Monthly Archives: December 2012
At our last practice I set up a station to work with pitchers. We only had 15 minutes per pitcher, so I had each pitcher select one pitch to work on in that time.
The first pitcher was Emily, and she chose the changeup. It’s been troubling her for at least a year – to the point where she really doesn’t like to throw it. Yet it’s critical to her success, so that’s what we went after.
After some warm-ups Emily threw a few. And that’s when I spotted something in her finish. I always tell pitchers to drag the ball through the release zone, and she did to an extent. But it was happening too late. So I told her to drag it starting from behind her and then all the way through.
It was a night and day difference. All of a sudden it was coming in low and slow, floating the way we like it. And, she was able to mix it in with other pitches on command.
For me, it’s one of the things that keeps teaching most interesting — finding new ways to explain the same core concepts. I’ve never thought of telling a pitcher to drag the ball that way. But that day it seemed like the right thing to do.
For you coaches out there, never stop learning or finding new ways to teach. If what you’ve always said isn’t working, find a new way to say it. The more options you have, the better you’ll be able to help your players.
Recently I had the opportunity to see Cindy Bristow demonstrate the use of Zip Balls, a training aid she developed to help fastpitch softball players learn to pitch, hit and field better. It was at the NFCA Coaches College course on team practices; she was working with some D1 pitchers, and used the Zip Balls as part of the training.
I had seen Zip Balls advertised for a while, but wasn’t really sure if they would be worth it. I’m not big on gimmicks and gadgets, so I always tend to look at such things a bit skeptically. But I can tell you now from first-hand experience that they are definitely worth the investment.
If you’re not familiar with them, Zip Balls are little softballs. They are slightly larger than golf balls, with full seams and all, but they weigh as much as regular balls. It’s a little disconcerting the first time you pick them up.
The object of using them is to feel how the fingers are used on the ball. Because they’re so small you’re forced to use the finger pads to throw them.
I’ve used them with several different pitchers and have found them to be great for teaching all sorts of things. For example, with a beginner who was having trouble getting the feel of the basic motion, Zip Balls helped her learn to use her arm properly. With the small ball she was able to relax and lead her elbow then pull her hand through the release zone.
Where they really seemed to be effective, though, was with more experienced pitchers learning movement pitches. For some it was a matter of feeling how to position the hand properly. When Cindy demonstrated them she said to tell the pitcher to be very aware of what her hand is doing. It usually takes a few times before they can actually do it, but they do start feeling it.
With one of my most accomplished pitchers we were able to really sharpen her movement pitches, especially her curveball. She already had good break on her curve, but after using the Zip Ball it broke quicker, sharper and more dynamically.
If you purchase a dozen you also get a DVD that shows you more uses for Zip Balls. Most are pretty intuitive – you can use them for hitting, fielding, training catchers, etc. — but it’s worth a look anyway.
Zip Balls are definitely a good investment, especially for pitchers. Just one word of caution — they can get through the netting on typical batting cages very easily. If you’re using them indoors, be sure there’s a tarp so something behind the catcher or someone outside may get hurt!
Ok, this is a little self-serving, but I am now a Three Star Master Coach with the NFCA’s Coaches College, or NFCC. Not only is it an achievement on its own, but it also takes me 3/4 of the way toward full Four Star status.
If you’re not familiar with it, the NFCC is a college Masters degree-level program that delves in-depth into various aspects of coaching fastpitch softball. You receive one star for every two courses successfully completed, so obviously I have taken six of the eight courses.
Courses cover everything from the mechanics of pitching, hitting, throwing, etc. to offensive and defensive strategies (two separate courses, by the way), defensive techniques, strategies for game day coaching and more. The latest course for me was #406, Coaching Dynamic Team Practices.
For this course I flew down to Orlando, where I spent two days with about 60 other coaches, from D1 college down to 10U travel. The instructors were Carol Hutchins, Cindy Bristow (both NFCA Hall of Famers) and Carol Bruggeman (no doubt a future inductee). We did several hours of classroom work, and each day we were also outside for two hours watching the instructors run a couple of teams through a sample practice.
While what they did was interesting, it was really watching how they did it that was the most fascinating for me. You got a pretty good opportunity to see why they are where they are. The first day they worked with the Seminole State Junior College team, and the second day with D1 Central Florida University.
If you’re committed to being the best coach you can be, the NFCC is an awesome program to improve your knowledge and help you grow. It’s not cheap — I probably spent more than $1,000 when it was all said and done — but a very worthwhile investment for serious coaches.
Of course, earning Three Star status doesn’t give my team any extra runs to start the game. But it sure helps me feel like we’re preparing the best we can for competition. And it’s fun to be among so many other committed coaches.