Monthly Archives: April 2016
Quick tip on helping pitchers get whip
One of the keys to achieving maximum speed for a fastpitch pitcher is getting whip at the end – the sudden acceleration where the lower arm goes flying past a stable upper arm as you go into release (sometimes referred to as internal rotation). A quick survey of videos of top pitchers actually pitching in games will confirm that’s how they do it.
To make that happen, however, young pitchers must do something that makes no real logical sense to them. They must forget about (or at least quit worrying about) the ball.
Because when they are thinking about the ball, they have a tendency to try to get it to come through too early so they can guide it. As a result, at the most crucial point of the pitch where the ball should be trailing the upper arm, it instead starts to lead through.
That’s easy to say and maybe even do for an adult. We think differently. For a young player, especially one under age 14, they may understand what you’re saying consciously, but their subconscious mind is still more focused on making sure the ball goes where it’s supposed to go (especially if they’re being told to “just throw strikes”), and nothing feels like you’re in control like bringing the ball through first.
There are lots of ways to express explain what you want. But one that worked recently for me was simplicity itself: bring the ball through last. No talk of bending elbows, or rotating your arm this way or that, or making other complex movements. Just bring the ball through last.
Here’s why I think it works. If the pitcher is thinking of bringing the ball through last, she has to put her arm in a position where that can happen. That action naturally creates a little elbow bend. The idea of bringing the ball through last also helps separate the lower arm from the upper arm, giving the lower arm the opportunity to accelerate as it comes through.
That doesn’t mean it will accelerate automatically. You may have to encourage the pitcher to achieve that acceleration. But at least she’ll be in a position to make that happen.
There is one caveat to all of this: this tip won’t work if you’re telling the pitcher to turn the ball back toward second base and push it down the back side of the circle – an action which no high-level pitcher actually performs. If the pitcher is doing that the arm is going to come through all at once and there will be no opportunity for that extra bump of speed that comes with the whip.
If, however, she is learning to keep the ball facing forward/up or toward third base on the back side of the circle, lead the upper arm/elbow down, and then whip at the end, it will work. Or at least it has on the girls I’ve used it on.
If you’re facing that issue of the upper arm slowing down too soon and the ball leading through the finish, give this one a try. And let me know if it works for you too.
How NOT to act when you’re the pitcher
I was out watching a high school softball game today (as I often like to do) on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. It was a well-played game overall, with a few good hits and some excellent defensive gems as well.
There was one thing I saw, however, that kind of bothered me. First let me set the scene.
The home team was in the field, and was trailing by a few runs. The visitors had a couple of runners on base. Bases may have even been loaded – I usually don’t pay that much attention to the specifics.
The pitcher threw a pitch and the hitter turned on it, driving a sharp two-hopper between the shortstop and third baseman and into left field. The left fielder came charging up to field the ball gloveside. That’s when disaster struck.
The ball took a nasty hop right over her glove and to the fence. Two runs scored, extending the visitors’ lead, and there were still runners on. That’s when I heard it.
The pitcher lost her cool and yelled “Outfielders, you have to get in front of the ball.”
She was correct, especially in that particular situation. The left fielder was going to have no play by charging the ball hard, so should’ve made sure it stayed in front of her. But…
It’s not the pitcher’s place to chastise her fielders. She needs their support. Pitchers should either say something positive and encouraging to their fielders or keep their mouths shut, in my opinion. Chastising the fielders is the coach’s or the catcher’s job. Giving the fielders a hard time will do the pitcher no good, but it could do some harm.
Personally, if I were that left fielder and got called out like that, I would not have been happy. When the pitcher rolled the first pitch to the next batter into the plate (as she did) I might’ve been tempted to yell “Pitchers, you can’t roll the ball in to the plate.” See how she likes it.
Pitchers have to understand that just as they don’t usually walk batters or hit them on purpose, fielders aren’t trying to make errors. They just happen. Also keep in mind that runners on base don’t just materialize from nowhere. If there weren’t other errors already, they got on by a hit, walk or HBP, so the pitcher has some culpability for those baserunners that scored.
Again, unless they can strike out every opposing batter every time, pitchers need everyone pulling in the same direction behind them. Getting mouthy to their fielders isn’t the way to accomplish that.
They’ll be better served by staying cool and demonstrating leadership. It’s the better choice not only for the immediate game but for the season.
About that “hardly ever strikes out”
Last weekend I was watching a college fastpitch softball game on TV (surprise surprise) when one of the announcers started talking about how the current hitter rarely strikes out. This is one of those statements I’ve heard a number of times through the years, and while it seems to impress a lot of people I have to admit I’m not one of them.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a fan of or in favor of striking out. But then, I’m not in favor of any type of out, and that’s what a strikeout is – an out.
You can make an argument that it’s better to put the ball in play because something still might happen. You can advance a baserunner, or maybe even get lucky with an error. And all that is true.
But if those things aren’t happening during your at bat then it really doesn’t matter whether the out is a strikeout, a popup, a ground ball or something else.
Here’s how I look at it. If you have a high batting average or OPS and low strikeouts, that’s impressive. But if you have a low batting average or OPS with low strikeouts, it’s not such a big deal. You may not be swinging and missing, but you’re not exactly crushing the ball either.
Not striking out can be accomplished simply by being very conservative with your swings. A slow, careful swing aimed at “just making contact” will help you avoid striking out. But it’s not exactly going to drive the ball into the outfield either.
Sure, you’ll manage a few flairs, a duck snort or two, maybe even a ground ball through a pulled-in infield. But you’re going to make it too easy for your opponents to get you out.
I’d rather see a hitter be aggressive, with an intention of hitting the ball hard, than laying back just trying not to strike out. Sure, you’ll miss a few. But the odds are a lot of good things will happen along the way. Better things, in fact.
In most games you only get a few swings at most. Be sure you’re taking advantage of every one of them. That way, if you’re ever on TV, the announcers will have more to say about the things you do than the things you don’t do.
The basics of smart baserunning
Baserunning is probably one of the most under-coached elements of fastpitch softball. That’s a shame, because smart baserunning can turn the tide during a ballgame and generate more wins.
And bad baserunning can lose ballgames by not taking advantage of opportunities to advance when they’re there. Nothing sadder than a runner stranded at third who should’ve scored on the previous play but didn’t. Especially if the original mistake happened upstream.
Coaches really need to make a point of working on and teaching smart baserunning. But it’s not all up to the coaches. Players can do themselves a lot of good – and increase their value to the team – if they take it upon themselves to learn all they can about how to gain every little advantage.
Here are a few tips to help you teach better skills (if you’re a coach) or acquire better skills (if you’re a player).
You don’t have to be fast, just smart.
It certainly helps to have 2.7 speed from home to first. But some of the best baserunners I’ve coached and seen had average speed. But what they were was smart. When they were on first, they would look to see whether the shortstop was covering second after each pitch, or even paying attention if the ball wasn’t put in play. They knew they didn’t have the speed to steal the base outright, but they knew they could pull off a delayed steal pretty easily. Knowing what to do and when is a huge advantage on the bases.
Have an aggressive mindset
The other night I was watching a high school game when one of my students got jammed on a ball and hit a little duck snort out behind first base. Instead of doing what most players would do, which is to trot it out and hope it falls in, she took off like she’d hit a ball to the fence. Sure enough, no one got to it and she ended up on second base instead of first.
You see that in the college game a lot. They go hard on every hit, and they keep going until someone tells them to stop.
Always remember that the goal isn’t to get to the next base. It’s to get home. That’s the only way to score. The faster you do that the better off your team is. That goes double when you’re facing a great pitcher where you don’t expect many hits, by the way. Find a way to get home.
Tagging at third
Okay, now for some specific situations. Each of the next three has to do with whether you can gain advantage through your actions. For example, if you’re on third with less than two outs and there is a ball hit to the outfield that might be caught, don’t stand a few feet off the base to wait and see if it is. Tag up immediately and automatically so you’re ready to go home immediately as soon as the ball is touched.
(You don’t have to wait for a catch, by the way. As soon as it touches the fielder you’re good to go, a rule in place to prevent the outfielder from juggling the ball all the way to the infield to hold the runners.)
Here’s where you want to look at the advantage versus disadvantage. If you’re off the bag and there is a catch you have to go back. That may be just enough time to get the ball in and hold you.
If you’re off the bag and there’s no catch, the extra few feet you gained by being off don’t matter. You would have scored anyway.
But if you’re on the bag, you can go immediately when it’s touched, full steam toward home. It’s your best chance of scoring.
Tag or not at second
Here again you have to look at the possibilities. On a softball field with a 200 foot fence, and assuming the players can throw far enough to get the ball in, on a fly ball you want to go as far off the bag as you can and still get back. That may or may not be halfway, incidentally.
The “halfway” rule is myth. Players have different speeds, and outfielders have different arms. Get as far as you can in case the ball is dropped so you can advance. But be sure you can get back if it’s caught.
There’s no need to tag on a ball to left because the throw is short enough that you’ll likely be thrown out if you make the attempt. Again, unless the players are really young or the left fielder has an exceptionally poor arm.
For a ball hit to deep center or right, however, you do want to tag. If you’re off the base and the ball is caught you’ll have to come back, which will probably prevent you from advancing. If you’re tagging, however, you can take off right away and will at least get to third, putting you 60 feet closer to scoring.
Now, if you are off the bag and the ball is hit toward the right field line there is a chance you could score from second if the ball isn’t caught. But the odds are low on a routine fly with even average outfielders. The smarter play is to tag and ensure you’ll get at least one base.
Of course, on an obvious gapper you won’t tag – you’ll probably just go. But be careful. I’ve seen some pretty spectacular catches result in double plays!
Leading off first
This one is really under-coached. If you’re on first and there’s a fly ball to the outfield, you again want to go as far as you can and still get back. If the hit is to left field, especially if there’s a runner on ahead of you, that may mean getting pretty close to second.
If the ball is caught you’re probably not going anywhere so no need to tag. Also with runners ahead of you the opponent is not likely to pay much attention to you. And if it’s not caught you already have a head start on one base, and maybe too.
The same concept applies to center and right, but you won’t be going as far. Get as far as you can and still get back, even if that’s just a few feet away. If the ball isn’t caught you’ll need to advance to the next base so every little bit helps.
This one is pretty easy. The closer you are to where the pop-up is hit, the closer you should be to the base. If it’s behind second and you’re on second, for example, you pretty much want to stand right on the base. There’s no advantage to being a few feet off, but there’s a huge risk if you get doubled off.
Whenever there’s a ground ball it’s critical to avoid contact with any player making a play. If you’re not sure where the ball is, run behind where the nearest fielder is. If you’re hit by the ball when you’re behind the fielder you’re safe (as long as no one else had a play). If you’re hit by the ground ball when you’re in front of the fielders you’re automatically out.
Never, ever run into a tag
Ok, so things didn’t quite go as planned and the ball got to the base ahead of you. The worst thing you can do is just slide in and let the fielder tag you, especially if there isn’t another runner behind you.
Stop and reverse fields to get into a rundown. Maybe they’ll make a mistake and you’ll be safe. Or try a slide-by, where you go well to the side of the fielder and then catch the base with your hand. I once saw an opposing runner stop dead right before our catcher was going to tag her and then completely leap over the catcher. She was safe. It was a spectacularly athletic play that not everyone can do. But if you can do it, go for it.
One last point. If you’re running between first and second and the second baseman fields a ground ball, don’t just let her tag you and make the double play. Run behind her and try to get her to chase you – even if that means running toward the outfield. Sure, you’ll be out, but you were going to be out anyway. What you’re trying to do is protect the batter so she can reach first safely.
Ok, now it’s your turn. What did I miss? What are some of your favorite baserunning strategies? And have you ever seen any moves that made you just shake your head and say “cool?”
Be the you they already like
This one is for all the fastpitch softball players (and other athletes as well) who are having trouble with being nervous because you’re afraid of failing or letting the team down. In other words, facing a lack of confidence.
First off, know that everyone goes through this now and then in every walk of life. Even the professionals who are being paid millions of dollars (thousands of dollars in the case of pro softball, but that’s a story for a different day) to play.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to forget about trying to live up to some ideal you think you have to meet and remember that your coach put you on this team for a reason. He or she thought you had something that would help the team win, whether it’s a game, a tournament, a conference championship or some other prize. All you have to be is who the coach already saw and you’ll be fine.
So if you’re a hitter, instead of hesitating until the last possible split second before you get into your swing, start early and slow so you can be aggressive in putting the bat on the ball. She who hesitates tends to hit pop-ups and grounders. But hitters who take their practice swings into the batter’s box and make a plan to hit the ball hard usually do.
If you’re a pitcher who has put the work in, there’s no need to worry about whether you can throw strikes. If you did it in practice you’ll do it in a game. Quit focusing on outcomes and instead just relax and pitch your game. If you’ve been handed the ball the coach clearly thinks you can get the job done. Why would you argue with the coach? 🙂
It’s the same for fielders too. Unless you’re a super great hitter who the coach is trying to hide on defense, you know what to do when the ball comes to you. Just do it. (No, this is not a paid placement.)
Look, everyone makes an error now and then. Everyone has a bad day at the plate, or in the circle, or on the basepaths. That’s what makes the game of softball so hard – and so good when it goes well.
You don’t have to be the next Cat Osterman or Sarah Pauly or Lauren Chamberlain or anyone else. You just have to be you. Just do the things that got you into this position and you’ll have all the success you could ever imagine.
Now go get ’em!