It’s all about mindset
Sarah Lindenfeld Hall
| 4 min read
You’ve done your best to prepare your players for this moment: Game day. But as you gather on the field, it’s important to be mindful of your mindset — and that of your players.
Now isn’t the time to focus on nitpicky skills-work, says Megan Hays, a longtime softball player and coach and coordinator for the Houston Astros Youth Academy in Texas. Game day is about coming prepared, cutting the stress and keeping things upbeat.
This is youth sports — kids are going to forget something. It’s never a bad idea to bring an extra glove, Hays says. A first aid kit and ponytail holders also are essentials. And a screwdriver can fix catcher’s helmets and leg guards on the spot, Hays says.
A lineup isn’t something to plan on the fly. And while some coaches load the lineup with their best players first, that’s not always a winning strategy, Hays says. “You don’t want to have all of your four top kids in the first four spots because then, after the fourth spot, you don’t have much behind.”
Alternate the lineup between strong and not-so-strong players, starting with your best hitter. And make sure that another strong hitter is placed in the ninth and final spot. “You want her to be able to move around the bases fairly quickly,” Hays says.
Practice is the time focusing on the small details of footwork or hitting balls harder so the kids can get their feet moving. Game day is about the bigger picture, such as watching the ball all the way into the zone, and easing off those hard hits, so players are more likely to be successful. A lighter touch, as a coach, is more effective in Hays’ experience. “That way, they’re not going into the game beat up,” she says. “They’re going into the game saying I got this.”
Instead of walking them through stretches, let your players lead. Usually, leaders emerge on their own, Hays says. “That’s me giving that game back to those girls because now they can see what they’re there for. They are there for team camaraderie and feeling a little bit free and loose as they get ready rather than having a coach right up on them all the time.”
Play some music as they warm up and let them have a little fun. A dance break is fine; so are a few moments playing hacky sack. “You really just got to be a little more lax for them so they can enjoy that moment,” she says.
Hays will set little goals for each game such as turning a double play or getting 50% of the bunts down. She lets her players set goals for the team, too. “It keeps them focused,” she says. And small goals can keep morale up if the game isn’t entirely going their way.
You may be disappointed that the team isn’t winning, but game day isn’t the time to show your feelings. Stay positive, Hays says. When a girl gets down about a strike out, help her refocus. Says Hays, you can say, “This happened, it’s done. What can we do next that’s going to keep us going?”
Be their biggest cheerleader. “I always say, I’m their No. 2 fan because I know their parents are their No. 1 fan,” says Hays. “But I get to cheer them on, and that makes it more exciting for them because they see [me] cheering them on. And it also makes it fun for you, too.”