Monthly Archives: January 2014

Solid softball mechanics a key to confidence

We talk a lot about the importance of confidence in softball – particularly for hitters, but in every aspect of the sport. There’s no doubt that it makes a difference.

But when it comes to ensuring our players have confidence, many are at a loss. There are plenty of tricks and techniques you can use to up the mental game. But there’s one that often gets ignored.

It’s good mechanics. The root cause of a lack of confidence is often uncertainty about one’s technique. If you’re not sure of what you’re doing, you’re very likely to become nervous and filled with self-doubt. On the other hand, if you’ve put in the work and believe you have good technique, you’re far more likely to be confident.

This is where quality instruction and quality practice come in. You want to learn good mechanics – the kind you see successful players use – from someone who knows how to teach it. But that’s only half the battle.

The other half is to work at it until you internalize it – in other words until you can do it without thinking about it. Those good mechanics should be as natural as breathing.

If you’ve put in the work, you’re far more likely to be confident. And if you’re confident you’ll perform. And if you perform you’ll be more confident. May the circle remain unbroken!

It doesn’t necessarily work immediately with everyone. But sooner or later it will. For those who have put in the work but are still uncertain (this especially happens with younger players), remind them that they HAVE put in the work and tell them to take that out onto the field with them.

It’s like they say in Remember the Titans – it’s like Novocain. Give it time, it always works.

The hitting sequence – hips, shoulders, bat

While this is nothing particularly revolutionary or even new for some, when it comes to softball hitting it can’t be emphasized enough. There is a very specific sequence or order for the movements in the swing: first come the hips, then the shoulders, then the bat.

The reason I bring it up is that it’s easy for players to slip back into old habits – ones that are hard notice unless you work with hitters all the time. Usually the hitters know the proper sequence as well. Yet there’s something about holding that bat in your hands that makes hitters want to get it going too early.

When I’m teaching lessons, sometimes I will see a player who normally hits with good power struggling to make strong contact. Upon closer examination, I’ll see that the shoulders are turning either along with the hips, or even slightly ahead of the hips. There is a certain look to the swing when the upper body is getting ahead, even by a little bit.

At that point, I will ask the hitters “what’s the sequence?” She’ll repeat it back: hips, shoulders, bat. Once she has everything going in the right order, the power returns and all is right with the world.

Getting the body parts moving in the right order is critical for quality at bats. Remember that sequence – hips, shoulders, bat. It absolutely makes a difference.

More on overuse injuries

A couple of posts ago I wrote about the problems of overuse injuries in youth sports, including fastpitch softball. It’s a phenomenon that’s growing, often due to a combination of specializing in one sport too early and not taking breaks.

Since that time I’ve found a couple of other articles that also talk about this issue. Both are from the Science Daily website. The first is this one, which quotes some sports medicine specialists who talk about the value of playing multiple sports.

The more interesting one to me, though, was this one, which says that nearly 30 percent of all college athlete injuries are a result of overuse. It goes on to say “a majority of overuse injuries (62 percent) occurred in females athletes, according to a new study published in the current edition of the Journal of Athletic Training, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association scientific publication.” And, it says, field hockey, softball, soccer and volleyball have the highest rates of overuse injuries.

Think about that. We’re not talking about young children anymore. These are collegiate athletes, many of whom are no doubt getting money for school in exchange for playing. Their muscles have matured, as have their bone structures – and their knowledge of their own bodies.

How does this happen? A big part of it is coaches driven to win because their jobs depend on it. They run drills over and over, and conduct extended practice sessions – as much as the NCAA rules will allow. They throw their #1 pitcher game after game, because of course the fastpitch pitching motion is “natural” and therefore requires no rest. Yeah, right.

The big problem is not just the injury itself according to the article. It’s also the toll it takes psychologically on the players. Once these overuse injuries occur, they can affect recovery time and performance.

We’re not talking about sore arms after the first practice. While that’s not a good thing, it can happen if your players aren’t in game shape. But they can recover quickly from these problems with a little rest. Overuse injuries tend to linger, though. And the more you over-use, the worse the issue gets.

If you’re a coach, it’s important to be aware of these risks. Conducting brutal four-hour practices may not be getting you where you want to go; it may be hurting you. Instead, try running two-hour practices that are more efficient in their use of time.

If you’re a parent and you’re seeing this type of injury in your daughter, don’t just sit idly by. Speak up. Show the coach some of these articles and let him/her know the risks. Because if you don’t and your daughter ends up unable to play, the coach will find someone else. The game must go on. In the meantime, your daughter will be watching from the sidelines. Perhaps in a sling.

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