Dealing With Distractions as a Coach in Softball


“Dealing with Distractions as a Coach in Softball” Written By Shannon McDougall

Many factors can represent a source of distraction and can affect your overall performance as a coach, both in training and in competition.
*coaches preparedness
*athletes preparedness

Scouting information
As coaches we spend almost as much time scouting our opponents as we do analyzing our own teams.  We have software programs on our phones and computers, radar guns, scorebooks, our observation skills and even video for analysis in putting together files on our opponents.  If you (the coach) have not taken opportunities to gather this data, you may not feel ready and confident when the major competition arrives which can be a distraction for you and for your team that cannot prepare as effectively as they might have been able to. 

Put the information together logically so that all members of the team can read it with ease and keep it up to date so that prior to games it can be reviewed.  By the end of the season you can have a binder or book on each team that can be used as a preparation tool technically and psychologically.  I have done that with teams and at the end of the season had coaches and officials be amazed at how we performed using the data compiled through the season.  It was awesome!

Preparing the athletes
If you have been preparing properly from the beginning of the season, you have been preparing your athletes physically, mentally and technically.  This starts with your yearly training plan, where you schedule your training, competition and events from the first training session, to the last regular season game and tapering for the playoffs.

If your athletes have been given the tools with good direction, their progress has been facilitated in a way that they should be ready.  If you have done that still you feel they are not prepared, you need to consider that in your preparedness as a coach.  What do you do with that?  First you need to accept the situation and then work with it.  It will determine how you set your line-ups and could perhaps make your planning more difficult as you will need to not only prepare for success, but you will also need to maintain a positive atmosphere with the team.

Preparation Strategies
There are many different strategies you can develop and implement as a coach to deal with these factors and to maximize their impact, both before and during training and competition. Following are some of those strategies, as well as how and when you might manage the situation.

Athlete Motivation
If your athletes are motivated your job is so much easier than if they are not.  A motivated athlete is most times also self-directed and will work as hard as they can to improve their skills in all areas of the game.  This athlete is also generally more coachable and has a good level of respect for
*equipment flaws
*team standings
*tardiness by athletes
*athlete injuries
*access to athletes
*athlete fatigue
*athlete preparedness
*phone calls
*promotional and social events
*Importance of the event

Before a training session
Dress appropriately before you leave and ensure that you have discussed with your athletes how to prepare for the weather such as sun screen if it is hot and to dress in layers if it is cold because during training they may get warm and need to cool off without getting cold.

*Be prepared for practice
Record practice on computer/print before you leave, make sure that you have a backup plan for your practice and extra drills in your book in case you are finished early.  Be prepared to drop a drill if you are running out of time and check all equipment and the facilities so there are no delays or unnecessary surprises.

*Access to athletes
Setup email / phone team list at the first meeting.  Make sure you have access to them before practices so that if you are missing anyone you can check and they can contact you f they need to.

*Parents boundaries
There is nothing more distracting as a coach than a parent or someone who is upset coming at you just prior to the beginning.  Set guidelines for supporters at your first meeting so that there are no interruptions that will distract you from your goals and task at hand during practices and training.

During a training session
Monitor your athletes during training to plan your breaks.  Allow the team to re-focus when needed to make sure you get the most out of your drills.  Fatigue will slow things down and take away from the excitement of the drills.  Plan drills that are challenging yet not too difficult so that they do not get bored or discouraged.

*Tardiness by athletes
Planning the schedule in advance gives the athletes time to arrange their schedules to fit the training sessions.  Establishing guidelines for tardiness at the beginning of the season will make it easy to respond to latecomers because they will know what to expect.  If you set up a procedure that is not distracting such as having late comers warm up on their own and wait until the drill is complete to join in then you can minimize that distraction.

A tired team or individual is not going to be able to attack the drills with enthusiasm at the beginning of the practice and by the end of the practice they will not even be interested.  By ensuring that athletes are getting adequate rest and recovery post/pre training, they will be eager to participate in challenging and fast paced practices.  Nutrition is also a huge part of recovery contributing greatly to the energy level of your players.

*Facilities knowledge and awareness
Knowing your facility and doing a pre training check will prevent injuries and allow you to make adjustments if needed during your training session. Look for anything unusual and make a note of it while you are inspecting the grounds.  

*Being approached by parents or supporters
As with prior to training, it is best if parents and supporters refrain from approaching you to discuss anything.  Again this would be established at the first team meeting so hopefully there is no need for reminders.

*Cell phones
Another huge distraction which most times is very easy to deal with is cell phones.  It is best of course to not have them on the field.  Simple.

Before a major competition
*Adequate preparedness
Being prepared for the big game is done before the competition arrives.  Detailed planning which begins with the end of previous season will give you the information required to build on the teams strengths and to build confidence that will make them successful.

*Team standings
The standings can be a distraction if you are not aware of them through the season.  In some levels the regular season standings do not determine if you make the playoffs for the province or state but in some levels it does make a difference.  You need to know this and use it to prepare your team to know its place and to continue to focus on the process right through rather than the outcome.

*Media familiarization
Will there be media at the event?  Will you or your players from your team potentially be interviewed by the media?  You need to prepare.  Practice or rehearse interviews using students from your school newspaper.  Use all of the equipment that you expect to see at the venue.  This will do wonders to alleviate distraction for the athletes and you.

Will you be traveling to the competition?  Prepare well in advance for this. What do you need to take with you.  What will the facility have and not have that you need to prepare your team.
Is there an equipment room for you to access?
Will you need to worry about accommodations?
What can you bring with you?
What do your athletes need to bring with them?
Do they have an Emergency Action Plan?
What about any medical conditions you might need to know about?
If you can, travel to the playoff facility with your team for a tournament or weekend to get familiarized with the environment before the competition

*Promotional and social events
Will there be events put on for the athletes during the tournament.  When and where will they be?  How close to the competition times will they be?  Set your guidelines early so that they can enjoy the moment yet be prepared to compete.  Discuss them with the team so that everyone understands and feels good about them.

*importance of the event

During major competitions
Environment Know what is in our control
athlete injuries follow PET recommendations
weather be prepared for anything
officials know the rules
spectators distraction control strategies
athlete fatigue
opponents – use your scouting reports

Training Stressors and Competition Stressors
Developing and implementing a plan to facilitate coach mental preparation for competition

Adequate Preparedness
Being prepared and feeling prepared are critical to ensuring the lowest amount of stress for you as a coach.  If you feel that you have truly prepared, then you do not have anything that you need to worry about.  You can simply enjoy the games and carry out your plan as scheduled.  Much of your preparedness includes how well you have prepared your team.  Do you feel that you followed your plan to success as planned with regard to physical, technical, tactical and mental training?  This will have a large impact on your ability to relax and enjoy the process as you encourage your team to do the same.

Your preparation during competition in reality begins with the first practice and team selection. The parents meeting and/or team meeting is where your program is described and how it will be carried out. Carrying out the program with a detailed yearly training plan guides you in your training plans and competition milestones. At the end of the day, if the team and you have done all that you can and should have done during the season to attain success then the final competitions should be easy to carry out and enjoyable. If you spend adequate time on monitoring during the season and with measurable milestones then there would be no reason at all for your team to play to its fullest potential.

Coach stressors during competition
The following are some of the most common distractions during competition:
*my preparedness
*athlete preparedness

Some things you can do to prepare and ensure these things do not become distractions:

For Officials – know the rules thoroughly so that you know the officials part in the competition and educate your athletes and establish ground rules regarding conduct on the field with each other and officials.

Your Preparedness as a coach – by ensuring that you have done your job up to the competition and done everything you can to assist your athletes in their preparation, you should not have any reason to doubt yourself and your readiness for the task at hand

Athlete Preparedness – implement regulations to ensure that athletes are taking responsibility for their own preparedness and have measures of evaluating their readiness while providing opportunities and resources to assist them

Environment – with the amount of distractions in the environment that you need to deal with, you need to have strategies such as distraction control, relaxation, focusing, and relaxation. The strategies would be solidified during the pre season.

Opponents – By having as much information as you can on the opponents you will be ready for them when you hit the field. Their success or lack of success should not interfere with your game plan or decision making process during the competition.

Competition Facilities
By finding ways to familiarize you and your team with the competition facilities in advance, you will have a better chance to foresee any potential distractions that might occur as a result of the unfamiliar environment.

Some of the ways that you can do that are:
*acquire photographs of the facility
*draw on athletes previous experiences
*find any video if you can
*find out how loud the facility is and emulate it in practice
*will they be expecting a large amount of fans and spectators
*what is the altitude compared to yours
*is the temperature different than your location

Before competition
Your preparation plan is crucial to your ability to be mentally prepared during competition. It will reduce the amount of stress and anxiety that most of us have experienced when unprepared. Feeling confident in the procedures and your abilities to deal with unforeseen circumstances are much easier when there are no other distractions. Your preparedness will also have an effect on how you deal with and relate to your athletes during the competition and the time leading up to it.  If you are feeling prepared and ready to go that will be passed to your players who will feel the same way.  If you are unsure and not feeling like you have done everything you could to prepare the team then you may find yourself relating negatively to your environment which will definitely also be picked up.  If there is an emotion that is more noticeable than others it is negativity.

Implementing a practice that integrates mental training strategies / skills with athletes

In the beginning of the season is when you want to be introducing and learning mental training skills.  Learning how to use the skills in simple situations will give the athletes familiarity with them as they begin to devise their own strategies to use during competitions and training.  If the skills are refined adequately during the preparation phase of your training the you only need to allow time to solidify them during the pre season and competitive season.  You will also find that the athlete’s ability to utilize mental training strategies will ensure that they are prepared in most all components of softball due to the goal setting and preparation activities that should be a part of their ongoing maintenance of their skills

A strategy that can be implemented into a practice for example could be distraction control.  Keep in mind that this is a strategy and not a skill so it actually incorporates many skills such as self-talk, focusing cue words and relaxation.  How can you design a practice plan to incorporate these skills in acquiring the ability to not be distracted?

An activity such as throwing is a perfect one ass you can have the athletes participate in a drill that requires focus such as the star drill. If they get distracted ….. it could hurt.  You might want to use indoor balls for this drill if the focus is to not be distracted because you may be doing things to intentionally distract them during the activity.

Assessment of Preparedness
One of the ways to ensure that your team is ready for the playoffs is to periodically assess the team and their responses to situations.  You can rate the performances for example on a scale from 1 to 5 with 1 being “not doing well” and 5 being “very prepared”  Here are some factors you can rate.
*Response to errors
*Knowledge of plays
*Ability to adapt
*Response to officials
*Awareness of role within the team
*Level of Confidence

In monitoring your athletes throughout the season you can give them every opportunity to play to their fullest potential when it counts.  And at the same time your mind will be at ease knowing that you did everything you could to create those opportunities.  Do you see a pattern here?  I am referring often to knowing you did everything as it is one of the keys to you as a coach being in the zone and enjoying the tournament as much as your players do.  Now that is the best place to be.  Isn't it?

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Shannon McDougall Shannon McDougall Advanced Coaching Diploma (National Coaching Institute), 
Associate Sports Science Degree
Level 3 Softball Coach (Canada)
, Softball Facilitator (Softball Canada), 
Multisport Facilitator (Coaching Association of Canada)
, 20+ year Softball Coach at various ages and levels.

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