Monthly Archives: August 2011

Comments reopened

Still having problems with spam, but I think I’ve figured out a strategy to make it manageable. Not going to share it here lest the spammers use it to their advantage, but I’m going to give it a try.

The good news is comments have now been reopened. So as soon as I post something worth commenting on, give it a try. I’d love to see less lecturing and more discussions!

Ken

Tips for better baserunning

Often times when fastpitch softball hitters are having trouble catching up to the ball, a part of the problem can be found in their mental approach. They are watching the pitch to see if it’s a strike and then making a swing decision instead of assuming the pitch is a strike and then holding up if they see it’s not. The process is known as yes-yes-no rather than no-no-yes.

The same kind of thinking needs to apply to baserunners. They need to be looking for opportunities, assuming opportunities are coming, rather than sitting back passively and then trying to react (usually too late) when an opportunity arises.

This problem is actually how I manage to get baserunners thrown out at third or home from time to time. Because I understand baserunning, and was an aggressive runner myself (hard to believe when you see my picture but I wasn’t always old and fat) I assume my runners are looking for the same things I am.

So I see the ball get away from the catcher with a runner on third, and my immediate reaction is “go!” Unfortunately, if the runner isn’t looking for opportunity her first reaction is usually “huh?” followed by “oh maybe I should run now” followed by running, usually into a tag. It isn’t that the decision to send the runner was wrong — it’s sending THAT runner that didn’t work out because she wasn’t looking for the opportunity. While there may have only been a half-second lagtime between me saying “go” and her leaving, it was enough to get her tossed out.

Runners shouldn’t be relying on coaches to send them. They should be looking for opportunities to go. That means watching the ball out of the pitcher’s hand with the assumption that something will go wrong for the defense, then holding up if it doesn’t.

For example, a runner can look for a ball that slips out of the pitcher’s hand, or a drop ball that will obviously hit in front of the plate. Rather than waiting for the ball to hit the ground and then hit the catcher, the runner should be taking off before the ball hits the ground. It’s a pretty safe bet — not many hitters swing at balls that bounce in the dirt — and those extra hundreths of a second might make the difference between getting tagged out (especially with a strong-armed catcher) and cruising in standing up.

A little more difficult is the ball that is partially blocked by the catcher. It takes a little experience to make the judgment, but essentially you want to see how the ball gets away from the catcher. If you can see it going out to the side, that’s the time to take off because the catcher first has to get to the ball, then get control of it, before she can make a throw. If you’re uncertain, learn to recognize a ball moving to the side versus being blocked in front. As long as the catcher can’t just reach down and grab the ball you stand a good chance of making it to second or third.

If you’re on third, you need to be a little more cautious but you can still take advantage of miscues when they occur. You may have to wait a little more to see what the ball does, but the sooner you recognize that the ball is getting away from the catcher and will have to be tossed, the better chance you have of making it home safely.

But it all starts with planning to run. Make that your first priority, to take advantage of opportunities when they occur, and hold up if nothing happens, and you’ll find yourself getting around the bases a whole lot quicker.

Sorry – comments closed temporarily

Sorry to say this, but lately Life in the Fastpitch Lane has been getting inundated with spam comments. Rather than continue to delete them manually — which has gotten very time-consuming — I have chosen to shut down comments for the time being in the hopes that the spammers will move on to someone else.

I will try reopening comments in a week or two. Sorry for the inconvenience. I always appreciate your legitimate comments!

The trouble with tryouts

It’s that time of year in the fastpitch softball world — tryout time. A time of nervousness, hope and frustration.

But today’s post isn’t about the players. It’s actually about the challenges of running tryouts.

I have been a coach with two organizations, and have been able to watch parts of other tryouts, and most of what I’ve seen and experienced has been the same. The focus is primarily on individual skills.

Those are important, but it can penalize the kids who may not quite have the skills but have a lot of game sense or other qualities that make them good players. This is not a complaint — because I don’t have a solution. When you’re looking at a lot of players in a short amount of time it’s tough to do much more.

It’s not like soccer, where you can spend some time looking at skills, then divide the players up and have the scrimmage for an hour. Even if you did that, there’s no guarantee that the ball will be hit to any particular player, or that hitters will face the best pitchers. If the pitching is uneven, certain hitters can look better than others by default.

So I throw the question out: how do you structure your tryouts? Has anyone found an effective way to look beyond skills at soft skills such as game sense, or having a feel for when to steal a base, or other things like that? If so, I’d love to hear about it — and I’m sure everyone else would too.

Moving to 12U – looking for players

Usually I try to avoid shameless self-promotion. But hey – what’s the point of having a blog if you can’t help your own cause now and then?

For 2012 I will be coaching the Lake County Stars, a 12U team that’s part of the Lake County Fastpitch Softball Association (LCFSA). If you’re looking for a competitive team with non-parent coaching, and you’re in the Lake Zurich, Illinois area (or willing to travel to it) come on out to tryouts. They start at 4:00 PM on Tuesday, August 9. More details are available on the LCFSA website. I will be head coach; assistant coaches are still TBD.

Hope to see you there!

Glove angle and pop-ups

Somewhere along the way at a fastpitch softball clinic I remember hearing a college coach saying that the proper way to catch a pop-up (or fly ball for that matter) is with the fingers pointing straight up. This is another one of those mysteries that seem to come up in our sport.

Why would anyone in their right mind want to do that? I’m here to tell you that’s bad advice.

This past summer we had a few girls who apparently had been taught that way. Of course, we kept dropping easy pop-up after easy pop-up. I had told and shown our girls a better technique, but old habits are hard to break. Not impossible, however.

After another loss due to a couple of easy drops, we spent a good part of practice working on a small but important change. Instead of holding the fingers straight up, turn the glove to the side and put the palm up. That creates a basket that the ball falls into naturally.

Of course, there was more to it than just practicing. I made it very clear that I no longer wanted to see the fingers up, and if another error was made using that technique there would be serious consequences.

The good news is there were no more drops the rest of the season. Every pop-up was fielded cleanly and we got the outs we were supposed to get.

Little things often make a big difference. Turn the glove sideways and palm up for those pop-ups and you’ll put an end to the drops.

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