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Practice Wins Games !

Practice Wins Games !

It's often been said that athletic contests are won or lost in practice. In almost all organized (high school or college) team sports, hours are spent in putting a team together and working out plays and strategies. Good coaches spend a lot of time planning these practice sessions, making them challenging and interesting. More importantly they are designed with objectives to improve both the team and the individual player. These coaches usually win more than they lose, and they have gained a solid measure of success turning out great individual players.

It's been observed over a number of years that most softball teams just go through the motions of holding productive practices. The senior college level probably does the best overall job of maximizing practice potentials, but many junior colleges, club, and high school teams seem to have less success. At best, it seems that coaches have players do a little hitting with a pitching machine, take part in some infield work, catch a few flies in the outfield, and may put the squad through a couple of random drills. Few specific objectives are set and consequently few are met.

Usually, this type of team winds up being cannon fodder in games and tournaments. The kids have a horrible experience, and many drop out of softball before ever reaching their fullest potential. Their coaches make excuses blaming lack of talent, player errors and umpires for their poor results. They never stop to think that poorly organized practices with specific team and player objectives might be the real reason for the lack of success of both the team and the players.

There are a lot of other reasons why softball teams traditionally have practiced poorly:

  1. Parent, volunteer, or amateur (inexperienced) coaches seem to proliferate at all levels of play.
  2. Club ball often finds a lack of player motivation and attendance at practice.
  3. Many club teams don't practice at all, just playing league games, and/or going to tournaments just to play a lot of games guided by the theory that game action in itself is enough to make the kids play better (foolish thought).
  4. The softball coaching job at many high schools is a thankless, underpaid assignment. In some cases the job is reserved for new teachers or those just putting in their time to fulfill the extra-curricular activity requirement of their regular teaching assignment.

Without being too judgmental, many fastpitch softball coaches and players don't appreciate the difficulty involved in learning the proper strategies and skills of fastpitch softball. They just don't give the game the respect it deserves. They approach coaching fastpitch softball with many misconceptions, a lot of which have been learned from slowpitch softball and baseball.

Additionally, many coaches, both male and female, are at a loss as to how to coach today's young female athletes.

What It Takes

To begin with, a good softball coach must have some understanding of the simple basics of the game. That is, they must: understand the rules; be able to identify, evaluate and teach the individual skills required; be aware of the game's offensive and defensive plays; and have an understanding of human behavior and learning dynamics. With these few simple elements in mind, you can develop a practice plan built around the strengths, and particularly the weaknesses, of your team and players, and execute it within a proper player motivational framework.


The most overlooked element in practice plan design is the rules. The rules tell you what you can and can't do. The rules of the game are important as they relate to playing situations that come up in a game that can greatly influence the outcome. To not spend some time in practice teaching the impact of rules will probably result in mental errors sure to cost your team several wins every year. Making that great long fly foul ball catch in the outfield with less than two outs and a runner on third has cost more than one ball game. Chalk talk sessions on the rules are an essential ingredient to any well designed practice program. If you don't believe this, simply give your team a multiple choice test on the rules.

Individual Skills

Successful softball begins with skilled individuals. Teams win because players are successful in position execution. Many amateur and high school coaches do not spend enough time working on developing the specific skills of the player. A lot of them assume that the player should work out on their own. For example, how many coaches depend upon the local pitching guru to develop their pitchers? How often do we see coaches hitting 500 grounders to a second baseman or even 100 fly balls to an outfielder? Not often enough, I believe, but they are sure to criticize an error or poor performance. Somehow, many of them expect the player to possess the individual softball skill without the consistent practice of the skill. These kinds of things should be built into any softball practice plan.

Basic Individual Athletic Softball Skill Elements

  1. Throwing/Overhand
  2. Catching
  3. Running/base running
  4. Hitting/multiple bunting adaptations--slap, drag, push, etc.
  5. Sliding
  6. Pitching/throwing underhand
  7. Physical conditioning activities, cardiovascular strength
  8. Hand/eye coordination conditioning
  9. Learning how to field the various positions

The Team

This thought carries through as well on offensive and defensive team play execution. The many errors made after the initial ball is played, regarding what to do with it and in many cases without it, is another example of inadequate team practice attention. Throwing to the wrong base, missing the cut-off, and failure to back up a play account for more runs than making the initial error on the ball in the first place.

Some Softball Fundamental Elements To Be Taught And Practiced As A Team

  1. Singles to all fields
  2. Singles with runners on
  3. Extra-base hits/relays/cutoffs/back-ups
  4. Extra-base hits with runners on
  5. Double plays
  6. Pick-off plays/trick plays
  7. Base stealing/tags
  8. Bunts/sacrifice/slap/drag/push/etc.
  9. Hit-and-runs/squeeze plays
  10. Rundowns
  11. Pop-ups, foul balls
  12. Base coverage/infield depth play/outfield positioning

The point of all this is that repetitious and regular individual and team practice is vitally important in fastpitch softball.

The Softball Mind

The practicing of fastpitch softball skills is probably more important than in any of the recreational sports such as basketball and volleyball. Fastpitch softball requires that you anticipate execution, execute, think, and execute again. That is, every softball play requires at least four basic thinking and athletic actions every time the ball is put into play. The other eight players have to go through a similar set of multiple athletic execution and thinking actions as well, and that is just on defense.

Basic Mental Skills Elements Of Softball

  1. Rules
  2. Offensive and defensive plays/strategies, position play -- individually/as a team
  3. Pitching/hitting theories
  4. Signals/signal calling and game plans
  5. Player motivation
  6. Player emotion

The probability for mental errors on a given play are enormous, and the odds are more likely that they will happen than that they won't. You can't play the game if you don't know how, and repetitious practice is where players gain the mental skills to execute both as a team and as individuals. Practice will reduce the statistical probability of mental errors. The failure of coaches to have their teams drill, drill, and drill, executing the routine play as well as the exceptional defensive plays, makes each ball hit a new experience for the players. This subjects them to a less than a 50/50 chance of successful execution. it's impossible to expect consistent multi-player play execution without practice to establish rhythm, timing, and the experience of handling the ball. it's impossible to expect players to know what to do with the ball without practicing repeatedly what to do with it in a given situation.


The largest challenge for many coaches is the motivational part of any practice program. If, as stated above, a great deal of time must be spent in repetitious practice routine, a great deal of thought must be spent in trying to make practice interesting and at times fun. The biggest problem usually faced is trying to just keep everybody active and involved. Knowing what you want to practice and keeping the practice session moving along are keys to keeping players alert and interested during practice.

In your daily practice planning, you should have a motivational theme built into the plan. Activities can be designed to be competitive and fun as well as instructional. Rewards for practice achievement are much more important than trophies for winning tournaments as practice achievement is what wins tournaments.

Practice Organization And Management

The key to practice management is planning. Know what you want to teach so you will know what to practice. Write it down. Have a written master practice plan flexible enough to be adjusted to current individual and team situations and to where you are in the season. Your first practice has different objectives than a typical mid-season practice. Your everyday basic plan should incorporate the fundamentals of hitting, running, throwing, catching and infield/outfield play. A good plan will allow additional time for other things you may need or want to work on that are pertinent to the way your team and players are currently playing. In addition, you should have a special separate practice plan for pitchers and catchers.

Basic Master Planning Elements Of Softball Practice Organization

  1. Players
    1. Selection
    2. Strengths
    3. Weaknesses
  2. Coaching staff assignments/coaching philosophy
  3. Facilities
  4. Equipment
  5. Objectives
    1. Short term
    2. Long term
    3. Team
    4. Individual
  6. Time
    1. Per activity
    2. Per practice
    3. Per season
  7. Practice element or teaching element identification
  8. Motivation and learning theory
  9. Organization of activities
  10. Research of coaching and softball resources for ideas

Staff, facilities, and time management are also important. Assign the right person to coach the specific skill sets they know best. Give them direction as to what you specifically want done. Make sure they are familiar with the practice plan. If you're by yourself, use experienced players, parents, or volunteers, but be sure you teach them what you want done in the right manner.

Design your practice within the limitations of the facility you are using. Use back stops, fences, and walls where appropriate to aid in drills and individual skill practice. With a little help and wise use of your facility, you can have several practice activities occurring simultaneously.

Critical to making any practice interesting is time management. People standing around waiting will do more to destroy a learning environment than anything else. Yet this is what happens in the majority of practice sessions, especially when the whole team takes hitting practice. Keeping your players busy doing productive practice activities will help them maintain their concentration. Set time limits in your daily practice plan and keep them as you progress through the practice routine. Quality, not quantity, is the key to practice motivation on the part of players.

Below is a sample daily practice plan outline. It attempts to cover critical areas that should be considered in constructing your daily practice activities. Something like this should have a direct connection with overall master practice plan concepts described above.

There are many ways you can organize your practice sessions. The important thing is that you organize them in tandem with preset goals and objectives for your team. The most important thing is that your team practice. Winners do; so should you. Anything worth doing is worth doing right both for your program and for the players. it's time softball coaches take practice seriously.

9 Point Short List Daily Practice Plan

Date:______________ Place/Facility:______________ Time Allotted:____________

Master Practice Plan Objective tie in:_______________________________________

1.Practice Plan Objectives for today:________________________________________

a. Motivational objective for today:________________________________________

b. Organization of activities/facilities/equipment:_____________________________

c. Staff/Player assignments:______________________________________________

2. Warm Up/Conditioning:_________________________Time:__________________

3. Individual skill coaching points to teach:___________________________________

4. Individual Skill Practice Activities:

Drill 1______________Focus__________Time _________ Players______________

Drill 2______________Focus__________Time _________ Players______________

Drill 3______________Focus__________Time _________ Players______________

New softball skill to be taught:____________________________________________

5. Team Skill Coaching Points to Teach:_____________________________________

6. Team Skill Practice Activities:

Drill 1______________Focus__________Time _________ Players______________

Drill 2______________Focus__________Time _________ Players______________

Drill 2______________Focus__________Time _________ Players______________

New softball concept to teach:_____________________________________________

7. Rule to review for today:_______________________________________________

8. Pitcher/Catcher practice plan:____________________________________________

9. Team communication and announcements:__________________________________

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