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How to Get Better at Coaching Softball, Literally

I’ve been coaching softball for many years now, but I was a player for even longer. I, as any long-time player does, had coaches I respected and coaches behind whose backs I complained endlessly. While one might argue that simple competence means nothing if a coach does not promote a healthy emotional environment, a positive spirit, and responsible behavior, it is the essential foundation for good coaching. A coach may be an extraordinarily pleasant and caring person, and try wholeheartedly to cultivate these feelings within the team; but without skill and tremendous knowledge of the game, a coach will not earn the respect of his/her team.

Why You Need to Know the Game of Softball

Don’t roll your eyes! This may seem way too obvious, but despite that I don’t think the message is getting across; how many coaches have you come across who DON’T know the game well enough?

If I take an honest look back on my playing career, I believe I had my most negative experiences when paired with coaches who lacked anything beyond a very basic knowledge of the game of softball. As a coach, if you’ve got players on the team who are more knowledgeable about softball than you are, right off the bat you’re limiting their ability to learn and grow, AND you’re opening a door in their minds that may vary well lead to an attitude of superiority and an unwillingness to listen. That sort of attitude is contagious in a team setting. Additionally, players who DON’T know the game well and really struggle with their basic skills will only stew in their frustration without proper teaching. It’s extremely difficult to foster a healthy emotional environment and positive learning on top of a basic foundation of frustration and closed-mindedness.

How To Become a Better Coach

PLAN. I know that every coach has to start somewhere, and many softball leagues rely entirely on the generosity of parents volunteering their time. And, unfortunately, you can’t just inject knowledge into your head. If you’re not intimately familiar enough with the game of softball, or comfortable enough with coaching to think sharply on the fly, plan ahead. Try some of these suggestions:

  • Make yourself a real written practice outline and keep it on a clipboard, or on a tablet or smartphone. Follow it strictly until you feel comfortable enough to wing it.
  • Make a similar reminder sheet for games. You can’t outline a game, but if there are certain things you know you need to remember, have them readily available.
  • Designate a volunteer or an assistant coach to keep score, keep track of the batting order, etc. so you can focus on game play with an uncluttered mind.
  • Keep a softball log. Write in it after every game and practice, reflect on what happened, note what can be improved, and use previous entries to plan for the future.

LEARN. There are coaches’ clinics all over the country. A big contributor our skill as coaches at Fastpitch Power has been the Be the Best You Are coaches’ clinic in Cherry Hill, NJ. You can join the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) and gain access to their newsletters and other resources. They also hold a convention in a different location every year. Your best bet is probably to do an internet search for coaches’ clinics in your area. Failing that, attend players’ skills clinics run by established coaches and watch on the sidelines, or volunteer as an assistant coach for a team whose coach you respect.

BE OPEN-MINDED. Let young players try different positions. With high school aged teams, don’t be unwilling to switch up the field positioning or batting order; just because a player has been stuck in one spot up until now, it doesn’t mean it’s the right spot for her or the team. Allow your judgement of players to evolve; some of them DO practice on their own, get better, and deserve a second chance. Never THINK you know enough about coaching softball; you can ALWAYS learn more.

KNOW THE RULES. This resource page on the NFCA website lists links to NCAA rules and other college-related information. If you’re coaching girls who can be recruited, familiarize yourself with the NCAA rules. You don’t want to ruin a kid’s chances of playing in college because of a silly mistake of etiquette. For younger teams, make sure you’re familiar with your league’s particular rules.

WE CAN HELP. If you’re part of a rec league, travel program, or school program and can put together a group of coaches who are interested in a private seminar and live Q&A session, email me. We can set up an online seminar customized to your group’s needs.

Be sure to check out all of my coaching posts:

Fostering a Healthy Environment

A Guide to Concussion Safety

Team Goal Setting

 

About the author

Carly

Carly is a windmill pitching specialist and co-founder of Fastpitch Power. She has coached teams at every level from 10U to NCAA. She also designed and built fastpitchpower.com. Please feel free to leave questions and site feedback in the comments or via our contact page!

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