Monthly Archives: February 2011

Success requires patience

I’ve talked before how we live in an “instant results” type of world. If we want popcorn we toss a bag in the microwave and three minutes later there it is. If we want to see our favorite TV show or movie we just hit the On Demand button and there it is. And so forth.

Yet it never fails to surprise me when a player or student lacks the patience to learn something new. Last night I was working with a pitcher, second lesson for her with me. Her mom brought her to me because she felt she was stalled where she was. After we worked basic mechanics and locations, I asked what other pitches she threw. She told me a changeup, so I said let’s see it.

After watching a couple I asked what type of change she was throwing. (I always ask in case what I see isn’t what they’re supposed to be doing.) She told me a handshake change. Not my favorite, personally, because to make it work I find most pitchers slow down as they go to release. So I asked if she was willing to try something different. (Normally I don’t ask, but with HS tryouts around the corner I figured I should check.) She said sure — what else was she going to say — so I showed her the backhand change.

After trying it two or three times, and having it work better each time (although not great) she said she was getting frustrated. I was shocked. I mean, how good do you think it will be throwing it three times ever? But apparently she just figured it was like instant cocoa — add a little water and you’re all set.

We continued to work at it and she got better. But I wonder how much she’s going to continue to work on it. Work being the operative word.

Learning to do anything well — pitch, hit, play an instrument, ride a bike, perform brain surgery — takes time. If you’re not willing to put in the time, you’re going to have a tough time competing. Accept getting a little better each day, as Bobby Simpson likes to say, and you’ll find yourself happier and better in the long run.


Hitting and confidence

This may be one of those chicken/egg things, but there’s no doubt in my mind that hitting and confidence go hand in hand. Tough to say whether confidence drives good hits or good hits drive confidence, but it does seem to work both ways. Often it the two come from making adjustments that may seem small but deliver a quick payout.

Here’s a case in point. One of the girls on the team I coach has struggled with her hitting for a couple of years. She’s a big, strong kid (also one of the hardest workers and most enthusiastic players you could ever hope to coach) so she ought to hit the ball hard. This is my first year coaching her, but I’ve worked with her in the past.

Thing is, she wasn’t. Her dad would tell me every now and then she’d get one, but mostly she was hitting weak grounders and pop-ups. Mechanically she actually had a good swing, although it had a couple of issues. But she couldn’t quite seem to get the timing down. When we played indoors in January, she went 0-4 with four strikeouts, all swinging, and barely touched the ball. She was frustrated, and reportedly ready to quit the game she’d loved for so long.

So, it was time to really to get to work on her and figure out how we could turn it around. She’d gotten all sorts of advice over the past couple of years (including from me), so I was aware that there may be some resistance coming out of frustration and confusion.

I had videoed her in the batting cage (along with the rest of the team), so it was time to do some deep analysis. One thing I noticed was a sort of “reaching” with her front foot. There was a little weight shift from the lower body, but the upper body stayed in place. Not good. Generally you see hitters moving to toe touch with the front shoulder over the front hip, more or less. Also, her early timing moves were quick and staccato instead of fluid, the way you’ll see good hitters doing it. (I will accept blame for that since I tended to teach a quicker load and positive move a couple of years ago than I do now.) It was no wonder she was struggling!

I pointed it out to her on video, and showed videos of a couple of top-level hitters (softball and ML, and it seemed to make sense to her. I sent her off to the tee and she worked on taking her whole body forward.

The following week, my friend and former coaching partner Coach Rich started Jonesing to teach hitting so he came out to practice and worked with her on it too. Rich and I have a sort of ESP when it comes to hitting, so the girls were all amused when either he would tell them something I just said or vice versa. As she continued to work on it, it just seemed to click. But the real test would be her next game action.

That was last weekend. She didn’t strike out once, and the only weak contact she had was when she tried to pull an outside pitch instead of letting it get deep. Given her previous results, that was a trifle! She had a couple of solid hits, plus a couple of solid outs across three one-hour games. The best ball she hit all night was her last one — a hard liner to center that unfortunately went straight to the CF. Probably 10 feet either way, or 10 feet deeper, and it’s a double.

The kicker came this past Monday. She was taking batting practice at her high school’s open gym, and the varsity coach called everyone at all levels over to watch her hit, saying “This is how you should do it.” She is a freshman, by the way, so that’s pretty high praise.

Needless to say, there’s no talk of quitting anymore. In fact, her confidence at this point is sky high, and she’s now looking forward to stepping into the batter’s box.

So was it the first good hit that drove her confidence? Or was it the change in mechanics (which no doubt felt better and more powerful) that drove her confidence? Probably some combination — the change made it easier to hit, which enabled the confidence building. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter. What matters is a good kid is in a happy place. Can’t wait to see what she does this spring and summer.

Getting players to move from static to dynamic stretching

By now it’s been pretty well established that dynamic stretching — stretches that have the body in motion — are far better for preparing teams for athletic competition than the old static stretches where you assume a position and hold it.

The big revelation is that static stretching does nothing for injury prevention (beyond adding a little flexibility), and actually turns the nervous system off, making players slower and less able to respond. Dynamic stretching turns the nervous system on, which is particularly important in a speed game such as fastpitch softball. Here’s a link to an article  that explains it much more detail. (Full disclosure: I am affiliated with Softball Performance as administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum community, but have nothing to do with the DVDs shown.)

Even if you buy into it as a coach, though, you may find it’s only half the battle. The tough part sometimes is getting your players to buy into it and change their old habits.

Seems hard to believe, doesn’t it? You wouldn’t think that 12 or 14 or even 18 year olds are so set in their ways that it would be difficult. But I’ve been there and know the kind of resistance you can face.

One thing you’ll often hear when you’re showing them the new, improved stretching routine is “I feel stupid.” Not sure why being in motion would make them feel any stupider than standing there holding a stretch but it often does. Perhaps it’s that your team is the only one flailing around like that, while the others do what they’ve always done. In truth that’s good news for you, because it’s giving you a competitive advantage. But only if your team is doing it.

Make the transition requires some effort on your part. First, you don’t ask the team if they want to do it. You just tell them this is what we’re doing. You’re the coach, make it mandatory, just like every other rule you have. I doubt you give players the option of whether they get low on a ground ball. Tell them this is the way it is and have done with it.

That’s how you get them to compliance. To really get the benefit, though, you have to make sure they’re really putting the effort in. Static stretching is really easy to do; it takes little effort, and your players won’t break a sweat. Dynamic stretching, however, requires a great deal more work, which is another reason they may resist. So you have to stay on them.

If I see players just going through the motions, I will stop them and demonstrate what I want done. I can still do a straight-legged kick in front and get my toes up even with my shoulders. Not sure how I can do that but I can. So I show them what I can do and tell them if they can’t beat a fat, out-of-shape old man then they’re pretty pathetic. That usually gets their attention, and they start pushing themselves more. Which is what you want.

The last thing you might hear is “It makes us too tired.” If that’s the case, tell them it sounds like they need to work on their conditioning, so you’ll be doing ladders and poles for the first part of every practice from now on so they’re not too tired to stretch properly. That usually ends that discussion. If it doesn’t, be prepared to follow through.

There are a great many benefits to dynamic stretching — too many to ignore. Make it an absolute, and pretty soon it just becomes accepted as the way your team does things. You not only get to win the battle; your team gets to improve its performance and prevent injury. It’s a victory for everyone.  

To the guy who called about his coaches newsletter

Hopefully you will be checking back. Your email to me got caught in my spam filter, and I didn’t look closely enough at the messages before I emptied it. I recognized what it was just in time to not be able to stop it.

So please, if you’re reading this, send it again. I promise I’ll look more carefully this time. Thanks.

Tips for a successful tryout

High school tryouts are coming up in a few short weeks, and with them often come a lot of nerves. (Also a lot of sore muscles as many schools seem to be obsessed with trying to run the not so serious players out of the program before they contaminate the rest of the players).

Sure, you want to show well in a tryout. Who wouldn’t? If you’re an incredibly talented player with monster skills, odds are you’re going to show well no matter what. For the rest, however, you need to put a little extra effort into standing out above the crowd. That’s what this post is about — some ways to make your tryout a little more successful. There are no guarantees, of course, but at least you’ll know you took your best shot.

  1. Hustle everywhere, all the time. Think of how most players are. They drag themselves from station to station, doing what’s required — and no more. If you hustle everywhere, you’ll look more like a player, the type the coaches can work with and who will find a way to make a contribution.
  2. Show 10X enthusiam. Ok, I admit I stole that one from Dale Carnegie, via my friend (and Carnegie trainer) Mary Eggert. That doesn’t mean you have to jump up and down and act like a fool. But it does mean paying attention when the coach talks, giving your all with each repetition, encouraging other players, and generally looking like you’re happy to be there and love the game. If it comes down to a choice between a player with 10X enthusiasm and one who’s moping around, which one do YOU think the coach will take?
  3. Show all your skills. Let’s say you’re hitting, and the coach says to start with a few bunts. Lay down three or four, and then ask if he/she would like to see your slug bunt, or drag bunt, or push bunt, or whatever other bunt you can do. If you’re swinging away, demonstrate your bat control by saying you’re going to hit to the opposite field now, and then do it. Pitchers should always show the pitches they can throw, starting with the changeup. Sure, at a lot of high schools they just line everyone up and pick the fastest one. But you never know — you may leave an impression that helps for the future. Having skills but keeping them in your pocket does you know good. Demonstrate your versatility, and perhaps the coach will see the possibilities adding you to the roster brings.
  4. Say hello to the coaches. Most players, especially high school age ones, tend to be very tight-lipped around the coaches. So a simple “Hi Coach!” can help you stand out without looking like a big brown noser. Despite what people think, coaches are people too. They might keep you around just so they have someone to talk to on the bus.
  5. Do something memorable. That doesn’t mean drop your pants or anything like that. But if you’re in a scrimmage situation, look for an opportunity to make something happen. Laying down a surprise bunt, or better yet pulling off a slug bunt, is a good one. If you’re on base and can do it, steal a base. On defense diving for a ball always looks good. Just make sure you’re diving to give extra effort, and not because you were late going after the ball.

Those are my ideas. How about you? Do you have any tips to add for players? I have just one more piece of advice. 

Think of tryouts as an opportunity to succeed rather than to fail and you’ll do just fine. Especially if you get some practice time in before the actual tryout date. Good luck!

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