Monthly Archives: February 2012

Why I like working with young players

I was thinking about this the other day. I have a mix of students ranging from the 9/10 year old range all the way up through HS seniors. So I thought it might be fun to look at what’s good (and not so good) about working with those different age groups. Starting with the youngest players today.

What I like about working with them is they tend to be open books. What I mean by that is they usually haven’t acquired the bad habits (or ingrained bad teaching) that some of the older players face.

Very young players are usually eager to learn. Most of the time they don’t resist new things but instead try their best to do whatever you ask of them. They don’t need a lot of background information on why you’re trying to get them to do something, although I have had a few who have that natural curiosity (which I like, by the way).

They also tend to be a lot of fun to work with. Some are shy, so if you can get a smile out of them you’re doing well. Others are chatty. They’ll tell you whatever is on their minds, from news of their new puppy to something that happened at school. When I’ve had a bad day at my day job, just being around them can pick me up. They really are the Fountain of Youth.

The downside is sometimes it’s tough for them to pick up on how to do what you want them to do. They haven’t mastered their bodies yet, and their bodies may have already started going through some changes. Also, the attention span can wander quickly. You’ll be rolling through a half hour lesson when suddenly you realize you’ve accomplished all you’re going to accomplish for that day, and you still have 10 minutes to go in the lesson.

As a result of all that the learning curve tends to be a bit slower. It can take a lot of repetition for them to get a skill down because they just aren’t capable of the deep practice older kids can achieve. And every now and then you get one with an attitude, but those are pretty rare. And I doubt it has much to do with their age.

Some don’t like working with young players because of all the heavy lifting you have to do. It isn’t easy, and it does require patience. But if you can get past that it really is fun, especially when they do get the hang of it. You really feel like you’ve accomplished something.

So those are my thoughts. What do all of you think? I know there are a lot of coaches who read this blog. Let’s get some dialog going on the upsides (and downsides) of working with young players. I’d love to learn from you too.

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It’s fun to be impressed now and then

The other night I was doing a fastpitch softball pitching lesson with a girl named Kristi Gandy, a longtime student of mine and one of the pitching studettes in the area. Kristi is a high school senior who will be pitching at Lake Forest College next year, and will likely be spending lots of extra time playing in post-season tournaments with them.

For most of her lessons this year Kristi’s brother Jim has been enlisted to catch. (They have a reciprocity agreement, as she catches for his baseball pitching lessons too). But the other night, she had a new catcher, a girl named Amanda whom I’d met once before when she came out to observe one of our team practices.

Now, I have to admit that given what I do in my off-hours I tend to be pretty hyper-intensive about technique. I like things to be done a certain way, and while I don’t spend a lot of time with the catchers who come in to work with my pitching students I do notice what they do.

So it was a real pleasure to watch Amanda catch. Her stances were excellent, as was her glove work, her blocking, and just about anything else you’d care to observe. I was pleasantly impressed with her.

Afterwards I decided to let her know. I complimented her and asked her who her instructor was. She said it was Laura Matthews, one of the coaches at Lake Forest College, which is how she was hooked up with Kristi. Her hitting coach is Joe Kinsella, the head coach there, and one of his assistants works with her on catching.

I see a lot of bad technique taught by people who you think ought to know what they’re doing, so it’s nice to see excellent technique being taught now and then. What was most impressive was learning afterwards that Amanda is in 8th grade. Here she is, not even in high school, and doing a great job catching for one of the top pitchers in the area, and a senior to boot.

Can’t wait to see where she is as a player in four years!

Fastpitch softball hitting game — High Fives

One of the challenges of teaching fastpitch hitting, either in lessons or in a team setting, is getting some game-like pressure into practice. After all, just about anyone can look good in the cage when they’re relaxed. But when there’s something on the line it can be a whole different ballgame (so to speak).

Tonight I had that situation with a couple of hitters. I wanted to give them a little bit of skin in the game to see how they handled the pressure, and have a little fun while we were at it. So I came up with High Fives.

The rules are pretty basic. You can use a pitching machine, front toss or some other method of delivering the ball. You make the pitch, and if the hitter hits a line drive or strong fly ball she gets a point. If she swings and misses, fouls it off or hits a pop-up or weak grounder she loses a point. A strong ground ball is neutral — it doesn’t gain or lose her a point.

Score is kept in the same manner you use for basic card counting in Blackjack. (Originally I was going to make the game 21, but realized it could take forever to finish.) So if she hits a line drive with the first pitch, it’s +1. A fly ball on the next pitch is +2. A pop-up on the next pitch takes it back to +1 and so forth. You can also go into negative numbers, i,e, -1, -2.

Five is the magic number, which gives the game its name. If the hitter gets to -5 the game is over and she owes you five pushups. On the other hand, if she gets to +5, the game is over and you owe her five pushups. The hitters usually get pretty excited when they win and you have to drop and give them five.

Now, you don’t have to use the same exact scoring system I use. You can adjust it to the types of hits you’re trying to achieve.

If you’re looking for a way to spice up hitting practice give this game a try. Just be sure you’re ready to pay up!

Are you training Seal Team Six?

Let me start by saying there are a lot of wonderful fastpitch softball coaches out there in the world. They really do put their players first, and while they may be demanding they aren’t over the top.

Then there are the coaches who act like they’re training Navy Seal Team Six. They favor long practices, brutal conditioning (think about the scene in Norway in Miracle) and yelling/screaming constantly at their players to perform. Woe unto the youngster who makes a mistake and dares not to be perfect.

Why? What possible good could that do? The fact is you’re not planning to storm any beaches or hunt down any fugitives in the remote mountains of Central Asia. You’re going to play softball.

It’s important to have standards and to want your players to become all they can be. But making them miserable shouldn’t be part of the deal.

Keep things in perspective. It’s a game and games are supposed to be fun. Work hard, but keep it in perspective. Your teams will perform better and everyone will be a whole lot happier.

Sometimes they just miss the point

I was at a lesson tonight (as usual) and got to talking to the parents of one of my students. They have been excited to see the progress their daughter has made, especially since we started back up in late September, and then they told me an amusing story.

There are four pitchers on their daughter’s 12U team (including her). My student actually could be playing 10U but moved up.

Anyway, at a recent practice the pitchers were all warming up, and one of the coaches pointed out that my student was the only one not doing wrist snap drills. Her mom and dad said, “Yes, that’s right” and smiled. (For me, wrist snaps as warm ups are a total waste of time, as I’ve written in previous blog posts.)

Her parents told me the other pitchers go through this elaborate warm-up sequence before pitching. Their daughter is often pitching for 25 minutes (or at least seems like it) before the others get started.

So then I asked the big question: how is she doing compared to the others? Because if she’s not doing what they’re doing, you’d hope she’s doing better.

She is. And that’s the funny thing to me. Despite being younger and smaller than the others, apparently she throws harder and more accurately. If that’s the case, and she’s doing something different from the others, maybe it’s time to question what the others are doing instead?

Just sayin’.

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