How Youth Development Leads To College Softball Success
The Women’s College World Series reached new heights this year with record-setting television numbers and with the University of Oklahoma’s record-breaking performance. The questions a lot of people ask around the second week of June surround the development of their favorite players and how they thrive at elite levels and in high-pressure situations. The answers lie in the training and development of these players from a young age.
When looking at the differences between a Division 1 softball program and an elite travel ball program, the gaps are beginning to close. Facilities providing full weight rooms, training spaces and elite-level coaching are beginning to show up throughout the United States within numerous amateur travel organizations. Multiple facilities offer the same level of training that college athletes are given, along with performance tests and competitions in the weight room, which ultimately prepare them for college.
Another aspect of elite amateur travel ball organizations that is key to player development is the commitment from coaches. In many cases, elite amateur coaches do not have children on the team and are paid to be there.
One coach who has consistently helped develop high-level softball athletes is Mike Stith of the Orange County Batbusters. At one point in the 2021 Women’s College World Series, there were 17 players competing for a national championship who were Batbuster alumnae.
When asked about his coaching style and preparing his players for the next level, Stith says, “You have to play for a net-giver. When choosing who to play for, you want a coach that is going to give the players everything they have.”
He says keeping this perspective has allowed him to give players his full attention to help them succeed at the next level. As it pertains to the coaching side of the Batbusters operation, he mentions, “it took years to find coaches that were as bought into the development of athletes at the level they are now and to find athletes that were willing to buy into what we (the Batbusters organization) is trying to do.”
The difference between the players who come to college ready to play and those who are left playing catch up in the fall is both physical and mental. Players who are mentally prepared to play and buy into a college program’s philosophy and ideas, along with performing in the weight room on a consistent basis, will ultimately see the field.
Game knowledge comes from experience and time on the field. The more someone is exposed to a situation on the field, the more comfortable they become and the better they react to it in games. This is a key aspect to the difference in playing travel ball and moving to the college level. In order to mentally prepare for the moment a player takes their new home field for the first time in college, or when they start their first collegiate game, they have to get acquainted with the environment, and ultimately, that takes time.
Developing elite-level players is not an easy task in softball. But what ultimately sets those players up for success are the coaches who guide their athletes on and off the field and push them in the weight room. It also takes dedicated athletes who are willing to trust their coaches and the time it takes to make them great. And that begins long before they ever step on the field in college.
Olivia Rains is a Summer 2021 intern for Softball America. She was a member of Oklahoma's 2021 national championship team, and has since transferred to continue her college softball career at Texas Tech. Rains was the 2018 Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year.