Softball is a complicated game that can make players feel great and terrible at the same time. Watch a player field a ball that was just out of reach and then throw over first base and you will see. This is not very uncommon in this team game that has so many individual aspects to it. The ball is the determining factor. Wherever it goes, the eyes of everyone around field go. Spectators, teammates, opponents, officials and coaches are all watching that ball to see where it ends up and what is going to happen with it. The player it is going to has a lot of pressure unless they have softball confidence.
Softball Confidence Tools
The best way to build confidence in a new softball player, is to start small. Build on skills like throwing, fielding, hitting and positional play fundamentals, and refrain from going into advanced skills until they have the basics. Throwing for example can be taught by using targets on the fence or the wall. To start, have them throw at a large target without focusing too much on the mechanics so that they can have success. The size of the target can depend on the ability of the thrower. As the thrower improves their mechanics and confidence, decrease the target size or move the target further away. It is important to emphasize the progress even if they are competing with others, so that they do not continually compare themselves to their team mates.
During games, be sure to promote self assessments and to allow the players to make mistakes and to learn from them. A coach who reprimands players for errors or has to say something every time a mistake is made can contribute to the player feeling inadequate, and like they are not doing anything right. A good time to talk to players about errors is at the next practice. Discussing it during the game at hand might focus their mind on the mistake instead of moving forward. The truth is that if the players are young, they will likely not remember what you said when they came off the field.
Keep track if you can, or have their parents keep track of their plays. You know they watch every play so have them be your assistant to give you information. If the environment is set so that they know you are using it as a teaching tool, they are more likely to be honest about an error than if they are simply trying to build confidence in their daughter. Have the parents give you the information after the game so that you can compile it and then meet with the players during a practice to help them to improve.
The key is to work with the players so that they are developing their skills on their own and taking responsibility for their improvements. Not just because we want them to be responsible, but because then they have ownership of their skills and feel more connected and proud of their own accomplishments that they had input into. Self direction and empowerment are the ways to assist your softball players in improving their skills and even have additional benefits. The learning process on the field has great potential to have an influence at school and at home or with other sports as well. When we build confidence in players on the field, we build confidence in people off the field.
Experienced Players with New Skills
As the team improves and gains experience, you are likely to introduce new skills and tactics. The best way to do this is slowly. You can break a skill down and then build it back up to make sure they understand each component and can then put it together to complete the skill. For example for a pop up slide, you would perhaps start them in the bent leg slide position and then talk about how the bottom foot pushes up as the foot against the base braces the body as it shoots up to a standing position.
For teaching new tactics you would more likely have them in the tactic such as a cut, and then break it down from their while explaining each stage and why. We often forget the why in teaching new skills. For example the first baseman acts as the cut because she has nothing left to do once the runner has passed first base. Why do they fake the catch if the ball is going straight through? Use of a white board at the field is a great tool for teaching tactics. You can put hooks on the board and attach it to the fence.
The difficulty of the task can sometimes determine the success based on the abilities of the player. If they do not align, the confidence of the player will be affected depending on if the task is too difficult or enough of a challenge that they can display their skills for successful completion.
Let Them Learn
It is important to allow the players to participate in the development of their own skills. By being the knowledgeable support, you can nurture their confidence in the tasks by allowing them to ask questions and by assisting them in their mechanics and understanding of skills and tactics.