A few days ago I received an email with some information I thought I'd pass along. It's about a new website called mySoftballTournament that allows tournament directors to post information about their tournaments and coaches to search the site for tournaments that match.
It looks pretty simple. Everything is pretty much run on dropdown menus. You pick your State or Province, fastpitch or slow pitch, gender, age group, etc. and then hit the Search button. The site then returns any tournaments they have that fit your search. (I'm presuming this site is out of Canada, by the way, because the listing asks for Province rather than State.)
It doesn't look like there is a whole lot out there yet. I searched for tournaments in my home state and received no tournament listings, but hopefully that will change. Also, if you are into the USSSA designations that go up by single year instead of the ASA standard two years you're out of luck as well - there is no dropdown for 11U, 13U, etc.
I hope this site gets filled with tournaments quickly. Finding the right tournaments for a team is always a challenge, so having a good resource that has decent information is something that's needed. I know that eTeamz (or whatever they're called now) has this service, but it's been a bit spotty the last couple of years. Hopefully an organization with some enthusiasm can make this work and become a great resource for coaches.
If you have a tournament to post give it a try and let us all know how it goes. If you have a team and are looking for tournaments, give it a look as well. Maybe you'll find something that fits your needs.
Over the last couple of months I have become immersed in the health care field for my day job. (Yes, Virginia, I have a day job that isn't softball-related. I actually work for a PR agency that specializes in health care and health care IT.)
One of the big things in health care these days is the idea of evidence-based medicine. You can look up the details with the link, but basically it's the idea that instead of relying on the individual knowledge of physicians, those doctors should be referring to research and studies that draw conclusions from looking at large populations with similar conditions. In other words, instead of every doctor doing his/her own thing they're trying to establish some standards based on looking at what large groups with that condition have in common.
Why am I telling you this? Because the same idea should apply to teaching softball skills. There are all kinds of ideas and teachings out there. Some are good, and some are not so good. Some can help players immensely, and others will get in the way of their success.
What instructors should be doing - and parents and players should definitely be doing with what instructors are teaching - is looking at the evidence to see if it supports what's being taught. In this case, the evidence is what the best players in the world do when they're playing.
These days there is ample video evidence out there. Google a player's name, the skill and the word "video" and there's a good chance you'll see a long list of results. If you're not looking for one specific player you can Google the skill and the word video, or look at the Model Swings and Model Pitching threads at the Discuss Fastpitch Forum. While not every example there is ideal, you can certainly see a lot of commonalities there. Another good source is the RightView Pro app for the iPad - you can download all kinds of model videos of top college/professional softball players as well as Major League Baseball Players.
No matter how much you like an instructor, no matter what great "credentials" that instructor may have, it's important to compare what he/she is saying to what the best players in the world actually do. Look at the evidence - and if the evidence doesn't match the treatment - run, don't walk away from it.
Just as with medicine, the state of softball instruction is constantly changing. With high-speed video, and some very smart coaches constantly testing the conventional wisdom and learning - it continues to evolve and get better. You wouldn't want your doctor using information from 20 years ago to treat a disease when there's better information available; you shouldn't want your softball instruction coming from 20 years ago either.
If you're an instructor, get out there and look at the evidence. If you're a parent or player do the same and make sure you're learning what the evidence says is the best way to hit, field, pitch, whatever. It will be time well-spent.
Sliding is one of those softball skills that can be a problem for some players. Many who have the issue are afraid of getting hurt so they avoid it at all costs. That can be a problem in a game, where a good slide (versus running all the way to the base) can mean the difference between safe or out.
How do you get them to overcome that fear? Part of it is teaching them good technique. If they're confident they won't hurt themselves too badly they'll be more likely to give it a try. Still, doing it in practice is one thing. Doing it in a game, well, that's something else.
This fall I was working with a team that had several players who didn't like to slide. That led me to create a game that not only gave them lots of practice but made it fun.
Of course, before we played the game we worked on basic technique. I took them into the outfield and had them take their cleats off. That was important so they wouldn't catch a cleat and turn or break an ankle.
We set up two lines, with a base about 20 feet away. We went over the technique, stressing the importance of running full speed and then driving out instead of sitting straight down. That when on for 15 minutes or so, when everyone was at least giving it a try. Then we did a few other things before coming to the game.
For that, we set four or five bases spaced somewhat randomly, i.e. not in a square. Then it was basically a game of tag. The rules were simple.
One person was "it," just as in regular tag. If you were standing on a base you were safe. But, and here's the important part, only two people could be on a base at any given time. There were more than eight players, so that meant some were always off a base. You could run to a base to be safe, but in order to occupy it you had to slide. Once the "free" player slid in, one of the players who had been on the base had to get off. She could not come back to that base, but she could go to another. If the player didn't slide, she wasn't safe on the base and could be tagged. If a player was tagged by "it" she became the new "it."
Once the element of competition was introduced, the players forgot their fear. They were so focused on not being it they were sliding freely and frequently. They were also laughing and having fun. It was great conditioning too - they were huffing and puffing after all the running.
I was told it translated into their next game - a couple of players who hadn't been willing to slide before did it - and were safe.
If you have players who don't like to slide give this game a try. I think you'll like the results.
Now it's your turn. Have you had any players who didn't like sliding? What did you do to help them?
While this is nothing particularly revolutionary or even new for some, when it comes to softball hitting it can't be emphasized enough. There is a very specific sequence or order for the movements in the swing: first come the hips, then the shoulders, then the bat.
The reason I bring it up is that it's easy for players to slip back into old habits - ones that are hard notice unless you work with hitters all the time. Usually the hitters know the proper sequence as well. Yet there's something about holding that bat in your hands that makes hitters want to get it going too early.
When I'm teaching lessons, sometimes I will see a player who normally hits with good power struggling to make strong contact. Upon closer examination, I'll see that the shoulders are turning either along with the hips, or even slightly ahead of the hips. There is a certain look to the swing when the upper body is getting ahead, even by a little bit.
At that point, I will ask the hitters "what's the sequence?" She'll repeat it back: hips, shoulders, bat. Once she has everything going in the right order, the power returns and all is right with the world.
Getting the body parts moving in the right order is critical for quality at bats. Remember that sequence - hips, shoulders, bat. It absolutely makes a difference.
Ok, you're probably wondering what drinking sand has to do with softball. The phrase comes from the movie The American President, and was written by one of my all-time favorite screenwriters - Aaron Sorkin.
At one point the President (played by Michael Douglas) is speaking with his speech writer, who is encouraging the President to speak out about accusations from his opponent because the opponent is the only one talking. The writer (played by Michael J Fox) tells him people are so thirsty for leadership they'll crawl through the desert to a mirage, and when they find there's no water they'll drink the sand.
To which the President replies, "People don't drink the sand because they're thirsty. They drink the sand because they don't know the difference."
Brilliant, and I find it happens a lot in the softball world. There are a lot of antiquated or just plain poor techniques being taught by coaches and instructors. But parents willingly pay good money for their kids to learn them because they don't know the difference.
As a player, or the parent of one, it's important to do your research. Don't assume because this person presents themselves as an instructor, or even a former player, that they actually know how to teach your daughter to succeed. Some of the most convincing people out there are the ones who know the least. And the ones who claim the most impact on their students are often the ones who contributed the least.
Learn as much as you can, and compare what you hear to what you see the best players in the world doing. Not what they say they do, but what they actually do in a game. If it doesn't match up, run.
The other one you'll want to be careful with are the people who insist if you play in their program you should take lessons from them. While there are some advantages if, say, your pitching coach is also a coach with your team, it's not an absolute. Anyone who forces you to go to a particular instructor doesn't have your best interest at heart - they have their own.
Ultimately, you want to get the best instruction you can find. Don't drink the sand. Make sure you can tell the difference between good and poor instruction and you'll find your investment pays off a lot better.
Saw an article today that my local paper picked up from the San Francisco Chronicle , talking about how injuries have exploded in youth sports in the past few years. The big culprit? Overuse, driving largely by kids specializing in one sport year-round rather than playing different sports.
That's certainly an issue in the fastpitch softball world. I hear these stories all the time about the schedules even 10U players are playing. The goal seems to be to get in at least 100 games in a season. In the Northern climes, they'll play 5-6 tournaments in the fall - basically from the start of September through the end of October. Then there are some indoor games, followed by a tournament every weekend from the first weekend in April through the end of Jly.
Down South, where the weather stays warm year-round, they basically take off December for the holidays and that's about it.
I don't know about where you live, but where I am the high school season can be even tougher. Games every day, Monday - Friday, and often a double-header on Saturday. If you only have one pitcher, she's going to see a lot of action. For those whose high school seasons are in the spring, that heavy schedule is then followed by playing pretty much every weekend in June and July.
That's a lot of repetitive motion, which is generally how overuse injuries occur. According to the article, what makes it tougher for softball, baseball and golf is that these are very arm and shoulder-oriented sports, so they put a lot of stress on the joints.
According to the article, this didn't happen so much when kids were playing different sports throughout the year. The motions for, say, basketball are different than those of softball, so the body had a chance to rest and recuperate from the softball-specific stress.
And no, this isn't a "girl thing." It's actually more pronounced in baseball because of the overhand throwing motion pitchers use. But since this is a softball blog (at least most of the time) we're sticking with that.
In today's culture, it's getting tougher and tougher for kids NOT to specialize. There's the pressure to be on the "right" (read: most competitive) team so they can get some of that college money. If you're not willing to devote 24x7 to that high-level softball team, they don't want you, and by implication you'll never get that D1 scholarship.
But what toll is it taking? An organization called Stop Sports Injuries is trying to provide some answers. They're going to medical professionals, especially those who specialize in youth sports injuries, to find out about the trends and get their recommendations. You can see their softball-specific data sheet here.
One thing they recommend, which is going to cause all sorts of anguish among coaches who believe winning is everything, is some pretty strict pitch count limitations for pitchers. That old myth about the softball pitching motion being "safe," which means you can ride one pitcher game after game for an entire tournament, is just that - a myth. At 10U-12U they recommend a limit of 65 pitches per game, and no more than 95 pitches a day over two days. No pitching at all on the third day. At 15U and above, the numbers "only" go up to 100 pitches per game, 140 total per day in the first two days, and 100 for the third day. That's way less than a lot of pitchers actually pitch during the season.
Again, this isn't only for pitchers. Catchers and other position players are running the same risks, just with different body parts. Our bodies weren't designed for the type of repetitive motions being demanded of youth players these days. The kind of cross-training created by participating in multiple sports rather than spending all your time on one encourages better overall development, and protects players from wearing down - mentally as well as physically.
Whether you agree with the exact numbers, this is important information for both parents and coaches to understand. There needs to be a mindset/cultural change if we're really going to help our kids become all they can be - and keep them healthy. I recommend that all parents and coaches follow the links in this post and become better-informed about the risks. It might just be the best thing you do for your daughter/players this year.