I am a big believer in having my players make decisions for themselves whenever possible on the softball field. I tell them all the time that I am not a puppet master pulling the strings to make them go where they need to go – they need to learn the game and think and react like Softball players. I have seen way too many teams where players do not make a move unless their coach tells them what to do first, and in my experience, those teams rarely reach their potential. Our job as coaches, particularly at the recreation level, is to teach our girls how to become Softball players, which includes allowing them to get a feel for the game. Too many coaches are too wrapped up in trying to win to relinquish control to their players, yet in a super-quick game such as Softball, winning will not come without the players making their own decisions.
For example, a runner is on first and the pitch goes in the dirt and kicks away from the catcher about 10 feet. If my player waits for me to tell her to “GO!”, first I have to see and react to the play which takes about 2 tenths of a second, then I have to decide to tell her to “GO!” which takes me another 2 tenths of a second. Then she has to hear me, process what I am saying and then start running, which takes another 2 tenths. From the time the ball hits the ground to the time the base runner starts running takes about 6 tenths of a second or so. That does not sound like much until compared to the 2 tenths of a second that it would take for a player reacting on her own to start going to second base. The difference between the “puppeteer” approach and the “player deciding” approach in this case is about a half a second, or about 10 feet of distance running which may not sound like a lot until you consider that the bases are only 60 feet apart.
To help train my players in understanding time, I run a cord between the bases with the distance an average player runs in one second, two seconds, and three seconds marked off on the cord. Then we walk through a few basic scenarios, like “Ground ball to the shortstop – the ball takes one second to get to her. How far up the base path will the runner be?” I assume a half a second for “transitions”, such as from fielding the ball to getting ready to throw it.
Once the girls get it, they start being able to answer such tactical questions as “Ball is hit to right center and I am on first – can I make it to third?” I leave the cords on the base paths for a couple weeks of practice, and by then most of the girls are seeing the game in terms of time and distance and I do not need to put the cords out any longer.
When I have softball players on my team when the other teams just have girls who play softball, the other teams do not stand a chance against us. Having my girls understand time and distance and how they relate to Softball is one of the requirements for making them Softball players.