Monthly Archives: November 2015

The “Whiplash” effect on greatness

I know this may be hard to believe for anyone who knows me personally, but apparently I was a little behind in my movie watching because I just saw the movie “Whiplash” on cable. Released in 2014, it was the winner of three Academy Awards Whiplashearlier this year, including one for J.K. Simmons as the brutal band director.

If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a capsule description from IMDB:

A promising young drummer enrolls at a cut-throat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by an instructor who will stop at nothing to realize a student’s potential.

And by “stop at nothing” they mean he screams at, berates and humiliates the musicians playing for him without pause, prejudice or mercy. It’s fascinating (although sometimes difficult) to watch, especially Simmons’ performance. Be warned he drops F-bombs the way ET drops Reese’s Pieces – as though he needs them to find his way back to his music stand.

So why am I talking about a movie about a jazz band in a fastpitch softball blog? Because Simmon’s character Fletcher is less like a band director and more like many youth sports coaches we see out on the field. I played in bands through high school and never ran across anyone even remotely like him.

Understand in the movie his methods work. The fictional Shafer Conservatory #1 jazz band is the top jazz band in the country. Not sure if they’d work in the real world, but that’s kind of the point of this post.

At one point Fletcher is talking to the young drummer (Andrew, played by Miles Teller) he browbeat and ultimately threw out of the band when the two run into each other at a jazz club where Fletcher is performing on piano. He explains his methodology essentially by saying no one ever achieved greatness by being told “good job.”

For support he points to a story about jazz great Charlie “Bird” Parker having a cymbal thrown at him during a performance by Jo Jones. (According to IMDB’s trivia section that didn’t actually happen. Jones dropped the cymbal, essentially “gonging” Parker off the stage.) Fletcher then says Parker could’ve quit right there, but instead the incident drove him on to become a great. That’s what Fletcher says he is trying to do for his students – even literally throwing a cymbal at Andrew at one point.

So here’s the question: is Fletcher right? Is the only way to push someone to achieve greatness to abuse them until they either sink or swim? If it’s not the only way, is it the best way? Or even an acceptable way? Can people achieve greatness through encouragement and supportive behavior rather than abuse, or does it hold them back?

Me personally, I don’t believe it requires abuse. Do you need to set high standards? Yes, absolutely. I hate hearing “good job” when something clearly wasn’t. But you don’t have to be abusive to have high standards.

That’s just me, though. What do you think?

Great article from Cindy Bristow on pitch calling

Just had to share this article from Cindy Bristow at Softball Excellence. It’s about the four biggest mistakes you can make when calling pitches.

Cindy really hits the nail on the head! No surprise there – she’s brilliant. And very realistic when it comes to the subtleties of coaching fastpitch softball.

I have certainly seen all of the mistakes she mentions made at one time or another. The first two in particular – not knowing your pitcher’s capabilities overall and THAT DAY, and calling YOUR favorite pitches instead of the pitcher’s best ones.

One major example was what happened to a former student of mine when she went to pitch in college. The team’s pitching coach (who was maybe a second-year coach) didn’t seem too interested in helping the pitcher become the best she could be. Instead, it was almost like she went out of her way to make her look bad.

The two biggest mistakes were 1) not calling the girl’s best pitch (a dynamite curveball) because the coach preferred screwballs and 2) calling almost nothing but screwballs, thereby making the pitches predictable. This pitcher had a great screwball too, and could survive on it for a couple of inning. But after a steady diet of them college hitters figured out if they backed off the plate a little bit they could feast on them.

And even then the PC wouldn’t call a curve, or a rise, or change, or a drop. Instead she’d let her get pounded, then have the coach take her out because “she wasn’t effective.”

I don’t know of any pitcher anywhere who can throw the same pitch time after time and be effective. Even the greats mix it up. But when you insist on making a pitcher one-dimensional it doesn’t take long for good hitters to make them look bad.

Absolutely check out this article, if for no other reason than to make sure you (or your PC) isn’t falling into one of these traps. And be sure to sign up for Cindy’s newsletter while you’re there. Tons of great information lands right in your email every couple of weeks.

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