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Coaching Objectives: Team Goal Setting

As I mentioned in my first post of this coaching series, your primary objective as a coach at all times should be to facilitate the physical AND emotional growth of the athletes under your watch. Aside from your general demeanor, the most concrete way to handle this is by setting goals. A sports team, especially one comprised of teen girls, is a delicate ecosystem, and like many other aspects of coaching, goal setting can easily become counterproductive if not done sensitively. Today we’re going to discuss how to set solid, productive team goals.

Goal Setting for High School Softball / 14U Travel And Up

Goals should always be set with individual consideration for each team member in mind. In addition, they should be set at a pre-season meeting, even before practices commence, to avoid setting goals based on flukey poor performances in the first few practices/scrimmages. By the time they reach high school age, your athletes will probably have been playing softball long enough to have a good idea of how they perform, and they should thus be able to set goals based on cumulative experience.

Your pre-season meeting should consist of consultations with each team member to discuss her individual goals, followed by a short meeting with the whole team during which you will take suggestions for team goals and suggest some yourself. All goals set should be challenging, but achievable.

AVOID setting these types of goals:

  • Whole-team goals for physical achievement. Goals like hitting .300, awarding a sticker for every stolen base, etc. are not productive; they will only reward the strong hitters and fast runners while discouraging the weak hitters and slow runners. These types of achievements should be set (carefully) on an individual basis.
  • Obvious win-oriented goals. Don’t set goals to win your section or make nationals. OF COURSE the team wants that; it doesn’t need to be made explicit. If you don’t accomplish those things, that DOES NOT mean your team did not grow over the course of the season and accomplish other important goals, and revisiting it at the end of the season will only promote an unnecessary feeling of failure.
  • Vague goals. Rather than allowing your players to set goals like “I want to perform better in clutch situations,” try to help them determine the skills that need to be improved to support that goal and set a more specific goal based on those skills.
  • Impossible goals. For example, don’t tell a slow runner that you want her to steal a certain number of bases. Instead, work on speed-building conditioning exercises and try to get her time to first base at the end of the season to be faster than at the beginning, even if only by a few tenths of a second. Don’t tell a weak hitter that her goal is to hit .300 this time. Instead, set her up with a pitching machine and find a speed at which she has no problem hitting. Crank it up 1 mph at a time until she’s hitting less than 1/3 of them. Make note of the speed, and set a speed goal for the season.

Here are some examples of good whole-team goals to set:

  • Behavioral goals. No negative cheering, high-fiveing your teammates after every strike out, staying positive after mistakes, contributing to equipment clean-up, etc. are all good whole-team goals. You can include repercussions for inappropriate behavior, such as bullying/hazing, underage drinking, etc.
  • Mentoring goals. If you’re a high school coach and you’ve got seniors together with 8th or 9th-graders, goals to discourage cliques among the older girls and encourage support of the younger players—including on a social level—are a good idea.

Individual Goals

The individual goals should be a collaboration between you (or you and the rest of the coaches) and each player. The player should come up with a list of goals for herself, then meet with you to work on refining them. You should ensure that the goals are not vague, that they are positive and achievable, and that they are on target with your assessment of the player (suggest some of your own goals if they are not).

My suggestion would be to have the players come up with one goal in each of the following categories, listed below in the form of a questionnaire to get them thinking on the right track. To avoid putting them on the spot, it’s a good idea to distribute the questionnaire ahead of time so they come to their meeting prepared.

  • Skill development: what skills are you most confident in? What skills do you feel you need to improve? Do your abilities seem to differ from practice to competition?

  • Physical fitness: how do you feel at the end of a conditioning session? Is there a conditioning activity that is particularly difficult for you? What are your strongest and weakest areas (flexibility, endurance, speed, etc)? What do you do in the off season to keep your body prepared?

  • Nutrition: can you improve your diet? **NOTE: If a player has an obvious nutrition problem, try having her keep a diary of everything she eats for a week, then sharing it with you in private. Work together to come up with a concrete plan to improve her diet.
  • Motivation/mental fitness: why do you like softball? What drives you to achieve at it? Does the drive come mostly from you, or from a parent/other outside pressure? If the latter is the case, can you think of a way to turn that motivation around to you? How do you react when you make a mistake? When a teammate makes a mistake? How do you perform in practices vs. games, in tight games vs. blowouts, or in games you’re up in the score vs. games you’re down?

  • Interpersonal: What is your relationship with your teammates in your grade? What is your relationship with your younger/older teammates? Do you let others help you achieve your goals, and do you help them?

  • Sportsmanship: What is your attitude toward your competition? Does your attitude differ between winning and losing situations? How could you improve your sportsmanship?

  • Academic (if applicable): How are your grades? How can you improve balancing your school work with softball?

To help with team building, you can have each player choose one of her goals from her finalized list to make public. The players on the team should help each other achieve their public goals. Keep track of the rest of them yourself and ensure that the players are making progress over the course of the season. Have another individual and team meeting at the end of the season to revisit the goals and see what happened.

Goal Setting for 12U / Middle School and Under

You’re going to have to use your own judgement here. I’ve seen 12U travel teams who could demolish many of the high school teams in my hometown and could easily take on most if not all of the goals I suggested, and I’ve seen 12U teams who are still struggling to grasp the basic skills. For the latter, some of the goals listed above may be too advanced.

Team-oriented goals that encourage positive behavior are applicable at any age, as are individual sportsmanship and interpersonal goals.

For fitness and nutrition, work more on introducing the idea that both are extremely important going forward. 12-13 is the perfect age to start physical training outside of softball, but it likely won’t be a matter of setting a goal with the players; rather, most of the parents will need to be convinced to make that investment.

Skill-based goals should be appropriate for each player’s level, and if the players are still in need of a lot of mechanical refinement, goals that can be achieved during practices as opposed to games might be a good idea. Goals achieved in games can be mental instead: communicating prior to every pitch, indicating that you know where you’re going on the next play, etc. The physical skills will catch up, and when they do the mental game should be ready.

Feel free to share your own goal setting experiences in the comments!

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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