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#AnythingButSoft: Five Coaching Tips for Keeping Softball Fun and Engaging

We believe that softball is more than a sport - it makes players #AnythingButSoft on and off the field. This season, we'll be sharing tips and insights from leading coaches, nutritionists, and parents alike and talking about how softball makes athletes #AnythingButSoft.

As softball players grow from young girls to pre-teens and teens, the initial excitement of playing sports can begin to wear off and games and practices are no longer as fun.  Reed Maltbie.jpeg

Studies show young athletes identify fun in many different ways, including competing, learning new skills, being challenged, and winning and that a coach's perception of fun, as an adult, isn't the same as the child's, says Reed Maltbie of Changing the Game Project, an organization devoted to returning the youth sports culture back to the children.

“(Adults) think fun is what it would be like to be a 5-year-old playing, where it’s all games and there’s no seriousness and competitiveness,” Maltbie explained.

Coaches can tend to want complete control of the team environment, often dictating the culture or the routine of practices, , which can have a negative effect on the players. Add to that the occasional parent who sometimes unintentionally (or intentionally) burdens a child with high expectations, such as getting that full scholarship, and you can see why athletes might start to move away from the sport they once loved.

What can coaches do to keep the element of fun in softball and still get the most out of their players? Here are five tips from the Changing the Game Project and Maltbie:

1) Include Everyone in the Decision Making Process

At the beginning of the season, sit down as a team and outline your team values, sense of purpose, and what you all hope to accomplish. Let your players each come up with a drill you can use in a practice.

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“If the athletes have a say in it, they start to hold themselves accountable, so they don’t feel like they’re competing against the coach,” Maltbie said. “It’s not ‘us versus them’; it becomes ‘we.’ The coach is a part of the competitive process.”

2) Inject Games into your Practices

If you work on a particular skill, such as putting more power in a player’s swing, finish with a home run derby or similar hitting contest. This will help your players see the skill in action and keep it fresh for them.

3) Create a Culture where Players can Think for Themselves

Maltbie says one reason kids turn to video games or other activities besides sports is because they want to feel accepted socially in an atmosphere that doesn’t promote complete adult control. For example, it’s OK for a coach to release the locker room for the players to have team discussions, air complaints, and learn to solve issues among themselves.

4) Help Your Players Look Inward Rather than Outward

As girls enter their teens, they start to have the tendency to compare themselves to others. Perhaps they're thinking they could hit like their team’s cleanup hitter, or they should start at shortstop instead of that other girl. Coach them to find out what they can do to make themselves indispensable, and work hard to fill that role. When they sacrifice for the good of the team, they'll be more motivated to compete for their teammates, not just themselves.

5) Help your Players Seek Joy in Playing the Game
If softball is no longer fun for your players,  find out why. Are they playing simply to please their parents? Is their motivation to win based on your expectations as coach? Maltbie advises coaches to encourage players to stop stressing about external pressures like winning and seek joy in every moment they're on the field. If everyone on the team is having fun, the winning usually takes care of itself.

“Do the things you love on the field, love doing them, and that joy is going to want you to come back each time,” Maltbie said. “If you’re out here thinking you're somebody you’re not, or doing it for the wrong reason, that joy is going to go away pretty quickly.”

From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr.

Softball, #AnythingButSoft, Softball Tips & Drills