After messaging Petra Cizmic what topic to cover she asked if I would cover my time with the Olympia Haarlem Women's team. As this is for ESCA it makes sense. So here are six steps that made Olympia Haarlem Women from 2015-2018.
OLYMPIA HAARLEM 2015-2018
The challenge Olympia had only just escaped relegation around 2010. The previous coach Caroline Powell was doing a rebuilding exercise at the club and did a very good job. Stocktake of players There were some decent players there. They had three national team squad players from 2014 Worlds who were Eva Voortman, Merel Oosterveld and Dinet Oosting plus some junior national team players transferring in Brenda Beers and Rachel Van Veen.
The opposition It was obvious Sparks and Terrasvogels were the teams to beat so I spent most of my time studying those two teams and how to beat them. Time was also spent on the other teams but most of it was spent on those two and their players. You MUST do your homework. Softball to me is just mathematics with a little bit of human intuition thrown in. I know it is a lot more than that but if you asked me to explain it in one sentence that is it.
The six steps to make Olympia Haarlem better:
Step 1: Find my sickle
The nucleus of the team has to have a good sickle. Think of the shape of a sickle. So I start shaping my team around the catcher, pitcher, shortstop and centre fielder. Once I have studs in those positions I then add the extras. Draw a line from positions 2,1,6,8 and it forms a sickle. My sickle was Dinet Oosting, Eva Voortman, Rachel Van Veen and Merel Oosterveld in 2015.
Step 2: Fill the missing pieces
We only had one pitcher because two pitchers were still playing their college careers. Marielle Vleugels came in for a meeting. You have to remember I had just spent the previous two seasons coaching with Russ Snow and the Great Britain Men's program so I had to get up to speed quickly again in the women's game. I knew hardly anyone, Marielle included. When I interviewed her and asked why she wanted to come to Olympia she told me at her old club that she was only allowed to pitch one game and she didn't get to play in the second. I asked Marielle what her secondary position was and she said she could play 3rd and 1st base. I said if she is one of the top five hitters in the team she will play both games. Marielle gave me a look and a cheeky (arrogant) smile along with Inge Consent who was also at the meeting. I kind of knew right then that Marielle could play. Needless to say, Marielle played BOTH GAMES all season. The last piece of the puzzle I wanted to sort out was the classic “import”. Step in Michael Bastian. We just happened to be chatting on Facebook and I told him what I was looking for and he said hold on I have a kid here for you. Within 10 minutes from meeting Stephanie Tofft that was it, she was ready to go and my squad had been assembled. Steph Tofft was a perfect fit as she was fresh off an NCAA College World Series win with the Florida Gators and could share her knowledge of their program. Marielle and Steph were the “missing pieces”. We were a thin squad but I was happy as I had no idea what the opposition was like and there was a lot of homework to do. I hadn't even seen my players throw a ball, swing a bat or run bases yet.
Step 3: Play “Total (Player Centric) Softball” Let me start this section by saying generally most coaches over coach and want too much control. I have no problem with the way they do things but I also have my own philosophies on the game. When I was 18/19 years old I was smarter than your average player of that age. By no means experienced but knew what I could and couldn't do. Speed was my thing; had a lot of it (not anymore). So when I was on first base I could steal second base a lot. But wait, not until coach gave the signal which led to a lot of frustration when sitting on first base thinking you can steal this base easily. It was then I promised myself if I ever coach a talented enough team I am letting all of my rabbits in the team have the green light. For those that have seen me coaching and were wondering what all of those flashing signals were they did have meaning. I won't go into detail but ask any of the old Olympia players and they can tell you what each one meant. This is why NCAA coaches take total control. If I was earning over $100k a year I wouldn't want a 19-year-old kid deciding my fate whether I hold on to my job next season. So while I understand this the player isn't learning the game as quickly as they can. A good example is the pitch calling from the dugout. I'm not entering that debate in this article that can be a whole article on its own. For the record, I am a big believer in having the players play the game on game day.
Step 4: Set SMART goals. Short, mid and long term goals. Be brutal with your players in what they can achieve. One saying I really hate is “you can be anything you want to be if you put your mind to it”. Absolute rubbish. I could have the best sprint trainer in the world and would still never beat Usain Bolt. I could have the best boxer trainer and no matter how much I want to beat Mike Tyson it isn't going to happen. You must have realistic and unrealistic goals but the unrealistic ones have to be also sane. It is your job to help your players set these. I would set the players a range of goals. There were team goals and then there were individual goals. My main team goal was for us to score five runs and we were allowed to give up three. This way either offense or defense were accountable in the case of a loss. Then we can analyse where we went wrong. Or even if we won say for example 8-7 I would still be disappointed because of the runs given up. The same applied in a 1-0 win I wouldn't be happy with the offense and we would dissect why we weren't hitting our five runs. Another team goal for pitchers was 70% strikes. Henk Van Zitveld would always have their stats ready immediately after the game and we would have instant feedback available directly after games so the pitchers and I knew how they were going every game day. Immediately. The team always comes first but after that go out and win some personal accolades also. The main team goal for Olympia was to not only be the best playing team in Europe but the smartest and friendliest. I wanted everyone to enjoy this team. I even wanted to make sure umpires enjoyed umpiring our games. Sport is there to have fun so when we did lose we just took it on the chin and worked out how to go and get better for the next game. You have 21 outs and 7 innings to work out who the better team is on game day. Get on with it. There was one goal I did not achieve in my time there but that is the whole point, think big.
Don't take away your players dreams and goals but do your best to help them achieve it. You first need to gather all of that information in. A lot of coaches just assume they think they know what their players want. You actually have to sit down with them and have that conversation. We used to have a station designed specifically for our one to one chats during training. It was like speed dating but softball style. The girls only had five to eight minutes but we would have a couple of them during the season with the Assistant coaches to make sure we were still on the same page. Some player goals were to just make the starting lineup for one game. Other players goals in the same squad were to make the Olympics and/or play in Japan. So you have to take all of the players' goals on board and help each individual attain theirs and also guide them in the right direction even if some of them just simply are not really going to happen.
Step 5: 2 in 2 out each season At the end of each season, there will always be players coming and going it is part of softball. I didn't realize how crazy it was at the end of each season as to “who is going where” next season. After losing the Holland Series final in our first season I then thought we need to replace the bottom two players in our club with two better players. It wasn't so much replace but I believe in being honest as to how much game time my players are going to get.
I let some players know where they need to be to play both games of the doubleheader. If I have players like Marielle Vleugels and Eva Voortman who can play a secondary position and are one of my top five hitters they will play both games of a doubleheader after pitching. This takes away a spot as I don't protect my pitchers. If they want to play they play. So each season the hard discussions would be had with the players who were not playing well. They had to know that if they perform the same next season their at-bats will be limited. These conversations are always hard but you have to have them otherwise your bench will become toxic and cancerous. Even with those conversations it still can be. The downside of coaching is it is almost impossible to please everyone.
Step 6: Team FIFO (Fit in or F*** Off) The last step for creating this team was Team FIFO. You are either all in or it is time to go. There was an incident that happened in our team in the 2016 season which wasn't nice. I wanted to keep a player and all they had to do was apologize so we could move on. The player did not feel the need to apologise so we had to let the player go. We couldn't replace this player mid-season and I told the squad we would lose games if we let them go so if they prefer that then I am happy but we have to make this decision as a team. The team decided they would prefer to lose games and give someone else an opportunity in the lineup. This was the prime example of Team FIFO and this was the point where we went backwards a little first before moving forward.
There were other steps our team did like player team lineups, voting in of new players and I could be here all day going through the intricacies of creating a successful team. There are so many different things that need to happen in order to create a successful, happy, winning team. I didn't even touch on the part where you need a solid board. Mirjam Willemse and Eric De Vries are the real reason why this team and club became successful (plus the fans!).
That's all from me, cheers.
The results of these steps in four years:
83% win rate Titles
2 Hamburg Indoor
2 Jan De Wit