Coaching softball, or any youth sport, is no laughing matter. I recently came across coaches who didn't think things through very well when they made the decision to coach. Or maybe they figured it couldn't be that hard since the kids were young. Either that or they got into it for the wrong reasons. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that they simply had no idea what coaching youth sports involves and got in over their heads.
I know in youth sports, they're “just kids” but…
1) Often times their parents are paying money for their kids to play. They will have certain expectations. If nothing else, they will at least expect their child to LEARN in an environment where SAFETY is a priority. This means they expect you to TEACH, not just yell instructions.
2) Sports is an amazing way for kids to make memories AND learn some awesome life lessons along the way. Don't short change them and leave them with a bad taste in their mouth instead. Even if the sport isn't for them, they should at least be able to look back at the season as a worthwhile experience, not a complete waste of time.
Any time you coach, remember a few things…
I cannot stress this enough. If you're going to coach, have a plan. What do you want to accomplish this season? What is your big picture for the team? Where are you headed and what is your plan to get there? How many times a week can or will you practice? How long will your practices be? Who is going to be on staff and what do you expect from them?
What kind of equipment do you have to work with? How will you communicate important information with your parents? Who is going to handle all the administrative and logistical planning, coordination, and communication? What league requirements do you need to know and abide by? What are you going to practice today? This week? Where are your team uniforms coming from? How much do they cost? What will be ordered as as team and what do parents need to get on their own?
Obviously, I could go on and on and on and on. Coaching demands a lot! Please do not take a coaching job lightly and think you can just figure things out as you go along. If you do, you sell yourself and, more importantly, the KIDS short! Not cool.
TAKE TIME TO “TRAIN” NOT JUST COMPETE
Competing endlessly isn't a good idea. Talk with any elite or professional athlete or coach and they'll tell you there are phases to training. All professional sports have an OFF-season for a reason!
There's NO possible way you can train skills AND effectively prepare for competition all the time. Effectively learning and developing skill work and technique requires that you do so under conditions where “results” don't matter. It requires an environment where you can focus solely on HOW you're doing what you do with no regard to what the actual end results of your performance is.
Preparing for excellence in competition, however, requires pressure, intensity, speed, and a completely different environment from learning and developing skills. You cannot do BOTH very well at the same time. If you really want to develop skills, make time to do so without the pressure of competition breathing down your neck. If you really want to get ready for competition, make sure you've already put in enough time working skills so you can ramp things up and get more game like in training.
Believe it or not, eating, sleeping, and breathing softball 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year doesn't work well. In order for our bodies and minds to function at th most optimal level we must take care of various areas of life, not just go hard core into one and only one. I'm as much for focus as much as the next person striving for excellence, but I also realize that the human body, mind, and spirit all need care for maximal output. This means you NEED to take breaks and allow your players to take breaks too. Skip this and you'll eventually harm your performance, not help it.
I can't tell you how many times people told me my daughter would “fall behind” because I didn't put her in the winter league (yes, in Hawaii, there is a winter league for softball). Every year, after the summer was over, she took a break from softball. In addition to other things, this gave her the opportunity to concentrate and focus on grades for the entire first semester of each school year.
No matter how many times people bugged me about letting her play during the winter, we avoided it whenever possible. Was she behind when she got back into it in the spring?
She always had a some rust to shake off, but that never took long and once it was gone, she always looked far fresher and sharper than players who'd were burnt out from playing non-stop since the previous year!
Now that she's a senior in high school, many of the girls she played ball with at 10-12 years old no longer play. A few do, but I would say, only about a quarter of her 10u-12u teammates still play. The rest stopped years ago. So how much did all those years in winter league, from age 9-14, really help? Train smart!
More is not always better. Better is better. Never confuse more with better. Take any coaching job you accept seriously. You have the opportunity to help others. Make the most of it. Do it well. Use common sense. Never let the pressure or excitement of competition take you away from basic and essential fundamentals. Never allow criticism to sway your from true values. Be YOUniquely excellent 🙂
Stacie started playing fastpitch softball at the age of 9 and Founded All About Fastpitch in 2004. Stacie also served as the Chief Marketing Officer at Softball Performance. She currently blogs about Fastpitch softball at StacieMahoe.com. Her perspectives on the game as a former player, current coach, and current softball parent provide unique insights on various softball issues. Visit her website at StacieMahoe.com
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