Signs and signals deal with communication, which is important in any endeavor. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about softball or business or education or marriage, communication is important.
And it’s important that we communicate clearly and quickly and adequately.
There are different ways that we communicate. We communicate with words, of course, but in our culture we’re communicating a lot with tone of voice. We also communicate with body language.
And we communicate in all those ways in softball. In our sport, we communicate with three different systems: touch signals, descriptive hand signals, and verbal cues.
Offensive Touch Signs
Let’s talk about several different essential plays that you might want to put on. We need a sign for:
- Bunt plays
- Hit and runs
- When to take a strike
- To take off a play
- To tell the batter or the runner that she’s on her own
- To say don’t attempt to steal on this pitch
So we have a need for a lot of different signals to indicate those plays to the players that we coach.
The signs from the coach or manager to the players on the field need to be given immediately after the preceding pitch, and they need to be distinct and quick. If we take time to go through all the signs in slow motion, the opposition’s going to have a better chance of deciphering what we’re intending.
The hitters and the runners need to review the signs frequently during softball practice so that they are sure of what is being intended. And part of that is the responsibility of the coach. We do a lot of baserunning drills in softball practice, and we use signs before we run sprints to review the signs that we put on so that players are reminded frequently.
Immediately upon reaching base or after a pitch, the player needs to look to the coach to find out what is going to go on. To have her fool around with her batting gloves or adjusting her socks before she’s gotten the sign takes time, and we’ve got a batter in the batter’s box or near the box waiting for what’s going on, and we need to have their attention immediately after the preceding pitch.
The batter or runner needs to be sure she keeps her attention on the coach all through the sequence of signs. If one of them takes their attention away before the sequence is finished, it’s telling the opposition that the sign has already been given and it might contribute to their picking up signs that way.
There are a lot of systems that we can use in giving signs. All of them work, just as long as they’re memorized. We can touch different body parts to indicate what we might want done. We might have an indicator just before we touch that body part that says this is the sign that’s coming up next, or we might have an indicator that says it’s the second sign coming up after this indicator.
Another system that we could use is a number system where we would assign a number to each of the plays that we indicated earlier, and have the players memorize that number. If we did that, then the player would just count touches. She might count the touches of the right hand or the left hand, or she might count both. If we went through a system of touches with either hand, the player would just count how many times a hand touches a body part, get a number, and then by memorizing the seven or eight or nine different plays that we have in effect, she would know which play we wanted to put on.
Another system that you could use would be based on where the coach stands in the coaching box. She might be standing to the front or to the rear or to the side, or she might be straddling the line of the coach’s box. Her position might be the sign that’s given and all the touches that she goes through might mean nothing.
So there are a lot of ways to communicate that are very difficult to pick up in softball. You might also have a sign that means ignore whatever I’m doing right now. And of course, players sometimes do that anyway, don’t they? But the players that we really find effective, they’re paying close attention.
The Key to Communication Success
The key to success in giving signs and communicating is simplicity and deception. They’ve got to be simple and your own players have to be able to understand them. And they have to be repeated often enough in softball practice and meetings so that there’s no uncertainty on your own players’ part. If they get so complicated that your own players can’t pick them up, then they’re useless.
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