Monthly Archives: September 2010

What would Babe Ruth do?

This isn’t exactly fastpitch softball, but it does have to do with baseball — and it’s a really interesting article. My friend Ray Minchew sent it to me, so thanks, Ray.

The article was written Bill James, the guru behind The Baseball Abstract — that statistical analysis that once was looked down upon by the baseball Powers That Be but now is the Bible, or at least the law book, of the sport. But this time he’s not talking about statistics; he’s talking about all the gnashing of teeth over the use of steroid and how they’ve affected the record books.

As he looks at the current troubles, he harkens back to Babe Ruth and what he was like. I mean, you have to love an article that starts like this:

“First of all, I have absolutely no doubt that, had steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs existed during Babe Ruth’s career, Babe Ruth would not only have used them, he would have used more of them than Barry Bonds. I don’t understand how anyone can be confused about this. The central theme of Babe Ruth’s life, which is the fulcrum of virtually every anecdote and every event of his career, is that Babe Ruth firmly believed that the rules did not apply to Babe Ruth.”

Yet while he starts with a baseball premise, the always thoughtful James expands his premise to look at America as a whole and how we are really a nation of scofflaws at heart. We love our independence, and our right to do whatever we darn so please whenever we darn so please.

There’s more to it, but I can’t really do it justice her. Follow the link above and give it a look. It will make you smile and think at the same time.

That whole breathing thing really works

I have been an advocate of taking a slow, deep breath (also known as a cleansing breath in Lamaze circles) ever since reading the book Heads Up Baseball by Tom Hanson and Ken Ravizza, which in my opinion is the Bible of the mental game. The basics are to stare at an object that won’t move during the game, such as a sign permanently attached to the backstop, then breathe in slowly — in through your nose and out through your mouth. It’s designed to calm a player down as she starts to panic and help her get back into her happy zone.

Last week, though, I got a chance to prove scientifically that it works. I was in a clinic for a little outpatient procedure which I will spare you the details on — nothing serious, just a routine if disgusting test. As part of it, the nurse clipped a device onto my finger to track my heart rate.

After it was on, I turned to look at the monitor and saw it was reading 81 beats per minute. What a great opportunity, I thought, to see what effect the breathing exercise would have. So I took a deep breath — in through my nose, slowly out through my mouth. And lo and behold, down came my heart rate. At first I dropped it to about 74 beats per minute, so I did it again and got it down to 72. So, since it was going to be another 20 minutes before the procedure started I decided to play with the machine and see how low I could go. As I recall, I got down to about 70, but couldn’t get any lower than that.

Still, that’s pretty cool. I was already calm when I started, but doing the breathing brought me down even more. It’s the same for athletes.

When I explain this to players they often look at me like I’m nuts — especially the younger ones. I make them try it and they give me a token effort. Then they’re the first ones to panic and lose control in a game.

It may seem silly, but it really does work. I’ve had plenty of anecdotal evidence over the years, but now it’s confirmed scientifically. Every player should learn to breathe. You never know when it can make the difference between cascading errors/failure and success.

Observation – more moms are getting involved these days

There is a phenomenon I’ve been noticing lately. Not sure whether it’s good, bad or indifferent, of if it even really matters. But it is interesting nonetheless.

If I recall correctly, when I first started coaching I primarily dealt with fathers. They were the ones who would contact me looking for a team for their daughters, or to set up lessons/extra help, or to ask questions. Sure, there was the occasional mom who would get involved, but they were the exceptions. It was like sports equalled dad.

These days it seems to have gone the other way. The parents who contact me most often now are moms. Sure, I still have contact with the occasional dad, but for the most part if there’s a parent with a question, or who wants to set up a lesson, it’s a mom. In some cases, the moms played themselves so it makes sense. But even if they didn’t, they’re the ones who seem to be more involved in their daughters’ athletic careers.

Is it just me, or are you noticing this trend too? If you’re a coach, are you talking/emailing more to moms than dads these days? If you’re a parent, is it the mom or dad who’s most involved in your daughter’s athletic career — fastpitch or otherwise?

Take concussions and head injuries seriously

Received this article today from my friend Angela. Those of you on the Discuss Fastpitch Forum know her as Angstoner. The article is from the New York Times, and it discusses how seriously the NFL is taking concussions and head injuries in general.

The reason I pass it along is that there are lessons in here for fastpitch softball coaches as well. The NFL has never been known for its abiding concern for its players. They are more of the “patch ’em up and get ’em back in there” school. There are lots of stories about players secretly receiving cortizone shots on the sidelines so they could return to an important game. So if the NFL is taking head injuries this seriously, the rest of us should too.

The problem with head injuries in general, and concussions in particular, are they are often difficult to diagnose. Here’s a little more information on concussions in case you want to learn more. Essentially, though, it’s not like a cut or a broken bone where the evidence is visible. There’s some judgment involved, and some questioning of the player unless the symptoms are severe.

Chicago Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer was put on injured reserve for the rest of the year due to a concussion he suffered in the third preseason game. He sat out game four I believe, then played a half in the first regular season game. Although he didn’t suffer a blow to the head in that game he started complaining of dizziness and being sick to his stomach. It was traced back to the concussion, and now his season is over.

That’s what’s tricky. A player may seem ok, and may tell you she’s ok when she’s really not. She herself may not realize how serious the injury is.

I experienced that this past summer. Our team was playing at the ASA Northern Nationals. We were playing for our lives and locked in a tight 1-1 contest. In the bottom of the fifth, with two outs, a ground ball was hit to short. Our shortstop went to field it, and the runner on second ran into her head-first. One of our other players saw her helmet contact our shortstop’s facemask. Our shortstop went to the ground immediately, and was down for about 5-10 minutes while we tended to her. She was in tears, too, which was unlike her. She finally was able to stand and we got her off the field.

When our half of the inning finished I had to make a decision. The shortstop said she was fine and could play, but I chose to keep her out. Just did not want to mess with a head injury. I don’t know if it made a difference, but the other team scored a few and we were eliminated. Still, I felt then and feel now it was the right thing to do. Especially after I checked with her mom a few days later and she said the girl was still a bit fuzzy at times.

It’s tough to make that decision, especially in a close game. You know any change might upset the apple cart. Better that, though, than risk a kid’s health over a stupid game. If the NFL is taking it seriously, the rest of us ought to as well.

Tricks for judging fly balls

Can’t remember where I learned this one exactly. Seems to me it was from a book or article by a Major League Baseball player a long time ago. Or maybe it was one of those “tips for the youngsters at home” they used to run on TV.

In any case, young outfielders often have trouble learning how to judge a fly ball. They see the ball go up off the bat and they set up where they think the ball will come down. (Or they run in a few steps automatically, thus violating the “first step back” rule, but that’s a story for another day).

It takes a long time and a lot of repetition to learn to judge fly balls reliably. I’ve never found any drill to shortcut the process. The best way to learn is to catch hundreds (or thousands) of fly balls off a bat. But you don’t always have time to do that, especially with a game coming up. So here’s something you can use to help speed up that judgment.

The only thing that’s required is a visor or hat. When the ball is hit, see if it immediately goes above the bill of the visor or stays below. If it goes above, the odds are it’s going deep. If it stays below the bill, it’s a line drive and likely will stay in front of you.

It’s not a hard and fast rule. Sometimes when the ball goes high it’s going to be a pop-up. But if it is and the outfielder drops back, odds are it’s no harm no foul. It wasn’t her ball anyway.

Another thing to keep in mind related to the height of the ball is how hard you can charge it. If the ball goes high and looks like it might fall short you can run full out after it, and even slide or dive for it. If you miss, the ball isn’t going very far. But if it stays below the bill of your visor, approach with caution because if it gets by you it could roll for miles.

Finally, I got this tip from the NFCA’s Coaches College. The toughest ball to judge is the one hit straight at you. If you’re facing one of those and having trouble, move a few feet to the side so you can see it at an angle. And listen for help from your teammates. They may be able to see the flight of the ball better and help you know whether to go backward or forward.

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