Monthly Archives: June 2016

Sometimes you just gotta go with what you’ve got

As both a fastpitch softball instructor and general fanatic for the sport, I have to admit I spend an inordinate amount of my waking hours looking at information and analyzing techniques to try to become as educated as I possibly can. Hi, I’m Ken, and I’m a softball technique-aholicWhile strong mechanics are important, sometimes you just have to go with what you've got.

It’s well-intentioned to be sure. I firmly believe, based on roughly 20 years in the sport that the better-trained a player is, the higher the chance she has for success. And the less raw athletic ability she has, the more specific training she requires.

But I also believe (again based on experience) that there is a Law of Diminishing Returns when it comes to trying to perfect technique. While it’s true that optimal technique should yield the best results, that’s also only true if it’s implemented with optimal effort or enthusiasm.

This is where a lot of players seem to get hung up. Especially the most dedicated. They are focused so much on trying to achieve the optimal mechanics that they get in their own way.

Hitters become tentative trying to achieve the best bat path and as a result slow their swings down. Or they focus so much on one part of the swing that they let the rest fall apart.

Pitchers work so hard on getting just the right launch technique, or keeping the arm circle exactly where it should be, that they get all tight and don’t let their bodies work for them. Catchers worry so much about how they’re making the transfer on a steal that they become over-conscious and thus too slow.

Every part of the game can be affected, regardless of position, or whether you’re on offense or defense.

So here’s my advice: as they say in auto racing world, sometimes you gotta run with the one that brung you. Or in the case, go with what you’ve got.

If you’re a hitter still reworking her swing, do the best you can to use what you’re learning. But don’t focus on doing it perfectly. Do it the best you can while still coming at it with full energy.

After all, the ball doesn’t care how you hit it. A strong contact with an ugly-as-sin swing will beat a soft contact with a perfect swing every time. A strong swing with much-improved mechanics will generally yield better results than a tentative swing that looks good only on slow-motion video.

The same goes for the rest of the game. You may not have perfected that backhand or rake technique on ground balls, but if you go after them like you mean it you may just surprise yourself. Pitchers who continue to try to throw hard will be much more effective than those who again look like they’re trying to make the perfect video instead of getting hitters out.

Believe me, I’m all for perfect mechanics. But they should never be a conscious effort, at least in a game situation. When you’re in the game, go with what you’ve got. You can always work on perfecting it at the next practice.

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Interesting opportunity for Jewish softball players

Any athlete who has done it says there’s nothing like the thrill of competing with the name USA on the front of your jersey. For most, however, it will never be more than a dream.

If you’re a fastpitch softball player of Jewish heritage, however, you have an extra 20th World Maccabiah Gamesopportunity to make that dream come true. Because Maccabi USA is seeking Jewish female softball players 18 years old and above to try out for the team that will represent America at the 20th World Maccabiah Games, July 4-18, 2017 in Israel.

From the looks of it, the World Maccabiah Games follows a format similar to the Olympics, with teams from around the world competing in a broad spectrum of sports. Your chances of being part of Team USA increase, of course, because the pool of eligible players is narrowed considerably. It looks like one of those “once in a lifetime” opportunities if you’re willing to spend the time to prepare – and willing to spend half of next July in Israel.

Tryouts for the women’s fastpitch team are July 23, 2016 in the metro Chicago area. The flier I saw did not have more specific information, but you can probably get that by contacting Shane Carr, Program Director, at scarr@maccabiusa.com or Jay Gelman, Softball Chair, at jaydg2@gmail.com. You’ll need to bring all the usuals – turf shoes, cleats, bats, position equipment and water.

If you’re interested in applying, you can do so here. Oh, and good luck to you!

Way cool: Slugger lets you customize your bat

Back when the Louisville Slugger Catalyst  fastpitch bats first came out and were the hot bats, my daughter Kim had a chance to get one for free, courtesy of my friends at Softball Magazine. But she decided to pass because they were yellow and she just didn’t like the way they looked. I know, right?

While it shouldn’t make a difference – the only measure of a bat should be how well you can hit with it – it actually does seem to matter. Kim’s not the only one to object to a piece of equipment because of its appearance.

These are all the same Louisville Slugger LTX HYPER fastpitch bat, customized to a wide variety of color choices and combinations.

Not your mother’s Slugger – you can customize your LXT HYPER fastpitch bat to suit your preferences. and tastes

For those with daughters/players who are fashion-forward, however, there is good news. On June 1 Louisville Slugger announced not only the release of the new LXT HYPER fastpitch bat line, but an amazing feature – you can customize it to suit your tastes by going here.

I tried it out earlier in the week and it’s way cool. Often times when companies say you can customize a product they mean you can change a couple of colors, or a graphic here or there. With the LXT HYPER you essentially start out with a colorless bat, then specify the color of every component, from the knob to the end cap.

(WARNING: If you are graphically challenged you may want to have one of your more artistic friends check your work before you submit, as you can really make it crazy. Unless that’s what you’re going for.)

I tried the site out earlier in the week and it was pretty easy to use. It walks you through the choices, and as you make each one that choice gets added to “your” bat. They have lots of color options, including some fades in certain areas, enabling you to go from subtle and reserved to Fantasia. You’ll be amazed at how many choices you’ll have to make.

Once you get the colors selected, you can also further customize your bat by having your name or nickname imprinted on it. You only get 9 characters, however. Not bad if your name is Sue Rolls but you’ll have some decisions to make if it’s Hyacynth Mickelweed. There are three font selections, from a script type of writing to a blockier style. But no matter what you put, at least there won’t be any more arguments with teammates should you happen to select all the same colors for your bat.

Now, it might be tempting for the whole team to get the same color combination, or you may want to select colors based on your current team. But these things tend to be moving targets. If you change teams, or your school team has a vastly different color scheme than your travel team, it might not work out so well. Just something to keep in mind.

Of course, good looks alone are no reason to select a bat. Ultimately it has to perform. Slugger’s press release says:

“Available in -11, -10, -9 and -8 weight drops, the LXT HYPER’s 100 percent composite design now features the all-new PBF Barrel Technology that doubles the sweet spot for unmatched power. Louisville Slugger has also improved the LXT HYPER’s patented TRU3 Dynamic Socket Connection, allowing for necessary movement between the barrel and handle. This maximizes barrel trampoline effect, while also eliminating negative vibration. The result is the absolute best possible feel when you bring the bat through the zone.”

Understand that all this wonderfulness doesn’t come cheap. The retail price is $479. But if you’re looking for a high-performance bat that lets you express your personality on the way to the plate as well as at it, and you can afford it, the LXT HYPER is definitely worth a look.

Sticking with the change

Regular Life in the Fastpitch Lane readers know that I am a huge fan of the changeup. I believe it’s essential if a pitcher is going to keep hitters off balance instead of getting comfortable in the batter’s box. The changeup is a critical pitch, even when it's not working its best.

Still, it can be tough for a pitcher to stick with it when it’s not working. If she doesn’t throw if for a strike the first time there is a temptation to just abandon it in favor of other pitches.

What’s odd is that if the other pitches don’t work she usually doesn’t abandon them. It seems peculiar to the change.

That’s what made what I observed tonight so interesting. I was watching a high school sectional game between two very good teams. The pitcher for the team I was rooting for was definitely having trouble with her change. Not just a little trouble either.

She was throwing them high – catcher has to jump up for them high. And she was throwing them low – as in rolling into the plate. In fact, I only remember her throwing one for a strike, called or swinging. Even on her best day it’s not her best pitch, but it’s usually more effective than it was today.

Yet she kept throwing it. Whether it was the pitcher, the catcher or the coach, when the situation called for a change they called it.

And darned if it didn’t help. As the hitters were getting on to her other pitches, the change would give them a different look. Even if it rolled in, it was enough to throw off the rhythm.

The team I was rooting for won. And as I recall there were only two or three well-hit balls all day. It was a great illustration of why you want to keep throwing the change, no matter what the outcome of the pitch is.

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