This time of year is the “off-season” for softball or at least it should be. Being from Florida, it seems like there is never an off season for softball. There is a “Snowball Tournament” (great name for a tournament in Florida by the way) and in the Northeast I see players in indoor leagues and tournaments in domes. While playing is good – are softball games the only thing or the best thing to be doing this time of year?
The reality is; you cannot be at your peak all year long. There needs to be a time of year when players can work on their game without the pressure of having to be at their peak. When learning a new skill or changing an existing muscle memory, there is a transition phase and the player can feel very uncomfortable during this period and therefore not confident. I find that players are sometimes reluctant to change how they do things because they are afraid of “looking bad”.
Players need time to work on their game and be OK with being a little uncomfortable. This time of year is really the only practical time to do it. I am also a proponent of playing other sports in the off season. Young players (younger than high school juniors) can especially benefit from cross training in other sports. Basketball is a great sport to help players learn to be explosive with their lower body. High school players can also benefit from doing some serious weight training with a trained professional. A stronger player is a better player and less likely to get hurt.
Parents and players need to keep things in perspective – playing game after game after game is not the way to get better. Players need time to hone their skills and get stronger. Take the “off-season” to really work on your game. Give players a break! I am not saying, “Don’t play in the winter”, but ask yourself what you are expecting or trying to get out of it. I have seen some great winter hitting leagues where the emphasis is on getting players a lot of at bats in a minimum time. Not only are the players getting a chance to take swings, but it is a little different, and I think this keeps it interesting for the players.
You hear about and worry about “burn-out” with players. I think burn out comes from playing game after game and not getting any better. Find a good instructor and go into the off season with a plan to improve your skills or find a good trainer and spend the winter getting stronger. How do you know if you have a good instructor? I tell parents there are two tests: Do their players get better? Do they produce consistently good players? Parents and coaches need to keep off season games and leagues in perspective. Have a plan and remember that a little down time is not necessarily a bad thing.