Monthly Archives: January 2011

Curve ball drill: The student becomes the teacher

Last night I was doing lessons as usual, and it came time for my first student (Megan)  to start working on the curve ball. She threw a couple, then told me she wanted to ask me about a drill she’d learned at a college pitching clinic the previous week.

For the drill, the pitcher stands with her back to the catcher, starts her arm circle (which will be going out toward third and then first base for a right handed pitcher), then twists her upper body and delivers the ball to the plate. She was told she should hug herself when she was done.

I looked at her doing the drill, imitated the movements, and gave her the thumbs up. In fact, I thanked her for showing it to me because I plan to use it with other students. See? I’m not completely set in my ways!

I was happy with this whole encounter for a couple of reasons. First, Megan asked me what I thought of the drill before really incorporating it into her routine. She’s a HS pitcher and we’ve only been working together for a short time, so it was good to see that the rapport is there and she trusts my judgement. That’s always important in the coach-player relationship. She wanted to be sure, I think, that it didn’t teach something that I didn’t want her doing. Since her pitching has been improving she’s generally bought in to the idea that I know what I’m doing.

The other is this is the first time I’ve seen anyone teaching the same mechanics I do for the curve ball. The normal curve I’ve seen has the pitcher start the wrist snap behind the back hip and then come around it. (That’s a poor description but you get the general idea.) I’ve always found the movement to be fairly minimal with that method, so I teach pitcher to actually cut the circle off at the top, drive the elbow down toward the bellybutton, and when the elbow is “pinned” snap around it. You get more dynamic movement that way, and once pitchers learn to cut the circle off instead of bringing it all the way back it eliminates a lot of the problems of the pitch going wildly inside.

The drill Megan showed me encourages the same arm path and pivot point I teach, and makes it pretty easy to feel. The only thing that’s really different is I like the front shoulder to stay in, angled toward the back of the batter’s box on the throwing side (RH batter’s box for a RHP), so you end up throwing around it. I call it throwing around the corner. But that’s a trifle, and I am not worried about that part of it crossing over into the actual pitch.

It’s not necessarily a drill I would do every time, but then again I don’t really do particular drills every time anyway. I prefer to keep drills for specific teaching moments or to correct specific problems. For the pitcher who’s having trouble getting the feeling, though, I think this one is a keeper. I will definitely add it to my arsenal, and can thank Megan for bringing it to me. I love it when the student becomes the teacher!


16U team in southern Wisconsin looking for players

Received a note the other day from a 16U coach who is suddenly finding himself in need of a couple more players for the 2011 season, so I told him I would pass the word along. The team is the Wisconsin Lightning, who are based out of Salem, WI on the border of Illinois and Wisconsin.

He says they have a combined 14U/16U team that plans to play at the B level in 15U or 16U. It could be a great opportunity for either a 14U or 16U player looking to have fun while playing at a competitive level.

Here are a few more details from the coach:

“We are presently @ 9 players. We practice 2-3 times a week and have our own indoor hitting/Pitching facility.  I’m not looking for “Studs” ( wouldn’t turn them down though) just girls with potential and a good work ethic”.

If that sounds like a fit for you, or someone you know, contact Pat Saltzberry at for a tryout.

It’s not about getting knocked down; it’s about getting up again

Saw the “mini-essay” below in the Liberty Mutual “Candrea on Coaching” email from ASA and Liberty Mutual  and thought it was worth passing along. According to the email the author is anonymous. But it really speaks to the attitude you need to bring both to fastpitch softball and to life in general. In fact, the two are so closely tied that it’s one of the beauties of our sport.

Like softball, life can knock you down, and when it does you’re likely to feel bad. But what separates the winners from the losers isn’t that the winners don’t get knocked down. It’s that they get up again. Here’s the essay. I also liked the kite quote at the end.

Get Up

It has been said that your success is insured when you’re willing to get up at least one more time than you get knocked down. Hey, we all get knocked around. Like it or not, it’s just a part
of everyday life. No one, not the most or least talented among us, are exempt from the trials and tribulations of day to day living. But it’s how we respond to these temporary setbacks that will
in large measure determine how far we go and how high we fly in life.

When life deals you a crushing blow, you must condition yourself to quickly pick yourself up off the canvas and get back into the game. Winners always do. They realize that it’s OK to get
knocked down and that it’s perfectly normal to feel saddened hurt or disappointed about being knocked down. Lets face it, nobody likes to lose or encounter difficulty. But the winners also
recognize that the getting up part is ninety percent of overcoming any adversity placed in their paths.

Don’t worry about getting knocked down. Since it’s going to happen regardless of whether we like it or not, especially when we’re passionately and enthusiastically chasing your dreams, we should vow to keep getting up each and every time. Laying there, moping and feeling sorry for themselves, isn’t going to get them to the winners circle.

Never lose sight of the fact that you were placed here for a reason. There is a song in you that desperately needs to be sung. There are just too many good times, good things and great people out there to enjoy to ever allow a temporary setback to hold you down or hold you back. When you vow to get up every time you get knocked down, you’re well on your way to living the life others only dream about.

“Do not fear the winds of adversity. Remember: A kite rises against the wind rather than with it.”

Book review: The Talent Code

Here we go, as-promised, my review of the book The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. Its premise is that talent isn’t something you’re born with — it’s something you acquire over time. High performers are the result of practicing a particular way (deep practice) for 10,000 hours, or roughly 10 years.

I had heard about the book a couple of years ago, and then again recently. Howard Carrier (aka Hitter) recommended it to me too, so I figured it was time to take the plunge and added it to my Christmas list.

The book examines three parts of being a high performer. The first is the deep practicing I just mentioned. High performers tend to practice differently than most. They break down a skill into pieces, and work through the individual pieces. When they practice, the part of their body that is most fatigued at the end is their brains because of the effort they go through to understand what they’re doing. They make mistakes as part of the learning process, and each mistake takes them closer to their ultimate goal of performance.

The second part is ignition — getting the performer to perform. Getting him/her excited in a way that leads to the desire for that performance level. The final part is master coaching — someone pointing the way and helping them along.

It really is a fascinating study of the way people learn, and the way performance is brought out in some and not in others. Coyle spent a lot of time visiting talent hotspots — Brazillian soccer training, musicians on the east coast, baseball players in the Caribbean — in an attempt to look for the commonalities and see if there are particular things that make it happen.

He also looks at research that has been done on how people learn as additional datapoints. Some of it is the same as I read in Talent is Overrated, which covers some of the same ground. But each book presents a facet of the jewel, helping the reader gain a better understanding of the factors behind great performers.

The book is an easy read. Coyle’s style is to illustrate by telling stories rather than lecture, and he makes it easy to move from one topic to the next. He also adds some personal insights from his own life and family that show he not only took the intellectual pursuit, but also applied the principles himself.

If you are interested in what drives high performers to achievement, or you want to improve your own coaching to help your players, I highly recommend this book. It will give you a whole new perspective on practicing.

Strikeouts happen

I was having a discussion with one of my students last week about hitting and her approach to the plate when she admitted, “If I strikeout, it really bums me out. It’s tough to go up and hit again.” (I doubt she really said bums me out, but that’s the way my 54 year old brain remembers it.)

I understand that. No one likes to go to the plate and strikeout. It’s the ultimate failure — you had three (or more) shots at hitting the ball and missed on all of them. But really, strikeouts are a part of the game. Since all of fastpitch softball is essentially built on failure and your ability to overcome it, hitters have to learn to get past the immediate feeling and go on with the rest of the game. Otherwise they’re not going to have too much fun. Unless it’s becoming a habit, in which case they probably need to work on seeing the ball better.

So to help her gain a little perspective, I gave her a Babe Ruth quote: Every strikeout brings me one at bat closer to my next home run.

That got me to thinking. I know the Bambino hit 714 homes runs in his career, a record that stood for many years and was considered unbreakable until Hank Aaron broke it. But how many times did The Sultan of Swat strikeout? The answer, according to the Baseball Almanac , is 1,330. Or almost twice as many times as he hit home runs.

That’s a lot, isn’t it? Must put him pretty close to the top of the list, right? Not even close. The Babe actually sits at #95, just behind Dean Palmer and just ahead of Deron Johnson. Which of course begs the question who are your all-time leaders? Surely they must be some pretty bad players.

Well, first of all in order to make the list you had to have a lot of at bats, which really bad players don’t get. That narrows it down some. In truth, the top 10 all-time includes some names you might recognize. In order, they are: Mr. October Reggie Jackson (with a whopping 2,597); Jim Thome; Sammy Sosa; Andrews Galarraga; Jose Canseco; Willie Stargell; Mike Schmidt; Fred McGriff; Tony Perez and Mike Cameron. Lots of Hall of Famers on that list. Thome and Cameron are still active too, so they have a chance to move up.

Right behind these guys is a player whose swing is often used as the model youth baseball and softball players should follow: good ol’ A-Rod, Alex Rodriguez. That’s probably not news to you Yankees fans. Other prominent names in the top 50 include Lou Brock, Mickey Mantle, Adam Dunn, Derek Jeter, Barry Bonds (the current career home run record holder) and Willie Mays. Even Pete Rose, who holds the all-time record for hits in a career with 4,256 struck out 1,143 times.

If you’d like to see the full list, you can find it here. It definitely puts things into perspective as you check out your favorite superstars and see how often they struck out too. 

The point, though, is they didn’t let it get them down. They just put it behind them and went on to the next at bat. That’s what fastpitch hitters have to do too. You can say you’re taking your cue from the Hall of Famers, and the greatest to ever play the game.  

How to know you’re getting through

In my last article for Softball Magazine, I used one of my favorite little teaching devices to talk about the importance of commitment to what you’re doing. The article focused on what is the difference between bacon and eggs. The answer, of course, is that the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed. I finished, as I do in lessons or team practices, by telling readers they should be the pig. Fastpitch softball pig is committed

I do know that message got through to at least one of my students. I usually get a box of extra Softball Magazines when they come out, so I will distribute them to my students. This one was no exception. Each of my students received a copy of the magazine, including a girl named Erin who is new with me this year.

Well, lo and behold, right before Christmas she comes to her lesson toting a good-sized red shopping bag, and inside the bag is the piggy bank shown in the picture. She had customized it with the saying “Be A Pig.”

Obviously the article made an impression on her and her family. Hopefully she’s living it too! But this was so cute I just had to share. I love it when a plan comes together!

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