It won’t be long, and the cool chilly mornings will give way to lovely, breezy afternoons. As Rec departments and travel leagues across the country look forward to the upcoming thaw, there are tons of NEW coaches, and NEW players looking to tackle the brick-dust for the first time.
Most often, a coach is born out of a parent volunteer. They follow their daughters passion – and realize how addictive and amazing and wonderful and fun the game of softball is. Long filed away memories of smelly leather gloves, and dirty stained knees come rushing back and both parent and child are hooked.
The thing is that coaching young softball teams, and young girls requires quite a different mindset than coaching older teams. A bunch of 6 or 7 year olds do not need (and will not benefit) from a hard-nosed daddy ball coach wearing turf shoes and an embroidered travel ball wind-breaker who makes them do push-ups or run laps because they missed a ball.
Today, we give tips and tricks for coaching these very young girls (between the ages of 4 and 10) many of whom are playing for the first time in their lives.
1. The most important thing to remember is not to expect too much too fast! Especially in recreation leagues where most kids start out, you are certain to find many different talent levels. Some 6 year olds can catch a ball, others cannot. Before you take the field, you must arm yourself with patience and LOTS OF IT!
At this age, the victories are small, and should be rewarded constantly. As any kindergarten teacher will tell you, these girls get distracted quickly, and many quite frankly – don’t have the motor skills mastered to be aces at softball. Plan on going to practices and games to HAVE FUN, keep the girls interested and busy, and make sure that they don’t feel pressure. One bad year in t-ball or coaches pitch can literally make a girl decide she never wants to play softball again. The goal is LONGEVITY! The goal is to provide an atmosphere that will make girls look back and say they LOVE softball and want to continue playing the next year.
2. FUNDAMENTALS!!!! Young girls are fully capable of learning plays, and figuring out where to go with the ball at some point. But what they really need is the constant reinforcement of FUNDAMENTALS! The fundamentals of catching, fielding, throwing, batting. Find creative ways to make the FUNDAMENTALS FUN! You know you’re doing a good job coaching when all the girls start showing signs that they get the fundamental skills needed to play the larger the game. There are tons of drills, and learning tools you can use at this age to help them with coordination. The fundamentals taught early will stay with them for a long time. While some shrug the importance of qualified coach in the early years, the truth is they REALLY REALLY NEED SOMEONE who can teach them proper mechanics and technique.
3. Get lots of help. Yes, YOU are the coach and you want the girls to listen to you, not mommy and daddy in the bleachers. The ‘no parents on the field during games or practice thing’ is necessary at a certain age and at certain times. But still remain open to parents that want to help. Twelve 6-year-olds on the field need to be kept busy, and put in small groups to get the most out of practice, so having several ‘coaches’ or adult helpers is critical!!!!
4. Don’t play your “Best 10” play THEM ALL! Its laughable, and sort of disgusting to see t-ball and coaches pitch coaches NOT rotating their positions and spending hours over line-ups for a bunch of little girls who may still be getting their butts wiped by their mom.
Your job, your goal is to make sure that every girl on the team grows as a little girl and a player. As mentioned above, the talent level will vary greatly. But these are just little girls. Play them all! Play them everywhere. Play them anywhere. Sorry to disappoint, but at 5, 6, and 7 and even 8 years old – you aren’t preparing for a college career – and the wins and losses of your team mean nothing compared to the wins and losses in the hearts of these little girls. Get over yourself, and play them all. When they mess up (which they will often) laugh, smile, give them high-five and have fun. Correct them by being positive. Don’t take things too seriously at this age.
5. No yelling, kicking dirt, throwing your hat on the ground, pouting, making the girls run laps. You get it. Leave your ego at home. This is about them, not you. You are teaching them how to play a game, and win or lose, you are also showing them how to win and lose. With dignity. Stay positive. Laugh at the girls (and yourself) make sure they feel proud of themselves. HAVE FUN! Have fun. HAVE FUN!
6. Most of all – think in terms of long term always. Is what you are doing right now going to motivate these young girls to play in a few years from now? Will they look back on these formidable years fondly, and remember YOU? When they adorn high school fields with their friends, will they think back to when they were 6 and remember something that YOU, taught them? We want these girls to play ball – play SPORTS for as long as possible.