THIS OR THAT? Which game will students get the most out of?
As a former collegiate softball athlete and head high school coach you would think teaching softball is one of my favorite times of year. Well, to be honest, it wasn’t when I first started teaching but it definitely is now! Teaching softball started to really come together when I approached it from a small-sided games perspective and helped students focus on skill building and enjoyment of the game. Small-sided game play is one of the most game-changing best practices in physical education I have implemented to help students feel successful and build their skills. The visuals here are from my Small-Sided Games webinar from the Gopher Solutions Webinar Series. Visit my website for the slides if you want to dive into this topic a bit further.
Softball is a great lifetime/recreational physical activity that students can enjoy outside of school. Issues arise when teaching this sport though with ill-informed lesson design and poor implementation of activities. Here are 5 keys to hitting a home run the next time you teach softball.
1. Use a progression of small-sided games.
The image below from my Gopher small-sided games webinar provides an example of game progressions from simple to more complex. In any of the activities, the success is in the smaller field and focusing on one or two key aspects of the game as a challenge so that students can get better. It allows you to layer in the rules and progress to the larger game context near the end of the unit. I am able to walk around and help students more. The students also get in a lot more repetitions.
Game #1 – 2 vs. 2 Hit for Points:
The focus is for students to hit for points and for the defense to field the ball cleanly.
Basic rules – Offense: Track your points. Whichever cone you hit it past, you get those points. Hit twice and then rotate offense/defense. Defense: Track your points. Field it cleanly to get points. 1 point for a grounder. 3 points for a fly ball.
Game #2 – Back & Forth for Points:
Everyone is against each other for points. The runner/batter gets 1-point for each touch of a cone. They run “cricket” style back and forth after hitting off the tee (large cone). Defenders field the ball and then make a throw to each person on defense. The last person to catch a throw runs it to the big cone to stop the play.
Game #3 – Hit & Run Through First:
Focus on grounders and running through first base. Defense fields ball and throw to first for a point. The batter must hit a grounder for a point and then complete the run through first base. Rotate hitters.
Game #4 – Around the Bases for Points:
The batter hits and then runs around the bases (scoring 1 point for each base touched) and keeps running until the defense has fielded the ball and thrown it to each person before running it home to stop the runner. Some students may get in two rounds around the bases (8 points)! This focuses on all aspects of the game.
Games #5 – 4 vs. 4 Softball:
Put it all together and play on a smaller field. You can also see Figure 2 for a 7-person softball game with a rotation explanation.
Figure 1. Small-sided softball setup examples.
Figure 2. Rotation for 7-person Softball
C=Catcher, B=Batter, P=Pitcher,
2. Have a plan for indoor lessons when the weather doesn’t cooperate
The spring brings a mix of rain and sun, and this year has been historically rainy, testing my ability to bring traditionally outdoor activities inside for longer periods of time. I appreciate how this challenge brings out the extra creativity in me. Here are a few favorite games and adaptions for indoor play, which can obviously still be used outside as well.
Backyard Baseball or Wiffle Ball:
No peg outs, please. No one likes to get hit with a ball. Foam balls/wiffle balls and foam bats are essential for success here. Having a “double field” game such as Gopher’s DiamondDash would fit well here for indoor play.
Modified Softball Games:
Under “Activity Session Documents” on my small-sided game info webpage, there are a few more modified softball games you can use for indoors. Gopher has a great video demonstration of this concept in their Team Home Run Derby Set. I’d recommend this for anyone getting started with small-sided games in softball.
Use Innovative Indoor Equipment and/or Rules:
My students love the Big Hitter Game when inside because of the BIG bat!
“Wombat” uses a softball/kickball format where you pitch a light rubber ball underhand and it must bounce first before the batter hits the ball with a large bat. We use the bouncy SoffPlay Balls to add an element of bounce inside so we can play off the walls. For my older students, we combined this wombat game with the ramp from the ACTION! RampedUp game and the BigHitter Bat mentioned above to hit a SoffPlay ball!
Allow two runners on base. Use a large base system or a large cone as a base works well. Students learn by getting experience and having more than one runner on when indoors can add an element of complexity to situations.
“Freebies to first” is something novel to try out in certain contexts. Though the out is recorded for the defense (you can play 3 to 5 outs), the runner is safe at first so they can experience base running. This gives the defense some more action as well.
Simple field setup for small-sided games.
Hit off 3 pitches and/or hit off the cone as a tee.
3. Have an organized framework.
I now use rainbow color-coded equipment for six teams throughout the unit and this has made a huge impact upon the flow of the lesson. Each team has a bucket of equipment they are responsible for, which makes setup and clean up super easy! I find the students take care of “their color” and there is no mistaking whose equipment it is.
Rainbow Color-coded Equipment Team Buckets.
Yellow bag with lefty-throw gloves & extra gloves.
Teams of 4: 4 Gloves, 1 Foam Bat & Ball, 3 Softballs, 4 mini-cones, 1 large cone as a tee.
4. Use a sport education model when possible.
I like using a modified sport education model that emphasizes team roles so all students have a responsibility and a role to fulfill to help the lessons run more smoothly and give students the opportunity to learn responsibility and to be on a team. With small teams, this makes it easy. Here is a sample team form with the information.
5. Emphasize teamwork and teach empathy.
This is a highly skilled team sport that involves a lot of different rules and positions. For quite a few students, this is their first introduction to the game, making it a challenge to design a quality experience for all skill levels. Again, I focus on skill development and layer in progressions, emphasizing fun and personal challenge. I remind students to have empathy for others as everyone comes in with different levels of experience in any activity we learn and that we are here to help make each other better so that when we want to play it outside of school there are others willing to play with us because they had a positive experience learning it in physical education. I think it is important to remind students that we are here to have an enjoyable experience, to improve our skills personally (and not at the cost of others), and to learn lifelong activities. So, let’s have fun and get better together!
I hope these tips help you hit a home run the next time you teach softball!