Off season softball training sometimes even requires more planning than during the season. One of the most common statements that I hear when coaches talk about off season training is “it just gets boring” My answer to that is “it doesn’t have to be boring”. The reason I say that is because I think that coaches sometimes only focus on a small part of the game during the off season, perhaps not realizing that there are so many more things that the team can be doing to train for the upcoming season.
Yes, you do need to train and solidify fundamental softball skills because without them your team will not be able to execute without minimizing errors when it counts. But what about the rest of the game. There are still components of softball that are still not really considered important to success. I am talking about the following concepts that can complete the training for your team if done correctly and methodically through your off season and then maintained through the competitive portion of your season.
Off Season Softball Training Components
How much time do you spend on mental training. I am not talking simply just before the important games which is what many coaches do. I have heard coaches say … “OK, we have a big tournament coming up. Time for some mental training. What can you do to help my team?” The truth is that you can actually help your team for the big tournaments by working with them at the beginning of the season. You don’t even have to work on mental training in a gym or on the field. You can do it in a classroom or somewhere that your players feel comfortable and at ease.
Have them work on goal setting first for example. What do you want to accomplish for the upcoming season as a team? What do the players want to accomplish individually and how are these achievements going to be attained? How are you going to monitor them and what will be the determining factors that tell you that they have been achieved?
Work with the team as a group on what your goals will be for the upcoming season. Everyone has an opinion on how things are going or how the previous season went, they just don’t always get the opportunity to share those opinions because they are not always validated. A great way to build your team culture is to include the team in as many decisions about the present and future of the team as you can.
Learning relaxation, visualization and self talk skills will be great tools in working towards the success of your team. I guarantee you that your players can not unlearn mental training skills once they have experience with them. Challenge them to use them at school or work or even when dealing with family and friends. As I said, these skills do not need to be learned in a specific softball environment however they should be practiced and rehearsed in one to be effective during a game.
This component of softball is what will determine the extent of your athletes success, yet is not always treated as important as it is to the game. I hear of many teams and athletes participating in conditioning which is great. What will be even better is for them to participate in softball specific training. Softball is a power and speed sport as many know. By working with a trainer who is educated in periodization and sports specific training rather than a fitness instructor at a local gym, your athletes will be strong, quick, powerful and able to go through a full tournament without getting tired.
Softball Theory Training
Have you ever taken your team into a classroom and taught them about the strategies in the game and how they came about or why they are the most effective? We spend a lot of time telling and showing our players what to do but do not always talk about why we do it. You can also go over the stats from the previous season in the classroom. Draw graphs on the whiteboard and talk about how as a team you are going to improve skills. Show how your team’s skills compare to your competitor skills. Compare your team on paper to the teams you have defeated and the ones you have difficulty with. Discuss why you defeat or have difficulty with certain teams and get the players input on your findings. We all keep stats so there should be some good information to go on from your previous season and maybe even from seasons before.
Nurture the Athlete
How many times have you seen this discussed with players on any team. We need to remember that we are coaching athletes and that there is more to that endeavor than the game itself. Talk to your team about how they interact with each other, officials, opponents, coaches and spectators. What do team leaders do and how do they work with coaching staff as a liaison for their team mates? How do the players conduct themselves off the field and how do they represent what your team stands for. What does it really take to be an elite athlete?
We forget sometimes that we are coaching individuals as well as softball players. It is our responsibility as coaches to nurture the athlete within and to ensure that they are given every opportunity to improve. For that they will always be grateful even if you do not hear or see it immediately.