These days it seems like the Young Adult book category is crowded with stories of dystopian futures and heroic main characters doing the near-impossible. While they make for fun (and profitable) adventures, they may be a little difficult for the average teen to identify with.
There are no such issues with Fast-Pitch Love, a sweet story of young love that takes place over the summer of 2000. Written by first-time author Clayton Cormany it uses the development of a 12U rec league fastpitch softball team as the centerpiece for self-discovery of several of its characters.
The book is essentially the story of Jason (Jace) Waldron, a central Ohio boy and cross country runner who will be entering his senior year in high school. Jace has a crush on new girl Stephanie Thornapple, whose blue eyes and auburn hair make her the prettiest girl he’s ever personally known. Unfortunately for Jace, she is the girlfriend of tough-guy nose tackle Carson Ealy, who threatens anyone who even looks at her for too long.
As classes empty out on the last day of school, Jace’s best friend Stick – who is quite aware of Jace’s not-so-secret crush on Stephanie – informs him that Carson will be away for quite a bit of the summer working in a lumber yard in Michigan and checking out colleges, creating an opportunity for Jace to try to get in with Stephanie. All he needs is an excuse.
That excuse seems to present itself when Jace goes to the library to make copies of the roster for the softball team his mother will be coaching and his sister Phoebe will be playing on that summer. One of the players is Tina Thornapple; even better, SJ Thornapple is listed as the assistant coach. Jace begs his mother to allow him to help out with the team, figuring it will provide the perfect atmosphere to get to know Stephanie and win her away from Carson. She agrees, gets league approval for an extra assistant coach, and the stage is apparently set.
At least until the first day of practice when SJ Thornapple turns out to be Sylvia, Stephanie’s slightly heavier and somewhat less attractive sister. Once Jace realizes his mistake he starts thinking of excuses to back out but agrees to stay until the first game. In the meantime, Sylvia immediately recognizes why Jace signed up and offers to help him start dating her sister, even if he leaves the team.
Then the games start up, and the young Valkyries take a pummeling. Although Jace was never big on baseball when he played he feels bad for the girls and decides to stick around a little longer to help them learn the game. He and Sylvia work closely together to teach them how to throw, catch, field balls and hit. Sylvia is true to her word and helps Jace land his first date with Stephanie. As the summer goes on the Valkyries begin to improve – but that isn’t the only change.
Soon Sylvia starts letting her hair down and wearing makeup to practice and Jace finds himself attracted to her, even as he continues to date Stephanie. The latter sets up a confrontation with Carson when Jace is spotted at a carnival with Stephanie by one of Carson’s friends – just at the time Jace is beginning to wonder whether he is dating the right sister.
While it takes a little while to get going at first, Cormany does a great job of creating characters you care about – and feel you know. As I got deeper into the book I found it difficult to put down. Adults who remember their youth fondly will relate to the uncertainty and mixed feelings of the characters, which create tension without getting too deep into teen angst. Their feelings seem real. The young adult audience will likely either identify personally with the primary characters or feel they have friends like them.
The softball games are described with accuracy for the level. Neither the Valkyries or their opponents are portrayed as top-level travel teams. In fact, players are told at the beginning of the season they’ll be playing 11 games through summer plus the league tournament. That’s like a week in a travel team schedule, so hard core travel players and parents need to get past that.
Given the level of play, the game descriptions themselves stay true to form. Cormany describes them in great detail, giving you the feeling you’re reading a recap of a real game. There are errors and difficulties for both teams, again true for the level of play, which helps ground it in reality.
As a long-time travel coach myself I’m not so sure that the practices Jace uses to help the team improve will really work, and one in particular goes against what would be considered a best practice. But really, that’s a quibble. The key is the relationships between the characters and the overall development of the team. Both of those ring true.
There aren’t many stories out there that have fastpitch softball at the center, so young players and their families should enjoy that part of the book particularly. If you’re looking for an enjoyable read that will have you rooting for the characters to succeed – and to do what you know is the right thing – give Fast-Pitch Love a look.
Fast-Pitch Love is currently available digitally from Barnes and Noble at http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/fast-pitch-love-clay-cormany/1120679928?ean=29401503840 or at Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/Fast-Pitch-Love-Clay-Cormany-ebook/dp/B00P744M7Q. The price is normally $4.99, but the author says he occasionally discounts it to $1.99 or even 99 cents so keep an eye out for that. There are also plans for it to come out in hard copy, although it hasn’t happened yet.
Do me one favor. Once you’ve had a chance to read it, let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.
Editor’s note: Next week begins high school tryouts in many states. This guest post by Brandon Capaletti, vice president of Cisco Athletic, offers some timely tips on how to have a successful tryout.
Tryouts can be a nerve-wracking process. Players are being scrutinized en masse, coaches are assessing needs and talent levels, and families are trying to determine if certain programs are worth the commitment (and money, in some cases).
Whether your daughter is attending tryouts for her high school softball team or a fall/summer travel squad, keep the following tips in mind during what often can be a grueling and anxiety-filled process:
- Punctuality. Be on time. In fact, subscribe to the following credo: Early is on time, on time is late. That means cleats on, and glove/bat/helmet at the ready come starting time. Don’t give coaches and evaluators a reason to put a check mark next to your name for the wrong reason before tryouts start.
- Hustle. Any coach worth his or her salt values hustle and effort. Coaches will notice when you hustle (during drills and when moving from station to station) and when you don’t hustle. Hustle, which doesn’t require talent, says something about your character and level of desire.
- Listen/pay attention. In addition to assessing skills, evaluators will want to know: Are you coachable? Looking a coach in the eyes and following directions are imperative in athletics. Appearing disinterested or staring off into the distance while a coach is speaking and giving instructing can be construed as disrespectful. If you can’t or won’t listen to a coach during tryouts, the coach is likely to think you’ll do the same as a member of the team.
- Be the boss. On the field, a player needs to trust her instincts and preparation — and take ownership of her tryout. Nothing turns off a coach or evaluator more than a player who constantly looks to a parent for guidance — or a meddling parent who wants to “coach” from the other side of the fence. Those are red flags. A player who asserts her independence is an intriguing and valued prospect.
- State your desired positions: While the coach ultimately is responsible for deciding where you play should you make the team, it’s important that you get a look at the positions you prefer or have played in the past. Many tryouts require registration, which often provides an opportunity to list preferred positions. It’s especially important that pitchers and catchers get a chance to be seen at those positions.
- Avoid comparisons. It’s human nature for players to gauge how they stack up to their so-called competition at tryouts. Comparing arm strength, speed, fielding adeptness and hitting ability is natural, but try to concentrate more on what YOU do well rather than how other players perform. Be confident in your ability, and focus on the tasks at hand. Concern yourself with what you can control; don’t worry about what is out of your control.
- Stay positive/confident. Don’t overreact to mistakes — physical or mental. Coaches evaluate demeanor as well as ability, and no coach expects a perfect tryout from any player. A capable and experienced evaluator can see through physical mistakes (i.e., fielding errors, bad throws, swings and misses) to determine a good ball player. Show evaluators resilience in that you can bounce back from a mistake to make a good play. Maintain positive body language as well.
- Have fun! No matter what level, athletic competition is supposed to be enjoyable. Especially at tryouts, show evaluators that you are having fun playing a game that you love. Enjoy the experience as much as possible, even while you’re competing hard within a sometimes pressure-packed situation.
Softball players put in many hours of practice and preparation, many calling on the services of private instructors. Due diligence away from the field optimizes a player’s chances of performing well on the field. Trust what you know, believe in what you’ve worked on and let it all hang out in tryouts — the rest will take care of itself.
Brandon Capaletti is the vice president of Cisco Athletic, an athletic apparel manufacturer that designs, produces and distributes custom uniforms.
Saw this post over on the Fastpitch Analytics blog and thought I would share. This one is a quick visualization of another post which provides more depth behind the numbers. Both are worth reading.
What you’re looking at is an analysis of the slugging percentage for NCAA D1 hitters in 2014 based on pitch count. The author of the study says slugging on contact percentage was used rather than batting average because SLUGCON correlates better to runs scored. And since that’s the name of the game it makes sense.
Much of what you’ll see here is obvious, such as 3-1 is a great hitter’s count and 0-2 is not. But what’s really interesting is when you look at what happens after a 0-0 count.
Let’s say you take the first pitch. If it’s a strike you go to 0-1, and SLUGCON drops from .503 to .492 – a .011 drop. If it’s a ball, however, SLUGCON rises from .503 to .538 – a .035 improvement. In other words, your chances of getting the type of hit that scores runs goes up much more than it goes down by not swinging.
What does that mean in real terms? That you shouldn’t swing at the first pitch? Not really. That may be the best pitch you get in the entire at bat.
What it does mean, though, is that you shouldn’t feel the need to swing at any strike. Instead, you should be looking for a pitch you can hit hard. If it’s not in that zone, lay off of it. For example, if you struggle with the low and outside pitch and that’s the first pitch, you may want to let it go and see if the pitcher doesn’t come back with something more in your preferred range.
Of course, if she’s throwing everyone low and outside to start, you may want to crowd the plate and turn that low outside pitch into a low middle pitch and drive it.
Guest post by Shana Brenner, Marketing Director of CoverSports
According to recent reports, injuries to teenage athletes across all sports are on the rise. In particular, there has been a significant increase in knee injuries among teen athletes, specifically ACL tears, and females under the age of 18 are believed to be at a higher risk than their male counterparts. While softball might not seem like an inherently dangerous sport, knee and ankle injuries are common and account for the majority of injuries requiring time away from the sport.
The good news (and bad news) is that many of these knee and ankle injuries in softball are unnecessary and could easily be avoided if fields were maintained properly. That’s right — often times, the biggest hazard in softball is the field itself.
How can a poorly maintained softball field lead to knee and ankle injuries when using metal cleats?
For proper performance, athletes require a smooth, resilient playing surface that affords them sure footing and the right amount of friction between their metal cleats and the ground. As you might imagine, stepping into a rut or hole while running full speed during a game or practice is an easy way to roll an ankle or twist a knee. Likewise, if an athlete is trying to plant her foot to make a throw but the surface isn’t sturdy, her foot could go one way while her body goes another, causing joint tension, which could lead to a serious knee or ankle injury.
Proper Maintenance Can Prevent Field-Induced Injuries
Without a doubt, the top priority for field-maintenance crews is player safety. A well-maintained field can help athletes stay safe while also improving the overall quality of the game.
With that in mind, there are some important areas to focus on when maintaining your softball field to create a safe playing environment.
- Regular mowing — Throughout the year, you should keep the grass on your field cut so that it doesn’t overgrow around the edges and harm the field’s performance. Not only does regular mowing preserve the integrity of the playing surface, but it can also help you identify any issues, like holes or uneven surfaces, that might be obscured if the grass was too long.
- Replacing top dressing — Over time, top dressing deteriorates. It’s unavoidable. This happens because of a combination of things, like wear and tear from on-the-field play, weather and poor maintenance. Top dressing needs to be refinished and leveled occasionally to maintain a safe, healthy playing surface.
- Dragging and raking — Dragging and raking the field helps create a smooth, uniform surface. Doing these things regularly helps fill in any ruts, holes and eroded areas, making the field much safer for play. You could even use a roller after dragging the field for optimal results.
- Lip maintenance — The lip is a hump on the field that forms where the grass and dirt meet. An unmaintained lip can cause ground balls to take nasty, unpredictable hops that can put fielders in serious danger. A power washer or hose is a great tool for knocking down the lip on your field, provided it’s not too large.
- Mound maintenance — The pitcher’s mound is one of the areas exposed to the greatest wear and tear. During every game and practice, the pitcher’s mound gets damaged from routine use. The pitcher needs a smooth, resilient surface where she can plant her foot to make her throws. If the mound has any ruts or wear, the pitcher could easily hurt her ankle or knee when planting or attempting to field a ball. Regular mound maintenance can keep athletes safe and even reduce the costs of renovating this heavily trafficked area. Here are some simple tips to properly maintain your pitcher’s mound:
- Sweep away any debris from the mound, particularly the landing area in front of the rubber.
- Tamp uneven clay before watering.
- Use a small roller to smooth the mound area.
- Lightly water the clay to create a stronger bond between new packing clay and existing clay.
- Add new clay to damaged areas. Tamp into ground.
- Water the entire mound thoroughly. Let dry.
- Place a mound cover over the area until its next use.
- Batter’s box maintenance — As batters dig in throughout practices and games, the batter’s box degrades and can develop severe wear and tear. Adding mound clay and infield mix to fill in holes and create a level surface should be a regular part of field-maintenance duties. Make sure to rake down newly repaired areas to create an even surface.
Proper field maintenance can go a long way to keeping softball players safe from minor and major knee and ankle injuries, especially when wearing metal cleats. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Shana Brenner is the Marketing Director of CoverSports, an American manufacturer of baseball field tarps and protection with roots tracing back to 1874.
For many of you this is probably old news. But I still hear it enough from my students and other players I know that it bears repeating. When it comes to hitting, the goal should not be a ground ball. It should be a line drive.
Back in the day, when the ball was white with white seams, college and HS age pitchers stood 40 feet away, fielders weren’t as athletic through the field, bats were made out of basic low-grade aluminum and hitters taking lessons were few and far between, ground balls were the goal. Well, to be honest putting it in play was the goal.
A lot of games wound up 1-0 or 2-1, so anything you could do to get the bat on the ball was acceptable. Hitting a ground ball stood you a good chance of getting on base too because many of the fielders didn’t have the range or arms that today’s players do. All you had to do was sneak it through and you were on base.
Not so today. Athletes of today, as a whole, train harder. They are bigger, stronger, faster. In nearly 20 years of coaching I’ve seen a definite upgrade in that area. So what used to get you on base back in the 1990s will probably get you thrown out today.
Then there’s the bat technology. They have big sweet spots with trampoline effects. If you time it just right, even a checked swing could end up going deep. That may be an exaggeration but not a big one. Better bats plus hitters who train as seriously in the off-season as pitchers do have had a huge impact on the game.
And that’s why your best strategy is a line drive – preferably one that finds a gap, although you can’t control that. A rising line drive that clears the fence is even better. Basically, why settle for one base when you can get two, or three – or four?
You don’t want to swing down on the ball. You don’t want to pound it into the ground. Instead, you want to get a little under it, get a little lift, and drive it hard into the outfield. That’s the way to win in today’s game.
Oh, and what about fly balls? That depends. If you can hit them 210 feet on a field with a 200 foot fence they’re perfectly fine. If you’re hitting them 180 feet, best to try to bring them down a bit unless the winning run is on third with less than two outs.
That’s my take on it. What about yours? Coaches, are you still stuck on ground balls or are you encouraging more line drives? Players, what are your coaches looking for out of you at the plate?
A recent series of discussions on the Discuss Fastpitch Forum has been debating the need for or value of private instructors. Perhaps the best way to explain what private instructors bring is to liken them to using Google Maps. (FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a private instructor myself, so naturally I am a little biased on the topic.)
Let’s say you live in Cleveland and you decide you want to drive to Omaha. How are you going to get there? One way to do it is to hop in your car, point it west, start driving and hope for the best. You’ll probably get there sooner or later, but odds are it will take you longer than if you had used one of the other choices.
Another option is to pull out a paper Atlas (like we used to in the old days) and map out your route on paper. That will be better than just randomly driving, but for best results you need to be pretty good at reading maps. Not everyone is. If you misinterpret the map, or the roads have changed since your Atlas was printed, you could end up getting lost. (Think Clark Griswold in the first Vacation movie.) If you do lose your way, you may not even realize it for a while, in which case it will probably take a bit of backtracking to get you back on the right road.
Then there is using Google Maps (or your mapping application of choice). You can plug in your starting point and destination and the entire route will be laid out for you step-by-step. If you’re using a PC you can print it out and take it with you, without all the extraneous information that is in an Atlas. If you’re using it on your smartphone, a pleasant voice will guide you turn-by-turn to your destination, with easy-to-read visuals along with it. If you happen to make a wrong turn anyway, or the roads have changed, Google Maps will recognize you’re heading in the wrong direction and immediately guide you back to where you need to be.
Those are the things a private instructor will do as well. You don’t absolutely need one to get to where you’re going, but like Google Maps an instructor will help you get there faster.
A private instructor will lay out a good foundation using techniques, drills and cues that have proven successful before – but adjust to the specific needs of the player. The instructor will offer that same sort of turn-by-turn guidance that helps players stay on the path to success rather than wandering off into dead ends. If something gets “off” due to any of a dozen reasons, the instructor will help guide the player back onto the right path.
This isn’t just for beginners, either. Even accomplished players need a little help now and then. Every professional team has position coaches and instructors who are there to help players improve their games and overcome problems. When Tiger Woods was at the top of the golf world, he still had a swing coach who worked with him to help him stay there.
In his book The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle lists the three essential elements to achieving excellence. One is motivation, and another practice. But the third is coaching. Not that the coach has any special magic to offer. But because the coach can help make sure that players spend their time practicing the right things in the right way rather than trying to feel their way through the process.
Again, it’s not for everyone. If you’re just planning to drive around your own neighborhood you don’t need Google Maps – or at least you shouldn’t. But if your goals are to get out into the larger world, you might want to have a guide by your side.
The other night when I got out to my fastpitch softball lessons I had a pleasant surprise waiting for me. My first lesson was with a high school senior pitcher, and her high school coach was there to observe.
I couldn’t have been more pleased! All too often it seems the relationship between private coaches and team coaches – either in high school or travel ball – is contentious. I’m not sure why but it’s not uncommon.
It’s much smarter for there to be a sense of cooperation. Private coaches work with players on an individual basis far more than a team coach ever will have the time for. They teach specific skills and learn what cues trigger performance and success for those players.
If the player (or her parents) have chosen wisely, that player comes onto the team with an advanced skillset built over many hours of practice. At the same time, there will be players who have put little effort into learning their skills. That is where the team coach can make a difference. Focusing their limited time on raising the skill levels of those players will pay the best dividends. Because, of course, the chain will only be as strong as its weakest links.
In this particular case, I invited the coach into the cage with us so he could hear the instruction and ask questions if he had any. He brought his iPad in with him and shot video as we went along. I periodically asked if he had any questions, and he had the opportunity to see how I interacted with my student/his player.
It was a very pleasant half hour. I left the coach with an open invitation to come back any time. Kudos to the pitcher’s parents for setting it up, incidentally.
Of course, it’s easy for me to take this position as a private coach. But I have also experienced it from the other side. While I wasn’t able to attend an actual lesson, when I was a team coach and had pitchers who were not my students, I would contact their pitching coaches to learn what to look out for, what cues they used and what they were teaching those pitchers. It may not have been what I taught, but that’s ok. I wanted to work with what they had learned and what they were supposed to be doing rather than trying to re-make according to what I teach.
Presumably, everyone – team coach, private coach, parents and the player – want the same thing. They want the pitcher to be successful. Working together is far more likely to make that happen than constant territorial battles.
After experiencing the healthcare system myself not long ago and having my wife take a visit to the ortho yesterday, I had a realization today. When doctors are trying to diagnose a joint injury they will talk to the patient, try a few manipulations and overall eyeball the problem. More often than not, though, they will send the patient for an MRI to see what they can’t observe with the naked eye.
The coaching equivalent is video. No matter how much experience a coach has, there’s nothing like being able to slow things down and take an in-depth look at a pitch, a swing, a throw, a fielding play or some other technique. And these days it’s easier than ever.
When I first started coaching, shooting and analyzing video meant hooking a handheld video camera on a tripod up to a laptop. If you were planning to shoot video throughout the day or evening, it also mean running an extension cord to a power strip. If you wanted to change angles it could take a few minutes to get everything set up again.
Nowadays all you need is a smartphone or tablet and an app, such as Coach’s Eye, RVP or Ubersense. You can shoot the video, run it back and forth in slow motion and even draw lines, measure angles and perform other actions. And with the advances in the devices, you can shoot at high frames per second rates that make everything very clear and easily visible.
Over the last few days I’ve used my new iPhone 6 and Coach’s Eye to do some valuable analysis – and show the players what we’re looking to do. They weren’t big mechanical issues, but instead the small details that make the difference between good and great. We were also able to see all the things they’re doing right, which was a feelgood. Like the MRI, it exposes things you may not see otherwise – and share them with the player.
Being able to show rather than tell can be incredibly valuable, especially for younger players who may be more visual than audible learners. Showing them what they’re doing often helps them understand what you’re trying to describe as a coach. With modern technology, you can do it instantly – which is what every study of coaching will tell you is most effective.
Doctors love their MRIs. Coaches should love their video apps. They can really help shortcut the learning experience for your players.
First of all, let me admit that I haven’t actually used this drill yet. But I was thinking about it the other day and thought it might be a good idea for that softball pitcher who wants to take her game to the infamous “next level.” I have a few girls in mind who I think would benefit from it.
Here are the basics. The pitcher throws a pitch as per usual. It can be any pitch – fastball, change, drop, whatever. After she throws it, rather than the catcher throwing it back the pitcher sprints to the catcher, the catcher hands her the ball, and the pitcher sprints back to the pitching rubber.
Once she is back she can follow her usual routine to throw the next pitch. You don’t want to rush that and risk poor mechanics.
Continue until the pitcher is winded – or maybe one more pitch beyond that.
This drill will do several things. Obviously, it will help the pitcher with conditioning and building up her endurance in a sport-specific way. Pitching is basically a one-step sprint. Having the pitcher sprint down and sprint back (rather than conditioning with long runs) will help encourage that quick burst and quick recovery. It will also help her build length strength to drive off quicker and more powerfully.
It will also help the pitcher gain experience with pitching when she’s tired. All too often in lessons or practice sessions the pitcher goes for a half hour and is done. It’s not too tough to maintain good mechanics in that timeframe, especially if there are water breaks or chats in-between.
But in a game, or especially at a tournament, fatigue can set in quickly. If the pitcher isn’t used to pitching through it she can struggle. Her mechanics can break down and she’ll be doing anything she can to chuck the ball at the plate. Including things that could hurt her physically. But if she learns to pitch through fatigue in a controlled environment she’ll be much better prepared for the afternoon or evening of the last day of a tournament.
Finally, it will help her mental game, showing her that she can push past her normal breaking point and learn to focus even when she’s sucking wind. Especially if, as you should, you insist that her control, speed and movement remain consistent no matter how tired she gets.
Now, this is not the sort of thing I would recommend for every practice session. But every now and then – maybe once a week if she’s practicing regularly – it can make a huge difference.
If you want to give your pitcher a good workout, especially after the holidays as many are preparing for the high school season or the summer, give this drill a try. And be sure to let me know how it goes.
Softball is a competitive sport, and as competitors we like to win. But if you’re a coach taking your team to a college showcase it’s best to put your ego aside and focus on showing off your players rather than on the outcome of the game. Even if it means you lose the game.
Bunting is a good example. You may be down a run, and believe the smart thing to do late in the game is to bunt a runner from second to third with no outs to put your team in a position to tie (or win). Now, at a regular tournament, where one team will be declared the champions at the end of Sunday, I say have at it.
But at a showcase, all that bunt is doing is robbing your player of a chance to show some college coach who could use her what she can do. It’s not that they don’t bunt in college. Sure they do, and they expect their players to lay it down. But they’re not at a showcase looking for a kid who can lay down a sacrifice bunt. To paraphrase that saying popular among Dominican Republic baseball players, no one ever bunted their way onto a college roster. Unless, of course, they’re a lefty short game specialist. But even they aren’t going to get anywhere with a sac bunt.
No, even if it’s the right thing to do game-wise, it’s better to let your player swing away. She’s far more likely to generate collegiate interest with a run-scoring double than a sac bunt. Not only will it show her hitting skills, but also her mental toughness.
The same goes for pitchers. Even if your pitcher is presently dominating with her curve or rise, you want to give her the opportunity to showcase her other pitches as well. Call some pitches you might not call in a tournament game. You never know. You may find a whole other dimension to that pitcher.
Truth is no one particularly cares what your record is at a showcase. Well, at least no one who knows anything about showcases. Whether you are 5-0 or 0-5 you’re not going home with a trophy. But if you give your players a chance to show their stuff they might go home with some interest from college coaches – which is the reason you signed up for the showcase in the first place. I’m not saying playing to lose, or put your team in a position to look bad. Just remember your purpose for that weekend and make decisions accordingly. Even if they hurt.
Of course, if you do plan to go that way, be sure to explain to the parents ahead of time that your purpose is to help their daughters be seen rather than to win every game. You’ll save yourself a lot of grief and aggravation from ultra-competitive parents who believe winning is the only thing.