Travel Ball’s Long-Term Effect on the Future of Pitching

I have made it clear in the past that I am not a fan of time limits on fastpitch softball games. Maybe I’m just old but I believe the game is meant to be played over a minimum of seven innings, no matter how long that takes.

Time limits, however, are a fact of life in travel ball. Whether you believe it’s tournament directors/organizations being greedy by trying to squeeze 10 lbs. of play into a 5 lb. set of fields or well-meaning tournament directors/organizations trying to ensure that games run on time out of respect for the teams who spend all day at the ballpark, time limits don’t appear to be going anywhere any time soon.

With that in mind, I have a few observations on how these time limits are affecting the game today, and how they will affect it in the future. Whether you agree or disagree, let me know in the comments below.

Observation #1: Pitchers find it more difficult to last seven innings when required. I am seeing that a lot in high school ball right now.

Pitchers who are used to games lasting 75 or 85 minutes are able to perform at a high level for five innings or so. But come inning #6, they start having a lot more trouble.

Now, I know some will say that’s because they’ve gone around the batting order a couple of times and the hitters have seen them. But I don’t think that’s the sole reason.

I believe that mentally they are used to the games being done by that point, and the thought that they have to keep going requires some adjustment. For some, it can even get tough at the end of the fifth as they realize they still need to have something in the tank for another two innings.

Does that mean they can’t adjust? Of course not. But it may take them a while before they learn to pace themselves properly for a seven-inning game.

Observation #2: Teams can no longer ride one pitcher for the season. Back in the day, to be successful a travel team, high school team, or even a college team really needed only one Ace pitcher. She was expected to carry the load, pitching every inning (or nearly every inning at least) in every major tournament.

That is no longer the case. Now, it could be that the hitters have gotten a lot better, actually working at their craft in the off-season like pitchers always have.

Rule changes have also made it tougher to ride one pitcher. Pushing the pitching distance back and moving from white balls with white seams to yellow balls with red seams has brought more offense into the game. So has bat technology, which sometimes allows a ball struck with a half swing to carry over the fence.

But I also think the way travel teams and tournaments are structured has had an effect on pitchers’ ability to carry that type of load. All the stop/start of more games can place more stress on young arms, so teams are spreading the load more.

While I think that’s a good thing overall, it also means many young pitchers don’t learn HOW to carry the load. They know there’s always help available.

Greater availability of facilities and lessons also means there are more pitchers out there than ever before. Those pitchers aren’t going to stick around very long, however, if they don’t get innings, so that means coaches must ensure #2 and #3 receive enough circle time to stay with the team.

From a health and safety perspective that’s a good thing, in my opinion. But it does mean that fewer #1s are learning how to be that pitcher. They are becoming more inclined to thinking they did their job in game one, and now it’s time for someone else to step up.

Observation #3: We will likely see more specialization in the future. As a result of the previous changes, I think it’s likely fastpitch softball, especially at the collegiate level, will start to look more like baseball, with a bullpen full of specialists.

Right now, all pitchers are considered to be starters. That doesn’t mean they all get starts – that decision is still merit-based (or political, depending on who you talk to).

But pitchers in a college bullpen aren’t thought of as being middle relievers, or closers, or really anything other than an arm available to throw in a game.

I think that will change, especially with a generation of pitchers used to working within time limits. That girl who is lights-out for one inning but deteriorates rapidly after?

Instead of trying to force her to improve her endurance, make her a closer. She can just go in and rocket the ball for three or four hitters rather than giving the top of the lineup a chance to see the starter for a third or fourth time.

Your #3 or #4 starter? Maybe she’s better suited to be a middle reliever. Pair her up with a starter where she will be a contrast – like a dropball pitcher paired with a riseball pitcher – and let her come in when hitters start getting comfortable with the starter.

The more teams use their pitchers as a staff in specific roles rather than trying to fit everyone into the “starter” category, the more they can become strategic.

Would it be better to have one Ace you knew you could ride the whole way? Maybe. But thanks to the way pitchers are being developed these days I think that ship has sailed.

Rather than fighting it, it’s time for colleges to look at what they’re getting and figure out how best to use them. The good news for players is that this sort of change in thinking might open up some new opportunities that weren’t there before. Especially for those who fit that “closer” description.

Matching reality

The foundation of softball at the high school and collegiate levels is youth softball – primarily travel ball. Changes there will affect the way the game is played all the way up the food chain.

Rather than fighting it, or clinging to old ways, schools need to take a hard look at the way the game is being played at the younger levels and adjust their strategies accordingly. Those who do will likely have greater success in both the short- and long-term.

Better Idea on Advertising for a Player

One the (many) things that make me shake my head in confusion is to see the way teams advertise for players. Whether it’s on a discussion board such as Discuss Fastpitch, in one of the many softball-related Facebook groups, or somewhere else, it’s always the same:

“‘Team Awesome’ is looking for two or three players to fill out its roster for the upcoming season. We need an ‘A’ level #1 starter; must throw 65+ with great control and command of all movement pitches. Also looking for a catcher with pop times of 1.7 seconds who can hit bombs and a shortstop with great lateral movement and an overhand throw of 60+.”

Aren’t we all?

I mean, look at those descriptions. Great teams start with being strong up the middle. If you can acquire a true Ace pitcher, a stud catcher, and a D1 prospect shortstop you’d be pretty well set up to win a lot of ballgames, even if the rest of your team was mediocre at best.

But that’s the thing. Those types of players don’t grow on trees. They’re highly desired by everyone, which means by the time Team Awesome’s ad runs those players have already been snapped up.

It’s also a pretty good bet that the name-brand top-level teams don’t have to advertise or post to find those players. Those players come to them because of their reputation and ability to get them seen by college coaches.

So it’s a pretty good bet Team Awesome is not going to find that caliber of player sitting around after tryout season is done.

That doesn’t mean Team Awesome can’t find great players – players who can help them elevate the state of their game. What they should be doing, in my opinion, is taking a tack more like this:

“Team Awesome has a couple of open opportunities for players ready to make a bigger impact and see the field more often. If you’re a great #2 pitcher stuck behind an incredible #1, come give us a look. If you’re a catcher who has been working her butt off to become a starter but can’t even get a look, we’ll look at you. If you think you have what it takes to play the field against high-level competition but just get overlooked on your current team, we could use another good (position) – especially if you can hit. Being on a trophy-winning team is nice, but being the reason your team earns a trophy is even better.”

Those are the players who are likely to be available. Or who are at least considering seeking their fortunes elsewhere.

Most kids sign up because they want to play ball, not sit on the bench while others play ball. And while there is tremendous satisfaction in working your way up and earning your spot on your current team, that’s not always in the cards for everyone.

Some players are victims of “Daddyball” or “Mommyball,” where the team is built for and around the daughter(s) of the coach(es). No matter how hard you work you’re never going to overcome that mindset, so a change of scenery will create new opportunities.

On the other hand, sometimes, no matter how hard a player works, there are others in their position who also work just as hard – and were blessed with more athletic ability/talent/whatever you want to call it. If a player is stuck behind that person – and rightfully so because she’s better – she can either accept limited playing time or find another situation where she can contribute more.

Those are the players you should be trying to find – the hidden gems looking for a place to shine. They can make just as much of a difference to your team as the studs you think you want but without some of the risk.

Because those stud players you’re advertising for can go anywhere. But the kids who are given opportunities to stand out will likely be at least a little more loyal to the team that gave them that opportunity. Which means you’re less likely to have to run the same ad next year. They’re also likely to be a little more forgiving if your team isn’t quite as awesome as you told them it was during the recruiting process because at least they’re getting the innings they were looking for.

Next time you’re looking for a couple more players, instead of advertising for known studs try encouraging those looking for an opportunity to prove they can be the studs to give your team a try. You never know who you might find that will make your team look better – and you like a recruiting genius.

Pitching: The Train Carries the Passenger, Not Vice Versa

As I have mentioned plenty of times in the past, “A League of Their Own” is one of my favorite movies. Not just sports movies but movies in general.

A particular highlight (at least for me) is Jon Lovitz as Ernie Capidino, the scout assigned to find players for the new women’s professional baseball league. He has many hilarious lines, including this one as he tries to hustle new recruit Marla Hooch onto the train so they can get on their way:

Maybe I had this in the back of my mind as I was working with some young pitchers tonight, because the idea of a train came to me as I was trying to explain how to get more drive out of the lower half of the body instead of just lurching forward with the upper body.

I told them that everything from the waist down is the train, and everything from the waist up is the passenger. In order for the passenger to reach her destination the train has to move and carry the passenger. If the passenger is what moves, or primarily moves, it’s unlikely that it will be able to carry the train out of the station.

In other words, it’s the lower body that drives out, with both feet moving forward at the same time, rather than the head and shoulders leading the way. With the former you get power, good posture and stability. With the latter you get all kinds of problems, including reduced speed, a lack of consistency and ultimately pitches that fly all over the place.

Once the pitcher understands, the goal is to get the train in motion and let the passenger just go along for the ride. That comes with getting a bit of a push from the stride leg and then a good push from the drive leg instead of letting the stride leg just run past and reach out.

The drive leg has to actively push/thrust out. This is made easier, of course, if the core is already over or even slightly in front of the pitching rubber instead of behind it as the legs begin to push.

The more there is a feeling of motion and coordinated effort between the feet, the hips and the rest of the core, the more efficiently and effectively the pitcher will drive forward. That movement creates more energy that can be transferred into the ball.

But if the passenger, i.e., the upper body, is what initiates the drive forward, a ton of energy will be left behind and it will feel like the passenger is dragging the train behind her. Which is as much wasted effort as it sounds.

So if you have a pitcher who is leading with the upper body, try having her picture the train and the passenger. It might be just what she needs to improve her overall drive.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Great New Resource for Learning Pitch Movement

I’ve spoken in the past about Rick and Sarah Pauly’s High Performance Pitching courses. They have put together a great series of Beginner, Intermediate and Elite-level online training courses that give professional instructors and bucket parents alike the ability to learn from two of the best in fastpitch softball pitching.

Recently they released a brand new course for the Elite program called “Tips for Making a Ball Move.” (Click on the Elite tab to find it.)

In his usual friendly and accessible way, Rick walks through topics such as what order to learn movement (i.e., non-fastball) pitches, increasing spin rates on pitches and how to be effective with grips. Lots of great information, and best of all it’s FREE!

But there was a three-part set of lessons in there I thought would be particularly helpful for bucket parents. Two of the lessons cover different types of training balls, and the other one talks about other types of gadgets.

I think these are some very valuable lessons for a couple of reasons. One is that we all look at those things hoping to find a shortcut to helping our daughters/players/students pitch more effectively.

As Rick shows his personal collection I felt like a kid again going through baseball cards with my friends – got that, got that, got that, hmmm, that looks interesting. As much as I say I’m not a gadget guy I’ve certainly spent my fair share of money checking things out.

Rick walks through each of them, talking honestly about what he uses regularly and which balls or devices mostly collect dust on his shelf. Before you hit the “submit” button on Amazon or an individual website I highly recommend you check out this series of videos.

You know the feeling.

The good thing is Rick isn’t really passing judgment on the balls or devices as much as he is sharing his experience. Why that’s important is that while a ball or device may not have worked for him, it might be just the thing you need. After watching the videos you’ll get a better idea of whether they’re worth checking out.

For example, he talks about SpinForm softballs. They are great for helping pitchers learn the curve or rise. But in my experience they’re also great for teaching the overhand throw – especially for a player who tends to get side spin instead of 12-6 spin on her overhand throw.

It’s hard to miss whether the ball is being thrown properly or not, especially if you play catch with someone who does throw properly. That visual helps players figure out what they need to do to improve. If you pair up a pitcher working on her curve with a catcher who needs some spin help it’s a win-win.

And honestly, that’s the thing about these various balls and devices. None of them are necessarily good or bad. Just like drills, using them to achieve success has a lot to do with the coach and the student.

If you have a specific need and use the device properly, it may be valuable to you – even if it wasn’t to me. But if you don’t put in the work with it, or use it as intended, you’re probably going to find it one day covered in dirt and grime when you go to clean out your garage.

The nice thing about Rick’s videos is they give you an unbiased head start on determining whether whatever you’re thinking about purchasing will help solve the issue you’re trying to solve. And again, that course is free so even if you don’t watch the rest of the lessons you can pop in and get what you need.

Please let this work. Please let this work.

So before you go off chasing the latest softball device rainbow, give those videos a look. It might just save you a few bucks you can use to pay for your next hotel stay.

P.S. Just FYI, no matter what device or tool you buy, they tend to work better when you use them regularly.

Advice From the Batman: Play to Win

Photo by Picography on Pexels.com

Last weekend my two sons Adam and Eric came over to the house for a big event: to watch “Zach Snyder’s Justice League.

First off let me say that while the movie is more than four hours long it was time well-spent. Not only because I got to spend that kind of time with two of my favorite people in the world but also because the movie is everything the fans who pushed for it to be released hoped it would be.

If you like epic comic book movies where the characters have real motivations, and lots of action, and you have access to HBO Max (or know someone who does) be sure to check it out. You won’t be disappointed. Here’s a little taste:

Ok, on to softball.

After battling the villain Steppenwolf (and losing), the heroes (sans Superman) are all in the Batcave talking about what their next move is. One of them (can’t remember who, did I say it was a four hour long movie?) makes a suggestion for a strategy. Then the Batman says something profound – something to the effect of:

“That’s just playing not to lose. All that does is delay how long it takes you to lose. We need to play to win.”

What a great concept. Playing not to lose just delays how long it takes you to lose.

Think about that in a softball context, especially now that nearly every travel softball game has a time limit. How many times have you seen coaches call time out for an unnecessary mound conference, or had their hitters go to the plate and slowly tie their shoes, or do some other stall tactic to try to get the “drop dead” alert to go off before they have to do anything?

Plenty, I’m sure.

They may think they’re playing to win, but really they’re playing not to lose. The message they’re sending to their team is either “I don’t think we can beat this team straight up but we’re ahead right now so let’s take it” or “I’m afraid you guys will do something to screw up this victory so I’m not going to give you the chance.”

And yes, the result might be that they win that game. But all it really did was delay how long it will take them to get knocked out.

Winners play to win.

Let’s look at another situation – the coach who doesn’t want her team taking any chances. Don’t throw down to first to try to pick off the runner because you might throw the ball into right field. Don’t try to hit the ball hard with two strikes, just make contact. Don’t throw a drop ball with two strikes because the catcher might miss it.

Those are all things great players do. But this coach isn’t looking for great. She’s looking to not lose because of a mistake.

Now, there are definitely times to be conservative in your approach. But not all the time. That’s playing not to lose instead of playing to win.

The problem with playing not to lose is you put your fate into someone else’s hands. Yes, you’ve minimized your mistakes, but you’ve also minimized your ability to rise above your current level of play to become something greater.

And if every player on the team is afraid to make a mistake, maybe because the coach will scream at her or yank her out of the game in the middle of an inning, the team will never come close to fulfilling its potential. Instead, it will just be trying to hold on for as long as it can until a team that wants it more comes and takes it away from them.

It’s like they say in the grossly underrated comedy “Fired Up!” – you’ve gotta risk it to get the biscuit.

Sure, it’s riskier to play to win than to play not to lose. But what’s the point of playing if you’re not playing to win?

Coaches, teach your players to be confident in their abilities even when it might be easier to just lay back and tie their shoes for five minutes. It’s better for them, and in the long run it will be better for you as well.

Photo by Picography on Pexels.com

Explaining Explosive

Explosive. Dynamic. Ballistic. These are all words that are used to describe the way the body should move in fastpitch softball.

Pitchers are told to explode off the rubber and to make the arm whip a ballistic move. Hitters are told to explode their hips and then let the bat explode through the ball. Fielders are told to make a dynamic move laterally to get to the ball.

That’s all well and good, and those are great words to describe the types of movement that are involved. If you’re an adult.

If you’re a kid, especially a younger player, those big words may not mean as much. They know they’re supposed to explode, but they don’t exactly know what that looks like.

That’s where it’s important to relate what you want to something that’s already within their experience. Particularly if it’s something visual.

When you’re talking about explosion, a balloon makes a handy prop.

Blow up the balloon, and first let the air back out slowly. You can relate it to how they’re moving now.

Then pull out a pin and pop the balloon. Tell them that is what explosion looks like.

(This is particularly fun if you have kids on your team who look like they’re aliens searching the skies for the mother ship when you’re talking to them. It will definitely get their attention, and encourage them to watch you more closely from now.)

The key here is showing how quickly and suddenly the balloon goes from being inflated to being gone. One quick poke with the pin and it’s no longer there.

If you don’t have a balloon and a pin handy, another way to explain it is to talk about how you would try to scare a sibling by jumping out at him or her.

If you just walk out in front of them, they’re unlikely to be scared. Annoyed, perhaps, but not scared.

But if you pop up from behind a door, or a couch, or something else that keeps you hidden from sight until the sibling enters the room (like a jump scare in a cheesy ’80s horror movie), you can get them to jump and maybe even drop that bowl of cornflakes they just got finished preparing. Just be ready to run afterwards.

It’s easy for fastpitch softball players to get so caught up in trying to do things the right way mechanically that they become, well, mechanical. They move slowly and deliberately, which might look good on a slow motion video but doesn’t do much for helping them generate power.

Giving them the balloon or jump scare demonstration will help them understand better what you’re looking for, and more importantly what will help them produce better results.

Photo by Padli Pradana on Pexels.com

5 Tips for Preparing Yourself for Tryouts

Fastpitch softball can change your life

The fastpitch softball tryout season for high school is rapidly approaching in many areas. Normally it’s already over by now, but thanks to COVID-19 it’s been delayed by a few weeks.

I’m sure the parents who are used to sitting in nasty cold weather (whatever that is for your area) don’t mind pushing the season back until a little closer to actual Spring.

Now, I have written in the past about things you can do to show well on the day(s) of tryouts. Those articles were brilliant, of course, and you can find them here and here. Others have as well.

But what isn’t talked about much are the things you can do before tryouts begin to help you show your best. Remember the old saying that “Success is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

The opportunity is the tryouts, and you don’t have a lot of control over what happens there. But the preparation is what happens before that day, and you have plenty of control over that.

Here are a few things you can do to ensure you’re ready when the opportunity presents itself.

#1 Start running. A lot.

Yes, I know. You got into softball because you don’t like running. But in a tryout you’d better be prepared to do a lot of it.

You might think that softball teams have their prospects run a lot during tryouts to get them in shape for the season. In some cases that may be true.

But often they use running to weed out the players who are dabbling versus those who are committed. It’s a lot easier to win when your team is committed.

If I wanted to run I would have stuck with @#$%&* soccer.

It also saves them the heartache of having to make cuts. Except for maybe a sadistic few, most coaches (especially in high school) don’t like having to cut players. It takes an emotional toll.

So if they can get those players to cut themselves it makes their job that much easier.

Bottom line is, if you’re planning to make it through the first two to three days of tryouts, start running sprints and distance now. You can thank me later.

#2 Learn to hit off a pitching machine.

I hear this all the time: “I can’t hit off a pitching machine.” Well, sister, you’d better learn because that’s what’s used in a lot of high school tryouts.

You can be the greatest hitter in the world (or at least your school) off of a live pitcher. But it’s unlikely anyone is going to see that during a tryout because they don’t have a live pitcher throwing to hitters.

If you’re lucky they’ll have a coach doing front toss. But more than likely you’ll be facing a wheel machine because that enables coaches to see you hitting against more speed.

The problem is the way pitching machines are fed makes it very difficult for those who aren’t used to it to be successful. Fortunately for you, I did an entire video blog on this topic, so check it out and practice the techniques to help yourself get ready. You’ll be glad you did.

#3 Make sure your throwing is spot-on.

This is an area many players don’t even think about. But it can be a huge difference-maker, especially if you’re not an overall standout athlete.

I know when I used to do tryouts our coaches would watch prospects throwing in warmups. It would look like we were just impatiently waiting for them to finish their obligatory warm-ups, but actually we’d be looking at their throwing technique.

Those who can throw smoothly and confidently, and hit their targets at least most of the time, stand out from the girls who push the ball, drop their elbows, or whip their arms wildly around their heads.

Statistically, 80% of all errors are throwing errors, so if you can eliminate those you again stand a much better chance of winning a ballgame. And the easiest way you can do that is to select players who already know how to throw a ball.

This can be a problem even for players who throw, hard by the way. An inaccurate hard throw will bang off the fence much further than a softer inaccurate throw, so don’t make your judgment based solely on how good an arm you have. Be sure you can hit what you’re throwing at too.

If your arm does need some work you can try this product. You can also look into the High Level Throwing program, which can make a huge difference in a relatively short amount of time.

Whichever way you go, get on it fast. Learning to throw properly can not only help you look better in a tryout. It can save you from a lot of pain and arm injuries down the road.

#4 Check your equipment and replace it as-needed.

When you go to a tryout you want to be sure not only that your equipment works but that you look like you’re an Ace. A floppy, beat-up glove, shoes with holes in them, catcher’s gear that looks like it’s been through a war, a bat with the grip hanging off or paint falling off, etc. doesn’t make a very good first impression.

Particularly if you have to stop to make repairs.

Go through all the gear you will use during a tryout and ask yourself, “Does this look like the equipment a top-level player would use?” If not, and if you have the ability, replace it.

The same, incidentally, goes for the clothes you plan to wear at the tryout. First impressions do count.

If your lucky t-shirt is all raggedy, or your favorite softball pants look like you were crawling around the alley looking for quarters, find something else to wear. Can’t do much about the pants, but you can always wear the lucky t-shirt under another shirt or jersey.

#5 Know the environment where you’ll be trying out.

In some areas it will be obvious whether tryouts will be held inside or outside. If it’s 30 degrees outside with snow on the field you can bet you’ll be indoors.

But with tryouts happening later in many parts of the country it may not be so simple. You might even be indoors one day and outdoors the next.

As a result, you’ll want to be sure you’re prepared no matter what the decision will be. If you’ll be in a gym, have a good pair of gym shoes available to wear. If you’ll be on turf, have turf shoes. For a regular softball field, have cleats.

If you even suspect you’ll be outside during the day, be sure to pack your sunglasses. Nothing worse than missing fly balls in the outfield not because you can’t catch but because you can’t see.

Also be sure you have warm clothes in case you’re outside for an extended period of time. That includes jackets that will keep the wind from cutting through your clothes.

Can you believe Coach is still having outdoor tryouts today?

A hoodie may seem warm, but if it’s chilly and the wind kicks up you’ll find out just how little protection it offers. A warm hat or headband will also be in order, as well as a warm pair of socks (assuming you can still get your cleats on over them).

If you’re miserable, it will show in your demeanor and your play. Being ready for any conditions will help you show your best.

Running photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com

Penguin photo by DSD on Pexels.com

The Importance of the Poker Face When Catching for Your Daughter

While I am definitely not a big-time gambler, I have always thought that if I wanted to put together a high-stakes poker game where I would have a high chance of winning I would invite the bucket parents of young, preferably beginner, fastpitch softball pitchers.

Not that they have a lot of money available to drop in a game. Lord knows you could buy your own college on what some parents spend trying to get their daughters a scholarship, and even lower-level play can empty a bank account faster than my friends and I could destroy the buffet options at a Pizza Hut.

But whatever money they do have would quickly be mine for one simple reason: their inability to hide their emotions on any sort of regular basis.

I’m sure it doesn’t happen intentionally, but I see it time and again. Their daughter throws a strike and they’re all smiles and excitement, ready to call Patty Gasso to tell her they have her next ticket to the Women’s College World Series punched.

Then the next pitch the ball is in the dirt behind the imaginary batter and they look like they’ve just been told they have to tell John Wick his new dog is dead. Kind of reminds me of this guy:

Well, maybe not quite to that extent. But all the signs are there.

The crestfallen face. The biting of the lower lip. The shoulder slump. The slow walk to retrieve the ball. The pleading in the eyes to “just throw strikes.” Or conversely the unbridled glee when the pitch does what it’s supposed to, like Ralphie and his brother Randy opening presents on Christmas morning.

The thing is I don’t think they’re showing these emotions on purpose. In fact, they probably don’t even know they’re doing it.

But I can see them.

And if I can see them guess who else can?

That’s right, Their daughters, who (in almost all cases) are doing their best to learn this very complicated skill.

Here’s the problem. As a general rule, girls tend to be more focused on pleasing others than boys. And they really want to please their parents.

So if mom or dad inadvertently looks angry, frustrated, disgusted, like their world has ended, etc., it will launch a whole range of emotions accelerated by raging hormones. And at that point, it becomes even more difficult for them to pitch with any semblance of speed and accuracy.

This is an important lesson for every parent (and coach) to learn. I know I had to.

Both of my daughters pitched, and they certainly reacted to however I reacted. I didn’t realize it, however, until I took the ASEP coaching course and they talked about body language and what it tells your team.

It was a real eye-opener for me because I pretty much ticked all the boxes. Hanging Head Syndrome. Heavy Sighs. Banging my hand on the fence when something would go wrong.

I had to work at developing that steely-eyed poker face so that no matter what happened it became a non-event. It wasn’t easy, and I would backslide now and then. But it was worth it.

That’s what I recommend for you bucket parents. Pitching in fastpitch softball is hard. If you don’t believe me, pay close attention in your daughter’s next lesson and then go home and try to do the things she is being asked to do. Then keep in mind she has the body control and fine motor skills of child or adolescent, not an adult.

The best thing you can do for your daughter’s development is to work on your poker face. Learn to control your emotions like a Jedi so that no matter what happens your face, and your body language remains completely neutral.

If you can do that, it will free her to develop her skills guilt-free, which will hasten her improvement considerably. Before you know it you won’t need those abilities because she’ll be performing at a level that makes it a little easier to relax and enjoy the ride.

Don’t worry, though. All that effort you put into hiding your true feelings won’t go to waste. You can instead apply those skills the next time you’re at a tournament and the parents decide a little “adult time” at the local casino is in order. With a little luck you might even be able to cover the weekend’s expense.

Poker photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.com

Life’s Too Short to Play for (or Work for) Jerks

One of the most common tropes you’ll hear about the value of playing team sports like fastpitch softball is that they teach life lessons. You hear about learning how to work in a group, how to push yourself to the limit (and then get past it), how to be dedicated, how to set goals and work to achieve them, how to overcome adversity, blah, blah, blah.

All of that is true. But there’s another lesson waiting there for players that often seems to be ignored. And that lesson is that life is too short to play for (or work for) jerks.

What does that mean? Think of your softball career as a metaphor for your life. It has a beginning, a middle, and unfortunately an end.

It’s like this voiceover from the movie Moneyball says: At some point we’re all told we can’t play the game anymore.

So let’s say you start playing at the age of eight, and you play through high school. The majority of high school graduates are 18, so that’s 10 years.

Continue on through college and you can tack on another four years – or five if there is a global pandemic in the middle of your career and you decide to hang around for that bonus year. So in most cases 14 years at best.

If you spend four of those years playing for a coach who constantly abuses and belittles you, puts you down constantly and believes the louder he/she screams the better you will play that’s either 40% or nearly 30% of your career spent being anywhere from unhappy to miserable.

In work years, figuring a 45-year career, 40% would be 18 years and 30% would be 13.5 years (high school v. college) in a job you hate going to and that makes you feel bad about yourself every day. That’s a long time to be unhappy in your life.

So the lesson you should learn if you are faced with this situation on your team is that you don’t have to just suck it up and put up with it. You do have options, like finding another team.

Because believe me, if you’re in a job like that you’re definitely going to want to find a different one. We spend way too much of our lives working to be miserable the whole time.

Now, at this point I think it’s important to differentiate between the occasional outburst (or verbal kick in the pants) from a coach and an abusive situation. Anyone who ever played for me can tell you I wasn’t beyond bringing the hammer down now and then when my teams under-performed or just weren’t paying attention to what they were doing.

Sometimes that can be a good thing, especially if it is in contrast to a coach’s usual style. We all need a little motivation now and then.

But that’s different than the coach whose only volume in speaking to players is 10, and whose words only convey negative messages. To me, that’s basically a coach who has no idea what he/she is doing and figures if they spew enough venom everyone will be too busy licking their wounds to notice.

It’s like this one time when a team I was coaching took a tough loss in a big tournament, knocking us into the loser’s bracket. In the post-game meeting everyone was waiting to get pummeled I’m sure.

Instead, in an over-the-top voice that clearly showed I was joking I simply yelled “Play better” and made a “crack the whip” gesture. It was a parody of coaches they had seen and played for before – the ones who had no idea how to help their players play better but figured if they yelled enough it would happen as if by magic. They laughed and the tension was broken.

I’d love to say we went on to work our way back through the loser’s bracket and won the tournament, but no that didn’t happen. Not every story gets a fairy tale ending.

Back to the topic, coaches always like to talk about holding their players “accountable.” Another phrase I find simultaneously horrifying and amusing when you are talking about 10-12 year olds, by the way. Adults have a funny way of understanding how young kids think.

But if that is the case, players also need to hold their coaches accountable. Coaches need to lead, not just scream to play better. They should support their players when they are giving their all, even if the outcomes aren’t what they hoped for.

Coaches should understand that the pitcher didn’t walk three hitters in a row by choice, hitters didn’t intend to take that third strike, fielders didn’t plan on booting the ground ball or dropping the fly ball, baserunners didn’t intend to slide too far and get tagged out.

Most of all, that South Park episode aside, players don’t take the field with the intention of losing the game. That stuff just happens.

Instead of screaming insults, coaches should work with players to ensure it doesn’t continue to happen, or give them direction on how to work on it themselves. If that’s not happening, and the screaming continues, players shouldn’t put it up with it.

Instead, they should find another team where the atmosphere is better. Because someday, they may face the same choice with a job, and if they don’t learn to value themselves may find themselves doomed to spend a lot of time in a job they hate instead of one that inspires them and gets them excited to go to work every day.

You only have so much time to play competitive fastpitch softball. Use it wisely.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Cue to Help Fastpitch Pitchers Gain an Explosive Release

One of the most common issues among fastpitch pitchers is a tendency to try to add speed to a pitch by forcing it out with a lot of forward effort. You see them get ready to deliver the ball, and suddenly instead of whipping it from back to front and letting go they hang onto the ball and try to purposefully push it out of their throwing hand.

This motion is often accompanied by pushing the throwing side shoulder forward as well. While the intention is to make the pitch faster, it actually ends up having the opposite effect.

In other words, while it may feel strong, it isn’t very effective, biomechanically speaking.

I was facing that very dilemma with a younger student this week, so I came up with a new way to explain what she should do. I’ve since tried it with several with great success (so far).

The way I explained it was in the arm circle there is a point where you have developed all the speed you can get. That point is essentially at the bottom – six o’clock on an analog clock if you’re using the clock face as a visualization device.

Anything that happens after that not only doesn’t contribute to more speed, it actually starts taking away speed. So, since there’s nothing to be gained but much to be lost you might as well just let go right at the bottom, which will be roughly around the back leg.

Putting it this way seems to make sense, probably because it addresses the main reason the pitcher started pushing in the first place – to gain speed. Explaining it hurts their speed instead seems to break through the clutter of ingrained patterns and helps them find their release point.

For the pitchers where I had a radar set up, which was almost all of them, getting the ball out at the right point resulted in an immediate speed increase of 2-3 mph with no additional effort on their part. In fact, for most of them we were just working a drill where they weren’t trying to go all-out, just standing at a 45-degree angle and taking an easy step or medium-speed push.

What was really interesting about it was speed wasn’t the only aspect of their pitches to benefit. Suddenly balls that had been flying all over the place were going straight and low in the strike zone, even though we weren’t focused on accuracy at all.

I did point out the accuracy to the pitchers after a while, however, to give them one more reason not to force the ball forward. Just let it go at the right time, in the right place, and accuracy takes care of itself.

For some pitchers you may need to show them exactly where the ball needs to come out by having them get into their release position, bring the ball from 7:00 to 6:00, and then show them where it should be coming off their thumbs and their fingertips. I did this with one pitcher in particular last night and she immediately improved her speed and accuracy. She thanked me for it, because she said she now understood exactly what she needed to do.

So if you have a pitcher who is struggling to whip and release the ball, and is instead trying to force or push it forward before letting go, give this cue a try. It could be an instant difference-maker.

%d bloggers like this: