Work within an 8U Attention Span
Players at the 8U level can get bored and distracted very easily. Keep them involved by splitting them up into smaller groups. Have coaches work with as few players as possible so that there is minimal standing in line time. If you don’t mind parent help, ask parents to come out and help roll grounders, throw fly balls, or take care of other simple tasks. This can help move practice along and keep groups or stations small.
Everyone is Involved
Strive to have your players understand that even if it’s not their turn, you expect them to be involved and pay attention. Explain that they can learn by watching their teammates do drills. They can also help their teammates by cheering them on. Just like in the game, even if it’s not their turn to field or catch the ball they are still involved in the play (i.e. cover a base, let your teammate know where to throw, etc). Also make it clear that no one should be talking or playing games as they wait in line. You can explain that practice is similar to school, there is no talking simply because the focus is on someone else. No one should be talking when the coach is talking just as no one talks in school while the teacher is talking.
Take Away the Fear Factor
Many players in the 8U division will be learning many of the skills you teach for the first time. Obviously, this means they may not be able to correctly perform certain skills, catching a thrown ball for instance. If a player at this age gets hit with a ball they try to catch, they may become afraid of catching. If you’ve ever seen a scared player trying to catch a ball, you know that it’s not likely. The shy away from the ball, they turn their head, or they close their eyes. None of these actions will help them get better at catching. Help them stop doing these things by taking away the “fear factor.” You can do this by using wiffle balls, or even crumpled up paper balls until the player becomes confident in their own ability to catch a ball. An added bonus is the fact that a paper or wiffle ball often moves in flight. It does not travel in as straight a path as a regular softball. Therefore, if a player can learn to catch a curving paper or wiffle ball, catching a softball that travels in a straighter path should be relatively simple for them.
Cover fundamentals over and over and over and over and over again. I think you get the idea. If a player learns nothing else this season, they should at least learn good throwing and/or fielding mechanics. I say “or” because everyone has a different learning curve and you may have that one player who, for whatever reason, masters skills at a much slower rate than usual. Fundamentals are also the basic building blocks these players will fall back to over and over again throughout their career if they begin struggling with a particular skill. If they never learn these fundamentals, they’ll have no clue how to “get back on track” later on in their career when they need to.
Have Fun – this is not the Olympics
Last but not least, players at this age will play because it’s fun, not because they see that they are the best in the league. Never underestimate the importance of enjoying the game. It’s what keeps players coming back season after season, year after year. Keep the softball fire burning by making practice and game experiences fun!
For help on Keeping Softball Fun ~ don’t forget to check out the e-book at All About Fastpitch.