Practice Makes Perfect??? - written by Coach Mark (5:30 - 7:00pm groups)
“Practice Makes Perfect”. We hear it all of the time. Whether it’s Sports, or Musical Instruments, Painting, or Cooking. It is one of those phrases that are thrown around in an attempt to push someone to be better by doing something over and over……...and over again. But, if you step back and think about it, take a really close look, the game of softball and baseball will NEVER be perfect. The game is set up around failure. In the long history of baseball the best hitter in the Major Leagues had only a .406 batting average. That means he FAILED to get a hit 60% of the time! In school a 40% would = an F. A pitcher who hurls a perfect game, I am willing to bet, was far from perfect. IF he was perfect it would have been all strikes and no balls along with the no hits. Both of those examples are fantastic performances and nothing to scoff at, but what I am truly getting at is simple. DON’T STRIVE FOR PERFECTION, STRIVE TO CONTINUOUSLY GET BETTER!!
Continuous Improvement is what every ball player should strive for. There is no such thing as a perfect player, or person for that matter. I mentioned to the girls in my Defense Academy groups last night, after mixing in new drills and skills, that it is OK to stumble with new things. It’s part of the game!! Take what the game gives you, learn from it, and find a way to improve upon the previous outcomes. Every single player I have ever coached in my 15 years has had something to improve on. It is our jobs as coaches to find those things, become better coaches by finding the drills necessary to help the player fix those things……...then move onto the next thing to fix. In fact, every coach should strive for Continuous Improvement as well!! Example: Last week I helped Coach Amber with one of her Defense groups. She has a different angle on developing skills than I have historically done. BUT I learned something by helping her and seeing how the drills she was using impacted the players. So, this week I modified a couple of those drills to meet the ages of my girls, and integrated them into the things we were already working on. I learned something new and improved upon what we were working on……
So, with that I say, practice does NOT make perfect. BUT, continuing to improve and then moving onto the next thing to improve will make for a better player because the game of softball cannot be perfected.
Group 1 - Another new friend came to work out last night. She was nervous and was a bit emotional. BUT the other girls all came in and showed true teamwork, lifted her up, and got her engaged. We had a great night!! Worked with the flat gloves, a new drill rolling the ball to each other to focus on eye/hand coordination, and learned how to “Show the Secret” when we throw. GREAT JOB LADIES
Group 2 - We also introduces “Show The Secret” form when throwing. We did more flat glove work and also started the ball rolling drill to begin the foundation of not only watching the ball in but integrating the proper throwing posture. As if that wasn’t enough, we started working on the drop-step!! A lot of new things but you all worked hard and are doing great!!
Competitive Learning: Give & Receive- written by Coach Amber (7:00pm - 8:45pm)
Seems a bit ironic that the the more we coach the harder the job can become. It is a testament to the learning styles of our youth today. The world is different for them. Our education system revolves around technology and lacks the kinesthetic problem solving elbow grease it once had. Our kids are geniuses and could probably solve world peace at the click of a button. But in the world of physical sports, there is not technology that they can use to problem solve. We need to adapt! Coaches need to tap into the learning styles of our youth to get the best out of them.
And Coaches, we need to be open to learning as well. Drills are drills and stand the testament of time but the articulation of drills can fall short in interpretation from our youth cohorts. Just as we expect our team to learn and grow, we must also hold ourselves accountable to do the same. Attend a coaches clinic, listen to a podcast, reach out to area college coaches and request a chat.
Coaches- Competitive Learning drives success
While attending the NFCA coaching clinic in December, there was one phrase that hit me to the core. “COMPETITIVE LEARNING”, create a team culture of competitive learning. Learning something new or achieving a task that once seemed daunting can lead to infectious success. WOW what a statement.
Often times team practices can turn into monotonous drill time. Kids can lack passion, effort, and can quickly drift into bad habit zone. Fix this by turning your drills into learning competitions. Find a weakness and figure out a way to jazz up a drill you already do in practice. After 3 weeks, I started to see how our “dailies” were slumping off into bad habit zone. The kids could articulate what they were doing wrong but couldn’t seem to make the adjustment towards achieving proper technique.
Time to ramp up and instill some competitive learning. We took our daily drills and added visual aids to reinforce proper technique. Coaches remember in order to maximize effective skill progressions through catering to your athlete’s learning style! Many of our kids today are visual learners so figure out a way to bring that into practice!
You can think of a million little things that will inspire the kids! In the end, this will breed self driven team skill progression. Kids will know exactly what to work on, how to work on it, and define success. Basically you have just created mini coaches!
We took the pitching plates and used as visual aides. Kids had to start in athletic position and push through the red zone before transitioning the ball into a throwing stance. Remember to move the plate for forehands and backhands and continue to push through the zone to enforce skill progression. We worked in partners and rolled the balls towards our partners. This drill set us up for later group succession when we convened and hit balls to the kids.
Here’s the break down and visual:
LEADERSHIP LESSON OF THE WEEK - Give & Receive
A few weeks ago I gave the kids a homework assignment. It is easy for them to say what they “want or need” but they have a hard to time understanding what they will “give & receive” in order to achieve the goal.
So they were sent home with “TRUTH CARDS”. The assignment was simple
The purpose and intent of this lesson was self assessment as well as engaging our teammates to understand the “gives and receives” of success.
Exchange a card with a teammate- if the team mate sees you are having a bad day, not engaged, or falling into bad patterns; she will use the truth card to fire you back up! This is an easy and fun way for kids to start developing deeper mentally driven relationships with each other. Call it code words, buzz words, whatever you like. These phrases are meaningful to the recipient and openly sharing your strengths and weaknesses with your team can hold you all accountable for keeping the ship afloat.
I can’t wait to see the kids start to use these phrases in the coming weeks!
NO GLOVE REQUIRED- written by Coach Mark (5:30pm - 7:00pm)
As I mentioned last week, I came to a pretty clear realization that we needed to do some work on our basic catching and ball transfer skills. I have been using the flat gloves with my weekly Field & Hit lesson group for several weeks now and the results have been awesome. They would use them each lesson if I would let them!! When I told the defense girls last night that they would be using the flat gloves they were a bit shocked. A couple even questioned how…...but once Amber showed them the drill it made sense. That got me thinking and this little blog is the result.
Baseball was invented in 1839 by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York (The home of the Baseball Hall Of Fame). Although much has changed with the game….and now there is softball too…...the basic rules for the most part have not. It wasn’t until 1870 when a catcher named Doug Allison crafted a padded fingerless glove to protect his injured hand.
That means that for over 20 years baseball teams played without gloves! They still caught the ball, made the plays, and the game went along just fine. In some countries that are far less fortunate than we are the game is played with whatever equipment they can get their hands on…...often without gloves.
My point to all of this is pretty simple-Sometimes gloves (extra equipment) can get in the way. The size of them nowadays has reached proportions that some need their own mailing address. As Coach Trish has said many times when speaking about bats, this holds true with gloves as well…….It’s not the arrow, it’s the Indian. In this case, it’s not the glove but the hand in it and the brain driving it all.
- Group 1 Growing, growing, growing!! That’s what it is all about!! We continued working on proper throwing mechanics, ready-ready stance to field the ball, and no glove catching work. Keep digging ladies, good things are coming!!
-Group 2 Thank you to Coach Amber for stopping by to help out!! We implemented the flat gloves last night to work on our eye-hand coordination for catching and they did great. Zig-Zag drill station was focused on taking the proper angle to the ball and brought Zippy The Zebra in to serve as First Baseman……..Good work ladies!
Have a great week, see you all next Wednesday, and remember……..DEFENSE WINS BALL GAMES!!
Stay the course & Fix the Details- written by Coach Amber (7:00pm - 8:45pm)
Last week we highlighted that as we grow in knowledge we often forget the basics or foundational aspects of any given task. We sabotage ourselves and our team when we don't pay attention and nurture the fundamental mechanics of the game. Coaches get frustrated with not seeing the INSTANT skill progression that they expect and begin to complicate drills, add “the next best thing” in equipment, or stray from the problem to focus on STRENGTHENING THEIR STRENGTHS.
Coaches- Stay the course!
Reinforcing proper mechanics and build muscle memory before trying to complicate your skill progression efforts with fancy drills and often unneeded “trendy equipment”. Follow your instincts and trust the journey! The best way to accomplish this is to add small drills to your everyday warm-up.
Create a routine practice plan with Block scheduling. Carefully craft a schedule that meets your team’s skill progressions needs by blocking out time for warm up, skill progression drills, and live action. Don't know how? Just ask- we have plenty or templates to help or let us help you design your own!
Too often I drive by fields where teams are practicing and I see 1 kid working and the rest waiting in line or waiting their turn to perform a drill. OR the dreaded age old 45 minutes dedicated to coach hitting a ball anywhere in the field and then stopping practice to “preach about mistakes”. In that 45 minute time frame, the kids have touched the ball 10 times or less.
If you would have dedicated 10 minutes on the front end of practice for drill stations, partner drills, or “dailies” as we call them; you have primed your team to be more successful by isolating your problem points with fundamental drills. And during that 10 minute “daily” drill, kids have now touched the ball close to 30 times! Exponentially increasing the good muscle memory and DETAIL WORK over 45 minutes of standing around and kicking dirt.
LEADERSHIP LESSON OF THE WEEK - It’s all in the details
If the builder (yourself, your team, your coaching approach) had known the consequences, he would have demanded excellence from himself.
SOFTBALL , CLASSROOMS, FRIENDS, WORKLIFE- is not that different!
We go about our business, working as we see fit. Some with passion, some without caring. Some with excellence, some with low standards. Some with diligence, some without effort. We are all in the process of building our own lives. If you’re not happy with what you see, perhaps it’s a direct consequence of what you’ve been building over the years.
SLOW DOWN TO GO FAST- written by Coach Mark (5:30pm - 7:00pm)
Last night the D-Troopers and I, with the help of my daughter Taylor (Get well soon Mattie!!), rolled up our sleeves and got to work! There is a phrase I have used quite a bit during my time at Dugout Dolls when working with players that sounds kinda funny and at first doesn’t make much sense, but when you take a minute and think, comes out loud and clear……...SLOW DOWN TO GO FAST!!
Coaches/Parents, how many times have you thought to yourself that the kids are simply "going through the motions?". You have taken the time to design a drill which will help with team weaknesses however you aren't getting the production out of it like you had hoped. Step back and emphasize that the point of drill work in not to be the first one done but rather to enforce good habits and proper muscle memory. To help reinforce skill progression, start embracing the thought of "SKILLS BEFORE SPEED".
Taylor said it first when I was explaining to the girls that the purpose of the Zig-Zag drill isn’t about how fast to get through it but rather how smoothly and accurately we perform. You see, it does no good to go after something with your hair on fire blasting through it as fast as you can. That is when mistakes can, and often do, happen. We are starting our lessons from the foundation of the game for a reason. If you create the muscle memory of proper throwing, fielding, and footwork you create muscle memory. And, just like tying your shoes, it becomes so easy that you don’t even think about it……...and that allows you to attack the game differently.
By slowing ourselves down at this point in our lessons and focusing on creating our consistent movements and actions, I guarantee you that in the end, each and every one of the D-Troopers will be able to attack the Zig-Zag faster and more accurately than they did last night!!
- Group 1 was a little smaller but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have fun and worked hard. We began working on footwork, learned the “alligator” position of ready ready, fielded some grounders, continued to work on throwing mechanics (thank you very much!), and started a new drill to focus on catching the ball. So much good stuff coming from the girls, I am proud of them all!!
-Group 2 was eight girls strong and we did similar things as Group 1 but got the Minions out (yellow cones) and did what I called the Zig-Zag agility drill. It stresses head-up movement, side steps, and backward movement as well. For being the first time through the drill I am very pleased with the effort and focus the girls put in!! We did identify that we have a bunch of work to do with catching……...and Coach Mark has a plan for next week!!
Slowing things down now and paying attention to detail(s) will pay off in the end with being faster, more accurate, and balanced defensive players!!
Have a great week, see you all next Wednesday, and remember……..DEFENSE WINS BALL GAMES!!
Simple isn't always easy- written by Coach Amber (7:00pm - 8:45pm)
Simple is often erroneously mistaken for easy. As we grow in knowledge we often forget the basics or foundational aspects of any given task. We think in order to be "the best" we need to challenge ourselves with hard and complicated tasks. We sabotage ourselves and our team when we don't pay attention and nurture the fundamental mechanics of the game.
It is probably a pretty odd sight to see our defense clinic ladies on the ground rolling balls. WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE WE DOING THIS FOR?!? cried one of our clinic participants. I replied with, getting back to the roots of success by reinforcing proper mechanics through isolation drills. Such a simple 2 minute warm up drill highlighted one of the most glaring weaknesses in our players as they come up through the game - they don't know how to properly perform basic drills. Did you know that Team USA spends the first 5 minutes of every practice rolling balls to each other , from their knees, without ever using a glove?
Coaches- set the tone by reinforcing the foundation fundamentals
In week 1 we explored adding fundamental drills to our warm-up in order to maximize practice efficiencies. By doing so, we are also reinforcing proper mechanics and building our muscle memory. The best way to accomplish this is by taking away the distracting variables and isolating muscle/mind movements.
From here you reintroduce variables in stages- we literally work from the ground up.
Spending the time on the front end to establish routine and disciplined mindset will open the doors for more effective practices with less mistakes. This will translate to game mode nicely. A well prepared athlete both physically and mentally will stand RESOLUTE in spite of the storm. Bringing us back to the theme of this years defense cohort “ The Anchor holds, in spite of the storm”
LEADERSHIP LESSON OF THE WEEK - Be an influencer
Mindset and body language influence our demeanor and other's perspectives. The kids were challenged to think about what they have to offer rather than what’s in it for me.
How is your body language and attitude influencing your interactions and performance?
Body language: Be open to receiving messages by changing your body language
When standing in line waiting for drills - ARE YOU PRESENT?
Different Is A Good Thing- written by Coach Mark (5:30pm - 7:00pm)
New things are scary period. It doesn’t matter if you are 8 or 48 new things can make a person nervous; a new job, a new house, a new school or a new team. It is human nature to be emotional when facing something new. Let’s think about this in the realm of softball (or any team sport for that matter).
Every player on a team is different, and as a coach that is awesome. 12 players who do/act/think exactly the same can create an environment of complacency. But for many players being different is not so awesome. Some players are fast and can run bases like a race car while others are strong and hit the ball a country mile. Some have strong arms while others don’t. This is the case EVERYWHERE…….even on major league baseball teams everyone is different and has abilities that are better than others. What we need to embrace is -IT IS OK TO BE DIFFERENT! Great teams are a mix of players with abilities that are different but, when combined, do amazing things.
As we begin our short 10 week journey together learning the world of softball defense the biggest thing that we all need to remember is that every single player has a different level of experience. Our goal, as coaches, is to make these players better than they were then when we started. Players that have an easier time at a certain drill will be encouraged to help those who have to work a little harder…...that creates leadership…….and also creates teamwork! As parents we need to continue to be positive reinforcements for what these young ladies are doing every week.
It’s not easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it.
Emotions are going to flow freely every week. Some will be excitement, joy, and even frustration and some tears…….IT IS OK!! As a coach it is our job to help ease the frustration and tears, and mold them into positivist and motivation.
As I told a couple of players in our first session who showed frustration. Carry yourself with PRIDE, POISE, and most importantly, CONFIDENCE. Your teammates will help with the rest, because that is what they do, work together.
Have a great week, I can’t wait to see you all next week, and remember……….
DEFENSE WINS BALL GAMES!!!
The Key to Success is You- written by Coach Amber (7pm - 9:00pm)
We kicked off week 1 by introducing routine drills and expectations moving forward. Our older groups will explore building mechanics through isolation drills while also balancing leadership development. Each week we will build our skill set through adding upon our isolation drills with challenging movements and standard equipment.
Coaches- set the tone by establishing a DAILY ROUTINE.
Kids should show up to practice and WORK. Developing a "daily routine" can help create an effective and efficient work environment. Week 1 was spent on teaching what our daily warm up would like in order to engage our muscles and start creating good muscle memory/habits moving forward.
Each week kids will spend no more than 2 minutes on each drill as a warm-up. This action will engage our brain to be focused and on point. Do you feel like a broken record during practice? Saying the same thing OVER AND OVER? This is because we haven't allowed our brains time to create good muscle memory. We need to isolate basic movements and give them time to develop proper muscle memory. No longer will you spend 30 minutes reteaching or reexplaining simple mistakes during practice- you can now move on to challenging drills and live action play with the time you are saving!
Spend the time to teach and establish this routine from the beginning. These drills should take no more than 5 to 8 minutes of practice time. Our dailies for Defense clinic are shown below:
- Glove control: getting into athletic position, with glove OUT FRONT, and eyes behind our glove
- Footwork: approach to athletic position
- Body Balance: engaging our legs / body posture for proper throwing mechanics that will provide power, accuracy, and stamina in the long run
Add these into your pre-practice warm-up of dynamic stretches and throwing progressions. Within the first 15 minutes of practice you have now fully warmed up your muscles, engaged your brain, and created a focused and ready to compete athlete.
- EMPOWER YOUR PLAYERS TO SPEAK
This probably sounds like a crazy idea but I'm telling you it is the KEY TO UNLOCKING powerful, competitive, and more engaged teams. Create a culture of self assessment, team engagement, and accountability by allowing your players to take the lead.
Kids should be empowered and confident to speak up when things are good and bad. They should feel comfortable with asking questions, calling out errors, and shouting out praises. Teach them how to do this in a positive tone and confident manner.
1. Work drills in partner stations - routinely ask kids if their partner was doing the drill correctly as described. If not, ask them if they told their partner they were doing it wrong. Did they help them correct it- why or why not? This exercise in "call-out" errors will help them feel comfortable in "coaching each other". Coaches can't be in all places at once, having trust in our players to act as "kid coaches" can ensure teachings are being done properly.
2. Circle up time- at the end of each drill or at the end of each practice, circle up together and ask them to "call-out" 3 things that we need to improve on and "shout-out" 3 things we did well. ACCOUNTABILITY and self assessment is the name of the game. Put the power in their hands. Before you know it, they will be coming to you with practice ideas for areas of improvement. EMBRACE IT - let them take the lead. When kids feel like they are part of the process, you can begin to unlock their inner warrior.
We began this during our week 1 walk through and it was a struggle. However at the end of the 45 minute session, KIDS WERE TALKING. It was surprisingly easy for them once they had the confidence to speak up. It was a beautiful sight to witness kids taking accountability for their mistakes while also balancing teaching the drill to others.
LEADERSHIP LESSON OF THE WEEK - What is the Key to success?
We introduced the idea of "Success"
- What does it mean?
- How do we define it?
Homework was assigned and will be discussed next week during "journal time"
COACHES- introduce MENTAL conditioning to your practice plans.
We often focus on the physical skill development of the athlete but fail to develop the mental side of the game. Coach Mark's weekly note addresses emotion. What a fitting topic! If you want your players to be gritty, determined, and keep their head in the games at all times; ask yourself this- DID YOU GO OVER THAT AT PRACTICE? Do not expect your kids to know "how" to do something to your expectation level if you didn't teach it.
- Read a quote a practice,
- Read a book,
- Listen to a podcast,
- Pass out "incentives" ( This week the kids received a key with the letter "U": the Key to success is U!)
- Go over Batter's box routines
Mental conditioning does not have to be extravagant. Start small, start simple, but START SOMEWHERE.
We are so excited to "get back to our roots" and begin offering specialized clinics. In the early days of Dugout Dolls before there were Dolls or a house to call home, Trish and Amber traveled to teach at onsite clinics and showcases. We met so many families and faces which led to finding a "home" to host group instruction year 'round.
We have been blessed to add Colby to our staff who has been leading the charge with Catching Clinics. This unique opportunity to offer intense and focused teachings has created an environment of competitive learning. The DD staff is excited to expand our clinic offerings to include Defense for 2019!
Our first cohort will begin Jan 2019 and run 10 consecutive weeks up through the opening of high school and rec season. Coach Mark will lead the 11U and under while Coach Amber will lead 12U and up.
Our older age groups will also balance leadership development teachings in addition to their skill progression. It has always been our mission to " EDUCATE, EMPOWER, and EXCEL" our athletes forward. Revamping our clinic curriculum to include leadership development will cater to developing the FULL ATHLETE.
Stay tuned for weekly Blogs on notes and discussion points from our leadership series.
We are proud to host Defense Cohort - Class 1 and challenge them with this year's theme!