Monthly Archives: January 2007

Keeping the screwball on line

One of the most common problems with the screwball (once it begins to move) is that it starts too far inside and the breaks off the plate. This is usually caused by an arm circle that stays outside of the throwing hand hip instead of getting across the body more.

Still, you can talk about it all you want, but it’s often difficult for the pitcher to understand exactly what this means. Here’s a way to help make the point.

Have the pitcher stand over the plate, with her pivot foot aligned with the center of the plate and the stride foot slightly offset as Meaghan is showing here. Then have her hang her arm straight down, outside of her hip. From here she can see why the ball is starting so far inside.

<IMG style="WIDTH: 308px; HEIGHT: 208px" height=1394 src="/images/55650-48775/Screwball_edge.jpg” width=1675>

The ball is starting on the inside of the plate,
and has nowhere to go but further inside.

Now look at the second picture. Meaghan has her elbow inside of her hip, and the ball is over the center of the plate. This position will allow her to start the ball down the middle, where it can break over the inside corner.

<IMG style="WIDTH: 307px; HEIGHT: 208px" height=1199 src="/images/55650-48775/Screwball_Center.jpg” width=1447>

The ball is now over the center (more or less).

One last point. In order to get it to this position, it helps to offset the arm circle so it moves from pitching hand side toward the glove side, much as you would do for an outside fastball. If you align the circle straight down center it is difficult to reach this position, and thus difficult to throw this pitch for a strike.

Process v. results

One of the most difficult parts of improving skills for players, coaches, and especially parents is learning to focus on the process — how you do something — rather than the immediate result or “success.” Yet worrying too much about the results can really get in the way of learning.

Take hitting for example. On the one side, a hitter may use a lousy swing and hit a ball through the infield. I refer to this as a blind monkey finding a banana now and then. On the other side, she may have developed a great swing but strike outs out anyway. If you watched both you’d say the one with the hit was more successful today, and you’d be right. The question is which one will have greater long-term success? Sooner or later, as the competition gets better, the player with the poor swing will find herself getting on base less and less, and the player who has taken the time to develop the better swing will have see the profits of the time she put in. That is all part of the weeding out process in the game of softball.

It’s even more obvious with pitchers. A pitcher who is trying to learn good form may throw a lot of pitches high, low, or wide of the plate as she replaces one set of mechanics with another. Many a father-daughter argument has been started when Dad feels he’s made too many trips to the backstop that day. Been there, done that. Yet if your only goal is to get the ball over the plate, there are simpler ways to do it than the windmill pitching motion. But if you quit worrying about balls and strikes during the learning process and just focus on the mechanics of what you’re doing, it won’t take long before you’re throwing strikes anyway. Accuracy is a result of good, consistent mechanics, not a goal to be achieved. If you focus on the process of throwing correctly, the results will be there — guaranteed.

This thought doesn’t apply only to individual skills, either. It also applies to teams as a whole. I remember an interview with Martina Navratilova that I read a few years ago. She was talking about why Americans were having such trouble competing with European players. Speaking as an American she said something to the effect that Americans are very focused on winning, even at an early age, whereas Europeans are more willing to lose a match in order to work on parts of their game that need work. They don’t take the most expedient route to a win, but instead define success as accomplishing a particular goal, such as developing their ground stroke, even if it means losing in the process.

How many 10U or 12U coaches do you know who will place their focus on winning as many plastic trophies as possible rather than on developing all of the players on their teams? How many upper-level coaches will have a kid ride the bench all season, then be surprised when she can’t perform in the big game when the star gets hurt? Yes, winning is important. Nobody likes to lose. But great coaches can look beyond winning an individual game (today’s result) in order to focus on reaching loftier goals (the process). I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s definitely rewarding.

Be willing to accept lesser results today in order to improve your game overall. Focus on the process instead of the results, and the results will come.

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