Monthly Archives: September 2011

Context provides incentive in softball training

One of the interesting phenomena I have observed in my years of teaching lessons is how important context is in really understanding what you’re learning and putting it to use.

That’s kind of a long-winded way of saying it seems like students seem to “get” what we’re trying to do better after they’ve had a season of playing following an off-season of lessons.

You can try to put context around lessons all you want. I know I certainly do. But once students are in the game trying to execute against an opponent, I found most understand better the reasons why we’re doing what we’re doing, and why we’re focusing on certain aspects of their skills.

Take pitchers, for example. They can look like world-beaters in lessons or practice sessions. But once there’s something on the line, i.e. they’re facing live hitters, they seem to get why we focus so much on repeatable mechanics versus the immediate results.

That can be discouraging for some — they’ve worked hard all off-season, but then in the games they’re not see the payoff right away. But for most, it seems they remember us talking about certain things, they remember themselves not putting the effort into it, and they understand that was a mistake.

Has that been your experience? Has your daughter, your students or your players struggled to put lessons into practice the first year but then come back ready to learn more and at a fast pace?

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What the wrist really contributes in pitching

I’ve written before about the myth of the wrist in pitching — how coaches and players put so much emphasis on developing a hard wrist snap through drills despite the fact that the wrist actually contributes very little to power. This past weekend I had the opportunity to see a good example of that in action.

Having some free time on my hands, I went to check out a local tournament. I thought I might get an opportunity to see a couple of students or former players playing (which I did).

While I was there, I saw one girl pitching who to me was the epitome of the “snap your wrist honey” school. She would step off the pitching rubber, make her arm circle, then pretty much stop the circle at the bottom and snap her wrist violently.

As you might expect, her pitches were rather slow, and had somewhat of an arc to them. But I’m sure someone, somewhere taught it to her and thought she was doing a great job. Despite the fact that she was getting pounded pretty hard.

The wrist’s main jobs are to transfer power from the rest of the motion to the ball, and to impart spin in the right direction. It is not a power source in and of itself. Think of it like a car.

The body, the arm, the whipping motion are all the things that create power; they are the engine. The wrist is the transmission that delivers that power to the wheels. While both are essential, by itself the transmission doesn’t do diddly. If you have the world’s greatest transmission and a weak engine, your car isn’t going to go very fast.

Performing endless wrist snap drills to develop power is a waste of time. Especially since there are no actual muscles in the wrist; the muscles that move the wrist extend from the forearm to the hand. Keeping the wrist loose and allowing it to snap quickly at the end of the windmill chain will work far better to impart speed to the ball.

But what about all those exercises to develop the wrist, like the forearm curl? They work because they’re building strength in the forearms, not the wrist, which provides greater stability to the wrist and allows more efficient power transfer.

If you want to increase speed, forget the wrist flips. Focus on developing the whip, and allow the wrist to do its thing.

It’s never too late for the fundamentals

First of all, let me assure you that I haven’t abandoned the Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog. I’ve just been taking care of some other stuff.

Anyway, today I heard about a 16U team and its first few practices. Apparently the coach has been running through some scenarios, but has spent no time working on the fundamentals. The speculation is that she assumes by now they should already have them.

If that’s the case it’s a mistake. No player ever has it down so much that she doesn’t need to work on technique and the fundamentals.

Want proof? The top D1 college programs in the country work on the fundamentals constantly. So does the USA National team. Check out this video of former coach Mike Candrea running one of my favorite drills. It’s a few years old, obviously, but it shows the importance he and the other coaches place on fundamentals.

No matter how good you think your team is, remember it always starts with the fundamentals.

Now is a great time to work on pitching speed

There’s a saying I’ve seen on signs that goes “You can never be too rich or too thin.” For fastpitch softball pitchers, I would add “And you can never have too much speed.”

While speed by itself is not the be-all and end-all of pitching, neither is a lack of speed. The faster you throw, the tougher you are to hit. It’s that simple.

So now, as fastpitch players are (or should be) ending their self-imposed shut-downs and getting ready to start working on next season, this is a great time to work on learning to throw faster.

Why now? Very simple — you don’t have to worry about where the ball goes.

Working on speed requires pitchers to get out of their comfort zones. When that happens, there can be a temporary loss of accuracy until the mechanics lock back in and the faster, harder motion becomes the “new normal” as they like to say.

During the season, a loss of accuracy isn’t good for anyone. But now, at this time of the year, accuracy isn’t at such a premium so pitchers are freer to make adjustments that can set them back a bit in the short run but pay off later in the long run.

Now, of course there is fall ball. For pitchers who are new to a team, or trying to prove that they’re ready to take on a larger role on the same team, a loss of accuracy can be counter-productive. For those pitchers, it might be better to wait until fall ball is over.

For everyone else, though, it’s a good time to start pushing the proverbial envelope and seeing just what you can do.

For those in the North (like me) there’s another good reason to do it now. One of the best drills for building pitch speed is long toss. But it’s hard to get enough distance to make long toss pay off indoors, in a batting cage or even a gym. But right now, you can go out onto a field and just keep backing up until the ball doesn’t reach the plate anymore. Do that once or twice a week, and give it all you’ve got, and you’ll start to see that speed go up.

I know the summer of 2012 seems like it’s a long ways away. But for pitchers it’s not. Get after it now so you’re ready when next summer (or spring for you HS pitchers) comes.

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