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Breaking Up Boredom

Yvette Healy possesses an effervescent personality, and boasts a coaching resume with no shortage of eye-opening accomplishments, such as winning a 2013 Big Ten tournament title.

Yet, even with her unquestioned coaching acumen, and positive disposition, the Wisconsin Badgers head softball coach knows her voice can become tiresome for her players by a season’s latter stages.

Nearly every coach encounters it at some point: a late-season malaise from players as kids grow weary of hearing the same messages, of running the same drills, and wilting under unrelenting sunshine. Healy, however, has learned how to fight late-season fatigue.   

“We try to make sure we don’t suffocate them,” said Healy, who has been at Wisconsin since 2011. “You have to be really efficient in your practices.   

“You really want to be conscious about keeping them engaged, and excited to be out there.”

Healy, who entered the 2017 campaign with the highest winning percentage of any softball coach in Badgers history, tries to let her squad’s leaders voice their opinions as the season wears on.

“I think hearing from their peers is really important,” Healy said of her players. “If you keep putting (leaders) in those positions where you’re saying, ‘Your voice is important,’ and you’re making them speak, and you tell them how and when you want them to do it. It’s a powerful thing.”

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The Wisconsin coach seeks input from all her players at some point during the season’s latter stages. She finds value in polling her roster’s overall opinions, as long as they’re presented at times when players are levelheaded.

“Our learning sessions aren’t just coach-focused, and us telling them what we think they’re doing wrong,” Healy said. “Sometimes you really need to bring them into the conversation as a team and say, ‘OK, where do you think we can make strides?’

“I don’t think we always give our athletes enough credit,” Healy continued. “They’re pretty savvy about what’s going on, where we’re falling short, and what we can improve on. And you know, nobody likes an idea better than one they came up with themselves.”

The Badgers coach has countless other tricks for getting through the late-season grind, including:

  • Giving players breaks, like evenings off to have dinner with their families during road trips.
  • Having team parties, with activities like singing competitions that encourage players to interact with each other.
  • Consistently giving players one specific day off per week (Healy makes Mondays practice-free at Wisconsin, for example).
  • Establishing late-season goals, with incentives (when the Badgers won their 20th game in 2017, they earned a weekend off).
  • Having a public speaker address the team midway through a practice.
  • Reading a motivational book―or, at least a few chapters―as a team.

Healy and the Badgers also fight late-season lethargy by shaking up their practice regimen. When the dog days of the regular season roll around, Wisconsin’s head coach often splits her roster into three teams, and has them compete in 5-minute segments, in which each unit has to strategize amongst itself and ultimately score as many runs as it can in that brief window.

“I think at practice, especially, we have to find more ways to get them to compete,” Healy explained. “If the kid understands how to do a certain skill, especially in baseball or softball, that’s one thing. But, to perform under pressure is really the gift.

“Try to get them to take more excitement and ownership in finding a way to win.”

Ultimately, when the late-season grind hits her practice sessions, Healy tries to trim away any drills that aren’t completely necessary. That, she has found, usually gets players re-energized for the season’s stretch run.

“If I could give any advice to get your team to play better,” Healy said, it’s that “you have to understand (that) their approach, their mindset, and motivation matters more than taking one more unattentive rep.”

From GameChanger and Kelly Beaton.

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