The road to collegiate softball takes time, hard work, and discipline within the athlete; but how do we instill the commitment necessary to achieve greatness? How do we prepare them for the next level with extracurricular activities, social media, family events, and other various on-goings outside the game? The importance of commitment is slowing deteriorating. Athletes are excused from their responsibility to their sport without question; it is disparaging to their game, and furthermore, their recruitment. Female athletes need constant structure and discipline to succeed at the next level and as coaches; it is our responsibility to create commitment and ownership within our teams.
Following the 4 key steps to teaching and implementing commitment in your female athletes will not only strengthen your team as a whole, but inspire maturity and dedication in your individual athlete.
- Time Organization. Every female athlete needs organization. It is understandable that academics will always come first before a sport, but they need to have a plan. “I didn’t have time,” “I need to work on my project,” “My group is meeting the same time as practice,” are all unacceptable excuses to disengage from their commitment to their team. Every athlete should write out their weekly schedule, include due dates, practices, and other time commitments. Once their schedule is completed, they will notice the free time they have to fit everything in. A coach’s responsibility is to make it clear that time organization is a must and disciplinary actions will take place for missed practices or games. The ability for your athletes to be organized within their academics, athletics, and social events will better prepare them for the next level of play. They will be ultimately responsible for their schedule in college and the better you can prepare them to be time efficient, the more successful they will be in their future aspirations.
- Structure and follow through. It is incredibly important to set the ground rules early on and stick to them. If you, as a coach, stay committed to structure, your athletes cannot question your expectations. The hardest part of setting guidelines is sticking to them. As you get to know your team and get comfortable around each other, it’s easy to let the little things slide; “She was only a few minutes late to the game today”, “She went on a camping trip this weekend, so it’s ok she’s not at practice.” Once the individual commitment is gone, the team commitment fades. As much as you want to have fun with your athletes and enjoy working with them; the structure needs to be instilled on a daily basis. At the end of the day, you are their coach and they may not like you all the time, but maintaining structure will earn their respect over time. It’s always important to remind your athletes of their common goal and the work ethic it takes to achieve that goal.
- Respect. Respect the game. Respect your team. Respect your common goal. Whether you are coaching 7 year olds or 17 year olds; respect should be taught from the beginning. Respecting the game means your athletes come to practice and games with a purpose. They come to work hard, better their skills, and accomplish preset goals. Athletes respect their team through dedication, positivity, and camaraderie. They respect the common goal by showing up as a sisterhood and leaving it all on the field. When your athletes respect the reason they play, they will feel a need to stay committed to their sport, team, and coaches. Coaches can set the standards high before the season starts; Coaches are addressed as Coach XXX, not by their first name, athletes approach coaching staff, not parents, athletes write down individual and team “game time” goals. Maintaining respect among everyone working towards a common goal drives athletes to stay committed through thick and thin.
- Focus. The more focus and drive within the athlete, the better prepared they will be to play at the next level. Without focus, your athletes will never succeed. Female athletes are easily distracted with the social aspects of their lives and need to learn to separate it from their sport. Coaches cannot completely take their athletes out of their social realms, but it can be minimized when the focus needs to be on the sport. Lay out rules for your team regarding social media and phone and internet use. Phones are to be put away 1 hour before practice time, 2 hours before game time, 1 hour before bed time, etc. Female athletes’ emotions can change on the drop of a dime and any outside influence that will affect their game negatively should be removed. Teams that travel can implement rules while they are on the road; no phones at team meals, team captain collects all social media devices at the end of the day, etc. The athletes may hate this rule, but it will help the team to bond and create chemistry; and as always, a clear head helps them to stay focused on the game. With time, they won’t even miss it.
As the common goal is to play at the next level, athletes need to create a routine of focus, discipline, respect, and organization that revolves around their athletic commitment. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but if you stick to structure, and follow through with your agenda, your athletes will respect the work to stay committed to their sport.