Monthly Archives: November 2012

Training v practice

Saw this post the other day on The Talent Code blog and thought it was something fastpitch softball players (and their parents) would find worthwhile. It’s on the negative connotation of the word “practice.”

According to the post when players hear the word “practice” they think of boring repetition – something to be avoided if at all possible. Yet we all know those boring repetitions are necessary to learning our sport.

What author Dan Coyle suggested is replacing the term “practice” with “training.” Here’s the thinking.

Practice sounds like something you do for its own sake. You practice to learn, but you don’t necessarily have a specific goal.

But training is something you do in preparation for a something. Prize fighters train. Olympians train. Everything they do is aimed at a specific endpoint.

I happen to like the term “training” (this is a new concept for me), but what do you think? Is there a real difference? Does training sound better than practicing? Or does it not matter what you call it as long as it gets done?

Device to help fastpitch infielders learn to have soft, quiet hands

We often hear that fastpitch softball infielders should have soft and quiet hands when fielding ground balls. But sometimes they build habits that make it difficult to make to keep their hands soft and quiet.

That was the case for one of my infielders. Somewhere along the way she’d picked up a habit I’ve seen in a number of players. As the ball came to her, she would raise her throwing hand up and then make a slapping motion down toward her glove to finish fielding the ball. Only it seemed like every time she did that it became distracted by the extraneous motion, and often she’d have trouble actually securing the ball.

The result was more errors than a player of her caliber should be making. Balls would hit her glove and end up on the ground – or sometimes would take a little hop and end up getting past her. Not all the time, but enough to be of concern.

That was the problem. We tried explaining what she was doing and showing it to her, but she wasn’t able  to feel it when it happened. That’s when I came up with a solution.

The solution

What she needed was something that would keep her hands in close proximity while fielding, Fastpitch softball fielding handcuffsand give her instant feedback when she started pulling them apart to slap the glove. After improvising something on the spot to start her, I made a little trip to Ace Hardware and created the device you see here for just under $20.

It’s made with a couple of Velcro straps that have a D-ring on them held together with some latext tubing. Honestly, I couldn’t believe I found the perfect straps just off the shelf – I was sure I would have to build straps with the attachment rings on them. But they’re stock items, and even come in two lengths so you can adjust for players with larger wrists.

The results

My player has been using the “handcuffs” for a few weeks now on both rolled and batted balls, and the improvement has been noticeable. It didn’t take long to have an effect either; we played a double header a week after I made them and she went error-free with softer hands.

She’s continuing to use them as she doesn’t think she’s quite past the glove slapping just yet. But when I talked to her about the handcuffs today she said they definitely helped, because she can feel when her hands start separating too far. She likes the tubing because it provides just enough “tug” to help her feel the problem, acting as a reminder without being so restrictive that it becomes a crutch.

So if you have a player with the issue, take a trip to the hardware store. You may be just as pleased at the results it produces.

All Access videos provide great insight, ideas

This is not an official Life in the Fastpitch Lane product review, but rather just something I wanted to share. I’ve been getting catalogs from Championship Productions filled with all sorts of fastpitch softball DVDs for a few years now.

I love looking through them, but usually don’t buy because I’ve already spent a small fortune on those sorts of materials. But one group I’ve had my eye on for a few years has been their All Access series, where you get to go behind the scenes of the practices for various college teams and see what they do.

They run around $100 each so not a decision one would make lightly. But I finally broke down and purchased two of them — the UCLA outdoor practice with Kelly Inouye-Perez, which I believe is the first one they did, and the University of St. Thomas indoor session with John Tschida.

I’ve watched them both now, and I can say they were well worth the money spent. Not to mention the time invested. The UCLA video runs across two DVDs and about four hours, whereas the UST set is on three videos and probably ran closer to six. I didn’t watch either in one sitting.

It’s fun to see how they structure their practices, what they spend time on, how they interact with their players and even how they use the facilities. I was personally gratified by the fact that many of the things they did are things I’m already doing, both with my team and with my students.

Still, I sat there with my smartphone writing down ideas for different activities or different approaches to the same skills. As with most training DVDs, at times a particular activity went on too long. In my mind once you’ve made the point move on rather than showing endless repetitions. Still, if you double-time it you can get through the dull spots and move on to the next thing.

Whether you’re a beginning coach or a grizzled veteran like me I think you’ll find these DVDs worthwhile. With the holidays coming up I’m hoping to pick up a couple more. Hint hint.

Practice time v game time

In the past few years, fastpitch softball teams seem to have become more and more obsessed with seeing how many games they can possibly jam into a season. The belief is that the more games you play, the better you get.

Yet if you actually look at what the professionals say, more games doesn’t necessarily equal better performance. In fact, it’s the opposite, at least as far as developing skills goes.

The current thinking across different sports is that you should have anywhere from three to five hours of practice for every hour of game time. Yes, you read that right.

In this article on the USA Hockey website, they recommend a 3 to 1 practice to game ratio. They’ve done a lot of studies about the amount of stick time players get in games, and it’s not nearly enough to develop skills. You get far more in practice.

World class soccer programs go even more. They follow a 5:1 ratio, i.e. five hours of practice to one hour of games. Dan Coyle in his Little Book of Talent and The Talent Code recommends the same ratio based on his study of talent hotbeds around the world.

Finally, closer to home there’s this document from Softball Canada. While they don’t give a specific recommendation on what the ratio should be, they do recommend against a 1:1 or even a 2:1 ratio. They essentially advocate many more hours of practice time than game time.
Check out pages 10 and 11 for more specifics.

So there you have it. If you want your player to develop her skills, look for a team that emphasizes quality practice time and instruction over an endless series of games. It may not be as much fun to watch, but it’ll pay off better in the end.

So what do you think? Is practice time more valuable than game time? Or do you believe the only way to learn the game is playing the game?

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