Monthly Archives: March 2010

In bunt situations, pitch high

I have ranted and raved on more than one occassion about the slavish devotion so many coaches seem to have to automatically sacrifice bunting anytime they get a runner on first. Besides making them very predictable, it’s also not really a high percentage play.

One thing pitchers can do to help make it an even worse idea is throw high to try and get the hitter to pop up. It works a couple of ways.

If you know the opposition’s coach is slavishly devoted to bunting the runner over, you should automatically make the first pitch either a riseball (if you have one) or an “upwardly mobile” fastball. Most hitters tend to set up too low to bunt to begin with, maybe due to practicing on low pitches off front toss or a machine. They also tend to try to bunt no matter where the pitch is, so instead of pulling back they will try to follow the pitch up. Either way, the result is often a pop-up to the catcher. If it’s a short pop-up, the catcher may be able to get the out there and fire to first to double off that runner. Easy if there is a bunt and steal on, still possible if the runner breaks but then tries to get back.

The other way it can work is for the pitcher to be aware the team may bunt, and adjust her pitch as she goes into it. In this case the pitcher starts to throw her pitch, and if she sees the batter square around she changes it to a high pitch.

My daughter Kimmie was very good at this. She could recognize even a late bunt, and would release a little late to get the ball to go high. I was watching a couple of pitchers last night in a game, one of whom is a student of mine, and they were doing the same. The other pitcher actually got one girl to pop up twice in two consecutive at bats. They didn’t get the DP, but it was close. Which meant all the coach got for her efforts was the runner still on first, and one out instead of none.

So pitchers, learn to think through the game. And if you see that bunt, or know it’s coming, go high. It just may pay off big time for you.


What a way to wake up

Yesterday I was standing outside in a light jacket, watching a scrimmage between the JV and varsity at my local high school. This morning I woke up to the below. Tell me again why I live in Illinois?

To gain control, you must first give up control

Ok, I know it sounds like something out of the movie Mystery Men. That’s no accident. But it really is true.

All too often, pitchers (especially beginners) will try gain control over their pitches by consciously trying to guide the ball to its intended location. The problem when they do that is they end up tensing up, and essentially guessing how to position their bodies, when to release the ball, where their hand should be pointing, etc. At that point instead of improving their control, their bodies are actually working against them and control gets worse.

To learn control, pitchers need to let their bodies relax, work on their mechanics, and let the ball go where it may for a while. In other words, instead of trying to guide the ball to a specific spot they should work on acquiring the proper mechanics to throw a ball to that location — whether they actually get it there or not. For example, when working on throwing to the glove side or throwing hand side, the focus should be on stepping slightly left or right (if that’s the method you use) and following the body with the arm circle rather than trying to “aim” the ball at the end.

Remember that control is not a goal. It is the result of doing things right. So if you really want to gain control, first give up the desire to consciously control the ball. Let go your conscious mind and let it happen organically. You’ll get where you want to go a lot faster.

A very different experience

Last night I was out teaching as usual. Only four lessons thanks to the start of the HS season, starting with an eight year old and finishing with a high schooler. During that last one Ashlee was working on her movement pitches, and broke off a particularly nasty curve ball. The curve is probably her most reliable movement pitch, and she can do wonders with it.

After throwing the pitch, a guy came walking up and asked “Wow! Was that a curve ball?” He then told me he and some of his buddies play men’s fastpitch in Wisconsin, and none of them would’ve wanted to go up against that. He also mentioned that two of the guys with him were their pitchers. Then he went back to hitting, and we finished the lesson.

After I packed up, I went by just to say goodbye to the guy (Matt) since I hadn’t had much chance to talk during the lesson. He and the two pitchers stopped what they were doing and asked what grip Ashlee was using for the curve. I showed them, at which point Matt got out his digital camera and asked if he could take pictures of that and the grips for a couple of other pitches.

One thing led to another, and before I knew it I was giving an impromptu (and free) lesson to the pitchers on how to throw a backhand changeup. We didn’t take a long time, but I did explain some of the principles and things to follow, demonstrated it (poorly I might add — I really need to do warm-ups before I start doing demos) then each of them tried it. It was rough, but they picked up the basics pretty quickly. With some work they should have a nice, new pitch come this spring.

That’s the first time I’ve ever worked with men’s fastpitch pitchers. It was definitely different. For one thing, they were both taller than me. I got the impression they were both self-taught too, mostly playing for fun.

In any case, I had a good time working with them. Maybe they’ll wander up to Grand Slam again some Wednesday night and we can talk more softball. You just never know where life — or fastpitch softball — will take you.

Girls throw like their fathers

This is more of an observation than anything else. But teaching as many pitching lessons as I do, I’ve had occasion to watch a lot of girls play catch with their fathers. And it’s amazing how closely the throwing mechanics of the daughter reflect those of her father.

If Dad stands face-forward and pushes the ball, so does his daughter. If Dad wraps his arm around his head when he throws, so does his daughter.

I don’t seem to recall that so much with boys. Not sure why — maybe boys receive more training at an early age, or perhaps they just spend more time throwing on their own. It’s my firm belief that to a boy, duck+rock=throwing practice. A girl would never draw the same conclusion.

In any case, whatever the reason, step back and watch sometime. You’ll see I’m right.

For those of you who are fathers, definitely keep that in mind. However you throw is how your daughter is likely to throw. So if you want your daughter to succeed, work on your own throw first. It could help shortcut her path to being the player she wants and needs to be.

What’s the deal with conditioning and HS tryouts?

This is the week for high school tryouts. And with it come the interesting stories.

I’ve heard from several of my students who told me that much of their tryouts were spent not showing their skills, but running, running running.

Not to go all Seinfeld on you, but what’s the deal with that? I know tryouts for the most part are perfunctory. Most teams, especially varsity teams, are chosen well in advance. Still, wouldn’t you think that coaches would want to take as long a look at the skills of their players as they can, to make sure no stone is left unturned?

All I can figure is they’re trying to weed out the girls who are just dabbling, or trying softball for the first time. That’s a shame. A school sport should be more inclusive, at least at the lower levels. Why make it miserable right off the bat?

Some schools have trouble even fielding teams at all levels. Running the girls to death is no way to get them out. It’s not that I’m anti-conditioning. It’s an important part of sports performance. But why not ease them into it? Or build up to it? After all, it’s not soccer or basketball. It doesn’t take all the much endurance to play our sport. Conditioning is not the game-changer it is in continuous motion sports.

Start with a reasonable amount and work your way up. Better yet, work conditioning into skills training to maximize your efficiency. With a little effort and imagination it can be done. And that way, you’re not turning off kids who might otherwise be able to make a real contribution to the team.

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