As a player and now as a coach, I’ve encountered a lot of players who lose interest in softball. Most often this is because they're drawn away from the sport and stop improving.
When a team has a set routine for practice, players become stagnant, they lose interest and their motivation decreases. In other words, if you practice five days a week and have the same exact routine each day, your team could begin “going through the motions.”
As a coach you need to be able to motivate your team by coming up with challenging and interactive drills. That means changing up your routine periodically to keep the players engaged.
Sure, repetitions are important for achieving muscle memory and helping eliminate errors. But we coaches need to remember that there are multiple drills that focus on the same skill. For instance, if a softball player needs to focus on keeping her hands inside the ball, you could:
1. Perform an open tee, which emphasizes keeping the back elbow driving straight to the ball.
2. Perform a closed tee, which emphasizes keeping the front elbow driving straight to the ball.
3. Do a dry swing, standing approximately the bat length away from the net and then proceed by swinging the bat (you should not hit the net).
4. Do a double tee, which makes the batter hit through the ball to get to extension, rather than around it.
In addition to helping avoid stagnation, mixing up drills can also help you tailor your drills to individuals. Changing things up helps ensure each athlete is benefiting from practices and feeling more prepared for games.
Not all athletes have the same bad habits. For example, say you have one athlete who struggles defensively with ground balls and another athlete who struggles defensively with fly balls. You wouldn’t want to do the same drills day after day focusing on ground balls, because then the player who struggles with fly balls won’t improve in her area of need.
The same goes with more complex activities such as hitting. We wouldn’t want our entire team to work on the same tee drills — like hitting the ball up the middle — because some players might need to work on other areas. Each player has her own mistakes or errors that she needs to correct, so make sure you allow her time to work on mechanics or techniques specific to her.
Remember, you cannot please the entire team every day, but if you are lucky, you can please each person at different moments, allowing them to feel confident, stay motivated and succeed.