Monthly Archives: May 2012

Watched a great fastpitch softball game today

Just had to comment on this one. Today I watched Carmel Catholic High School v Mundelein High School in a Regional championship game here in Illinois. For those who don’t know, both schools are in Mundelein so it was a true cross-town rivalry.

The play on both sides was impressive. Lots of great defensive plays supporting strong pitching. Carmel was able to put a few more legitimate hits together, though, and ultimately won 2-0.

One of the great plays I saw was Mundelein pitcher Molly Ellett (one of my pitching studnets) fielding a suicide squeeze and getting the out at home. She also took on another bunt and got the out at first. Those were big outs.

On Carmel’s side, one of the memorable plays was shortstop Kathleen Felicelli fielding a ground ball that had first hit pitcher Nicole Bitter’s glove, grabbing it on the run and throwing for the out.

Have to admit I was proud of my hitting student Amy Abel as well. She hit a timely single for Carmel, and later laid down a perfect sac bunt (although I would’ve rather seen her swing away as she has had a hot bat lately).

Baserunning was good on both sides as well. I saw a couple of runners take advantage of balls in the dirt, aggressively taking the base even though the ball didn’t get far from the respective catchers. Each team was looking for every edge it could get.

The only shame was the way the game ended. Molly was rung up looking on a pitch that was clearly mid-shin high. I hate when that happens, but such is life.

Both teams are to be commended on a great game. I’ve seen a lot of badly played HS games this year, so it was fun to see such a good one. Congrats to both sides.


No magic bullets in fastpitch softball instruction

It often seems like fastpitch softball players (and their parents) come to lessons seeking a magic bullet — a tip or hint that will turn them from average to awesome. I wish that was a possibility, because if it was my teams would win a lot more games.

But the truth is that the only real “magic bullet” in fastpitch softball is hard work. And that isn’t very magical, because it takes a long time and many correct repetitions to make the leap players are looking to make. It is possible in time, however.

This is a theme that’s explored to great length in The Talent Code, an incredible book that every coach, parent and player should read. As I’ve written previously, it explores the myth of being born with “talent” and shows how the people we perceive as talented were actually just more single-minded in their pursuit of excellence. When others would normally quit to do other things, they’d continue on with borderline (or sometimes over the border) obsession.

Of course, those are the ones who are driven to the highest level of whatever they do. Not every fastpitch softball player aspires to play on a National Team or at a top D1 college. Many just want to play and be successful at whatever level they’re at now. But you can’t get there by showing up for a lesson once a week, or once every weeks, and then practicing either not at all or very little in-between.

The most successful players I’ve worked with do the same things:

  • Come regularly for lessons — usually once a week

  • Put in two or more practice sessions between lessons

  • Make time to practice, even if they have homework, school projects or other activities on their plates

  • Work diligently at whatever it is we’re trying to improve

  • Give themselves the opportunity to fail now in order to succeed later

It’s as simple — and as difficult — as that.

The other thing they do is give themselves time. They realize that while they can make small improvements over a short period of time, more long-lasting and better-impacting changes take time to sink in during game situations.

With the pressure on it’s all too easy to fall back on old habits, no matter how hard you try not to. But given sufficient time you can replace old habits with better ones, so that’s what you go to when the heat is on. And that’s when real softball success occurs.

In my experience it takes about a year of dedicated effort for real, permanent improvement of a particular skill to set in. What about you? Do you agree? Do you think that’s too long, or too short? Share your thoughts.

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Interesting info on moms for Mother’s Day

Not really fastpitch softball-related, but I got an email today that led me to an interesting infographic on moms and the sacrifices they make for their kids. You softball parents no doubt know all about this, but it’s interesting to see it in hard financial figures. And this doesn’t even count all the time that goes into driving to games, lessons, practices and all the other stuff.

In any case, enjoy! And happy Mother’s Day.

Fastpitch hitting: that magical moment

The other night I was doing a fastpitch softball hitting lesson with a high schooler named Becky. She has developed a nice swing overall, but I wasn’t quite seeing the pop I was looking for. She was trying, but it just seemed a little off.

Then all of a sudden it happened. Her timing was right, and she just turned like heck on the ball, and the ball really jumped off her bat! Like Lucy instructing Schroeder on how to play the piano I got all excited and said “That’s it! Keep doing what you did there.” And she did.

And that’s the thing sometimes with fastpitch hitters (and their instructors). We all get so caught up in trying to perfect the mechanics that sometimes we don’t put enough emphasis on just plain being aggressive. So what you wind up with is a swing that looks awesome when played back at 60 or 120  frames per second on video, but that doesn’t deliver a particularly well-struck ball.

That whole idea of being aggressive, or swinging with enthusiasm as I like to put it, is very important. As I’ve said many times there are no style points when you’re hitting in a game. On a tee, or in a drill, we’re going to work on getting the mechanics as close to what we think is perfect as possible. But when you’re in a game, or facing live toss or a machine, you need to forget about all that, go with what you have, and hit with the intent of driving the ball.

It’s an awesome sight when it comes together. With Becky I could just see the magic happening. She’d gone through her load, had gotten to toe touch at just the right time, and at that point she was able to let go and just finish the swing with a determination to hit the ball hard. If you’re not trained to it you may not know exactly what you’re seeing, but you just know it’s right. And it’s a beautiful thing.

What has your experience been? Have you seen a “magic moment” like that from a hitter, where it all just comes together?

Fastpitch softball coach’s guide to scoring a game

In talking to some of my fastpitch softball students and former players in the past few weeks it seems like there is a lot of confusion among coaches as to how to score a game. In particular, I’m hearing some very interesting interpretations as to what is a hit versus what is an error.

So, as a public service to those who don’t seem to quite get it (or who are making up their own rules as they go along), I offer the following guide. This ought to clarify things, and make it easier for them to keep an honest book that tells them how their players are actually doing — good and bad. You’re welcome.

  • Ball is hit solidly without coming close to a defense player — should be scored as a hit.

  • Ball is hit solidly by a kid you don’t like without coming close to a defensive player — that is still a hit.

  • Ground ball goes through a fielder’s legs without being touched — that is an error because it should be an out.

  • Hard-hit ground ball is not fielded cleanly by an infielder — should be scored an error, even if it took a tough hop.

  • Hard-hit ground ball is not fielded cleanly by your favorite infielder — should still be scored an error. I am shocked at how many coaches seem to be scoring that as a hit in order to pump up the stats of their favorite players.

  • Hard-hit ground ball goes one foot to the left or right of an infielder who is too lazy to make an effort to get the ball — seems like it should be an error, but technically it is a hit. You may want to consider replacing that player, though, because any halfway decent infielder should be able to field a ball hit one foot to either side of them. Just sayin’.

  • Hard line drive hit just to the side of an infielder, who sticks her glove out and has it torn off, not making the catch — score that one a hit, regardless of whether you like that player or not.

  • Fly ball hit to an outfielder is caught — not an error, even if you didn’t like the way she caught it.

  • Fly ball hit pretty much right to an outfielder, who lets the ball glance off her glove or drop right in front of or behind her — those are errors.

  • Fly ball hit pretty much right to the outfielder who babysits your kids for free so you and your spouse can go to dinner, who lets the ball glance off her glove or drop right in front of her behind her — still an error.

  • Ball hit to the outfield, and your outfielder makes a diving attempt to catch the ball but doesn’t quite make it — is a hit.

  • Ball hit to the outfield, and an outfielder you don’t like makes a diving attempt to catch the ball but doesn’t quite make it — still a hit. Only a complete jerk would score that an error.

  • Pitch bounces two feet in front of catcher and goes all the way to the screen because she couldn’t be bothered to use good blocking technique — that is a passed ball.

  • Pitch bounces a foot or two to the left or right of the catcher and goes all the way to the screen because she couldn’t be bothered to use good blocking technique — that is also a passed ball.

  • Pitch bounces on the ground and hits the outside line of the batter’s box, getting by your catcher who tried to throw herself in front of the ball to stop it — wild pitch.

  • Pitch sails in three feet over the head of the umpire and goes to the screen — wild pitch.

  • Throw from an infielder goes into the dirt and wide at first; your first baseman tries to get it but can’t make it — throwing error.

  • Throw from an infielder pulls person covering the base off the bag, thus losing the force — throwing error.

  • Throw from an infielder you love pulls your least favorite player off the base she’s covering, thus losing the force — still a throwing error.

  • Perfect throw from fielder is dropped by person covering the base — error on the receiver.

  • Perfect throw from fielder you don’t like is dropped by your favorite player, who is covering the base — error on the receiver (detecting a pattern here?).

I think that covers it. But may not. Anyone have any more situations like this to add to the list?


Fastpitch competitors know how to deal with adversity

Tonight I had the opportunity to watch one of my fastpitch pitching students, Tayler Janda, and her Grayslake Central High School team demonstrate what it means to be a competitor.

It’s rained a lot in the past 24 hours, so I texted Tayler’s mom to make sure the game I’d planned on going to was still happening. It was, she said, and then a few minutes later she texted that it started out ugly.

From all reports (not just Tayler’s mom Jennie) the umpire had a strike zone the size of a loaf of bread. Tayler isn’t a big girl, so she relies a lot on movement and finesse to get hitters out. But the umpire was having none of that, forcing her to leave the ball on the plate when the hitters didn’t swing. By the time I got there, she had given up five runs in the first and three in the second, and her team was down 8-1.

But in the top of the third, she didn’t give up any runs, and from then on started to cruise. She only gave up one more run for the rest of the five innings (which meant the game I saw was pretty awesome). Instead she was inducing easy outs from the hitters, along with a few strikeouts.

What I liked about what I saw was watching a competitor in action. Rather than complaining about the umpire or continuing to throw the same pitches that weren’t working for her, Tayler adjusted. She figured out how to adapt her pitches to get the results she wanted. Yes, she had to leave the ball on the plate more than usual, but she did it in a way that didn’t allow for the big hits the opponents had gotten earlier.

Now, she may have been stoked by the comeback efforts of her team at the plate. They chipped away at the lead, and went on to win it in the bottom of the seventh on a short sacrifice fly to right and some heads-up baserunning. But I think a lot of it was her own inner fire.

When I work with pitchers we talk about the mental game, and what you can control versus what you can’t control. Tayler was the epitome of that tonight.

She couldn’t control the umpire’s miniscule strike zone, so instead she controlled her own frustration and instead decided to work with it. That’s what a competitor does. And knowing how these things go, I’ll bet she inspired her team to go out and snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat.

I know Tayler doesn’t plan to play softball in college. But a competitive spirit like that is sure to serve her well no matter what she does in life. Kudos to her, her teammates and her coaches. It was a fun game to watch!

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