Monthly Archives: May 2017
Just had to give one last shout out to Kirsten Stevens at the University of Wisconsin Madison for ending her fastpitch softball career with a bang. Kirsten was named to the Eugene Regional All-Tournament team after a stellar performance last weekend.
Her key accomplishment in the Regional was throwing a 2-0, five-hit shutout against the UIC Flames in a must-win game. It’s my understanding that this was the farthest UW Madison has gone in the NCAA Division 1 tournament in its history, and she got to be a contributor to the team getting there.
In that game, Kirsten secure 8 strikeouts, including one to end the nail-biter of a 7th inning when UIC threatened to tie the game by opening the inning with two hits to put runners on first and second with no outs. But Kirsten bore down, getting the next hitter to pop up a bunt attempt on a lovely riseball to relieve some pressure, then inducing another out before finishing out the game with the final K to send UW Madison to the finals against Oregon.
It was quite the storybook finish for her. Or so it appeared.
The next day, Kirsten was brought in to throw one more time after UW Madison fell behind the Ducks. After settling in she was able to secure three outs, including once again finishing out the inning with a K, bringing her tournament total to 9, which was second only to Oregon star Maggie Balint. Her tournament ERA was 0.88, which was also good for second-best, this time behind Oregon’s Miranda Elish, who blanked the Badgers in the final. To add to the accomplishments, Kirsten gave up no walks in 8 innings pitched, making her #1 in K/BB ratio. Needless to say, she was on fire.
It was quite a way for the senior to finish a great career filled with many accolades. Congrats to Kirsten on a job, and a pitching career, well done.
Fastpitch softball players know there’s nothing quite like getting caught in the “death spiral.” That’s one of those bad times when it seems like nothing goes right.
For pitchers, it’s giving up too many walks or hits – especially cheap ones. For fielders it’s those bad hops, or those throws that start to sail on you no matter what you do. For hitters, it’s all the things that go with being in a slump.
Things don’t go right for a bit, and you start getting down on yourself. The death spiral part comes when you start over-thinking things, or worrying too much about what your coach thinks, what your teammates think, what the peanut gallery up in the stands think, what the media thinks, even what strangers on the street think. Pretty soon it seems like the whole world is stacked up against you.
It’s at that point that you have to remember the wise words of Tom Cruise’s character Joel from Risky Business: Sometimes you just gotta say what the (heck). (WARNING: Joel doesn’t actually say “heck” in the clip. The link is NSFW, so turn the sound down. If you are not in high school yet, all I can say is don’t click or earmuffs.)
Easier said than done, sure. But I can attest it works, because one of my students went through that this year in her high school season, and that was how she turned it around (although I doubt she used the NSFW word.)
She’d gotten off to a rocky start hitting. This is a girl who can really bang the ball, a true five-tool player.
She’s also someone who really cares about doing well for her team, so underperforming really bothers her.
I hadn’t had a chance to get out to one of her games until a couple of weeks ago. By then I had heard she’d turned it around. I was talking to her and her parents during and after the game, and they all told me the same story.
As she put it, “I went out to play that day and I just said to myself, ‘I don’t care.'” Not that she didn’t care about the game, but she decided to quit worrying about the results and what everyone else was thinking.
It worked like magic. She relaxed and the hits started coming.
Bad things happen to everyone. Even good players. Even great ones. No great hitter ever had a career that didn’t have a slump at some point.
When it happens, just remember: sometimes you just gotta say what the @#$%.
One of the fun but challenging aspects of working with very young fastpitch softball players (under about 10 years old) is getting them to focus for any length of time. There are usually lots of things going on in their heads at any given time, and the slightest activity anywhere else can distract them in a major way.
That can be a problem at any position. But it gets even more noticeable with pitchers. As a fastpitch pitcher you have to be able to dial in to the strike zone. Visualizing the pitch location before you throw it is helpful for improving accuracy. That’s tough to do, however, when the three ring circus is playing in your head.
This is where playing to the player’s competitive nature can be a real asset. Giving her something specific to do, with a prize attached, can help drive that focus level right up.
I actually stole this idea from Cindy Bristow at Softball Excellence. It came in one of her newsletters, which are a great source for drills and games.
Set up a tee on the plate, and place a ball on top of it. Then challenge the pitcher to knock the ball off the tee with a pitch. You’ll be amazed at how quickly she gets dialed in.
That’s what we did here with Kaitlyn, the girl in the accompanying video. She was having a bit of trouble focusing on this day, so I set up the tee and put a 14 inch ball on top of it. It probably would’ve been more fair to use a basketball or soccer ball, but I decided to challenge her.
In the beginning, I offered her a sucker if she knocked it off. Her mom immediately upped the ante and offered her a milkshake on the way home if she succeeded. We then spent the last 10 minutes of that lesson with her pitching balls at the tee. The rule was she had to hit it directly – no fair bouncing the ball into the tee so it falls off. Also she had to use good mechanics, not just aim the ball at the target any old way.
That first night she came close a bunch of times but didn’t quite get it. The following week her mom told me Kaitlyn was in a foul mood on the way home. She really wanted that milkshake.
The video is from that next lesson. We gave her 15 minutes this time. Kaitlyn ratcheted up the focus, and was right around it for much of that time. Thinking she needed a little extra help to succeed, I had her little sister stand directly behind the tee on the other side of the net. A few more throws and Bingo! Success!
Of course as Han Solo says, good against a remote is one thing. Good against the living is something else.
Today I heard Kaitlyn earned a game ball for her pitching. Two scoreless innings with a couple of strikeouts.
I wouldn’t say it was all in the drill. She put in a lot of hard work throughout the off-season. But I will say it helped.
If you have a pitcher who could use a little help zoning in during practice give this drill a try.
This one is going to be a bit unusual because it’s actually not about a fastpitch softball signing. But I still want to offer my public congratulations to a terrific young woman, Kate Kiser, on her signing to play volleyball at Bowdoin College in Maine next year. Go Polar Bears – coolest mascot ever (pun intended).
So why is a softball guy talking volleyball? Because before she became a bigtime volleyball player with scholarship offers at all levels from all over the country, Kate was also a terrific pitcher and hitter.
I first met Kate when she was 9 or 10 years old. This was shortly after she’d survived a vicious attack by a large dog that had done so much damage she had to wear a pressure mask for a few weeks and had very visible scars.
Her mom Kim (also a terrific woman and a good friend) wanted to get Kate involved in something quickly to take her mind off the trauma, so she signed her up for softball. And knowing her daughter was not one to do anything halfway, she signed her up for some pitching lessons too.
Kate was rather shy and quiet those first couple of lessons, but we hit it off pretty quickly. She was a diligent student, even at that age – one of those you don’t have to worry about whether she will practice in-between lessons or not. She had a rare will to succeed in whatever she did.
I remember after a few weeks she had a game, and was going to pitch. Her mom asked if she should try to do what I was teaching or do it the old way, and I said give it a try, and if it doesn’t work than do what you need to for now. This was during fall ball, so no harm, no foul.
She continued to develop, and after a while hitting lessons were added to the mix, perhaps when she was 11. Because of her busy schedule, as well as mine, lessons often didn’t start until 10:00 pm – pretty late for a young girl. But she was always full of energy.
One of the things I remember most about Kate is her curiosity. I encourage questions during lessons, and Kate would ask them. But then, when we were done, Kate would say “I have one more question,” which really was a lie because she had many more questions. 🙂 We’d chat until her mom decided everyone needed to get to bed.
At first, as a player, she had a rough time. She got onto a Daddy Ball travel team that had its favorites and its “all you others.” You know the type. Whatever Kate did wasn’t good enough for them.
I remember hearing about one tournament at a location where they had to stay in a hotel. She and a good friend of hers didn’t get on the field for pretty much the entire weekend. At 10! It was tough, but she bore it with grace and kept working.
By the time she got to 14U much had changed. By now she was drawing looks from college teams, pitching and hitting up a storm. (Her mom told me at the signing ceremony she was still getting contacts from college softball coaches even though she hadn’t played since her freshman year in high school.)
She built quite a reputation for herself, at least within the general region. People marveled at her “natural talent.” Her mom and I just had a good laugh about that. Because while Kate is undoubtedly a wonderful athlete, none of them were there when she couldn’t find the plate, or I had to cajole her to stop thinking so much and just let the pitch fly, or to “see ball, hit ball” instead of over-analyzing everything. It was her work ethic, not just her athleticism, that got her to that point.
Unfortunately for me and some college softball team, along the way Kate started playing club volleyball. She became a star there too, and eventually had to make a decision on which sport to play.
I blame myself for her decision. She always said her dream was to play for me as her coach. One day, when my 18U IOMT Castaways were going to be short a player for a practice game, I invited 14 year old Kate to come out and guest play for us. She did fine, and then apparently checked it off her bucket list. Just kidding, Kate. If you see her on a volleyball court you know why she went that way.
I do claim credit for two major things in her life, however. I introduced her to the music of Creedence Clearwater Revival (her tastes ran more to classical music at that time – did I mention she also played piano?) and I talked her mom into buying Kate her first Shamrock Shake. For better or for worse, long after she’s player her last game she’ll have me to thank for those two things.
All kidding aside, I am thrilled that Kate, once again after too much thinking, finally decided on her college. She plans to be a surgeon someday, and Bowdoin will be a great place to get that journey started while still being able to play volleyball. And you never know – maybe the softball team will need one more player to help them out and Kate will agree. Right after she asks one more question.
Congratulations, Kate. I know you’ll do well, and I wish you all the best!