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Softball coaches use 'IDEA' method for teaching skills

By American Sport Education Program (ASEP)

Coaching softball is about teaching kids how to play the game by teaching them skills, fitness, and values. It’s also about coaching players before, during, and after contests. Teaching and coaching are closely related, but there are important differences. In this chapter we focus on principles of teaching, especially on teaching technical and tactical skills. But these principles apply to teaching fitness concepts and values as well. Armed with these principles, you will be able to design effective and efficient practices and will understand how to deal with misbehavior. Then you will be able to teach the skills and plays outlined in chapters 7 and 8 that are necessary to be successful in softball.

Teaching Softball Skills

Many people believe that the only qualification needed to teach a skill is to have performed it. Although it’s helpful to have performed the skill, teaching it successfully requires much more than that. And even if you haven’t performed the skill before, you can still learn to teach successfully with the useful acronym IDEA:

I Introduce the skill.

D Demonstrate the skill.

E Explain the skill.

A Attend to players practicing the skill.

Introduce the Skill

Players, especially those who are young and inexperienced, need to know what skill they are learning and why they are learning it. You should therefore use the following three steps every time you introduce a skill to your players:

1. Get your players’ attention.

2. Name the skill.

3. Explain the importance of the skill.

Get Your Players’ Attention

Because youngsters are easily distracted, do something to get their attention. Some coaches use interesting news items or stories. Others use jokes. And still others simply project enthusiasm to get their players to listen. Whatever method you use, speak slightly above your normal volume and look your players in the eye when you speak.

Also, position players so they can see and hear you. Arrange the players in two or three evenly spaced rows, facing you. (Make sure they aren’t looking into the sun or at a distracting activity.) Then ask whether all of them can see you before you begin to speak.

Name the Skill

Although there may be many common names for the skill you are introducing, decide as a staff before the start of the season which one you’ll use and stick with it. This will help prevent confusion and enhance communication among your players. When you introduce the new skill, call it by name several times so that the players automatically correlate the name with the skill in later discussions


Explain the Importance of the Skill

As Rainer Martens, the founder of the American Sport Education Program (ASEP), has said, "The most difficult aspect of coaching is this: Coaches must learn to let players learn. Sport skills should be taught so they have meaning to the child, not just meaning to the coach." Although the importance of a skill may be apparent to you, your players may be less able to see how the skill will help them become better softball players. Give them a reason for learning the skill and describe how the skill relates to more advanced skills.

Demonstrate the Skill

The demonstration step is the most important part of teaching a sports skill to players who may never have done anything closely resembling it. They need a picture, not just words, so they can see how the skill is performed. If you are unable to perform the skill correctly, ask an assistant coach, one of your players, or someone more skilled to perform the demonstration.

These tips will help make your demonstrations more effective:

• Use correct form.

• Demonstrate the skill several times.

• Slow the action, if possible, during one or two performances so players can see every movement involved in the skill.

• Perform the skill at different angles so your players can get a full perspective of it.

• Demonstrate the skill with both sides of the body.

Explain the Skill

Players learn more effectively when they’re given a brief explanation of the skill along with the demonstration. Use simple terms, and if possible, relate the skill to previously learned skills. Ask your players whether they understand your description. A good technique is to ask the team to repeat your explanation. Ask questions such as, "What are you going to do first?" and "Then what?" If players look confused or uncertain, repeat your explanation and demonstration. If possible, use different words so your players get a chance to try to understand the skill from a different perspective.

Complex skills are often better understood when they are explained in more manageable parts. For instance, if you want to teach your players how to field a ground ball, you might take the following steps:

1. Show them a correct performance of the entire skill and explain its function in softball.

2. Break down the skill and point out its component parts to your players.

3. Have players perform each of the component skills you have already taught them, such as assuming the ready position and moving to the ball.

4. After players have demonstrated their ability to perform the separate parts of the skill in sequence, reexplain the entire skill.

5. Have players practice the skill in gamelike conditions.

Young players have short attention spans, and a long demonstration or explanation of a skill may cause them to lose focus. Therefore, spend no more than a few minutes altogether on the introduction, demonstration, and explanation phases. Then involve the players in drills or games that call on them to perform the skill.

Attend to Players Practicing the Skill

If the skill you selected was within your players’ capabilities and you have done an effective job of introducing, demonstrating, and explaining it, your players should be ready to attempt the skill. Some players, especially those in younger age groups, may need to be physically guided through the movements during their first few attempts. Walking unsure players through the skill in this way will help them gain confidence to perform the skill on their own.

Your teaching duties, though, don’t end when all your players have demonstrated that they understand how to perform a skill. In fact, your teaching role is just beginning as you help your players improve their skills. A significant part of your teaching consists of closely observing the hit-and-miss trial performances of your players. You will shape players’ skills by detecting errors and correcting them using positive feedback. Keep in mind that your positive feedback will have a great influence on your players’ motivation to practice and improve their performances.

Remember, too, that some players may need individual instruction. So set aside a time before, during, or after practice to give individual help.

Helping Players Improve Skills

After you have successfully taught your players the fundamentals of a skill, your focus will be on helping them improve it. Players learn skills and improve on them at different rates, so don’t get frustrated if progress seems slow. Instead, help them improve by shaping their skills and detecting and correcting errors.

Shaping Players’ Skills

One of your principal teaching duties is to reward positive effort and behavior-in terms of successful skill execution-when you see it. A player makes a good hit in practice, and you immediately say, "That’s the way to keep your head in there! Good swing!" This, plus a smile and a thumbs-up gesture, goes a long way toward reinforcing that technique in that player. However, sometimes you may have a long, dry spell before you see correct techniques to reinforce. It’s difficult to reward players when they don’t execute skills correctly. How can you shape

This is an excerpt from Coaching Youth Softball, 4th Edition.


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