At an end-of-season party for one of my Rec Teams, parent after parent walked up to me and privately thanked me for making their daughter a better softball player. In an “aw shucks” attitude, I would thank them but point out that I coach the way I coach because deep down I want to win in the worst way. I do the stuff I do on the softball fields not so much because I am a nice guy, but because I do what I do to maximize the chance of success. To my surprise, every single parent said something to the effect of, “I know, and that’s why we love you as our coach.” We do not focus on winning with our teams, but instead focus on process and doing things right on the softball field, figuring that winning will take care of itself if we play the game right.
Still, I was surprised that my parents had picked up on my competitiveness. It was even more surprising because their daughters had a different priority. About half way through the season while in first place and before a big game we asked our players if they wanted to win, and they responded “Yeah…” but it was clear that winning was not as important to them as it was to their coaches. This jibes with what the book “Coaching Girls’ Softball” by Kathy Strahan reports: The number 1 reason kids play sports is to have fun.
So how to play winning Softball while still keeping the focus on fun? Some recommendations:
Work very hard with newer and less-able players so that they improve and so the team has a better chance to win.
Teach players the best techniques possible.
Play everyone often so that if a player gets injured or misses a game, another can fill in and give the a good chance to win. This also keeps everyone involved, which is great for team chemistry.
Focus on executing correct technique one play at a time, which is something a player can control, instead of the results of a technique. For example, I am OK if a player approaches a grounder correctly but she does not field it because it takes a bad bounce.
Throw in the occasional fun practice activity and the occasional team party or dinner. I especially like to make practice fun after a really good game.
Treat each player with respect and talk with each one at least once a practice.