To communicate is more than giving signals from the dugout or third base. Coaches communicate at times more with their actions and body language more than their words. Being aware of your disposition, your actions and the words you use when you arrive at the field or practice site, can have a positive influence on your players performance and help to create a productive environment.
Catch Them Doing Something Right
One of the most common activities for coaches is error detection and correction. Even though this activity is important in skill development, we sometimes spend more time looking for something to improve than we do on what is working.
What if you were to focus on and enhance the things they are doing correctly when evaluating skills and tactics. I might say for example “Awesome throw. You hit the target right on the money.” The athlete then might look at their throw and analyse what they did to get that awesome throw. Make at least half of your practices about catching them doing things correctly and they will spend the other half finding ways to get that confirmation from you.
Using specific terminology to the skill will tell the athlete what they are focusing on correctly, so that they continue those traits. You will also let them know what they need to work on by what you do not mention. Most athletes know what to do for their skills because they have heard it all their softball career if they have been playing long enough. In fact players are probably saying the words in their head as they are coming out of your mouth when you are giving them feedback on correcting a skill.
There are always parts of skills that need to be refined. If you can give them that information early, and allow them to discover ways to improve those skills with your help, you can spend more time on catching them doing something right.
Plan for Success
Often we plan for things to go wrong. We have to prepare for this event so that when it happens we will know how to react to it. Planning for success is a forward thinking process. By having an end result in mind, you can set your practices and the objectives of your competitions to that point as steps to that end result.
By looking at what you have on your team with regards to skill sets and abilities, you can see where you can improve your players all around game to have a positive result in the end. Let the team know your plan and how you are working towards their success as an individual and as a team. The plan might include segmenting the season and establishing goals for each segment. Allow your players to provide input to those goals because they are the ones that will be working towards the achievements.
Knowledge of the Rules
We need rules in order to ensure that softball games are regulated fairly and with equal opportunities for success. By making sure that your players know basic softball rules as well as you do, they can have a better understanding of the game and are less likely to be frustrated during competition when there is a call that does not go their way. Of course as the coach you need to know more about the intricacies of the rules but it is important that you communicate the basic knowledge to your players.
Talk about the Positive
How often in a practice or game do you say outstanding, or nice work. Or how often do you talk about the good things that happened during your last competition? By talking about the positive in a game, your players will be re-assured that they are doing what they are supposed to be doing. We need to give them direction from the beginning of the season to the end.
Silence Can be Louder than Words
When you feel that the team is not listening during a meeting, try something. Simply stop talking and wait for them to finish what they were talking about. You will see them notice suddenly that you are not talking anymore and they will stop talking. It is amazing. Let them know that you think what they are talking about is important but that you need them to be focused on the task at hand.
We need to understand that our athletes are volunteer players and have much more going on in their lives than the moment that you need their attention. The still need to however adhere to the discussion and focus and I bet you they will when they realize that maybe it is not the place to be talking about their day at school or an upcoming trip.
I once had an athlete who was texting on her phone while I was talking to them at a team practice. I stopped talking and she looked up at me. First I said “You can actually do that without looking?” I was totally in awe that she could text on her phone without looking at the letters. She smiled at me as I was appreciating her ability and put her phone away and focused back in the task at hand. No need for embarrassment or scolding. We communicated on a level that made sense to her and did not require for me to show her how I was in charge of the team.