Monthly Archives: April 2011

Congratulations Chrissy Chamberlain, UD all-time RBI leader

Wanted to give a shout-out today to Chrissy Chamberlain, who last night became the career RBI leader at the University of Dubuque. Unfortunately, no one seems to know the exact number, but somehow they know she took the lead last night with a single versus #7-ranked Coe College.

Chrissy, the only senior on the squad, has had a long and distinguished career at UD. In addition to her hitting (the article says she is one of the top two hitters in the IIAC for batting average and slugging percentage), she has also been a standout pitcher there. She came into last night’s game in relief and pitched five innings after starting the game at first base.

The nice thing about all of this is Chrissy is also a class act and a great person. It’s nice to see one of the good ones get ahead these days.

UD has games against #5-ranked Central on Saturday, so she still has an opportunity to pad that lead. Good luck, Chrissy, and congratulations. It’s nice to leave your mark on the school that way!


Tips for better bunting

Despite all the money that’s been invested in bat technology in the last few years, and the increase in extra base hits as a result, the short game still remains an important part of fastpitch softball. Some days a pitcher just has your number. Some days the weather, the umpire’s strike zone or other factors beyond your control conspire against the long ball. Whatever the reason, when you’re playing for one run you need to be able to go to your short game.

As regular readers know I’m not a fan of the sacrifice bunt. Statistically, automatically bunting a runner from first to second with a sacrifice doesn’t do you a whole lot of good. Your chances of scoring from first with no outs are 43%; your chances of scoring from second with one out are 45%. Is it really worth giving up a precious out to gain a 2% advantage? In most cases no, in my opinion. I’d much rather see the hitter improve her skills and try bunting for a hit instead. If you can pull it off, you’ll have two runners on, no one out, and a lot of pressure on the defense to perform.

Of course, it all starts with being able to get the bunt down when you need it. With that in mind, here are a few tips.

  1. Bunt with the end of the bat. All too often I see bunters sticking the sweet spot out over the plate and letting the ball make contact there. On a $300 bat, about $275 of the cost is in the sweet spot. It’s designed to make the ball go farther, even with a crappy swing. So why would you want a bunt to be hit there? Use the end of the bat, one of the dead zones, to make contact and you’ll be able to leave the bunt short instead of hitting it right to a fielder. A good way to practice is to take some bright colored duct tape (or do you say duck tape) and wrap it around the end of an old bat. Then focus on taking the taped part to the ball.
  2. Cover half the plate to start. To help you make #1 happen, don’t stick the bat out so the whole plate is covered from the start. Instead, cover the inside half. That puts the end of the bat around the middle, making it easier to pull in a little for an inside pitch or reach out a little for an outside pitch. Keep in mind once you have the bat lined up with the ball you’re unlikely to move it, so if the sweet spot is in the middle it’ll probably stay there. Using this technique also protects your hands a little more. They’ll be in front of your body instead of exposed to the side; if your hands are going to get hit with the ball so will your body, so you’re more likely to move.
  3. Pivot on the heel of the front foot. If you have your feet lined up correctly to hit and then pivot on the balls of both feet, you’ll wind up “walking a tightrope.” Instead of focusing on getting the bat to the ball you’ll be focused on regaining your balance. If you pivot on the heel of your front foot and ball of your back foot you’ll have a little side-to-side separation that will give you more stability.
  4. Receive the ball, don’t punch it. Not sure why this happens, but for some reason many young hitters like to punch at the ball as it comes to contact. That will have the opposite effect of what you want. Instead, receive it or “catch” it with the bat. A good way to practice that is to tape an old glove to the end of a bat and actually try to catch balls that are tossed to you. (To give credit where it’s due, I learned that one from Bob Kowalke years ago.)
  5. Start in a normal position in the batter’s box. You’ve probably been to clinics or read books or seen video where you’re told that hitters should move to the front of the batter’s box for a bunt. If you’re doing the dreaded sacrifice bunt then sure, why not? But if you’re bunting for a hit, or as a surprise, moving to the front is a dead giveaway. You might as well call out to the other coach “We’re bunting now!” Staying in a normal position in the box helps you disguise the strategy much better. Sure, it’s a little tougher because the ball doesn’t start in fair territory. But if you’re practicing bunting regularly it shouldn’t be that big of an issue.
  6. Exception to #5 – bunts up the line. If your goal is to bunt up the line, especially the first base line for a right-handed hitter, try moving back in the box. It gives you a better angle, letting the ball roll from foul territory to fair, with less chance of it rolling back foul.
  7. Practice, practice, practice. These days, teams seem to tell their players to bunt five pitches, then work on swinging away. That’s not enough to get good at it — and good is what you need to be if circumstances dictate that a bunt is must. Put real emphasis on it. Have a bunting day, where you do nothing but bunt. If your hitters will get multiple sessions in a practice have them use one for nothing but bunts. Make a game of it too. Place a bucket in front of the plate at a location you want the hitters to bunt to and offer a prize for anyone who can get it in the bucket. Draw point values in the dirt and have hitters bunt to see who can get the most points, again for a prize. Split your team in two and have a do or die contest — get the bunt down or you’re out, with the team rewarded for their player being the last one standing.  Players love competition, so if you make bunting a competition they’ll take a lot more interest in it.

Those are just a few ideas on how to improve your team’s ability to bunt. What have you done? And how important do you think the short game is today?

Enforcing the rules v. impacting the game

So there I was, watching the Purdue v Michigan fastpitch softball game last weekend on the DVR. Early in the first inning, the Purdue pitcher gets called for an illegal pitch. Her stride foot landed outside the markings for the pitching lane. N

Once that happened I started taking more interest in that particular call. It seemed like she was outside the lane a lot. I know the angles can be deceiving on TV, but it seemed pretty clear that this was not a random occurence.

Later in that inning, Michigan had a runner on third and I clearly saw the Purdue pitcher land outside the lane again. No call, though. She did it several times, in fact, and didn’t get called for it.

So it makes me wonder. Have the umpires been told not to call it if it means scoring a run? Was it this particular umpire perhaps being unwilling to make a call that would affect the game?

What do you think? Should an umpire call an illegal pitch even if it means advancing a run home? Or is that going over the line? What if the pitcher is gaining a big advantage by making the ball run in too much on the hitter? And if you don’t call it does it penalize the other pitcher for pitching within the rules?

Let me know your thoughts on this. I don’t have an answer myself so I’m interested in yours. Except you spammers. You guys can take your garbage somewhere else.

Use an air horn to add a little pressure

One of the continuing challenges in a fastpitch softball practice is simulating game pressure. You can tell your players about the need to execute quickly, and yell at them to speed up. You can even try using some of your players as baserunners to put it into context. But unless they have blazing speed, they may not create the type of gamelike pressure you need to make the point.

We often have players execute against a stopwatch, telling them the goal is to execute in three seconds or less from the time the ball hits the bat until the time it hits the fielder’s glove and calling out their actual times. Today we decided to up the ante.

We added an air horn to the mix. The stopwatch starts when the bat hits the ball. When you get to three seconds (or whatever target you’re going for) you sound the air horn. Players get immediate audible feedback that’s pretty annoying, pressuring them to field the ball and make the throw before the horn sounds.

We used a small horn today. One of the advantages is that it sets a limit on the drill. When you run out of juice to power the horn, the drill is done.

It’s pretty effective, and fun — especially for the person with the horn. Give it a try!

The kind of news you like to hear

This morning I was thinking about one of my hitting students, a high school freshman named Amy Abel. Amy goes to Carmel Catholic High School and is playing second base on varsity. (Normally I don’t get that specific, but in this case I might as well as you will see.)

I haven’t seen much of Amy since her high school season started, and was thinking about emailing her parents tonight to see how things were going. But I didn’t have to, Instead, I got an email from them suggesting I read this article.

My first reaction was wow! If you didn’t follow the link, the highlights are that after four games she is leading the team in batting with a .600 batting average, and has hit five doubles in the first couple of weeks. Again, this is as a freshman. That’s pretty darned cool.

Attention college coaches: this is a girl you’ll probably want to keep an eye on. Think of where she’ll be in three more years!

Nothing like a game to bring it home

Had a lesson with one of my first-year students last night (12U player). She is new to pitching, and has worked very hard to go from nowhere to looking pretty good. But lots of girls look good in the practice cage.

She told me over the weekend she had her first in-game experience since we started working together. When I asked her how she did she said pretty good. But then she said she kept bending down and essentially aiming the ball. Naturally the result was it made things worse, not better.

While it’s unfortunate that she did that, what I thought was great is that she realized it. When she started to pitch, you could see she was making an effort to correct that issue – without any guidance from me. There was a renewed focus on being in the right position at the right time.

I always say that control is a result, not a goal. Pitching in her game over the weekend this student found out exactly how true that is. I have a feeling that “lesson” will serve her as well as the lessons we do together.

Incidentally, when I asked her mom how she did she wasn’t quite as positive. Nothing horrible, but more of a “meh.” Of course, parents always want their kids to be perfect. But her mom realizes this was just another step in the journey — an important step, but still only one. I predict good things for this young lady because she was so self-aware.

Coaching, playing and the success delusion

Funny how sometimes fastpitch softball and my day job in PR coincide. I was just reading an article in the journal of one of our clients — HRPS (HR People & Strategy) talking about neuroscience research into the brain and how it affects leadership when I came across a description I thought is worth sharing with the softball community. It’s about a phenomenon many of us fall victim to at one time or another — the success delusion.

According to the article, the success delusion follows this line of thinking: I am successful. I behave this way. Therefore, I must be successful because I behave this way.
We see this all the time, especially on discussion boards. Someone will post the results of research that has been completed recently that says the optimum way to perform a particular skill is to do X. Then someone else will get on and comment “I’ve been doing it the old way for 20 years. I’ve had many students/players get colleges scholarships and be the best player on their team. Therefore, I’m not going to change no matter what the science says.”

That’s the success delusion. You ignore the facts because you believe what you’ve been doing has been the key to your success, without a thought that perhaps your players/students would’ve been even more successful had you taught them differently.

Players fall victim to it too. I’ve certainly seen this as an instructor. A parent will bring his/her daughter in for a lesson and I will recommend some changes that will help her reach her potential. But she’s already the best player in her rec league, or on her travel or HS team, so she doesn’t want to make any changes. She has confused success with excellence and therefore has shut the door on making any changes. That’s fine — it’s her option — but she shouldn’t be surprised when one day in the not too distant future some of the kids she used to be above are suddenly passing her. Or that despite her awesome record, college coaches aren’t interested in looking at her.

Success is a good thing. We all like to get that rush from winning; it’s what keeps us going. But it’s also easy to assume a particular behavior is the reason for that success when it could actually be a barrier to greater success.

Never be so caught up in what you’ve done that it prevents you from doing what you can do. Keep learning, keep striving and be open to change. You’ll be amazed how much farther it will take you.

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