Guest post by Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog
Believe it or not, right now is one of the most important times of the softball season. No, not tryouts.
I’m talking about the period after tryouts where players are just starting to get to know each other. Sure, on established teams most of the players have a pretty good idea about each other. But even then there are always a few newbies. And on newly formed teams, or those that have had a lot of turnover, it can be a daunting task.
And if you don’t think that’s important, it is. Everyone plays better when there’s a level of trust and familiarity — when you feel you know the other players around you, and that they have your back.
A couple of years ago my team got put into a round robin that the organization I was with ran. We’d had exactly one practice before game day, so as part of the pre-game my team was actually standing in a circle trying to learn each others’ names. Needless to say we didn’t exactly burn it up on the field.
Yes, many things in softball are individual skills, but they’re still executed in a team setting. And creating a cohesive team can be challenging no matter what the circumstances. So to help you with that initial forming stage (to quote Jeff Janssen), here are a few ideas. None of them are original – I steal from the best.
M&Ms — Grab a one-pound bag of M&Ms and pour them into a bowl. Have your players pass the bowl around, advising them there are plenty for all so take as many as they like. Just let them know they can’t eat them until you say it’s ok. Once everyone has their candies, tell them that for every M&M they took they have to tell one thing about themselves. You can get to know a lot about the players who love chocolate.
Cross the river — Teamwork and communication are essential in our game. Here’s a way to drive it. Cut up some large pieces of cardboard, and make them with the numbers 1,2,3 or 4. Make sure you have two equal sets. Then divide your team in half, and tell them they have to cross the “river,” which can be any distance. I personally like a 60 foot baseline. To do it, they throw down a piece of cardboard, which tells you how many people can fit on that boat. When everyone is on a boat, they pull up the last piece of cardboard and put it in the front so they can keep going. First time to get all the way across is the winner.
Alphabetical Names — Lay out some 2 x 6 boards or pieces of foam in a semi-circular pattern. Have the players all stand on the boards. Then tell them they have to rearrange themselves in alphabetical order by first name, starting at one side and going to the other. Incidentally, they can’t step off the boards or they have to start over. It can be quite entertaining to watch. Once they’ve completed that task, mix them up again and tell them they must do the same thing, but this time by middle name — and without talking. Allow plenty of time for this one. Thanks Rona Roffey for this one!
I’ve Got Your Back – If you have a bunch of facts about your players, write them down on individual sheets of paper, along with that player’s name. Have your players face a wall or fence, then tape a sheet of someone else on their backs. Then tell them they have to figure out which teammate they are by the facts that are listed there. To help with the mingling, tell them they can only ask each teammate one thing about themselves.
Blindfold soccer – Ok, this one I did invent. It’s a good communication drill as well as a get to know you one. Have all your players bring a blindfold of some sort. Divide them into two teams, and have all but one player on each side put on their blindfolds. The remaining two players are the “eyes” for everyone else. Toss a beach ball out and have the two teams start playing soccer with one another. The “eyes” will have to direct each teammate on how to get to the ball, how to spread out, which way to face, when to kick, where to kick, etc. It can be quite challenging, but fun. And they definitely get to learn each others’ names. You also get a good look at who your leaders are by how they direct their teammates.
Those are just a few suggestions. There are plenty more out there as well. The idea is to add an element of fun and competitiveness to help break the ice and get everyone on the same page.
Sure it can be tough to give up hitting endless ground balls, But when crunch time comes, the time you spent building that trust and familiarity will pay off.
Anyways, that’s the way I see it.
Please let me know what you thought of this post… I’m dying to find out…