Monthly Archives: May 2014

Take one extra moment

This is always a bittersweet time in the softball world. On the one hand, you have the excitement of post-school season tournaments, the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work in college and many high schools.

At the same time, you also have the ends of careers. High school seniors who play in the spring and who don’t plan to play in college (or the summer) are looking at their last high school games. College players who aren’t going pro, or playing in a women’s fastpitch league, are also getting ready to hang up their spikes – or more accurately leave them at home plate.

For both groups, it’s been a lot of years of going to practices, playing games, working on skills, rinse and repeat. Those who played travel ball also had endless summer weekends where they spent all day at the ballfield, then went back and crashed at a budget-rate hotel only to get up early and do it again. It all sort of runs together after a while.

But now, it’s coming to an end. That’s probably difficult to fathom – the end. Most probably haven’t processed yet what it really means. Sure, they know no more practices, putting up with angry coaches or the drama that often seems to accompany team sports. But it also means that they will no longer be doing something that once came as naturally as breathing.

Sure, they can join a local summer league and play slow pitch. But it’s not quite the same. The speed and competitiveness that comes with school or travel ball just won’t be there. It’s the difference between looking at a photo of the Mona Lisa and actually standing in front of it.

So to all those who are about to play their final games I have this bit of advice. When the last out is recorded and your fastpitch career is done, don’t just pack up your gear and rush to your cars. Take a moment to drink it all in.

Savor the sights, the sounds, and many of the smells of the field. Look at your well-worn glove, or the nicks and scuffs on your batting helmet. Take a good look at your teammates, and think of all those you played with in the past – especially when you were little and just trying to figure out what to do and where to go.

If there isn’t another game starting right away, walk out on the field once last time as a fastpitch player and look around. Think about all the good times you had, and all that you accomplished throughout your career. Because once you leave the field, you’ll never quite be the same.

And that’s true even if you plan to coach. A coach’s perspective is very different than a player’s. You’re a part of the team, but you’re still separate from it.

As they say in the movie Moneyball, we’re all told someday we can no longer play this game. We just don’t always realize what that means.

Be proud of what you did, and know that it was part of something special. Someday you’ll be glad you took those few extra minutes to realize how special it was.


Softball hitting: being early to be late

In the past I’ve written about the need to get your front foot down on time when hitting. It’s critical to ensuring you can drive through the ball, because if you’re late you end up defending against the ball instead of attacking it. Which is pretty common, especially when the pitcher can really bring it. 

But there’s another phenomenon that can affect the timing on hitting. I call it “early to be late.” What that means is the hitter loads too soon, then gets “stuck” (usually on the back side) waiting before making a positive move. At which point she winds up making the positive move too late, the front foot gets down too late, and the swing is late. 

Usually when the swing is late you assume the hitter started too late. If that were true the solution would be to start sooner. But in the “early to be late” situation, starting sooner will only make the problem worse. 

What ends up happening is a loss of momentum that slows you down. Think about hitting a nail with a hammer. If you want to hit it hard, you start with the hammer close to nail, pull the hammer up then bring it down immediately. It all happens in one continuous motion. 

Now think about what would happen if you started with the hammer in the same place, pulled it up and then paused before bringing it down. There would be a loss of power. 

It all has to do with physics and Newton’s laws of motion. The purpose of the load (of the hitter or the hammer) is to break inertia. You know – a body at rest tends to remain at rest, and a body in motion tends to remain in motion. Getting the swing started requires a lot of energy to be expended just to get going. That’s basically energy that can’t be applied to the swing if you swing from a standing start. But if you load first, you can come off of that and have more energy to put into the swing. 

That all requires you to be in continuous motion, however. If you load and stop, you haven’t gained anything. You’re just starting a static swing from further back. In other words you moved back, but when you stopped all the advantage you gained by loading stopped with it. Now you have to expend energy to get going again; you’re slower, and despite the fact that you started early you wind up being late. 

So what’s the adjustment? It’s actually changing your timing to start a little later so you can remain in continuous motion throughout the swing. You want a smooth swing, not a herky-jerky motion with stops and starts. 

Normally this is an adjustment you need to make with pitchers who are a little slower than you’re used to. If you start at the same time as you do on a faster pitcher you’ll be early and you’ll get stuck. 

I’ve used the phrase “early to be late” with a number of hitters and it’s helped them to understand how to make the adjustment. If you (or one of your players) is late on slower pitchers, give it a try. 
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