Change happens. Injuries, departures and graduation all leave holes in rosters. That means the possibility of moving a player from one position to another. Stacey Patterson, the softball coach at Las Vegas’ Sunrise Mountain High, is going through that this spring. Between the graduation of several starters and some other players not returning, Patterson has several positions to fill in the field.
“We lost key positions from last year, so now we have to build and fill,” Patterson said. “It’s going to be tough, for sure.
“We’re trying to fill different spots and see who works in the best spot.”
One of Patterson’s solutions is moving junior Arieonna Herrera from center field — where she started last year — to shortstop, where she played junior varsity as a freshman. The move to the infield will require some adjustment. That position requires the ability to react to hard-hit balls and quickly throw to first base. Herrera will have to relearn those skills as she changes positions.
Those transitions exist when changing positions. Because each spot on the field has its own set of skills and responsibilities, there will always be some adjustments to make.
“The outfield is probably the easiest (to change),” Patterson said. “You have to get used to the angle (the ball is) coming off the bat (depending on which outfield spot). If you can play center field, you can play (all three) because (the ball) comes from both directions.”
While the outfield positions require learning proper footwork, infielders need to have the mechanics of throwing to first base in time.
Patterson said moving from one corner of the infield to the other should be an easy transition. Switching positions in the middle, however, is tough.
“The hardest would be going from second to short,” she said. “You don’t have as much time to throw the ball. You have to get rid of it quick.”
Players most likely won't quickly change to pitcher or catcher. The specialized skills required by those positions usually take longer to learn.
Whatever the transition, Patterson said time and communication are important to helping athletes learn a new role.
“I have to say the best thing for (helping transitions) is you have to have a good relationship with your athletes so you can have that line of communication with them,” Patterson said. “When you throw a kid in a spot for no reason, they don’t understand and maybe they think they did something wrong (to lead to the switch).”
Being honest about the changes and what the athlete needs to work on at a new position will make the transition smoother. The open communication will also make the athlete more comfortable asking questions about her new position.
Sometimes experience is the only way to really learn a new position. Herrera played year round, giving her extra time to learn the intricacies at shortstop.
“She’s been working her butt off to try to do what she needs to do to play that position,” Patterson said. “(Shortstop) is a big position in the infield. Really the only way to succeed is to get game experience.”
Patterson runs her practices with position-specific drills so her players are always working on those important skills. She also offers them extra time before or after practice to hone specific needs.
The Miners’ staggered Saturday practice also offers position-specific time. Patterson has her athletes — pitchers/catchers, infielders and outfielders — arrive at different times so she can work with them individually before team practice.
Some players — like Herrera — will arrive in time to work with more than one group. Herrera joined the infielders for practice before the other outfielders arrived.
The Miners start preseason practices by covering softball fundamentals before dividing the team up by skill level. After tryouts are complete, junior-varsity players — including several who have never played softball before — will pick two positions to focus on learning.
“Our JV staff has them pick two positions they’re comfortable with, and that’s what they work on,” Patterson said.
This gives the younger players a foundation at a couple of positions in case a change is needed in the future.