Monthly Archives: December 2009

Defining failure

One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from old-time actress Mary Pickford, who said, “This thing called ‘failure’ is not falling down, but staying down.”

How true is that? In my mind it’s one of the big things that separates the successful fastpitch softball players from the wanna-bes. As I’ve said many times (and it’s not an original thought to me), fastpitch softball is a game designed to break your heart. Failure is built into its very fabric.

In most sports, you’re either successful or you come out neutral. For example, in basketball or soccer you can run around and work hard, guard your opponent or handle the ball without negative consequences. But in our sport, the opportunity to fail is all over the place. One bad bounce, one poor umpire call, one swing and miss and you’ve failed. Then you have to go out and do it again!

Some kids today can’t handle that. They’ve been told their whole lives by their parents that they can do anything. Their support system is designed to allow them to experience success after success. So when the outcome isn’t what they want they aren’t ready for it and have trouble handling it.

But that’s not failure. That’s life. Failure, as Ms. Pickford said, is not falling down but staying down. That is one of the most important lessons fastpitch softball can teach. It’s all about your perspective.

A few years ago I read a story about three-time Olympic gold medalist Lisa Fernandez. She said the first game she pitched, around the age of eight, she hit 20 batters and walked another 20. She cried and was ready to give up pitching. But her mother wouldn’t let her. She set a new goal for Lisa, telling her next time hit 19 and walk 19. She didn’t ask her daughter to be perfect, just to try again and work on doing a little better. She got back up and the rest, as they say, is history.

Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky had a great failure quote too — “You will always miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” How true.

Whether you’re a parent or coach, be sure to help your player(s) understand what failure really is, and what it’s not. They’ll find they enjoy the game a whole lot more, and they’ll carry the lesson with them the rest of their lives.

Sometimes the toughest thing is keeping your mouth shut

About a week ago, I was hanging out at North Shore Baseball Academy with some time on my hands. My 6:30 lesson had cancelled  at the last minute due to illness, so I was just sort of strolling around trying to keep myself occupied for the next half hour.

In one cage was a high school age boy hitting off a pitching machine. I started chatting with his father, just some general stuff. But as we were talking I was also watching the boy. He was popping up a lot, although every now and then he’d hit a good one. I could see why — he was dropping his back shoulder before rotating — and that created a dilemma for me. I so much wanted to offer to help him out, but I wasn’t sure that my recommendations would be all that welcome. After all, who was I to tell them anything?

Ultimately I decided not to say anything. It was probably the toughest thing I had to do all night.

Once you really get into coaching it’s hard to turn it back off. I can’t even watch a movie where they’re playing softball without analyzing the technique. (I can tell you with utmost certainty that softball is not Hillary Duff’s game.)

So how about you? Have you ever been walking around a field or indoor facility, seen some bad technique or bad instruction, and wanted to say something? Did you, or did you keep your mouth shut too?

Using the curve and screw effectively

One of the things I find fascinating when I read discussion boards is how many people — especially the old-time pitchers — seem to have a bias against the curve and the screw. Their basic premise is you should only be throwing pitches that move up or down, i.e. the rise and the drop, because they’re harder to hit than a ball that stays flat.

It makes me wonder what their expectations are or experience is with the curve and screw. I’ve found them both to be very effective pitches when thrown correctly and under the right circumstances.

First of all, the curve and screw don’t have to be flat pitches. A screw that goes up as well as in can be tough to hit (more on that later). The curve will tend to be flatter, but will still have some tendency to drop in most cases.

But the real advantage is in location. I think too often the people who don’t like the curve or screw tend to throw them or see them thrown for strikes. That’s not necessarily what you want to do.

I like a curve that starts out as a strike, out on the outer third of the plate. Then, a couple of feet before the plate it breaks off and is essentially a ball. The thing is, the hitter made her decision to swing before the ball broke, so she’s essentially swinging at a ball. If she does hit it, she likely won’t hit it very hard. But the odds are she will swing and miss, chasing a pitch that’s too far outside to hit. That’s a great 0-2 pitch. If she doesn’t go for that outside pitch, come back with a pitch on the outside corner that doesn’t break laterally. If she laid off once she’ll likely lay off again, only this time it is a strike.

If you can throw a back door curve on the other hand, you’re throwing a pitch that looks like it will plunk the hitter in the ribs. She backs off, and the ball goes across the plate for a strike. As long as the blue is watching the pitch the entire way you get an easy strike.

On the screw, there are a couple of strategies that make it effective. To simplify the description, we’ll assume a right-handed pitcher (RHP). Her pitch will break in toward a right-handed hitter and away from a lefty.

Assuming you can get actual break and not just angle, the screw can be very effective against a big hitter. It starts out looking all fat, around the middle of the plate, then breaks in on the hands. The bigger hitter who was planning on crushing the middle of the plate pitch has to pull in her hands and hit with alligator arms. If she does catch it in time, odds are you’re going to see a long foul ball down the left field line, which looks spectactular but is still a strike, same as a ball popped back into the screen.

With less talented hitters, a ball darting up and in toward their hands or face masks can be pretty intimidating. They back off, the ball stays on the plate, again you get an easy strike. One of the beauties here is that there usually aren’t many kids around who throw a good screw, so if you can the hitter has fewer reference points to use in recognizing it. If one happens to get away and plunk someone, so much the better. The others will think twice before digging in.

For lefties, the screw can be used the same as a curve for righties — a pitch that breaks off the plate. You can also have lefty slappers chasing what looks like a good pitch to slap — providing you can adjust the break point to the front of the batter’s box. Otherwise, the slapper will catch it before it breaks. Since slappers are taught to swing down, they may wind up getting the bat too low too early, swinging under the pitch because it’s not where they thought it would be. No need to throw it for a strike; it only has to look like it will be a strike when the hitter makes her decision, which is usually about halfway between the plate and the pitchers rubber.

The objective with pitching is to get hitters to swing at pitches that they thought would be good but turn out not to be. The curve and the screw can both qualify if you use them correctly.



Help the British National team compete in the ISF Worlds

Receive the message below from Bobby Simpson today and wanted to pass it along. The message is pretty much self-explanatory but I wanted to add a few thoughts anyway. Just call me Mike Brady.

The US isn’t the only country who is suffering with the IOC’s decision to remove softball from the Olympics. As you’ll see, that action has caused the removal of funding for the British National team, which means that despite qualifying for the ISF Worlds in the summer of 2010, they won’t be able to attend unless they get some help. That would be a shame, especially as we claim that softball is world sport, not just a US sport.

I’ve never been real big on those petition that go around, although I do sign them too. But they’re pretty easy to ignore, as the IOC does. But participating in this vote has the potential to actually result in something. I just did it and it took about two minutes.

One little trick once you get there: if you have a Facebook account you don’t have to sign up for anything else. You can just use that login to get to the actual voting area.

Without further ado, here’s the message. Please take the time to help the Brits participate on the International stage.


During 2001-2004, I was honored to serve as the Head Coach of the British Women’s National Team. This past summer, they qualified for the 2010 ISF World Championships, but they receive no public funding since softball has been deleted from the Olympics and it is VERY difficult to raise the type funds that they will need. They have entered a British Airways program and have been shortlisted to possibly receive 16 free flights. They need your help. Please read the item below from Bob Fromer, a man who has truly given his heart to helping this program for many. many years. Then, PLEASE VOTE NOW (contest ends in about a week) and notify others so they can help. These are very deserving people and this could make the difference for them. THANKS for your help.   Bobby Simpson


 


YOUR ONLINE VOTE CAN HELP THE GREAT BRITAIN WOMEN’S
SOFTBALL TEAM GET TO THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS!

 


The Great Britain Women’s Fastpitch Softball Team earned a place in the 2010 Softball World Championships by finishing second in European Championships this past summer, the team’s highest-ever European placing.

But the team receives no public funding because softball is no longer an Olympic sport. Players and staff had to pay their own way to compete for their country at the European Championships, but the cost of competing in the World Championships, which will probably be held in North America, is beyond what the players and their families can afford. So the team has entered a British Airways contest called “Great Britons”, where the prize could be 16 desperately-needed free flights that can get the players and staff to the World Championships. Now the team has now been shortlisted along with seven other entries, and the winner will be determined by public vote.

So please go online to
http://www.greatbritons.ba.com/shortlists and cast your vote for the GB Women’s Team entry submitted by first base player MORGAN PARKERSON.

Just click on Morgan’s name on the Judges’ Shortlist and then hit the VOTE NOW button under Morgan’s photo. You’ll need to do a quick registration, and then you can vote. And then please get everyone you know and everyone you can reach by way of Facebook, MySpace, Twitter etc to vote as well!

Winning this contest could make all the difference between the GB Women’s Softball Team being able to go to the World Championships and having to turn down its place.


Thanks very much for your help!


Bob Fromer
GB Softball Team Manager     

More on the so-called natural softball pitching motion

Had this thought earlier today and just had to share.

Everyone talks about how the softball pitching motion is a “natural” motion. If that was true, parents wouldn’t pay thousands of dollars for their kids to learn how to pitch.

The reality of windmill pitching and over use injuries

Just saw this article today on the Softball Performance blog and thought it was important to pass along. In it he provides a synopsis of an article that appeared in a publication for professional trainers examining injuries in softball pitchers.

As you might expect, some of the high incidence of injury is due to poor mechanics. We’ve all seen those pitchers who are good at throwing hard despite having poor mechanics. Because they’re winning games and blowing away the competition, particularly at the younger ages, no one gives much thought to whether their mechanics are any good. Eventually, though, it catches up with them. I can personally think of a couple of kids who were phenoms at 10U and 12U, but unable to even throw a pitch by age 15.

Equally important, though, is the risk of overuse injuries in pitchers — even those with good mechanics. There is this prevailing myth that the windmill pitching motion is “safe” and “natural,” so there is little risk of injury. That’s simply not true and the article demonstrate it.

Any kind of repetitive motion, especially a violent one such as pitching, can lead to an overuse injury. Those can be tough to recover from, too. If you’re a coach and you’re throwing one girl more than three or four games in a weekend, or you’re a parent and allowing a coach to do it because “the team needs her to win,” you really need to read Marc’s post. Marc is an expert in softball-specific sports training with outstanding credentials, so when he says something is a potential issue you’d best listen.

Look at it this way: if a person get develop Carpal-Tunnel Syndrome sitting at a desk, what makes you think a softball pitcher can’t get it from pitching? I know which one I think is more strenuous.

Happy anniversary to me!

I was just looking up the statistics for the blog when I noticed that yesterday (December 7) was the three year anniversary of the Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog.

Wow! I can’t believe it. Has it really been three years since my first post? It must be true, though. GoDaddy would never lie to me!

In any case, thanks to all of you who stop by to read my random musings, and who comment on various posts. A blog is only an online diary without readers!

Coaching is a lot like doing improv

I have to admit I’m not real big on the whole comedy club improv thing. I tend to like my comedy a little more fully baked. Guess that’s the writer in me. Still, there is a parallel between improv and coaching.

One of the highlights of improv comedy shows is when the performers ask the audience to shout out a bunch of random stuff, or at least semi-random stuff, and then the performers act out the scene the audience has “put together.” It’s really living on the edge, because sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But it does require quick thinking and an open mind either way.

What made me think of this was working with a student last night on pitching. Although she is 15 and has pitched for a few years, this is the first time she’s ever had lessons. She had a few habits that we had to break her of, one of which was a balance issue. I’ve tried a few different things that have worked in the past and there has been some improvement, but the issue was still there. So like the comics doing improv, I had to come up with something else, which turned out to be the magic formula.

The cue I gave her — drive your back hip toward your front hip as you come forward — wasn’t substantially different than others I’d given her in the past. But this one worked, where the others didn’t, or only did to a limited extent.

With the balance issue addressed, this girl started throwing harder than she ever has before. She was able to put more of herself into her pitches with the confidence that they would go where they were supposed to (more or less). She walked out of there feeling pretty good last night.

That’s the beauty and the challenge of coaching. You always have to be prepared to come up with a new explanation, or a new drill, or a new approach right there on the spot. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. What’s worked 100 times before is useless if it doesn’t work this time, for this player. You have to be able to figure out what the problem is, then find an explanation that makes sense to the player. It can be a bit nerve-wracking at time. But the reward is definitely worth it.

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