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by Tim Covey
Each weekend, ball fields scattered across the country are filled with youth softball teams being coached by men (oftentimes a father of a player). Talk to many of them and you will find story after story of former baseball players that are now coaching fastpitch softball for the first time.
Once you get a taste of the faster paced game it can be hard to go back to coaching baseball.
I love baseball and hope my own son wants to play it when he gets older…
As a coach it would be a big adjustment after 15 years of coaching fastpitch softball to go back to coaching baseball. The reality is that it’s a different sport. And you are coaching a different gender.
While many men find the change to be awesome, it can also create some unique challenges for a new male softball coach. So what can a guy do to help make for a great transition? Below I want to give you 5 keys for men that are coaching fastpitch softball.
As you will notice, many of these keys apply to female coaches as well. However, the focus of this particular article is on male coaches. Why? In a nutshell simply because I have a large number of readers that happen to be Dad’s coaching their daughter’s travel ball team for the first time.
And sometimes that creates some unique challenges.
Not to be “captain obvious,” but you are coaching females. And as such you need to learn about the differences of coaching females compared to males.
Do NOT assume that girls cannot “handle” as much as boys. I have coached girls with 10x the mental toughness of any boy their age. But to pretend they are the same would be a mistake. While every young lady is a different individual and should be treated as such, there are some things that are commonly different when coaching girls compared to boys.
Mike Candrea has been known to state that “boys need to play good to feel good whereas girls need to feel good to play good.” Point is they both want to play well, and it is important to them. But oftentimes the perspective is different.
Jeff Jansen has identified different areas in which coaching girls is different from boys. Here are a few:
Legendary soccer coach Anson Dorrance has been known to say that girls even accept praise differently. In his experience, his players have responded well to individual (1-on-1) praise but very poorly to public praise. Whereas his men’s teams seemed to love public praise.
Here is a great example of a couple of differences from Lori Thomas of ProActive Coaching.
Once again, these are tendencies and not hard and fast rules. And the aforementioned coaches work with grown women rather than 10-18 year olds.
But to pretend that gender differences do not play a role in your coaching can have negative consequences. It’s crucial to get to know your players as young ladies…not merely as an athlete.
Baseball is not softball.
Let me say that again…baseball is not softball.
Lot’s of overlap for sure. But it’s not the same game.
Softball is quicker. Infielders have less time to recover from a bobbled ball in softball. The field is smaller so the angles are different. Softball has slappers and much more of a short-game presence. And obviously pitching is much different in softball.
So it’s important to learn the game itself really well. Be a student of the game. And try to avoid falling into the “my coach told me to do it this way” mindset.
Your college coach may have been awesome. But the game changes over the years. Technology changes, new ways of doing things emerge..and sometimes going back to old ways happens.
If you can’t make this happen, you don’t need to panic. But…I would recommend keeping an eye out for a female assistant coach for the future of your team. Or at the very least a team Mom that can be at all the practices and games.
As a man coaching girls, you are not a girl. Yes I know it’s “captain obvious” again. But as a man we simply can’t understand girls the way another female can.
Having a female on my staff has saved me from doing or saying stupid “man things” countless times.
For example, sometimes I need to be reminded that a player is only a 14-year-old girl. And sometimes my female assistant coaches push the players harder than I think they can handle. It helps to have more than only the voices of men. And I would suggest that a female coaching staff would benefit from a male “voice” as well.
We can help balance each other out. The same concept applies to leadership within any organization. An imbalance either direction can be unhealthy.
Jeff Jansen states that top coaches have the 7 “C’s”: character based, competent, committed, caring, confidence builders, communicators, and consistent. Notice that much of these factors fall into the “impact” category.
Unfortunately sometimes the lines get blurred and it can be easy to fall into the “win games” mindset trap and put impact on the back-burner. I will be the first to admit that maintaining the right balance is a constant challenge. But it can be done. And when we completely neglect impact things can get really ugly and disheartening.
This is where I see some male coaches struggle as they begin their softball coaching journey. But if this is missing, then we are missing a massive opportunity.
Here is an example: A while back we played a team filled with DI caliber players in the playoffs. They were REALLY good. But I knew something was strange when I had two coaches from teams in their district tell me they were “pulling” for us to win.
Kinda weird, I thought to myself.
And then I figured out why. The coaches were clearly “win at all costs” and the impact they were making was less than positive. I am 99% sure one of my best hitters was hit by a pitch intentionally twice. Unfortunately the overall attitudes of the players matched that of their coaches…but that should not surprise us.
Unfortunately, they kicked our tails. And then I called their next opponent and gave that coach the best scouting report I could. And told her I was “pulling” for them. In that particular regional final game, the “poor impact” coaches were yelling obscenities from the dugout and making comments toward the opposing team’s players to try and “rattle” them. It was honestly a disgrace to the game.
In case you are wondering the “poor impact” coaches team lost that game.
Thankfully these extreme cases are few and far between. But clearly having a positive impact was nowhere on the “radars” of those particular coaches. I would encourage every male (and female) coaching fastpitch softball to put having “a positive impact and culture” at the top of the list before ever worrying about how to teach the skills and drills.
Read things from resources like ProActive Coaching, 3D Coaching, and InsideOut Coaching. Your players (and parents) will thank you.
The last key that I would recommend is creating traditions and team building activities. Take time out of your practices to take 10 minutes for team building…at the very least occasionally.
A word of caution here, though. For most teams of girls, this will take WAY longer than with a boy’s team. From my experience you will need to set specific ground rules or practice will turn into one long team building exercise.
And you will get nothing else accomplished.
But think through what types of activities you may want to do. For example, the “I Got Your Back” Drill is a quick and easy way to develop chemistry.
Traditions are also great. Something we started with our teams recently (which I stole from Anson Dorrance) was a letter to seniors from the coaches on senior night. We read the letter that we wrote for each senior to the entire team. It is a great way to honor a group of players that has committed themselves to playing for you. And it’s a great way to have your seniors leave your program knowing how much you appreciate them.
These are just a couple of examples. I share many more of these types of tips inside my online courses.
So this is actually key #6. It has nothing to do with coaching. But everything to do with protecting yourself. Every team has that player or two that seems to be the last one picked up.
Make sure that you never end up the ONLY adult waiting for the parent to arrive.
Be proactive and create a protocol. Perhaps it’s that the last 3 players all have to wait with you until the last player is picked up. Or always have at least 2 coaches stay until everyone is gone.
In this day and age, you can never be too safe. Stay above reproach and keep yourself from any situations that could end up in your word versus another persons word. I wish I did not have to mention this key, but it’s too important to miss. So think ahead on this one and establish a policy!
If you follow these keys for coaching fastpitch softball, you will be on your way to success on the field. More importantly you will be creating a culture that has a positive impact on the lives of the young ladies that you lead!
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by Mark Ritchhart
by Tim Covey