Monthly Archives: February 2014
A while back I wrote about a computer-based visual training system called Vizual Edge Performance Trainer (VEPT) that helps fastpitch softball players (among others) improve their ability to see the ball. While it can apply to any part of the game, of course it’s particularly important to hitters. After all, the better you can see and track the ball, the better chance you have of hitting it.
At the time, much of the discussion was anecdotal. I had a couple of players who used it regularly and saw improvement in their performance at the plate, but that’s hardly a scientific sample.
Now there is more evidence. <A href="/files/55650-48775/MLB_VEPT.pdf”>This study investigated the relationship between improving visual skills and the hitting performance of 352 minor league baseball players who used VEPT during the 2013 season.
The results support the fact that players with higher VEPT scores also had higher batting averages, on-base percentages, on base plus slugging percentages and lower incidences of striking out. Who wouldn’t like to add 15 points to their batting average while having fun?
With the high school season coming up in many states in less than a month, and summer softball just around the corner, it’s not too early to start working on your vision. Check out the study, and if you like what you see (no pun intended) head on over to Vizual Edge.
Over the last couple of months I have become immersed in the health care field for my day job. (Yes, Virginia, I have a day job that isn’t softball-related. I actually work for a PR agency that specializes in health care and health care IT.)
One of the big things in health care these days is the idea of evidence-based medicine. You can look up the details with the link, but basically it’s the idea that instead of relying on the individual knowledge of physicians, those doctors should be referring to research and studies that draw conclusions from looking at large populations with similar conditions. In other words, instead of every doctor doing his/her own thing they’re trying to establish some standards based on looking at what large groups with that condition have in common.
Why am I telling you this? Because the same idea should apply to teaching softball skills. There are all kinds of ideas and teachings out there. Some are good, and some are not so good. Some can help players immensely, and others will get in the way of their success.
What instructors should be doing – and parents and players should definitely be doing with what instructors are teaching – is looking at the evidence to see if it supports what’s being taught. In this case, the evidence is what the best players in the world do when they’re playing.
These days there is ample video evidence out there. Google a player’s name, the skill and the word “video” and there’s a good chance you’ll see a long list of results. If you’re not looking for one specific player you can Google the skill and the word video, or look at the Model Swings and Model Pitching threads at the Discuss Fastpitch Forum. While not every example there is ideal, you can certainly see a lot of commonalities there. Another good source is the RightView Pro app for the iPad – you can download all kinds of model videos of top college/professional softball players as well as Major League Baseball Players.
No matter how much you like an instructor, no matter what great “credentials” that instructor may have, it’s important to compare what he/she is saying to what the best players in the world actually do. Look at the evidence – and if the evidence doesn’t match the treatment – run, don’t walk away from it.
Just as with medicine, the state of softball instruction is constantly changing. With high-speed video, and some very smart coaches constantly testing the conventional wisdom and learning – it continues to evolve and get better. You wouldn’t want your doctor using information from 20 years ago to treat a disease when there’s better information available; you shouldn’t want your softball instruction coming from 20 years ago either.
If you’re an instructor, get out there and look at the evidence. If you’re a parent or player do the same and make sure you’re learning what the evidence says is the best way to hit, field, pitch, whatever. It will be time well-spent.
Sliding is one of those softball skills that can be a problem for some players. Many who have the issue are afraid of getting hurt so they avoid it at all costs. That can be a problem in a game, where a good slide (versus running all the way to the base) can mean the difference between safe or out.
How do you get them to overcome that fear? Part of it is teaching them good technique. If they’re confident they won’t hurt themselves too badly they’ll be more likely to give it a try. Still, doing it in practice is one thing. Doing it in a game, well, that’s something else.
This fall I was working with a team that had several players who didn’t like to slide. That led me to create a game that not only gave them lots of practice but made it fun.
Of course, before we played the game we worked on basic technique. I took them into the outfield and had them take their cleats off. That was important so they wouldn’t catch a cleat and turn or break an ankle.
We set up two lines, with a base about 20 feet away. We went over the technique, stressing the importance of running full speed and then driving out instead of sitting straight down. That when on for 15 minutes or so, when everyone was at least giving it a try. Then we did a few other things before coming to the game.
For that, we set four or five bases spaced somewhat randomly, i.e. not in a square. Then it was basically a game of tag. The rules were simple.
One person was “it,” just as in regular tag. If you were standing on a base you were safe. But, and here’s the important part, only two people could be on a base at any given time. There were more than eight players, so that meant some were always off a base. You could run to a base to be safe, but in order to occupy it you had to slide. Once the “free” player slid in, one of the players who had been on the base had to get off. She could not come back to that base, but she could go to another. If the player didn’t slide, she wasn’t safe on the base and could be tagged. If a player was tagged by “it” she became the new “it.”
Once the element of competition was introduced, the players forgot their fear. They were so focused on not being it they were sliding freely and frequently. They were also laughing and having fun. It was great conditioning too – they were huffing and puffing after all the running.
I was told it translated into their next game – a couple of players who hadn’t been willing to slide before did it – and were safe.
If you have players who don’t like to slide give this game a try. I think you’ll like the results.
Now it’s your turn. Have you had any players who didn’t like sliding? What did you do to help them?