Bad Inning? Written By Renee Ferguson
One of the most painful things to watch in softball is the dreaded bad inning when no matter what the girls do; nothing seems to go right. Missed groundballs, overthrows to first base, throwing to the wrong base and missing the sure out; my heart goes out to the teams that are struggling with this issue, as I too have been there. Many coaches have asked me, “How do I to stop the bad inning once it has already started?” and my answer is always the same, “you can’t”. Stopping the bad inning begins before it ever gets started, pressure drills, relaxation techniques and controlling the speed of the game must be first taught in practice in order for them to be effective.
When you have a team who routinely suffers from bad inning syndrome the best thing for a coach to do is step back and evaluate your practice routine. Start off with self-evaluation, how do you react in practice when mistakes start to happen? Do you yell, do you ignore or accept them? How competitive are the drills you are running? Are you just putting them in their positions and working the outs or do you create an environment where it’s fun to compete and put pressure on yourself? Are your drills designed to make their heart beat a little faster or are they pretty lackadaisical? Once your self-evaluation is complete you can begin to look at implementing the ideal drills to combat that pesky bad inning.
Pressure drills are a great way to help improve a player’s ability to perform under pressure. We have our version of money in the middle, where a circle is formed around a player who is essentially the monkey. This is a rapid fire drill to make the player focus on fielding the ball first and good footwork 2nd. Each player from the outside of the circle throws a groundball, the player in the middle fields it and throws it back to the player who threw it to her, essentially working her way around the circle twice finishing on the girl they started with. There is a little more to the drill than that but you get the idea (I hope). This drill requires each individual player to meet a certain timed goal and requires the team to meet an overall team goal. This allows girls to see that even though they may not make their time, their teammate’s can help pick them up and still allow the TEAM to ultimately succeed. This helps create trust amongst the girls that hey if I mess up I know my teammates have my back and we can still achieve our ultimate goal if we all continue to work together.
The next kind of pressure drills I use are designed to create a little bit of chaos. Ideally these drills will focus on keeping the players moving and running the entire drill and requires them to be in certain positions at precisely the right time for the drill to be effective. If they don’t do it right, we run it again and again until we get it right. If I want them to thrive in chaos instead of collapse we must practice it. An example of a drill we use is the star drill with a reverse. This drill uses the same throw down pattern that the team uses when a batter is struck out and bases are empty, the chaos comes in when I yell reverse. Immediately the girls need to change the direction of their throws and go backwards through the pattern, it makes them pay attention and it encourages a healthy level of anticipation or nervousness because they never know when I will yell reverse and it makes them talk so they can keep everyone on track with where to throw the ball.
Finally, I want to invoke a little healthy competition on my team so I encourage and design drills that make teammates compete against one another. We have used hitting competitions that pit player against player and requires them to drive the ball to a certain location on the field in a certain manner for example give me a deep fly ball to right field so the runner at third can tag and try and score. I want them to feel pressure at the plate and learn how to control their emotions because we are going to need them to be confident and in control when they are up with bases loaded and 2 outs with the winning run at third. I also use fielding drills as competition, we use a timed drill called ”protect this house” that requires girls to lay out for balls that are just out of reach, get up and throw (there is no chasing. If they miss they start over.) then move on to the next ball thrown in the same exact manner. Their time sets the standard that the rest of the members have to meet. Every time someone scores a better time we update the time on the board. When we repeat the drill later in the week or during the next week we bring the last best time out as our time to beat so we are always trying to be better than we were the last time.
If you begin utilizing these types of drills, you will be able to teach your players how to control the bad inning. As you are running these drills be sure to pay attention to your player’s body language and how they are breathing at a minimum. Are they taking shallow chest breaths (chest moves up first on inhalation) or are they taking calming breaths (belly expands on inhalation) between mistakes)? Calming breaths help lower the anxiety in the player to an acceptable level. I also encourage you to ask them what they are thinking when things start to go south, 9 out of 10 times it is what is going on between their ears that is their biggest problem. If they are thinking, “Oh no, here we go again.” Or “Gosh we suck”, it’s your job as a coach to get to them to change that thinking. Obviously your words can only do so much so modeling the behavior you wish to see is really important. Do you hang your head every time they make a mistake in the field or do you keep your head up and your body language strong? Modeling strong body language tells your girls you have faith in them to get out of the inning and not to let the bad over run all the work they just put in. In other words, be the force you want to see, you need to speak, act and look exactly how you want your players to look during those challenging innings.
Renee Ferguson Renee has over 30 years of combined playing and coaching experience at the select and college levels. After a 3 year stint as Division I, Morgan State University’s pitching coach; Renee was appointed the Head Women’s softball Coaching position at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland. Where she lead the Pioneer Softball team to an 8th place finish, in the NJCAA DIII Nationals in Rochester MN after taking the helm only weeks before the 2013 season started. Renee’s goal is to instill the love and passion that she has for the game, into each and every one of her players and students. Keep up with Renee Ferguson by visiting her site at DirtInTheSkirtSports.com.Join Renee On: Facebook.
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