While college softball certainly gets all the TV coverage and press, you might be excited to learn just how much impact high school, club ball and travel ball coaches actually have.
Pyramid’s that stand the test of time have a very big and solid base. Read on to discover what type of youth softball pyramid you’re a part of.
Recently, a friend of mine’s daughter tried out for her basketball team, and didn’t make it. Now some of you will think she wasn’t good enough, she should have practiced more, and everybody can’t make the team. And, at a certain level I completely agree. But, this was Junior High! This wasn’t the varsity high school team, or the division I team down the road. This was the local jr. high school basketball team where kids are supposed to be learning the skills they can use later on.
Now I realize there are a number of reasons why you might have to cut kids, things like budget constraints & rules regarding team size to name a few , but this incident got me thinking – was I being biased toward my friend and her daughter, or did I really have a solid point in thinking this was a little nuts! Softball has definitely seen a shift in the last 5 years as more college softball is on TV, the Women’s College World Series is a sold-out event and scholarships seem to be everyone’s end-game. And while I think this increased publicity for softball is awesome, I also think it’s caused some of us in the youth ranks to get our minds a little backwards.
In everyone’s pursuit of a softball scholarship, we seem to have lost our way in regards to who is supposed to be teaching the next generation of softball player how to play the game, understand the game and most of all LOVE the game. Sure, the top-level coaches get all the attention, but that doesn’t mean that they are more important than those of you out there coaching the beginners. Anybody who is teaching and coaching kids that are first experiencing softball are the people that will help mold a player’s future in the game. In the case of my friend’s daughter – that future just got rocked.
When you’re cut from any developmental team – when or where are you supposed to learn the skills that caused you to be cut? Not everyone is in a financial position to take “private lessons”, nor should everyone. Learning happens when people teach, and “teaching” softball has become a lost art at the younger ages. We’ve got to make sure we continue to teach both the skills of softball as well as the love of softball to our younger, next-generation of player or we might one day wake up without any.
I know that sounds dramatic, but the rec league programs are so crucial because of their role as the entry point for the eventual elite player. Let’s take a look at what I mean. The pyramid on the right shows how kids advance through their sports experience (any sport) in a healthy fashion meaning that the largest group – the Beginners – is at the bottom with the eventual top of the pyramid – the Elite – being the smallest. Let’s look closer at each step:
Beginners – The biggest number enter through the base as Beginners. This is where kids learn about the sport, probably play lots of different sports since they’re trying them out – test driving them all to see which ones they like. Kids will also play here because their friends do, but it’s our role as coaches at this level to help kids establish a Love for Softball by enjoying themselves, learning skills that will help them play the game and basically having fun. Kids will also start developing their self-esteem based on how we treat them as coaches. At this level we should keep everyone who shows up to play as we never know who might end up developing mad skills.
Intermediates – These kids are kind of messy. Some have skills (kind of) and others are barely hanging on. My experience has taught me that messy here doesn’t mean they’ll stay this way. I can’t tell you the number of players I’ve worked with that I thought were a mess at this age group (typically jr. high age) and who later developed into college softball players. Kids will start playing fewer sports at this level, they’ll still want to play with their friends but less of their friends will still be playing. They’ll decide if they love the game and most importantly – their self-esteem gets pretty much cemented here. We MUST help them deal with their changing life as a young teenager and help them develop their softball and life skills.
Advanced – Not everyone makes it here. When they do, they usually are a 1 sport athlete, they should love the game but that doesn’t mean they always do, and their self-esteem is pretty much in place. This is where I’m fine with you cutting players who aren’t good enough, only the best ones start and winning becomes more of the focus. Sure, players still have to be developed at this level so we can’t go psycho on them as far as toughness goes, but at the Advanced stage, players are now competing with their skills more than they are learning or developing them.
Elites – This is rarified air as lots of players become advanced – as in college softball players – but very few become the superstars. Those with mad skills plus a love of working and competing with those skills are the players that become the Elite!
But, what happens when coaches get this backwards – when they try to make their lower, entry level programs become too much like the Elite level? That’s when the pyramid gets turned upside down and kids start dropping out of the sport. The un-healthy sports model looks like this.
If you truly want to become an Elite coach, or hope to coach players that eventually reach the Elite level, then you need to do 3 things:
- Have a Love for the Game
- Understand All the Skills at the Most Basic of Levels
- Constantly Learn and Improve Yourself
With these 3 qualities you will make your players’ experience a great one – no matter what level that is. And thanks to all of you who take the time put in the energy to coach youth softball (on any level)!!!