Monthly Archives: November 2011

Gotta love the boomerangs

As most people know, coaching fastpitch softball is not my day job. It is something I do on the side.

Instead, I work for technology PR company Tech Image, which is one of the business units of a company called SmithBucklin, which is the world’s largest association management company. It was SmithBucklin  who introduced me to the term “boomerang,” which is the name they use for an employee who leaves the company then comes back.

This off-season I’ve had a couple of boomerangs. One was a short-term loss of a couple of months. A student had changed teams, the rest of the team was using a different pitching coach, they went along with it, the girl started to struggle and now she’s back. The other was actually two sisters whose family situation changed; their father contacted me during the summer and they’ve now started up again.

SmithBucklin always says the company loves boomerangs, and I can see why. While I always hate to lose a student, things happen from time to time. Circumstances change, sometimes the grass looks greener elsewhere, there can be all kinds of reasons. I find, though, that those who come back are often among the most enthusiastic students because they’ve had a taste of what else is out there and have made a conscious decision that being with me is the place they want to be.

That’s not to say I want every student to go away for awhile and come back. Far from it! I definitely appreciate those who stay from beginning to end. But where many instructors might feel funny about a student coming back after going away (probably because they take it personally) I welcome it.

What about you, whether you’re a private coach or a team coach? How do you feel when a player goes away then wants to come back? Do you welcome her back, or do you feel like once you’re gone you’re gone?

Book recommendation: The Score Takes Care of Itself

This may seem a little odd for a fastpitch softball blog, but I recently finished reading a book that I think is a must-read for every coach. It’s called The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership, by Bill Walsh with Steve Jamison.

Yes, it’s that Bill Walsh, the former San Francisco 49ers coach who was the brain behind the West Coast offense. While the book is ostensibly written as a guide on leadership for business leaders, there is a lot in there for any coach in any sport to learn. After all, coaching is a lot about leadership as well.

Now, you would think that a book like this would focus on his triumphs and how brilliant he is. Yet Walsh comes across as very humble, and is equally at home (maybe moreso) talking about his tribulations and failures.

I found the opening of the book particularly helpful. You see, this past summer was a rough one for me. I had a very good team with very good players, but somehow we just didn’t win as many games as we should have. I kept beating myself up, wondering why, when we’d do so many things right, we didn’t win more. Then I read this book.

It starts with Walsh talking about his first couple of seasons with the 49ers. He’d waited a long time to get a shot at being a head coach in the NFL, and finally got it with San Francisco.

The year before he joined them, he writes, they went 2-14. Then, in his first year as head coach, after instituting many changes and establishing his Standard of Performance, the 49ers went — wait for it — 2-14. The exact same record.

His second season they started off better, but then hit an eight-game losing streak. The 49ers were finally playing the Dolphins in a must-win game, and it came down to the last play. The Niners had three shots at a come from behind victory, but ultimately lost due to penalties on that final play.

Then came the part that really struck me. Walsh said on the plane ride home he broke down in tears and considered handing in his resignation. He just didn’t know whether he had what it took to be an NFL head coach. Fortunately he slept on it and by the time Monday came he’d decided to continue. His teams went on to win the Super Bowl the following year, and two more in 10 years while dominating the NFL.

For me, I figured if someone who had experienced so much success had also had so many difficulties, maybe I hadn’t done such a bad job after all. Maybe all we’d needed was a little more time for what I’d tried to do to take effect — time we didn’t have.

The book is full of anecdotes like that, along with plenty of practical, step-by-step advice on how to turn teams into classy champions. Yet Walsh is more than willing to share the things he did wrong as well as what he did well. He also spends a considerable amount of time on how to treat people — both players and people in the organization — that’s worth reading all on its own.

I know that for me, reading this book really helped me see my own coaching style and philosophy more clearly. I actually found myself thinking “yeah, I do that” at many points, and got many new ideas on how to improve on what I do.

This is a book I highly recommend every coach read. I think you’ll find it fascinating and inspiring. Walsh was always a class act, and in this day and age we can really use a lot more of that.

So what about you? What books have you read that have inspired or affected your coaching that way?

Why did I get slower?

In a perfect world, when a fastpitch player comes in for softball pitching lessons the first thing that would happen is she would immediately get faster. Unfortunately, often the opposite happens.

A player will come in throwing hard, but wildly and inconsistently due to poor mechanics. Then, as we work on correcting those mechanics, she notices a drop in speed. It’s usually not a lot, but enough to cause her some concern. Some can get quite frustrated, at which point they begin to wonder whether learning new mechanics is worth it.

But seeing a temporary loss of speed is fairly normal. And it makes sense when you think about it.

When that player walks in, she’s usually totally comfortable with what she’s doing. She may not like the results — too many walks or hit batsmen — but she is used to doing what she does. Which means she does it with 100 percent enthusiasm and effort.

When we start to change the mechanics, though, she is then out of her comfort zone. She actually has to think about what she’s doing, and because she is uncomfortable with the new mechanics she tends to be hesitant in her approach. The natural result is a loss of speed.

Think of it in terms of running. If you are assigned to run a 100 meter sprint, and do it with 100 percent effort, you will get a particular time. If you then run another sprint with 80 percent effort, you will almost certainly get a noticeably slower time. You wouldn’t expect it to be any different either.

The same applies to pitching. Until you are comfortable enough with the way you’re throwing the ball to go 100 percent, your speed will be down. But it’s a temporary effect.

Eventually, better mechanics should result in even more speed than you had before; you just have to have a little faith and patience to get there. And you’ll be more accurate to boot. It’s a win-win!

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