Every two weeks, various Softball coaches from around the world will take turns writing an article especially targeted for ESCA members. These coaching "nuggets" are meant to be shared with Softball coaches interested in accumulating more knowledge about the sport of Softball.
The title of these stories will be known as "pass the pen". At the conclusion of each article, the pen will be passed on to another coach who in turn will write a story and then pass the pen on to another coach. Our first "pass the pen" article has been written by Craig Montvidas, coordinator of the European Softball Coaches Association training camps. Craig is the former Head Coach of both the Netherlands and Great Britain National teams. He also coached two years in the National Pro Fastpitch league (USA), as well as the past two seasons for the Italian League "National Champions", Bussolengo. Craig is currently a board member of coach development for the WBSC.
During my playing days, I was always the "leadoff" hitter for the teams I played for, so this will not be an unusual spot for me to begin. Let me start by saying what an honor it is to be the first coach to carry
the "pass the pen" torch for the European Softball Coaches Association members. The merging of ESCA and the NFCA will provide unlimited opportunities for coaches in Europe to get additional inside information and knowledge about the game we all enjoy so much. So here I go. Hitting, pitching, baserunning, throwing, fielding, the mental side of the game, so many categories to choose from. I have decided to focus on the number one area I believe coaches need to start with if they hope to build a solid foundation with the team they are coaching. This area is known as "the field of expectations". It is extremely essential for coaches to discuss the expectations they have of their players as well as knowing what expectations their players have about them. A third element concerns players expectations of their teammates. By establishing and communicating the possible expectations a great majority of the communication challenges that occur throughout a season can be clearly defined before the teams first training session or league competition.
The definition of expectations: Expectation is defined as believing that something is going to happen or believing that something should be done in a certain way.
Before the start of each season I ask all of my players to separately make a list of their expectations with regard to the coaching staff. Once everyone has completed this chore, I then make one complete list which we discuss as a group during our initial team meeting. As a coach you can expect to receive anywhere from 40-50 different "expectations". Together with the coaching staff, we too prepare a list of those things we expect from our players although our list usually peaks out around 10. Each expectation is discussed and those we are certain of fulfilling get a quick yes. Those expectations which we feel as a staff that cannot be met as well as those falling into a grey area are immediately discussed with our group. The key to this challenge is open communication!
Some examples of what players expectations of coaches might be, include:
- Honesty - create an atmosphere of trust within the group.
- Display leadership
- Make us better players
- Knowledge of the game
- Mutual communication
- Exhibit patience
- Show an interest in your players both on and off the field
- Treat everyone equally
- Create enjoyable and diverse training sessions
- Be organized
What might be discussed with our team in reference to these examples of communication include the following:
- Yes we as a staff can and will be honest, but if sometimes we are "brutally honest" in evaluating your skills for example, how will you as a player respond to such?
- I always tell my players that we cannot make them better players, but we certainly can make them smarter players. Each player must put in the necessary time and energy themselves if they truly wish to get better. It is our job as coaches to help put them in an environment whereby they can achieve this.
- We do not treat everyone equally, but we will treat everyone fairly. Not everyone is equal and every situation is not the same, so handling each situation requires an understanding of that particular challenge. Here then a small sample of those expectations we project on our players. Each player has the right to communicate their thoughts on our expectations of them as well!
- Respect your coaches, your teammates, your club, the umpires, your opponent, your equipment, and the dignity of our sport!
- Communicate with us. If something is bothering you or you are not feeling well, you need to let us know. We cannot read the minds of 15 players.
- Any internal situations amongst our team remain amongst our team. These are "team" matters which are not to be shared with outsiders.
- Take accountability for your actions as well as the decisions and choices you make both on and off the playing field. We as coaches also make mistakes. When we do, we will acknowledge such mistakes, learn from them, and then move on.
- Be on time! If a situation occurs whereby you will be late, communicate this to the coaching staff as soon as possible.
It is also beneficial to have each player separately make a list of what they expect from their teammates and discuss those points as well. Now this all may seem like an extraordinary amount of work, time, and energy. Guess what? It is! I can guarantee you though that it is well worth the effort if you sit down and discuss the "field of expectations". As coaches, we want to devote our time to our players on the field during training sessions and game competition. Often though we find ourselves having numerous team meetings because our team has somehow lost their way. Besides being teachers, motivators, psychologists, organizers, leaders, and a number of other highly skilled professions, we are communicators, and communicators must communicate.
It is important that every player be aware that their coaches recognizes each player/person for their unique and distinctive personality and that these individual characteristics are an important contribution to the team. Everyone wants to feel valuable, needed, and respected. Communication is one of the most difficult and overlooked skills a coach must attempt to master. There are many coaches throughout the world at various levels, coaching various sports that have the knowledge, the determination to succeed, and the necessary experience, but still come up short on communication skills. If you want your team to be successful, it is imperative that the following lines of communication are established early on in building a solid team foundation. Coach to player, player to coach, and player to player. Our goal is to empower everyone by getting them involved, and keeping them informed. Many coaches stumble because they overlook the foundation in creating open communication. Start by discussing the "field of expectations" with your team,
Good luck colleagues, opening day is just around the corner. Allow me this opportunity to wish all of you a very successful 2020 Softball season, filled with lot's of enjoyment, lot's of "wins", no injuries, and a continued passion for the game we love. Regards, Craig Montvidas
I now have the honor of passing the pen to Cindy Bristow!