No matter what background you have in coaching, whether you’re a veteran returning for another season or a rookie taking the managerial role for the first time, the first practice of the year is a monumental event. Not only are you introducing yourself to your new team; you are also meeting their parents and getting a feel for how this season will pan out. One of your main goals for this softball season should be to make sure that every child finishes with more expertise and love for the game. That journey starts from day one.
In order to help you prepare for a day full of introductions, drills and team building, follow these tips and tricks to set yourself (and the team) up for success.
Before you even get to the softball diamond for your first day, there are a few things to take care of. You should contact your players and let them know where your practice will be held and what they should bring. You should also ask for any additional contact information that you might need and start building an address book to keep your team informed.
One way to keep your team organized is by using DICK’S Team Sports HQ. This coach’s resource offers many benefits such as online management software to help with registration, scheduling and communication with parents and players. With TSHQ, you can even design custom uniforms and fan gear as well.
WHAT TO BRING
While your first practice shouldn’t be too intense in terms of drills and training, you will need some equipment to help your team get off to a good start. You should always bring these pieces of equipment to every practice:
- First-aid kit
- Water cooler or water bottles to keep your team hydrated
- Softball bats, softballs and batting helmets
As your season progresses, you will want to add some training aids (such as nets, tees and screens) to your equipment list, but these aren’t necessarily needed for your first day. Also, if you are coaching youth softball, it is advisable to bring catcher’s gear, as your players’ parents might not be inclined to invest in a personal set for their child at that age.
For a full list of gear you’ll need for the season, check out our softball coach’s checklist.
GET IN TOUCH WITH PARENTS
Keeping your team’s parents informed is vital to your season’s success, which is why you should plan to hold a brief meeting with them prior to the start of your first practice. This will be a great time to introduce you and your coaching staff, give them various pieces of paperwork on when and where practices are and how they can reach you. You should also bring other pieces of information, including:
- What personal equipment each child will need
- What the expectations are for their children
- What the expectations are for the parents
This last note, the expectations of the parents, is very important to get across. Not only does it include the responsibilities associated with getting their child to practice or volunteering with the league, it also encompasses the behavior expected of the parents. You will have to let them know that you are the coach and unsportsmanlike behavior will not be tolerated (coaching from the stands, yelling at players, yelling at umpires, etc.). Assure them that you and your coaching staff are fit for the job and ask that they leave those actions in the parking lot so that you can provide their children with a fun and positive softball experience.
Lastly, this parental meeting will be a great time to explain your goals for the season and inform the parents that not every child will have the same skill set. Some might be best suited for different positions than others, but you can assure them that you will do your best to help everyone develop.
MEETING YOUR TEAM
Aside from meeting your team’s parents, you have another group to introduce yourself to: your team! After each player has arrived, bring everyone together to introduce yourself and coaching staff. Tell them about your softball background and maybe a few fun facts, too. If you are a parent of one of your players, let them know this as well.
After you have made your introduction, have each player state their name and which position they’d like to play, if they know it. Keep this interaction fun and relaxed, as it will help in getting the players comfortable with you and the team as a whole.
LAY OUT THE RULES
Once everyone has introduced themselves, lay out the basic league and team rules for the season. Let them know if there are any league-specific guidelines to follow, as well as what you expect of them this upcoming season. Also, especially when dealing with first-time players, give a brief synopsis of each position and how the game progresses. Finally, give a rundown of what you plan to accomplish during your first practice.
After all of the business and introductions have been completed, it’s finally time to hit the field.
For youth softball players, it is best to lead your team in a quick stretch followed by a warm-up toss. Go out with them and instruct them on what to do, as this can very well be their first time warming up for softball. Make sure everyone is together and cohesive. This is a great time to also see who needs additional help in either throwing or catching the ball.
Once everyone is loose, call your team together to begin the drill work for the day.
Since you aren’t yet fully aware of your players’ skill sets, and you do not want to give them too much too soon, focus on core softball skills for your first practice. Emphasize proper fielding, throwing and hitting on this inaugural day, and make sure to keep the drills simple, positive and fun.
A great way to keep your players interested in practice is to add teamwork, competition and enjoyment to the drills. Instead of keeping them in a line and going one-by-one, have them work with a partner or break them into groups.
Have a time set for each drill to keep everything fresh for your team. Keeping them on a schedule will also give you further control over practice. If you are unsure which drills to incorporate, here are some suggestions:
No-Glove Ground Ball Drill
Players grab a partner and roll each other the ball, fielding with their bare hands. This emphasizes soft hands, an athletic stance and keeping their heads down during fielding.
Teams of three line up adjacent to each other with the ball at one end. Players race by throwing to each person in line and back. This drill emphasizes quick hands, sound ball transfer and (for the middle man) proper footing.
This will break each player into a specific position. Not only will this simulate a pre-game warm up, it will also get players used to their roles on the field and help them get comfortable in taking reps.
WRAPPING UP PRACTICE
A great way to wrap up practice is to have your team run the bases. While they are working on another key aspect of softball (base running), they are also cooling down with some cardiovascular training.
Before you send everyone home for the night, take a few minutes to bring your team together and recap what you accomplished during practice. Praise some individuals for the positive work and remind everyone of the next practice. After your team meeting, have everyone help with getting the equipment loaded up. This isn’t just to clean up the field, but is another opportunity to build morale and shows them the value of teamwork.
Make sure to stick around for a few minutes and ensure that everyone gets home safely. Also, make yourself available for any questions from players or parents.
Remember that these are just suggestions for running your first practice. Ultimately, you should build a game plan around your coaching strengths and what suits your personal and team’s needs best. It is advisable, though, to develop a plan prior to your first practice so that everything runs efficiently.
Good luck this season!