Monthly Archives: March 2011

Slapping – keep the right foot pointed right

I was working with a young slapper tonight, and she was having trouble keeping her shoulders parallel to the plate. She could do it with practice runs, but once the ball was on its way her shoulders pulled forward.

I worked with her a bit on pulling the left shoulder back when I happened to look down at her feet. I saw that when she took a jab step back, she turned her foot so her toes were facing forward (toward the pitcher). Hmmm, I thought, no wonder she’s having trouble.

When you throw overhand, one of the tricks to help you get into the correct position is to turn the throwing side foot so the ankle bone is facing toward the target. You do that to open up the hips so you’re sideways to the target. It works pretty well for throwing.

But turning the foot when slapping works against you by doing the same thing. It pulls your body around so you are sideways to the plate instead of facing it.

Correcting it is easy — and challenging. It’s a bit of a difficult habit to break, but it can be broken. The hitter simply needs to work on her jab step back, keeping the toes pointed toward the plate. That will strict the motion, allowing the shoulders to stay in toward the plate.

First-ever wounded warrior softball game slide show

With seasons getting under way it’s easy to let emotions get the best of us and forget what it’s all about. So I thought I’d pass along this link to an online slide show of the first-ever wounded warrior softball game, which was played at Hillenbrand Stadium in Tuscon, AZ.

This was a game pitting two teams of soldiers, veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, who are recent amputees. I found out about it through the Candrea on Coaching emails I receive from Liberty Mutual’s Responsible Coaching program.

The short version is Coach Candrea was approached about setting up the game, and he enthusiastically agreed. He also lined up Mizuno and Lousiville Slugger to provide uniforms, bats, gloves and more.

The game was played Friday, March 18 after the Arizona-Baylor game. Players from those teams acted as base coaches, and were there for support. When someone hit a home run, they all joined in the celebration at the plate.

We owe much to our veterans, not the least of which is our ability to spend our weekends in the sunshine coaching, watching or playing the game we love. Take a look at the slide show to see some true American heroes playing despite their disabilities. And be sure to thank a veteran when you see him or her.

Pitch calling — you have to mix it up

Just finished up a lesson with one of my high school pitchers. Understand this is a girl whom I recently clocked throwing 60 mph, so she has good speed.

Unfortunately, so far her team is 0-2 behind her. When I asked about it, she told me a  tale that’s all too familiar.

It seems her coach has been calling the pitches, and he’s apparently not to clever about it. She said he’s mostly calling low outside fastballs and drops. It works for a while, but eventually the other team figures it out and starts jumping on the pitches. Then the coach gets annoyed and wonders why she keeps getting hit.

Anyone who knows anything about the game can figure that one out. If you throw the same pitch at the same speed in the same location all the time, you’re going to get hit. It’s just like using a pitching machine. No matter how fast you set it, sooner or later everyone can hit it.

Now, this pitcher has an excellent change — 15 mph off her fastball with no loss of arm speed. She also has an excellent rise and a pretty good curve. Using those pitches, and moving the ball inside as well outside would help keep hitters off balance rather than letting them get zoned in. But for whatever reason this coach doesn’t seem willing to do that.

The real killer is both the pitcher and I consider the drop her weakest pitch. At best it’s competent, but it’s hardly reliable. But she can toss the change and the rise like there’s no tomorrow. Seems to me the coach needs to take a little time to learn what his pitcher can throw (and throw well) rather than calling what he likes.

The pitcher is quite frustrated by the pitch calling. She’s been trained on what each pitch is for and longs to use them properly. I told her perhaps she needs to take matters into her own hands a bit more. Like when the coach calls for the umpteenth fastball, throw a rise instead. Who will know? Or if the situation calls for a change, then throw it, get the out, and shrug your shoulders and smile saying “It seemed like the right thing to do.”

I hate to advise a player to go against a coach, but sometimes a stubborn coach has to be saved from himself. Maybe when he sees what she can do he’ll broaden his pitch selection a little more. We can only hope.

What about you? Have you faced this situation before? If so, how did you handle it/advise it should be handled?

Product review: A Coach’s Guide to Training Catchers DVD

Ok, I will admit I am a little behind the times on this one. A couple of years ago (at least I think it was a couple of years ago) I received a complementary copy of a video called A Coach’s Guide to Training Catchers from Dave Weaver, owner and head instructor of the New England Catching Camp.

I sat down to watch it then without realizing how long it was. I didn’t have enough time to complete it so I stopped it and set it aside, meaning to come back to it. But then life happened, and I didn’t get back to it. Until recently, that is. A change in my work schedule has me on a train three days a week, which gave me plenty of time to give it a look.

If you’re looking for a comprehensive resource for training catchers, this is it. The DVD is 2 hours and 40 minutes long (more on that later), and covers everything from stances to receiving the ball to blocking to fielding bunts to throwing out runners. It appears to be shot during one of Coach Weaver’s camps, so the kids demonstrating are not necessarily the “best of the best,” hand-picked athletes but instead regular players. Some of them may indeed be excellent catchers, but it doesn’t appear that the video was skewed toward it like so many are. Instead, their skills are the results of training, making what’s shown more relatable to the bulk of the people toward whom the video is aimed.  

I liked many of the techniques demonstrated by Coach Weaver. A good example is his take on displaying the ball for an umpire, aka framing the pitch. For many people, framing means catching the ball and then pulling it in toward the plate or making some other sort of move that is likely insulting to the umpire’s intelligence. Coach Weaver shows it as catching the part of the ball that’s furthest away from the plate, i.e. if the pitch is high, catch the top half of the ball.

The stances and blocking are pretty much the same as what I teach, so of course I like those as well. Catchers make their bones through their ability to block balls in the dirt, especially with a runner on third. All too often catchers want to “catch” those balls, which leads to disaster when the ball takes a bad hop and gets away. Coach Weaver shows how blocking the ball keeps it close, so runners (especially those on third) stay put. It takes some work to get catchers trained to let the ball hit their gear instead of trying to get it with their gloves, but it will definitely help you win a few more games.

One technique he advocates that I am not a fan of is having the throwing hand in a closed fist behind the glove with runners on base. His take is that it creates a faster transfer of the ball from the glove to the throwing hand. Honestly, I’m not convinced of that. And that comes from an ex-catcher who used to keep his throwing hand behind his glove at all times, because that’s how old I am. The Johnny Bench hand behind the shinguard didn’t come in until after I was pretty close to done. That being said, I wouldn’t stop a catcher from doing it if she’s comfortable. I’m just not sure it’s necessary. I’d need to see some hard numbers to convince me it’s the way to go.

The one thing I found as a negative to the video was it seemed a little ponderous to me. One of the reasons it runs 2 hours and 40 minutes is Coach Weaver has several kids, male and female, demonstrate the techniques. In a live setting it’s probably not a problem. On video it can feel like it’s taking forever. I actually found myself running it a 2X speed or more, which give Coach Weaver a bit of a chipmunk sound to his voice but speeds things along.

Here again, I will note that I’ve been teaching catchers for a while so a lot of the information wasn’t new to me. That may have colored my thinking as I watched it. If you’re coming at it new, all the repetition may be necessary so you can grasp the concepts. On the other hand, it’s video. If you need to see it again you can just run it back as many times as you want. A little judicious editing would be appealing in my book. Coach Weaver says he’s coming out with a new video soon, so perhaps he will incorporate that suggestion (which I have made to him directly).

It is definitely worth owning, though, especially at $39.99. Parents of young catchers, or coaches who understand the value a top-notch catcher can bring to their teams, will want to invest in this video. Catchers are the backbone of your team. Be sure that backbone is strong.

An unfortunate “experience”

One of the things that’s always been great about fastpitch softball has been how fan-friendly it’s been at the highest levels. I’ve watched as members of the Chicago Bandits stood in the rain to sign autographs and talk to fans for as long as those fans wanted to be there. I’ve seen examples of well-known players (at least in the softball world) make themselves very accessible no matter where they are or what else they happen to be doing.

So it was disappointing to hear the stories of two of my students who attended a recent clinic in Wisconsin. It was billed as an “Experience” and featured a famous player who also happened to be someone both of them admired greatly. Yet it seems like her fame has gone to her head, as her behavior seemed more like a Major League Baseball star rather than a softball player.

My students (and their mothers) told me the famous player spent the entire time talking or texting on her mobile phone. She had no time for the girls, didn’t interact with them, and essentially acted the diva. When one of the moms stopped her between calls to thank her for sending some autographed materials to her daughter a couple of years previously, after her daughter had survived a vicious attack by a dog, she said “Oh, my mom did that. I don’t get into that stuff” or something to that effect.

Unbelievable. Even if that’s true, you smile gracefully and say you were glad to do it. Instead, she treated the encounter more like an inconvenience.

The word from the parents is several people left the clinic before it was over, complaining about the attitude of the star player and asking for their money back. They were completely dissatisfied, and doubtless will tell their friends and teammates to avoid it in the future. That’s a shame, too, because I understand there were two other national team players there plus a young lady from the NPF, and all were terrific. But…

The fact is people came because of the star’s fame, and her refusal to be a part of her own clinic tainted the experience for many.

Hopefully, that was just an aberration. I’d hate to think our sport is going the way of so many others, where players feel they’re too good to mix with the fans who ultimately pay for all they have. If that is the case, imagine what it will be like if and when the players ever start being paid real money instead of the token salaries they get now. We may wish for the good old days of salaries that are less than your typical fast food worker makes.

As for the star, hopefully she was just having a bad day. But I get the feeling that wasn’t it. I just hope she realizes the error of her ways before she disappoints any more youngsters who look up to her.

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