This topic came up a couple of weeks ago when I was participating in a conference call with top pitching coaches from all over the country. We had wandered into more team-oriented topics when my friend James Clark mentioned that he always insists his players learn more than one position – with one of those preferably being outfield.
Apparently in these days of helicopter parents that is a fairly radical idea. Those parents (or should I say “those parents”) believe their child should spend all their time on the field in one spot. Preferably a “high-value” spot such as pitcher, catcher or shortstop.
To me, that is doing those players as well as the team a disservice. There are plenty of reasons for players to learn more than one position.
- It elevates the level of play. Most of us don’t get better unless we’re pushed. Having two or more players getting playing time at a position pushes everyone to be at their best so they can be there for the big games.
- It helps players learn the game. If you spend all your time at one position you may get to learn it thoroughly but you may not gain the bigger picture of how the game works. Softball is an individual sport played in a team setting. It really helps to know what all the other parts are doing.
- It rounds out their skill sets. Different positions require different skills. Being a more well-rounded player makes players more valuable even in their primary positions. For example, shortstops who also play outfield gain more experience tracking balls in the air.
- It gives players more options down the road. You may be the big gun at a position right now. But what if a “once in a career” player comes along who plays your position? Or just someone the coach likes more? Or you get hurt and can no longer play your chosen position, as happens now and then. If you can’t contribute anywhere else you’re likely to spend a lot of time riding the pines. Or the aluminum these days.
- It helps players prove themselves in college. A player’s best chance to show coaches what she can do may not be at her primary position, especially if the coaches have an established starter. But if she can contribute elsewhere the coaches can get comfortable having her in the lineup, and then may be more willing to see what she can do at her primary position.
Those are some of the benefits to the players. There are also benefits to the team, such as:
- It future-proofs the team. If only one player has any recent experience at a position and she gets hurt or decides to accept an offer in the middle of the season from what she perceives to be a higher-level team (it happens) it can take a while to break in someone new. If players have been splitting time you already have the next one up ready to go.
- It offers more options to get players in the game. No one likes sitting, and playing time is probably the single biggest point of abrasion between players/parents and coaches. Everyone gets more opportunity when there is flexibility in the lineup.
- It promotes the concept of “team” over “me.” Splitting time between positions helps players understand that everyone contributes to the success of the team, not just the stars. That mentality then carries over into other aspects, such as laying down a bunt when called upon when a player would rather swing away.
- It gives coaches options for match-ups. If certain players can only play one position, and that position is occupied by a better player, the coach may not be able to put the best nine that match-up against a particular team on the field. Players who can play other positions give coaches options. It’s like having a larger bench without all the issues that presents.
Of course, not everyone agrees with this philosophy. I once lost a player when I was recruiting a team because I refused to guarantee a father that his daughter would only play one position. But that was ok – I ended up with four other players who could play that position just as well – and who were happy to do whatever the team needed.
In the end, only being able to play one position is a self-made trap. It may seem like a good idea but always keep in mind that fastpitch softball is a competitive sport.
Your coach may love you there today. But if he/she can find someone better for that position tomorrow, that player is going to get your spot. If you can’t contribute anywhere else it could make for a long, unhappy season.
If you broaden your skills, however, there will always be someone who wants you on their team. And on their field.