Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Softball A-programs get set for season

Junior aged teams flock to Indoor Training Centre

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

A Selects batter drives the ball in a batting cage.
For the Saskatoon Minor Softball League’s A-level programs, off-season work is in high gear.

Since January, the A-teams from the junior age groups of the Hustlers, Lasers, Phantoms and Raiders regional Saskatoon city zones have gathered for regular sessions at the Indoor Training Centre on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds along with the city-wide Selects zone program. 

“Right now they are in the process of going through all their (evaluations) for the people that they have registered right now,” said SMSL President Vanessa Kosteroski. “They want to get their A-teams going and get them picked and get that part going.”

The zone programs are doing evaluations for their A-teams in the under-12, under-14, under-16 and under-19 age levels that make up the junior age group. Players heading to these sessions are put through position specific drills and are graded on how well they do.

The majority of the hitting and pitching drills take place in the pitching tunnels and batting cages at the Indoor Training Centre. The infield and outfield drills are held on the large indoor field turf fields.

“Right now as far as the (evaluations) go, our pitchers tryout for a pitcher,” said Kosteroski. “Our catchers tryout for the catchers program.

“The rest of them who are trying out for first base, second base, third base, infield and outfield, that is all part of the (evaluations). They are graded on that.”

A Hustlers player sets to throw the ball during a drill.
Kosteroski said the coaches from the zone programs have assistance when it comes to doing the evaluations. The zone programs bring independent evaluators in and some zones utilized the SkillShark athlete evaluation software program, which helps grade skills and athletic attributes.

“They go through all the performances,” said Kosteroski. “They enter it into the SkillShark program.

“Then, it spits out a number. It is really quite a good program. One or two of our zones don’t use SkillShark, but they have their own independent evaluators, which is fine, and they do that.”

This year Kosteroski said the zone programs have had to do a little more work in scheduling than in past years due to Public Health Orders brought in to combat the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

In past years, sessions could include anywhere from 20 to 30 players. This year zone programs are trying to get evaluations and training done with players split into groups of eight.

On top of that, the softball zones are trying to work the scheduling of training sessions in a way that respects the needs of other sporting communities that use the Indoor Training Centre.

“It is a lot different than normal,” said Kosteroski. “Once our A-program is created and our teams for A are picked, the players know who they are playing for.

A Lasers player fields a ground ball in the infield.
“Their coach then sets up times, and they get to go and practise and put all that to good use after that. They are trying to get as much in as they can before the actual season starts. It is not easy when everybody else needs the facility as well.

“Everybody is just happy to be out playing.”

Kosteroski it has been extremely valuable for the SMSL’s zone programs to use the Indoor Training Centre, which officially opened for public bookings in March of 2019.

Before the Indoor Training Centre opened, zone programs most often did evaluations and training in school gyms. In gyms, it was hard to do outfield work as the ceilings were usually too low.

When her children grew up playing softball, Kosteroski remembers that some of the sessions held in gymnasiums could be adventurous.

“Back in the days when my kids were in gymnasiums, you had balls flying everywhere and hitting kids in the head,” said Kosteroski. “It was chaos.

“Our zones are very appreciative of it (the Indoor Training Centre). We’re kind of spoiled now, because if we had to go back, we would be in trouble.”

Kosteroski said the ability to be able to use the Indoor Training Centre allows the zone programs to get a head start for the upcoming season.

“Our A-program, it helps them out immensely,” said Kosteroski. “We have some B-teams that book it as well and have their teams go in there and practise, because it is team bonding as well.

A Phantoms player fires a ball back into the infield.
“It becomes a very big deal when you can do that. It has been a really good thing that is for sure.”

In the past, teams have been able to hold scrimmages at the Indoor Training Centre. In 2019, the SMSL held its under-12 and under-14 city championships there, when heavy rainy weather made outdoor diamonds unplayable.

“We had our city championships in there two years ago, and it was great,” said Kosteroski. “The kids loved it.

“People created awareness in the community. Parents were aware of it that had never been in it, didn’t know anything about it and kind didn’t even know it existed. For things like that, you can’t go wrong.”

The Hustlers, Lasers, Phantoms and Raiders regional zone programs do run teams in the under-six, under-eight and under-10 age levels that make up the Timbits softball age group. Those teams don’t get going until the middle or the end of April.

The Saskatchewan North Central Softball Academy does run an off-season Timbits Saturdays program at the Indoor Training Centre, which usually runs from November to February, to give those players an extra chance to play the game.

Kosteroski said the Timbits programs focus on instilling a love for the game in players aged 10 and under. The A-level junior age groups do more off-season work as competition becomes a little more serious.

“With Timbits, it is a little bit different,” said Kosteroski. “They just want to go outside and be apart of something.”

A Raiders play sets to field a ball at third base.
Overall, Kosteroski said the SMSL zone programs enjoy the time they get to be in the Indoor Training Centre during the off-season taking part in the game they love.

“My zones are really appreciative,” said Kosteroski. “Our coaches just love it.

“They know it is a safe environment. They enjoy working with the people and the staff there. Everything has been really good.”


For more information about the Saskatoon Minor Softball League, feel free to check out their website smsl.ca.