How To Develop A Softball Team Written By Rick Fitzpatrick
All softball teams, at all levels, form by a common development process through four phases that coaches can readily identify, gauge, and evaluate that I call the Four ING’s. More specifically they are Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.
The first of the team development Ing’s is Forming. Forming a team’s roster is usually a fairly straight forward process that occurs through a somewhat natural progression. A team roster is formed by graduation, try outs, kids moving away, kids moving in, kids moving up, coaching rotation, injury, illness, discipline, economics, recruiting, etc. Through all of these factors, a preliminary roster is developed. The roster is not set in stone. It can be adjusted for a variety of reasons as the season progresses, at the coach’s discretion. Then after the Forming phase is complete, the Storming phase begins.
The Storming phase is the easiest to identify and by far the most challenging for coaches and players alike. Individual and team performance is subpar at this phase of development. Patience, along with lots of positive encouragement, must be applied here. The Storming phase is home to team chaos, and some kids struggle to perform the most basic tasks. The length of this phase varies and depends upon several factors such as: the ability to adapt to new tasks, individual athletic ability, team leadership, team chemistry, experience, conditioning, strength of mental game, player buy-in, coaches ability, injury, parents, etc. At this stage of development, kids may be asked to learn and perform new things or play a different position for the first time at an accelerated pace. Rookie and veteran comfort zones are challenged here, and fear of failure often expresses itself during this phase of development. Individual player and teammate limitations are explored, displayed, and recognized here. Meanwhile veterans reunite and begin to lead, while rookies learn their place in the pecking order and search for ways to fit in. Team goals and expectations must be clearly communicated during this phase, along with establishing team rules and boundaries. Fundamentals and techniques are introduced and reinforced, paying close attention to the fine details, setting the mode for the rest of the season. Also during the Storming process, coaches must take the slow painstaking time to teach offensive and defensive sets and plays, plus base running and game situations. The quality of time spent here will pay large dividends in the later phases of development. Storming can be a challenging and difficult time that must be properly managed to ensure that the team achieves its maximum potential. Storming cannot be avoided, and it is an intrical part of every team’s development process in every sport. Be patient, the day will come when the coaches evaluations indicate that it looks like the Storming phase is finally fading, and the team is progressing to the next level.
The third lng of team development is Norming. In this phase, players start to understand their role in more depth and begin to see the bigger picture. They start to perform routine tasks automatically in practice and in games without thought or reminders. They just do it. Play becomes much more fluid, and mistakes become fewer. The game begins to slow down for players and coaches alike. It is time for a brief anticipated and welcomed sigh of relief. However, there are serious challenges and pitfalls to teams in this development phase as well. One of the most important challenges during this phase is to recognize a team becoming satisfied or complacent with just good play. A team can be led and encouraged by its coaches, but ultimately must decide internally whether or not to achieve its full potential. All players say they want to be a Champion, but few will be willing to make the additional individual sacrifices necessary to achieve that goal. It has been my observation through the years of coaching girl’s fastpitch softball, that near the end of this Norming phase, an interesting team dynamic can occur. Sometimes a team will begin to struggle with its unity, brought on by the seasons grind, personality conflicts, pent up emotions, grievances, clicks, on and off the field occurrences, financial pressure, wins and losses, athletic reality, jealously, etc. During this time, the team must choose which direction it ultimately wants to go. When this situation makes itself known, I believe that after or during a slow practice day, a player only team meeting should be directionally facilitated by the coaches. It is a time and opportunity for the team family to air its dirty laundry, problem solve, reunite, and refocus on the goals stated during the Storming phase of the season. Without the stifling influence of the coaching staff immediately present. Depending upon the overall ability of the team at this point of the season, Norming may realistically be the highest level of performance expectation possible. However, if the team has not yet reached its full upside potential, this team meeting can be the catalyst to reignite the hunger drive for the High School playoffs, exposure tournaments in July in Colorado, or the end of season Championships. In either situation the team should emerge more unified and better prepared mentally to face the end of the fastpitch season, and finish as strong as possible.
The fourth and final phase of team development is Performing. It is a culmination, and a product of the three prior phases. It is a fun and exciting time when the team is rewarded for all of its efforts, hard work, and dedication. Individual performance has stepped up to another level, resulting in better overall team play. The team just seems to be hitting on all cylinders, and the team chemistry seems to be in perfect balance. The Performing phase does not require a team to have the best athletes on the field to achieve this level of performance, just the kids that can play well together. In my opinion, it is a rare occurrence when a team with the best athletes wins a championship. More often than not, it is the team that is made up of the over achievers, not great athletes, that get to experience this level of athletic achievement. No matter what the name says on the front of the jersey, that team developed through a process described here to some degree. Remember, you don’t have to win a championship to have a successful season. In the end, there is only one completely satisfied team anyway. However, how you recognize, manage, and navigate the four ING’s: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing, will greatly determine the success your team achieves. Good Luck to the Players, Parents, and Coaches this season!
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