Why So Serious? Why One Youth Softball Team Focuses on Fun

Softball Focus On Fun - The Season - GameChanger

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Before the Keystone Little League softball players of Tampa, Fla. took the field in their state tournament game, they did a little dance to music playing by their dugout. 

Coaches like Mike O’Shea have seen players in their area leave Little League to play travel ball at age 12 or 13. A couple of years later, they’re burned out on the sport.

“When girls are 15, parents are putting videos out, some college coaches send out letters,” said O’Shea, in his fourth season as coach. “It’s a little too young and it puts a lot of pressure on.

“I’ve heard stories. Girls with great talent, everything is going for them, but the pressure is too much.”

O’Shea is coaching Maureen, 11, the youngest of his four daughters. He also coached twins Caitlin and Erin, now 15, as well as Maggie, 13. What he learned is that while the talent varies greatly among the players, he needed to make it fun for all of them.

“I never coached boys, but I bet it’s a lot different,” he said. “With girls’ softball, it’s 90 percent social for them and 10 percent the game. A lot of times, it’s the end of the game and they said, ‘Did we win?’ They don’t care. I’m successful if kids are happy whether we win or lose after a game.”

Like most coaches, O’Shea is a big proponent of having his players try every position. They like it because it’s different and parents have told him their children don’t get bored and are more willing to return the next season.

“If a girl who has never pitched wants to pitch, she’s gonna get a chance,” O’Shea said. “We play 18 regular-season games, but they’re basically exhibition games. And when we play playoff games, players are wearing face paint. We don’t even tell them it’s playoffs.”

This approach has led to coaches, parents and players being less tense. They don’t argue with umpires while players learn they’re not going to get a hit every time.

“Bad calls are part of the game,” O’Shea said. “I tell them, ‘Never show body language that you’re even disappointed with the call.’

“I also like this because what the players are experiencing most is failure. There’s 80 percent failure, 20 percent success. Life isn’t about being successful every time. It’s about getting back up when you fall down.”

O’Shea said there is a balance because he and the other coaches are teaching skill development.

“You have to reinforce some things because you can’t let kids keep making the same mistakes,” he said. “But at the same time, you can’t be so serious that we’re stressing the girls out. If you’re going to be successful on the field, you can’t play tight.”

Even though his twin daughters have stopped playing softball and his 13-year-old is hedging, O’Shea has enjoyed this experience with them as well as watching other players keep improving.

“It is very rewarding,” he said. “The most rewarding thing about the experience is when less talented girls have success. A couple of years ago, a girl who didn’t get a hit the entire season got the winning hit in a playoff game.

“That brings us so much joy. Even here in this tournament, even the lesser-talented all-stars get a chance to play — and they come through.”

From GameChanger and Craig Handel, a freelance reporter for Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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