You did it! You signed up to coach your daughter’s youth softball team. Maybe you’ve done this before and you want to brush up on a few coaching tips. Maybe this is your first time volunteering and you’re looking for some softball coaching tips. We’ve been in both situations and it’s amazing what you forget about starting a new team after being with an established team for awhile.
So, as a new coach or a veteran coach starting with a new team, we offer you some tips to get your season started smoothely,
1: Have a Plan Before Arriving at the First Practice
Having a plan before going into your first practice is essential. A plan provides you with:
- Peace of Mind
Structure is important because it provides you a road map for your practice and reduces down time. The less downtime during practice, the more focused the players will be on the practice. Young athletes inherently have a short attention span, especially in the 8u, t-ball, and coach pitch age brackets. Knowing the outline before starting helps your players stay on task and focused on softball.
It’s important to have goals for each practice. Your young athletes are learning new skills and it is essential that you have age and skills appropriate achievable goals in mind for each practice. However, for the first practice, your goal may be simply to get to know one another, have fun, and get an overview of each players’ skill level. You can then use this information to help plan goals for future practices.
Having a plan helps you have the content available to run your practices. That means you’ll know what drills you’re doing ahead of time and when you’re doing them. Knowing and planning the content ahead of time ties directly into your goals.
Planning ahead provides peace of mind, especially for new coaches. If you’ve ever had the first day jitters you know what this is about! However, knowing where you’re going, when you’re going, and how you’re going to get there helps to eliminate your jitters, lets you focus on your players, and lets you be you.
2: The Introduction Sets the Tone of the Practice and the Season
Before the first practice you have either spoken to your players’ parents (ideally) or at least emailed them details of what to bring to practice, where practice is taking place, and practice time. The first practice is your opportunity to make an impression on your players and have them get to know you and your expectations of them as a coach. It is also an opportunity for your players and parents to get to know one another.
At the 8u and t-ball levels no one expects parent coach volunteers to be softball experts. Parents are looking for their young athletes to have fun, learn some softball specific skills, learn about teamwork, and have fun. It’s okay for you to communicate this to parents in your introduction. Let them know that you’re not an expect, that their girls won’t be getting a softball college scholarship as 9-year olds, and that neither the Yankees nor Red Sox will be sending scouts to the games. Emphasize that their daughters will be learning softball skills and teamwork. That the goal at this age is to develop a love for the game, make friends, work together, and acquire new softball skills. At this age, the focus is not on winning.
When introducing yourself to your players it’s important to show your enthusiasm and warmth. Be welcoming and inclusive. Showing the girls that you’re excited to be there will be infectious.
After introducing yourself, make sure you have your players introduce themselves to each other and you. Try to get to know their names as quickly as possible and use them.
One technique to learn names quickly is to form a circle either in the infield or outfield. Starting with the person on your right (or left just pick one side), have that person say her name, then the player on her right says her name and the first players name, then the third player on the right says her name, the second player’s name, and the first player’s name and so on until it gets back to you. Then you have to say all of the players’ names in order. When mistakes happen, which they surely will, it’s okay for to ask for help.
Another fun activity for learning names starts with forming a circle and a having a softball available. Have your players get in ready position, knees bent, head up, and hands ready in front of them (you may need to teach this position before the activity), then say a player’s name and softly roll the ball to them. That player then says someone else’s name and then rolls the ball to that person. Continue with this until the girls get more automatic at calling out names to direct the ball. Also, a good rule is to have them roll it to a different person each time.
3: Review the Rules of Softball
Of all the youth softball coaching tips available for the first practice, this is the one that most frequently gets overlooked. In our excitement to get started teaching our players how to hit, throw, and field, we often forget to teach them some of the basic rules of the game. At this stage, rule review doesn’t have to be all inclusive or in depth. However, your team needs to know the names of the positions, how to run the bases, when to stop on a base, what an out is, how long an inning lasts, and what happens when there are three outs. Keep in mind that most t-ball programs bat around the order rather than play with three outs so use the rules specific to your organization.
It’s important to spend some time on this during the first practice to help the players develop a basic understanding of the game.
4: Establish Practice Routines at the First Practice
Just like a plan provides you with structure, routines provide young athletes with structure and consistency. Establishing routines during the first practice sets the groundwork for this consistency. It is important to teach you players these routines and reinforce them in order for them to become habitual. Areas where you can establish routines are:
- End of Practice Routine
Simple warm-up routines help organize your players at the beginning of practice while helping them get focused on softball. Upon arrival and after putting their equipment in the dugout area, players should get a softball find another player and go through a throwing progression to get loosened up. Three players can get together when there is an odd number of girls.
After warm-ups, it is essential to start teaching basic dynamic stretching. As your players get older, this will be an expectation by most coaches.
Built in water breaks are a time for routine and a quick break from drills. It is also a time to teach players about the expectations of player behaviors on the bench. Establishing this routine and expectation now will help on game day.
End of practice routines are important because you want to leave them looking forward to the next time you get together. Ending with everyone running the bases, a positive word of encouragement, a team cheer, and a high five for each player has every everyone going home happy.
5: Stress Teamwork
It is important to emphasize working together for a common goal and encouraging teammates. This helps teams create a bond and an identity. Have fun with this and keep it simple at this age. For example, set a goal to have all the balls picked up off of the field and in the coaches bucket in under 3 minutes. Encourage them to beat their team time the next time they do this.
Another easy activity is to have the team form a circle then have everyone take one step backward. Use a soft ball (e.g., a tennis ball for this activity) have the girls underhand the ball to each other and see how long they can do this without dropping it. If you want to have a little more fun with this, you can also use a beach ball and see how long they can keep that in the air.
6: End Strong
We touched upon this in the establishing routines section however, it’s worth repeating, end your practice on a positive note that leaves your players wanting to come back. Make sure you establish your end of practice routine during the first practice.
Review and recap what you covered during practice, highlight the team positives, say something positive about each player, and let them know that you had fun and enjoyed meeting them.
Key Youth Softball Coaching Tips to Remember
The first practice is your opportunity to set the tone for the rest of the season. Keep in mind that the end goal is for your players to learn about softball in a fun and safe environment. Developing a love for the game and enjoying time spent together at the field will go a long way in motivating these young athletes.
Having a plan, making introductions fun and age appropriate, making sure they understand the basic rules of the game, starting to establish routines, and emphasizing teamwork will only increase players’ comfort level and confidence.
No matter how much you plan, there will be times when the unexpected happens. Be adaptable and flexible during those times.
As a softball coach you’re a role model, not only for the whole team, but also for your daughter. Have fun with this and enjoy spending time together. Remember to end strong.
If you ever need a hand or have any questions, feel free to leave them below and I will be more than happy to help you out.
All the best,