Whether you're a new or experienced coach, you want to be successful, and ZFA wants you to be successful. Here are some basic points regarding practice. First, map out the season…evaluate your team...and plan ahead. How much time do you have before your first game? What do you need to cover? Realize that you can’t cover all facets of the game in a couple of practices. Look at the big picture, not just the day’s practice, and prioritize.
Factors to consider when making a daily practice plan:
Give Your Players Ample Time to Get Ready
It is necessary to start with stretching exercises. Experts in sports medicine counsel coaches to get their players used to doing stretching before exercising. Exercising without proper preparation can overextend even young muscles.
Get players to warm up by throwing the ball easily among themselves. This accomplishes two things: first, it gets them doing something and second, it gives you time to interact with the parents (to hand out information, discuss team issues, get the parents to fill out the roster form or complete partially filled out forms, etc.).
This is critical. No player should participate in any on-field supervised event, unless they have completed the ZFA Registration. If you do not have a registered player, you are at risk and subject to liability should she get injured in the course of your practice.
Line up Assistants and Get Them on the Same Page
You should have a practice plan prepared for each practice. Divide up practice time to include hitting, fielding, strategy (offense and defense), and base running /conditioning. Don't do it all yourself. If you don't have assistants, recruit any parents who are standing by watching or reading the newspaper in the stands. Don't be bashful. They wouldn't be there unless they are interested and probably dying to get involved. This is particularly true for the older leagues, where at least two to three assistants are necessary. By planning in advance you’ll make better use of time, keep your players motivated and get more accomplished at practice.
Keep Each Drill Short and the Practice Moving
For the younger girls, you should limit the length of drills from 10 to 15 minutes. If you have assistants, have multiple drills (stations) going and have the girls rotate to the next station or drill. Standing around invites disorganization. Don't be hesitant to suspend the drill and call for running laps around the field. Where possible, make practices game-like. For example, during batting practice have your players work on stepping in and out of the box between balls and include situational hitting. You can keep the other players involved as base runners or include a defense. Don’t hesitate to ask other ZFA teams to scrimmage.
One good drill to end a practice is to split the players into two equal teams. Place one team at second base and the other at home plate. Give each a ball. At your call they should begin running the bases in a counter-clock wise fashion, touching all bases on path to the base from which they began. At this point they should hand the ball off, in relay fashion, to the next team member. Put coaches and parents at third and first base to ensure that each base is touched. Failure to touch the base will mean the player must return to touch the base. Cheer on each team as they run the bases until all players have run an equal number of times. The first team to successfully touch all bases, WINS. As a reward, the winning team can help put away the equipment. The losing team should run an additional two laps (or whatever you feel appropriate) around the circumference of the field.
Give Your Players Periodic Breaks
Particularly in hot weather, be sensitive to the impact of the sun and heat on your players. You may need to schedule brief water breaks.
Communicate with Your Players
o Tell them what you plan to work on at practice.
o After practice, review what you did. Give your impression and ask the same of players.
o Tell them what you plan to do next practice.
o Remind them of the next scheduled practice or game.
Player Conflicts: You are the coach - NOT the baby sitter!
ZFA coaches are volunteers. They are not expected to tolerate disruptive or disrespectful behavior by players or parents. Profanity, verbal abuse, or physical abuse will not be tolerated. Discipline for detrimental behavior conducted during any ZFA sponsored event, or events where ZFA is a participant, is the responsibility of the head coach
NOTE: While we do not want to turn away anyone, we have a responsibility to the entire team. We can't allow one or two players to spoil the experience for the rest of the players. The Association realizes the contribution you as coach are making to our program. We want you to have a good experience as well as the players.
Don't worry. We all feel this sense of fear as the season approaches. We also realize that your time is limited. To facilitate your efforts as coach, we have videotapes and other resources listed in the Coaches’ Tool Kit. There are also a number of good websites (such as http://eteamz.active.com/fastpitch) that include a variety of basic drills, which will help you develop both individual and team skills.