Monthly Archives: December 2011

Drill to help fastpitch hitters who drop their hands

A couple of weeks ago I was working with a 12U player named Carly who was having some issues with her hands dropping. The action of dropping her hands created somewhat of a looping swing.

The problem was she couldn’t feel it. So once again I brought out my trusty swim noodle. This time I placed it behind her, in an area I didn’t want the bat head to go. Her objective was to swing the bat without hitting the noodle.

At first, of course, she did hit the noodle. Here’s a slow motion video (taken later in the session) showing a “before” swing. (Notice the guilty grin after she hits the noodle.

After working on it for a bit we tried it again. Here’s the “after” swing, with Carly now taking the head of the bat on a more direct line to the ball instead of looping.

It’s a subtle difference but an important one. With this bat path she is now set up better to hit the ball more effectively.

By the way, back in the day I used to hold a bat behind the hitter, who would use an old bat in order not to damage her good one. But that became a bit intimidating. The noodle works much better, and allows the hitter to use her own bat.

As for Carly, we’re still early in her development as a hitter, but the noodle drill has been effective in helping her get rid of the looping swing. If you know a hitter who is having this dropping the hands issue, give it a try.

So what do you think? What drills or techniques do you use to address dropping the hands?

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Keeping fastpitch pitchers on the power line

The other day I was working with a girl named Emily who has been a student of mine for several years. She’d always had a bit of a problem with striding off the power line, but after taking a year off from fastpitch softball it had become more of an issue.

Essentially, while she was striding off-line, she was working hard to keep her arm circle on the line. As a result she was off-balance, which affected both her control and speed. I tried a couple of things to try to get her on-track but they only had a temporary effect. Then a new cue hit me.

I told Emily to keep her bellybutton on the power line. That seemed to do the trick. Suddenly she was striding forward far more consistently, and staying in balance much better.

Once she was doing that, everything else fell into place. Her speed picked up and her accuracy improved.

If you have a pitcher who is struggling with these issues, give the bellybutton cue a try. It might just be what she needs to stay on line.

The Batterz Box — now you can try before you buy

Anyone who has ever purchased a fastpitch softball bat knows that unless you’re getting the same bat a teammate has it’s an act of supreme faith. You basically have two options.

One is to go online, check out a few user reviews and make a selection. You then wait one to ten days (depending on how much you’re willing to spring for freight) to see if you’ve made a good choice.

The other is to go to a local store, where you can pick it up, feel it, and see if it looks like it might be good. If you’re really gutsy, you might try to find a little open space in the store where you can take a few swings. (Just remember to look around to see if anyone is near you before you take that home run cut.)

Either way, it’s the equivalent of buying a car without a test drive. And given that a good bat these days costs about as much as a car payment you’re taking an awful chance — especially if you’ve waited until right before the season to make your purchase.

That’s why I was excited to check out a new store that opened in Libertyville, Illinois called The Batterz Box, which my friend Jill Griffin turned me on to. First of all, they offer a nice selection of the top-level bats from Louisville Slugger, Demarini, Easton and more instead of the low-to-mid-end bats you’ll usually find at a big box store. But what is really cool about it is you can actually try the bats out before you buy them, to make sure you find the one that’s right for you.

The Batterz Box has six small batting cages where you can bring a baseball or fastpitch softball bat you’re interested in, and then soft toss or front toss to see what it feels like when you swing it full out — and make contact. No more worrying about hitting some little kid running through the aisle at a big box store! I didn’t notice any tees there, but hopefully they’ll be putting some of those in as well.

The entire store is very clean and well-lit. They have a very good selection of bats, as well as catcher’s gear, gloves, mitts, bat bags and other gear. They say they’ll be getting more in as well, so if you check it out right now and don’t see what you want just let them know what you’re looking for.

It’s all serious gear too. You won’t find track suits or other clothing items made for people who want to look like they’re athletic when they’re really going to sit on the couch and eat potato chips. This is a store for players.

The director of softball operations is Michelle Oswald, who is an accomplished private instructor and the hitting coach for the Lake Forest College Forresters fastpitch softball team. Michelle has obviously put a lot of thought into what type of store she would’ve wanted as a player, and has advised the owners well.

So you’re probably wondering at this point how much of a premium you have to pay for this radical comment. But actually their pricing is the same as you’ll find on the Internet. Oswald told me they’re very careful about that. So not only do you get to try before you buy, you pay the same as on the Internet but without the wait. Or the freight charges.

If you’re in the Chicago area, either as a resident or a visitor, be sure to check it out (and tell them Ken Krause sent you; it doesn’t get you anything special but it always sounds good). The store is located at 1336 S. Milwaukee Avenue in Libertyville, in the Red Top shopping center. Their website is a work in progress right now, but you can like them on Facebook too to get more information.

Wish I would’ve thought to take a couple of photos while I was there. But I’m sure I’ll be back again, so I’ll take couple and post them then. Or if Michelle sees this maybe she can share a link.

And in case you’re wondering, no, I have no financial stake in The Batterz Box. I just think it’s really cool, and a place that will help fastpitch hitters (and players in general) up the level of their games by getting the equipment that’s right for them.

So what do you think? Cool concept? Do you know of anywhere else that you can do the same thing?

Finding time to practice

This is probably a pretty timely message for most fastpitch softball players. Especially those involved with other sports and activities.

With the holidays upon us we’re all pressed for time. Between our regular day-to-day activities and responsibilities, holiday shopping, trying to finish things up before the new year, etc. it can feel like there’s no way to squeeze out a little time for practicing.

Yet that’s not true — if you approach practicing the right way. There’s no law that says practice has to be at least a half hour long and conducted in a gym, on a field, or in some other athletic facility. Any space with enough room to stand in and swing your arms around a bit will do. And even putting in five or 10 minutes of working on something specific is better than doing nothing.

For example, pitchers who are having trouble getting their arm circle to stay on line (or loose) can stand with their feet planted and slowly work on it while watching themselves in a mirror. Do that for 10 minutes while you’re taking a break from studying and you’ll be amazed at how much better your arm circle is at your next full practice session.

The same goes for fielders. If you are having trouble working your crossover step, clear a little space on the floor of your bedroom and try it there. Hitters can work on getting the feel of driving their hips first, or taking a better path, or getting a proper weight shift. You get the idea.

The key is to take the little piece of a skill you’re having trouble with and work on that exclusively for a few minutes. This is the type of deep practice most players don’t like to do in a full session because they’re more focused on the full skill. But when time and space are limited, working on these little nuances can pay big dividends.

I listed a few suggestions. How ’bout you? What quick, specific things do you recommend players work on?

Flip a coin

No, this post isn’t about winning the coin flip at the beginning of a fastpitch softball game. It’s about helping players to understand the concept of playing the game one pitch at a time.

One of the famous trick questions often used in statistics classes is the question about flipping a coin. You start by asking what the odds are of flipping a “head” or “tail.” Most players, even young ones, know the odds are 50-50.

So then you follow up with this question: If I flip a coin 50 times and it comes up heads all 50 times, what are the odds the coin will come up tails the next time? Often times the player will say 100%. But the fact is the odds are still 50-50. Over a long period of time — say thousands of flips — you’ll probably see heads 50% of the time and tails 50% of the time. But on any given flip the odds are always 50-50. What has happened up until now has no effect on what will happen next.

And that’s the point you’re trying to make to a player — especially a hitter but it works for any position. No matter what happened on the last pitch, or the last at bat, or the last game, it has no effect or influence whatsoever on the upcoming pitch. So there’s no sense worrying about those. Instead, you just have to worry about what’s coming up next.

I see it a lot with hitters who tend to get behind in the count. Tell me if you’ve seen this pattern too. First pitch, the hitter doesn’t swing, doesn’t even plan on swinging, and the ball comes in for a perfect strike. She realizes she should’ve swung at it, so she makes up her mind to swing at the next pitch no matter what. That pitch is high, or in the dirt, and now she’s sitting at 0-2 and feeling bad about swinging at a bad pitch. So now she decides to be careful, she gets all uptight, and with the next pitch she’s taking that short walk back to the bench.

A lot of that comes from worrying about what happened on the previous pitches. It gets in her head and she loses the aggressive focus she needs to be successful.

By showing the coin toss you can make the point each pitch is a separate event, and the only way to approach the at bat is to keep looking forward and stay focused in that direction. It gives a little more context to the concept of “it only takes one to hit it.”

Hitters have enough to worry about without trying to hit more than one pitch at a time. Pitchers have enough to worry about without letting what happened the last time affect this time. And so on. Show your players the coin toss and help them understand that every pitch is an independent event — and an opportunity to be great.

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