One of the most important things you have to do as a coach is teach the fundamentals.
That’s even more of a priority when your team is comprised solely of players new to the game of softball.
The Malone (Florida) Middle School softball team doesn’t have the luxury of a feeder system that gets girls prepared. Instead, it’s up to Coach Greg Ford to whip them into shape in a span of two weeks.
The eight-year veteran coach admits it’s an annual tall task, but ultimately one that provides him with a great sense of fulfillment.
“It’s awesome. It makes you feel really good,” Ford said. “You feel like a proud papa watching them grow on the field.”
Ford has seen a wide variety of ability levels over the years, and offered some tips on how to approach coaching a cast of newcomers.
“You get on one knee and just pull your arm back, turn the ball back away from you and as you come through keep your elbow up. Have them hold their elbow for probably about 10-15 throws. Put them on a knee, have them hold their elbow up and just snapping it with their wrist to the person they’re throwing to. Do that for about five minutes.
“Next, same concept and you take your hand back, kind of turn the ball away as you go back but as you come forward you take your whole arm and snap it down. Do that for five minutes. Then I let them do the same technique standing up. I teach them how to line their shoulders up with their target.”
Use drills to establish mechanics
“Once they developed a bad habit of how to throw, it’s hard to break. This teaches them the right way and teaches muscle memory, so they’re not developing the bad habit of dropping the elbow or throwing side arm where they’re going to end up hurting themselves. The stronger they get, the harder they’ll throw.”
“I don’t let them use a glove to field with at the first practice. They learn to catch ground balls barehanded using two hands. You get into bad habits of one-handing everything if you don’t teach them to use both.”
Delegation of time for first practice
“First day of practice with a team that’s never played is 45 minutes to an hour of just learning to throw. Then another 20 minutes learning how to catch ground balls without any glove and then probably another 15 minutes learning how to run the bases properly. We don’t even pick up a bat until about day three.”
Experiment with process
“About the fourth or fifth year. It was just doing a lot of research and different drills. Players at different levels have different needs. I’ve learned new ways to approach situations. The first year I was a coach I didn’t have a clue. I was just flying by the seat of my pants. Throughout the years, now I know what works and what doesn’t work. I can really fine-tune now so I can take them to the next level.”
“I try to get them to understand that we’re a family. When you hurt somebody in your family, you hurt the whole family. I try to teach them to depend on each other, love each other and take care of each other. If someone is struggling, don’t jump on them. Try to pick them up. Don’t bring the negative aspects into the family.”