With the excitement of a new season approaching, it can be very tempting for coaches to forego pre-conditioning and jump straight into the fun stuff, fastpitch softball skills, team strategy, and lineup building. After all, how important is softball conditioning anyway? Conditioning doesn't win games. Won't practicing softball skills and teaching the game provide bigger benefits? Will giving up valuable practice time for conditioning really benefit your team when there is so much “softball” to teach?
While it may seem like a good idea to bypass the boring, un-glamourous, often mundane conditioning phase, there are a number of reasons why you shouldn't. Here are 5 of the biggest reasons why you don't want to skip pre-season conditioning:
CONDITIONING ENHANCES PHYSICAL PERFORMANCE
Obviously, one of the main benefits of softball conditioning is increased strength, power, speed, and endurance. Improving these basic areas of athletic fitness allow players to hit the ball farther, throw harder, make more plays, beat out more hits, and flat out perform at a higher level. Any time you improve a player's overall athleticism and fitness level you help maximize performance.
CONDITIONING ENHANCES TRAINING
What happens to softball technique and fundamental mechanics when players get tired? Typically form and technique get worse as fatigue sets in. You can practice all the softball skill work you want, but if your players don't have the conditioning and stamina to properly execute those skills all game long, all weekend long, all season long, what's the point? Additionally, a well conditioning athlete can perform a higher number of quality reps over the course of a practice than a lesser conditioned athlete. If your players simply go from being able to take 5 out of 10 reps with solid technique before getting tired, to taking 7 or 8 out of 10 well in that same time frame, how much of a difference would that make in just one practice? What about over a week, a month, or an entire season? Every quality rep counts and over the course of a whole season, those reps add up! The more quality reps your team can take during training, the more prepared they will be to perform on game day when it matters most.
CONDITIONING ENHANCES DECISION MAKING
Have you ever tried solving a complex puzzle or problem while dead tired? How well does that work? It's frustrating and you probably don't get very far before you feel like giving up. If you do stick it out, you probably take longer to figure it out than usual and you probably make number of mistakes along the way. I think you'd agree that your brain functions much better when it's fresh and when fatigue isn't a factor. This applies to your team's decision making on the field too. How well do you think your players make decisions when they're tired and fatigued? Not as well, or not as quickly, as players who aren't tired I can tell you that!
Want to test this out? Have your players do some base running or any other physically challenging drill. Then ask them to read a simple article or some cool motivational quotes while they relax and recover.
You'll see how tough something as simple as reading becomes. Reading is something your players do on a daily basis, often without even thinking about it (unless it's school related of course). Yet, during a relaxing recovery time after a drill, it becomes quite difficult. Imagine how difficult making critical decisions and executing softball skills under game pressure becomes when players are tired. Improving their conditioning and softball stamina helps keep their minds fresh and helps their decision making stay sharper for longer. Don't let your team be the one that starts making mental and physical errors first simply because they get tired first!
CONDITIONING ENHANCES TEAM BUILDING
One thing about enduring tough preseason conditioning with teammates is that, no matter how much one player may not get along with another, you almost can't help but respect someone who came out, day after day, through the conditioning period and shed a bunch of sweat (and maybe even some blood and tears too) right along side you. When you see someone bust their butt, just as much as you, in order to help achieve team goals, it becomes much easier to work with them regardless of personal feelings. Even if players don't always get along, through conditioning, they may find something to respect about their fellow teammates. Sometimes it' s simply the knowledge that they all care enough about the team's common goals to put in the work needed for everyone to be successful that helps pull things together for you. Either way, a tighter team that's willing to work with one another is a definite benefit.
CONDITIONING ENHANCES MENTAL TOUGHNESS
Conditioning allows you to challenge players, not only physically, but mentally as well. You get to see which players handle challenge well and which ones fold. You get to see which players get going when the going gets tough and which ones give up. You get to see how players react when they're pushed to their limit. Do they lift their team up? Or do they bring others down?
Even better? You can begin working on weaknesses in this critically important area during pre-season conditioning! Why wait until the season starts before you work on staying positive when things get hard?
Why wait until an important game to work on digging deep, laying it all out on the field, and never giving up?
Conditioning done right gives you a chance to work on these extremely important skills before the season begins, before your team ever has to face it in a game situation.
Again, what good is extra softball skill work if your players don't handle challenge well? If your team's attitude and morale take a dive once things get a little tough in a game or during the course of a season? Conditioning, on top of the previously mentioned benefits, provides an easy way to assess and work on essential mental game skills.
If you can't tell by now, I absolutely love the pre-season conditioning portion of the year. I truly believe it's where champions are made! I know it's not always the most fun. I know it might feel like you're not getting enough “softball” practice in. I just hope you see why I believe it can greatly benefit any player or team. Conditioning may not win games, but lack of it will lose games. Think about it. 🙂
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