Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Way It Ought To Be

The other night when I got out to my fastpitch softball lessons I had a pleasant surprise waiting for me. My first lesson was with a high school senior pitcher, and her high school coach was there to observe.

I couldn’t have been more pleased! All too often it seems the relationship between private coaches and team coaches – either in high school or travel ball – is contentious. I’m not sure why but it’s not uncommon. Fastpitch pitching

It’s much smarter for there to be a sense of cooperation. Private coaches work with players on an individual basis far more than a team coach ever will have the time for. They teach specific skills and learn what cues trigger performance and success for those players.

If the player (or her parents) have chosen wisely, that player comes onto the team with an advanced skillset built over many hours of practice. At the same time, there will be players who have put little effort into learning their skills. That is where the team coach can make a difference. Focusing their limited time on raising the skill levels of those players will pay the best dividends. Because, of course, the chain will only be as strong as its weakest links.

In this particular case, I invited the coach into the cage with us so he could hear the instruction and ask questions if he had any. He brought his iPad in with him and shot video as we went along. I periodically asked if he had any questions, and he had the opportunity to see how I interacted with my student/his player.

It was a very pleasant half hour. I left the coach with an open invitation to come back any time. Kudos to the pitcher’s parents for setting it up, incidentally.

Of course, it’s easy for me to take this position as a private coach. But I have also experienced it from the other side. While I wasn’t able to attend an actual lesson, when I was a team coach and had pitchers who were not my students, I would contact their pitching coaches to learn what to look out for, what cues they used and what they were teaching those pitchers. It may not have been what I taught, but that’s ok. I wanted to work with what they had learned and what they were supposed to be doing rather than trying to re-make according to what I teach.

Presumably, everyone – team coach, private coach, parents and the player – want the same thing. They want the pitcher to be successful. Working together is far more likely to make that happen than constant territorial battles.

Video like an MRI for coaches

After experiencing the healthcare system myself not long ago and having my wife take a visit to the ortho yesterday, I had a realization today. When doctors are trying to diagnose a joint injury they will talk to the patient, try a few manipulations and overall eyeball the problem. More often than not, though, they will send the patient for an MRI to see what they can’t observe with the naked eye.

The coaching equivalent is video. No matter how much experience a coach has, there’s nothing like being able to slow things down and take an in-depth look at a pitch, a swing, a throw, a fielding play or some other technique. And these days it’s easier than ever.

When I first started coaching, shooting and analyzing video meant hooking a handheld video camera on a tripod up to a laptop. If you were planning to shoot video throughout the day or evening, it also mean running an extension cord to a power strip. If you wanted to change angles it could take a few minutes to get everything set up again.

Nowadays all you need is a smartphone or tablet and an app, such as Coach’s Eye, RVP or Ubersense. You can shoot the video, run it back and forth in slow motion and even draw lines, measure angles and perform other actions. And with the advances in the devices, you can shoot at high frames per second rates that make everything very clear and easily visible.

Over the last few days I’ve used my new iPhone 6 and Coach’s Eye to do some valuable analysis – and show the players what we’re looking to do. They weren’t big mechanical issues, but instead the small details that make the difference between good and great. We were also able to see all the things they’re doing right, which was a feelgood. Like the MRI, it exposes things you may not see otherwise – and share them with the player.

Being able to show rather than tell can be incredibly valuable, especially for younger players who may be more visual than audible learners. Showing them what they’re doing often helps them understand what you’re trying to describe as a coach. With modern technology, you can do it instantly – which is what every study of coaching will tell you is most effective.

Doctors love their MRIs. Coaches should love their video apps. They can really help shortcut the learning experience for your players.

Pitching, conditioning and mental toughness all in one drill

First of all, let me admit that I haven’t actually used this drill yet. But I was thinking about it the other day and thought it might be a good idea for that softball pitcher who wants to take her game to the infamous “next level.” I have a few girls in mind who I think would benefit from it.

Here are the basics. The pitcher throws a pitch as per usual. It can be any pitch – fastball, change, drop, whatever. After she throws it, rather than the catcher throwing it back the pitcher sprints to the catcher, the catcher hands her the ball, and the pitcher sprints back to the pitching rubber.

Once she is back she can follow her usual routine to throw the next pitch. You don’t want to rush that and risk poor mechanics.

Continue until the pitcher is winded – or maybe one more pitch beyond that.

This drill will do several things. Obviously, it will help the pitcher with conditioning and building up her endurance in a sport-specific way. Pitching is basically a one-step sprint. Having the pitcher sprint down and sprint back (rather than conditioning with long runs) will help encourage that quick burst and quick recovery. It will also help her build length strength to drive off quicker and more powerfully.

It will also help the pitcher gain experience with pitching when she’s tired. All too often in lessons or practice sessions the pitcher goes for a half hour and is done. It’s not too tough to maintain good mechanics in that timeframe, especially if there are water breaks or chats in-between.

But in a game, or especially at a tournament, fatigue can set in quickly. If the pitcher isn’t used to pitching through it she can struggle. Her mechanics can break down and she’ll be doing anything she can to chuck the ball at the plate. Including things that could hurt her physically. But if she learns to pitch through fatigue in a controlled environment she’ll be much better prepared for the afternoon or evening of the last day of a tournament.

Finally, it will help her mental game, showing her that she can push past her normal breaking point and learn to focus even when she’s sucking wind. Especially if, as you should, you insist that her control, speed and movement remain consistent no matter how tired she gets.

Now, this is not the sort of thing I would recommend for every practice session. But every now and then – maybe once a week if she’s practicing regularly – it can make a huge difference.

If you want to give your pitcher a good workout, especially after the holidays as many are preparing for the high school season or the summer, give this drill a try. And be sure to let me know how it goes.

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