Fuel the Focus Written By Shannon Murray
“What time is it Coach?” “What’s the score Coach?” “How much longer do we have of practice?” “Who’s your favorite singer in One Direction Coach Shannon?” These are all questions that my ten year olds pose to me almost every practice or game we have. As cute as they are and we love their eagerness to learn, our younger softball crowd has to achieve a major goal that builds the development of their skills: Focus. How do we teach the age group that lives to wander and explore to stay grounded long enough at practice to click with what we teach them?
Also pursuing a career in teaching, I’ve been fortunate enough to pick up some tricks of the trade in teaching the younger crowd. At the age of 9 (or younger) to 11, girls are really discovering the basic mechanics and love of the game. Put yourself in their shoes. They really just want to play with their friends and have fun. As they should, but we as their coaches are there to guide them in development of their softball skills as well as ensure they have a great time playing. Where’s the balance in all of this? How can I make sure my 10 U team doesn’t fall behind even though I want them to enjoy playing ball?
One part of the game that I try to teach my young girls during the game is about the score. Sometimes they are so consumed with score keeping and whose winning they forget about what they should really be focusing on in the game. From a teaching perspective, I carry over the idea of positive reinforcement to the field to help me with this. I tell the girls to focus on where they are going if the ball is hit to them. Or I ask them to tell me how many outs there are in the inning. As far as the score is concerned I teach them to always play like it’s a 0-0 ball game. “What does that mean Coach Shannon?” Well kiddos, playing like it’s a 0-0 ball game means to play your hardest no matter what. You’re not behind in the game but you’re not ahead either. You are giving 100% on the field at all times so you don’t have the pressure of when you’re losing, but not the comfort of when you’re winning either. So any time one of the girls asks me, “Coach, what’s the score?” I tell them, “0-0, like it always is.”
Practice is a different focus to conquer. While games normally carry a somewhat more serious tone for ten year olds, practices don’t always have that effect. Ten year old girls see practice as a reason to go play and hang out with their friends. And that’s great. That’s ten year olds building team comradery. Coaches, it’s important to find a good balance between social and serious for girls that young. If we make it all work and no play, girls will burn out faster than a candle on a birthday cake. Allot some time for them to socialize a little in between drills or at water breaks. On the other hand, we do need to establish the focus so they actually learn something at practice. Too much socialization and distraction will cause girls to have mechanics or drills stick. If talking gets away from them, don’t be afraid to recollect them. If you start to notice a slower pace in the drill repetitions, they are probably not completely focused. Again, I use positive reinforcement for this purpose. When I see one girl stand out among the rest I will mention something like, “I really like how Susie is down and in a ready position to get her next ground ball.” Kids crave praise and what better way to motivate them to earn it by showing off their teammates’ good work. Reward can come in different forms than verbal. When we run bases, I will tell girls that exhibit great focus they may not have to run the last lap at practice or will be allowed to wear a silly hat to practice next time.
So remember coaches, at such a young age we need to stimulate the passion for the game in girls but have that balance of focus to learn at the same time. Fuel the focus with fire positive reinforcement!
Shannon’s ultimate goal is to teach her players that they are astounding young women with the potential to be great softball players through hard work, dedication and sacrifice.
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