Softball Motor Skill Acquisition

Softball Motor Skill Acquisition

Softball motor skill acquisition is something that we work on all the time.  The most common approach to teaching is the one way fits all which is fine for athletes who are beginning their sport at a young age. As the athlete matures then the methods will be adapted depending on the skill level and the environment.

There are some instruction strategies that are always a good idea to have though.  The ability to use these teaching skills will make the difference on whether the athlete learns the skill and retains it or has random successes.

Teaching Softball Motor Skill Acquisition

A skill such as batting is one of the most over analyzed skills in softball.  It is important when teaching this skill to be able to break it down and then prioritize different parts of the skill so you do not confuse the hitter.  The most common method is to use what others have used for technique instead of using the science of movement.

A simple skill such as catching a ball is biomechanically simple, however includes mental skills in addition to physical skills.  The mental skills could be in the form of fear of missing the ball that can impact the success of the skill.  When teaching new skills we need to be aware of this possibility.

Teaching the skill as a whole

Some skills are easier to teach as a whole and then broken down into parts to focus on the mechanics.  This will take some of the anxiety away and allow the athlete to have small successes as they are building the skill.

This would include skills such as:

  • running
  • lead off in baserunning
  • catching a ball
  • fielding
  • sliding

Teaching Skills in Parts

Sometimes it is unsafe to teach a skill by executing it first then breaking it down, or the skill is too complex to not break it down.  In order to create success and allow the athlete to focus on parts of the skill until it is all put together.  You may after the skill has been learned enough to do it, break it down again occasionally to refine components of it.

This would include skills such as:

  • hitting
  • bunting
  • throwing

Shaping a skill

Some skills will be best learned through progressions.  They are complex and are best taught in stages before expecting full execution with success.  An example is the windmill pitch where if the pitcher can first learn to pitch with the upper body before incorporating the lower body and then increasing the distance to the regulation distance, it will be more successful.

This would include skills such as:

  • pitching
  • fielding

Teaching the Athlete

There are athlete considerations that will effect the method you use and the level at which you teach new skills.  Each athlete you teach will have their own abilities, strengths, weaknesses and individual circumstances that will effect how you teach the skills.  By being aware of the differences you can plan your activities appropriately so you can maximize the retention and still make it fun.

The age of the athlete

A young athlete will be receptive to your instruction.  In fact very receptive. They will take everything you say literally and if their coordination skills are adequate, they will do everything you say as well.

An athlete that is 12-15 can sometimes have a vision of their skills that does not look like your vision.  The challenge can sometimes be to convince the athlete that he/she needs to work on a specific skill.  The other is that the athlete could be very cooperative depending on their athletic upbringing.

An older athlete such as an adult will often have confidence difficulties as they might be learning softball along with many adults who have participated in sport for most of their lives.  It is a very different approach than with an 8 year old because they might not cognitively fully understand what you are saying.  The also have expectations about their skills that may or may not be realistic.  It is a good idea to talk with them and discuss how they feel about learning new skills.

The skill Level of the Athlete

Teaching skills to an athlete that has never played before requires sensitivity and a good ability to observe the skills and break them down without confusing the player.

Closed Skill vs Open Skill

Open Skill

An open skill is one that is dependent on the variables that will present themselves during competition.  These skills would require practice and learning opportunities under unpredictable conditions.

This would include skills such as:

  • Hitting
  • baserunning
  • catching
  • fielding

Closed Skill

These skills are not dependent on opponents actions or reactions.  The practice and rehearsal of these skills can be done without depending on anything outside of you facility.  The factors that will mostly effect these skills are psychological and physical.

This would include skills such as:

  • throwing
  • pitching
  • running

Competition vs Practice Learning

It is important in softball motor skill acquisition that the athlete be stress free and comfortable with the skills being taught. This is why it is best that the introduction be done at the beginning of practice when they are not mentally or physically fatigued.

Practice Learning

During practice you can use many tools in teaching skills.  You can design your own drills, bring a prop for teaching and use safety equipment such as cones and teaching aids such as batting tees and pitching nets.

There is time for dialogue with the athlete and room for error detection and correction.  The important thing I believe when teaching new skills and working on them at practice before a competition such as a league game is that the athlete leave the practice field feeling confident so that they can take what they learned into the competition.

Competition Learning

Some skills need competition in order to solidify and refine them under game conditions.  In fact I would say every skill requires competition to improve it to competition level.

You can not simulate the exact conditions of a competition in your practice because there are things that you have no control over.  You can use a boom box to play crowd noise or practice in the rain to simulate an environmental condition but when everything is on the line there is a whole different level of stress.

The Unknown

The biggest factor that athletes will need to overcome during competition is stress.   We can prepare them to some degree for this but there is always the unknown that will occur and add to that the potential pressure that may cause anxiety.

For this reason mental training must be a part of skill acquisition.  It is still not something that is considered important by many but when the skill levels are the same, it will be the psychology that will decrease the ability to perform.