Teams inevitably go through periods of ups and downs. One thing that I’ve found to be consistent, is that all things will eventually change. As a coach, I’ve witnessed our players make a transition from young girls who played the game for fun, or social acceptance; to young ladies who’ve had to learn to treat the game they love as more of a business. Between college scholarships, balancing “personal” and “work” time, and the financial commitment required to compete at such a high level; the pressure is enormous and the stressors are numerous. Fortunately, our team has a terrific support system, anchored by positive and engaged parents, strong organizational leadership, and talented players who truly love the game.
Despite these positive attributes, I witnessed new struggles begin to emerge this season. The normal peaks and valleys that I’d seen in the past, were deeper and more pronounced. It became more difficult to inspire the team and their motivation was lacking in ways unseen before. If there wasn’t “something on the line” they just weren’t putting forth the effort that was commensurate with their talent. Our team batting average dropped over 30 points, our pitchers were not looking as sharp as they once did, and certain opponents that should not have been a problem for us were unexpectedly challenging. As a coach, you must accept that these realities were bound to happen at some point. The biggest obstacle has been how to effectively respond to these issues while keeping things in the proper perspective for the players, parents and other coaches on the staff.
Here are some of the things we’ve implemented that have helped with the transition during this pivotal season:
Give The Players a Voice. I’ve always believed in giving my players a say over certain aspects of the game and team tasks. By expanding these responsibilities, the players really received a heightened sense of connection to their team mates and to the game itself. By having open, honest dialogue where every player must speak publicly, ideas started to flow. Solutions emerged from this synergy amongst players and coaches.
Shake Things Up. The gift and the curse for us, is the fact that the core of our team has been together for many seasons. As a result, certain things began to be taken for granted, such as playing time, positions, batting order, etc. By deliberately mixing things up and taking players out of their comfort zone, they began to see the value in earning rewards versus being given rewards.
Turn Them Into Teachers. One proven technique to determine whether a person truly understands something is to ask them to teach it. Having certain players teach certain drills, or give lessons to younger players, or to explain a concept to a team mate is a highly effective way to measure the growth and maturity of a player while also reinforcing their understanding of fundamentals and softball concepts.
Invite a Guest. This was probably the highest risk/highest reward tactic used this year for us. With playing time being a constant concern for players and parents, adding new players to the mix creates some angst. In our case, I was presented with the opportunity to have a guest pitcher added to my roster, which already included four pitchers at the time. Despite all efforts to carefully balance the playing time and to reinforce the value of earning rewards, not everyone was open to this at first. My thought process was that successful people seek to learn from other successful people. A keen student will observe and mirror the actions of those around them that can make them better. Although it took some time to settle in and to trust the process, over time, this was a highly rewarding decision that will pay dividends into the future. Clearly, having the “right guest” at the “right time” is critical to this one being effective. Be sure to align yourself with individuals who share your values!
I hope these ideas offer some food for thought to other coaches who are facing similar challenges. I speak with other coaches all the time and receive great tips from them regarding things they do to overcome obstacles they face. Remain open to new ideas and above all else, know that you are not alone. Softball is a lifestyle. Live it to the fullest.
May 17, 2015 Georgia Elite-Hoover with guest Matty "Hoss" Moss Gold Cup Champions!
-Australia Hoover, Head Coach