How many teams let their players play the game? I have watched games on TV and been to games where I have seen on every pitch the catcher looks to the dugout for a signal from the coach before she signals to the pitcher who then pitches the ball. Yes I am aware that the coaches have all of the stats on each batter and know what the pitcher can pitch and have a plan for the game. But who then is actually playing the game?
There are defensive signals, offensive signals, pitching signals, and probably even signals for the fans for when to cheer and when not to, or when to be especially loud. I feel that particularly with young teams, it is very important for them to learn the game by playing the game. That means going over opponents and batters before games and discussing what their plan of attack is to prevent runs from getting on base and then crossing the plate.
When we talk about the retention of players in this game I think that this is one of the areas where we can do a better job of letting the players play. The coaches during competitions would best help the team by observing and evaluating different aspects of the game and the players and using that information to design practice plans. Looking to the end of the season and the yearly training plan should be a part of every game rather than what often happens which is a focus on the end result of that game.
I am not referring to College ball which has a tradition and a science of its own with regard to players strengths and weaknesses and how they assist their team to come out victorious. This is required in order to retain funds and to get fans in the seats. Its a different “ball game” at that level. I am referring to the youth teams where the coaches are making all of the decisions for the team offensively and defensively. I am talking about making little robots on the field.
I am talking about developing the intrinsic motivation in your players rather than being the motivation for them. The more that you can give to them to do on the field the more they are going to embrace the desire to improve. As many softball players get older I hear coaches often say “We just can’t get them to practise hard any more”. What coaches don’t realize is that this lack of hustle as it is commonly referred to, starts when the players enter the sport and then continues through their career. By giving them responsibilities and involving them in the developmental process, you are developing that hustle from within. The desire to experience success by their own power. Awesome!
I would like to challenge coaches especially of newer youth teams to give the team a game per season to make all of the decisions. How cool would that be for the players. You would be there for them to ask any questions during the game and to provide assistance as needed but they would be making the decision to solicit your direction. You set the positions and the batting order and then let them call the pitches and even the batting signals. You could be at 3rd base to give direction during baserunning but would not call signals to the batter or baserunners. What a way to see how much knowledge they have and how much instinct they have in the game.
Have the discussion with the team at some point during the season.
- How do they feel about signals?
- How do they feel about their participation in the game?
- Are the signals easy to follow?
- How would they feel about taking the reigns in a game?
The more involved they feel in the game the more they will enjoy it.