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Designing A Softball Player-Centered Model For Training By S2 Breakthrough

Designing A Softball Player-Centered Model For Training By S2 Breakthrough

Part 3 of A Series on Establishing a Youth Player Development Model by S2 Breakthrough. Designing a softball player-centered model for training.

Mar 12, 2020 by Krista Stoker
Designing A Softball Player-Centered Model For Training By S2 Breakthrough

A Series on Establishing a Youth Player Development Model by S2 Breakthrough featuring Dr. Laura McDonald, Krista Stoker, Ashley Sunshine, and Karli Sewell. www.s2breakthrough.com Follow @S2_Breakthrough

In 2014, I left my job as a corporate lawyer to follow my love of softball and open a training facility. My business partner and I were connected in our passion for using the game as a vessel to cultivate strong women and believed we could open a training facility that used the existing model of weekly skill lessons that also provided a holistic culture. We believed this facility would singularly provide a place for the athletes to grow both in the game of softball and also as people.  

Unfortunately, less than two years in we felt like we kept running into obstacles that limited true player development from occurring. Every day we dealt with travel ball and skill coaches arguing over the “right way” to develop players. Girls trained more but had little (besides fatigue) to show for it and seeking coach approval instead of owning their own development and journey. 

Parents of 10-year-old athletes were spending upwards of $2500 on 30-minute lessons one time per week and were frustrated when those mechanics did not appear to translate then or dissipated as the athlete became older. While some players were improving simply because of the increase in game exposure and opportunities for competition, even more were plateauing, running into injuries, leaving the game, etc. While the game appeared to be growing, it felt like the funnel was getting smaller. The game was being taken away from the girls to whom it belonged.

This led us to two questions: (1) what does player development truly look like and (2) can it be implemented through youth softball?

We could see around us what player development was NOT. 

  • Player development was not one answer or one path. 
  • It was not about the coach’s way being the only way. 
  • Player development was not skill work or movement work separated from one another. 
  • It did not ignore the overall health and well-being of the athlete. 
  • Player development was not lacking scientific validation. 
  • It was not a false sense of success through measurements captured only during developmental years. 
  • Player development was not linear and did not lack periodization. 
  • Player development did not involve any egos. 

We wanted to become a resource at S2 Breakthrough for the research, education, and systems that are needed for implementing a true player development model. We began to understand that for true player development to occur it had to be about empowerment, evolution and growth, rooted in science and understanding of what makes elite athletes successful, holistic and mindful of injury prevention, supportive and cohesive. It had to be player-centered.

The player development system we developed at S2 Breakthrough involves constant fact-finding into what elite athletes do. We hired a full-time Director of Biomechanics with a background in athletic training to ensure that the protocols we implement are rooted in science and are continually supported in data. We have a full-time Director of Strength and Conditioning to be sure that skill and movement are applied cohesively. We developed an evaluation process that allows us to individually target training. We use technology for both insights into the athletes and also the accountability of our programs. We developed Pitchstock, a yearly pitching conference committed to access and progress, and will continue to host events and provide access to the information we are generating.

The system we have developed has been employed by college programs and is easily translated at the college level for those seeking player development. The college platform inherently resolves some initial barriers: a limited number of athletes, control over training quantity and messaging, access to coaches fulfilling the roles necessary for a cohesive platform - athletic trainer, strength coach, skills coach. 

We believe it is also a system that can be established at the youth level and used to create a better youth softball experience. We can grow the funnel.

For us, this is where the Orland Park A’s come in. We began overseeing the A’s during the 2018-2019 season in an effort to build a youth system that integrated an effective player development model from the bottom up. By integrating the system into an organization, it allows us to get synergy across the entire youth experience.

In the A’s organization, each team operates under a cohesive umbrella. Curriculums are in place that establish the appropriate structure for the various age levels. At the younger ages (11U and under), our teams play far less games and travel less than one might typically see in a travel ball organization. This is intentional and designed to allow our athletes seasons to sport sample and also to ensure ratios of practice to games are appropriate for development. Prior to puberty, coaches are educated on not putting too much stock into different speeds of growth, not discouraging players from trying different positions due to size, and not making cuts related to skill.  Integrating these guidelines across the entire organization allows for athletes and families to be supported by a cohesive system and not divided by competing silos.

Training is built-in to the player fees. The training varies and progresses as athletes age up through the organization; from a mostly team coach-implemented general skill program to an individualized skill program implemented by specialized trainers and overseen by our Director of Athlete Performance and Health. 

All training also includes multi-year curriculums of “strength training” that encompasses everything from development of coordination and foundational movements at the younger ages to individualized programs to develop the mobility, strength, and power needed for a competitive softball athlete. The idea is that athletes do not need to seek training outside of what is built into the system, allowing them to properly progress and increase in specified training as age and development dictates.  

To ensure that the training is cohesive between coaches and trainers, we implemented a centralized communication system to allow for open and regular communication. Additionally, we have ongoing coach education through both regular formal meetings and training sessions implemented by specialized trainers with the coaches active and present.

Once our athletes are in our high school level programs, we regularly track progress through the use of a variety of technology including 4D Motion Sports, Plantiga, Rapsodo, Blast Motion. This allows us to provide education to the athlete about their technical skill but also serves as a measurement of progress to constantly re-evaluate our systems.

While the system is still in its infancy, we have a lot of optimism about its possibilities. We believe this system is absolutely needed and possible across our entire youth system. It is the future of softball and we are excited to help the players take back their game.