The Pitching Staff – A Team Within A Team

14364812_1054043901383382_2534392098451246535_n-730x487A pitching staff is a team within a team. No matter which age group you are coaching, it’s important for the cohesiveness of your team that they understand that they are a team and they act and feel united. You can never start teaching and reinforcing this important lesson too soon – even at the younger levels. Start having the dialogue with them that the TEAM will do its best if they support each other and compliment each other.

The thing about a TEAM is that they should ball be working for the same goal. Maybe the team’s goal is to win a tournament. Maybe the team’s goal is to win Nationals. Maybe the team’s goal is simply to win one game.

No matter what the team decided is their goal, EVERYONE should be on board with that one goal and be on a MISSION to achieve that goal.

A team has a roster of maybe 12-18 players. The pitching staff will have somewhere between 2-5. The pitching staff has their own role in the team’s goal. There will be multiple pitchers on a team, and most likely no 1 pitcher will throw every single pitch. In most cases, there will be one pitcher who throws more than the others. That’s how it is on any team – travel team, high school and college, alike. As a pitcher on the staff, how do you handle this if you aren’t throwing in as many innings? As the parent of a pitcher, how do you handle it? As a coach, how do you speak to your pitchers? As the pitcher throwing the most innings, how do YOU handle it? EVERYONE has to work together to be united to work TOGETHER towards achieving the TEAM’S goal – pitchers, pitcher’s parents and coaches.

ANY player on a team should have a role. She owns that role. She embodies that role.

The acceptance and execution of that role helps work towards the team’s goal. Each member on the pitching staff should have a defined role, as well. It is ok for the role to change and evolve through the course of the season. That’s normal, and as a coach, you want this to happen. However, at any moment, a pitcher’s role should be clearly defined so that she can give her all to that role with no confusion. The most important part about roles is communication with honesty from the coaches – it forms clear expectations. The second most important part about roles is the acceptance of the role by the player – it means you’re a good teammate.

As an example, every team will have a #1 pitcher. Every team should WANT a #1 pitcher because it means you have found the player who is reliable in the big situation, it means you have found someone who has worked extremely hard, it means you have found someone who is consistent. Having a #1 pitcher definitely is not a bad thing, it’s a good thing for the team! Being a #1 pitcher is a role, and there’s nothing wrong with knowing you’re the #1, and there’s nothing to feel bad about. There could even be two #1s who share time fairly equally, but at the end of the day, one of those pitchers is going to be the one who the coaches choose to throw the Championship game, as we all know there can only be 1 pitcher in a game at a time. The other pitchers role is to support whatever pitcher is out there in the game. Another pitcher may own the role of being a great closer/finisher. Or maybe her role is to strategically throw against teams who can’t hit faster pitching or slower pitching. The options really are endless, but to me it’s all about the communication to form those roles. The more the pitching staff understands and accepts their roles, the more they are going to find success in games for their team. A pitcher’s role can even vary game to game. In that case, a coach’s communication to his/her pitching staff becomes even more important.

Often times I think where things go wrong is two fold…

  1. A coach not wanting to be completely honest with the pitching staff because they either are scared to tell the other pitchers they aren’t the #1, or maybe they themselves don’t quite know the role yet.
  2. PARENTS being unwilling to accept that their daughter is not the #1. They give more focus on that than the ultimate goal of the team – which is what EVERYTHING should circle back to – the team.

The thing about a pitching staff is that every pitcher has so much pride because of how hard they work on their craft. They want to get rewarded for their hard work with in-game pitching time because that has been the focus their entire life. Their practices have been so individual their entire life that it becomes difficult to take the focus off of yourself and place it on your TEAM and your team within the team, aka your pitching staff.

As a coach, from the very beginning, you have to make this known, and I think you will be amazed at the results it will yield if you have open and consistent communication with your pitchers from the beginning of the season until the end:

“Suzie, I want you to know you’re on this team because of the way you mix speeds, we are going to heavily rely on you to come in and be able to slow things down and keep teams off balance. Jill, you have ice in your veins when you are pitching. I see you pitching in a lot of close games in late innings because nothing phases you. Jenna, you have some of the top velocity in our area and I know we’ll be able to use that to go up against some good lineups.”

It takes time, it takes nurturing, it takes patience, but as a coach, it’s a MUST. They should commit to being the best for their team from the very beginning, and it should not get glazed over at the beginning. From day 1 your pitching staff should COMMIT to being the best for each other and being the best for their team. When you commit to specific expectations, especially in front of your team, it holds you accountable. Maybe you have them verbalize they’re going to commit, maybe you have them sign a sheet of paper that lays out the expectations you have of your pitching staff:

THE PITCHING STAFF…

Brings different strengths – mentally and physically.

You don’t want to pitch exactly how someone else pitches. You want to have your own strengths that shine when you get the opportunity.

Works together as ONE unit.

You win together, you lose together. When someone has a bad day in the circle, someone else comes in and picks them up immediately.

Has unwavering support for each other*

When you get taken out of a game, you support your other pitcher. Maybe that means giving her a high five as you get taken out and she is coming in. Maybe that means you have a glass of water ready to hand to her when she comes off of the field. Maybe that means you are yelling your hardest for her from inside the dugout. Be happy for her when she does well; feel for her when she has a tough inning.

* THIS IS THE BIGGEST ONE. If just ONE pitcher on the staff does not fully support the others, it makes it more difficult for the other pitchers to support her. Not saying it can’t be done, it just makes for an obstacle to overcome on the way to trying to reach the TEAM’S goal. No matter if you have pitched 20 innings in one weekend or 0, you COMMIT to support your pitching staff until the end – no exception.

Commits to making each other better.

They talk in the bullpen. They give each other tips during games and at practice. They learn to understand each other. They are not scared to help each other in fear that by helping someone else they won’t get to pitch as much.

Competes and pushes each other.

As much as you’re helping the other pitchers and wanting to make them better, you go out and compete your hardest and practice your hardest. When YOU compete harder and when you work harder, your pitching staff should feel that and want to work harder, too. Do not be scared of competition and when someone may be pitching better than you – that’s just an opportunity for you to work harder at your craft and you should thank them. Do not be scared to be great. You are pitch great for your TEAM, you pitch great so that you push your pitching staff to rise up as well.

THE PITCHING STAFF does NOT…

Pull other teammates aside and tell them why they should be pitching.

A big no-no. Absolutely 100% do not pull other teammates aside to your negativity and opinion. This causes friction on the team. Friction on the team means you’re hurting the chance at accomplishing the goal.

Pout in the dugout when they are not pitching.

Never ever cry/look sad/isolate yourself because you are upset that you are not the one in the circle. Don’t do it. Coaches, don’t accept it. Parents, don’t allow it. Under no circumstance, and I mean NO CIRCUMSTANCE is this ok. It is selfish and you are making the game about you. The game is never about one person.

Show an attitude when they get pulled from the game.

When you’re pitching and you get pulled, control your emotions. Your teammates, parents and coaches should have the expectations that showing an attitude when it is your time to come out of the game is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Showing this attitude is a direct reflection on the parents.

Forget about the ultimate team goal.

Every single action, pitch, play, practice is not about you, it’s about the team. It can be difficult for pitchers especially to remember this because a lot of pressure gets put on us, you are involved in a lot of plays, and there is high risk/high reward as a pitcher which brings more emotion to the table. At the end of the day, you are pitching for your TEAM, you are trying to throw strikes for your team, you’re trying to get outs for your team, you are trying to do your best to help the team WIN.

EVERY ACTION HURTS OR HELPS YOUR TEAM’S GOAL

When your team commits to expectations before the season even begins, they are now accountable for every single action because every action is either hurting or helping the TEAM’S goal. It’s better to tell the team the goal and expectations BEFORE any practices or games rather than having to go back and tell them the expectations you are wanting after an action occurs on the field that doesn’t support the team’s goal. Once they commit to this team’s goal, it’s no longer a coach being a bad guy when they call them out for their actions, it takes the blame off of the coach and on to the player. Your team should be held accountable from the very beginning. It is more difficult to go back and add the expectations you have of your team.

EVERY ACTION from the players and the coaches should support the team’s ultimate goal. This means the coaching decisions are made with integrity. This means each player is working hard on their own to get better for the TEAM’S goal. This means players accept their role in the lineup that day with grace and support of the other teammates. This means any bad body language on the field or in the dugout brings the team’s energy down, therefore hurts the chances of achieving the goal.

As a pitching staff, all eyes are on you. A pitching staff and how each pitcher understands her role is a direct reflection of the communication and leadership of the coaching staff. How a pitcher on a pitching staff chooses to handle her role is a direct reflection of her parents.

Players will only do what you allow them to get away with. Even at tryouts, it should be something you are seeking out in your pitchers –a complete pitching staff that you envision to fulfill different roles – they have different strengths and compliment each other. Find a complete pitching staff that you see as ones who will accept their roles – they have personality traits and parents who will commit to being their very best for their staff and for their team.

Players, Parents and Coaches ALL Have a Role

If you are the #1 pitcher – stay humble, earn your #1 position every single time that you go to pitch in the game, never take it for granted. If you are NOT the #1 pitcher, every time you go out to pitch is a chance for you to throw like you ARE the #1 pitcher. Every pitcher on the staff should have a presence that they ARE the #1. The ENERGY that comes from a pitching staff that ALL has confidence and works together is off the charts amazing, and it WILL take your team to the next level.

Pitchers, you are never entitled to any pitching time just because on the roster there is a “Pitcher” next to your name. You should earn EVERYTHING. Maybe you earn it by how you pitched the last time you were in a game. Maybe you earn it by how hard you’ve worked outside of the game at practice and at lessons. The opportunity for you to go in and pitch in a game is an opportunity for you to help your team towards its goal. Every opportunity is one that will be EARNED and it is YOUR job to take advantage of YOUR opportunity. 

Coaches, you are not automatically entitled to the trust of making coaching decisions, you have to earn that trust over time. The more trust you show the players & parents , the more they will accept and buy into their roles you are communicating to them. When decisions are made that do not support the team to reaching their ultimate goal, that is when drama starts to occur and people start to talk, and then players will not fully buy in to the decisions you are making. In essence, sometimes a coach will actually create his own problems by not making decision with one thing in mind – the team’s goal. Put politics aside, put parents aside, put ago aside and make decisions FOR your team because with every decision you are making about the team you are either hurting or earning trust.

Pitcher’s parents, your children will accept their roles in the same way YOU accept their role. If you are complaining, they will complain and not fully buy in. Often times they talk to their teammates and use the same quotes you say to them outside of the field. “I’m not pitching because our other pitcher is best friends with the coach,” or “I’m not pitching because we haven’t been with this coach for that long.”- Players don’t usually come up with these things on their own, they are hearing it from their parents.

When you are talking in the stands about topics that do not fully support the coach’s decisions, you are hurting the team from reaching their goal. It is ok for us as humans to not agree with every decision – that’s life. It is NOT ok to verbalize to others during practices and games and suck them in to your negativity/excuses. WAY too often parents become the cancers on the team because their pitcher is not getting the pitching time. Be real, be honest with yourself and support your child to become her very best. If she is doing HER best and she is still not getting THE most pitching time, it’s ok. Support your pitcher in her given role, remember what you committed to from the very beginning and keep pushing her to give her all.

Everything is about the team, EVERYTHING.

Finally, I know there will be the situations where as a family you decide that it might be time to change teams. Try to avoid leaving a team in the middle of the season. Stay loyal to that team and teaching your pitcher to stick things out and finish out the role she is in. Until after the last out is played of the last game on the team you are on, you give your ALL to that TEAM and try to help in any way you can. The only real time I support leaving a team in the middle of the season is if there is something major going on where there are coaches or players are being extremely negative or emotionally abusive, and it is affecting a player’s every day life/happiness. That’s a lesson in itself to get out of a negative situation. However, there is a clear difference between being sad/bummed out you are not getting pitching time and visibly being effected by the way a coach is talking/treating you and other teammates.

You will be amazed when a pitching staff buys in to being a real staff and SUPPORTS each other from the beginning to the end. Commit, think about every decision you make/action you take as either helping or hurting the team.

Stay tuned for more things related to Softball and visit http://www.visionfastpitch.com today!

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