Monthly Archives: October 2009

What is the deal with all these injuries?

I don’t know what’s going on these days. Maybe there’s something in the air or maybe there’s a bad mojo working in this area. But it sure seems like I’m seeing a lot more injuries this year among my students than I’ve ever seen.

Now, let me first clarify. These are not injuries as the result of the pitching motion or any hitting technique. Heck, some of them aren’t even occuring on the softball field. But they are happening. I’ve heard of girls injuring their shoulders playing volleyball, breaking their legs running the bases, hurting their legs running into a fence, even breaking their arms falling off bicycles. The latest is a student (whose father reads this blog, by the way) who blew out her knee playing basketball.

I have actually always been a fan of the multi-sport athlete approach. I think there’s a lot of benefits from training for different sports. But after what’s been doing on this year I’m not so sure.

Is this just a local phenomenon or are folks outside my immediate area (North/Northwest suburbs of Chicago) seeing an uptick in injuries as well? And if so, are they on the softball field? And where or doing what? I hope it’s just a coincidence or bad luck and that it will stop soon. Otherwise there may not be any players left by spring!

A solution to walking off the pitching rubber

A common problem for pitchers, especially here in the Northern climes where a lot of time is spent practicing indoors, is developing a habit of “walking off” the pitching rubber. In other words, instead of loading, transferring the weight to the pivot foot and then pushing off, pitchers will start to let the pivot foot slide forward off the rubber then plant and push off. This is often found with pitchers who practice on a flat gym floor instead of on a pitching mat. Here’s an illustration of that problem to make it clearer (those reading this on the Discuss Fastpitch forum may need to go to my blog to see the video — http://fastpitchlane.softballsuccess.com):


Stepping off the pitching rubber

Ashlee, the girl depicted here, is one of those who had developed this issue. (EDIT: I actually don’t have the video for Ashlee anymore, so another student, Emma, kindly stepped in {no pun intended} to demonstrate the concept.) We tried a number of the standard solutions, such has applying light pressure to her foot as she started to pitch, putting a piece of paper under her toes and having her try to drag it forward, etc. All would work while we were doing the exercise. But as soon as we went back to regular pitching she was right back into walking off. She is very aggressive in her footwork which contributed to the problem. Ultimately it got to the point where the walk off was very obvious.

This movement is a problem for two reasons. One is that it’s illegal. It’s essentially a crow hop without the hop, and because of the way it happens it’s pretty easy for an umpire to call. Beyond that, though, by not loading properly she wasn’t developing the proper level of drive she needed to maximum speed and sharpen her movement pitches.

So, rather than continue to fight her body’s desire to introduce early movement into her footwork we decided to work with it. Essentially, what we did was have her start with the heel of her front foot just barely touching the pitching rubber. Then, as she goes into the loading phase she actually pulls her foot backward so the ball of the foot is against the pitching rubber. Here’s how that looks:


Pushing off from the pitching rubber

As you can see, she still “walks forward,” which feels comfortable to her. But now when she does it she is loading better and remaining legal.

As a side note, the “after” video is her natural motion now most of the time. We actually had to take several shots to get the “before” video because it is no longer her habit. Not to say she doesn’t backslide every now and then, but for the most part this is where she is now, without having to think about it. Let’s say it’s a work in progress, but progress is good.

So if you have a pitcher with this problem, give it a try. It may be just the trick to help her overcome the issues.

Don’t let the pursuit of perfection stand in the way of execution

There is a tendency among coaches (me included) to place a lot of emphasis on having rock-solid mechanics. We know what we want to see, we know what the best players in the world look like, and we try to get our players to match that image we have in our minds. Our most dedicated players often know what they’re trying to achieve and work toward meeting that ideal, whether it’s hitting, pitching, fielding, throwing or any other aspect of the game.

Overall, that’s good. But sometimes this relentless pursuit of perfection can get in the way of player growth. How can that be? Simple. All those skills we’re working on with such passion require dynamic and often ballistic movements. Yet it can be difficult to be dynamic or ballistic if your focus is on being extremely precise with what you’re doing. A hitter trying to get an exact bat path, or a pitcher trying to throw a pitch “just so,” may wind themselves up too tight to get the kind of impact they need. So while they would look great in slow motion video — everything is exactly where it should be when it should be there — the result is less than explosive.

I don’t think this is something coaches build into what they’re teaching. In fact, I think it’s often something that’s more hard-wired into certain players. They have such desire for perfection and achievement that they let it get in the way of just going for it. Put another way, they are so focused on their mechanics they become, well, mechanical.

Pursuing perfection is a worthy goal, but it has to be tempered with a ballplayer’s attitude. We’ve all seen kids with terrible swings or terrible throwing form that still hit or throw the heck out of the ball because they approach it with such intent to hit or throw hard. That is something we all need to be sure we’re instilling in our players.

I would rather see more intent and less perfection in a player or student, particularly at this time of the year (fall). Yes, I want them to improve their mechanics and approach that ideal, but not at the cost of putting every ounce of themselves they have into it. It’s important to remind them every now and then that the intent to perform an action is every bit as critical as the mechanics themselves. After all, you can fix mechanics and make them better. It’s a lot tougher to fix intent if it isn’t there.

Where do coaches come up with this stuff?

I am often amazed by the things I hear from my students regarding what their team coaches tell them. Sometimes the statements are just jaw-droppingly stupid.

Last night was such a case. I was working on the changeup with one of my students. She threw a real nice one, about thigh-high and well-disguised. I complimented her on it, and she told me one of her team coaches told her that “a good changeup should hit the plate.” Huh? I was stunned.

Why in the world would you want to make your changeup hit the plate? If you are throwing it well, one of the good things that can happen is it causes the hitter to freeze. If that occurs and the pitch comes in for a strike, well, you get a strike. If it hits the plate, it’s a ball. Why in the world would you not want to get a free strike?

I can only think of a couple of reasons a coach might make that statement. One is he may never have seen a real changeup and thus doesn’t realize what it’s supposed to look like and what it can do. Even if a changeup gets hit, if it does its job and fools the hitter it’s usually for a weak ground ball or pop fly. Of course, if you’re just slowing your arm down and giving it away you might want it to hit the plate so it doesn’t hit the grass behind the fence.

Another reason would be if the pitchers are throwing it too high. Asking them to try to hit the plate might be a cue to help them bring it down. It’s mechanically unsound and unlikely to work, but at least it’s well-intentioned.

The third reason, of course, is that the coach is simply speaking of things which he knows not. As Mark Twain once said, “Better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you’re a fool than open it and prove it.” Apparently this coach didn’t watch Taryne Mowatt lead Arizona to a WCWS championship by throwing changeups for a strike. A change that hits the plate is what you  would call a mistake.

For this pitcher, I gave her my standard instruction for dealing with this sort of thing: say “OK,” or “I’m trying,” then continue to throw it for a low strike. In other words, save this coach from himself. Maybe someday he’ll learn.

The dominant hand

I was working with a right handed hitter the other day, and we were talking about finishing the swing. She had a tendency to get to contact then come up short. In the course of our discussion she referred to her top hand as being her dominant hand — probably because she is right handed.

While it was just a terminology, it provided a teaching moment. I had planned on having her do some one-handed drills so I had been practicing them myself before she got there. When she mentioned her dominant hand it provided the perfect opportunity to get started.

First I had her use her choke up on the bat and use her bottom hand only. She’s done these before, so she started pulling the bat through and hitting the ball fairly hard off the tee. Then we switched to her “dominant” (top) hand. She had a tough time getting the bat through effectively, even while choked up.

It was a revealing moment to her. She’s always relied on her top hand for most of the power, so she rarely reached extension. She made consistent contact but never really hit the ball hard (which is why we were working together). After that demonstration she paid more attention to working her bottom hand and started extending after contact.

The real proof, though, came later that day during a game. This girl who was hitting pop-ups and so-so ground balls during the summer cracked a single, two doubles and a triple off three different pitchers. All were solid.

It’s important for hitters to understand the role of each hand, and how they work together. By taking advantage off the strength of both they can drive the ball more powerfully rather than leaving power on the table.

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