Monthly Archives: October 2008

Glove work for catchers

The standard technique used by most catchers (and taught by most coaches) for presenting a target is for the catcher to set up, stick her glove out, and sit there like a statue until the pitcher delivers the ball. This mindset is reinforced by coaches and parents yelling “Give her a bigger target” to the catcher when the pitcher struggles with control. (The problem, incidentally, is rarely with the catcher’s target. Usually it’s the fact that the pitcher couldn’t hit an archery target with the way she’s throwing, but that’s a subject for another day.)

Think about what that set-up means from the umpire’s point of view. The catcher sets up low and in. The pitch goes low and out. The catcher moves her glove across the plate to get the ball, and it looks like a miss. No matter how hard she tries to frame it, there’s a good chance that the pitch will be called a ball.

Now consider this, a technique I saw from Angel Santiago of UNLV at the National Sports Clinics a couple of years ago. Instead of holding a formal, tight target, show the target to the pitcher. Then, as she goes into her windup, relax the arm and the glove. As the pitch comes in, you can move to it easily and frame it toward center.

This technique does two things for you. Number one it smooths out the movement, getting rid of the herky-jerky lunge at the ball. Number two, it trains the umpire that glove movement is normal, not something that happens when a pitch goes wrong.

It can be hard to break old mindsets, but try it. You’ll find it’s a much better way of gaining more strikes for your pitchers.

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Bringing pitches back down

Had an interesting one this week. I was working with a pitcher who was just coming back to lessons after a few months layoff. She was throwing hard and looking generally athletic in her movement. But every pitch was high. I don’t mean at the letters. I mean like seven to eight feet high.

We tried a few things but none seemed to work. She was not getting her elbow into the slot as she normally does, and didn’t look like she was going to find it anytime soon. Then I remembered a little something in my bag.

I have a long piece of elastic tape that I usually use for the drop ball. I’ll hook it over two tees and extend it out in front of the plate. The idea is to get the ball to travel over the tape, then drop behind or on the plate. It’s a drill I saw on an Ernie Parker video years ago.

I got the tape, hooked it into the cage where we were working, then stretched it out in front of the pitcher, about nine or 10 feet from the rubber. I told her to throw so the ball went under the tape. Sure enough, she started throwing knee-high strikes. When I took it away she went back to throwing high at first. But then she got the hang of it and didn’t need the tape anymore.

The key was the visual cue. She couldn’t feel the release point, but the visual of the tape helped her understand where it was. She found the path for her hand and arm and made the correction.

That’s the fun of coaching — finding a way to solve a problem. And now I have one more tool to use.

More on personal responsibility

Roman architecture

I really like Bobby Simpson at Higher Ground Softball. Not only is he knowledgeable and a very nice human being, he often provides some real food for thought in his regular Tuesday e-mail messages. Every coach should sign up for those e-mail missives.

This week’s was no exception. He told a story about how one of the features of Roman architecture was arches. Here is the full text:

I once read a very interesting item about Roman construction. I knew that one of the features of Roman architecture was the use of arches. I also knew that many of the structures that are over 2000 years old are still standing. What I did not know, until I read that item about fifteen years ago, was why their structures may still be standing. It seems that when the arches of a structure were finished, the engineer in charge was required to stand under the arches until the scaffolding was removed. If it was not built well, he would be the very first one to know and it could be a very painful lesson that would be learned. Talk about emphasizing personal responsibility. Ask yourself if you are willing to stand under your constructions. Are you willing to stand under the teams, businesses, families, friendships, or projects that you have built? Let some roads lead from Rome and stand under the arches of lives that you help to construct with excellence.

Isn’t that a great story? As I’ve said before, so many players (and their parents) seem unwilling to take personal responsibility for their own failings or failures. They’ll blame their teammates, their coaches, the umpires, and just about anyone else they can think of before they’ll think to say “Hey, maybe I should’ve worked a little harder in the off-season” or “I really didn’t bring my A game today.”

Great players evaluate themselves every game, always looking at what they could’ve done better this time and what they could do better the next time. They’re hungry for information and willing to work hard. And most of all, when it’s time to remove the scaffolding, they’re eager to stand under the arch and show the world how well they’ve done. It’s only the not so great players who would rather shove someone else under the arch, lest they themselves get hurt.

Getting the feel of the legs working together

There’s a of talk in the pitching world about the need to get good leg drive in order to get good speed. But I’ve always found the books and videos to be a little lacking on the “how” end of things. They will offer drills and such, which work if the pitcher naturally uses her legs correctly in those drills. But what if she doesn’t?

By that I mean what if she doesn’t use both legs together? Some will push hard off the back side, but won’t necessarily use the front leg efficiently. Others will drive out hard with the front leg, but will allow the back side to lag.

Tonight I was facing the latter with a girl named Justine. Her mom is a reader of this blog so I’m sure she won’t mind her being named, at least by first name. Justine was using her front leg to pull, but the back leg was late, and she was not only not throwing as hard as she should, she was also ending up in a forward leaning position. We tried a couple of different things to give her the feel of her legs working together, but it was still a struggle. Then I came upon an idea.

She is right handed, so I had her stand on her right leg, with her left leg slightly up — in what is often called the “stork” position. I then had her move her front knee forward slowly, to see how far she could get it before she lost her balance and wouldn’t be able to push off the back leg. She was surprised to see that she couldn’t get it all that far out. We did it a few times, and I had her push off before she hit the point of no return. Then we went back to pitching full out, with a noticeable jump in speed.

The key to this is the two legs have to work together. If the front leg gets too far away from the back leg it is impossible to get a good drive off the back leg. You need to push off the back foot as the front knee is going forward, not after it’s already as far as it can extend. Doing that moves the whole body together as a unit, which is more powerful than going one piece at a time.

So thanks to Justine I have yet another new drill to bring to my students. I love new stuff!

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