Monthly Archives: June 2019

Helping Fastpitch Pitchers Feel Their Legs Working Together

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One of the most common flaws with fastpitch pitchers is a tendency to reach out aggressively with their front leg instead of getting both legs involved. Essentially, the front leg is active and ends up pulling the rest of the body along.

The problem, however, isn’t just in the legs. It’s really that the center of the body – the center of gravity if you will – never gets driven off the pitcher’s plate, so when the pitcher lands her front leg (left leg on a right-handed pitcher) there isn’t a whole lot of momentum to stop.

In fact, you’ll see many of these pitchers wasting a lot of energy trying to drag that back leg forward instead of having it glide effortlessly. That lack of power from the right side often results in bad (forward posture), a tendency to want to over-use the throwing shoulder (the power has to come from somewhere) and a host of other problems.

You can tell players to keep their legs under them, and have them work together. But I find that’s more difficult for some than others. So I came up with a little drill for the former group, to help them learn to use their legs together instead of one at a time.

All you need is one of those workout rubber bands like the one in this photo that you canRubber band find at pretty much any sporting goods store. Or at your house in the pile of exercise equipment you bought with all good intentions of using but is now just gathering dust in a corner of the rec room or bedroom.

Of course, it will be way too big to be of much use, so double it up and then have the pitcher slide it up until it is about midway up her thighs. Then have her pitch.

What she’ll find, as Paige here did the first time she tried it, is if don’t use your “push” leg it gets yanked forward by the effort of your front leg anyway. (She’s better at it now.)

The goal is for the pitcher to be able to drive out with full force and energy while feeling like she’s gliding on her back leg, with her knee pretty close to being underneath her hip. When she lands, she should have a lot more energy going into her firm front side. Maybe so much she can’t quite contain it all at first.

But she should feel how much less effort it takes to get into a good, strong, upright position. And how easy it is for the pitching arm to whip through the zone because the whole body is working more as a unit instead of a collection of independent pieces.

Of course, the real test comes when she takes off the rubber band and tries it without the tactile aid. It may require a bit of rinse and repeat at first. But I’ve found it’s pretty effective helping those who tend to run away from the back leg to keep the legs working together.

So if you have a pitcher with this issue, give it a try and see if it helps. Either way, be sure to leave a comment down below!

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Remember, They’re Still Kids

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I am sometimes shocked at the expectations coaches (and parents) seem to have these days for their youth fastpitch softball players. I’m talking pretty much everyone below college players.

You’ll hear coaches rail to 14 year old pitchers about the importance of pitchers hitting spots – by which they mean not ever missing them, not even by a couple of inches, or only missing two or three in a game. You’ll hear coaches telling 12 year olds about the importance of bat control and being able to hit behind the runner. You’ll see coaches yank a 16 year old out of a game in the middle of an inning for misplaying a hard-hit ground ball. And so forth.

Yes, it’s definitely easier to coach if all you have to do is turn in your lineup card and sit back while all your players execute everything perfectly. You can look like a real genius that way.

But the reality is, those players out on the field are still kids. Which means they’re subject to the kind of mistakes kids make.

It’s unrealistic to expect a team of young players to execute the game at the speed and skill level of the players you see on TV. Especially during the Women’s College World Series, when presumably the best of the best are playing.

(Of course, even those players make mistakes – sometimes on what seems like very routine plays. Oddly enough, their coaches don’t scream at them or yank them out in the middle of an inning. But I digress.)

I really think the key is we get so caught up in trying to win games that we forget those players we see are on the field are just kids. So to put it into perspective, I thought it might help to make a list of OTHER things a college-age person might do, or be allowed to do and then ask: would you let your young child do this? For example:

  • Drink alcohol (given that the legal drinking age is 21)
  • Rent a car (the minimum rental age is 25)
  • Drive an Uber/Lyft/Taxi, even with a valid driver’s license
  • Buy a new car without a co-signer
  • Vote
  • Rent an apartment or office space
  • Buy a house
  • Sell real estate
  • Purchase airline tickets
  • Purchase lottery tickets
  • Gamble in a casino
  • Fly an airplane
  • Get a safe deposit box

Many of the things on this list are simple, mundane things adults do every day and take for granted. But there is no way you’d want your 12 or 14 year old doing any of them, and probably wouldn’t even want an 18 year old doing most of them.

Why not? Because they’re kids, and as such they don’t think like adults or act like adults so they’re not ready for adult responsibilities. They still have growing and learning to do before they can be held to the standards required to do those things on a regular basis.

So what would make you think they’re ready to play fastpitch softball at the same level as the upper half of 1% of college players you see on TV?

Kids make mistakes. That’s often how they learn. Some kids develop slower than others and may not quite have the hand/eye coordination of their peers, much less players who are 6, 10 or more years older.

Kids mature at different rates too, and while any kid should have some measure of self-control, it’s harder for some than others not to have a mental meltdown when they feel they’ve let themselves, their parents, their coaches, and their teammates down. They just may not have the experience with failure yet to be able to “just shake it off” and bounce right back.

So as you watch (or coach) youth games this weekend, keep in mind all the things you wouldn’t want the players on the field doing outside of softball. Then remember why – because they’re kids.

Maybe it’ll help you lower your blood pressure a bit and enjoy the games a little more.

Congratulations to Grace Bradley – All State

Grace signing

Just wanted to take a moment (or two) for a shout-out to one of my students, Grace Bradley, who just graduated from Grayslake Central High School, on the accolades she’s received in the last couple of weeks to cap out her high school career. In addition to being named Northern Lake County All-Conference and to the Daily Herald Lake County All-Area Softball team, we found out this week that Grace was also named to Illinois Coaches Association Class 3A All-State Softball Team for the second year in a row.

It couldn’t happen to a nicer or more deserving player. I have known and worked with Grace on her hitting since she was in 7th or 8th grade. At the time she was the scrawny little teammate of another one of my students, who was about the same size, and when she saw how that girl was doing she said “I gotta get me some of that.” At least I presume that’s what she said.

Grace has worked very hard since then, putting in hour after hour in the off-season with me during lessons and with her dad Greg in-between lessons to learn how to drive the ball with authority. It paid off this year, as she batted .404 hitting cleanup, with an OBP of .475, OPS of 1.158, and slugging percentage of .683. She had 42 hits, with 6 doubles (including a high-pressure walk-off to secure a double header sweep), 1 triple and 7 home runs (8 if you count the one she hit in an “unofficial” game) while helping to lead her team to a Regional title.

She is also high on the all-time list in several offensive categories at GCHS, including being tied for 5th in total hits, 5th in runs scored, 2nd in career batting average, slugging percentage, and RBIs, and 3rd in home runs. This was in a school that opened in 1946, and while they probably didn’t have fastpitch softball as a varsity sport until much later, there were still a lot of players who came before her.

Interestingly, the leader in each of those categories was her friend, teammate and catcher Elisa Koshy. Imagine having that duo in your lineup!

There are two other remarkable things about Grace’s accomplishments in her career. One is that she did most of that in just two years. She didn’t even make varsity until her sophomore year, and then she only played a little bit. I can only imagine what she would have done with another full season under her belt.

(That should also be encouraging to all those young players who don’t go to varsity immediately as a freshman, or don’t get an opportunity to play immediately. You can still do great things if you persist.)

The other amazing thing about Grace’s offensive production is that she did it all while also being her team’s #1 pitcher for the last two years. (I take no credit for that part – she has a different pitching coach who clearly did a great job with her.)

That sort of performance reminds me of what they used to say about Ginger Rogers: She did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels. (For those who don’t know who they were, here’s a video. Check it out.)

Many pitchers don’t hit at all in softball because of the amount of time it takes to become good at that one critical skill. Those who do often hit fairly low in the lineup. But as I said, Grace not only pitched but hit cleanup this year after spending most of last year hitting in the two-slot. I think most players would be happy to accomplish what she did either pitching or hitting, much less doing both.

I think what makes me happiest about all of this is that Grace is such a quality human being. She is nice, sweet, friendly, and humble – the type who will probably blush if she reads this blog post. If you were casting the All-American female lead for your movie, Grace would get the part as soon as you met her.

Kudos to her parents, Greg and Barb, for raising someone who could accomplish so much and yet remain so down-to-earth. I doubt Grace ever checked her stats once. She didn’t do it for recognition. She did it to help her team.

Now it’s a summer of post-graduation ball with the Illinois Impact, then it’s on to Carroll College to continue her career. I have no doubt she will continue to impress at the next level.

The Unintended Consequences of Time Limits

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Long-time readers (and those who dig in beyond the first post they came to read) know that I am no fan of time limits for fastpitch softball games. Especially some of the ridiculously short time limits that have been imposed over the last few years.

An hour and 15 minutes drop dead? Puh-leeze! One hour? Most games are just getting interesting at that point.

I get why tournaments have gone that route. If we want to be positive, it’s easier to keep things running on-time so teams know when they’re playing and it’s easier to adjust for events such as rain delays or an umpire crew that’s temporarily MIA. It also helps more teams get an opportunity to play in a particular tournament.

If we want to be cynical, it’s greedy tournament directors trying to squeeze as much money as they can out of teams by over-booking the venue.

No matter which side you come down on, however, they have become a fact of life. In any game where there is a decent amount of offense, especially on both side, you’re unlikely to play a 7-inning game.

That phenomenon has created an unintended consequence that could become more troublesome in the future: today’s youth players often seem to lack the mental stamina to play a full 7-inning game.

I don’t think it’s a physical thing. Honestly, physical conditioning is better and more pervasive than ever. Most travel players work hard in practice, practice more often, and do other conditioning exercises (or speed and agility training) outside of formal team practices.

Mentally, however, it seems to be a different story.

First of all, you have the issue of short attention spans. Humans naturally have short attention spans, but some research by Microsoft suggests that our attention spans have decreased considerably since 2000.

But I also believe that players who spend most of their time playing games that are an hour and 15 minutes long or so become conditioned to expect that’s how long a game should be. When placed into a situation where the time limit is longer, or where the game ends when seven innings are completed, they have a difficult time staying in the game mentally once that 1:15 point is reached.

Does it happen all the time, and with every player? Certainly not. When there is something at stake, such as a tournament championship, players can often manage to remain more invested in the game. Especially if it’s a close one.

Even then, however, you’ll often see a drop-off in the quality of play around the fifth inning or so. Suddenly two teams that seemed to be on top of it throughout the contest are suddenly making errors on simple plays, pitchers are having trouble finding the strike zone, and hitters are not managing the quality at-bats they did earlier.

And, since a lot of tournaments will remove the time limit for the finals (and even semi-finals), players’ time limit-conditioned internal clock will tend to take them out of a game before it’s actually over.

Where you’re most likely to see it, however, is in non-tournament play where there is no immediate end goal. Or maybe no end goal at all.

If you’re playing scrimmages or friendlies, it won’t be uncommon to see the level of play drop as the game gets past (or in some cases drags past) the typical time limit your team plays. You begin to wonder at what point the alien ship landed and the pod people took over your team’s bodies.

So what can you do? Being aware of this phenomenon is one thing. Keep an eye on the time, and when you’re getting close to your typical time limit find ways to give your players a mental energy boost:

  • If you’re good at pep talks, now might be a good time to give one. Try to re-light the pilot light.
  • You can remind your team that you still have 1,2,3 or whatever innings left to go before the game is over. Maybe suggest you focus on winning the next inning if you aren’t doing at already to keep the time horizon short.
  • Send the team off for a quick jog up the sidelines to clear their heads.
  • Tell them to re-set their mental clocks as if it’s a new game; maybe even do a pre-game cheer at that point if your team normally does one.
  • Try to get the lead domino excited about the next few innings so she can get her teammates excited.

We are all products of our conditioning. And right now, many players are being conditioned that fastpitch softball has a time limit, which means they only need to remain mentally focused during that time period.

Don’t let your players fall into that trap. Help them to remain on top of their game no matter how long the game is. It’ll be better for your team’s success. And it will be better for your players when they start (or continue) playing in situations where time limits aren’t a factor.

So what do you think? Is there some validity to these thoughts about time limits, or do your players not have any problems making the adjustment when the game goes longer? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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