When I first entered the coaching world six years back, I was welcomed with a rude awakening. I was struggling to answer my athletes questions pertaining to why we did things the way we did. For instance, “Why do we go head first into second base on a steal with no runners on, opposed to going in feet first?”. After playing softball at an elite level since the age of 8, it was a shock, and honestly a little disheartening to realize I didn’t know the answer.
Throughout my youth career as a softball player I was lucky enough to always play for coaches who had an immense knowledge base of the game. I was coached at the elite level, with the correct techniques, and strategies, from the get go. I had coaches who knew to call pitches off the plate on a batter with two strikes. I had coaches who knew to push batters back in the box when we were trying to steal second. I had coaches who knew to have their player tag-up at second on fly ball to right field.They always knew the correct pitches to call, defensive positioning to set up, and offensive strategies to employ. I was extremely fortunate to develop my skills under coaches who truly knew the game. I was an athlete who learned how to execute with precision.
Being taught correctly from the very beginning allowed the skills and strategies of the game to become ingrained in me, like they were second nature. I never had to conciously think about what was going on around me; my skills and play executions were more like reactions. Unfortunately, this caused me to miss out on a crucial skill, reading the game in front of me. I developed my talent under coaches who were so knowledgeable, that I didn’t get to learn the cognitive side of the game. My coaches were always calling the plays, and giving direction, so I missed the vital skill of reading the game and making decisions on my own.
Coaching has taught me to take my reactions and turn them into words. It has taught me to analyze my ingrained skills and convert them into a tangible lesson for my athletes. The biggest challenge for me has been coaching first base; I know to run when the catcher bobbles a ball, but saying “run” and physically taking off, are two completely different things. It took me a while to hone in on the skill of delivering oral directions on the bases. It was no easy feat, and six years later I’m still learning, analyzing, and converting, but I’m making progress, and that’s what counts!
Coaches, give your athletes the chance to develop the cognitive aspect of this game. It is critical to include the “why” when teaching skills, and developing game strategies. Explain to athletes that pushing batters back in the box makes the throw to second base longer for the catcher. Explain that the throw from right field to third is longer than any other position on the field, which is why we tag up at second base on a fly ball hit to right field. These may seem like minute points to those who have been around the game for some time. However, these little bits of information can make all the difference to your athletes. It can aid in that “click” that we all strive to witness as coaches.Give them the opportunity to employ and execute game situations on their own. Allow them to coach their own teams at practice so they can recognize when it’s smart to bunt, steal, and execute hit and runs. Let the catchers begin to call pitches, let the pitchers begin to call pitches. Remember that trial and error is a fantastic tool to utilize when developing the cognitive aspect of the game. Explaining the mental side of the game, and then allowing them to practice on their own will greatly impact your players ability, and will develop them into well rounded athletes.
Quote of the day:
“Coach is just another word for teacher.”