By: Rachel Lawson
Originally Published in: Practice Perfect Softball
Provided by: Human Kinetics
To prepare a team for the upcoming season, a coach must push the athletes to heights that they would not reach on their own. Well-planned goal setting that focuses on the five tools can be an effective instrument to use during the off-season to motivate athletes and to discover their strengths.
When setting goals, each individual goal should be both measurable and attainable. The purpose of setting smaller objectives is to allow each athlete to develop a task-orientated mind-set. By focusing on the smaller obtainable goals, the athlete will gain confidence with each success. After successfully achieving the standard, a newer and more difficult goal can be set.
A practical example illustrating this type of goal setting can be seen when working to improve a player's pop time. If a player is working on her overall pop time from the glove of the thrower to the glove of the receiver (glove to glove), the coach can break each component of the throw into smaller time increments. First, the coach records the length of time the player takes from catch to the point of release. While the coach is recording these times, the player can improve the techniques required to produce a quicker exchange. In addition, the coach records the amount of time from glove to glove. As the player's technique from catch to release improves, the player will find that her overall pop time will decrease. As the player becomes more efficient, the goal time from hitter's contact to catch and release can be steadily decreased. Specifically, we require our infielders to have the ability to field a ball hit by a slapper and throw it to first base in 2.6 seconds or less. When freshmen come into our program, their times are often much slower than 2.6 seconds. So, we generally set a much slower Goal time of 2.9 seconds. As the athlete becomes more efficient, we set the goal time progressively lower until she eventually reaches the 2.6-second mark from hitter's contact to the putout.
This process of reaching and then creating a more challenging goal will show each player exactly where her strength lies. As the player learns to accomplish the set goals, the skills required to achieve the task will be seen as a strength. If the player is incapable of reaching the standard, the best option may be to remove her from that situation or at least minimize the importance of that skill relative to her overall value to the team to prevent her from losing confidence. The manner in which the coach chooses to remove the player from the situation is critical to the player's overall development. If the coach chooses to yell across the field, the athlete may take the criti¬cism personally and lose her productive mind-set. A better approach might be to pull the athlete aside and have a one-on-one conversation to explain why the results were not effective and what she needs to improve to see greater success. Another effective approach is to ask the player to come to practice a little early the next day so that she can work individually with a coach. This technique can be helpful because it removes the player from a potentially embarrassing situation where she will experience failure in front of a group. At the same time, the player sees that the coaching staff is invested in seeing her improve.
During the off-season, practice plans are focused on measuring and enhancing the strengths of each of the players' five tools - running speed, arm strength, hitting for average, hitting for power, and fielding.
The initial practices are designed to gain a baseline standard for each player's talent relative to the five tools. Gathering data on foot speed and arm strength is simple because each tool can be measured using a stop¬watch. For an overhand throw, a radar gun can also be used. The standards identified for fielding ability and hitting for average and power are not as easy to collect in a practice setting unless statistics are gathered during live situations. In the case of the team's returning players, the statistics from the previous year can be used as a springboard for planning practice for the upcoming season.
After the baseline data are collected on each of the five tools, the player's fundamentals are analyzed using frame-by-frame video to determine whether specific mechanical adjustments can be made to develop the tool into a strength. Based on this determination, a long-term practice plan is developed that includes setting specific systematic goals that progress in difficulty throughout the entire off-season. By easing the athlete into the new system and allowing her to achieve and celebrate small successes en route to mastering more complex skills, the athlete will learn to enjoy the process of setting and ultimately achieving individual and team-orientated goals.