Players straggle off the field. Practices are listless. The quality of play in games is falling fast.
Such are the symptoms of a team stuck in the summer doldrums, that time of year when the will to play melts in the searing heat.
As another scorching summer drags on, baseball and softball coaches should take steps to ease the grind, said Londonderry (NH) High School coach Brent Demas, New Hampshire’s 2013 Coach of the Year.
“You can’t run them ragged over a whole spring and summer,” he said.
Less intensive practices, cross-training, ample vacation time, a dose of humor: all are ways to avoid burnout. Demas and two other coaches offered their suggestions for avoiding the dreaded summer burnout.
Demas starts with fundamentals.
“Baseball does not lend itself to being a fun game unless you love it,” he said. “Even then, players are going to get bored with the fundamentals. So you have to make the fundamentals fun. That’s a key — keeping things light.”
One simple way Demas accomplishes that goal is by setting a goal for practice each day.
“The kids know when you’re (going through the motions),” he said. “If you’re preparing to play a team that bunts a lot, nail down your bunt defense, and while you’re doing it, make it fun.”
Coach Steve Bushnell’s Topeka Seaman High School teams have won seven Class 5A Kansas state baseball tournaments, advanced to the state tournament 12 consecutive years and been ranked in the top 50 in Baseball America’s high school poll.
He learned years ago to gear down in summer. In fact, Bushnell encourages players to participate in other sports, find summer jobs and enjoy vacation time.
“The kids understand baseball is extremely important to us, but it is a game, and there are other important things you need to do to prepare for life,” he said. “If I try to shove baseball down their throats, I’ll lose those kids.”
Instead of mandatory batting practice, for example, Bushnell opens a batting cage at set times, allowing players to come and go according to their schedules.
“These kids are getting tugged so many different ways during the summer months,” he said. “The football coach has them lifting weights, basketball coaches are running camps and they have summer jobs, vacations. Those things are important, so we provide opportunities to work around them.”
Avoiding burnout is especially crucial as season-ending tournaments near, Demas said.
“When we get to the playoffs, we cut our practices to an hour or so,” he said. “Some coaches run 3-4 hour practices. At that point of the year, you can become dangerously redundant.”
Demas also turns to veteran players for help.
“Coaches can’t be arrogant, thinking they’re the sole source of motivation on a team,” he said. “Talk to your senior captains; say, ‘Hey can you help me push the team.’ Kids respond to that. They want responsibility.”
Forewarned is Forearmed
It’s never too early to prepare for summer burnout, says Joe Solis, coach of the Texas Arsenal softball team in West Houston.
“In the beginning of the season, we talk about being emotionally strong throughout the season,” Solis said. “Our mental training side is the most crucial side.’