Monthly Archives: September 2009

The wonders of life

Just started up the new season of lessons this week and was struck by something interesting.

One of the places I teach is about 30 to 45 minutes away from my house. Consequently, when I finish lessons at the end of April it’s usually the last time I see some of my students for a few months.

Tonight I saw a couple of them and was struck by how much they had changed in the intervening months. One girl in particular stood out. Not only did she look more mature in her face (at age 12), she was actually talking in a conversational way with me tonight.

At lessons I’m usually pretty chatty. Some of the girls will chat right back. Some will joke around with me and toss good-natured insults back and forth. But some will barely say a word. The one I’m thinking of was in that latter group. But tonight that changed. We had some good conversation, and she started calling out when she didn’t execute a technique the way I wanted her to. That’s awesome because I always tell my students that it’s important that I know what they should be doing, but it’s imperative that they know because they’re the ones who have to do it.

I’ve had a few over the years who didn’t talk to me (more than answering a hello and saying “ok”) for a couple of years. They were either shy or uncomfortable talking to an adult. But I think it’s really cool when that changes and you begin building a more personal relationship. It absolutely makes teaching more fun!

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Great example of sportsmanship

Here’s a great example of coaches who understand that there’s more to life (and sports) than pummeling your opponents and running up your stats. It’s not from fastpitch softball, it’s from football, but I think the lesson here applies.

Essentially, two high school teams were playing. One was winning 46-0. The coach with 0 went to the other coach and asked if his team would allow a player with Down’s Syndrome who had suited up for every game but never played to score a touchdown. The coach with 46 agreed to give up his shutout on the last play to make it happen.

One kid got the thrill of a lifetime. But a whole lot of other kids got a lesson in sportsmanship and class. Kudos to both teams.

Team-supplied lessons

Had an interesting email discussion today with Coach Mike. It revolved around a local team that “supplies” its players with hitting lessons. The basics are that they charge each person in the organization an additional (non-optional) fee, then contract with a hitting instructor to provide lessons to everyone in the organization.

The free market advocate in me tends not to like that arrangement. I think parents should be free to take their kids anywhere they want to get lessons. I doubt as an instructor myself that I would be totally comfortable with an entire program being directed to me either. 

But I can also see the other side. At least this program is sure that its players are receiving regular lessons throughout the year. Assuming the instructor they contract with is qualified (and I have no reason to think otherwise), it could certainly present an advantage. Of course, with any private instruction situation success or failure is 90 percent the player and 10 percent the coach. Still, receiving regular instruction versus sitting around watching TV or texting incessantly ought to produce some results.

I’d be interested in feedback from others as to how common a practice it is for teams or programs to hire out a single instructor on any aspect of the game for the entire program. If you are or have been in that situation, how did you feel? Did you have the option of opting out and working with your own coach, and if so was the fee refunded to you?

The most pressing question to me, though, is if you were in an organization that did that and suddenly they said “here’s that part of the fee back; use it to hire your own private coach” do you think families who didn’t already have a coach seek one out? Or would they just pocket the money and forget about lessons?

Great article on mental toughness

Read an interesting article today in Baseball the Magazine, the sister (brother?) publication to Softball Magazine. It was on the secret to mental toughness and was written by Jack Perconte, a former MLB player (LA Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox) who is now coaching youth athletes.

In the article he goes through all the usual suspects — confidence, love of the game, aggressiveness, etc. But what he ultimately comes back to is strong fundamentals.

In the article, Perconte says that mental toughness isn’t in the head — at least not entirely. It’s really driven by knowing exactly what to do and how to do it. If you can execute the correct skills without thinking or hesitating you’ll be known as being mentally tough. One example he gives is the hitter who stands in the box and fouls off pitch after pitch. That hitter most likely has very strong fundamentals, which is what is enabling her to continue fouling off pitches until she gets one she really likes and can hit well. She’s not worried about whether she’ll hit the ball or not. She’s just relying on her strong fundamental to carry her through.

Coaches are often in a hurry to get past the fundamentals in order to get to the “good stuff.” Yes, there is a lot to learn in the game of softball and sometimes it feels like there simply isn’t enough time no matter how hard you work. But if a player can’t throw the ball 60 feet and hit her target it doesn’t matter whether she knows which base to throw the ball to. It just means she’ll be making an error at the right base. If she doesn’t know how to hit, having great baserunning skills won’t matter a whole lot.

It’s a great article. Baseball the Magazine is available on newsstands everywhere. I recommend you pick it up, give it a read, and pass it out to your team. It may help them understand why you’re spending so much time on fundamentals skills.

If you’re thinking too much you’re not practicing enough

There’s an old saying in softball (and baseball) that goes “Quite thinking, you’re hurting the ballclub.” While it’s usually said in good humor there is some truth to it. Especially when it comes to executing skills.

When you first learn a new skill there’s a lot of thinking involved. You’re trying to get the movements right and overcome old habits in the process. It takes a lot of thinking, checking and rechecking. As you become more successful with the skill you get to the point of conscious competence — the ability to do what you want to do as you think it through.

That’s not the goal, though. At the point of conscious competence you’re not able to give your maximum effort. There’s still a point of being careful involved when you’re thinking. The point you want to get to instead is unconscious competence — the point where you no longer have to think about what you’re doing, but instead just do it (as the billboards say). At that point you can give 100 percent effort — throw yourself into it entirely without any worries.

There’s only one way to get there — through repetition. How many reps varies by the skill and by the person. But it’s more than a few no matter who you are. You’ll know when it’s enough — because you no longer have to think about what you’re doing, You’re simply going out there and giving it your all. On the other hand, if you’re thinking too much, you’re not practicing enough. Time to get to work!

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