Monthly Archives: July 2019

To Hit Rockets, Be Like A Rocket

flight sky earth space

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Players, coaches, parents and fans all love them – those hits that take off like rockets. There’s nothing like seeing a well-struck, majestic line drive rising into the distance, especially if it clears a fence.

Learning to hit those awesome rockets, however, can be counter-intuitive. As I have pointed out before, because you want to hit the ball with the bat there is a natural tendency to focus on yanking the bat into the hitting zone with the shoulders and arms.

Players seem to believe (understandably) that the faster they pull the bat through with their arms, the farther the ball will go. This belief is often reinforced, incidentally, by the improper use of ball exit speed measurements that focus only on the numbers rather than looking at the technique as well. You can get better numbers off the tee, but that won’t necessarily translate into rockets off of live pitching for a variety of reasons.

During a lesson this week I was trying to explain how each of the body sections contributes to the swing when a thought occurred to me. To hit a rocket, a player should be like a rocket.

Think about it. Where does the power in a rocket come from? The bottom section. That has to fire first, with a lot of effort, to get the rocket going.

If you put all that power into the middle section, the rocket wouldn’t go anywhere because it needs to thrust against the ground to break free. Instead, it would just blow up on the launch pad.

Once you have things going, the secondary stage kicks in. It builds on the momentum created by the first stage to really start driving the rocket toward its destination.

Finally, there’s the payload section. That’s the part that carries the astronauts, or the satellite, or the exploratory vehicle, or the communications array that will alert our eventual alien overlords that we are here, we are too primitive to get to them, and thus we are ripe for exploitation and eventual elimination

In hitting, the lower body is the first stage of the rocket. It initiates the swing and supplies the bulk of the power that will be applied.

The shoulders and upper torso are the middle stage, adding on to the power of the first stage and providing guidance on where the rocket should go.

The bat is the payload stage – the point of the whole process. It takes advantage of everything that has gone before to deliver the final result, which is the hit.

Stick to that sequence and you will hit well. Do them out of order and the result will likely be a huge, fiery crash and burn.

So as you’re working with hitters, trying to explain how to properly sequence the swing, give this analogy a try. Maybe even show them this video:

Then send them out on the field for their own rocket launch.

 

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Tryouts aren’t just about skills

Ways to succeed at fastpitch softball tryouts

Time to bring back an “oldie but goodie” post because the advice is still relevant, and the topic is definitely timely with so many players (and coaches) in the midst of the tryout season.

Showing well at a tryout isn’t just about having great skills. It’s also about looking like you’d be a great fit on a team. Or as Herb Brooks says in Miracle:

Keep all of this in mind as you go through the tryout process. It may be a grind. But bringing your very best every time may just be the difference-maker. 

It’s that time of year again. We’re in the midst of tryout season – that time when players try to show coaches what a great addition they would be to the team(s) of their choice.

While there’s no doubt it’s important to show your skills, there’s more to a tryout than skills alone. That’s coming from a coach who participated in tryouts for more than 15 years.

The reality is there are many very skilled players out there. In fact, if your skills are far above everyone else at that tryout, you’re probably trying out for the wrong team. So how do coaches make their decision?

Much of it comes down to character. One of the tests I used to give players I was interested in was to offer a bit of advice on how to do something.

Maybe they were having a bit of trouble hitting or fielding. I’d offer a suggestion on how to improve. But it wasn’t about whether they’d do better the next time. It was about seeing how they reacted. Were they coachable? Did they give it a try, or did they give me attitude instead?

I’d look at who was hustling. Not just during the drills but between the drills when they’d transition from one area to another. Also who seemed like they were enjoying playing as opposed to some who looked like they were forced to be there.

I’d also listen to them, especially those who sounded like they could be potential team leaders. Did they encourage others? Did they cheer for those who made good plays, such as diving for a ball? (Pssst – if you get the chance, definitely dive for a ball; it always makes a good impression.)

I loved watching what would happen after a player made a mistake. If she booted a ground ball, or missed a few pitches during a hitting session, did she put it behind her or have a meltdown?

Mistakes are a huge part of fastpitch softball, so you’d better have the mental toughness to deal with it. The last thing a coach wants in a tight game is a player who is so upset over an error or a strikeout in the previous inning that she isn’t focused on this one. That’s a sure recipe for disaster.

If we gathered the group together and one of the other coaches was talking, I’d take a look to see who was listening and who was looking off into the distance, or otherwise spacing out. It’s not that hard to pick out.

Here’s the thing. Tryouts are like a job interview. Theoretically everyone is on their best behavior, showing their best selves. If the self I’m seeing at a tryout doesn’t seem like what I’m looking for, it’s unlikely it’s going to get better once you’re on the team. In fact it’s probably going to get worse.

It’s pretty rare that a player’s skill level is so awesome that it can make up for a lot of poor character. Again, if you do stand out that much you’re probably not at the right tryouts.

These days teams are together for a long time – essentially 12 months. As a result, chemistry means more than ever.

If you want to increase your chances of making your first choice team, make sure you have your act together and can show the coaches you’re more than your ability to throw, catch, pitch, hit, run, etc. You’re the kind of quality person they want to be around – and who can perform no matter what the circumstances are.

Photo credit: Elizabeth Prata via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

A Tale of Persistence

CTW Metro Champs

First of all, congratulations to the Crush Tidal Waves (CTW) 18U JS team for taking it all in the recent USA Softball (formerly ASA for you old die-hards) Chicago Metro. The Metro is always a tough tournament with strong teams, so winning it is definitely an accomplishment.

But it’s the way they won it this year that makes this story worth sharing, in my opinion. And since Life in the Fastpitch Lane is my blog, I get all the votes. No pretense here.

Basically, the CTW did it the hard way. First, it was a very hot and humid weekend in the Chicago area. Temperatures were in the mid-90s for most of it, and with the sun beating down it felt even hotter. I know, because I was outside for much of it.

CTW started out with two wins in pool play on Friday before beginning bracket play Saturday. They won their first game, then fell 5-2 in their second game of the day. That put them in the loser’s bracket in the double-elimination tournament, with a long way to go to get back to the championship game.

Still, they persisted. The challenge now was to win 7 games in a row – two more on Saturday in the brutal heat, then three on Sunday to get into the championship game. After that, they’d have to face a team that hadn’t lost in bracket play and was well-rested as they waited for all the other teams to beat each other up. And, of course, they had to win twice.

The first of those two games was a real nail-biter, with CTW leaving it all on the field to gain a 3-2 victory. You would think they’d have felt pretty good by then, having taken the top team to the what-if game after all that. No one would have blamed them if they had come out a little flat for the final match-up.

But again, they persisted, and instead they came out strong and took the final game (and the trophy) 5-1. Not sure where they found the reserves of strength after all of that, but they did.

Battered but not broken, exhausted but elated, and probably ready to jump head first into the nearest swimming pool, the CTW 18U JS team came out victorious.

So it does go to show that if you’re determined enough, and persistent enough, and just not willing to lose you can come back to win a big tournament like that.

Congratulations to the players, coaches, parents and fans. But mostly to the players and coaches for never giving up.

(A special shout-out goes to Katie Armstrong, a long-time player for CTW and one of my Katie Armstrong Metropitching and hitting students. Savvy readers may recognize Katie from my vlog on hitting off a pitching machine, among other mentions. Katie did all this with a hip injury that will require surgery after the season, which has limited her pitching time this year. But I think you’ll agree she thought it was worth it.)

I imagine for a lot of the players this season is the end of their travel ball careers, and for those who aren’t playing in college it’s the end of their entire softball careers. But what a memory they gained!

It’s also the kind of story they can tell future employers who say “Tell me about a time when you faced incredible difficulties but managed to succeed.”

Product Review: The Softball Rope Trainer

Liv ROPE Trainer main

It doesn’t take too much time going through Life in the Fastpitch Lane to see that I am pretty fanatical about good throwing mechanics. I definitely feel overhand throwing is one of the most under-taught skills in the game, which is a shame because it’s such a big part of the game (unless you have a pitcher who strikes out 18 hitters a game, every game).

So that’s why I was excited to receive a new (to me) product to test – The Softball ROPE Trainer by Perfect Pitch and Throw. According to the manufacturer it is designed to help softball (and baseball) players learn the proper mechanics for a powerful, strong and safe throw by unlocking the joints in the proper sequence. From their website:

“Using The ROPE Trainer allows players to work the throwing muscles in all parts of the kinetic chain. Using The ROPE Trainer optimizes the mechanics of the throwing sequence by building the muscles and joints used during the throwing process. Over time, using The ROPE Trainer will allow for better muscle memory, improved strength and endurance without the excessive stress caused by releasing the ball.”

You can read more about the theory behind it and how it helps prevent injuries here.

The basic design is fairly straightforward. It’s basically a softball with a plug system that lets you attach one or two sets of ropes. By focusing on getting the ropes to work ROPE Softball Trainerproperly (and not smack the player on the head, legs or other body parts), The Rope Trainer helps players find the right path to slot their arms and follow-through properly.

You can add more resistance by using both sets of ropes to create more of a strength workout, although the grip will then not be the four-seam grip most players are used to. No worries, though. You’re not actually going to throw the ball anyway.

The manufacturer positions it as an upgrade over the old “towel drill,” where a player holds a small towel and goes through the throwing motion with the same goal in mind. In fact, here’s an article that tests The ROPE Trainer versus the towel drill. They tested the baseball version rather than the softball version, but I’m sure it’s the same.

One of the big differences in my eyes is that the ropes can swing around more than a towel, so the player has to be more precise in her arm and hand path to get the right results.

Ok, sounds good in theory. How did it work in practice?

The first girl I had try it was a terrific 14U catcher named Liv. She wanted to learn how to throw from her knees, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to check it out.

One of the big issues with catchers, especially young ones, learning to throw from their knees is that they tend to only use their arms. They don’t get into a good position to use their shoulders, torsos, glutes, and other big muscles, and they have a big tendency not to follow through after throwing.

So I put on one of the sets of ropes, handed Liv the ball, and had her get into a runners on base stance.  When I said “go” she reacted, getting into position and using The Rope Trainer as if she was actually making the throw.

As I said, Liv is awesome so after a couple of attempts she got the hang of getting the ropes to whip through to her left side at the end. Here’s a video of her as she’s using it:

Then we switched her to an actual ball. She immediately was able to make the throw with good juice on the ball, and with great accuracy too. Most important, she was using a strong throwing motion that will protect her arm and shoulder.

To give you an idea of how strong her throw was, this is what happened to her mom’s wedding ring after receiving a few at second then at first. Oops. Kari broken ring

Of course, it’s easy to get something to work when you have an excellent player using it. So for another test I went the other way.

I took a younger girl (who shall remain nameless) who did not have a particularly good throwing motion and had her try The Softball ROPE Trainer as well. While the results weren’t quite as instantaneous, she also showed improvement.

This particular girl was doing the classic “throw like a girl” of dropping her elbow below her shoulder and just sort of shoving the ball forward with her arm.

(NOTE: Don’t even bother telling me how horrible I am to use the phrase “throw like a girl” and wonder how such a nasty misogynist could ever work with female athletes. I encourage my students to throw like softball players, and will put them up against any male player their age – or any dad who doesn’t think girls can throw hard. So chill.)

After working with The Softball ROPE Trainer for about five minutes she was doing better with her overhand throws. I doubt that little session was permanent, but I wanted to see if it would make a difference.

I believe it did, and that with repetition at home and/or practice someone with poor throwing mechanics could re-learn how to throw properly, most likely within 2-4 weeks with regular work.

The other nice thing about The Softball ROPE Trainer is that it doesn’t cost very much. You can purchase it direct from the manufacturer for just $67.49. I know, weird price, right?

For that money you get the ball, two rope sets (I think – the website says one but mine came with two), instructions and a nice drawstring bag to hold it all. If you wear out the ball or one of the rope sets you can purchase new ones as well, which is always nice.

If you have or know players with poor throwing mechanics, or have someone with good mechanics who want to get better, give The Softball ROPE Trainer a try.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I don’t know how it is for fastpitch pitching yet. That’s next on my list to try. Seems like if you have mechanics that focus on whipping the ball through the release zone instead of pushing it The Softball ROPE Trainer might work. We’ll see.

If it works, I’ll do another post on that. If not, I’ll update this one.

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