It’s a long off season in some aspects of softball. I suppose many of you know the feeling. You wish you could spend more time, but also welcome the much needed break. Something magical happens when we learn to let go. More on that in a minute.
SO here you are, working on off season plans, figuring out schedules, booking spring break trips, attending seminars, enhancing your knowledge of skills and drills and all the rest. You are preparing. In many ways like squirrels fatten up for the winter, bears gather before hibernation.
You are seeking to find all that you may need come game time. You are getting ready. And then something funny happens when all of a sudden the calendar flips on its own and becomes a scary reminder of how much time we no longer have. How the holidays always sneak up on you, leading right into January. You know as you are reading this that I am right. The next time you think about this it will happen, and you will be smack dab in the middle of forgetting to turn the page and being afraid to all at the same time.
You constantly look for new ways to motivate your athletes, new ways to teach your philosophies and your ideas and your wisdom that you just went out and collected all off season. Sometimes we inundate their minds with useless things, too many thoughts at once and do what I like to call “give them a drink with a fire hose.” Some days you need to learn to say “enough is enough.” We don’t need to change every little thing. We have what we need, now let’s just work on pulling that all out effectively.
I saw this in action a few years ago when I coached at our fall tournament. We had a great day, played well, pinpointed what we need to work on and overall had some fun. I got to know some of my new players and watch how they responded in certain situations. Good or bad, it’s always important to learn. We had a philosophy as a team of “hard work always pays off.” And that we did the things that we needed to do to continue to improve. Every day. I also instilled in my players that “running is a privilege.” And that I don’t “punish” wrongdoing with running.
I strongly believe that running and doing work makes you better. My approach was simple. If my player ever broke a simple team rule (being late, etc) they would sit and watch practice instead of participate. They would watch someone else take their place. They knew at that point that they would have to earn it back when they were eligible next time to participate in team activity.
This creates something that is exciting to watch unfold. Sometimes you just have to trust that they get it. I watched this during that tournament as my players truly “got it.” We had played 3 games in the tournament and at the end of the day, I turned to walk back to the dugout after the last game was over to collect my bag and my water bottle and as I turned around to tell the girls to meet me in right field, I saw the magic happen. Before I had the chance to say anything, the girls were lined up on the first baseline starting their “Everyday's” by doing their abilities and sprints. I just stood and watched. The parents behind me just stood and watched. I realized in that moment that they really “got it.” They took pride in working hard, and without my even having to tell them, they took ownership of their actions and of their outcome.
This time of year, all you have is the trust that they will prepare themselves accordingly. That they will do one more rep or one more bucket or that they will understand the true meaning of ownership. Whatever they will cultivate come May is all in the seeds they sow today. This understanding is where champions are groomed.
That to me is a magical thing to watch. I have listened to countless numbers of coaches who have shared similar moments with me…. those when they realized the connection was made and the lifelong lesson has been more than imparted. It has been absorbed and reverberated. The echo is wide spread. It becomes a part of who you are and what your culture says about you as an organization.
And in the end, the most important part about teaching the message is trusting that they got it.