Guest post by Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog
The other day I had a hitting lesson with a girl named Erin, a girl I converted to a slapper last year and who is now playing at the 16U level. As we were working on various techniques she can do to take advantage of what the defense gives her, she told me something that just warmed my old heart.
She told me after the last tournament she went to her coach and asked her if it would be ok for her to make some decisions on her own regarding what to do with the next pitch, based on what she saw with the defense. Apparently the coach had been calling a lot of bunts – Erin is the leadoff hitter – despite the fact that the defense was playing her in close.
To me, that’s a great thing on two levels. First, she approached it the right way. Rather than just ignoring the coach or giving up, she went to her with an idea. Second, she knew enough and was confident enough in her own abilities to want the choice of what to do.
I also feel good about that because Erin not only is my student, she played for me at 14U for two years. I am a big believer in giving players leeway on what they do in certain situations, such as whether to take the extra base when they can see the play in front of them, or what technique to use when the defense tries to take away certain aspects (as in this case). Obviously she was paying attention.
If you are a coach, it’s important to teach your players the game so they can react accordingly. In Erin’s case, if the defense tries to squeeze in on the bunt she can hard slap the ball and try to get it in between players (or have it bounce off their shins), she can try to go up and over a pulled-in infield, or she can swing away. But she can’t do any of those if the coach is insistent that everything be done his/her way.
In this case, I think the coach was happy to hear that Erin was on top of her game enough to make such a request. They are new to each other and still just discovering where they are ultimately going to go. She may even be glad to know her leadoff hitter has options and WANTS to do more.
That doesn’t mean players should have carte blanche to ignore signals whenever they want. Part of the training to think for themselves is training them to understand when the situation requires them to execute a particular skill at a particular time, and they can’t deviate. For example, if you have runners going on a steal, you’d best be sure that the ball goes on the ground. Attempting an “up and over” in that case could produce disastrous results.
Ultimately, though, the goal is to create ballplayers, not robots. You want your players to want to think, to want to understand the game enough to know “Hey, there’s an opportunity here I should take advantage of.” Because if they’re doing it in one aspect, hopefully it will translate to all aspects of their game. And players who feel personally invested in the game, rather than like pieces on the coach’s chess board, are going to work harder at their game.
After all, if you tell me to bunt, I’ll do my best. But if you tell me to swing away and I decide to bunt because I think I see an opportunity, I’m going to make darned sure I get it down so I look like a brilliant hero instead of a fool.
Anyway, that’s the way I see it.
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