Monthly Archives: October 2011
Another good reason to keep the hands up while hitting
In the past I’ve written about the importance of keeping the hands tied to the back shoulder (more or less) for the major part of the swing. Doing so allows hitters to get the proper bat angle, which is around 30 to 45 degrees rather than flat, at contact.
There’s another good reason when you think about it, though. When the hands stay up, it’s easier to get the big muscles in the chest, shoulders and core involved for more power.
Try it. First feel what it’s like to swing with the hands held high. Then try it by staying in the same position but letting the hands drop to your waist. Do it slowly so you can really feel what’s going on.
With the hands around shoulder high you should feel yourself able to drive the bat fairly easily. You should feel strong and powerful.
With the hands more around waist-high, however, you should feel the disconnection. It will likely feel a lot weaker and tougher to bring the bat through. It likely will feel like a lot more work. The bat will likely also be pretty flat as it comes through the hitting zone.
Which begs the question: why would any hitter want to drop her hands to her waist to swing, even on a waist-high pitch? Yet they do all the time.
To really drive the ball, the hands need to remain connected to the back shoulder. Which means if the pitch is low, you have to go down and get it.
Rather than dropping the hands down, bend at the waist. Stick your nose down there toward the ball and use the same basic hitting mechanics you do on a higher pitch.
It’s similar to making a throw from a low position rather than standing up. You use the same mechanics, you’re just tilted over.
For hitters, bend at the waist, tilt in toward the ball and hit the heck out of it.
Drill for developing the backhand change release
One of the most important pitches for a fastpitch pitcher to develop is a good changeup. While everyone is always impressed with speed, the ability to change speeds without visibly changing the delivery is key to keeping hitters off balance and getting them out.
Now, there are all kinds of ways to throw a changeup. My favorite, though is the backhand change. Some call it the “flip” change, but I don’t because I don’t want the pitcher to flip her wrist at the end. Instead, I prefer that she drags the ball through the release zone and just flings it forward at release.
Not long ago I had a pitcher (Larissa) who was having trouble feeling the drag and fling. She was stiffening up and flipping the ball, and as a result it was going too fast and too high.
As I often do, I stood across from her and started to explain the release in a mirror image. But I forgot to use my left hand, and demonstrated with the right hand instead. That’s when the light bulb came on over my head, and I had her try what I had just done.
The reason I think it works is that it takes the pitcher out of the normal context of pitching, and allows her to focus strictly on the release. Whatever the reason, though, I’ve tried it with several pitchers and it has worked for all of them.
If you’re using this type of change and have a pitcher who’s having trouble feeling it, give this a try. If you have a pitcher who’s struggling with the flip change, give it a try as well. You might like the results.
Succeeding in an instant world
This is one of those fastpitch softball topics that I’ve written about before, but it bears repeating. One of the biggest challenges players today face is developing the patience to succeed.
What I mean by that is we live in an instant world. Hot chocolate and popcorn isn’t cooked on the stove for 10 or 20 minutes. You pop it in the microwave and it’s ready in three. You want to watch a particular movie? You don’t have to wait until it comes on anymore — you just dial it up on-demand.
Becoming a high-level, or even a decent, hitter, pitcher, fielder, etc. doesn’t happen instantly. It takes a long time — 10,000 hours to achieve mastery according to the experts, several hundred or thousand hours to get reasonably good.
That can be tough to take for kids who are used to instant pudding or five minute oatmeal. They take a couple of lessons and right away expect to be awesome.
Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Think of it like this: the goal of excellence is five miles away. You can see it, but it’s well off in the distance. You don’t have a bike or car, so how will you get there? You can’t leap there in one shot. You’ll have to walk, putting one foot in front of the other, over and over again.
It will take some time. You may get bored, you may get tired, you may get frustrated now and then. But if you keep walking, step after step, you will eventually reach your goal.
Long arm follow-through
In my last post I talked about getting rid of the “hello elbow” and replacing it with a finish that is long, loose and natural. After that post, a reader named Melissa asked if I could post a video that illustrated the point.
This week I had the opportunity to shoot video of one of my students during her lesson. Justine is very long and lanky to begin with, so you can really see the follow-through. Here it is. Note that this is video is running at 1/3 the normal speed to make it easier to see.
Justine demonstrates a long, loose finish
Using this finish allows her to deliver maximum velocity without placing strain on the elbow.
Pitching: Getting a proper follow-through
So yesterday I started with two new pitchers — teammates with little pitching experience. Both had attended a few sessions of a pitching “clinic” in a large group put on by some local instructor or another.
As I always do I asked to see how they pitched before we launched into the lesson. One of the things I saw right away was something called the “hello elbow.”
The “hello elbow” is a form of forced follow-through at the end of the pitch. After you release the pitch, you bend your elbow and bring your hand up to your throwing hand shoulder. You’re supposed to then point your elbow at your catcher.
It may be well-intended, but it actually works against the mechanics that make up a good pitch. A finish should be long, loose and natural.
If you keep your arm loose and focus on whipping the lower arm past the elbow at release, the last thing you’re going to be able to do is touch your throwing-hand shoulder. You would have to stop the arm and change directions to do that.
As I was working with each of the girls, we focused on learning to be long, loose and natural at the finish. They both struggled at first, but I used a drill called the “low five” to help them get the feel. With an empty hand, I had them start with their pitching arms at the 12:00 position, then bring the upper arm down, then bring the hand through and give me a low five with their hands to my hand.
As they focused on slapping my hand, they started to find a new finish. Both wound up with their pitching hand by their glove-side shoulder. Luckily, from there it was an easy transition to throwing the ball that way too.
They weren’t perfect with it — the “hello elbow” showed up from time to time. But they were definitely better. At the end of the lesson I had them throw to their fathers, and the ball was straighter and faster than it had been when they walked in.
Follow-through is important, but you have to be careful not to trade one issue for another. Keep the follow-through long, loose and natural and your pitchers will find their own way.
How to tell it’s time to find a new coach
The short answer: His/her video collection is on VHS.
The longer answer: A lot has changed since the 1980s. High-speed video has given us insight into things we couldn’t see before. But some people still cling to the “old ways,” like the Pagans in medieval times.
Their rationale is that they’ve been doing it that way for X number of years and have had success. Yet it’s likely they had success in spite of what they teach instead of because of it.
There is plenty of good information out there. And tons of video of top-level players out there. The simple test — aka the Hanson Principle — is compare what people tell you to the best players in the sport. If what you’re being told doesn’t match what you see, it’s time to find a new coach. There’s simply no excuse for accepting bad teaching.