Monthly Archives: January 2012

There’s more to rotation than merely turning

It seems to be pretty well-established in most fastpitch softball circles these days that rotation is a critical, must-have element of good hitting. Yet it’s important to keep in mind that the mere act of rotating itself doesn’t guarantee success. When you rotate, you actually have to do something, i.e. generate power with it.

As a hitting instructor I see it all the time. Players understand that they have to “turn on the ball.” Yet they do it in a way that looks good in slow motion video but doesn’t actually accomplish what it’s supposed to accomplish.

The idea of rotation in hitting is to recruit the big muscles — thighs, butt, core, back, chest, etc. — to help move the mass of the bat. Those muscles create power and batspeed. The smaller muscles in the arms can then be focused on getting the bat head on-plane with the ball and making fine adjustments. But when the big muscles aren’t used, hitters have to depend on the smaller muscles to get the bat moving, which means they’re less capable of making adjustments. They also don’t hit the ball as hard.

However you go about it, rotating the hips has to be an aggressive, ballistic movement, not an easy turn into position. I will tell hitters to “pop the hips” to get them more aggressive. It’s not just about speed — the body has to be used properly, driving the back side up and around the front side — but assuming the right things are happening “pop the hips” gets the idea of being more aggressive.

Another thing a quick, powerful rotation does is give the hitter more time to see the ball before committing the bat to the swing. If the hitter can cut the time of rotation in half, that extra time can be added to the time he/she has to see the path of the ball (and if he/she is really good its rotation), which helps the hitter make a better final decision on where to take the bat.

I tell hitters I always want to see them making their positive move (striding as I teach it, although a forward shift with no stride also counts) and at least starting hip rotation on every pitch. Sometimes they worry that they’re going to swing at a bad pitch, but when they do it they see committing to strong rotation on every pitch actually makes it easier to hold back on a bad pitch because they can start the bat at the ball later.

When they make the powerful hip turn they also see how the ball jumps off the bat at contact. It just gets easier to hit well. Maybe when you’re moving faster overall you have less time to take yourself out of a good hit — you’ve gathered the info you need and now you’re just executing, reducing the act to see ball/hit ball.

Something you want to watch out for is the “rotation” that is more about turning the back leg than driving the back hip forward. The old “squish the bug” cue is the worst example of it, but there are other ways that are less than optimal as well. If the thigh bone (femur for those who like medical terms) is primarily rotating in the hip socket you don’t have rotation.

Instead, you want the back hip to drive forward around the front hip and into the ball, which at the point of contact generally results in the back foot being up on the toe with the heel pointed at the sky rather than the catcher. (Mark, I’ll save you the trouble — see these videos for some good examples.) I say generally because you’ll always be able to find cases where it doesn’t happen, but those are more the exceptions where a hitter has to make an unexpected adjustment, such as an inside pitch that gets to them more quickly than they were ready for.

The point is just turning isn’t enough. To really be successful with it, the hitter has to practice and become confident in his/her ability to rotate quickly and powerfully in order to maximize the swing.

Now it’s your turn. What have you observed in hitters when it comes to rotation? How have you gotten them to commit to doing it more powerfully? And what kind of results did you see?

The real measure of an instructor

Had some time on a cold, snowy day to ponder an issue that perplexes many parents of fastpitch players — how to choose a private instructor.

One tried and true thing many people do is look at the top players in their area and assume that whoever coached those players up can do the same for their kid. Maybe that’s true. But it’s no guarantee.

In my mind, the real measure isn’t the coach’s top students — the kids just dripping with athleticism who blow everyone away. It’s the ones with average ability/athleticism who become successful that you ought to look at. Here’s why.

The outstanding athletes will probably be successful no matter who their instructor is. Sure, some instructors will take them farther than others, but the raw material has to be there first. As they say in the computer world, garbage in/garbage out.

The average ability players, though, test the instructor’s ability to take those student to the limit of what they can do. Which means there’s a far greater likelihood that that instructor will be able to do the same for your player, especially early in her career.

When you see a player who isn’t tremendously gifted standing out on the field, that’s a kid who has been coached up. That’s the instructor you’ll want to seek out. And if your player does have that little something extra, odds are the same magic will work for her too. Only a little better.

Keeping an open mind on fastpitch drills

In the world of fastpitch softball there are tons of drills. Some I like, others I don’t. Yet sometimes even a drill you don’t particularly like can be effective if you’re willing to keep an open mind.

One such drill for me is the pitching drill where you get down on the ground in a runner’s starting stance, like you’re in blocks. You then go into the regular pitch from that start.

When I’ve seen it done, it often feels like it works against using the legs effectively. The pitchers are down so far that they have to raise themselves up first, which means they don’t get a good launch. It’s not my favorite.

But last week I had a girl who was having trouble leaning into the pitch. At launch she would pull her head up early and if anything lean back, which was killing her speed. So I suggested she get down into the starter position and try pitching from there.

One good thing was she didn’t quite get all the way down, so she started from a little better position. But that did the trick. She got the feel of launching head-first and driving out with her legs, and was rewarded with noticeably more speed.

So I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks. Or at least get an old dog to try an old trick.

And once again it proves that the effectiveness of a drill is in the hands of the person running. That night we both learned something.

Definition of a good day

Today (or in actual fact tonight) was definitely a good day. Worked with four pitchers. One is almost ready to learn a new pitch. Two started on and pretty much got the hang of screwballs. Another had a curveball come together.

Gosh, I love this job!

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