Monthly Archives: January 2015

Ground balls v. line drives

For many of you this is probably old news. But I still hear it enough from my students and other players I know that it bears repeating. When it comes to hitting, the goal should not be a ground ball. It should be a line drive.

Back in the day, when the ball was white with white seams, college and HS age pitchers stood 40 feet away, fielders weren’t as athletic through the field, bats were made out of basic low-grade aluminum and hitters taking lessons were few and far between, ground balls were the goal. Well, to be honest putting it in play was the goal.

A lot of games wound up 1-0 or 2-1, so anything you could do to get the bat on the ball was acceptable. Hitting a ground ball stood you a good chance of getting on base too because many of the fielders didn’t have the range or arms that today’s players do. All you had to do was sneak it through and you were on base.

Not so today. Athletes of today, as a whole, train harder. They are bigger, stronger, faster. In nearly 20 years of coaching I’ve seen a definite upgrade in that area. So what used to get you on base back in the 1990s will probably get you thrown out today.

Then there’s the bat technology. They have big sweet spots with trampoline effects. If you time it just right, even a checked swing could end up going deep. That may be an exaggeration but not a big one. Better bats plus hitters who train as seriously in the off-season as pitchers do have had a huge impact on the game.

And that’s why your best strategy is a line drive – preferably one that finds a gap, although you can’t control that. A rising line drive that clears the fence is even better. Basically, why settle for one base when you can get two, or three – or four?

You don’t want to swing down on the ball. You don’t want to pound it into the ground. Instead, you want to get a little under it, get a little lift, and drive it hard into the outfield. That’s the way to win in today’s game.

Oh, and what about fly balls? That depends. If you can hit them 210 feet on a field with a 200 foot fence they’re perfectly fine. If you’re hitting them 180 feet, best to try to bring them down a bit unless the winning run is on third with less than two outs.

That’s my take on it. What about yours? Coaches, are you still stuck on ground balls or are you encouraging more line drives? Players, what are your coaches looking for out of you at the plate?

 

Softball instructors are like Google Maps for players

A recent series of discussions on the Discuss Fastpitch Forum has been debating the need for or value of private instructors. Perhaps the best way to explain what private instructors bring is to liken them to using Google Maps. (FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a private instructor myself, so naturally I am a little biased on the topic.)Google Map

Let’s say you live in Cleveland and you decide you want to drive to Omaha. How are you going to get there? One way to do it is to hop in your car, point it west, start driving and hope for the best. You’ll probably get there sooner or later, but odds are it will take you longer than if you had used one of the other choices.

Another option is to pull out a paper Atlas (like we used to in the old days) and map out your route on paper. That will be better than just randomly driving, but for best results you need to be pretty good at reading maps. Not everyone is. If you misinterpret the map, or the roads have changed since your Atlas was printed, you could end up getting lost. (Think Clark Griswold in the first Vacation movie.) If you do lose your way, you may not even realize it for a while, in which case it will probably take a bit of backtracking to get you back on the right road.

Then there is using Google Maps (or your mapping application of choice). You can plug in your starting point and destination and the entire route will be laid out for you step-by-step. If you’re using a PC you can print it out and take it with you, without all the extraneous information that is in an Atlas. If you’re using it on your smartphone, a pleasant voice will guide you turn-by-turn to your destination, with easy-to-read visuals along with it. If you happen to make a wrong turn anyway, or the roads have changed, Google Maps will recognize you’re heading in the wrong direction and immediately guide you back to where you need to be.

Those are the things a private instructor will do as well. You don’t absolutely need one to get to where you’re going, but like Google Maps an instructor will help you get there faster.

A private instructor will lay out a good foundation using techniques, drills and cues that have proven successful before – but adjust to the specific needs of the player. The instructor will offer that same sort of turn-by-turn guidance that helps players stay on the path to success rather than wandering off into dead ends. If something gets “off” due to any of a dozen reasons, the instructor will help guide the player back onto the right path.

This isn’t just for beginners, either. Even accomplished players need a little help now and then. Every professional team has position coaches and instructors who are there to help players improve their games and overcome problems. When Tiger Woods was at the top of the golf world, he still had a swing coach who worked with him to help him stay there.

In his book The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle lists the three essential elements to achieving excellence. One is motivation, and another practice. But the third is coaching. Not that the coach has any special magic to offer. But because the coach can help make sure that players spend their time practicing the right things in the right way rather than trying to feel their way through the process.

Again, it’s not for everyone. If you’re just planning to drive around your own neighborhood you don’t need Google Maps – or at least you shouldn’t. But if your goals are to get out into the larger world, you might want to have a guide by your side.

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