let that be you. As a coach it is vitally important to distinguish between physical and mental errors by your defense. Physical errors happen and can be corrected in practice. Mental errors are a little less forgivable but, nonetheless, every player who ever played the game makes them at one time or another.
Your job is to keep the mistakes in perspective by focusing on your players’ effort, and not be solely focused on their results or outcome on the field. If your players are afraid of making mistakes because you will blow up at them you can be assured they will make more mistakes. I have always coached with the mindset that mistakes will happen but that our success will be defined by how we RESPOND to those mistakes and failures. As the team leader you must set the tone and be okay with mistakes. No, you may not like them but harsh words, tones or body language showing disapproval will tank your girls emotionally and likely make it harder for you to keep their respect for you.
In short the big inning is a complex animal that will take a few more of these articles to fully convey the myriad mental strategies available to you as coach. In younger athletes confidence is a very fragile thing that, as coach, you wield an enormous amount of power to mold, nurture or destroy. The big inning is usually always a reflection of your team’s, your players’ and your own mindset and emotional state. To minimize the damage you need to wear the multiple hats of coach, cheerleader, psychologist, mentor and friend to get the most from your players and keep their collective emotional state even keeled.
Invariably my teams more often than not exceed expectations and play more closely to their potential on a more consistent basis because I work hard to keep my athletes’ emotional tanks full by encouragement and the understanding that mistakes and failure are a necessary part of the game. Once you can get your athletes to buy into the mindset that mistakes and failure are but opportunities and challenges to get better there will be less big innings on defense and more of them when you are swinging it!
Thanks for reading!
The Fastpitch TV Show App For iPhones And iPads produced By Gary Leland
Need a game to test your knowledge of softball? The Softball Trivia Quiz app for the iPhone and iPad is the right app for you. This is a fun filled game that tests your general knowledge of fastpitch softball. There are questions about softball history, softball rules, and much much more.
Questions have a value of 2 points per question. Answer all 50 questions right to get a perfect score of 100.
Also contains a $30 off softball bat coupon for bats at SoftballJunk.com
Actions Speak Much Louder Than Words Written By Greg Cruthers
They say that we learn valuable life lessons from playing sports. One day I received a phone call informing me that the reputations of my daughter and mine were being trashed in the local softball forum. After reading the posts I was shocked, disappointed and finally very angry. The gist of the posts was that I was an egotistical freak who thought his arrogant daughter was going to be the next Jenny Finch. My daughter heard about it from a friend and was quite upset too. This was the culmination of our first year of travel softball.
First Year of Travel Softball
Our community recreational youth softball league organized travel softball teams for multiple age groups. A couple of us parent coaches were selected to coach the 12u team. Not one of us had any travel softball coaching experience, but we moved forward practicing weekly through the winter and spring. Thankfully we only scheduled 4 local tournaments, because it proved to be a disaster.
We were trounced virtually every game by experienced teams from established clubs. We failed our players and their parents. In hindsight there were only 3 girls who had any business playing some level of travel softball. None of them were the daughters of my co-coaches. After a lifetime of playing baseball I realized I did not know fastpitch softball.
The lone bright spot of the experience was that after nearly every game the opposing team’s coach would pull one of us coaches aside and ask about “the little left-hander.” She was only 10, the pitcher, lead-off hitter and was getting all of the attention from other coaches, players and spectators. She was my daughter. This wasn’t handled well by one of my co-coaches.
Before the final tourney of the season he went off on me. His argument was that my daughter pitched too often, while his was being robbed of the opportunity to pitch. His daughter had a habit of failing to complete an inning before either getting mysteriously injured or crying after giving up double-digit runs. Nevertheless, I told him that his daughter could pitch every inning of every game. And she did. We hit the time limit each game before finishing the 3rd inning resulting in losses by the run rule every game. The team’s parents were furious at him.
Finding a New Team
I had already decided that I needed to take my daughter somewhere else and find her a team and coaches who would teach her the game of fastpitch softball. I spent a couple weekends at our state tournaments watching other teams and talking with coaches and parents. I took my daughter with me on the last day and we saw a team that really stood out before they even took the field. This caught her eyes. We watched them battle, talked with a couple parents and left after they won the game.
On the drive home she told me she wanted to play for that team. A few weeks later I took her to their tryouts where there were over 50 girls looking to fill one of six openings. They offered her a spot and she quickly accepted. It would be the first time in her life that she was not the best player on the team. Together we were fortunate to learn this game of fastpitch softball over the 7 years that she played with the club. A couple of seasons I served as an assistant coach and am still the webmaster for Finesse Fastpitch. After years of hard work and dedication she is now a member of the Ball State softball team.
Letting It Go
As for the nonsense in the forums, after calming down we decided to just let it go. Amazingly this coach signed up half of the team for another couple of seasons. He and his daughter continued to bad mouth us for years to come. And she heard the rumors in school too. At times it was extremely difficult to not confront this guy. But, in time we learned to just laugh at what we were hearing. It took awhile, but people started to figure out which father/daughter combination lacked character.
When I share this story with people we get to know in our softball circle they are dumbfounded. It took years for our reputations to be restored. Often somebody would say, “We heard all this crazy stuff about you, but you’re nothing like that.” Our good friend who is a former Finesse coach and current coach at the University of Michigan, Dearborn told me, “Greg. As good of a softball player that Hayley is, she’s a far better young lady. You should be proud.” What better compliment can a father receive of his daughter?
It’s All About The Team Dad
I created a softball website for our entire community (youth through varsity) and have written the articles for the varsity games since 2008. My daughter insisted that I must find a way to include all the girls on the team in the articles and any pictures that go with them. She would tell me if I forgot to include a girl who entered a game to courtesy run for the catcher or somebody who made a good defensive play.
The local paper called and asked to interview her over the phone. She walked into her room and shut the door. A while later she handed me the phone and told me he wanted to talk with me now. The guy half-way complained, “All she wants to do is talk about her teammates and coaches.” The local TV Station selected her as their athlete of the week. The interview began with her laughing at a question and the interviewer saying, “As you can see Hayley doesn’t like to talk about herself. Instead she lets her bat do the talking for her.”
Social Media Is Just a Modern Form of Gossip
There is a lot of discussion about the negative effects that social media is having these days not only on our children, but on our entire culture. A grown man slandering a 10 year old girl and her father on a public softball forum is surely an example of that. However, the years they spent trash talking us in our community had nothing to do with social media. Looking back these days we actually feel sorry for them, especially the daughter.
The life lessons that we learned from the experience and the path we chose are priceless: Patience, Humility, Forgiveness, Honesty, Diligence, Courage, Loyalty and Gratitude. In the end all of the accusations on the forum and gossip proved to be just words. And actions speak much louder than words.
The Hitter’s Approach: Hitting in All Counts! Written By Chez Sievers
During my softball career, I considered myself to be a pretty good hitter. Looking back, I could have been a smarter hitter.
Here’s why: I had a POOR approach. Which was NO approach. 5’0, Manny Ramirez leg lift, taking hacks with reckless abandonment. I’d get myself out by swinging at bad pitches.
After coaching for 8 years, this is the approach I’ve gathered from experience and working with some of the top hitting coaches in softball.
1. IDENTIFY what pitches your hitter can HANDLE. If she has a long swing, then low pitches
are more ideal for her. Pitches above her belt may not be pitches she hits well. If she identifies and attacks “her” pitches, she will be more successful.
2. Early in the Count, ATTACK Belly Button to Mid-Thigh Strikes. ELEVATED pitches have a higher probability of being driven in the gaps for doubles and home runs. LOW pitches at the knees are more likely to be hit for low line drives and ground balls. That’s why drop ball pitchers are considered to be “ground ball” pitchers. If you apply this approach, you should see your power numbers increase and unfortunately you might see pop ups increase too.
Here’s are some easy ways to create a visual strike zone on a low budget:
Burrito Toss: Take a rolled up sliding mat or an old goal post padding. Place it front of the home plate and toss. Get your hitters to attack belly button to mid-thigh strikes.
Roped Toss: Pick up 1/2” rope and 2 carabiners from your local home improvement store. Cut the rope to the width of the cage and tie a carabiner at each end. Set the rope just above the knees and start tossing.
3. Behind in the Count, what pitch is the opposing pitcher throwing with 2 STRIKES? Depending on the pitcher, Change Ups and Rise balls are typically thrown in 2-strike counts. Create a 2- strike approach around these pitches. If they know it’s coming, they won’t be surprised when they see it. You should have your players practice seeing the change up and reacting to the fastball.
At the beginning of the year, during practice, before games, I talk to the team about our approach which is usually “attack belt high strikes.” Each hitter has their routine or method to get them “in the zone.” With certain hitters in the hole, I’ll ask her, “What’s your approach?” They verbalize their plan and attempt to execute it. If they don’t commit to their plan, they have no one to blame but themselves. I used to tear my hair out telling them what pitch was coming and what pitch to attack. And you know what? People don’t absorb the lecture. The human brain can only retain five pieces of information in a span of 30 seconds if it’s not repeated. Information tends to bounce off of them like a force field if it isn’t repeated. The good news is if you work on strike zone awareness and approach, you should improve pitch selection, slugging percentage, and 2-strike hitting.
My Coaching Family Tree, Written By Matt Lisle
As another great year of presenters came and went at the NFCA Convention in December, I was inspired to reflect on my own coaching career. I’ve always known that my philosophy of coaching, drills, and strategies, were merely a melting pot of the ideas of my mentors. And of course, the ideas of my mentors were borrowed from their mentors, and so on, and so on. However, I’ve never given much thought as to where each philosophy had originated. Obviously I wasn’t the source, but like most great coaches I know that I have borrowed most of my ideas from other great coaching minds.
Looking back 13 years ago as a young high school head coach to now, I realized how little I knew about the game when I first started coaching. My knowledge and experiences of the game was passed on by only a few coaches mostly that of my own father. Don’t get me wrong, dad was a great coach and manager of players but as a young player I remember recanting my performances on the ride home from games more so than asking for coaching advice.”
As my first coaching season came to a close at the wise old age of 23, I had the realization that I better stop faking it (as a coach) by merely repeating the clichés I’d heard as a player, and actually begin developing my own coaching philosophy, so I could do a better job of developing the players and teams I worked with. It was then that I began my own journey to learn as much as I could about coaching and teaching. I begin to read every book and watch every DVD I could get my hands on. And as the digital age has developed, YouTube had become an even bigger resource! Each year I would continue to add to my own knowledge base, expanding my abilities to become my own person, and not just merely a clone of previous mentors.
As I began taking personal ownership, I have come to develop a personal coaching philosophy on everything from hitting, to the best way to wear a glove. But even with all the technology and information that was available to me over the years, my greatest philosophical implementations were always the result of personal encounters. Such encounters were made at conventions and clinics, like the NFCA, and even more so with coaches that I had the good fortune to work with.
Throughout my reflection of the last 13 seasons, I decided that I wanted to write down the names of each person that has shaped me as a coach and hopefully pass these names onto other coaches, so that they could have some resources on their journey as well.
I’ve spent the majority of my research and learning time on hitting. I love offense and creating havoc for the defense. Along the road I was fortunate to meet a man named Craig Wallenbrock. Craig is a relatively unknown name to the public because he doesn’t mass produce DVD’s or spend time arguing mechanics on message boards. Craig currently works with over a dozen major league teams as a hitting consultant and has worked with many of the big name players in professional baseball. I was incredibly blessed to be able to spend some time with him and have many hours of video footage of himself and many other of his major league hitting coach colleagues breaking down the mechanics, timing and approach of the swing. Don Slaught is another great hitting mind who has influenced the philosophy on hitting mechanics. His software Right View Pro and the accompanying videos does a great job of breaking down and teaching the swing of elite hitters, both softball and baseball. Slaught and Wallenbrock are good friends and agree (for the most part) on the mechanics of the swing, so it was great to have another resource at my fingers with Right View Pro. I highly recommend if your budget allows.
Along the way I learned an incredible amount about the best way to train softball and baseball players and I have abandoned “old school” things like static stretching, and long distance running and replaced them with dynamic stretching and focusing on explosive movements. I’ve learned to train our players like sprinters and not marathon runners. Marcus Elliott from P3 Performance in Santa Barbara and Eric Cressey on the East Coast are the two best in the business, in my experience, and I would highly recommend each coach to seek out everything they’ve talked about regarding our game. Google is a great place to start.
Arm care is another important aspect to our program and it should be to all programs. I became friends withAlan Jaeger of Jaeger Sports at the baseball convention a few years back. His J-Bands and arm throwing routine is one of the most important things I think a team can do. I’ve seen numerous players have incredible gains in velocity, distance and healthy arms since starting to use his bands and routine over the last few years. His new DVD Thrive on Throwing 2 has a 16 minute section just on softball long toss for pitchers starring Monica Abbott. I couldn’t get my hands on it fast enough.
Making the switch to softball from baseball after 10 years made me a newbie again desperately seeking out information on how to teach and manage pitchers. I hit the lottery when my first softball coaching job was as an assistant at the University of Oregon under the tutelage of head coach Mike White. Mike is considered by many of my colleagues, and around the world, as not only one of the best pitchers to ever play this game but one of the best teachers of pitching as well. In our practices, on and off the field, I tried to absorb as much as possible from Mike about pitching as he would allow (I tend to ask a lot of questions) and am eternally grateful to have done so. Amanda Scarborough is another coach and former pitcher that I have learned a great deal from regarding mechanics and training pitchers. She has videos online that are definitely worth watching and sharing with your players. At this year’s convention, University of Washington pitching coach Lance Glasoe has began to reshape the way that I’m going to manage my pitchers with his presentation. Having a detailed and organized plan like he has given me feels like a secret weapon that everyone should have.
When it comes to defense, I think I’ve taken a little bit from over 20 different coaches across baseball and softball. Most recently I’ve adopted University of Virginia head coach Blake Millers’ double play turning philosophy as well as his rundown philosophy (he presented at the 2012 NFCA and was also an assistant with me at Oregon). In regards to fundamentals of infield play, I met Ed Servais (Head Baseball Coach, Creighton) at a clinic once. Ed’s teams are known as one of the best defensively in the country every season. Outfield play is another area that I’ve just taken little pieces from many different coaches whether in person, at clinics or via video. There are so many great drills online as soon as you hit “search”.
When I’m working with camps or giving clinics across the country, I speak mostly on hitting but I get to teach and work with catchers a lot as well. Catching at the high school and college level is neglected so much more than anything else as many teams’ catchers are used strictly as a Fungo Assistant and bullpen. I believe that you can make the biggest improvement to your teams’ defense by spending 2-3 hours a week with your catchers developing them. If you’re looking for somewhere to start gaining knowledge, the best on this planet at least, is the New England Catching Camp. Their almost three hour DVD on catching is a must have for your collection and I have watched it over 20 times and have had several of my players watch it. Another great resource for catching is Xan Barksdale (Asst. Baseball Coach, East Tenn State) he has a book on catching that is one of the best I’ve found and shares a lot of information and drills online at his website and on YouTube.
I have spent a lot of time developing my own style of offense strategy. My teams are always known as teams that cause havoc on the defense. We have wristbands that display over 20 offensive plays from “Fake Squeeze and Steal” to something we call “Cardinal Fake Bunt” (something they teach in the St. Louis Cardinals farm system). I have come across many coaches who think that it’s too complicated of a system for players to learn and say things like “I would rather simplify it”. Although I agree with trying to simplify things for players to understand, I also believe that players don’t need the game “dumbed down” for them and will rise to the expectation given if it’s taught well. A few seasons ago, we won over 10 games by 1 run. This wasn’t because of great pitching (although it wasn’t too shabby). It was because we found ways to create runs when needed.
TEAM BUILDING & CULTURE
When it comes to team building and culture (which I think is the most important of all the coaching topics) my greatest influencer is Bruce Brown of Proactive Coaching. The Captains & Coaches Workshop DVD was a game changer for me as a coach and can’t recommend it enough. His team works with many of the top teams in the country in all sports and you can get access to all of his books and DVD’s online. Yvette Healy (Head Coach, U of Wisconsin) did a great job at this year’s convention, speaking on culture and books to read as a coach and with your players. There are so many books out there on culture and team building. Try to read as many as you can and find the things that fit you and your program the best.
Besides hitting and catching the most common topic that I speak at clinics about is program building & practice planning. I’ve taken from so many good coaches on this area but I’ll name just a few that have stood out. John Cohen (Head Baseball Coach, Mississippi State) is one of the best I’ve come across and you can get his all-access DVD online. Another one would be a convention presenter from this year in Joe Evans (Texas A&M). I always stress to coaches to make a Master Plan with everything that you need to cover over the course of a season from 1st/3rd’s, bunt defenses, rundowns and more. Coach Evans spoke directly on that and shared her master plan checklist with everyone. I highly recommend having yours on hand for practice planning for the week. I know that Coach Evans plan will be a great addition to mine.
MY ADVICE TO YOU
The best advice that I can give coaches is to always be learning, growing, and changing. The worst thing that you can do as a coach is to develop a philosophy on something whether it be hitting, pitching or even bunt defense, and spend your entire career trying to defend it. Be open and willing that what you have been teaching may not be the best way and that you can always learn a better way from someone else. I see former players of mine from ten years ago and cringe when I think of the way that I taught them hitting, etc. This is why I love going to conventions, clinics and spending time with other coaches. If I can sit through a 45-minute clinic on a topic and can find just one small nugget to pull from it to add to my repertoire then that time was well spent. Sometimes you find more than a nugget and feel like you want to throw out your entire philosophy on something. Don’t completely abandon your philosophy and grab someone else’s until you’ve implemented it in small doses. (Or at least wait until the off-season)
ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
Whether you are a first year coach or a thirty-year veteran, I encourage you to write down your Coaching Family Tree, if not for yourself for your coaches that you may have an influence on and continue to add to it all the time. The biggest thing I took from this year’s convention wasn’t about hitting, pitching, practice planning or recruiting. The most important thing I took away was during Alyson Habetz’s (Alabama Softball) introduction of Patrick Murphy (Head Coach, Alabama) at the Hall-Of-Fame banquet. She gave countless accounts of Coach Murphy’s “attitude of gratitude” when it came to everyone he came into contact with. That’s how I want to be described as someday. I am eternally grateful to every member of my Coaching Family Tree and the influence they’ve had on me over the years and will continue to have.
The Importance of Teaching Written By Mike Adams
There are several types of coaches. The coach I prefer is the coach that likes to teach. I became involved in coaching, like many coaches, at a young U level because I didn’t agree with the way my daughter was being coached. I watched the coach for her 6U team be more involved in achieving the “W” than teaching the players how to play. Beginning the next year, I worked within the local rec league to help define the season’s rules to promote the learning process further. We attempted a couple of times to get all of the coaches on board as a collective group on how and what skills we were going to apply. A core group emerged eventually that met in preseason to establish the game play. Where I grew up this idea was actually implemented by the high school varsity coach. He was tired of reteaching and training players in high school with different philosophies and gamemanship after years of what he considered faulty coaching priorities. His answer was to become highly involved in the little league process and ran coaching clinics all the time. He networked with the other coaches so well that his high school teams were his kids from the moment they set foot on the field and they knew what was expected of their play and how to go about achieving those standards.
Ok, My ADD started to go off track. Where it becomes relevant again is that one of the things I see with my daughter at the U14 level is quite a few players are always focused on the out at first. I even hear parents say they should always go to first. Well, in my opinion, that works fine only at younger levels. When players are starting out, you don’t want to confuse them with too many instructions. After all, making sand castles is one thing they are already concentrating on!So you teach them to “go one”. This gets drilled into their head until they don’t think about it anymore. A few years later, you throw the next piece into the puzzle. This can vary between a few options with the two most popular being get the lead runner or get the closest out first. We, as coaches, know there are certain times that one is better than the other, but remember, this is a learning process. You really need to pick one of the above mentioned plays and stick with that strategy until the players understand it and the why. After they do, and we are not talking 2-3 games here, then you introduce the third method. Keep in mind when you teach these methods, make sure the understanding of why you want them to do it is part of the drill. This helps them to development their mental game.
The reason for throwing to 1st is because it is always a force out with the batter-runner not having a lead off and therefore usually takes the longest to get to base. It is ALWAYS a play and requires the least thought which is why we teach that first. Closest runner is important because there are times that tagging someone running by just makes more sense. If you are 4 feet from second and second is a force, then going there is a safe and easy out. This play definitely takes more thought than just going to first. Before the pitch, the player must assess where everyone is, knowing that if the balls goes to “x” I am going to do “y”. Getting the lead runner out is very important, especially when there are less than 2 outs. Again, these are my opinions. I have gotten into it with parents when there were less than 2 outs, runner on second and third, ball is bunted and pitcher runs up and stays stoning the girl at third. With sideline parents yelling the throw should go after the girl out at first. By going for the safe out though the girl on third easily would have made it home, unless completely ignoring her base coach, who would undoubtedly be watching for the play to move across field. There is a philosophy that defense wins games; to a point I agree. If they never score, you will never lose. You may tie (depending on your league rules), but you will never lose. Plus, at that point, I have the bases loaded for the next play which makes it very easy to get outs. Barring a grand slam, of course, which wouldn’t be that great. Another way to see how this strategy works is look at it from the offensive side. The goal of offense is to score. Getting on base is a step in scoring but scoring is the ultimate goal. Stopping them from achieving this goal will win the game.
Getting back to the preseason rule setting. One of the questions we kept in mind when changing the rec rules was what would promote learning. One of the biggest fights was over overthrows. The situation was when learning (remember all of these are at the lower age groups) there are a ton of overthrows. Anyone disagree? Well, in leagues that didn’t limit the amount of overthrows, the coaches just had the players always hold the ball essentially teaching them to stop play as soon as they got the ball. The second popular thing was to get it to the pitcher. Which is better than holding the ball, but what if there are plays to be made? We altered the rules to allow advancing to the next base on an overthrow once per at bat. This allowed us to teach the players to throw to first (for example) and if it is overthrown, hustle to the ball and attempt the next out without fear of the runner advancing another base because you made another overthrow. This simple tweak got the players hustling, got them keeping track of what game play is going on as well. The other 2 methods didn’t really get taught that year; the focus was made on fielding the ball and making good throws. Players just beginning will not be able to throw perfectly, it comes with time, confidence and practice. If you don’t put that time into game play they may never learn.
Further in my daughter’s career, she had a coach that had the girls bunting like crazy. I was really perplexed at first. Trying to figure out the method to his madness nearly made me mad as well. At first always bunting cost us the game. Hard to watch. Later on in the season, I noticed he had the girls that were doing a good job bunting start hitting. That is when I got it. Learning is more important than the win. By the end of the season, most of the girls could bunt…a very valuable skill in my book. Seeing girls the same age on other teams struggle with it makes me appreciate the coach that took the loss in order to teach. I am sure that the players next coach was very excited to be able to take a batter and know they can bunt, as well as hit.
Another mistake I see with coaches paying more attention to the win rather than teaching is positioning. I have heard it from both parents and other coaches “at sometime the player needs to stay at a position to hone that skill” Although I agree that staying in one position will allow a player to really play that position well, it will also lock that player into only that position. Which player would you rather have on your team, a superstar 3rd baseman that can’t play any other position, or a player who knows how to play, and has played every position. I don’t know about your teams, but mine has players getting hurt. The versatile player is gold in my book. How many of you have said “I like so-and-so, I can put them anywhere”? I thought so…. There is another advantage to putting players in different positions. They get to learn perspective and the challenges of the different positions. For example, try putting your pitcher at catcher. Heck at the same time have the catcher pitch! I am going to guess that the pitcher had no idea how fast the catcher has to react. I am going to guess the catcher had no idea how hard it is to aim at a spot with the catcher not being consistent with the glove. Does second base (or shortstop) understand how annoying it is for a catcher to go to throw down and not see anyone paying attention or running to second looking for the throwdown? Going the opposite way, does the catcher know how annoying it is for second or shortstop to have the catcher wait until they are there until they throw? (FYI, you save serious time by having the catcher throw down to the bag and having the cover catch it on the fly) Having a cut off infielder swap with an outfielder and see how they do when the cut off isn’t vocal helping the outfielder. The swaps are endless and there are plenty of things to learn. I already mentioned in a previous blog, the added benefit of finding that a player is really good at a position they haven’t tried.
Players also get caught up with the need to win mindset as well. Every team has better players and players that need work. When you tell them to pair up, I am betting that the best players match with the best players. They want to look good, so they pair up with the one that makes them look the best. What they should be taught is to want to bring the lesser players up to their level. I have heard “I don’t like playing catch with X because she can’t catch my fast throws”. What that means to me is during a game if X needs to catch a ball either it won’t be thrown hard or it will be thrown hard and they won’t know how to catch it. There are multiple ways to deal with this issue depending on how the players accept instruction. If you have great leaders on the team then just mentioning it to them may fix the issue. Other times I have had to “randomly” move girls around. When I hear a player say something about how a player needs work, I ask what they have done to help that player. I usually get blank stares or worse they told the player they were doing it wrong. Time for the coach to teach the player how to be a better player-coach.
Sometimes we get so caught up with what will get the “W” we forget about what gets us there. Am I saying that you shouldn’t care about winning? No, not at all. I am saying there is a time and place to place the importance of winning vs losing. Regional Championship game is NOT the place I would put people in new positions. Playing a regular season game and up by 6 or 7 runs? That might be the time to swap around. Just remember, in order to play well you must learn. When you don’t continue to learn, you are stagnant.