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Softball Coaching Tips - How To Avoid Boredom In Practices

By Ken Krause

Hitting guru, Mike Epstein, often quotes a figure that it takes 1,500 repetitions to replace a bad habit or technique with a good one. Ok, lets face it. Doing anything 1,500 times, except perhaps for eating an ice cream cone, can get boring. And if you eat 1,500 ice cream cones, you’ll have bigger problems than boredom with your game.

Softball coaching tipsEven the most dedicated players have to overcome the boredom factor at times - especially at this time of the year. March is a tough month for Fastpitch players no matter where you live, usually littered with indoor practices and games cancelled due to snow, rain, hurricane warnings, soggy fields, or bitter cold, but boredom can set in anytime, indoors or out, as you continuously repeat the same skills over and over again.

One interesting phenomenon is that players (or their parents) often think it’s the coaches job to keep them from getting bored. The truth is, coaches are not there to entertain players. Their job is to get players ready to play the game. Where boredom sets in is when players don’t challenge themselves or approach a skill in a way that is beyond what they can do today. There’s always a way to take the boredom out, you just need to change the way you think. So, with that in mind, here are some ways to breathe new life into practicing various aspects of your game and make a good impression on the coach to boot!

Fielding Ground Balls: One solution parents often come up with is that the coach should hit the ball harder to their son or daughter. Sounds good in theory, but I’ve seen that backfire, too. Hitting the ball harder than players are used to seeing it in a game makes them tend to sit back and wait for the ball. When the ball is the hit in the game, players still sit back and fail to make the out. The next time ground ball practice seems too easy, speed up your execution. Charge the ball harder, make the throw faster. Shoot for doing it at twice your normal speed without making an error. Not only will you overcome boredom, you’ll improve your ability to field a ball properly during a game, especially against a speedy team.

Surprise Bunts: Here’s another area where increasing speed of execution will help. At our winter clinics, we have a number of players who can lay down the bunt every time. During games, those perfectly executed bunts become outs because they were showing the bunt too early. We started challenging players to wait longer and longer before turning to bunt. If they get the bunt down successfully, we encourage them to wait a little longer, until they start to miss now and then. The longer they can wait, the more the defense has to wait before reacting and the better their chance is to get on base.

General Hitting: When I was a kid (WARNING: Here comes an “old guy” story), we often would play imaginary innings. You know, bottom of the seventh, two outs, the winning run on third, and here comes mighty Krause up to the plate. We’d then fungo to go for that big home run. When you’re hitting off the tee, soft toss, or a machine, take yourself out of the practice area and mentally play for the championship. An added benefit is that should you find yourself in that position for real, it won’t be so overwhelming because you’ve already been there hundreds of times before in your head. Hitting is a tough skill to learn, a well-planned practice will make learning it a lot easier.

Pitching: One of the biggest problems pitcher have is the belief that a certain amount of practice time, no matter how it’s spent, equals a better pitcher. Some parents (or coaches) will tell their aspiring pitchers that they have to put in a half hour or an hour three, four or five times a week or that they have to throw 100, 200, or even 500 pitches a session. So that’s what they do and only throw pitches for the prescribed period of time or to hit the number without truly working on anything. What you really should be doing is knowing specifically what you need to work on to get better and then spend the time working on it. Set a goal and work until you achieve it. For example, if you’re having trouble keeping your arm circle on a line to the plate, do drills to help you get it in line. You’ll get a lot more out of it than throwing 500 pitches with your arm off-plane.

Here’s another area where the mental game can come in handy, too. Pitch to imaginary hitters, one after the other in a game in your head. Give each “hitter” certain characteristics such as a speedy, power hitter, stands close to the plate, hunches over a lot, and then mix your pitches and locations to strike out that hitter. You can even keep score. If you execute properly and throw a strike, it’s a strike. If you miss or maybe throw a strike to the wrong location, it’s a ball. The challenge will make it far more interesting, and you just might surpass your numbers without even thinking about them. All of this will make your pitching practice much more productive and interesting.

Outfield: Nobody in Fastpitch has to deal with more boredom than outfielders. In fact, for them, practices are probably more exciting than an actual game since they may only get one or two fielding chances in a seven-inning contest. Challenge yourself to throw for speed (quick release) and accuracy at the same time. See the receiver’s glove and work on hitting it without the receiver having to move the glove. If you’re shagging balls during batting practice, approach it like the game is on the line. Dive or slide for sinking liners, work on getting a faster jump on the ball, or play a little shallow and work on drop steps and over the shoulder catches.

Catchers, instead of acting like a human backstop during “pitching practice”, turn it into catching practice. Work on framing pitches pitches with as little movement as possible, block low pitches, and every now and then pop up for the throw to second. Learn as much as you can about pitching and (nicely) point out flaws. If the pitcher is slowing his or her arm down on the changeup, point it out and encourage the pitcher to improve that technique. If the drop is breaking too early or too late, let the pitcher know so he or she can make a correction rather than squatting there like a lump. Catchers are supposed to be the coach on the field. Act like that in practice and it will come easier during the game. These are just a few ideas. There are plenty more out there.

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