Monthly Archives: March 2008

Kudos to the men in blue

I’ve made no secret about my feelings regarding teaching players to push the rules cheat. One of my biggest pet peeves is teaching baserunners to leave the base early on a steal under the premise that the umpires probably won’t call it.

Apparently it’s a pet peeve of one of the umpires at the game I was watching yesterday too. Late in the game one of the teams had a runner on first. This team is fairly well known for its aggressive play, and this was a speedy runner with a high likelihood of stealing. As the pitcher delivered the ball, the field umpire yelled out “dead ball, no pitch.” As we were wondering what happened — was it an illegal pitch? — he informed everyone that the runner left early and was out. It was the third out in the inning and killed a potential scoring opportunity since there was a good hitter at the plate.

Kudos to the Blue for keeping an eye on it. The team hadn’t had many baserunners so there wasn’t much evidence that it might occur. But he did his job and made the call.

Now, it may have been a mis-timing on the runner’s part, but I don’t think so. I think she was doing as she’d been taught — getting an early jump. How nice that instead of getting a free base she was out. Justice is served! Considering this runner probably didn’t need to get that jump to steal the base due to her speed, what a shame that she’d been taught to do it anyway (assuming she has).

Your best bet is play within the rules. They’re there for your protection, and to keep the game fair. It’s also the right thing to do.

Using the glove arm when throwing

I’m not sure when this started happening, but from my observations it seems like a lot of girls are learning to throw without using the glove arms effectively. Most of the time when that happens, they either let the glove hang down limply at their sides or they sort of sweep it down and then behind them.

Neither of these methods is very effective. At least with the second, there is some effort to use the glove side. With the first, where the glove hangs limply, there are a couple of problems.

One of the biggest is a lack of balance when throwing. The body likes to be in balance when making athletic movements. When the throwing arm is moving back then forward, balance can be affected — especially if there is nothing to offset the movement. If the glove arm just hangs down, it is not being used to balance the body. Therefore either some other body part is going to have to provide the balance — often the head — or the throw will be made off-balance.

Another problem is a loss of power in the throw. Some girls who do this have strong arms, so they believe they’re throwing as hard as they can. But they’re not. Pulling with the glove arm adds some attack to the throw, helping make it sharper. No matter how hard you throw, you will throw harder by using the glove arm.

The way to think of it is to picture a tug of war. You are manning the rope. The glove arm should pull back as though you are pulling on a rope. It pulls at the same time the throwing arm moves forward.

If you are throwing without the glove side pulling, or have players who are doing it, it’s time to make the change. It may throw them off a little at first, but the end result will be a better overall throw.

Finally some softball!

Our local high school team finally had their first gmes today — about two weeks after the season was supposed to get started. It was actually a double header, with our team playing two different opponents.

The girls looked a bit rusty in the first game, but seemed to do better in the second. The bats started coming alive, and even though there weren’t a lot of hits to get people on base, at least they were swinging the bats and hitting the ball hard. When you’re doing that, base hits (and more) can’t be far behind.

It was definitely chilly out there — those of you in the south and west have no appreciation for what it’s like sitting in 45 degree temperatures for five hours — but at least there was plenty of sunshine to help warm things up a little.

The local weather is calling for temps in the high 50s Monday, but with rain. I hope not. The girls have to be tired of working in the gym. It’s time for the reward of playing the game. And watching it.

To hit hard, you have to practice hitting hard

Ok, the title statement may seem a bit obvious. But bear with me for a bit while I explain what it means.

Very often in batting practice, hitters will measure success by whether they hit the ball or not. A swing and a miss equals failure, so they’ll do whatever it takes to make contact — even if that means slowing down their bat if they’re ahead.

You can tell them to start the swing later, but that advice doesn’t always translate that well. So what the hitter winds up doing is making a lot of contact in the cage, but what she’s really practicing to do is hit weak ground balls and little infield pop-ups.

One thing I’ve found works to help hitters learn to hit the ball hard is to redefine the measure of success. Instead of letting them measure it by hits, try convincing them to measure it on good swings instead — even if that results in a lot of swings and misses. Keep encouraging hard, strong, fast swings and the hitter will figure out what she needs to do to time it correctly. It won’t be long until those weak grounders and little popups turn into powerful line drives — and even dingers.

For a faster arm, try faster feet

Saw this on Cindy Bristow’s Softball Excellence site and thought it was worth passing along. We often try to get our pitchers to increase their arm speed in order to make the pitch go faster. But sometimes, in focusing on the arm, we forget about the feet.

Cindy points out that increasing the speed the feet move during the delivery phase will cause the arm to speed up automatically. Or at least it should. The body wants to remain in balance whenever it can. If the arm is going too fast for the feet, the pitch will be way off. The reverse is also true. But it’s easier for pitchers to think of speeding up the arm than the feet, especially because the legs are heavier and thus require more effort to move.

If you can get your pitchers to speed up the footwork, it will make it a lot easier for them to speed up their arms and deliver the ball not only faster but more reliably.

Learning spins with the TightSpin Trainer

A little while ago I received a very interesting product — the TightSpin Trainer from Spintech. It looks like a softball on the end of the handle of a paint roller handle, but it’s a lot more than that. There is actually a braking wheel that allows you to adjust the tension to go from free spinning to very difficult to turn.

The manufacturer says that the TightSpin Trainer was originally developed to help pitchers build wrist strength. I can see where it would. The idea is you turn the ball 20 times in a row, quickly and powerfully. As the pitcher finds it easier to turn, you increase the tension. In that aspect it’s like any other weight lifting program. In conversations with George at Spintech, he says a pitcher can add 3-4 mph by training regularly with it.

I have not been able to confirm that part yet. But what I have discovered is that it’s excellent for helping pitchers learn the wrist snap for the curve ball. I have used it with several pitchers, and every single one was able to improve the spin on the ball after 10-20 turns of the unit.

This is important because true curve ball spin can be difficult to learn (as detailed in my post Getting Proper Spin on the Curveball). You have to be able to get the hand under the ball, palm up and fingers pointed to the side. And you have to be able to snap the wrist sharply from side to side rather than upwards as with a fastball or peel drop.

When pitchers are struggling with the curve ball, both of those aspects become a problem. The TightSpin Trainer helps them learn it quickly. Here’s how to make it happen.

Start by having a coach, parent or friend hold the handle straight up and down, with the ball at the bottom. The pitcher then grasps the ball palm-up. Don’t worry about getting the proper grip relative to the seams. Any grip will do. Then instruct the pitcher to snap the wrist quickly. Odds are she will turn it slowly and/or just a little bit. Encourage her to snap it quickly. Watch out for the elbow flying out — make sure it stays tucked in. Once she has the feel of turning it properly, go back to pitching.

TightSpin Trainer tips

The TightSpin Trainer can also be very effective for training the rollover drop. It is another pitch that requires the wrist to move in a direction that is other than the standard up-snap.

One of the nice things with the TightSpin Trainer is that it comes with an instructional DVD if you catch it at the right time. Otherwise the DVD is $14.95. The DVD is helpful for learning how to use it — especially for me, who thought it should always spin freely.

Cost for the TightSpin Trainer is $39.95. In my opinion it’s well worth the price. Especially with its “guarantee with teeth” — if you haven’t increased your strikeouts in 90 days after following the program, call them and you’ll get your money back. Can’t beat that.

If you’re looking to improve the spin of various pitches, or just want to increase wrist strength, check out the TightSpin Trainer.

Motionview! video analysis software

This is a reprint of a product review I wrote last year for Softball Magazine. The product is definitely worth checking out, so I thought I would post the review up here. Hope you find it helpful.

One of the best and most popular tools for helping player development is video. With a simple camera and playback device (such as a TV), players have the opportunity to see themselves in action and perhaps gain a better understanding of what their coaches mean. After all, it’s one thing for a coach to say “you’re dropping your elbow when you throw.” The player may think the coach means the elbow is dropping to a point just above the shoulder. But when watching the video, he/she can see the coach means it’s dropping to a point just above the bottom of the rib cage.

The camera/TV combination is fine for basic viewing, but it makes it difficult to really get into the topic. Downloading the video to a computer and watching it on Windows Media Player, Apple QuickTime, or RealPlayer is somewhat of an improvement, but those applications are still very limited in their ability to show and explain exactly what’s happening.

Recently I downloaded such a product. It is called MotionView!, a software application from AllSportsSystems. It is a feature-packed program that allows a coach to provide a thorough, multi-point analysis of a student’s performance, either from live or previously captured video.

The version I downloaded is called MotionView! Coach. It is their mid-level product, but it provides everything I (and most coaches or parents) will need.

The drawing toolbar is robust but easy to use. The basic drawing tools include the ability to draw lines, circles, and squares. An extended toolbar adds the ability to draw angles, arrows, freehand shapes and more. You can choose from six different colors, and even change the thickness of the lines as needed.



One interesting tool, especially when working with pitchers, is the ability to add an analog clock face. When you’re telling a pitcher that the hand should be between 10 and 11 o’clock when the stride foot toe touches it helps to be able to draw that clock. Keep in mind a lot of kids these days rely solely on digital clocks, which means they aren’t really sure where 11 o’clock is. But they’ll never tell you. They’ll just nod as if they understand.

               

Another handy tool is called the “kite tail.” This one is a bit more complicated because it first requires you to carve out a brief section (called a canister) of your video. Once you have the small clip, though, you can mark each point of a moving object to create a continuous line. MotionView! advances the frames for you automatically. Once all the frames have been marked and you hit the “play” button, the video traces the line, showing the motion. For example, if you mark the tip of the bat during a swing, you can see the whole path the bat takes. The only problem is it doesn’t give you the smooth curving line that’s shown on the Web site. It’s more of a polygon – a series of straight lines that create a shape, Still, you can gain a lot of insight regarding the path of moving object with this tool.

There’s more to MotionView! than drawing tools, though. You can run the video backward and forward, adjusting the speed from regular to slow to frame-by-frame. You can also reverse the view, turning a left hander into a right hander or vice versa. You can open two videos at once for side-by-side comparison, say between your student and a top-level player or a before-and-after comparison, and even synch them together. With the Coach version you can overlay one video on top of another, and export still shots to pass along to the students.

Sounds like a lot for just $85 (with the online coupon). But as they say on all the Popeil commercials, wait! There’s more! There is a built-in timer that shows the elapsed time in the video. You can convert a section of the video into a film strip so you can see the entire movement at once. You can zoom in on sections of the video and adjust the display to different sizes – including  full screen mode. You can even type in titles or instructions that can then be exported along with the video.

The download itself is a little kluge. No matter what version you want, you have to start by downloading the free “Lite” version. Once you have done that, if you have purchased a higher level version you have to send an e-mail or go online to request the code to unlock your version. AllSportsSystems is pretty responsive but you still may have to wait a few hours to get your key code depending on the day and time you make your purchase. After I did the download the application started looking for a file that didn’t exist, and would give me an error message. But an e-mail to AllSportsSystems solved the problem quickly. They responded within 12 hours on a weekend, so I give them an A for customer service.

This is an outstanding, feature-packed application that allows you to perform an unbelievable variety of analysis. If you’re a coach looking for a better way to show students what they’re doing, or a knowledgeable player who wants to improve his/her game, check out the MotionView! family of products. You won’t be disappointed.

Getting proper spin on the curve ball

The basics of pitching dictate that there are two things that make a ball move — the direction of the spin and the speed of the spin. In other words the ball has to be spinning in the right direction to move as it’s supposed to, and it has to be spinning fast enough for the Magnus effect to work in order for the ball to change directions.

The fastpitch curve ball presents a particular challenge in both aspects because it requires the wrist to move in a way that’s different from other pitches — especially the core fastball and peel drop. Rather than snapping up, it has to snap sideways. It’s often described as sliding the back of the hand across a table. While I’m not a believer in the muscle-driven wrist snap on the fastball/peel drop — I see it as more of the end of a chain of events than event in and of itself — with the curve, you do have to make a strong and powerful snap across.

Easier said than done, however. It can be challenging to get under the ball and snap the wrist sideways. Here are a few tips to make it happen:



  1. The throwing side shoulder has to get lower than the glove side shoulder. That’s an absolute. If the throwing side shoulder comes up, you’ll have a tendency to pull over the ball rather than snap under it.

  2. Try to bring the throwing side elbow to your bellybutton. You probably won’t actually get it that far forward, but it’s a definite destination. The reason is if the elbow gets far forward, it will cause the arm to snap across toward the outside corner rather than straight forward. It will also make it easier to get underneath the ball.

  3. Keep the ball in the fingers and use the fingers to propel the ball forward as well as sideways. I just discovered this explanation tonight. I had a pitcher who was having trouble getting the spin right, so we went all the way back to the basic spin, just popping it up into her glove. What we found was she was getting it out too soon, which resulted in a riseball back spin instead of a side spin. By keeping it in her fingers a little longer she was able to get the side spin.

  4. Start cupping you hand under the ball just past the top of the circle. If you wait until the bottom of the circle you will likely be late, and will wind up snapping the wrist up instead of sideways.

Remember, just because you have a curve ball grip doesn’t mean you have a curve ball. If it ain’t got that spin, it ain’t a curve ball.

It doesn’t matter where you start the race…

…only where you finish. That’s something players need to remember, especially in the preseason or the early part of the season. Sometimes they get all worked up over who is getting the most press, or who the coach likes the best, or who is #1 on the depth chart to start. It’s important to know where you stand, of course. But if you perform well these things have a way of working out.

Case in point. One of my former pitching students came home from college at Winter Break very unhappy. Despite having hit pretty well during fall ball, she was told by her college coach not to bother working on hitting because she wouldn’t be seeing many plate appearances. If she was going to pitch, he wanted her focused on that. She loves to hit and was going to miss that part of the game.

Well, when the first games of the season rolled around, she was allowed to hit for herself, both when she played first and when she pitched. She started off on the low half of the batting order, but in the last few games she’s been hitting cleanup — and doing quite well there.

So despite the early word, she kept working and proved herself. That’s a great lesson for all of us. Not just in softball but in life. It really doesn’t matter where you start out. Only where you finish. So if things aren’t going your way right now, hang in there. Keep working hard, and be ready when your opportunity comes. If you can do the job, your coach will want you in there.

About that global warming

Today is the first day of Spring, and the weather report calls for an inch of snow today, plus four to six inches tomorrow here in the Chicago area where I live. So much for global warming.

My advice, if you ever want to see high school ball played this year, is for everyone to get in their cars right now and start driving around. Also find any old aerosol cans you have and start spraying. Let’s do what we can to break down that ozone layer and get some warmth going so the snow stops and the fields can dry out.

Just one man’s opinion.

%d bloggers like this: