One of the four questions that coaches should be able to answer for any parent is why do they coach? The other three are, why do you coach the way you coach, how does it feel to be coached by you from your athlete’s perspective, and how do you define success? These four questions are what every youth coach should be able to answer without equivocation.
Recently, one of the student athlete’s I have been working with teaching her how to slap hit (that’s when a left-handed batter running towards the ball as it is pitched) was told that all the coaches on her team got together and decided to bench her for not hitting on the right side, which is her natural and had been most productive side to hit from. But here is the issue, when an athlete decides for her future that hitting from the left side is giving her the best chance to play at the highest level because she is fast, has great eye hand coordination, etc., should her coach on the team she is currently playing on support her decision and development or should they make her hit from her natural side because she can help the team win?
I am not suggesting that she gets to keep her place in the batting order or even play as much as she had been as a right-handed contact hitter, but should she be told that she is benched or that she must bat from the right side still, even though she no longer practices right handed? I get it from the coach’s perspective, our job is to field the best team possible. But if a pitcher who has a great rise ball tells the coach, she no longer throws that pitch for whatever reason, our jobs as coaches is not to tell her what pitch she must continue to keep in her arsenal. We should assess her based on the pitches she throws and their effectiveness against the other pitchers on the team, but we can’t make her throw a certain pitch. What if the parents doctor told them that the long-term effect of throwing a rise ball for their kid was a high-risk factor for injury, the coach would let her compete with the pitches she still has.
Youth coaches are not paid nor do we keep our career wins and losses. But we are always developing, in fact, it is our number one job as a youth coach. Developing players to help them leave our teams better than when they came is our highest priority.
I told the young lady who is being benched for not continuing to bat from the right side that a good coach would work with her to develop and when she achieved mastery, the coach wins. He could brag about how he was instrumental in helping develop her when she turned to the left side by providing an atmosphere and situation that allowed her to thrive and develop. Instead of benching her, not allowing her to compete as a left-handed hitter and worse, destroying her confidence and making her feel bad for during something that she feels is necessary for the longevity of her career.
Coaches, whether we believe in slapping or not it is a major part of softball, if we like the rise ball or if we threw it or not, back in our playing days, it is the difference between those pitchers who get the big offer and those who don’t, and slapping is here to stay.
Our most important role as a youth softball coach is to answer the four questions of transformational coaching and to support the development of our players even if it’s a part of the game we don’t understand or don’t like.