The players at this level will be more capable of handling formal practices and structured games, although major modifications will still be necessary to accommodate their skill level. The emphasis of the program will still be on skill development rather than competition, in order to prepare them more effectively for competition at the Under 11 age category. The complex individual skills involved in softball, as well as complex team situations, dictate that much time must be spent at the entry level of the game to develop solid fundamental skills.
Ideal children’s programs, which are conducive to skill development, provide more practice time than competition time. The 30-minute Pre-Game skill development time in this level does NOT come close to providing ideal practice time. However, including it adds more than most traditional children’s softball programs which consist largely of competitions and few, if any, opportunities to get enough repetitions to learn the necessary skills. The ideas in the Lesson Plans can be used for additional practice time.
Programs designed for children must try to emulate the characteristics of games children would devise themselves. Priorities should still be on making activities FUN, POSITIVE, and EXCITING. Modifications to the adult game will still be required.
Emphasis MUST be on correct fundamental skill development at this critical stage instead of competition. If it is not, players often develop bad habits in order to cope with the game situation. This reinforcement of incorrect skills has a negative impact on future skill development. Habits are hard to break. Real skill learning takes place at practice, not during competition. The proper skill will only be used in competition once the skill has been fully assimilated. Too much emphasis on competition also results in dropout, either from boredom or embarrassment by those players with few skills. Given time and proper instruction, these same players will develop their skills so they can enjoy playing a recreational game of softball or could even develop into elite players. Most importantly, good experiences discourage drop outs.
Children at this age are active and restless and can only handle so much information at one time. They won’t respond to practices in which there is too much talking, instruction where they are standing around, or too much repetitious activity. A variety of learning games and drills are necessary to keep the participants active and to maintain enthusiasm. Softball skills are complex and must be broken down into simpler progressions to match the capabilities of the players. It is not enough that coaches know the game or that they can play it themselves. What they need to know is how to “teach” the skills. Some of the best coaches, at this level, are not those who have mastered the game themselves, but those who are willing to learn how to teach, and who can relate to children. The teaching of skills should be sequenced so that simpler skills are learned before more difficult skills. In order to develop a well-rounded athlete, the coach not only needs to teach the skills of the game but also needs to provide a positive and FUN atmosphere. This will ensure that the players are experiencing success and building high levels of self-esteem and self-worth.
Parents are the strongest influence on a child’s life. The coach needs to encourage communication and gain the support of the parents. This can be accomplished by organizing a pre-season parent meeting to gain support for the Timbits Softball Program and explaining both the coach’s philosophy and the Timbits Softball philosophy.
|At the U9 level, it is important to note that players are now likely in a “skill hungry” stage of development and are more inclined to want to play a full game of softball. At this stage of development children still need to continue to focus on skill acquisition and the Learn to Train stage is one of the most important stages of motor development. To keep children engaged, pay attention to which activities are capturing their attention. Some children will have participated in Timbits Softball for several seasons and it is important to keep things fresh and new.|
Notes: The following points are guidelines only. Please feel free to modify these guidelines or to develop your own as dictated by the needs of your Association. In the Scrimmage Modifications section, one will find different sets of modifications. The first set of modifications is the suggested model that works best to increase the player's skill level. Softball Canada hopes that these examples will help your community make the best choice for your situation or help you to create your own modifications.
All lesson plans do require some advance preparation. The following check list will prepare you to run a successful session:
- Review the upcoming Lesson Plan prior to the session.
- Become comfortable with how to set up and run each activity (visualize).
- Consult the Softball Skills section to review how to teach the skill.
- Practice the skill at home (in front of a mirror) to be sure you are comfortable teaching it.
- Check to ensure that you have all the necessary equipment for the activities in the upcoming lesson plan.
- Arrive at the diamond 15 minutes early to ensure the field is safe and discuss the role each coach or adult helper will play during the session. You may also want to use this time to orientate adult helpers (parents/older siblings).
Note: The following points are guidelines only. Please feel free to modify these guidelines or to develop your own as dictated by the needs of your association.
Length of Season
- Typically, the softball season for 8-9-year olds is 8-10 weeks with 2 sessions a week.
LENGTH OF SESSION
- 1 and ½ hour (90 minutes maximum) per session (30 minutes using the lesson plan and 1 hour of a scrimmage)
NUMBER OF PLAYERS
- No more than 12 players on each team. It is recommended to have 10 players or less. If you are using a station-based program, more teams can be present at the session, but the activities are meant for groups up to 12. All can be modified to meet the needs of your program.
NUMBER OF ADULT HELPERS
- Should have one adult for every two players. It is important to remind parents why their participation is so important. Support for this can be found at softball.ca
- While the use of a softball diamond is suggested, an open field can also be used. Most if not all the activities found here can be modified to be played in any safe open area.
- The number of diamonds used will depend on the resources of the association and the number of participants registered.
- The coach is provided with 18 lesson plans to take them through a typical softball season (i.e. a nine-week season with 2 sessions per week).
- Each lesson plan involves activities that will teach the players the basic skills of softball through different activities that also incorporate fundamental movement skills. At this stage of development, it is the best time for kids to learn fundamental softball skills.
- Coaches are offered suggestions on how to modify an activity to suit the player’s ability level – not all players will develop skills at the same time. It is important to recognize this to ensure each child has a positive first experience with softball.
- The coach has great flexibility in following or changing the lesson plans to ensure the most FUN and ACTIVITY for their players. If an activity is not working or engaging 80% of the players, move on to a new one. It is more important to keep the kids engaged and having fun.
- The total time for warm up and the main activities is 30 minutes.
- Depending on numbers, the team would then scrimmage against each other for the next 60 minutes. Modified game examples
are listed in the manual.
Pitching activities are introduced in U7 and are continued in greater emphasis in U9. It is incredibly important to note that athletes will develop these skills at different times. All children should have the opportunity to try pitching and practice these skills, not only those who have some success. If you are introducing pitching, be flexible with the time you spend on it. It is a complex skill and it may take time for the players to understand. Be creative with pitching activities (i.e. using targets on the backstop, stepping on a marked line, etc.). If players are confused switching back and forth from underhand (pitching) to overhand throwing, wait until later in the season to introduce pitching. This will allow players to establish their overhand throwing skills. You can also approach your local association to see if they run a Canpitch program. Having a Canpitch instructor come to a Timbits Softball session is a great way to introduce the proper pitching progression to young athletes.
Scrimmage modifications & best practices
You will notice that there are basic scrimmage modifications in each lesson plan. Below are 3 different modifications for scrimmages taken from best practices of local associations who have been using the Timbits Softball Program for many years. You can adjust these to meet the needs of your players but keep in mind these were developed to appropriately meet the developmental needs of U9 players.
|It is important to remember when having children play a game of softball at this stage of development, that the emphasis of the Timbits Softball program is to provide more touches on the ball, more opportunities to participate and more chances to be active.|
Note: Softball Canada strongly recommends Modification 1.
Emphasis on individual achievement: The younger the players are, the more sensitive they are to stressful situations. Incentive awards for individual achievement goals, in the form of learning skills (skills checklist in manual) should be provided rather than team standings. Travel to out of town competitions (unless necessary to get another team to play against, as may be the case in small communities) should be discouraged, as that would add additional importance and stress to the competition which would be better left to the Squirt Division. It would also support the philosophy that there be a gradual progression in the activity and competition experiences, which in the long term will encourage longer participation in softball. Eliminating league standings and playoffs encourages coaches to stay focused on their main goal, which is the teaching of fundamental skills.
No elimination tournaments: Elimination tournaments produce more losers than winners. They encourage coaches to violate the Fair Play Principles by playing their best players more and not providing an opportunity for all players to play a variety of positions. Round robin tournaments, with no declared winner, are much healthier for children. If awards are given, they should be “team” skill awards. (i.e.: fastest team total on bases; accuracy awards, etc.).
Playing Time: All players are given equal playing time and an opportunity to fully develop by playing all positions
Time Limit: No inning to start after a specific time. For example, no inning after 7:45 if the start time is 6:15. That would limit the total time to 1 1/2 to 2 hours, which is the maximum time young players should be involved in an activity. The time limit combined with the varied activities in the Pre-Game Warm Up attempts to accommodate shorter attention spans and the tendency for youth softball games to continue well past the interest stage.
Walks: No walks. Since the athletes are in the early stages of learning, proper technique rarely results in the ability to throw strikes consistently, so NO WALKS will be issued. If a pitcher gets 3 balls on a batter, an adult (from the batting team) will come in to pitch until the ball is either hit or the batter strikes out. This will eliminate pitchers reverting to improper technique to throw strikes, and fewer giving up in frustration or embarrassment. Since there will be no advantage to a coach telling the batters to wait for a walk it will encourage more aggressive hitting, resulting in improved hitting ability, confidence and more action defensively. The increased action, defensively, will also result in improved defensive skills.
- Adult pitcher should use windmill arm action so batters get used to seeing it and should attempt to pitch at the speed similar to the pitcher who is pitching so batters learn how to hit that speed.
- Strike count resumed where pitcher left off.
Maximum Number of Runs: There will be a maximum of 5 runs allowed per inning. If a team gets down by more than 10 runs after a complete inning, that team will now be permitted 4 outs. If the team gets back to within 10 runs, they will revert back to 3 outs in the next inning. This will help speed up the game in hopes of getting more innings in.
Number of Outfielder: 4 outfielders. The field is much too large for 3 young players to cover and this modification puts one more player into the action and off the bench.
Batting: All players bat. This level has the traditional 1, 2, and 3 out innings. Although only 10 players are playing defense, all of them are in the batting order.
Substitutions: Coaches are allowed unlimited substitutions.
Pitching: Pitchers are only allowed to pitch 9 outs per game before a pitching change is made. This will encourage a coach to develop several pitchers and avoid burning out an early achiever.
Coaches: Coaches are allowed on diamond during the game to help direct play and provide an opportunity for feedback to be immediate and private.
Strike Zone: Larger strike zone. A wider home plate is used (19” instead of 17”) and the umpire in instructed to call a slightly larger vertical zone (shoulders to bottom of knees). This will help keep the adult pitcher out of the game a bit more as well as encourage more aggressive hitting. Parents should be informed of this change.
Distances: Between bases – 45’; pitching – 30’; diagonal H to 2B – 63’8”
Infield Fly Rule: This rule does not apply.
Stealing: Players may steal a base after the ball crosses the plate, except for Home. Players can not score on a pass ball or wild pitch.
Overthrows: Runners will only receive 1 base on an overthrow, even if the ball is in fair territory. (i.e. a runner advancing to 2B at the time of an overthrow into CF can only go to 3B, not all the way Home).
Third Strike: The batter will be called out on a dropped 3rd strike.
Thrown Bat: A player will receive one warning for throwing their bat. The next incident will result in the batter being called out.
With the adoption of Timbits Softball Program into the U9 (Mite) division, it can be a transition to adopt all that this program has to offer. The Timbits Softball Program creates more fun for the players and develops better ball players in years to come through more touches on the ball, more opportunities to be active and more chances to participate. Some of the rules have been revised to improve the season. “ALL” players receive equal playing time.
Softballs: All games and practices will use the “soft core” ball (RAWLINGS Reduced Injury Factor (RIF) or NC12S/NC11S ) for the first month of the season to give the players a chance to gain confidence in their ability to execute the skills of the game. The second half of the season will use the regular softball.
Adult Helpers: All teams must encourage as many parents as possible to help during pre-scrimmage lessons. Parent helpers do not need to be experiences in softball to help.
Playing Time: All players will be given the opportunity to play each position during the game!
Maximum Runs: There will be a maximum of 5 runs allowed per inning. If a team gets down by more than 10 runs after a complete inning, that team will now be permitted 4 outs. If the team gets back to within 10 runs, they will revert back to 3 outs in the next inning. This will help speed up the game in hopes of getting more innings in.
Time Limit: All games, including the lesson plans prior to the game, will not exceed 2 hours. No new inning will start after 8:00 pm.
Number of Outfielders: There will be 4 outfielders used at all times. Two coaches will be allowed on the field during the game for the first half of the season to help direct the play.
Pitchers & Catchers: Pitchers and catchers will be allowed to play 1 inning maximum per game. This will allow more players to get a chance to play in these positions.
Overthrows: Only one base will be awarded on an overthrow. (Note: A ball being thrown from the catcher to the pitcher is considered a dead ball).
Stealing: There will be no stealing of home. All players must be hit home from 3rd base.
Strike zone: The width of home plate is increased from 17 to 19 inches to increase the size of the strike zone. (Note: Parents should be advised by the coaches that a larger strike zone is being used).
Zero Tolerance: Parents should be advised that there will be a “ZERO” tolerance policy when it comes to displays of disrespectful/ inappropriate behavior toward coaches, officials, players or spectators. This policy will be enforced by the umpires. Etc. Please help to enforce this, as we need our young umpires. An unruly fan will be asked to leave the ball diamonds
Dropped Third Strike: If a catcher drops the ball on a third strike, the ball is dead.
Line Up Card: All players must be listed on the line-up card and no changes or alterations are allowed unless agreed upon by both coaches.
Batting: All players will bat. If for any reason a player must leave the game and cannot return, the batting order skips to the next player and is not considered an out.
Substitutions: Players can be substituted in and out at any time without affecting the batting order.
Walks: There will be “NO” walks allowed. However, players hit by a pitch will be awarded first base.
Pitching: Pitchers can only pitch 3 innings or 9 outs per game. Each pitcher on the defensive team who delivered a pitch during an at bat that the batter gets called out will be charged with an out towards their total number of allotted outs.
Stealing: Players may steal a base when the ball crosses home plate. No stealing of home is allowed.
Infield Fly Rule: The infield fly rule does not apply.
Dropped Third Strike: The batter is out on dropped third strikes.
Number of Players: Only 9 players are allowed on the field at one time
Substitutions: Unlimited substitutions are allowed.
Batting: All players bat in the order as listed on the line-up card. If a player comes late, their name is added to the bottom of the batting order.
Maximum Number of Runs: There will be a maximum of 7 runs per inning.
Softballs: RAWLINGS Reduced Injury Factor (RIF) or NC12S/NC11S softball should be used. This softball can be purchased at most sports stores.
Coaches: Coaches are not allowed on the field during play.
END OF SEASON
- It is strongly recommended that the Association organize a “FUN DAY” at the end of the season for the participants of the Timbits Softball Program. This manual provides some suggestions and examples of what a FUN DAY could look like. The overall goal is to celebrate each child’s participation in the program and create a fun and positive environment for all players.
Softball Canada’s Athlete Development Matrix provides information on the Long-Term Player Development stages of the Timbits Softball Program. It describes what can be expected at this stage of development, what skills should be encouraged and what a child’s participation should include. Some of the highlights for the Learn to Train stage are:
- Focus on keeping softball and physical activity FUN to further develop players’ love of the game.
- Further develop fundamental movement skills in a variety of environments, including movement to music!
- Now is the time to teach fundamental softball skills (hitting, throwing, pitching, fielding and baserunning) and basic tactics essential to participate in softball.
- Teach the basic rules and etiquette of softball.
- Establish appropriate competitive environments where the competition is positioned as a learning experience, designed to encourage and nurture players and where winning isn’t always top priority.
For more information on this and all the stages of development visit softball.ca to download the Athlete Development Matrix.