Monthly Archives: January 2020

Helping Pitchers Cure Monkey Butt/Ninja Position

animal animal photography close up cute

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One of the common flaws you will see even in otherwise strong pitchers is a tendency to stick their butts out toward first base (right handed pitcher) or third base (left handed pitcher) after they land. I call it monkey butt, since that’s how many primates “present,” while Rick Pauly calls it the “ninja” position.

No matter what you call it, what you end up with is a posture issue where the shoulders are not stacked up on top of the hips. Instead, the hips are cleared out of the way so the arm can come through the release zone unimpeded rather than making brush contact.

You can tell pitchers they need to stay stacked, hips under shoulders, but they can’t always feel what that means. In other words, they don’t realize they are sticking their butts back; that makes it pretty tough to correct.

One description I’ve heard of how to encourage them to keep the hips under the shoulder is to imagine cracking a walnut between the butt cheeks. If you do that, you will tend to bring the hips/butt in rather than sticking it out.

The problem with that is younger pitchers in particular may not have much experience cracking a walnut with their hands. So while they may nod and say ok, they may not quite be able to understand what you actually want them to do or how much pressure they need to apply.

The other night, however, I found a good cue that not only relates to a fairly common human experience; it also has the benefit of being one of those funny things you don’t ordinarily talk about, especially in a pitching lesson. It feels like you’re conspiring on a secret.

What I told a couple of pitchers with this issue was “Imagine you have a little gas getting ready to come out, but you don’t want to let it out. As you land, do what you need to do to hold it in.”

The pitchers immediately got the concept, and went from monkey butt to upright posture immediately.

I won’t say it’s a miracle cure. After a while they would get back into monkey butt position again. But by saying “hold the gas in” they’d immediately get back to better posture. I expect as they gain more experience they will learn to get the right position automatically – just like anything else.

If you have a pitcher who just can’t seem to avoid pushing her hips/butt back, give this cue a try. You may get some strange looks at first, but I’m pretty sure you’ll get the results you’re looking for quickly.

Hitters: Never Get Stuck on Your Back Foot

Grace Bradley hitting

You see this all the time working with fastpitch hitters. They look great on the tee – good load and stride, good sequence of hips-shoulders-bat, and a powerful outcome.

Then you start front tossing to them, or having them hit off a pitching machine, and it’s as though some alien who has never swung a bat in its life has somehow possessed your hitters while you were setting up. They make short, jerky moves to stride and wildly swing their arms with barely any hip movement at all. You wonder what happened, and why they’ve lost everything you just spent so much time working on.

Actually, your hitters haven’t forgotten about all that hard work. They just don’t have time to execute that swing. Here’s what happens.

The “pitcher” gets ready to throw and the hitter loads. Then, since the pitch isn’t coming yet, she feels like she loaded too soon so she stops and stands on the back leg.

Then the ball comes and she starts to stride. But because the ball is coming from 20 feet away (on front toss) or at a high speed (since everyone cranks up the pitching machine to the max setting) it’s on her faster than she realized. So she just abandons all the body movement and just tries to get the bat to the ball any way she can, which usually produces some pretty poor results.

What really makes it tough is when the hitter realizes she was late getting to the ball so she starts even earlier! All that does is get her stuck on her back foot sooner, which only makes things worse.

Continuous motion

To truly be effective, hitters must remain in continuous motion. That means once the load happens, they must keep on going until that pitch reaches its conclusion with either a swing or take.

There is no hitting the pause button in the middle of the swing for everything to line up. Mostly because it won’t line up.

That pause on the back leg breaks the momentum that was being gathered with the load/negative move and essentially causes the hitter to have to break inertia all over again. That takes time, and when you’re dealing in hundredths of a second there is no time to waste trying to get the body going.

Hitting is about rhythm and timing. Putting in a pause in the middle of the swing throws that rhythm and timing out the window. You want to keep going in one smooth motion from beginning to end so you can reach that oh yeah moment.

Trust the swing

So, with that in mind, how do you break this vicious cycle of early-wait-late? It starts with getting the hitter to trust the swing, and the process of the swing.

I will usually tell a hitter that she needs to start her stride BEFORE I release the ball in front toss. (For machines it’s a little different, but I have some good tips on dealing with that in another blog post.)

Of course, just because I said it doesn’t mean it will happen. So I encourage her to trust the process, i.e., try to get that stride going early.

After a couple of attempts, she will usually start to get her front foot down on time, with enough time to fire the hips, bring the shoulders around and then launch the bat with confidence. She will find that anticipating the release, and trusting that it will happen, rather than waiting for visual confirmation that the ball is released enables her to execute the swing as we practiced it on the tee.

Verbal cue

While the above strategy works with most hitters it doesn’t necessarily work with everyone. Younger hitters especially may still have trouble figuring out when to start their positive move forward.

For them I have a simple solution: I just yell “Go!” as my arm comes down the back side of the circle. (I always use a full circle – because I can.)

They may be startled at first, but they’re usually obedient so they get started when I say. Again, after a couple of attempts they start gaining confidence in their approach, so when I say go they start attacking the ball.

Of course, I do like to point out to them that an actual pitcher isn’t going to tell them when to start their stride so they will have to learn to do it without the verbal cue. But if it helps them understand the concept and gain some experience with striding before the ball is released, I’m more than happy to do it for a little while.

Translating to an actual pitch

Right now there are probably some hitting fanatics who are saying “but high-level hitters don’t get their foot down before release.” That’s true.

But high-level hitters are also not hitting a pitch thrown from 20 feet away. Even with the new pitching rules.

When you’re throwing that short distance pitch to them, it’s the equivalent of the ball having traveled about 1/3 to 1/2 the distance from the pitching rubber to the plate. And that IS about the time high-level hitters get their front foot (feet?) down.

So once again, the idea of starting the stride before the pitch has been released is valid. You want to go calm-calm-explosion (aka load-stride-swing).

When exactly it happens depends on the pitcher, the hitter, and the hitter’s athletic ability. That last part is something to keep in mind too when you watch video of high-level hitters. The reason they’re high-level is they just might be able to do things, and get away with things, us ordinary mortals can’t do.

Keep it moving

Getting stuck on the back foot in the middle of the swing is just asking for trouble. It takes discipline and trust to break that habit but it can be done.

The more your hitters keep themselves in motion, from beginning to end, the more often -and the farther – they will hit the ball. Keep an eye out for the deadly pause and you’ll help your hitters succeed.

Be As Water

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One of the most well-known pieces of advice from the late, great Bruce Lee was a simple three-word statement: be as water. For those interested in more of what he meant, or who are just wondering who the heck Bruce Lee was, here’s a video:

 

While Lee’s advice was ostensibly meant to encourage martial artists to give up their old, rigid approach to movement in favor of one that was more free-flowing, I find it’s also great advice for fastpitch softball players. Here are a few examples.

Pitchers

When pitchers want to throw harder, they tend to tighten up their muscles and become very stiff. They also do it when they’re trying to guide the ball to a location (even if it’s just the general strike zone). Yet that’s the worst possible thing to do in each situation.

If you’re trying to gain speed, remember tight muscles are slow muscles. You can swing your arm around much faster if you relax and let it go versus trying to force it around.

Being stiff when trying to gain better control also works against you, and actually makes it more difficult. If you are tight and off-line somewhere in your circle, you will stay there and the ball will go somewhere you don’t want it to.

But if you are loose, a gentle nudge is all it takes to get back on-line. Plus, you have momentum working for you, because if you are loose and using good mechanics (i.e., those that follow the natural way the body moves) it’s a lot easier to follow the natural line.

To improve as a pitcher, be as water.

Hitters

The same things about tight versus loose apply to hitters. If you try to muscle up on the ball you’ll lose the whipping action of the bat into the hitting zone, costing you valuable bat speed.

Being tight also makes it difficult to react and adjust to pitch speeds, spins and locations. A rigid swing will tend to continue going wherever it started to go; a relaxed swing allows you to make adjustments without losing bat speed.

Then there’s the mental aspect. If you are uptight generally (aka in your own head) you are going to be worried about far too many outside factors, such as your last at bat or the fight you had with your mother before the game, to bring your swing thought down to “see ball, hit ball.”

There will be no flow to your swing, just a sort of panicked flail as the ball comes in. You may even start seeing things that aren’t there, or lose your perspective on exactly where the strike zone is. Much can happen.

To improve as a hitter, be as water.

Fielders

As a fielder, you want to be able to move smoothly to the ball. You want your throws to be easy and sure.

That’s going to be tough if you are tight and rigid. The word “flow” is frequently used to describe a great fielder. And what water does.

Being rigid or mechanical in your movements is a sure ticket to many more errors than you should be making. And if you are that way because you are AFRAID of making errors and being pulled out of the game, it only gets worse. Forget about all that.

To improve as a fielder, be as water.

Approach to the Game

Perhaps the area Bruce Lee’s advice applied to most is your general approach to the game. In the video, he says that if you pour water into a cup it becomes the cup. If you pour it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot.

Fastpitch softball players need that type of flexibility as well. You may be asked to play a position that isn’t your usual one. You can either resist or go with it.

Yes, playing outfield rather than catcher or shortstop may not be your preference. But if you go with it and prove yourself in the role you were asked to play you are far more likely to get the opportunity to show what you can do in the position you want to play. I’ve seen it happen.

You may not like your coach’s coaching style. Understood – there are some bad coaches out there. But often it’s not a matter of good or bad, it’s just different than you prefer.

Rather than bracing yourself against it like a rock, be as water. Adjust your expectations and get as much as you can out of the experience. Everyone has something to teach – even if it’s just not to be like they are in the future.

You may not be getting the playing time you want or feel you deserve. That may be true. But before you just blame the coach and jump ship, ask yourself if you’re doing all you can do to earn the spot you want.

Are you diving for balls in practice? Are you displaying a positive attitude? Do you go to the weight room, take extra batting practice or bullpen work, ask for one more ground ball if you pooch one in practice, help clean up team equipment at the end of practice or a game, etc.?

Maybe the answer is yes and you’re just not getting a fair shot. It happens. But before you decide that, determine whether you have been trying to shape yourself to the program the way water shapes itself to the cup or wishing the program would shape itself to you.

Final Question

So after all of this, if I were to ask you which is stronger, the rock or the water, what would you answer?

Many would say the rock. Not a bad answer on the surface, because if you place a rock in a stream or river, the water will be forced to go around it.

Over time, however, the water will wear away the rock and any other obstacle in its path until it can once again flow smoothly.

So I ask you again: which is stronger, the rock or the water?

Be as water, my friend.

Congratulations to Allison Musgrove for Signing at Marian University

Allison Musgrove signing day

This is the type of post I always love to write because it means someone has fulfilled a goal. So today I want to take the opportunity to congratulate Allison Musgrove, who plays for Harvard High School and the McHenry County Heatwave, for officially signing to play softball next year at Marian University in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

Allison is a terrific pitcher and hitter. Although she isn’t very big, her pitches and bat pack a wallop!

Unlike many of my students who start with me young, Allison was already in high school when we started working together. Her former pitching coach (whose daughter I also taught back in the day) had left the area and she and her parents Vern and Crystal were looking for a replacement. Fortunately they were given my name.

Allison actual signing

Mom and dad are all smiles.

One of the fun things is Allison and I hit it off instantly. We bonded on our love of Star Wars, comic book characters (she is a huge Marvel fan) and other nerdy pop culture.

I love the fact that when I made one of those references, either to illustrate an instruction point or just in general conversation, she actually got it without explanation. Still need to get her watching the DC TV shows on the CW, but all in good time.

Allison has always had a tremendous work ethic to go with her talent, which makes lessons fun. She pays close attention and works hard at the things I assign her.

She is also a perfectionist, which can work against her at times, leaving her frustrated when something doesn’t come right away. But she pushes through it, largely because she has such a great attitude. Even when she is having a little trouble it doesn’t take much to get her to smile again.

Of course, a lot of that is due to tremendous parenting. Both Crystal and Vern are always there with words of encouragement and support. They raised a polite, respectful, yet fun daughter who can take some ribbing and give it right back.

One of my favorite success stories is about her hitting. Originally I only worked with her on pitching. But one day she asked if we could work on hitting too since she’d been struggling.

We worked on her hitting and it started to come around. First with some hard outs, then singles here and there, and finally consistent hits with extra base hits, including a few home runs.

Allison has come a long way since we first met. Marian University has definitely made a smart decision in signing her.

I wish her luck, and am letting her know publicly that Fond du Lac isn’t that far from home for me. I plan on coming out to see her play in 2021 – but probably not until toward the end of the season when the weather is hopefully a little warmer.

Congratulations, Allison! You earned it!

High Performance Pitching Sets Sights on Revolutionizing the Way Fastpitch Pitching Is Taught

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As anyone who has gone through the process knows, selecting a pitching coach is a bit like entering the Wild West. There are all these conflicting ideas out there, covered in articles, social media posts, YouTube videos and the like.

Some are good, some are great, and some, quite frankly, are downright dangerous to the pitcher’s health. But how does a parent who wants to do right by his/her daughter, or a coach who wants to give his team’s pitchers their best chance of succeeding, sift through all the muck to find the diamonds in teaching?

A new online education program called High Performance Pitching was introduced over the holidays to address this glaring need. It offers detailed instruction from Rick Pauly of Paulygirl Fastpitch, along with demonstrations of certain drills by his daughter and 8-time NPF All-Pro Sarah Pauly, that explains the mechanics used by every elite pitcher in the game today and how to achieve them, step-by-step.

High Performance Pitching is structured to serve several needs. For those who know little or nothing but want to learn the best way to pitch a softball in fastpitch, there is the Beginner level program. It offers three courses (one free, plus two others for $29.95 each) that cover the basic mechanics and key checkpoints to look for.

All courses are video-based so you can see each piece in action. It’s ideal for the parent whose daughter thinks she may want to pitch, a team coach who wants to help his/her pitchers get started, or anyone who is interested in finding a pitching coach and wants to know what to look for in what the coach teaches.

There is also an Intermediate program that gets far more in-depth into the mechanics of pitching. It consists of 12 courses, each roughly an hour long, that break down various aspects of basic mechanics and offer drills. It is designed both for pitching coaches who are interested in learning the mechanics of high-level pitching as well as anyone who is looking for help in a specific area.

To participate in the certification program you must first complete a background check and pass an online course about preventing sexual abuse. You must then sign and return the Standards of Instruction Affirmation and Code of Ethics for Coaches documents.

One of the best parts is there are also videos that show Rick Pauly working on these principles with different students. You get to be the proverbial fly on the wall as Rick works with a pitcher. That means you can see the individual repetition failures as well as the successes and how Rick approaches corrections.

In fact, for many pitching coaches these “live” sessions may be the best part as it enables you to see how a very successful pitching coach works. All too often we are stuck in our bubbles, with just our own approach to go by. These videos provide a unique and valuable perspective.

At the end of each course there is also a quiz to test your knowledge. If you are going for High Performance Pitching certification you must take and pass these tests. If you are not, or you are just cherry-picking certain videos, the quiz is optional.

You must also complete a personal interview with Rick or Sarah, either in-person or online, before you can be certified.

Finally, there is the Elite program which focuses more on advanced movement pitches, increasing speed, changing speeds, improving location of pitching and other topics. You must first take and pass the Intermediate certification program as a prerequisite to taking the Elite certification program.

(Full disclosure: I have completed both and am now Elite-level certified.)

The Elite program includes 10 courses, again each of them running roughly an hour. To achieve certification you must again take all the courses and pass all the quizzes. I believe you also have the ability to cherry-pick certain courses if you don’t want to follow the entire program.

In all, to become Elite level certified you will complete 22 courses, 150 lessons and 22 quizzes. It is all self-paced so you can do it when you have time.

For the Intermediate and Elite levels there is a $200 registration fee. You must then pay $29.95 for each of the individual courses. It is definitely an investment of money as well as time.

But is it worth that level of investment? Absolutely. I’ve been teaching pitchers for 20 years using the same approach yet I learned some nuances and concepts that will affect the way I teach going forward.

For someone who was brought up in the “hello elbow, paint your way through the release zone, slam the door” school (including former pitchers) it will be even more valuable because you will learn a way of teaching that produces better results for your students while keeping their shoulders, arms, knees and other body parts safer.

The goal of High Performance Pitching is to revolutionize the way fastpitch pitching is taught. In speaking with Rick, his main concern is all the harm that is being done to pitchers through poor instruction.

He wants to inform and educate parents and coaches, and offer an accessible, definitive resource that makes it easier to develop high quality, healthy fastpitch pitchers.

If you are involved in pitching in any way, at any level, it’s worth checking out.

And if you are a parent seeking a certified coach who follows the High Performance Pitching principles, be sure to check out the Certified Coach Locator. It lets you know who in your area you can turn to for high-level instruction.

 

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