How to Develop a strong 8u program

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Jan 22, 2011
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Bob Burnett asked me last week for some thoughts on how to develop a strong 8u program. In honor of this weekend being his daughter's memorial tournament, I've compiled what I helped an excellent group of volunteers pull off over 12 years. Home | Mbfoundation (meghanburnettfoundation.org) Fly High!


1) Started developing catchers my first 8u practice. Spent ~5 minutes with each girl teaching them the basic catchers crouch/receiving and l would pitch lite flight balls to them. You never know who has ability to be a catcher. (www.catchingcamp.com). Every one caught at least 2 innings over the course of the rec season. Even though 8u All-Star rules back then didn't allow stealing, our first tournament allowed girls to "steal" if the ball got behind the catcher. My basic work with catchers allowed them to mostly keep the ball in front of them. We won it. Thank you @Eric F for pointing me in the direction of excellent catching resources 8 years ago!

2) Give every girl the chance to pitch. Work with them all some. My league rules limited each girl to pitching 2 innings a game. My daughter only pitched 1 inning every other game in 8u (1 game she pitched 2). I had an Irish girl named Caoimhe (kee-va) who had natural IR who only played one year. One of my fondest 8u memories was her Dad coming up to me after she pitched and saying 'Caoimhe was disappointed she only pitched to 3 batters that inning' . Pitching Videos | Pitching Lessons | House of Pitching helped me learn the basics. If only I had heard of Rick Pauly and Rich Balswick two years earlier. Pauly Girl Fastpitch – High Performance Pitching Fastpitch Foundations – Softball Pitching Instruction Watch | Facebook I've heard very good things about where Meghan taught pitching (https://www.planetfastpitch.com/)... a buddy from California who grew up in Mass told me at one point he was thinking about bringing his 8 year old there for a week to take lessons there. We had alumni coaches and high school players who were good pitchers helped run a pitching clinic for 8u and beginning 10u players. Try to encourage some of your HS pitchers to give lessons to younger pitchers for say $20 a lesson.

3) My daughter naturally threw with good form because she watched softball played for the first 5 years of her life. I would of helped more girls if I had heard of Austin Wasserman three years earlier. Home - High Level Throwing -.
High Level Throwing With Austin Wasserman Webinar - YouTube In 2015 or 2016 Austin agreed to sell me his e-book for $10 or $20 a copy and I bought one for each of our Summer Star and All-Star coaches.

4) Have coaches play catch with the girls with lite flight balls until they get confidence. Teach them the 'clock theory' about point their thumb to the clock position with their belly button the center of the clock.

5) Watch Big Al Baseball's videos.... one or two years we paid for the whole league to get access to his material... even the parents. When he came out to give a coaches clinic to the Little League coaches one year, we had him give a coaches clinic for our softball league. Home (bigalbaseball.com)

6) Keep it fun. I question some of the fundamentals taught, but Canada does it right. Until I convinced the league to spend the money on Big Al Baseball, I bought the 6u and 8u coaches 'The Learn to Play' books out of my pocket for 3 or 4 years. Keep it fun. They have a new program called 'Timbits Softball' which I assume is a new and improved version. https://softball.ca/programs/timbits-softball

7) Human Kinetics books are great. Also has coach education. Never did implement it, but I consider making it a requirement for All-Star coaches to take the fundamentals of coaching class. Human Kinetics Coach Education Consider bringing in Positive coaching alliance every other year. They have online classes as well: Positive Coaching Alliance – PCA – Youth Sports Training - PCA

8) Mike Candrea USA softball videos. Little league has some good coaching education material for softball. I haven't looked at it in 3 or 4 years: Coaches - Little League

9) Worked out deal with Right View Pro one year to get the video they used to sell in Little League store for ~$10 each at a discount on USB stick to give to our coaches. 23 video clips of hitting instruction by Mike Candrea and Sue Enquist. About 5 years ago I had two long phone conversations with Don Slaught. There is an app I bought for my phone a couple years ago. I haven't looked closely at their structure lately, but RVP seems to have a league license: Right View Pro

10) Develop a relationship with your local High Schools, JUCOs, and travel teams (need to be careful they don't poach your players) to come out and give clinics. We never fully implemented it, but I wanted to implement something like AYSO soccer does to have experienced coaches to come out and help run practices. Maybe try to get High School players and good coaches whose daughters have aged out to come out and help run practices for 6u-8u the first couple Saturdays before you start playing games.

11) Develop a youth umpire program where girls umpire 8u and 10u games. Rule of thumb is they have to be 4 years older than the division they are umpiring. IE 12 year olds can umpire 8u games, 14 years old can umpire 10u. Younger girls love see older girls umpiring their games.... and it helps the older girls learn the game. Local umpire associations are likely willing to provide training for youth umpires.

12) Good material on fundamentals of coaching, 1st aid, dealing with parents, at the NFHS: NFHS Learn | Interscholastic Education, Made Easy Consider buying at least 1 membership to the NFCA for your league to get access to their 'Coaches Box'. https://nfca.org/ NFCA membership also gets you a discount with Bownet and other vendors.

13) Our league couldn't get much field space for a developmental Fall Ball program, so we implemented a 6 week summer fall ball program we called 'Summer Stars' where we brought in outside coaches to help run practices, teach some skills, a couple pitching clinics, etc. Gave us a deeper pool of experienced coaches, gave the girls who wanted to learn more about softball but not do summer tournament ball a chance to keep playing and improving. Girls played division they would play the next spring. Had cohorts of 24-28 girls that practiced together with 4-6 coaches, divided into two equal teams that varied weekend to weekend for a Saturday game. Gave youth umpires a chance to earn some more money. Brought in HS girls to help run practices (let them earn a little spending money). Not sure if they still do it, but for a couple years other rec leagues in our county banded together and did something similar for their non-tournament fall ball program.

14) Read @Ken Krause Krause 's excellent blog on softball: Life in the Fastpitch Lane | Thoughts, ideas and musings on fastpitch softball (softballsuccess.com) IOMT Castaways forever!

15) I truly believe you shouldn't coach unless you love your players. A couple resources:
Amazon.com: Lead . . . for God's Sake!: A Parable for Finding the Heart of Leadership eBook: Gongwer, Todd G. , Meyer, Urban, Meyer, Urban: Kindle Store
3D Coach: Capturing the Heart Behind the Jersey (Heart of a Coach) - Kindle edition by Duke, Jeff, Bonham, Chad, Bowden, Bobby, Bowden, Tommy. Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com
3D Institute

16) Try to end every practice with a fun 10 minute drill/competition.
 
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Dec 2, 2013
3,421
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Texas
Grow the game!!! Very nice @Dabears17. Softball is a HARD sport to learn which requires lots of reps and lots of time and dedication to become proficient. How can we make it a better experience? People tend to complain about how things are run, but don't offer any solutions nor do they offer to step up to help out. Parent Volunteers at the Rec Leagues and younger age divisions are necessary to feed the higher divisions. Without introductory softball leagues, how will they get enough confidence to make the All Star teams and outgrow rec ball?
 
Jan 22, 2011
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I am very concerned about rec level softball in my area. Numbers were dropping before Covid-19. I met an exec board member I served with for 5 years from ~2010-2015 who is an AC at a local HS for lunch last week. He is concerned about being able to field a HS team in 3 years. Numbers and level of play dropped after the 2005's, and we don't have much visibility past the 2006s/some of the 2007s.

Coaches need to make softball a joyful break from the stresses of everyday life for their players, especially after the stresses of Covid.

Leagues need servant leaders. I still umpire a few games a year for the league. One of my coaching mentors from 2005 who was coaching the year after his DD aged out, volunteered this year to be UIC. He has been involved in the league at some level, if just umpiring some years, since 1994.

Hopefully softball in the Olympics sparks interest. I think the High Schools and travel orgs need to reach out and offer help to the rec leagues. If local JUCOs have teams, they need to help as well. The league that was ~550 girls my last year as president in 2015 was down to ~380 for spring 2020, and this Covid spring season was down to 170-190. They only fielded an 8u and 12u All-Star team.

We need parents and coaches to be willing to give back to the leagues. 3 of the leagues in my general area are still run by presidents whose daughters have aged out of the league. Long story, but my DD went to a different league her last year of 12u due to some bullying issues, but I got asked to be VP of the league when she was no longer playing rec. I was the only male on the exec board, and being from Mars I wanted to fix everyone at once, which made the women uncomfortable, so I stepped down after a month.

I've reached out to the three local leagues that feed my DD's HS about doing some sort of clinics for them next spring. Probably a basic catcher and basic pitchers clinic.
 
Dec 2, 2013
3,421
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Texas
I am still involved in our local league, but only behind the scenes as the Sportsmanship Rep for Softball. I get involved when parents and/or coaches get out of hand. When I was commissioner, I looked over the local rules to make sure they still made sense and contribute to the growth and enjoyment of the game. Going from 8U to 10U is a very tough transition for the kids and the parents. Scores in 8u are 18-16 vs 10U 7-3. 10U is just hard to watch with pitchers learning to pitch strikes.

After DD played her first year of 10 Allstars I realized our league was doing it wrong. We did not allow the stealing of home, On an overthrow to 2nd on a steal, you can only advance one base. On an over throw to 1B, the runner can only advance 1 base. There was no advantage to put a better player behid the dish and we were not developing catchers. Why? There was no incentive. When a runner is stuck at 3B and cannot take home on a passed ball, why waste a good player at catcher? In Allstars, the game was played straight up. Our players were at a disadvantage and it was obvious, that our house rules stunted their development. The previous board thought the players couldn't handle playing straight up, so they put in these stupid rules.

After coaching a fall season in a neighboring league, I saw something that I could bring to our league that would speed up the game and allow for the not so good players to get on the base more. Previously, our rules would dictate that we would not allow Natural walks. If the pitcher threw 4 balls, the coach would come out and pitch a few pitches. EVERY TIME!!! Imagine, stopping the game for every other batter so the coach could come out an pitch. New rule: Every inning the walk count starts over. The pitcher can walk 2 batters, after that the coach would come out and assume the count. If there are no strikes, coach gets 3 pitches, 1 strike-2 pitches, 2 strikes-1 pitch. This actually sped up the game. The opposing coach didn't become friends with the pitcher. Hi kid! It's me again. Give me the ball, because you can't pitch strikes. Pitcher feels bad. No more! By the end of the season, the coach may only have to pitch 1 or 2 times in an entire game. Pitchers starting getting better. Those kids that can't swing a bat, got on base with a natural walk.

Something else that I have seen other leagues do. They split the age groups into 9U and 10U 9U would incorporate kid pitch with a pitching machine. I would rather see this at the 8U level.

If any of you are in the position to change your local house rules, take a look at them and talk about it with others to make sure they are helping the game or hurting the game. Don't be afraid to make changes. The girls are very resilient and will play with the rules that you give them. They will figure it out. The closer you can get to the real rules of the game, the umps will be better and the parents will be better because there will be less confusion.
 
Jan 22, 2011
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@Orange Socks

When I started coaching in 2005, 10u ASA championship rules had no dropped third strike, one base stolen per pitch, no stealing home allowed. Parents and coaches complained that girls weren't ready for 12u because of 10u rules, so in 2006 or 2007 they changed the 10u rules to be the same as 12u rules. Many rec leagues kept the old ASA 10u rules.

My philosophy as a league leader was to tell parents that spring rec was 6 to 8 weeks of giving back to the community and growing the sport, playing with friends from school, and not having to travel for tournaments in the spring, plus time to play positions they don't get to play in more competitive ball. Consider it spring training. There was plenty of time for more competitive softball mid-May to mid-July, and early September to Halloween during fall ball.

2006-2014 our league would run Sunday afternoon open clinics that used summer tournament rules during scrimmages at the end of the clinics that would allow girls to become familiar with that level of play. I also taught my 10u rec catchers to play the DTS rule, even though it isn't in affect.

Our 8u rec league has player pitch. First half of the season pitcher pitches 3 pitches, coach comes in and assumes the count, girls get at least 1 pitch, even if there are three strikes. 2nd half of season normal pitching rules, but no walks. Coach comes in and assumes count. 8u is somewhat painful, but 10u has decent pitching.

I put in a lot of effort to develop pitchers while on the board and as a coach.

In 10u we allow walks, but not walking a run in. Coach comes in and assumes count. I've seen 10u fall ball rec games played with the final score was 18-16 that were no-hitters due to walks and drop 3rd strikes. My old rec league for spring 2020 allowed DTS and stealing home, not sure about multiple bases. We only got 2 games in per team before Covid stopped the season. Not sure why, but we switched back to 2005 10u ASA championship rules for 2021.

I know two girls who were catchers in college that never would of started catching in 10u if there was DTS, multiple bases stolen per bases. My rec league had girls refuse to play catcher in 12u because they didn't want to get blamed for multiple stolen bases per pitch, DTS, or home being stolen.

I would be open to doing stuff like having home plate open during run limited innings, or allowing DTS and stealing home the 2nd half of the season.

SoCal is a different animal. Summer 2018 I saw a couple 6u All-Star games that the teams would beat some 8u NorCal All-Star teams.
 
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Dec 2, 2013
3,421
113
Texas
@Orange Socks
My philosophy as a league leader was to tell parents that spring rec was 6 to 8 weeks of giving back to the community and growing the sport, playing with friends from school, and not having to travel for tournaments in the spring, plus time to play positions they don't get to play in more competitive ball. Consider it spring training. There was plenty of time for more competitive softball mid-May to mid-July, and early September to Halloween during fall ball.
This was my philosophy as well for most of the girls that I kept together for 5 years of Summer All Stars. We play rec ball to get reps and have fun, to show everyone what the girls learned over the summer. It's pretty interesting to see the differences in skill level when they show up to Tryouts/Skills Assesements in Feb. Girls that played in the summer vs girls that should have played in the summer were now far ahead of their peers. After 3 summers, it's crazy! Our team was good, but it had to end after DD's last summer after 7th grade. We got 3rd place in 14U "B" ASA Southern Nationals and that was it. Time to hang it up. I told the parents that I would not be coaching this team anymore, and it was time for DD to spread her wings. The parents were lost. I created a predictable, cozy environment for the families and they didn't want it to end. After DD made her team, 4 or 5 of the other players started scrambling to find spots too. I'm not gonna lie, I miss those days more than I miss her HS TB days. Although, I loved travelling throughout the country with her team.
 
Jan 22, 2011
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Hey Orange Socks. I just started umpiring for the rec league again. This year we are interlocking 10u with the next town over. We just started 2nd half of the season. Interestingly the boards agreed to implement something pretty close to your suggestion starting this weekend.

Sounds like you have some fans in Santa Clara County, CA!

@Orange Socks

The pitcher can walk 2 batters, after that the coach would come out and assume the count. If there are no strikes, coach gets 3 pitches, 1 strike-2 pitches, 2 strikes-1 pitch. This actually sped up the game. The opposing coach didn't become friends with the pitcher. Hi kid! It's me again. Give me the ball, because you can't pitch strikes. Pitcher feels bad. No more! By the end of the season, the coach may only have to pitch 1 or 2 times in an entire game. Pitchers starting getting better. Those kids that can't swing a bat, got on base with a natural walk.
 

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