During the European Softball Coach's Association (ESCA) Training Camp there were plenty of amazing tasks and tools provided for players and coaches alike. As an exercise in expanding their own routines, coaches were grouped together to create and execute a new drill.
As we wandered the gym following their assignments, we kept hearing how much fun one of the drills was so we decided to take a peak for ourselves. We can't tell you how much the teams enjoyed the tasks but they sure were participating, loudly! As an observer however it was a heck of a lot of fun to watch!
Judith van den Berg, a pitcher herself before being permanently sidelined by injury, became a youth coach in 2015. Currently she works with Dutch national team coach, Karen Marr, training future pitchers. As part of the coach-in-training sessions, Judith, along with Christian Matern (GER), Charline Gartner (FRA), Marvin G. Collier (FRA), Grega valančič (SLO), Ino van den Berg (NED), Jeroen van de Wiel (NED), Cgristian Matern (GER), Charline Gartner (FRA) and Marvin G. Collier (FRA) created this gem. She's agreed to share its secrets with us all.
The assignment we coaches received was to make a fun drill with elements of play and some competitive aspects that highlighted the skills training we’d been working on in the training camp. Our group decided that an important aspect that we wanted to work into the drill was decision making.
We started with a game that was universal in all our cultures. In North America the game is called Tic Tac Toe. Folks familiar with British English will know it by the name Noughts and Crosses. Other people refer to it simply as Xs and Os.
We determined that we wanted the Tic Tac Toe board to be the end point and began building the steps to put the players through an obstacle course to get there. Our version was as follows:
Throwing At A Target
Each person had two tries to get the softball through an open-ended basket. If they make their first shot, they proceed immediately.
When they missed the second throw, they were allowed to proceed but at a price. The next player in line to throw had to do 3 jumping jacks before they could begin their attempt at the target.
Note: The first choice a player must make is speed or accuracy.
If thrown on target the first time, the player can proceed to the tic-tac-toe at once so speed is naturally an advantage.
If the player chooses to be accurate, this might take some more time throwing, but will save the next member from the penalty, and also save time for the team that way.
Pick Up The Ball
Between the target and the tic tac toe board are colored wiffle balls lined up on the floor, one color per team, 3 of each. To proceed to the board, you must pick up one ball from the line to place on the board.
In our version we only had white and yellow balls. This was a challenge on the eyes/mind, to focus harder to see which color had to be replaced once all three balls were in play on the board.
Note: This is actually a great opportunity to substitute in a scooping, fielding, catching, sliding or even hitting drill.
Tic Tac Toe
When the ball is in their hand the player proceeds to the game board to place their ball. We used traffic cones and had the players place the ball on top of the cone to add a bit of finesse to their challenge. We liked the balance aspect. The players really had to stop, relax and focus when placing the ball.
If the ball fell off, they were called back.
We chose cones and wiffle balls. You can use the means you have. You could also place squares with tape on the floor or mark out a board in the dirt on the field.
When placing the ball there is strategic thinking involved: do we prevent the other team from getting 3 in a row, or are we only focused on our own placement?
Only 6 balls are in play, this means that when all the balls are placed, a ball from the same team will have to be moved.
Make sure there is a boundary set up, to withhold players from coming too close to the tic tac toe board and interfering with the player who is having their turn. You can treat this as a distraction challenge for the player by allowing their teammates and the opposition to vocally participate.
You can also make a rule that other players are not allowed to make suggestions on where they play the ball if you want to work on self-reliance, strategic thinking or decision-making.
In our version of the drill, we had players proceed in a one-way format. Each player, upon placing their ball, had to run back and tag their teammate for that person to then begin their throw challenge.
You could also chose to add a skill step on their way back through to their place in line.
You could turn this into a relay game with each person finishing one aspect, tagging their teammate at a station and then rotating stations as well.
When you have more time, you can build the drill adding more elements to the game after each win. That way the player get challenged.
The winner can be determined by best out of 5 or the first to a certain number of wins.
You can also chose to time the drill and have the winner be whichever team completes the drill in the fastest time to get to a win at tic tac toe (best of three series) for example.
Penalty: jumping jacks/squats/pushups/ etc.
Drills: between throwing target and tic-tac-toe (in either direction)
Throwing target: depending on the space you have to work with you could also choose throwing long distance - catcher to second base for example.
Lessons for the players
Making choices: speed or accuracy?
Mechanics: throwing and/or whatever drill, skill involved
Keeping cool: having the adrenaline under control at the tic tac toe
For the coaches:
When observing the game, you can gain good insight into the personalities of your players.
Who is taking the lead?
Who are your team players?
Is someone easily distracted?
Which players have trouble keeping the adrenaline under control?
You can also see what may need to be worked on during training.
This is a really good drill for preparing players for a selection training.
The great thing about this exercise is that it is just like the real thing: you have to execute individually, but it takes the whole team to win.