Eliminating the Competence Gap in Softball: Practice Structure Flaws

Written By: Chas Pippitt

Traditional Practice Structure Widens the Competence Gap

What are the main skills associated with softball? Hitting for average, hitting for power, speed (baserunning) fielding, and throwing are five key skills needed to excel on the field. I’d imagine every coach and player works on some if not all of those skills during every practice. If every team and player work on the same skill set in the same manner, how does anyone expect to get ahead of their competition? More importantly, if you've never learned the aforementioned skills correctly, the traditional practice structure might hurt you as a player or your team as a coach. So, is your practice missing something? We at Softball Rebellion would say the answer is yes. And if that is the case, how can you fix the problem?

Traditional Practice Structure

Option 1: Train the Skills More

Most teams choose to train more in an attempt to gain an advantage over their opponents or earn more playing time. “More” can be defined as spending more time on specific skills or completing more repetitions. Sometimes, the player or team chooses both more time and more repetitions to gain an advantage.

Although practicing more seems helpful, many players end up hurt or tired if they're not physically prepared for longer practice periods. In hitting specifically, a tired athlete's mechanics can break down, creating sub-optimal compensations to ‘survive’ the practice instead of ‘thrive’ throughout the practice.

Practice Structure - What Matters
Are you training correctly?

Option 2: Train the Skills Differently

Traditional training, consisting of hitting off of tees, front toss or cage work, and on-field batting practice isn't enough to separate your team from the rest. These typical practice activities don't give you a leg up on the competition. So, coaches now create different practice variations to maximize training effects. For example, a coach may emphasize barrel awareness by tossing smaller balls. Other coaches use short and long bats to force hitters to barrel up the ball. The issue here is simple: the players are STILL JUST HITTING! Trying to improve hitting flaws by hitting more makes little to no sense when compared to teaching tactics utilized in school systems.

Elementary Teaching Structure

Reading

My son, Bryant, is 6 years old. Each night, he reads a book to either his mother or myself and sometimes, even to his little brother, Tyson. Typically, his books rely on similar letter combinations to help ingrain certain word patterns and sounds. A common sentence would be: “A dog and a frog are on a log.” Clearly, the book is trying to get Bryant to practice reading, understanding, and making the 'og' sound. As time goes on, the books get harder and pair different sounds together. “Ben has a hen and a dog and a frog”. In that sentence, the ‘en’ sounds were paired with ‘og’ sounds to help Bryant see and hear the difference. This is simple deliberate practice of an elementary skill set over and over.

Math

Math is taught in a similar way. Currently, Bryant is working on adding and subtracting numbers. The class goes over how adding and subtracting works with M&M’s because the students understand physical differences as opposed to abstract numerical differences faster. Seeing 5 M&M’s become 3 M&M’s because you ate 2 is a simple way to work on subtraction. Understanding the number 5 minus 3 equals 2 on a paper is hard for some children at this age.

Skills

Deliberate Practice

The students also work on counting by 1’s, 2’s and 3’s. The students count to 9 by threes (3,6,9). They also count backward by 2’s from 10 to 0 (10,8,6,4,2,0). The teachers use these strategies to teach abstract math as opposed to physical math. Both are practiced deliberately, and both are repeated over and over again. He hasn’t been required to use a short pencil, then a long pencil, and then pencils with different lead hardness for writing proprioception. I think that’s in week 2!

Comparing Teaching and Coaching Tactics

In softball coaching, many times coaches assume a hitter can hit already. Meaning they have a basic mechanical understanding of how to actually hit a ball correctly with some power. What does this assumption of competence lead to? Assumptions lead to mass repetition based practices. Most people believe that “More time or more reps will make a player better." While this can work for some players, normally it creates a bigger gap between the good players and bad ones.

Eliminating the Competence Gap in School

Teaching Structure
  • Teachers complete motor skill assessments through various activities.
  • Assess student needs individually.
  • Teachers group students based on assessments then place them with others that they can help or who can help them.
  • This builds the same skills in all students without leaving any student behind.
  • Children with more advanced skills still benefit from additional work and further retain the information.
  • Students who struggled with certain activities benefit greatly.
  • All in all, the teaching system's early assessment and review close the competency gap.

Eliminating the Competence Gap in Softball

Softball Practice Structure (3)
  • Train the basics of rotation before you begin hitting.
  • This creates a solid foundation for each player.
  • Rotational movement training closes the competence gap and creates proper body movements and body awareness.
  • Teaching rotation as a skill unlocks a player's ability much faster than simply swinging.
  • If certain players are adept at rotating, release them to a hitting group while continuing rotational instruction with those who need it.
  • This groups players into situations where they can excel, just like teachers are doing for my young son.

Train Rotation. Bridge the Competence Gap.

Hitting is rotating the body, speeding up the bat around the body, and directing the bat into a ball. By assessing players' untrained ability to rotate, and then teaching better mechanical patterns for rotation, you ensure each hitting drill is maximally effective. Teaching the proper mechanics of rotation would take minutes of practice time but allow for hyper-effective and efficient hitting practice afterward. Instead of countless constraints, or drills from twitter, take the time to teach proper rotational technique. It’ll change your career or the career of those you teach in a massive way.

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