Monthly Archives: August 2007

No shortcuts on the road to success

Like many softball programs, our Mundelein Thunder organization just completed tryouts for the 2008 season. Man, that can make for a grueling couple of days. But in the end it’s worth it when you know you have your team together and can start plotting and planning for the next year’s tournaments.

During the tryouts I was observing a pitching tryout. The girl was someone new, a 12U. I was chatting with her mom and bit and she told me where she’d been taking lessons and from whom. As I sat there, the girl seemed to go through an elaborate (to me) warm-up, beginning with some wrist snaps and then staging her throwing arm through about four or five starting locations. At no time did her feet move during these. Finally, her last drill was from full distance; she did what is usually called the “stork” drill, where she stood on one leg and then launched herself and pitched. So one leg at least got involved.

I guess different people have different philosophies or ideas or whatever, but it didn’t make much sense to me. I subscribe to the Bill Hillhouse school on warm-ups and drills — the more you make it like the actual pitching motion and get the whole body involved, the better off you’ll be. It looked like the girl was practicing to be an arm pitcher. When she went to full motion that’s exactly what happened. No leg drive, no body drive, just an arm thrower. It was too bad, because she looked pretty athletic and it seemed like she could get a lot more out of her body than she was getting.

I mentioned all this to another of our coaches, and he said that maybe she was being taught that way because it would be easier to throw strikes if she wasn’t going fully into it. I suppose that’s true. If you’re only using one body part there’s less to go wrong. But that seems like a shortcut to a dead end. Sooner or later if she wants to compete she’ll have to learn to throw her body into it, at least if she wants to develop speed. At that point she’ll probably have some setbacks and will have to relearn how to pitch. By then she’ll be behind the other 14Us who started out learning a more dynamic way of pitching and who were willing to walk a few more batters early to become better later.

Of course, that’s only one assumption. For all I know her pitching coach may be telling her to use her legs and she just doesn’t like to do it. But again, based on the warm-up drills I saw, that doesn’t appear to be the case. It seems like the arm is the focus, and the weak muscles in the wrist, and nothing else matters much.

There are no shortcuts on the road to success. It takes a lot of the proper work to learn to do things right. Parents, before you go shelling out for lessons, see if what your daughter is being taught is what you see from the players in the NPF or the Women’s College World Series. If it doesn’t match up, you may want to find another coach.


What’s not to love

When the Mundelein Thunder team I coached this year was getting ready to head down to Northern Nationals I was thrown for a last-minute loop. We were scheduled to head to the tournament on a Tuesday. The Saturday before two players said they weren’t going to be able to attend. With one other already unsure if she’d be able to go due to a family emergency, things were looking bleak. I had exactly nine players going. It was time to start scrambling.

I called a girl named Kathleen who had played for me the year before, and who I had worked with on her hitting during the high school and travel season. (Kathleen had left due as much to a political issue with her high school as anything. Things happen, ya know?)

In any case, I knew her summer team wasn’t going anywhere for Nationals since I’d already snagged one girl back, so three days before it was time to leave I asked if she’d like to go with us. She jumped at the chance. She rearranged her work schedule, her parents got vacation time, and she joined us for the tournament.

That would be pretty cool by itself. What I just found out, though, is that not only did she do all of that, she played with a finger that was either badly bruised or broken. I never knew it, she never complained or said “I can’t do that.” She was just happy to have the chance to be there, and willing to do whatever it took.

That kind of thing doesn’t show up in a stat sheet. You can’t measure it with a stopwatch or a tape measure. But any coach should be thrilled to have someone with that kind of heart and dedication. In this self-centered day and age those qualities seem to be few and far between.

What it takes to be a D1 prospect

For once I am not planning to just blabber on about a topic. Instead, I’m seeking some input, especially from those who either are college players now or once were. College coaches in particular are invited to post.

So, what does a D1 prospect look like? Is she easily identifiable amongst all the other players, or are there more intangibles at work?

For my part, I would assume you could pick her out of the bunch. She would generally be very athletic — faster or stronger than average, with quicker reactions. If the next best player on the team is hitting .333, she’s over .500. In the field she is very sure-handed — no fumbling around with balls when she gets them, she just picks them and fires them. Her arm is very strong, with good mechanics. When she throws the ball it pops!

Mentally, I’d assume she knows the game well. She is rarely confused about what to do with the ball when she gets it. She exhibits leadership qualities among her teammates, is generally very confident, and has an overwhelming desire to win.

Is that accurate? What did I miss?

Strong position for hitting

Sorry I’ve been away for awhile. The end of the season brought a lot of hectic activity, including a trip to the Northern B Nationals in Kentucky. But I’m back now, baby, and ready for action.

To get us started, I thought we’d go right into hitting. Here’s a photo of Stephanie, one of the girls I coach, as captured by Mike Zupec, with whose permission I am using this photo.

There are a number of things going right here. Looking from the ground up, the front leg is pretty firm and the back foot is heel up, toe down. Her back hip has some around to replace her front hip and her weight has shifted forward into her front leg. The shoulders have come around, the hands are palm up/palm down at contact, they are slightly above the bat head, and she is leaned into the plate. About the only problem I see from this picture is she is a bit late to the ball. I’d like to see the contact a little more out-front. This particular stroke, however, went for a double to the fence in left-center so that’s a quibble.

If you have one, compare a photo of your position at contact to this one. This is pretty much where you want to be.

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