Monthly Archives: December 2015

Some resolutions for 2016

It’s that time of year again. The time when we all get a little reflective and start thinking about how we can become better versions of ourselves in the coming year.

Perhaps we’re thinking it’s time to get serious about losing weight, which is always a popular theme. As a meme going around Facebook right now says, I’ve started on my plan by getting rid of all the bad-for-you food in my house, and it was delicious.

Or it could be to stop smoking or some other unhealthy habit, or to exercise more, get a new job or clean the house once a week instead of letting everything pile up until family is coming over. There are lots of things you can resolve.

That applies to softball as well. To help you get started, here are a few suggestions for resolutions you can make to help you become a better coach or player:

  • Resolve to learn something new. Take a skill you’re sure you already have down and seek out new information about it. Or look for things you weren’t aware of before. If you’re a coach, learn new offensive or defensive strategies.You’re either moving forward or falling behind. Get out there and learn.
  • Resolve to stay more in the present. The current buzzword for this is “mindfulness.” Google is offering classes on it on its campus, and other schools are teaching it as well. It’s a form of meditation that helps you block out distractions and worries so you can focus on the present, reduce stress and keep control of your feelings. In softball, you can only hit, pitch, throw, catch, etc. one ball at a time. Play the game one pitch at a time and it becomes far easier. This book can help you learn to do it more effectively.
  • Resolve to enjoy the game more. Most people get involved in fastpitch softball because they love to compete. But sometimes in the desire to compete we forget that at the end of the day it’s a game, and games are supposed to be fun. (I know I definitely fall into this category.) Remind yourself from time to time to just enjoy the beautiful day, and the opportunity to spend time with so many great people. Smile more, especially in tense situations, and be glad your biggest worry at the moment is whether you’ll get on base instead of whether you’ll be able to find food or clean water. The days, weekends and even the seasons may seem long, but believe me the career is short.
  • Resolve to put people first. If you’re a player, try to help those players who may be struggling. We’re not all given the same athletic gifts, or the same opportunities to learn, so it may seem like some players are dragging the team down due to lack of ability. If that’s the case, and they’re willing to get better, help them out instead of complaining. If you’re a coach, remember that kids don’t sign up to play ball so they can get a closer seat. They sign up to play. Be willing to sacrifice a few Ws to ensure all your players have a great experience. Besides, you never know who might develop. Pro sports are filled with undrafted players who outshine the top prospects once someone lets them on the field.
  • Resolve to follow the rules – even if you don’t like them. This is part of respecting the game. If you are a pitcher who leaps (or coach one who does), work on stopping it. Don’t block the baseline (obstruction) just because you think the umpire won’t call it. Don’t throw a hard tag on a baserunner with the intent to injure them because you don’t think you’ll get caught. Know the rules and follow them. They’re there to make the game safe and fair for everyone.
  • Resolve to respect the umpires. Again, you may not always agree with them, but it is a tough job. There will always be a few bad apples, but 99% of umpires are doing the best they can, and are out there game after game because they love the sport. Here’s another hint: just about every umpire could care less about the outcome of the game, i.e., who wins. So they’re not making calls to screw you over, no matter what you may think.
  • Resolve to practice better. Notice I didn’t say “more.” That may be a part of it. But practicing better means being focused and productive for whatever time you dedicate to it. As a player, instead of just knocking balls off a tee to fulfill a time requirement, use that time to improve your swing. If you’re a catcher, use the time you’re spending catching for the team’s pitchers as an opportunity to work on your framing, blocking and other skills too. Be present, know what you’re working on and why. If you’re a coach, work to increase the number of touches each player gets while eliminating downtime or standing around time for each. Small groups doing multiple things often work better than one big group doing the same thing.
  • Resolve to say “thank you.” Those may be the two most powerful words in the English language. Players, thank your coaches after a practice session, game or tournament. Coaches, thank your players and parents for their dedication, help, support, etc. Everyone thank the umpires. If a tournament director does a great job, thank him/her and the staff, and let others know what a great tournament they ran.
  • Resolve to take better care of your equipment. Clean helmets, bats and catcher’s gear. Throw a little conditioner on gloves/mitts, and keep a ball in them. Avoid throwing your equipment when you get angry. Take care of your equipment and it will take care of you.

Those are some good starting points. What did I miss? What are you resolving to do for 2016? And oh, have a Happy New Year!

History of pitch speed measurement

We tend to take pitch speed measurement for granted today. It’s a common sight at MLB games, and TV coverage of women’s college softball  and even Little League softball often displays the speed of evScouteeery pitch – sometimes accurately, sometimes not so much.

At the local level, speed measurement with radar guns used to be pretty much limited to pitching coaches who could afford a Jugs or Stalker gun. But the introduction of several new quality products over the past few years, such as the Glove Radar and Pocket Radar/Ball Coach, has put it into the hands of the average bucket dad or mom. Whether that’s good or bad remains to be seen.

But it wasn’t always that way, as this article from the Scoutee blog points out. (Scoutee is another new radar-based speed measurement product that in this case works with a smartphone. What will they think of next?)

Back in the day they tried all kinds of crazy set-ups and devices to measure pitch speed, including having a pitcher throw as a motorcycle raced by at 86 mph. The article provides a pretty comprehensive description of the search to accurately measure speed.

Be glad you live in the times you do. It’s far easier to annoy your daughter or players with speed measurements than it used to be!

Different throws for different positions

The other day as I was getting ready to start teaching a catching clinic I was watching the participants as they warmed up to throw. It was clear that they had been taught the old rhyme, “Thumb to the thigh, raise it to the sky, wave bye bye.” Throwing

That’s fine as an early teaching tool, or for outfielders who need a big arm circle to throw far. But for many positions that same motion is a time waster.

Once players get their basic throwing motions down, it is important to start making adjustments based on position. As a rule of thumb, the closer a player starts to home, the shorter the arm circle should be.

Clearly, catchers will have (and need) the shortest arm circles. The most they have to throw is 84 feet, 10.25 inches (home to second), and when they do it they usually have about 2 seconds or less to make that throw. Dropping the thumb to the thigh takes up way too much of those 2 seconds.

Instead, they should bring the almost (but not quite) straight back, making a very small arm circle that dips down and then comes up quickly before throwing – all in one continuous motion. That last part is very important, as any hesitation at all gives the runner more time to get to the base.

Infielders will likely have a little larger circle, although part of that depends on whether they are moving toward or away from the base they’re throwing to. A shortstop going into the hole, for example, will need a larger arm circle to make the long throw. The same shortstop moving in and to her left will make a quick release.

Third or first basement fielding a bunt will also have a minimal arm circle, trading that extra power for a faster release. Generally they’re a little stronger and can put some zip on the ball without too much circle.

But it can’t be a straight pullback either – what I call a Katniss Everdeen throw because it looks like you’re firing a bow and arrow. A small arm circle will provide the action/reaction needed to get the ball there quickly.

Once you understand this, it’s important to have players practice these throws. Which means they may need to consciously work on different types of throws during warmups if they play different positions. For example, a catcher who also plays outfield may want to start with a full motion to loosen up, switch to a catcher throw around 60 feet, then go back to a longer motion if you’re extending it further.

The more they understand the different types of throws, the better they’ll be able to execute them in the games – and the better chance you’ll have of getting more outs. Especially on close plays.

Do you have your players work on different types of throws by position? If so, has it helped? Anything you wish your players did differently?

Like Riding A Bike

Girl riding bike

People often use the phrase “it’s like riding a bike” To refer to how easy it is to pick up a skill again when you’ve been away from it for a while. When it comes to softball training, however, there’s another use.

Players will often get impatient with themselves when they don’t pick up a skill right away. Pitchers will be wild when trying a new pitch). Hitters will swing and miss while working on improving their swings, or hit a popup or soft dribbler. Catchers will go for a block only to have the ball go between their legs. Lots of different things can happen.

When they do, I will often ask if they can ride a bike. I have yet to run into one who can’t. I’ll ask them if they have to think about how to ride a bike. They always respond no.

Then I ask them if it was always that way. What happened when they first took off the training wheels? Usually mom or dad held onto the seat and ran behind them until they were ready to take a few tentative pedals on their own.

Eventually, though, they figured it out. And once they did, they probably never gave it much thought again.

The same goes for softball skills. At first they can be difficult, and require a lot of thought (as well as a lot of trial and error). The success rate may be fairly low. But the more they do it, and really go after it, the less they will have to think (or worry) about it.

It’s a thought that seems to resonate. They know there were scraped knees and elbows at first on the bike, but today the only remarkable thing would be if they fell off.

When players get frustrated, remind them of their experience riding a bike. It might help them get back on track.

How do you help players learn patience while they’re learning a new skill? Any tips or tricks you’ve found helps them understand?

ASA finally eliminates the helmet chin strap

In case you haven’t already heard, the Amateur Softball Association has finally eliminated the rule requiring fastpitch softball players to use a chin strap on their helmets at all levels of Junior Olympic play. If you’re not up on their lingo that basically means everything from 18U on down. The new rule takes effect January 1, 2016.

All I can say is it’s about time. Someone from ASA must have finally gone out to a game or two and seen how silly the rule was. While there probably were a few, I can’t recall ever seeing any player in the last few years who had the chin strap snugged up on her chin in a manner that would keep her helmet on.

Most times, they were sagging well below the chin line, like a bunting on the Fourth of July. If the helmet came off, the player was probably in more danger of being choked by the chin strap than being hit in the head with an errant throw.

Probably wouldn’t hurt to keep the chin strap in your bag just in case you run into a tournament or organization that still requires them. But it’s good that this rule, at least, has finally caught up to reality.

By the way, ASA is also now allowing hitters to use on-deck hitters to use either on-deck circle. That’s great, because it’s always been a safety issue.

Maybe not in Oklahoma City or other areas where big tournaments are held. They have plenty of distance between the on-deck hitter and the plate.

But in community ballparks all across the US, and I’m sure other countries as well, often times the next hitter up is about 10-15 feet away from getting slammed with a foul ball.

Many tournaments already allowed it anyway as a local rule. But now it’s official – on-deck hitters can warm up behind the current batter, no matter which bench their team is occupying.

Glad to see both of these rules enacted, even if it should’ve happened a long time ago. Better late than never.

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