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First year softball coaches often have some of the same anxieties that first year players do. Planning the logistics of your season is an important aspect, but equally important is a deep understanding of your role as a coach. As a youth league coach, your top priorities should be teaching skills and instilling and inspiring a positive team attitude. If this is your first year coaching a softball team, here are five tips that will take your season from first practice to the final inning on the right cleat.
Tip #1—Instill a Positive Attitude
We all want to win, but believe it or not, as a coach for younger players, that goal should be pretty far down on your list of priorities. In addition to developing your players’ skills, encouraging a positive attitude will help ensure your team develops a true lifelong love of the sport.
EXPERT TIP: At this stage, helping young players learn to have a good time at practice and games should be your top priority. Try to make practice, and the games, as much fun as possible, even though you are actually working and trying to improve daily. Learning will come more naturally if the team is having a good time. If you do this well, other things, including winning, tend to take care of themselves.
Tip #2—Plan Your Introductory Drills
Having a good schedule for introductory drills during practice is important. Beyond the basic rules of the game, you need to work on things like throwing and catching a ball and proper batting techniques. Ultimately, drills will help you teach the game. Your first several practices should allow you to determine individual and overall team skill levels that are already in place, and you can then build on those.
EXPERT TIP: Get your kids into the habit of doing a set of drills at every practice, and encourage them to do these drills on their own, outside of practice, too. Try to make it a fun learning experience so they’ll want to continue to work and improve their skills.
Tip #3—Maintain Effective Playing Time Management
Here is where planning comes more into play. Make your practices as efficient as possible by having drills set up for certain times during practice so players know what to expect. Be sure you work out a rotating system so that every child gets some actual playing time during both practices and games.
EXPERT TIP: Many leagues will assign you standing practice schedules, but in the event you’re on your own to schedule team practices, reach out to your parents as soon as possible and let them know the days and times of practice. Be sure to have your actual practices planned and mapped out ahead of time. Inform assistant managers/coaches of what skills you’re working on for each practice before the kids show up.
Tip #4—Rotate Player Position
There is a balance between finding the right position for a player, and in allowing them to explore different parts of the game. Don’t be too quick to make a judgment here, and make room so that players can try different positions. Especially at this age, there needs to be an opportunity for experimentation in different positions and skills.
EXPERT TIP: Prepping ahead of time and having a schedule and plan will ensure players can try out all the positions. At this age, you should encourage players to try several different positions throughout the season. Even players who excel naturally at one position or skill should be given the chance to play all parts of the game.
EXPERT TIP: You don’t necessarily need the most expensive equipment, but you will want good quality equipment to ensure your players are safe and can focus on the game.
Coaching can be challenging, especially if this is your first year…but as difficult and time consuming as it can be, the reward pays back tenfold. The bond you build with your girls can be lifelong, and if you’re encouraging, organized and truly dedicated to your team, you can take pride in knowing you’re passing on a passion for the sport that your team will likely hang on to for the rest of their lives.
Jason Zimelman is part of the Content Creation and Promotion Team at Homerun Monkey. He is an avid baseball/softball fan and advocate, as well as a former coach.