Yoga exercises to help prevent injuries in softball players

Following is a guest post by Nathan Friedkin, founder of Maximum Performance Yoga. It presents some ideas for using yoga to help build the strength and flexibility required to play at your peak level. Keep in mind these exercises are best used during off-times or after a game. For pre-game warm-ups you’ll want to stick with dynamic warm-ups. 

Using yoga for softball prep

Crescent Posture

Softball involves quite a bit of twisting, during which the lower body stays grounded and still while the upper body rotates. Twists are involved in batting, throwing, and even trying to steal a base. A stable foundation in the lower body (strong glutes and thighs) and flexibility in the spine are the keys to executing a safe and healthy twist, which are not only important in a strong performance
but in preventing back injury. Yoga postures such as Revolved Crescent Lunge promote leg strength through isometric muscle contraction and spinal flexibility through a sustained twist.
Yoga is also helpful in maintaining both strength and flexibility in the shoulder girdle, which are incredibly important in pitching. A good pitch requires not only a great deal of power, but an extensive range of motion in the shoulder joint. By stretching the shoulders in postures such as a wide legged forward fold with interlacing the hands behind the back, and strengthening them in postures such as Chaturanga Dandasana (essentially a narrow-arm push-up), yoga may be helpful in improving pitching

Yoga for softball

Chair Posture

performance and reducing incidence of injury.
Here are some key postures for preventing injuries for softball players:

  • Four legged staff pose (chaturanga)
  • Standing Bow Pulling Pose
  • Chair Pose
  • Half Lord of the Fishes
  • Standing Head-to-Knee Pose
  • Seated Head-to-Knee Pose
  • Eagle
  • Triangle

    Yoga for softball

    Eagle posture

  • Revolved triangle
  • Balancing stick
  • Supine hand to foot
  • Headstand
  • Revolved side angle
  • Prayer twist
  • Wide legged standing forward fold with bound arms
  • Cow face pose
  • Half pigeon
  • Eye of the needle
  • Side plank
  • Boat

Nathan Friedkin is an entrepreneur, yogi, video producer, and proud father of two sons. He is also the founder of Maximum Nathan FriedkinPerformance Yoga® MPY crushes convention, smashes stigma and brings the benefits of power yoga training to student athletes.

Join the evolution! http://www.MaxPerformanceYoga.com, FB.com/MaxPerformanceYoga, Twitter.com/MaxPerformanceYoga

New look – courtesy of a former player

As you may have noticed, Life in the Fastpitch Lane has a new look in the header. Three of them, actually.

The new headers come courtesy of one of my former players – Tina Kliver. I’d seen some of her softball “still lifes” before, so when it came time for a new header I asked her if she could make some up for me. What you see here is the result.

Hope you like it. Thanks to Tina for all her hard work.

Strategy for winning the international tie breaker

One of the staples of fastpitch softball tournaments is the international tie breaker, or ITB. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a way of trying to get to a winner faster in a tie game. After seven innings, or the time limit expires if you’re playing with one of those, each team starts the inning with a runner on second base. The runner on second is the last out from the previous inning. Each team gets three outs to try to score as many runs as they can in their half-inning. If one score more than the other, they win. It’s sort of like the soccer shoot-out for those of you watching the World Cup, or a shoot-out in hockey. While I said “as many runs as you can,” in most instances you’re trying to get one run. Most games that go to the ITB are not double-digit slugfests. They’re usually low-scoring affairs, which is why you start with a runner on second. Softball strategy 101 says the team at bat should sacrifice bunt the runner to third, and then take two outs to try to bring her home. That’s what most teams do. But I have a strategy that, if you have the right pieces in place, can help you get that runner at least to third with no outs. It depends on two things. The first is a runner with decent speed – enough to make it a challenge for the shortstop to cover on a steal. The second is a hitter with the ability to slug bunt, i.e., show bunt then pull back and slap the ball hard on the ground. Here’s how you take advantage of them. If you can get the hitter to a favorable count such as 2-0 where the pitcher really needs to throw a strike, have your runner on second steal third, and your hitter execute a slug bunt. When you do this, you’re starting out by giving the defensive team what they expect – a bunt. Third base will likely be playing up for the bunt, which means the shortstop must cover third on a steal. When your runner takes off, the shortstop will likely start moving to cover third on the throw from the catcher. You may also get the second baseman moving to cover first if the first baseman is also playing close. That opens up some space. After showing bunt and pulling back, the hitter attempts to slap the ball on the ground, either to where the shortstop or second baseman normally plays. There are several possible good outcomes. One is if the shortstop or second baseman did start moving to their respective corners and the hitter gets the ball on the ground, it will roll through the area they vacated, perhaps to the outfield grass. Since your runner was already stealing, she may be far enough along to keep going and score. And you have a runner on first with no outs. What about if the hitter swings and misses? No problem. Perhaps the act of pulling back gets the shortstop to freeze long enough to allow your runner to get to third unchallenged. Even if she keeps going it’s still a tough play at third. A poor throw or a miss and your runner is either safe at third or headed home. Again, you also have a runner at first with no outs. And that runner will likely be standing on second after the next pitch, because the defense can’t afford to let the runner on third score. If the hitter goes for the slug and hits it directly to a fielder, the runner on second is still likely to get to third cleanly, although the batter may be out depending on her speed. In that case you’re no worse off than if you’d sacrifice bunted. Any of those outcomes will make you look like an offensive genius. About the only thing that can go wrong is if your hitter pops up instead of putting the ball on the ground. In that case the batter is out and the runner who was on second will probably get doubled off. Then everyone thinks you’re an idiot. Still, the odds are in your favor. With the summer tournament season heating up, you’re likely to face an ITB sooner or later. Keep this strategy in mind and you just may improve your odds of winning. Now it’s your turn? What other non-standard strategies do you employ on the ITB?

Pitching: hitting your spots not the be-all and end-all

Hitting spots is not the be-all and end-allBack to focusing on softball with something that’s been on my mind for a little while. It never ceases to amaze me how obsessed coaches often are with whether their pitchers hit their spots. Especially at the younger ages.

It’s almost like that’s the only thing they know about pitching. Anytime a pitcher gives up a hit (or even comes close to it) some coach is likely to yell “you need to hit your spots.”

There are a couple of flaws in that thinking. The first is that the value of hitting a particular spot when it’s called is directly proportional to how good the person calling the pitches is at setting up hitters.

I’ve known of coaches who basically call low and outside fastballs 90% of the time. I’ve heard about coaches that call screwball after screwball because, well, they saw screwballs work on TV. I’ve seen coaches refuse to call the changeup because they prefer that their pitchers throw heat.

The problem with that is predictability. If you’re throwing to the same location all the time it probably won’t take long for hitters to figure it out and adjust. Speed kills, but as we saw in the last WCWS, even a 70 mph pitch isn’t enough alone to overcome good hitters. So sure as shootin’ a 45 or 55 mph pitch won’t be. You need a mix of speeds and locations.

There’s also an art to setting up a hitter. It takes time and effort to learn how to do it. For example, when a hitter fouls a ball straight back, a good follow-up pitch is a changeup. Of course, if you do it every time you become predictable.

When you get ahead in the count 0-2, you don’t want to throw a strike – you want to throw a ball that looks like a strike. Maybe a curve, maybe a high fastball or rise. But again, you need to mix it up to keep hitters from settling in.

An inexperienced coach often doesn’t know that. So they’ll call that favorite pitch even when it isn’t appropriate. The pitcher would actually be doing the coach a favor by missing the spot, truthfully. I’ve seen more than one coach saved by a pitcher who didn’t throw what was called.

The other reason hitting spots is often overrated is that it isn’t the best measure of a pitcher. Coaches like it because it can be quantified. They also like it because they can use it as justification for elevating one pitcher over another – i.e., pitcher A hits her spots and pitcher B doesn’t, so A must be better than B.

But the truth is the single best measure of a pitcher is whether she can get hitters out. She may not put the ball exactly where the coach called it, but if she’s getting hitters out what difference does it make? Hitting spots alone doesn’t get hitters out. You get no credit for that from the umpire, just as having a perfect swing doesn’t entitle you to get on base. I’ll take a sloppy pitcher who can get hitters out over a precise one who can’t any day of the week.

That’s not to say pitchers shouldn’t work on hitting their spots – they should. If for not other reason than they may play for a coach who actually does know how to call a game – or better yet how to teach a catcher to call one. If they can put the ball right where they want it they can really take command.

But coaches, don’t let it become your determining factor. See the whole picture and give some space to the pitchers who can get people out.

Please resubscribe

One more little housekeeping detail. Because of the move to WordPress, I believe you will need to resubscribe to receive notifications of posts in your email. You can do that by going to the sidebar on the right and clicking on Follow Blog by Email. Those of you who were subscribers I will appreciate you doing it again. Those who were not, but would like to be, can do it easily. And now you’ll receive immediately notice when there’s something new posted. I promise I will never sell your email address or use it for any nefarious purpose. 

Thanks for hanging in there! Next post will be softball-related. I promise!

Welcome to my new blog site

Surprised? So was I when I found out my former blog supplier (GoDaddy) was shutting down their blog product. I’m sure they supplied plenty of notice but they send so much spam I usually ignore the emails. Luckily I saw it today, the last day to do something about it. 

So here we are, now on WordPress. Which is probably for the better because it’s the king of this sort of thing. 

While the location has changed, I can promise you’ll still get the same quality fastpitch softball thoughts, musings and ideas. For better or for worse. :-)

So welcome! I look forward to continuing to serve you. 

Softball skills are analog, not digital

Softball skills are analogAll of the players, and probably most of the parents by now, are too young to remember when radio dials were analog. Getting your favorite station tuned in was an art. You’d move the dial quickly to get it close, then move it very slowly until it sounded just right. Better radios also had a “fine tuning” knob that let you make smaller adjustments.

Where it really compares to softball is that once you had the station tuned in perfectly, there was no guarantee it would stay tuned in. The analog signal could “drift” a bit, at which point you’d have to re-tune it in. As compared to today’s digital radios where you set the correct numbers and they radio does all the work to lock it in and keep it locked in.

That’s why I say softball skills are analog. It would be nice if they were digital – you tune them in and they stay with you automatically. But the reality is your technique can slip just a bit, especially during the long season when there may not be time to practice and hone things as much as you’d like. You get off a bit, you start to worry and guess at corrections, and before you know it you’re further off than before. Soon it’s nothing but static.

That’s where a little in-season correction can help. Whether you do it yourself or go to see your coach for that particular skill, taking a little time to re-tune the skills can make a huge difference.

The value of using a private coach is he/she can take a look from the outside and compare what you’re doing to what you ought to be doing. It’s a little faster and easier than trying to diagnose it yourself. But the key is that comparison.

If you’re trying to do it on your own, don’t think about what you’re doing. Think about what you should be doing, and try to get back to that. Find the sweet spot on the “dial” and tune your skills to that. Before you know it you’ll be back on track.

Again, it would be nice if softball skills were digital. But they’re not. Everyone needs a little fine tuning now and then. Understand that they’re analog and make adjustments accordingly. You’ll have a much happier season.

Pitching around the big hitter

Tonight I was watching a high school softball playoff game. It was a great game – a real seesaw battle where the lead changed several times. Each time you thought one team was down something would happen and momentum would change.

While it was entertaining, it also brought up a situation worth discussing – whether or not to pitch to the other team’s big hitter.

As I recall, it came up three times during the game. The team in the field held a one- or two-run lead, while the offensive team had runners on second or second and third (depending on the inning) when their best hitter came to the plate. This is a girl who is a total gamer and can really put the bat on the ball.

I was standing with a few of the other spectators, and we all agreed the smart thing to do with first base open and less than two outs is walk this girl and pitch to the next one. Time after time, though, the coach decided to pitch to her. Each time the hitter went 0-2, then knocked a hit that score a run or two. The offensive team went on to win by three runs – which was fewer than the total number of RBIs that hitter had.

I can understand maybe taking a chance and pitching to her early in the game – match strength for strength. (Although in reality the defensive team wasn’t throwing their #1 pitcher, who I think was injured.) But after getting burned once, it seems that discretion is the better part of valor.

In my mind, if you’re going to lose, make someone else beat you. Not the other team’s best hitter, especially in a playoff game. If the bag is open, put that big hitter on and take your chances with the next one. It doesn’t always work out, but your odds are better. If you’re  really worried, maybe even walk her with bases loaded. Better to give up one run than two or three – or four.

What do you think? Would you go intentional walk? Or would you gut it out and pitch to that hitter?

Softball poem by one of my students

Thought I would share this with everyone here. It’s a poem written by one of my students, who is currently a 14U player who will enter high school in the fall. It does a great job of explaining the “striving” aspect of our sport from a player’s point of view. 

As has been said numerous times before, kids are not just short adults. It’s good for us coaches to see the game from their perspective now and then to remind us of why we do what we do. 
The Feeling of Success
Time after time, 
Pouring heart and soul into the game.
Giving everything, but it always ends the same.
Time after time, 
Admiring the other team as they celebrate with cheer.
We shake their hands, glancing at their smiling faces;
But as they shake our hands, only sadness will appear.
Time and time again, 
Trudging away, noticing the team taking pictures in the background.
The trophies in their hands are a token of their victory,
As we proceed to the car without a single sound.
And time continues to go on,
Shaking off the loss and trying some more.
Motivated by victory, motivated by determination. 
Triumph is what we look for. 
And one day, there is that time. 
The time we worked so hard to get, 
And the feeling is like no other, 
Because we know we’ve truly earned it!
– Carly Manshum (reprinted with permission)

Take one extra moment

This is always a bittersweet time in the softball world. On the one hand, you have the excitement of post-school season tournaments, the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work in college and many high schools.

At the same time, you also have the ends of careers. High school seniors who play in the spring and who don’t plan to play in college (or the summer) are looking at their last high school games. College players who aren’t going pro, or playing in a women’s fastpitch league, are also getting ready to hang up their spikes – or more accurately leave them at home plate. End of the fastpitch career

For both groups, it’s been a lot of years of going to practices, playing games, working on skills, rinse and repeat. Those who played travel ball also had endless summer weekends where they spent all day at the ballfield, then went back and crashed at a budget-rate hotel only to get up early and do it again. It all sort of runs together after a while.

But now, it’s coming to an end. That’s probably difficult to fathom – the end. Most probably haven’t processed yet what it really means. Sure, they know no more practices, putting up with angry coaches or the drama that often seems to accompany team sports. But it also means that they will no longer be doing something that once came as naturally as breathing.

Sure, they can join a local summer league and play slow pitch. But it’s not quite the same. The speed and competitiveness that comes with school or travel ball just won’t be there. It’s the difference between looking at a photo of the Mona Lisa and actually standing in front of it.

So to all those who are about to play their final games I have this bit of advice. When the last out is recorded and your fastpitch career is done, don’t just pack up your gear and rush to your cars. Take a moment to drink it all in.

Savor the sights, the sounds, and many of the smells of the field. Look at your well-worn glove, or the nicks and scuffs on your batting helmet. Take a good look at your teammates, and think of all those you played with in the past – especially when you were little and just trying to figure out what to do and where to go.

If there isn’t another game starting right away, walk out on the field once last time as a fastpitch player and look around. Think about all the good times you had, and all that you accomplished throughout your career. Because once you leave the field, you’ll never quite be the same.

And that’s true even if you plan to coach. A coach’s perspective is very different than a player’s. You’re a part of the team, but you’re still separate from it.

As they say in the movie Moneyball, we’re all told someday we can no longer play this game. We just don’t always realize what that means.

Be proud of what you did, and know that it was part of something special. Someday you’ll be glad you took those few extra minutes to realize how special it was.

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