Monthly Archives: November 2008

Catcher – a one-hand position

Lately I’ve been noticing an interesting phenomenon. For some reason, I’ve been seeing catchers trying to catch pitches with two hands. They start with their hand behind their back (also wrong) or behind their shinguard (correct position). Then as the pitch comes in, their throwing hand comes forward and they catch the ball with two hands.

That is not only poor technique, it’s dangerous to the catcher’s throwing hand. While we often stress two hands for catching in the field, catchers need to use one hand. There are a couple reasons for this.

One is foul tips. If the batter tips the ball it could deflect anywhere. If the throwing hand is coming up to help catch the ball, a foul tip can hit it. The result could be a jammed, sprained, or broken finger or thumb. None of those are very conducive to continuing to play.

The other is it it actually takes longer to throw the ball if the throwing hand is coming forward to help with the catch. In the field, using two hands helps both with securing the ball and making a quick transfer to throw. But at the catcher position, because the hand is starting behind the shin guard, you want to catch with one hand, then bring the glove (and ball) back to the throwing shoulder. The hand meets it there and the transfer is made.

So how do you get catchers to get in the habit of using just one hand? One way is to have them hook their thumb in the strap of their shinguards until after they make the catch while practicing. Then practice using one hand a lot.

It’s important for catchers to protect their throwing hands. Using one hand to catch will make that happen.

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The image potential recruits portray online

Saw an article today in the Jugs Co. newsletter that I thought was worth sharing. It was written by their regular softball columnist Celeste Knierim, who is also a college coach.

She was talking about the e-mail addresses players often use today — names like blondebombshell, QTpie, things like that. These names don’t make the player sound like a serious person — not exactly the impression someone looking for a college scholarship wants to give.

Check it out — it’s definitely worth a read.

Maintaining connection to launch

There are all kinds of pieces that are involved in developing a quality, high level swing. But one of the toughest to achieve, from what I’ve seen is something called “connection.” That’s the proper name for the concept of tying the hands to the back shoulder in the early part of the swing and keeping them there until launch.

This is a very important factor in developing a “high level” swing. It’s something all great hitters do. But it’s easier said than done.

What often happens early in the swing is hitters will push their hands back as they begin their positive move forward. When that occurs, the hands have become disconnected from the back shoulder, and now have to cover a lot more ground to get to the contact point. The act of pushing the hands back will cause the front arm to “bar out” (a fancy term for getting straight to early), creating a long, slow swing. It is also one of the leading causes of bat drag, the condition where the elbow on the top hand gets ahead of the hands during rotation.

Unless you have a lot of experience it can be difficult to spot whether connection is being maintained or not during the swing. Here’s where video can be helpful. Shooting video from the side will allow you to walk through the swing, frame by frame, and see whether the hands are getting behind during the swing.

So what can you do if they are? One good drill is to use only the bottom hand to swing the bat to hit a ball off the tee. Have the hitter hold the bat at about the top of the tape with her bottom hand. Her arm should be bent, creating a V. Then have her move through her normal swing — negative move, postive stride/weight shift forward, rotate the hips and then shoulders, then pull the bat through the hitting zone, getting to extension and finish. Many hitters who lose connection do so because either the bottom hand pushes back, or it is weak coming through the zone. This drill will help them feel what it’s like to keep the bottom hand in place, and use it to get the bat moving properly.

If access to a gym or space is limited, another thing hitters can do is grab the back shoulder of their shirts, then go through their swing holding it until it’s time to get to the contact zone.

Yet another good drill is to hold a Frisbee with the bottom hand, and with the hands at the back shoulder. Then go through the swing. As the hands come into the contact zone, the hitters throw the Frisbee directly forward. Just make sure they don’t wind up with their hands way to the back before bringing them forward.

Here’s a link to a good example of a hitter maintaining connection. You have to have Quicktime to view it. If you need to download Quicktime, click here.

Another cue for the backhand change

I know it seems like I’m obsessed with the change this week. And perhaps I am. But it’s an important pitch and worth focusing on.

Sometimes a pitcher can have trouble getting her hand turned around in time to throw the backhand change. If that happens, try telling her to make sure she brings her thumb to her thigh as she brings the ball through the bottom of the circle. This cue is specific, and helps assure that her hand is coming knuckles first through the release zone.

Tonight was the first time I’ve used the cue, and it worked in the situation where it was needed. It may not work for everyone, but it’s certainly worth a try. The challenge for any coach is to find a way to communicate what the player needs to do in a way that makes sense to her. Thumb to the thigh is part of the rhyme often used for overhand throwing — thumb to the thigh, raise it to the sky, wave bye-bye. Now I know it works for pitching too!

To make the change work, trust it

Have you ever watched a pitcher who generally has a good changeup suddenly start struggling to throw it well? The pitch comes in too fast, or it goes high, or it rolls in — or sometimes all of the above. The pitcher will work diligently to correct it, but it just seems to get worse.

Often there is a simple cure, but one that doesn’t make sense on the surface. What I’ve found works is to tell the pitcher to just throw the heck out of her changeup.

Here’s why it works. The changeup depends on a certain timing. It’s built to look like a fast pitch but come in slower. If the pitcher throws it incorrectly once for whatever reason, often her correction will be to try to slow her arm down a little in order to take off speed. But in doing so, she throws off the timing of her arm with the rest of her body. That leads to another bad changeup and more “corrections” until she’s not throwing the pitch she’s been trained to throw.

Instead of going slower, the pitcher needs to go faster. She needs to trust in the pitch and just let the mechanics work for her. If she has a good change, driving into it and throwing it hard will get her where she needs to be when she releases the ball. Again assuming she has the pitch to begin with.

This idea seems to work no matter what type of change the pitcher is throwing. Have her be confident, and just throw the dang thing. It’s amazing what our bodies can do when we get our brains out of the way.

Half-day college clinics

With winter break fast approaching for the schools, I have started receiving the e-mails offering skills clinics at various local colleges. It’s always interesting to see what they have to say.

First of all, let me say those clinics are a great way to expose your daughter to college coaches, especially if she already knows where she wants to go to school. Attend a few and the coaches will get to know her, and if they think she can help them they’ll give her a good look. They’re also good for getting a “second opinion.” You or a private coach may thing your daughter is on the right track, but a good college coach might differ, or at least offer some suggestions on ways to improve. Of course, if the coach (assuming he/she is there) says you’re looking good, that’s great validation too.

Now on to the real topic. I received a notice recently that included a pitching/catching clinic. Maybe it was just worded poorly, but it said at the pitching clinic you will receive basic instruction on skill development and work on specific pitch development including the drop, rise, screw and curve. To me, that’s a pretty tall order.

I don’t see where much of any of that will really be accomplished in that or any three-hour clinic. I don’t know, but I doubt they’re really looking for raw beginners. They might be able to tweak someone who is already taking lessons or learning to pitch on a regular basis, but they’re not going to “teach” anyone to pitch. Likewise, I question whether they can teach anyone a new pitch in that amount of time. My guess is they don’t think they can either; the best they can do is take something and make it better.

For example, you think you have a curve because you have a “curve ball grip” but it doesn’t spin in the right direction. They can probably help you get the right spin, and maybe start actually seeing a break in the ball.

That’s probably not what people are going to read, though. They may very well assume that sending their daughter to this college clinic means she will learn to throw those pitches from scratch — maybe one of them, maybe even all. I’ve had parents of nine year olds tell me how impressed they were that their daughter was shown how to throw all these different pitches at a HS clinic. No she wasn’t. She was shown there are different pitches, but she didn’t learn a damned thing. Especially when her primary challenge was getting the ball over the plate without any fancy movement.

The truth is pitching is an iterative skill. It takes lots of repetition and tweaking to get any of it right, much less all of it. Even big-time pitchers struggle with it day to day.

So when you see one of those announcements, know what you’re getting into. Go for the right reasons. But don’t expect miracles. If it were really that easy, they’d be charging a lot more than $75 for it. I know I would.

Things that make me go hmmm #1

Thanks to Frank Morelli to sparking this one. He was commenting on my Softball Magazine article “10 Things I Hate About Softball,” saying one of the things he hates is ASA’s instance on the on-deck hitter remaining in front of her dugout. That got me to thinking, and going hmmm.

ASA (and other sanctioning bodies) are fanatical about enforcing the no-jewelry rule. I have actually had a player tossed out of a game for forgetting to remove her Lance Armstrong rubber band, and other players have been admonished because they put their hair tie on their wrist so they wouldn’t lose it when they put their helmet on. I have been told it is a safety issue.

So if ASA is so concerned about safety, why will they insist that the on-deck hitter stand 10-15 feet away from and in front of the current hitter? I mean seriously. Which do YOU think will cause more injury — catching a rubber band or a hair tie on whatever they think it will catch on, or being hit point-blank in the stomach or chest with a line drive off a bat with the technology to allow an average hitter to send a ball flying over a 200 foot fence?

I know what I think. There are rumors that the rules will be changed in the next couple of years to require pitchers and corner infielders to wear safety masks. Maybe even the entire infield. Yet often in the parks we play in, the hitter is standing as close or than most of them. I know that Don Porter Field in Oklahoma City is a spacious park with lots of room up the sidelines, but the average softball diamond for youth play is not. It seems silly to insist that on-deck hitters stand on their own side when the easy solution is to allow them to stand behind the hitter, no matter which dugout that puts them in front of.

While I’m on the subject, I’ll bet more kids are injured sliding on cinder-based infields that would ever get hurt by wearing a rubber band or hair tie on their wrist. If you really want to help the players, require sand- or dirt-based skins.

It’s things like that that make me go hmmmm.

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