Monthly Archives: June 2012

Lesson learned: why it’s important to use video

I’m never shy about pointing out problems with things other fastpitch softball coaches do or say. So it’s probably about time I told a story on myself which illustrates a great point: no matter how good you think you are, it never hurts to shoot a little video to check on what you’re saying. 

Last year I was working with a girl named Megan in a lesson. She had a good swing overall, but when she finished I could see that she hadn’t gotten off her back side enough. At least that’s what I thought I saw. Instead of having her toe down, heel up and an L in her back leg, her heel was pointed backwards and her back leg was pretty much straight. 

She wasn’t feeling the lack of drive, so I pulled out my trusty Kodak Playsport video camera and shot a swing off a tee at 60 frames per second (fps for those who don’t know video shorthand). I figured if I could show her what she was doing wrong she’d be able to correct it. 

By now you’ve probably guessed what happened. I stepped through the video frame-by-frame, and everything looked good. When she got to contact her hips had come through, she was up on her toe, and her back leg was in a lovely “L.” Continuing through she held that position until after extension, then sort of settled back into what I’d seen to catch her balance. 

“Hmmm,” I said. “I guess I suck. Remember everything I told you about finishing? Forget it. You’re doing fine.” 

Since that time I’ve learned a valuable lesson about the importance of shooting video whenever possible. Most of the time I’m right, and can use it to illustrate the point. After all these years I’ve gotten pretty good at diagnosing skills in real time.

But every now and then it shows me that what I think I see, and what is actually happening are two different things.

Footnote: Little pocket videos such as the Kodak Playsport are pretty cheap, and make a good investment. Yes, you can also shoot video on your iPhone, iPad or Android device, and even telestrate it, but usually there are a couple more steps before you can use it. That’s why I like the dedicated video camera. You can shoot it and show the video right away, saving time that can be applied into working on the skills.

So how about you? Ever have an experience where you’ve believed one thing but video told you something else? Go ahead and share — you’re among friends.

Fastpitch hitting: sometimes you just have to say huh?

Last night I was doing a hitting tune-up with one of my students. She’d been hitting the ball pretty well, but over the weekend she struggled a little bit. She told me her coaches told her she was dropping her back shoulder and her hands.

I just sort of rolled my eyes because usually when people say that they don’t know what they’re looking at. But then, before she stepped up to the tee I discovered the cause of the problem. She quietly said to herself “Hands to the ball.”

“Where did you get that?” I asked. “Did those knuckleheads tell you that?”

“Yes,” she answered.

“Ok then riddle me this,” I said. “If you take your hands to the ball, what are you going to do?”

She thought for about a second, went through the motion of doing it and the lightbulb came on.

“I’m going to drop my hands,” she said.

And there you have it. Her coaches were telling her to do the exact thing they were saying was a problem. It’s no wonder so many players have trouble hitting.

This is why you have to be careful about what you say as a coach. It also helps to actually know what you’re doing instead of repeating the same bad advice that limited your own playing career.

Most importantly, when you’re instructing a skill, listen to what you’re saying. You just may find what you’re saying, and the result you’re trying to achieve, are at odds with each other.

An unusual fastpitch softball Father’s Day

Today was a bit of an unusual day for me. It’s the first time in 16 years that I haven’t been coaching a fastpitch softball team in a tournament on Father’s Day. I don’t have a team this year due to some circumstances not worth going into here, so the day (and the weekend, of course) was free.

That’s not to say there wasn’t any softball in my day. I did get out to say a game where several students (one on one team, the others on the other) were playing, so at least I got my fix. Still, it’s definitely different being in the stands instead of the dugout.

I started coaching when my oldest daughter, who is now 28, was a second year 12U player. Little did I know back then how much the game would come to be a part of my life. I remember one year coaching my younger daughter’s team when the whole family came out to watch the game at an away tournament, just so we could be together.

After I watched the game I came back and did what ordinary fathers do. Went with my wife to the grocery store, did some yard work, ran some errands and grilled some Italian sausages. It’s been so long since I’ve had the chance to do that it seemed a bit surreal.

Will I get back into team coaching? Perhaps, if the right opportunity comes along. I do miss the whole team dynamic. In the meantime, today was a most interesting and unusual day. Happy Father’s Day to all you dads (and dad substitutes) who spend your days at the ballpark and the practice field. You are a big part of what keeps this game going.

Fastpitch success story

Heard another great fastpitch softball success story yesterday that I had to share. This one involves a pitcher who has gone from what Jeff Janssen might call forming to performing.

Her name is Tina Kliver, and she is a second-year 16U. I met Tina after the last summer season (2011). Her dad Bob contact me about getting a pitching lesson for Tina to see if I could help her. She really wanted to pitch, and they’d been to a couple of pitching coaches in the area who have good reputations (and one of whom has a great resume), but she was struggling.

When I met Tina her basic pitch was a fastball in the dirt at the hitter’s feet. I could see some core things I thought would help and we gave them a try. They did help in that first lesson, but more importantly Tina and I seemed to click. She has the same quirky sense of humor I do.

We worked throughout August and September, and then every other week in the off-season. (She was a two- or three-sport athete in HS plus doing some other stuff so every week wasn’t going to work.) It took a little while to lock in the core mechanics we wanted.

Her first time out throwing with the new mechanics was pretty much a disaster. She struggled and had to be taken out. But there were some good things that came out of it, and she understood what she needed to do. We kept working, not just on basics but on throwing different pitches too.

She didn’t get to pitch more than a couple of times in the HS varsity season since her team had a couple of very good, established pitchers ahead of her. Then fast-forward to yesterday.

I received the email every coach hopes to get. Tina pitched a six-inning no-hitter (have I mentioned I hate time limits?) plus a few innings in a couple of other games when other pitchers struggle. So she went from hoping to get a couple of innings here and there to being the go-to pitcher for her team.

Time will tell whether it’s permanent, but I have a feeling it is. Yesterday should give her the confidence to go out and be the pitcher she’s capable of being. It just goes to show you what you can do when you’re motivated and determined. For those of you who are struggling right now, take heart! If you want it bad enough you can make it happen.

A great story of redemption

Long-time readers know I love stories where a fastpitch softball player who is overlooked or dismissed by a coach comes back to have some success. So today I’m sharing one that was in the newspaper recently. It was about a girl who played for me in 2010 and 2011 — Erin Pauly. Thanks to her mom Jan for pointing it out to me. Erin Pauly shows intensity on base

I don’t know how long the link will stay live, so just in case you can’t read it anymore here’s the short version — plus a little extra background.

First of all understand Erin is a great a kid — sweet, polite and a good teammate to all. She’s also a fierce competitor. She had kind of a rough year in 2010, but experienced a lot of success last year in the summer,

This spring she made varsity at Carmel Catholic High School as a sophomore but couldn’t quite seem to get on track. According to the story her 16U travel team tried to turn her around as a slapper, but she struggled with it when she got a chance to play. She was benched, then eventually she was demoted to the JV team.

The newspaper says she was sent down to rebuild her confidence, but having heard how it was handled — no conversation or explanation, just you’re not on varsity anymore —  I think it’s safe to say she was demoted. She played JV until the end of the season, when she was brought back to varsity with a handful of other call-ups. This time, however, things were different.

Her confidence was back and she started playing like the Erin I know. She started ripping the ball from the right side, and in the last couple of playoff games got some good hits, including a big double in a losing cause in Carmel’s last game.

If you don’t get to see it, the newspaper story I’m referring to the cool thing is she got the headline and was the focus of the story. That’s a pretty cool redemption for someone who was pretty much forgotten and dimissed in mid-season.

In Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle one of the characters says “The universe has a way of working out the way it should.” In this case that was true.

Come back again soon for another story of the triumph of an underdog. In the meantime, what did you think of this story? And if you have your own story of redemption, please share it in the comments.

Congratulations to Grayslake North High School

Had a chance to watch another great high school playoff game today. This time it was Grayslake North and Prairie Ridge high schools squaring off for a Sectional title.

The game featured two of the top pitchers in the area — Kristi Gandy for Grayslake North andGrayslake North wins the 2012 Sectional Title Kirsten Stevens for Prairie Ridge. Both are dominant pitchers and leaders on their teams (along with being strong hitters as well), and today was no exception. Hits were tough to come by all day on both sides.

Grayslake North prevailed by a score of 2-1. The difference was a couple more timely hits for Grayslake North, and some outstanding defensive plays when they needed it.

In the top of the sixth, trailing 2-1 with two outs and a runner on second, one of the Prairie Ridge hitters stroked a single to medium deep left. Knowing how tough runs had been to score all day, the Prairie Ridge coach sent his runner home. Left fielder Courtney Peterson scooped up the ball and fired a perfect strike home. The ball didn’t make it on a fly — it actually rolled for the last part — but catcher Brooke Tracy dropped to her knees, fielded the ball, leapt to her feet and made a very sure tag to cut down the runner at home to end the inning.

Then in the top of the seventh Kristi, who was getting squeezed on the inside corner according to several observers (including Lake Forest College pitching coach Laura Matthews), issued a walk to the leadoff hitter — never a good idea in a tight game. Especially when the leadoff hitter for the inning was also the leadoff hitter for the game. But I saw Kristi and her teammates communicating something prior to facing the next hitter.

As he had throughout the game, the Prairie Ridge coach had his hitter lay down a sacrifice bunt with a runner on first. But there’s a problem when you’re predictable. Grayslake North was ready for it. When the bunt went down, instead of taking the sure out at first, third baseman Kelsey Borders fired the ball to second baseman Jessica Davis covering second, erasing the lead runner. One out.

The next hitter grounded to first baseman Christina Freese; again, instead of taking the automatic out at first she wheeled and fired to shortstop Jordyn Bowen covering second, nailing the lead runner again. Two outs. A couple of pitches later the cleanup hitter hit a short pop to Borders at third, who ran in, squeezed the ball and secured the victory.

One other effort worthy of note. I saw in the newspaper this morning that Stevens struck out 15 North hitters. That seems like a strong but not particularly remarkable performance until you realize that was in six innings since they were the visitors. So out of 18 possible outs, her left arm was responsible for 15 of them. Sounds like she’s ready to pitch for the Cubs!

It was an action-packed, tense but well-played game. Both sides are to be commended for a great job. It was everything we love about softball.

Excellence in sports doesn’t have to be miserable

My friend and co-worker Tim Boivin pointed me toward this story today from the Wall Street Journal. It’s about Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin, and her coach Todd Schmitz.

One of the interesting things in the article covered her training routine. Unlike many high-level athletes who train constantly, Missy’s coach actually has her train less than most, and even gives her weekends off. His rationale is — wait for it — he doesn’t want her to burn out.

Amazing isn’t it? A coach who doesn’t believe you have to spend every waking moment working on your skills.

The other part of the story I personally found interesting was when they talk about her relationship with her coach. Her parents say many people tried to tell them over the years that they should take Missy to a more “high level” coach.

Todd Schmitz is not an international superstar coach. In fact, the swimming club he works through, the Colorado Stars out of Denver, doesn’t even have its own pool. But Missy’s parents resisted the pressure to have her move to a “name” coach because of the excellent relationship she had with Schmitz — and the fact that she kept getting better under his instruction. It seems to have worked.

Give the article a read. It’s worth it as a reminder that excellence doesn’t have to miserable. You CAN be a world class athlete and still have a life.

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