Monthly Archives: April 2015

Beware of an over-reliance on gimmicks

You see them everywhere – in magazines, on websites, in YouTube videos and everywhere else fastpitch softball folks look for information. “They” are all the devices that promise to make your players better.

I call them “gimmicks” because often times that’s how they’re presented. The impression you’re given is that for $29.95 (plus shipping & handling), or $79.95 or $249.95 you can buy better performance. Gang, I can tell you that it just ain’t so.

I’m not saying these devices can’t help. Many of them can be useful in the right hands. But in order for yours to be the right hands, you first need to understand how a particular skill needs to be performed, and to a reasonably deep level.

A favorite example of mine comes from tryouts a few years ago. Three other coaches and I were observing pitching tryouts for a 16U team. One of the other coaches had a device that measures the spin rate of the ball and was using it to measure the revolutions per second of a pitcher’s curve ball.

“Ooooh” one of them exclaimed as a pitcher threw a pitch. “21.” “22.” And so on. They were all so focused on the device and what it supposedly told them that not a single one of them was watching the actual pitch.  If they had, they would’ve noticed that the “curve ball” was spinning pretty close to 12 to 6 (fastball or drop ball spin) and wasn’t moving at all. Even down.

By the standards of the device, this pitcher was throwing an awesome curve. But in the real world, she wasn’t even throwing a decent one. And last time I checked, hitters hit pitches thrown in the real world.

As an instructor I see this all the time. Some coaches have an entire bag full of gimmicks, and they just move from one to the next. Especially hitting coaches for some reason. Some I’ve seen just love to bring out the devices.

But if you don’t understand what you’re trying to achieve, the effectiveness of the device is pretty much wasted at worst, or randomly effective at best. It’s like plopping down $300 for the world’s best hammer when what you really need is a $3 screwdriver.

If you really want to help your players/daughter(s) improve you don’t need a duffel bag full of stuff. At least not right away. Instead, first take the time to learn how those skills should be performed. Study college games on TV. Look for video on the Internet. Invest in DVDs and books. Attend training seminars/coaches clinics where an accomplished coach with a history of success breaks down the skill in detail. Go to http://www.discussfastpitch.com and read the discussions there. In other words, first seek out information.

Once you have a feel for what the skill should look like, and how it should be executed, you’ll be in a better position to decide which devices can really help you teach those skills and make improvements in your players and which ones will end up sitting on a shelf on in a duffel bag in your garage collecting dust.

What makes me say that? I have my own collection of devices that I bought when I started coaching, hoping to find the magic one. Some were worthwhile, many were not. The more I learned, the better I was able to see which ones might be helpful and which ones would be relegated to the Island of Misfit Softball Toys.

That goes for choosing a coach too, whether it’s a private instructor or a team coach. Someone who’s pulling out gimmick after gimmick instead of having your daughter work on actual pitching, hitting, fielding, throwing or whatever skill it is she’s trying to learn may not be your best choice. Devices are no substitute for knowledge.

Ultimately the value of a device goes up in direct proportion to your understanding what you’re trying to accomplish with it. Become competent at that first and you’ll make better decisions on how to spend the rest of your cash.

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A lesson for softball pitchers everywhere

Today after teaching some lessons I came home and settled in front of the TV to watch a couple of college games. First was Arizona and Oregon State, followed by UCLA and Oregon. (Gotta love the PAC12 network.)

Anytime I have a chance to watch college teams on TV is a good day. But this day was particularly interesting, and not just for the games themselves. It had to do with the number of pitchers I had a chance to watch.

You see, when I first got involved in softball, the standard was pretty much each team had an Ace, and they road that arm for better or for worse. I’m sure top teams had other pitchers, but you rarely saw them or even heard their names mentioned.

Today, however, there was an opportunity to see several pitchers. In the first game Arizona ended up winning 22-2. Oregon State went to the bullpen a couple of times trying to put a stop to the pain. Then in the second game, both UCLA and Oregon used three different pitchers (and UCLA brought back their starter) in a game Oregon finally won 6-4.

Entertaining as it was, it also provided a good lesson to young pitchers (and their parents): everyone has a tough day now and then.

It’s easy to forget that sometimes. A young pitcher walks a couple of hitters, or gives up a few hits, and it’s easy for her to get discouraged. Or for her parents to get upset with her. (You hear parents yelling “c’mon!” at youth games all the time.) I’ve seen pitchers reduced to tears as a result of a tough outing.

Then you watch today’s games. Plenty of walks (including runs walked in), a couple of hit by pitches, and some pretty big hits. Arizona alone hit two grand slams, and hit for the home run cycle – solo, 2-run and 3-run on top of the grand slams. The second game had plenty of struggles on both sides as well.

I’m pretty sure every pitcher who took the circle is getting all or at least much of her college education at major institutions paid for. Theoretically they’re among the best in the country. Yet there they were – walking hitters, hitting batters, serving up meatballs.

And there’s the lesson. It happens to everyone. While you never want to be in that position, sooner or later you probably will. You just need to pick yourself up and remember it’s not the end of the world. Instead, go back out the next time and do better.

And if you’re a parent, try not to live and die by every pitch. You could end up dying a thousand times. Instead, remember your daughter is still learning, and will have bad days now and then. Keep today’s pitchers in mind and give your daughter a break. As long as she keeps working she’ll be okay. The faster you can help her put it behind her, the better off she’ll be.

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