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NFCA Instructional Corner: Organization

By Lee Dobbins

Consultant, Spanish National Team
Assistant Coach, Tusculum College (Tenn.)

There are many things that I have found to be extremely important when coaching a fastpitch softball team at any level, but perhaps the most important element is organization. Organization is key to making any team run like a well-oiled machine. I have personally found that creating a playbook for your team can be key to a squad's organizational and informational needs. As I have traveled around the country and looked at different playbooks, I have seen many good ones and many bad ones. I have seen playbooks of less than five pages and I have seen playbooks with more than 100 pages. While there is no real maximum or minimum to the amount of information a coach can put in his/her playbook, it is important to make sure the quality fits the quantity.

I find that a playbook can be more than just defensive, offensive or pitching information for the team. It can also be used as a major tool for both the student-athlete and the coaching staff.

The following is just one variation of a playbook for a college program, although you can adapt it for a non-collegiate program (high school, travel ball, etc.).

Mission Statement
I have always found it useful to lead a playbook off with a mission statement. I see this as a contract of sort for the players. This can be a cover sheet on the front of the playbook that states a team mission statement developed by the coaching staff. On the first day of practice or the first team meeting, a coach can have the players sign the mission statement and keep it in front of their playbook to remember why they are here and what is expected of them.

Academic/Athletic Department Section
The next section should be one of the biggest tools for the student-athlete. This section can be used for a college team in letting the players know what they should expect in the future. This section should include any of the following information:

1. University academic policies: GPA requirements, study hall requirements, class requirements, eligibility requirements, academic calendar, advising, tutors, graduation requirements, etc.
2. Athletic department policies: Athletic department rules or procedures.
3. Athletic training room policies: What is expected of a student-athlete in the training room.
4. Important phone numbers: coaching staff, academic staff, training room staff, college advising contacts, emergency numbers, etc.

Team Rules and Policies
This is one of the most important sections of the whole team playbook. This section can be used to explain in writing to every team member what the policies and rules of the squad are. Coaches can include everything from basic team rules, such as practice rules, curfews, diets, traveling policies, equipment procedures and laundry procedures. This is a good section to combat any problems with a player saying, "I didn't know." If it is in writing, then the players do know it is a team rule or policy.

Calendar
A calendar can be a good way of letting the team and staff know what to expect in the future. A calendar can be designed on any computer with a calendar-type program. A calendar for the academic year can be used to list practice dates, competition dates, off-days (always important to student-athletes!), academic dates, birthdays, etc. The calendar can always be revised as needed.

Defensive/Offensive/Pitching/Practice Section
This section is pretty self-explanatory. Anything to do with defense, offense, pitching, or practice can be put into this section. Offense and defensive signs, defensive plays like first-and-third plays or bunt defense, pitching signs and procedures can be included in this section. You can also include practice procedures, pre- and post-practice warm-ups and stretches, as well as various drills. More can be added to this section as the season progresses. This section can play an important role in helping your players understand the system you are trying to run in your program.

Time Cards
This section is extremely useful, not only for the student-athlete, but also for the coaching staff. This section could simply be a weekly time card to keep up with the team's hours of practice, competitions and activities. The time cards can be easily torn from the playbook and turned into the coaching staff. This way, there can be no debate on hours if it does come up.

Once again, a playbook can be one of the most useful tools for a coaching staff and student-athlete. This article showed just one way a playbook could be set up for maximum use, but there are other ways that may work best for you and your program. You can add or omit sections in your playbook as you see fit.