5 Ways to Help a Player Look Really Bad
You would think that one of the core parts of a coach’s job is to help ensure all of his/her players look good whenever they step onto the field. After all, pretty much every program at every level includes some form of “We are here for the girls” in their mission statement.
Yet the reality is you would be wrong. Because while most coaches sincerely love what they do and helping young people succeed, experience shows that is not true in every case.
Unfortunately, some are so caught up in their petty grievances and vendettas against individual players, families, outside coaches, other organizations or administrators at their schools or in their programs, etc., they kind of lose sight of their purpose and instead tend to make their decisions more to gain revenge or right perceived wrongs against them than to help players and win ballgames.
I know this sounds strange to some of you. But I’m sure many have experienced it first-hand.
In fact, this whole post was inspired by a rant a friend and fellow pitching coach had about exactly this type of situation. Not going to share his name because he hasn’t posted it publicly but I’m sure he knows who he is.
So if, rather than wanting to win ballgames and being willing to put a literal elephant on the field to do it, your first goal is to ensure that the targets of your anger feel the full weight and glory of your wrath, here are some suggestions to make it happen.
Throw pitchers into games cold
No better way to make even a great pitcher look bad than to just yank her off the bench, or better yet off another position on the field, and send her into the circle without a proper warmup. (BONUS: You also have the opportunity to help her get hurt! What a marvelous two-fer.)
Every pitcher needs time to warm up. Modern windmill pitching requires and incredibly complex and precise set of movements that must be intricately timed to produce the best results.
That’s why even the greats such as Lisa Fernandez, Cat Osterman, Monica Abbott, Sarah Pauly, Yukiko Ueno, etc. all would take their time loosening up their arms, finding their way to timing, and working on spinning the ball properly before games.
So if you want to “prove” to everyone that a particular pitcher isn’t good enough (and justify why you’re pitching another girl ahead of her) throw her in the game cold, preferably with runners on base, and let her struggle as she tries to find her rhythm. Very satisfying!
Put players in positions they haven’t practiced
Fielding and catching are the same skills no matter where you stand on the field, right? So why can’t any player play any position?
The reality is there are all kinds of nuances, physical and strategic, that go into every position. Which means there is a big difference between playing, say, third base and first base, or shortstop and first.
There’s even a different feel between outfield positions – not to mention different responsibilities. And forget about going into the outfield all of sudden when you’ve always trained as an infielder.
So if you want to make a player look bad, put her in a position she’s never practiced and has zero level of comfort in. If you can do it in a pressure situation so much the better.
Then be sure to yell when she bobbles or drops a ball, or throws to the wrong base, or makes some other type of mistake. That always helps.
Yell instructions to hitters while they’re at the plate
But don’t just yell out the instructions – insist that they follow them. For example, if a hitter likes to hold her hands a little low, tell her to hold them higher, and keep telling her until she does it.
Hitting is a tough skill to master to begin with. But giving her instructions she’s not comfortable with and insisting she follows them will really help throw her off her game and ensure she looks bad.
Or here’s another great idea. If you know a hitter’s flaws, yell them out loudly so the person calling pitches on the other side knows how to pitch to her.
For example, if she’s a sucker for high pitches, loudly state “Lay off the high ones” before the first pitch. If she tends to swing at pitches in the dirt, you can jauntily yell, “Don’t chase pitches in the dirt.”
The combination of changing her swing in the middle of an at-bat AND ensuring she sees a steady diet of pitches to her greatest swing flaw ought to help drive that batting average right down to where you want it.
Blame Player B for Player A’s mistakes
There’s nothing quite as much fun as taking the mistake of a player you like and foisting it on a player you don’t. This sort of deflection can really help bring down the spirits of the one you don’t like while simultaneously avoiding having to hold your favorites accountable.
Take the throw from short to first on a ground ball. The shortstop (who is “your kind of player”) picks up a routine grounder and proceeds to three-hop it to the first baseman (who is on your you-know-what list for whatever reason).
There was no reason for the ball to bounce once, much less three times, but the first baseman fails to pick it cleanly and the runner reaches base. You can let the shortstop slide while screaming at the first baseman that she has to “get those.”
Or what about a pitch in the dirt? This time you love the pitcher but find the catcher annoying.
The ball goes into the dirt in the opposite batter’s box for the fifth time that inning and finally gets away from the catcher, advancing a runner. Do you talk to your pitcher about hitting her spots?
No, of course not. You yell at the catcher because she missed it. Now everyone knows the pitcher is doing great but the catcher just sucks. Mission accomplished.
Hold players to different standards – and embarrass them when you do it
One of the best ways to ensure a player looks bad when you want her to is to put her under different scrutiny than her teammates. Bonus points if you can make it obvious you have favorites and non-favorites.
For example, a time-honored classic is to allow your “good” or favored players to make multiple errors in a game (or even an inning), but pull those you don’t like after a single error. If you can pull her off the field in the middle of an inning so she has to do a “walk of shame” in front of everyone at the field, even better.
For pitchers, you can sit idly in the dugout twiddling your thumbs while a favored pitcher walks several hitters while yanking a pitcher you don’t especially care for after one or two. Again, bonus points for yelling “We can’t defend a walk” after the first one. Double bonus points if the reality is you actually can’t defend a ground ball, pop up, or fly ball either.
You don’t even have to be that obvious, though. You can simply grunt and groan loudly in frustration whenever a player you don’t like does something bad while sitting silently or offering words of encouragement to one you do. The message will come through loud and clear.
Put ’em in their place
These are just a few examples. I’m sure many of you have seen more – perhaps some even more egregious.
It doesn’t take much, really. All you need is a little imagination and a burning desire to make sure players you don’t like for whatever reason look as bad as possible.
All it takes is a toxic combination of pettiness and ignorance.
Whether your goal is to make yourself feel big and important or just to drive girls you don’t like off the team and maybe even out of the sport, these tips will help. Now go show them who’s the boss.
Top photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com
Helping Players Feel Good about Themselves More Critical Than Ever
In February of this year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed the most recent results of its survey on the mental health of youths, along with a 10-year analysis of trends in that area. The news, in many cases, isn’t good – especially for teenage girls
The Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report: 2011-2021 showed that 57% of teenage girls reported feeling a persistent sense of sadness or hopelessness in the last year. That’s an all-time high, and a full 21 percentage points increase over 10 years ago. Additionally, 41% of teenage girls reported experiencing poor mental health in the last 30 days, and nearly one-third (30%) considered suicide over the last year versus 19% in 2011.
These are disturbing figures to say the least, and they are definitely trending in the wrong direction. So what can fastpitch softball coaches do to help the situation? Here are a few suggestions.
Create a Positive, Welcoming Atmosphere
Most of your players probably won’t show that they are experiencing feelings of sadness or hopelessness at practice or at games, but that doesn’t mean those feelings aren’t there.
Many may see playing softball as the best part of their day. It can be a refuge from all the rest of the turmoil of social media, peer pressure, grade pressure, etc. they’re facing.
But if practices and games consist of a lot of yelling, screaming, brutal criticism, and punishment, softball can quickly become one more burden contributing to the downhill spiral.
Instead of taking a command and control approach try being more positive with your players. Try to catch them doing good instead of always commenting on what they’re doing wrong.
I’m not saying you have to turn practice into a birthday party without the cake. There is certainly a time for correction and a need to hold players accountable.
But don’t make it all negative. Look for the positives and help players feel good about themselves when they perform well – or even make an effort to do things they couldn’t before.
You never know when a kind word or a metaphorical pat on the back might be the thing that keeps one of your players from becoming another sad statistic.
Pay Attention to Warning Signs
It’s unlikely any of your players will come out and say they’re feeling unhappy or having difficulty. People with depression in particular get really good at covering it up – at least until the dam breaks.
One thing to look for is a change in the way they interact with their teammates. If they are suddenly quiet and withdrawn where they were once boisterous and interactive it could be a sign something is going on with them.
It may just be a problem with a teammate or two, but it could also be a sign of something deeper. Either way, you’ll want to know about it and address is sooner rather than later.
This also applies to how they interact with you. If a player used to speak with you on a regular basis but has now become withdrawn it could be a sign of something deeper going on in their lives.
You can also look for a change of eating habits. If you’re doing team meals, or even just handing out snacks to keep your players fueled through a long practice, take not if someone suddenly stops eating or just picks at their food.
Pay attention to how they manage their equipment. Now, some players are just slobs who throw everything in their bags haphazardly. That doesn’t mean they’re experiencing sadness. In fact, some of the happiest players I’ve ever known have earned the name “Pigpen.”
If, however, a player used to take better care of her equipment but is now letting it stay dirty or putting it away in a random manner, you may want to initiate a conversation to check in on her mental health.
You may also notice a sudden loss of focus, such as a player making mentals errors she didn’t used to make. If she is having difficulty coping with her life she may not be able concentrate her efforts on the task at hand. Instead of just yelling “focus!” you might want to check if there is something deeper going on.
Finally, pay attention to whether a player is suddenly reporting more injuries or illnesses than she did before. That could be the case, or it could be a sign of her not being able to muster the enthusiasm to participate and using injury/illness as an excuse.
If it seems to be becoming a habit you may want to sit her down and find out if there is something more going on.
Offer a Sympathetic Ear
Many teens who experience these feelings of sadness or hopelessness tend to feel like there is nowhere they can go to discuss them. They’re afraid of their peers finding out, and some may be uncomfortable talking to their parents about it.
Make sure your players know they can always come to you to talk about what’s going on in their lives. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should try to solve them, however.
In simple cases you can offer some friendly advice and encouragement. Often times teens simply have a desperate need to be heard or to get what they’re feeling out in the open.
But if you suspect something deeper is happening in their lives you’ll want to refer them to a qualified, Board-certified mental health professional. That person will be trained to help teens work through their feelings and recognize deeper issues that could have a profound effect on their physical and mental health in the future.
Just showing you care in a meaningful way, however, can be just the boost that player needs to take the next step to getting past her issues.
There is a temptation for some among us to blame these mental health issues on kids today being “soft” or “snowflakes.” “Back in my day,” they like to say, “we didn’t have these problems.”
Actually you did, but no one talked about it. They just suffered in misery, and some took their lives, because no one was recognizing the problem.
It’s also true that life today is very different than it was 10, 15, 25 or more years ago. The pace is faster, and the exposure to impossible standards is relentless.
In softball terms that can mean seeing pitchers your age (or younger) throwing harder than you in social media posts and feeling like you’re not good enough. Never mind that you’ve added a few mph over the last several months and are doing well in your games. You’re still be compared to everyone in the country.
Or it can mean seeing all these hitters blasting home runs while you’re hitting singles, or seeing a list of “Top 10 12 year olds” and not seeing your name on the list.
None of that existed in the so-called “good old days.” But it does now.
That’s why it’s important to be aware of what’s happening with your players and do whatever you can to give them a great experience. You may not just change a game outcome or two. You could change a life.
Photo by Randylle Deligero on Pexels.com
Posting Up Properly Is Key to a Dynamic Drop Ball
Of all the movement pitches (i.e., anything that isn’t a flat fastball or changeup), the one with the highest reward v lowest risk is the drop ball.
At worst, if a drop ball doesn’t drop it’s still a low fastball. Low pitches are generally tougher to hit hard than higher ones, which is why many coaches love to the work the bottom of the strike zone.
I’ve sometimes used a drop ball that isn’t dropping to help solve the problem of a pitcher throwing fastballs that are rising out of the zone. Pitches don’t always have to “work” to work.
At best, if it doesn’t cause a hitter to swing and miss entirely it will often result in a weak ground ball. As long as you have a solid infield that should mean a lot of relatively easy outs and a low-scoring game.
Compare that to a curve or screw that doesn’t curve or screw, remaining flat and easy to hit. Or a riseball that doesn’t “rise” and ends up sitting in the power zone of a good hitter. All of those will get you in a whole heap o’ trouble.
if you’re going to throw a drop ball, though, you really do want it to work. Ideally it should come in flat, around thigh-high or just above the knees, until it’s a few feet from the plate – at which point it dives for the ground as if it hit the top of a frame and got deflected down.
Making that happen, however, is easier said than done. As any pitcher who has tried it can tell you.
One of the big keys you’ll hear to throwing an effective drop ball is to move your weight forward at release, sometimes referred to as “posting up.” This move essentially has the pitcher standing more vertical (straight up and down) at release rather than being tilted slightly backward.
One reason for posting up is to change the release angle of the pitch. If the ball is coming out flat, or moving upward only a degree or two out of the hand, it stands a much better chance of actually dropping suddenly versus a pitch with a higher angle of release.
Why does the release angle matter? The short answer is because you’re working WITH gravity instead of trying to fight it.
(If you’re curious as to what actually makes the drop ball drop, check out the explanation at the end of this post. For the rest of you, I won’t bore you with those details here.)
For most drops, the other key is to release the ball a little earlier than you would a fastball – basically at the back of the back leg instead of between the legs. Posting up will naturally move your release back to this point.
Try this: stand with your feet at a 45 degree angle to where you want to “throw” your imaginary pitch and your weight distributed evenly on both feet. See where your arm hangs.
It’s probably slightly in front of your back leg.
Now shift your weight so 95% or more is on your front foot, and you’re just using your back foot for balance. If you kept it relaxed your arm is likely hanging a little further back relative to your body.
Without even trying you shifted your release point back some.
Getting the feel of this position when you’re going full speed can be difficult. Many pitchers will tend to throw and then post up afterwards. Luckily I have a drill for that.
In the video below, Karsyn is standing completely on her front foot while leaving her back foot toe-down for balance. You can check this by having the pitcher lift her back foot off the ground then settle it it back down on top of the toe.
Now she throws with a full circle motion, focusing on a quick release. (While we’re demonstrating a pronation/peel drop here, it also works with a rollover drop release, as long as you’re not encouraging a release out in front of the body as some do.)
With a couple of pitches you should start seeing the ball come in flat, or slightly upward, then drop as if rolling off the proverbial table. Getting the feel from this position is pretty easy.
Just be sure the pitcher is throwing with a fast arm circle, i.e., at her regular fastball/drop ball speed. Otherwise, if the pitch is too slow, yes it will drop but it’s more of what I call a “gravity drop.”
That’s not what we’re looking for. We want a pitch that is about the same speed as the fastball (+/- a couple of mph) but has a dynamic drop to it at the end.
If you have a pitcher who is struggling to get the ball to drop, or is throwing it straight down into the ground, give this drill a try. I call it the Best Drop Ball Drill in the World, and once you do it you may call it that as well.
Why Drop Balls Drop
Ok, as promised, here’s the basic explanation of the physics of why a drop ball drops suddenly.
There are two key concepts here. The first is Bernoulli’s Principle, which is the same reason airplanes fly (only upside down as you will see).
In the case of the ball, the movement through the air and the spin direction of the ball (ideally straight over the top, or 12:00 to 6:00) creates a difference in the air pressure on the top of the ball versus the bottom.
Because the air has to travel a longer distance on the bottom versus the top (because of the forward spin) there is less air pressure on the bottom of the ball. When this difference is great enough the high pressure on the top will push the ball down and it will drop like a rock.
This pressure difference is aided by the seams and the Magnus Effect.
The seams help increase the effect of ball’s spin on creating a pressure differential. The higher the seams the more the airflow gets increase over the top and interrupted on the bottom.
The Magnus Effect build on Bernoulli’s Principle by incorporating the effect of the ball spinning (as well as the orientation of the axis).
Bernoulli’s Principle basically looks at the effect of a static object moving through the air (or in actuality liquid but let’s stay with air) and its spin axis. The faster the ball spins, the more of a pressure difference is created and therefore the greater the movement.
If the spin axis is perpendicular to the direction of travel (i.e., the spin axis is on the exact side of the ball as it moves forward) it has its greatest efficiency and thus will create the best ball movement.
Now you know.
Magnus Effect image by Rdurkacz – using inkscape, inspired by original version of wikipedia diagram, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24490137
To Be a Great Coach, Be Curious
Since this is a fastpitch softball blog I will be writing about this in fastpitch softball terms. But the reality is it applies to any type of coach, instructor, teacher, etc. in any line of work where the goal is to help others learn new things or do things better.
There are many characteristics that combine to make a good coach. But if there is one that the truly great coaches share it is that they are curious.
I don’t mean they stick their noses into other people’s business or go rummaging through their garbage cans late at night. No, I’m referring to the kind of curiosity about why things work the way they work – and how they can work better.
You might think that would be an automatic, but you’d be wrong. It’s very easy for coaches to get stuck in their ways.
Certainly that applies to older coaches. I hear all the time, “I’ve been doing it this way for X number of years and it’s worked great for me so why should I change?”
The answer, of course, is that new research and new discoveries are being made all the time. If you had a choice of teaching something that is adequate or teaching something that is life-changing, wouldn’t you want to go with life-changing?
You’ll never know if something new is life-changing, however, if you aren’t curious enough to check it out.
But even young coaches can be stuck in their ways and un-curious. Take all the players who, when they transition to becoming coaches, don’t bother expanding their horizons and seeing what the latest thinking is in techniques or strategies.
Instead, they simply repeat what THEIR coaches told them.
A good example is pitchers who were taught “hello elbow” (HE) methods of pitching. They dutifully did all the drills (wrist snaps up-close, T drills, big finishes, etc.) their coaches told them to do. Never mind that when they pitched they actually used internal rotation (IR) mechanics.
Now that they’re starting to teach other pitchers do they go to clinics, or look at videos of high-level pitchers, or high speed videos of themselves pitching for that matter, or invest the time to take an online course such as the Pauly Girl Fastpitch High Performance Pitching certification?
Nope. They just keep repeating what their coaches told them. Who probably repeated what their coaches told them. And the cycle continues.
There is an amazing treasure trove of information out there from highly respected experts and highly accomplished and innovative coaches. Sure, there’s a lot of crap out there too.
But if you’re curious you can sort the great from the garbage pretty quickly to ensure that what you’re spending your time learning will actually be helpful.
This idea of being curious applies to more than just softball-specific training. The best coaches I know are looking to other sports to see how they train and how that information can be applied to their players.
They’re learning more about nutrition, stretching, exercise, rest and recovery, mental game strategies and other areas that can impact a player’s performance. They are using technologies they couldn’t even have dreamed of having when they started their careers.
In short, they are in constant search of new and better information and techniques that will allow them to serve their players better – and help those players learn how to achieve success off the field as well as on.
Look, I know it’s easy to get stuck in a particular way of doing things, especially if you’ve had success with it as a player or a coach. But why limit yourself only to what you know now?
Think of it this way: someone offers to give you a new car for free. You can choose between one built in the 90s (still brand new and in perfect working condition) or one that was built this year.
Which would you choose?
I’m pretty sure you’d take the one built this year because it will have a lot more capabilities and be more suitable for today’s world.
It’s the same with knowledge. Why remain stuck in the 90s, or the 2000s, or whatever previous decade you want to name, when there is so much more available to you today?
In our fast-paced world you’re either moving forward or falling behind. If you want to keep moving forward and become (or continue to be) a great coach, don’t just settle for what you’ve always done.
Be curious. You might just be amazed at how valuable (and thrilling) it can be.
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com
Improvement Is Often Measured in Inches, Not Miles
In a perfect world, when a player walks out of practice she would be noticeably better than when she walked in. Her physical skills will have visibly improved, her understanding of the game (or a portion of it) will have grown measurably, and/or her confidence in her abilities will have increased exponentially.
That’s not what happens in the real world, however. At least most of the time.
The reality is most improvements in those areas are far more subtle. They are better-measured in inches, not miles (centimeters, not kilometers for my non-U.S. readers), which means the immediate gains are often barely perceptible.
But that doesn’t mean they’re not happening. They are; they’re just too small to notice on a day-to-day basis.
Think about how kids grow. If you see a child every day, you probably don’t notice how much they’re growing physically until you notice them compared to an object in the house – or they complain about their clothes or shoes not fitting anymore.
The gains they’ve made in height and/or weight have happened so gradually that you didn’t really see them until realized they are now four inches taller than when the summer started.
Now think about a kid you haven’t seen in a while. She also grew four inches since the last time you saw her.
But because there has been a huge gap between the last sighting and this one, you instantly recognize how much she’s grown.
That’s the way it often is with sports improvements as well. For example, a pitcher starts out awkwardly swinging her arm around and pushing the ball out slowly just trying to get it to and over the plate.
Then she starts working on her pitching mechanics. They don’t change immediately, but maybe in that first lesson she learns to relax a bit and let the ball come out of her hand instead of forcing it so much.
She still looks awkward in the big picture, but a little change has occurred. Over time, more of those changes occur and eventually she looks “like a pitcher” as she effortlessly flings the ball forward for fast strike after fast strike.
It isn’t until you reflect back on where she started, however, that you realize how far she’s come. Not all in one leap, but inch by inch, making subtle change after subtle change that over time work together to help her become the high-performer she is today.
It’s a shame that this concept isn’t better-understood, because I think the unrealistic expectations for improvement that are often set lead too many kids to give up on something they love before that cumulative effect has had a chance to kick in.
I have definitely seen this over the many, many years I have coached teams and taught lessons. When kids who started out behind the pack put in the work they often end up passing their peers and becoming stars on their respective teams.
Not all at once, mind you. But over time the learn and grow, their control over their own bodies improves, their understanding of the skills and the game increases, and suddenly people are talking about how lucky their parents are that the kid is such a “natural.” If only those people knew.
Sure, there are natural athletes who seem to pick things up quickly. But even they hit a point where improvement becomes more incremental and hard-won.
The truth is the players who make it the farthest aren’t necessarily the ones who start fastest out of the blocks. The successful players are the ones who keep plugging away at it, little by little, day by day, inch by hard-fought inch.
Even when it seems like they’re not getting anywhere.
Because if your daughter keeps moving forward, even just a little each session, over time you will be amazed to realize just how far she’s come.
Photo by Andrew Patrick on Pexels.com
Be the Scarecrow, Not the Tin Man
One of the world’s most beloved movies is “The Wizard of Oz.” Audiences young and old love the story of Dorothy and her quest to follow the Yellow Brick Road so she can return home to Kansas (after ungratefully wishing she could go somewhere else; you parents can relate).
Along the way she meets three traveling companions. We’ll set aside the Cowardly Lion for now because he doesn’t have much to do with today’s subject.
That leaves us with the Scarecrow and the Tin Man.
These two characters offer the perfect way to describe how your athletes should be moving on the field.
Basically you want them to be the Scarecrow, not the Tin Man.
The Scarecrow is loose and relaxed. While yes, he does fall down a lot, the looseness of his limbs is the way you want your players to be when they are pitching, throwing overhand, hitting, fielding, running, etc.
By contrast, the Tin Man is very stiff. Even after he gets his joints oiled up he’s not exactly fluid when he moves.
He looks rather, well, clunky – because he is. As the Wizard of Oz himself says, he is a “clinking, clanking, clattering collection of caliginous junk.”
(In case you were wondering, “caliginous” is an archaic word that means misty, dim, obscure or dark. I looked it up. So it really doesn’t fit the rest of the description other than sounding like the other words. You’re welcome.)
In pretty much any athletic movement you want the body to be fluid. The energy should flow from one part to another (usually from the ground up) and the joints should remain unlocked.
But it can be difficult for players, especially younger ones, to understand exactly what that looks or feels like. If they’re used to be stiff when they walk or do other things in their daily lives they may not know how to get that flow.
But if you tell them to be the Scarecrow rather than the Tin Man, they instantly have a visual to help them put it into context. They may not get the Scarecrow part right away, but when you contrast him with the Tin Man it becomes a whole lot clearer.
Remember that coaching isn’t just about saying the right things or having the greatest amount of knowledge. It’s about being able to explain what you’re going for in a way your players can understand – and apply.
Telling them to be like the Scarecrow is a fairly specific way of telling them to “be loose and flexible” that gives them a model they can draw from based on their past experiences.
And if you find they can’t because they haven’t seen the movie – you now have a new team building activity to help them along their own Yellow Brick Road of success.
Efficiency Is the Secret Sauce to Improving Performance
Everyone is always looking for that one magical drill, or technique, or exercise, or something else that will help them improve their level of performance in games.
Building strength is often where players and coaches turn when they don’t know what else to do. And yes, you can definitely drive some level of improvement through strength or speed and agility training. But often the results don’t match the expectations – or at least the hopes.
That’s because there’s another element to the whole process: efficiency, or the ability to improve output without increasing the level of input.
Take a look at these two illustrations. The first one shows a player whose mechanics are inefficient, such as a hitter who only uses her arms or a pitcher who pushes the ball through release with a forced wrist snap.
Let’s say she is working hard but not seeing the results. Increasing her input is only going to raise her performance slightly, because the rather flat relationship between input and output remains the same.
When you have high efficiency, however, as seen in this chart, the difference between input and output is much greater
Both players are putting in the same level of effort. But the second is getting much more out of it. In fact, while the first player’s performance is below the midline of the chart, the second player’s performance is already above it.
Which means if player one wants to reach the same level she is going to have to somehow double her input. Yet if player two only increases her input a little more, her output goes to the top of the chart.
Now, all of the objects and their placement here are arbitrary; they’re not based on a specific set of numbers but rather just an illustration of the principle. But the correlation is real.
It’s essentially a great example of the coaching phrase “Work smarter, not harder.”
When you are inefficient, increasing your effort (strength building, practice time, and so forth) even to a significant level often only results in a small, incremental improvement in overall performance. If you are highly efficient, however, the effect of putting in even a little extra effort is multiplied and you can make significant gains toward your performance goals.
Think of it this way: if you were running a 100 meter dash race with a prize of the latest, greatest smartphone would you rather be on the starting line with everyone else or 10 meters ahead of the pack? I know which one I’d choose.
Being more efficient through mechanics that are proven to be superior gives you that head start on the race to the top. It doesn’t guarantee you’ll stay there – you still have to keep working or the less efficient players could pass you eventually – but having a head start is definitely a significant advantage in anything where there’s competition for success.
That’s why it’s important for players, coaches, and parents to understand what efficient mechanics are for every skill – hitting, pitching, throwing, fielding, base running. There are plenty of great resources out there that can point the way, starting with where you are right now on Life in the Fastpitch Lane.
For pitchers you might want to also check out Rick Pauly’s Pauly Girl Fastpitch website as well as Keeley Byrnes’ Key Fundamentals Softball blog. The Discuss Fastpitch Forum is also a great resource for a wide variety of topics.
Social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube have some great content (along with a lot of not-so-great content so you need to be discerning about who and what you follow).
If you’re not sure if you’re using efficient mechanics right now, a great way to check is to watch high-level college and pro games to see what those players do, and compare it to what you (or your daughter/player) is being taught. If you don’t see the same things, you’re probably not learning efficient mechanics.
All you need is a smartphone and a TV and you can capture your own clips. Throw them in some sort of video analysis software and you are ready to spend hours upon hours going down the rabbit hole. But at least you’ll be informed.
The bottom line is working harder always works better when you work smarter too. Focus on improving your efficiency rather than just your input and you’ll see your output rise dramatically.
Keep Pursuing Your Dreams – Even When It’s Tough
This was the scene at a small bar and restaurant in December of 1961. An ambitious but pretty much unknown band arrived for a gig only to discover there were just 18 people in the place.
They could have been discouraged by the lack of attendance, and they could have decided to just hang it up after such a disappointing turnout. But they continued to believe in themselves, and knew that all that work they were putting in at obscure venues with hardly anyone watching would pay off eventually.
Most fastpitch softball players know the feeling. It can be a real grind.
Practicing in freezing cold barns in the winter and hot, smelly barns or outdoors on hot, humid days in the summer. Hours spent in private lessons, then many more hours practicing on your own.
Then you go out to a game and you stink up the field. You strike out at the plate.
You miss your spots as a pitcher or hang a pitch that gets driven toward South America. You boot a routine ground ball and follow it up by throwing the ball into the parking lot, or drop a can of corn fly ball that you should be able to catch with both eyes closed.
You begin to wonder if it’s worth it – all the time spent, all the energy expended, all the heart and soul poured into a game that doesn’t seem to love you back. You think maybe you’d be better served finding something else to do with all those hours and days.
Don’t worry, those feelings actually very normal. It can be difficult to work that hard at something only to see it go bad anyway.
The thing to remember, however, is that failure (or near-failure) is only temporary. It’s also an opportunity to learn and grow.
If you struck out, whether once or every time, figure out why. Was your timing off? Were you dropping your hands and looping your swing (even though you’ve been working on not doing that)?
If you struggled as a pitcher did you focus on your mechanics when you practiced or did you just throw the ball for a prescribed period of time? Did you demand more of your pitches or did you just say “good enough” and move on?
If you had trouble fielding or throwing did you put in extra time or just stick to the minimums?
The reality is whether you do well or not is largely in your own hands. Yes, it helps to have quality coaches and/or quality training, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to be blessed with an abundance of athletic ability. None of those things are within your control.
But what is under your control is your approach to getting better. You can decide how hard you work.
You can decide how you spend your time each day, each practice. You can decide how you will react to things that are outside of your control.
And most of all, you can decide whether you are willing to do the things that are necessary to achieve your dreams or will give up at the first sign of adversity.
My recommendation, of course, is if you love fastpitch softball find a way to fight through the tough times and keep an eye on your goal. Because again, failure is only permanent if you let it be.
You can get better if you want to – and are willing to pay the price. It won’t be easy. But nothing worthwhile ever is.
As for that obscure little band from a rough-and-tumble working class city not exactly known for its contribution to the arts, things definitely did get better for them after that sparsely attended performance on a cold winter’s night in December 1961.
By December the following year they had secured a recording contract and released their first single. It didn’t do especially well but it was a start.
Within another few months they would see their next single reach #1 on the pop charts, and things would keep getting better from there. Eventually they would change the world – more than once.
Here’s a better look at that band from December 1961.
Everyone starts somewhere. The ones who make it are the ones who keep plugging away.
The One Tool Every Fastpitch Coach Needs in His/Her Bag
There are all kinds of devices and training tools available to fastpitch softball (and other) coaches today. A quick scan of Amazon or any sporting goods website will offer all kinds of ways to solve all kinds of problems at all kinds of price points.
But there is one tool today’s coaches need to make sure they have in their bags if they want to meet the expectations of many fastpitch players and especially parents today: a magic wand.
(Mine happens to be a Sirius Black model, as I’m sure Coach Katie McKay Phillips has already identified. If you don’t know who Sirius Black is, you really need to read more.)
The reason you need a magic wand is simple: many players and parents want to see instant improvement in individuals and teams.
They don’t want to spend hours practicing skills such as hitting, throwing, and pitching in the basement, backyard, or batting cages. They don’t want to spend hours out at the field learning their positions and what plays to make in specific situations or how to communicate where the ball will go.
Instead, they want you as the coach to wave a magic wand and take the team from looking like a group of misfit toys to a unit that can compete for tournament championships every weekend. So you’d best have a magic wand in your bag to show them you’re trying to give them what they want!
Now, of course, as any Harry Potter fan knows the wand is only as good as the wizard who wields it. So you’d best be practicing your spells and charms.
Once you have your wand, here are a few you can try. Some are directly from the Hogwarts courseware, while others are spells and charms of my own design.
Just remember, if you are a total Muggle and can’t get them to work, you’ll have to acquire the results the long, old-fashioned way – with lots of practice and repetition.
- Wingardium Leviosa – This one is one of the first Hogwarts students learn. It’s a levitation charm used to lift objects. Comes in mighty handy when your team can’t hit too well. Throw a little Wingardium Leviosa at a weak ground ball and watch it turn into a soaring line drive. You can also use it more subtly to turn a weak pop-up into a duck snort that sails just out of reach of every converging fielder. I’m sure you’ve seen that before.
- Expellliarmus – Good for when an opposing fielder is about to make a play that will result in a costly out. Originally designed to pull an opponent’s wand from his/her hand, it’s also great for turning a routine fielding opportunity into an instant error. No doubt you’ve seen this one being used by your opponents to make you look like you’ve never taught your players how to play. Naturally some coaches over-use it and then your team makes error after error, giving up a big inning. After all, the team couldn’t be that bad on their own after spending THE ENTIRE WEEK working on fielding ground balls and bunts.
- Petrificus Totalus – This is a full body binding spell that causes temporary complete paralysis. You have probably seen this one in action when your hitters were at the plate. The opposing pitcher throws a meatball down the middle of the plate and your hitter watches it go by for strike three. They didn’t freeze up on their own – they were hit with Petrificus Totalus by a wizard on the other side of the field. What other explanation could there be?
- Oblivius – This one is really handy becaue it enables you to erase the memory of people or events you don’t want someone to remember. It can be used in a couple of different ways. When used on opponents you can cause them to forget what to do with the ball on defense so they just stand there confused, holding it and looking around. No doubt you’ve seen this one in use as well. For your own team, you can use it when your pitcher just gave up a home run or other big hit to an opposing hitter and has now lost total confidence in herself and her ability to throw a strike. A little Oblivius and she’s right back in there. Coaches can also use it on themselves to forget bad innings or entire games before it gives them ulcers.
- Accio – The summoning spell that brings things to you. You’ll have to teach it to your players so the ball goes to them. How else do you explain a sure home run that hits a phantom gust of win and stays in the yard so the worst fielder in the game can catch it?
- Confundus Charm (Confundo) – Ever see three fielders converge on a ball only to let it drop between all of them? That’s Confundo in action.
- Instanteous Pitchus – Learning to pitch can be a long, arduous journey filled with hard work and major disappointments. But it doesn’t have to be. If you use this charm correctly you can turn any wannabe-pitcher into an instant ace in just one lesson. Which is what many parents expect of their coaches. No long, boring practice time or hours spent chasing balls around a backstop. Any pitcher can go from zero to hero if you apply this charm.
- Sluggeraramus – Does for hitters what Instanteous Pitchus does for pitchers. Or what parents expect purchasing a $500 bat will do for a kid with a 5 cent swing. If you can cast this spell, which is not easy to do, you won’t have to use Wingardium Leviosa so much in a game because every hit will already be a great one.
- Awareweed – Not so much a spell or charm as an herbal potion you can feed your players in lieu of spending practice time teaching them what to do with the ball in specific situations. Somehow they will just know where the ball should go, such as whether they should throw home to try to cut down the lead runner or realize that run is already scoring so go after one who is more vulnerable. It also gives them situational understanding, such as throwing to first for the sure out when your team has a 10-run lead rather than trying to get the runner heading home on a tag play. When your team is loaded up on Awareweed, coaches and parents can just sit back and enjoy the magic happening on the field.
- Silencio – While this silencing spell can be used on players when their incessant cheers are giving you a headache, it’s best applied to all the parent “coaches” in the stands who are yelling advice to their players (especially at the plate) or providing a running monolog of every play you as the coach should have made (after the fact, of course), criticisms of personnel or baserunning decisions, ideas on how to improve run production, and whatever else pops into their mind at the time. It can (and should) also be applied to those who have decided it’s their job to teach the umpire how to do his/her job.
That’s a fairly comprehensive list – enough to keep you studying for at least a year until you can pass your Ordinary Wizarding Level (O.W.L.) exam and more on to more advanced spells, charms, and potions.
That said, if you don’t have access to a wand, or can’t make it work, you’re going to have to do it the old-fashioned way – and explain it to your players and their parents as well.
The old-fashioned way isn’t quite as easy for them, and it takes longer, but it brings its own kind of magic as players achieve capabilities on their own they never dreamed they could acquire. And in the long run it’s a lot more satisfying because it’s been earned.
Why Telling a Pitcher to “Slow Down” to Throw Strikes Is Counterproductive
I wrote recently about things coaches should never say. But after talking to some parents and pitching coaches lately, I think the old standby of coaches telling pitchers who are struggling to throw strikes to slow down their motions requires its own blog post.
While I know the coaches are just trying to be helpful, telling a pitcher to slow down in order to produce more strikes is counter productive on several levels. Let’s look at a few.
What they’ve practiced
I think it’s a pretty safe assumption that no pitcher who is going to a pitching coach is being trained to throw slowly. The name of the game is FASTPITCH softball, so no matter what they’re teaching (and we can certainly debate on what the proper pitching mechanics are) pitching coaches are sincerely trying to get their student to throw with as much speed as they can.
At least if they want to keep those students.
That means they’ve been working on a developing a specific set of mechanics that they can execute quickly. After all, slow movements mean slow pitches.
So if you’re asking a pitcher to slow her movements down, you’re totally taking her away from what she’s being trained to do. In other words, you’ve now made it like she’s never had a pitching lesson and is just guess at what to do.
Fastpitch pitching requires a certain rhythm and flow. It’s a complex series of movements in all three planes of motion that require precise timing to do well.
Telling a pitcher to slow her motion down takes her away from all of that and actually makes it harder for her to do what you want her to do – throw strikes.
The longer it takes for a pitcher to go through her motion and deliver the ball, the more opportunity there is for something to go wrong. It’s basic physics, coming out of Newton’s laws of motion.
If you apply enough force to an object in a particular direction, it will tend to continue moving in that direction unless some other force acts on it. As it moves it has momentum.
In a weightless vacuum, like in space, a small amount of effort will have that object going straight forever. But fastpitch softball isn’t played in a weightless vacuum.
So the pitcher has to apply enough force to overcome the friction of the air, any wind currents, and especially gravity.
Then there’s the path of the arm and position of the hand. If the hand and arm are moving all over the place it will be difficult to send the ball in a particular, desired direction. It becomes kind of a guess for the pitcher.
If the arm is going faster, however, its momentum will eliminate a lot of the wobbling and make it easier to throw the ball in the desired direction. Not easy, mind you, but easier than just pushing the ball out slowly.
Then it’s a matter of making sure the hand and arm are on-line at the time of release and that the release occurs at the proper time (not too early or too late).
Think about a bowling ball. If you roll it slowly, you are at the mercy of the lanes and how warped or slick they are. The ball will kind of meander back and forth along the path of least resistance until runs out of lane or hits the gutter.
But if you roll it quickly, it will overcome most if not all of the issues with the lane and take a direct path to wherever you sent it. Good or bad.
Look on the website of any program or even individual team and they will all profess that they are dedicated to player development. Uh huh.
Just once I’d like to see an honest website that says, “We are totally focused on winning as many tournaments as we can and will do whatever it takes, no matter what the consequences are or who suffers for it, to achieve this mission.”
But let’s assume the coach actually does want to help all of his/her players develop. That means letting them work at the top of their games, outside their comfort level, to develop the skills they’ll need to continue advancing in the sport.
In the case of pitchers, that means letting them throw hard so they can learn how to do so under pressure.
Ok, you say, but if the pitcher is walking everyone how do the rest of the players develop?
I agree they don’t. So if you want to stop the walks, don’t tell the pitcher to slow down her motion. Pull her and put someone else in.
If all you want is strikes, even if they’re slow and easy to hit, you can pretty much put in anyone. They can then come in and lob the ball toward the plate, and will likely give you the strikes you want.
Doing it that way isn’t that hard. And it might even be a thrill for that girl who has always wanted to pitch but never got the opportunity (because she hasn’t actually worked at it).
In the meantime, the pitcher will learn a lesson that she needs to work more at her craft so she can throw hard strikes with a fast motion if she wants more circle time.
Ok, you say, but I don’t want to pull her because she’s our best pitcher.
Not today. Otherwise you wouldn’t be telling her to slow her motion down.
Take her out and put in someone who can give you what you want – which will ultimately allow your best pitcher to continue developing. That will be best in the long run for her, and for the team.
Telling a pitcher to slow down her motion to throw strikes is not the way to produce the results you want. It’s far more likely to make her pitches worse while taking her further away from her goal of becoming a quality pitcher you can rely on.
Instead, encourage pitchers to keep their energy high and trust their mechanics. You’re more likely to get strikes out of them that way (assuming they’ve been working at learning how to pitch).
And if they still don’t it’s time for a circle visit.
Tell them it’s not their day, put someone else in, and then tell them to keep working because you’re going to give them another chance. It could be the biggest benefit you ever offer that pitcher.
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