Those of us involved in team sports such as fastpitch softball like to talk about all the benefits they provide. Most of the time, however, it has been more opinion and belief than anything that could be proved.
The folks at Ohio University have done some research and put together an infographic that shows both the value of participating in team sports (based on survey information) as well as some data on an apparent decline in participation in team sports in high school. The culprits, as you might suspect, include obesity, spending too much time in front of screens (TV, texting, surfing the Internet, etc.) and aggressive coaches who created a poor experience.
The full infographic is below. Definitely worth a look – including the evaluation at the end.
In fastpitch softball, as in baseball, catchers tend to make their bones in two areas above all else. One is their ability to block pitches in the dirt. The other is their ability to throw out baserunners, either on steals or pickoffs.
Key to the latter is the ability to make a quick throw. While having a strong arm is important, a strong arm can be offset by requiring a slow, deliberate release. And for catchers whose arms are not the strongest, having a quick release becomes even more critical.
One of the ways you can speed up a catcher’s release is by getting rid of the need to “find” the base first. In other words, when the catcher goes to throw the ball – either on a steal or a pick – she shouldn’t have to look at where the base is and process the information.
Instead, she should just know instinctively where it is. The tenth of a second or two she saves by not having to “find” the base first can make the difference between safe and out.
Even the runner is safe, if it’s just by a hair it will serve as a warning to the other team’s coach not to get too adventurous on the basepaths. After all, coaches generally don’t test the catcher’s arm/release with their slowest runners – they use their fastest. If you can make it a photo finish with the fastest runner, it’s unlikely the coach will be anxious to send the rest.
So how do you get catchers to throw with more instinct? One of my favorite methods is by using a blindfold. Here’s how it works.
First, you must have already trained your catchers on proper technique, including the need for urgency. If you haven’t done that first, stop now and do that, then come back to this idea.
If you have, however, then it’s time to bring out the blindfold. The catcher starts with the ball in her glove and the blindfold in place. Make sure she’s in line with where she would normally set up, then have her get into her runners on base stance. Tell her to visualize where the base you’re throwing to is. I usually like to start with throws to second.
When she’s ready, either blow a whistle or yell “she’s going.” At that point the catcher pops to her feet (or drops to her knees if she can throw that way) and executes the throw as quickly as possible.
If she has a good feel for where the base is without seeing it, and good technique, she should be able to make the throw reasonably close. If she doesn’t, it could go anywhere and you’ll know you have some work to do.
If the throw goes offline, be sure to tell the catcher where it went so she can get a feeling for the difference between where she thinks it is and where it actually is. Also be sure to watch as she makes her throw for mechanical flaws (such as not pointing the front shoulder at the target) that can throw her off.
One way to make it more interesting is to offer a prize. This is particularly effective if you’re working with multiple catchers at once, since once one of them is successful it will spur the others. I’ve used a stick of Chapstick, a pack of gum or a roll of Mentos as prizes. You can select whatever you want.
Having a competition for a prize is a great way to end a training session, by the way. I like using this type because everyone has a shot at it (versus having only one winner) if they execute properly.
To add a degree of difficulty, have the receiver sit on a bucket or a chair. That cuts the adjustability of the receiver, so the throws really have to be spot-on. If you’re working with multiple catchers, you can add in some conditioning by having one be the thrower, one the receiver, and another chasing down errant throws. Give the thrower one shot, then she sprints down to become the receiver, carrying the ball with her. The running not only helps them build their legs but also fatigues them, helping simulate the feeling of having played a couple of games already.
This drill/game can be used for any base. It can be particularly interesting for right-handed catchers to learn to throw to first base on a pickoff attempt since the moves will have to be stealthy and they must rotate beyond the 90 degrees required to throw to second. It can get pretty random, especially outdoors, so your “chaser” will get a good workout in.
Throwing to bases blindfolded can be pretty challenging at first, so keep them encouraged. Let them know there is a degree of difficulty involved, and there’s no shame in not being able to do it at first.
But if they CAN learn to throw to bases instinctively, without seeing, the whole process will become a whole lot easier when they’re not blindfolded.
Don’t be surprised, by the way, if this quickly becomes your catchers’ favorite drill/game. The ones I’ve used it with usually will ask if they can do it, or will select it if given a choice of how to close out practice.
Truth is it’s not only challenging – it’s fun. And a point of pride when they’re able to make the throw.
Tossing out baserunners takes a lot of instinctual play. This is a great way of helping to build those instincts.
One of the best parts of my job as a fastpitch softball instructor – actually THE best part – is seeing them succeed. That’s why I was so excited and honored to watch as Taylor Danielson signed her National Letter of Intent to play softball at the University of Indianapolis (UIndy). Go Greyhounds!
I’ve written about Taylor a couple of times before, most recently just a couple of weeks ago. She is an amazing catcher who can frame and block with the best of them. She’s also very vocal, the types coaches love because she takes command on the field.
She’s a great hitter as well (as the post about the knee injury attests) and when she’s healthy she has 2.8 speed from home to first – a pretty rare skill for a catcher. It’s no wonder the UIndy coaches verballed her more than a year ago and are excited for her to come over.
Taylor is also a high quality human being. For all her talent on the field she is very humble off of it. I’ve never heard her say a mean word about anyone, even people who probably deserved it. She is kind and caring, and always has a smile on her face. She’s also very polite, which seems to be more and more rare in our me-first world. Definitely credit her parents Chris and Tracy for that.
I actually first met Taylor when she came to catch for a pitching and hitting student of mine named Kate Kiser – before Kate wound up going to volleyball full time. While she was catching I used to give her a tip here or there, which I tend to do with catchers. Something must have clicked, because her dad asked if I would give her full-time catching lessons. We also did hitting together, and Taylor was a sponge with both.
I couldn’t be happier that Taylor has this opportunity. UIndy is a high-quality program, and I’m sure Taylor will help them become even better. So Taylor, congratulations. I know you will continue to be awesome. Looking forward to catching a couple of games in your senior high school season, and at UIndy as well.
Earlier this year I blogged about a fantastic fastpitch pitching event held, of all places, in Southeastern Indiana. Put on by Rick Pauly, hosted by Indiana United Elite Fastpitch and Coach James Clark, and featuring an array of top-level pitching coaches, it was an incredible learning experience for players, parents and coaches alike.
Never one to be content to rest on his laurels, Coach James has outdone himself with the latest iteration. The 2017 clinic, again in Richmond, Indiana, has expanded in its scope to not only offer top-level pitching instruction but also clinics on hitting, catching, the short game/slapping and defense.
This year’s instructor lineup is impressive once again, with college coaches and former college and NPF players offering hands-on instruction. The nice thing about these clinics is they’re not like so many, where they show a big name who is the “face” but then have very little interaction. The faces you see on the flyer will all be actively participating in or leading the instruction.
Throughout the weekend there will be plenty of time for discussions and questions too. One of the highlights for me last time was many of the instructors gathered together in a room tossing around ideas and opinions until the wee hours of the morning – all part of an impromptu session that began with a simple question. Those little side conversations alone are worth the price of admission.
Coach James promises it will be bigger and better than ever, and I believe it! The clinic runs the weekend of January 6,7 and 8, 2017 – timed this time to both make sure it didn’t interfere with high school and college seasons and to give players time to lock down what they learn before tryouts begin for spring high school ball.
Click here to register, and here to schedule the sessions you want and to pay. Most sessions are $70 each and run an hour and 15 minutes. The exceptions are the recruiting discussion that costs $25, and the beginning and advanced pitching sessions with Rick and Sara Pauly which cost $150 and are scheduled for 3 hours, although last year Rick was having such a great time he ran a bit long on both sessions.
Download the flyer for complete information, and then be sure you sign up now. Slots are filling fast. I’m sure you’ll find it’s a great investment in your softball future.
The #KyleSchwarber coming back from a knee injury storyline is getting a lot of coverage right now during the World Series. But I think I have a fastpitch softball story that can top it.
Taylor Danielson, whom I have written about before, hurt her knee playing high school softball back in the spring and wound up missing the whole summer. This would have been more worrisome since this was to be the summer between her junior and senior year, but fortunately she had already verballed to a college. (I won’t say which quite yet due to superstition, but check back in a couple of weeks.)
When the injury occurred she was told she wouldn’t get back on the field until 2017. While that is a good prognosis for an ordinary person, Taylor is hardly an ordinary player. She worked her butt off rehabbing her knee, and was finally cleared for limited action for the end of the fall ball season.
There were some caveats. No catching (she’s an awesome catcher), and while she could hit, she couldn’t run full out. No stretching a single into a double, or going from first to third. She was under strict orders to run base to base and that’s it – a shame since she has 2.8 speed from home to first.
Since she couldn’t run like she wanted, Taylor decided to address it her own way. The video shows how – she hit the ball so far she was able to jog her way around the bases. All of them.
Just goes to show where there’s a will there’s a way. And you can’t keep a great player down.
If you’ve been a regular Life in the Fastpitch Lane reader, you know I love inspirational stories about real softball players. Not just the ones who make all the headlines, but also those who you may not see on TV but inspire anyway.
(If you’re not a regular reader, be sure to search through some older posts!)
Today is a great example. I first met Kaylee Arendt when she played for me at 14U. She
actually didn’t show very well in her first day of tryouts, probably because she was nervous, but she really wanted to make the team so she came back the next day and made a great showing.
I had the pleasure of coaching her that season, and also working with her in private lessons. I found her to be a coach’s dream – engaged, driven and very coachable.
A couple of years later she started playing high school ball. The varsity coach there (who I am happy to report was finally let go this year) didn’t seem to agree with my assessment. Despite the fact that Kaylee had tremendous power and a great attitude, he flat out told her that she would never play varsity softball. She just wasn’t good enough and never would be, according to him.
That might have devastated a lot of players and cause them to leave the game. Not Kaylee. She did quit playing HS ball, but she continued to play during the summers. Her goal was to play in college.
As you can probably tell by the accompanying photo, that goal was achieved with the support of her parents Roger and Deanna. She played at another school her freshman year, and is now playing first base for Hope College in Holland, Michigan. Go Flying Dutchmen! (Unfortunately the roster hasn’t been updated yet.)
I heard she had a strong fall ball season, and I have no doubt she’ll be tearing it up come spring!
This is an important lesson for any softball player. Softball is a game of adversity and disappointment. Even when you’re doing well you’re often failing more than you succeed, especially at the plate. It takes a special kind of person to play this game at all. But if you believe in yourself, and work hard, you can overcome the obstacles that get in your way. That applies to life in general too, by the way.
Personally, I’m happy to see Kaylee doing so well, and I thank her mom Deanna for allowing me to share her story. If you’re a player who maybe didn’t make the team you wanted, or aren’t getting on the field as much as you would like, or have been told you don’t have what it takes, remember this story.
Don’t be defined by what others think. Just keep working and pursuing your goals. You may just surprise a lot of people, and wind up on the winning side after all.
With today being the last day of Women in Sports Week, it seemed like this would be a good way to finish it out – talking about opportunities for women in sports administration. Once the almost exclusive enclave of men, more women are now finding success off the field in sports. – Ken
Guest post by Ohio University’s Athletic Administration Program.
While men outnumber women in sports administration roles, Women’s Sports Week celebrates the females who are quickly moving into higher positions in the industry. With the fact that ESPN now has 48 female anchors, reporters, analysts, and contributors, they’re also paving the way for a new generation of younger women who want to hold professional positions in the industry.
Starting at the college level, intercollegiate athletics programs are experiencing an increased female presence. Of the 969 NCAA D1 head coaches for 2014-15, 40.2% are women with field hockey, lacrosse, equestrian, golf, and fast pitch softball leading the way. Keep in mind, however, that men coach over 43% of women’s teams while women coach only 3% of men’s teams.
One way to help increase female representation in athletic administration and professional roles is to provide these girls with successful role models like Mary Alice Hill, the first female Athletic Director in the country. She also played an instrumental role in obtaining the first NCAA scholarships for female athletes, 75 years after the NCAA was created.
To learn more about the growing female presence in the business sides of the sports industry, check out this visual resource created by Ohio University’s Athletic Administration program.
Guest post by Ohio University’s Athletic Administration Program.
As women’s sports gain more fans it isn’t surprising that just last year the women’s College World Series averaged almost 440,000 more viewers than the men’s College World Series. In celebration of the growing popularity of women’s sports, and Women’s Sports Week, here’s a look at the big impact women are making in athletics.
Girls’ participation in sports has grown an average of 50% a year over the last 5 years. In fact, there were over 364,000 high school girls participating in fast pitch softball during the 2014-2015 school year.
Athletic clothing and shoe companies have taken notice and have geared television campaigns specifically towards women for the first time. With half of shoppers on the NBA online site coming from the female population and sales of $5 billion on Nike’s women’s athletic wear in 2014, this group is clearly becoming powerful.
To learn more about the evolution of women’s sports, check out the visual resource below created by Ohio University’s Athletic Administration Program.
I have always been a big believer in the ability of kids, at least certain kids, to learn the nuances of softball through osmosis. I certainly saw it with my own daughters, who were eight years apart.
When my older daughter Stefanie was playing, we dragged all the other kids out to her games. We had to – she was the oldest, and we couldn’t leave the others at home.
When Stefanie was playing 14U, my youngest child Kim was 6. I was coaching, so I mostly remember seeing her heading off to a playground or just sitting in the grass. We never talked to her much about what was going on.
But somewhere along the way it must’ve stuck in her brain, because by the time she started playing she had a pretty high level of innate knowledge about what to do when. For example, I never had to teach Kim about going after the lead runner on comebacker to the pitcher. She just knew.
I am convinced that’s because she saw so many games. Even if she wasn’t constantly thinking about what was going on, she picked up a lot of it by osmosis. I think that’s the benefit the younger sister (or brother) gets.
I bring this up because of something that happened last night that just tickled me. I have been working with a 12U pitcher named Jenna for a little over a year now. (I refuse to say anyone is 11, 13, 15 or any other odd number of U. Old school.)
Anyway, I started with Jenna when she was 10U, and she’s made the transition to 12U pretty easily. It’s fun to see how far she’s come in a short period of time, and how she can take command of a game.
This summer, her dad Gary decided it would be a good time to get his younger daughter Sammie started. She was 8 when we started, playing rec league, but I know Gary has aspirations for her future.🙂 She turned 9 not long ago.
At first she had all the challenges 8/9 year olds typically have. Like being so literal about her form that she looked all stiff and robotic.
But she’s determined, and has been working hard. The last couple of lessons the light bulb has started coming on and she’s been throwing more relaxed. Her strikes are going up, and she’s definitely throwing hard. So last night I thought it might be a good time to get her started on the basics of a changeup.
When I said that, Gary told me, “Sammie’s already gotten started on it.” Apparently she’d been watching Jenna and thought it looked pretty cool, so she decided to start working on it on her own.
I asked her to show me, and darned if she didn’t do a nice job! The pitch was really high, but it was straight, and more importantly it was the right speed without slowing her arm down. She did a couple more and it was the same thing.
Honestly, I was impressed. I asked Gary if he had been working with her and he said no. Sammie had just picked it up by watching Jenna.
I think what knocked me out was that she was maintaining her arm speed. Normally, when a new pitcher is trying a change on her own she’ll slow down to make the ball go slower. (Which, by the way, is the opposite of what you really want to do.) Not Sammie, though. She just cranked it right out there and let the design of the mechanics do the job.
Of course, it helps that she has a great example to model herself after. Jenna throws a killer change that is quite effective in games. But still. Sammie just sort of figured it out by watching.
We did some quick work and got Sammie throwing it for a strike at least part of the time. But it sure was nice to start from a solid foundation!
So there you go. Learning the game, or even parts of it, doesn’t always require a formal setting. Sometimes, if you’re fortunate, it just happens. Gotta love osmosis.
Recently I had the opportunity to see the movie “The Right Stuff,” about the start of the U.S. astronaut program, again. (If you haven’t seen it, it’s really worth checking out.)
Early in the movie they show the efforts to break the sound barrier. Test pilots had gotten close before, but there were real concerns that if you actually got up to the speed of sound (Mach 1) that the vibrations would tear the plane apart and the pilot would die. For that reason many believed it couldn’t be done.
One who didn’t was test pilot Chuck Yeager. When he sees a new X-1 jet come in he decides he wants to go “chase that demon” that lives out at Mach 1 and see what really happens. The next morning he hops in the plane and becomes the first person to break the sound barrier.
Interesting, you say, but what does all that have to do with softball? Simple. Like then-Col. Yeager, nothing great happens for players when they stay in their comfort zone. It’s only when they get out to the edge of their abilities, where the “demon” of errors lives, that they can truly advance their skills and become the players they’re meant to be.
For pitchers, that means trying new pitches in games. Often times, pitchers will work and work to learn a new pitch. But then when game time comes they’re afraid to throw it for fear of looking bad, or the softball equivalent of the plane breaking apart, happening.
But here’s a little secret: No matter how poorly you throw a pitch, it’s only worth one ball on the hitter. That’s right! Whether you miss by an inch or chuck it over the backstop, the hitter is awarded only one ball. You don’t avoid throwing your fastball if you throw a ball, so why should it be different for any other pitch you’ve prepared. Get out there, keep throwing the pitch and get comfortable with it.
For fielders it’s pretty obvious. They only go after balls they’re sure they can get to. Or they make soft throws because they’re afraid if they really crank it up and throw hard it won’t go where it should.
Again, here’s a hint: if you’re worried your hard throw won’t go where it should, you need to practice throwing hard more. Even if that means you throw some balls away in practice. Find out what you can do. Get out there on the edge. On the fielding side, start diving for the ball instead of watching it go by or drop in front of you. Stretch yourself, try that new technique. You may just find it works.
Hitters often make it even worse. They either try not to strike out by only swinging at perfect pitches (never a good approach), or they fall back on just trying to make contact instead of trying to make hard contact. Quit playing it safe! Work on driving the ball and helping your team win.
Coaches can help in this regard. Yes, we all want our teams to play perfect softball. But if you’re always yelling at your team about mistakes they’ll play not to make mistakes (and get yelled at) rather than to win. They won’t develop their full skill sets, and each year they’ll fall further behind.
While you don’t want to see mental mistakes due to lack of focus, physical errors are going to happen when players get out of their comfort zones. Instead of yelling at them or giving them a hard time, praise them for making that extra effort. Even if they came up short. Perhaps in a couple of more tries that extraordinary effort will become more routine, and you’ll win more ballgames in the long run.
When Col. Yeager chased the demon he didn’t know if he would get it or it would get him. But he didn’t let the fear of failure (which had much higher consequences than losing a softball game) keep him from finding out. Thanks to that spirit, incidentally, the world’s fastest jet, the SR-71 Blackbird, flies at 3 times the speed of sound. That’s 2,193.2 mph.
Softball players need to do the same. Chase your demons and play to the edge of your abilities to see if you have the right stuff.
It’s not only the way to make yourself better. It’s a lot more fun.