Monthly Archives: March 2020

A College Player’s Perspective on a Lost Season

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This guest post was written by Taylor Danielson, a junior at the University of Indianapolis. She offers a first-hand account of what it was like to lose the rest of her college season when it was canceled due to the Covid-19 virus. 

Hours before the NCAA made the decision to cancel all remaining 2020 winter and spring seasons, my team and I were sitting at the airport in Orlando, Florida joking about everything that has, was, and is going on. As we got on the plane, it was business as usual.

We landed in Indianapolis, got off the plane, gathered our things and headed to the bus. While we were sitting and waiting for the bus and people got their electronics back up and running, social media sites were being overrun with news about business and school closures and sports seasons being cancelled all over the country.

It was at that moment when our hearts sank because we all knew we were next. At that point we didn’t realize the magnitude of this event. There weren’t a mass amount of cases in the United States, and it hadn’t started spreading like it is now.

The bus ride back to school was silent. We quietly sat and hoped we wouldn’t get the news that was almost inevitable. When we arrived back at school, we unloaded and put all the equipment away.

When everything was away we all sat in the locker room waiting to hear what our next move was from Coach. As the whole coaching staff came in, one look at their faces and we knew the news couldn’t be good.

We all sat in silence for a few minutes before Coach spoke up and informed us of what had happened, our season was over. Although we all realized these were necessary steps in order to keep everyone safe, it was a tough pill to swallow.

We were all heartbroken, crying in the locker room for at least 45 minutes. Personally, I was sad about the season, but knowing I had played my last game with my best friend

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Taylor and me (right) in happier times.

was the saddest part.

Taylor and I had been through a lot together. For her senior season to end the way it did breaks my heart. I would do anything to play one last home game with her, have one more laugh at practice, and one more squeal on the bus when we find out we are roommates.

This whole experience has taught me a lot. First, don’t take anything for granted. It may sound a bit cliché, but it doesn’t resonate until you experience it yourself. You truly never know when your last game is.

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Here we are after what turned out to be our last game together. This was just supposed to be one of many we’d take.

Second, always remember to have fun, even when you are struggling. This sudden end to the season has put a lot of things into perspective.

What I mean by that is don’t get caught up in things like your performance at the plate. I’ve been off to a slow start and am guilty of living and dying by each at bat.

Now that I am done for the season, I wish I wouldn’t have spent so much time worrying about what my batting average was or what I hoped my next at bat would look like. I realize now that there are a lot worse things that could happen besides an a bat that didn’t go your way.

You’re never going to get this time back, so it’s important to make the most of every moment. Lastly, cherish every friendship.

I may never play another game of softball with my best friend, but I have our memories and more importantly I still have her.  I am beyond thankful for the friendships this game has given me, especially the one I have with Taylor.  Teammates for a moment, friends for life.

The Value of Learning More Than One Position

Taylor Danielson takes personal responsibility by hustling to chase down a foul ball

This topic came up a couple of weeks ago when I was participating in a conference call with top pitching coaches from all over the country. We had wandered into more team-oriented topics when my friend James Clark mentioned that he always insists his players learn more than one position – with one of those preferably being outfield.

Apparently in these days of helicopter parents that is a fairly radical idea. Those parents (or should I say “those parents”) believe their child should spend all their time on the field in one spot. Preferably a “high-value” spot such as pitcher, catcher or shortstop.

To me, that is doing those players as well as the team a disservice. There are plenty of reasons for players to learn more than one position.

  • It elevates the level of play. Most of us don’t get better unless we’re pushed. Having two or more players getting playing time at a position pushes everyone to be at their best so they can be there for the big games.
  • It helps players learn the game. If you spend all your time at one position you may get to learn it thoroughly but you may not gain the bigger picture of how the game works. Softball is an individual sport played in a team setting. It really helps to know what all the other parts are doing.
  • It rounds out their skill sets. Different positions require different skills. Being a more well-rounded player makes players more valuable even in their primary positions. For example, shortstops who also play outfield gain more experience tracking balls in the air.
  • It gives players more options down the road. You may be the big gun at a position right now. But what if a “once in a career” player comes along who plays your position? Or just someone the coach likes more? Or you get hurt and can no longer play your chosen position, as happens now and then. If you can’t contribute anywhere else you’re likely to spend a lot of time riding the pines. Or the aluminum these days.
  • It helps players prove themselves in college. A player’s best chance to show coaches what she can do may not be at her primary position, especially if the coaches have an established starter. But if she can contribute elsewhere the coaches can get comfortable having her in the lineup, and then may be more willing to see what she can do at her primary position.

Those are some of the benefits to the players. There are also benefits to the team, such as:

  • It future-proofs the team. If only one player has any recent experience at a position and she gets hurt or decides to accept an offer in the middle of the season from what she perceives to be a higher-level team (it happens) it can take a while to break in someone new. If players have been splitting time you already have the next one up ready to go.
  • It offers more options to get players in the game. No one likes sitting, and playing time is probably the single biggest point of abrasion between players/parents and coaches. Everyone gets more opportunity when there is flexibility in the lineup.
  • It promotes the concept of “team” over “me.” Splitting time between positions helps players understand that everyone contributes to the success of the team, not just the stars. That mentality then carries over into other aspects, such as laying down a bunt when called upon when a player would rather swing away.
  • It gives coaches options for match-ups. If certain players can only play one position, and that position is occupied by a better player, the coach may not be able to put the best nine that match-up against a particular team on the field. Players who can play other positions give coaches options. It’s like having a larger bench without all the issues that presents.

Of course, not everyone agrees with this philosophy. I once lost a player when I was recruiting a team because I refused to guarantee a father that his daughter would only play one position. But that was ok – I ended up with four other players who could play that position just as well – and who were happy to do whatever the team needed.

In the end, only being able to play one position is a self-made trap. It may seem like a good idea but always keep in mind that fastpitch softball is a competitive sport.

Your coach may love you there today. But if he/she can find someone better for that position tomorrow, that player is going to get your spot. If you can’t contribute anywhere else it could make for a long, unhappy season.

If you broaden your skills, however, there will always be someone who wants you on their team. And on their field.

Things To Do While Waiting Out Covid-19

Well-groomed fastpitch softball field

Well, it’s official: the World Health Organization has declared the Covid-19 coronavirus a full-blown pandemic. The cascade effect has been postponement or outright cancellation of college and high school softball seasons, and could have a significant effect on the summer season as well.

(For those reading this post long after March 2020, it should be an interesting time capsule for how things were perceived while we were in the center of it. And much of what I’m going to say here applies to non-pandemic times too.)

At this point it would be easy to say “Aw, the heck with it” (or perhaps something a bit stronger), sit in the house and start power watching Stranger Things or Game of Thrones. Neither of which I have ever seen, by the way.

But you can also look at this extra, unexpected down time as a gift. There is plenty you can do without game or team activities.

And you’ll want to do them, because sooner or later this too shall pass and we will be back out in the sunshine, where we our biggest worry is whether we will knock those base runners in with a hit or get the out to win the game instead of whether we will fall deathly ill and infect a vulnerable family member.

So here are some suggestions on how to turn the currently bad situation to your advantage. Starting with…

Take some time off to heal

These days the softball season (like most other youth sports seasons) seems to run 12 months a year. That leaves little time to let your body rest and recuperate the way it needs to, because it seems like there is always some critically important game or tournament or camp or something coming up.

Well, now there isn’t, and we don’t know when there will be again. So take advantage of it. Take some time off and let your body do its healing thing. If you haven’t had your injury checked out and it’s causing sufficient pain, go visit your doctor. He/she may be thrilled to not have to look at another runny nose or listen to a wheezing cough.

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Right now a little ankle pain doesn’t look so bad.

Even if you’re not injured, think about taking a week off just to let your body get some much-needed rest. You’ll be amazed at what it can do for you.

Fix the little issues that make big differences. One thing I’ve always prided myself on is being able to work around injuries to keep players on track. For example, I once gave a few pitching lessons to a girl in an ankle-to-hip hard cast.

Obviously we didn’t work on leg drive. Instead we focused on spins and stability. She sat on a stool and worked on perfecting her change, drop and curve balls.

Once the cast came off, she ended up being ahead of where she had been rather than behind. Shows you the value of narrow concentration.

If you’re a pitcher who has been struggling with whip, this is the perfect time to work on it, because you don’t have to worry about how it will affect you in a game. And if you’re diligent about it, by the time you do have to pitching to hitters again the whip will be second nature.

Or maybe you’re a hitter who tends to dip her back shoulder toward the catcher during her stride, or lets her hands get ahead of her hips. Take the time to fix it now.

Figure out what your biggest single issue is and work on it. If you get it done and the season is still on lockdown, work on another one. Rinse and repeat until it’s time to go play again.

Re-set your mindset

This particularly applies to college players who had already started their seasons. If it wasn’t going the way you’d hoped this temporary shut-down could be the best thing that happened to you (unless you’re a senior, in which case my heart goes out to you).

The first rules of holes is that when you find yourself in one, stop digging. That can be tough to do, however, when you are playing so many games trying to win a conference championship so you can get invited into the post-season tournament.

Now you have the perfect opportunity. First, let go of whatever was bothering you. Leave the past in the past and start looking forward.

Second, and this is most important, use this time to gain some perspective. When you were struggling or even in a slump, it seemed earth-shattering. But it wasn’t. At the end of the day, it was still just softball.

Now you’ve had softball taken away from you as the result of a rapidly-spreading disease that could affect your health (although so far it doesn’t seem likely) or the health of someone you love, like a parent or grandparent. THAT is earth-shattering.

Remember there are worse things than striking out with runners on base, booting an easy ground or fly ball, or giving up a walk-off hit. Like not getting to play at all.

Find the joy again in just being on the field, so when you are you’re able to keep things in perspective – which will likely help you improve your performance.

Learn to think like a coach

Talk to any coach who is a former player and sooner or later you’ll hear him/her say “If only I knew what I know now when I was playing.”

It’s unfortunate, but most of us don’t really put in the effort to really learn our craft until we’re put in a position where we have to teach someone else. It’s then that we decide we’d better know what we’re doing, in which case a whole new world opens up to us.

Why wait until your career is done? Start talking to knowledgeable people, watch video analysis of what top-level players do, check out DVDs from the library (or your coaches) and find whatever other information is available to you.

Sure, some of it is going to be garbage. Maybe a lot of it, especially random clips on YouTube. But if you compare what you’re seeing to what high-level players do you can start gaining a better understanding of what you should be doing so you can apply it to your own game.

Share what you know with younger players

You don’t have to go into full-on coaching or instructing. But if you’re hanging around somewhere and you run across a younger person who wants to learn a skill you know, take some time to share it with them.

Remember, when one coaches two learn.

Clean your stuff

Don’t just wash your uniform. Take the time to really do all you can to get the dirt, blood, grass and other stains out of it. Especially the white stuff. Fels-Naptha Laundry Bar and Stain Remover, which is available at most hardware stores as well as online, is great for that.

Clean the dirt out of your cleats, and wipe down the top parts. Maybe even polish them so they look great. If you have broken shoelaces now is a good time to change them.

Clean your glove with leather soap or saddle soap and put some conditioner in it. (Not oil, because that will make it heavy, but more of a paste-like conditioner.) If necessary, this is a great time to get it re-strung.

Wipe down your bat with soap and water. Remember how proud you were when it was shiny and new? See if you can feel like that again.

Give your batting gloves the sniff test. If you can do it from across the room it’s time to either try soaking them in laundry detergent for a bit or get a new pair.

And for goodness’ sake, clean out your equipment bag! Take everything out of it, including the 300 empty or partially empty water bottles crushed at the bottom of it, dump out the dirt, take a clean cloth and wipe it out, inside and out. Then, when you go to pack it up again, KonMari that sucker and only put things in it that make you happy.

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Yes, these bottles.

Stay positive

Things may look bleak right now, but they will get better. Best thing you can do is remain positive, because sooner or later (hopefully sooner) softball games will start to be played again and life will return to its hectic normal.

 

Sick person photo by Polina Tankilevitch on <a href=”https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-in-blue-sweater-lying-on-bed-3873179/&#8221; rel=”nofollow”>Pexels.com</a>

Product Review: Pocket Radar Smart Display

 

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Pocket Radar devices have become pretty commonplace in the fastpitch softball world. You see them everywhere, at the ball park, in practice facilities, and in social media photos as grinning pitchers proudly display their latest speed achievements.

The handy devices are not only easy to carry around (and not as obtrusive to use as a standard radar gun since they can easily be mistaken for a mobile phone) but priced within reach of most programs, coaches and bucket parents.

The current top of the line is the Pocket Radar Smart Coach, which I reviewed back in 2018 when it first came out. One of the major benefits is that the free app that comes with it lets you set up your Smart Coach to capture each pitch (in Continuous mode) and then display the results on a phone or tablet via Bluetooth so the pitcher can get instant, accurate feedback on each pitch so she can measure her progress.

That works great indoors. But it might be a little dicier out on an actual field. The bright sunlight on a super hot day might make the display on an iPad or other tablet tough to read, and it could cause the tablet to overheat and shut down.

There is a solution, however: the Pocket Radar Smart Display. It delivers a large, very bright speed readout of up to three digits that the manufacturer says can be read from 100 feet away in bright sunlight. It looks very similar to the types of displays used on scoreboards.

Leilani speed

Beating a personal best she’d set just a few pitches before.

I’ve been using one for about a month and so far it has been great. I haven’t had a chance to try it outdoors yet, but based on what I’ve seen indoors I expect it to be plenty readable once the weather breaks and we can move outside again.

Product description

The Smart Display is made of durable plastic, and its compact size (roughly 10.5 inches W x 9 inches H x 2.5 inches deep) is easy to carry, transport and store. In addition to the digital display, the front side has indicator lights showing whether speed is being measured in miles or kilometers per hour (user selectable).

There is a combination carry and mounting handle/kick back stand that locks in place to create a 45 degree tilt as well as sitting straight above the unit or folding out of the way underneath.

Pocket Radar side view

The left side recess includes (from top) a power button, a functions button, the power connection socket and a USB socket to connect the Smart Display to the Smart Coach.

The function button offers two menus – a basic and advanced – giving you more control over the Smart Display. For example, if you tap the black button once you can bring up the last recorded speed so you can capture a photo of it. The Smart Display stores the last 25 speeds recorded so you can wait a few pitches to see if the pitcher can go even higher (more on that later).

Sabrina speed

This was her second new high of the night.

Holding the black button down for two seconds lets you check the life of the batteries if you are using alkaline C-cell batteries.

The advanced menu gives you even more options, such as setting the Smart Display to measure miles or kilometers per hour, setting the auto-off timer, adjusting the brightness and more. To access it you simply hold the red (power) and black (function) button in at the same time for more than two seconds.

Set-up instructions, and instructions on how to access the menus, are printed on the back of the unit for extra convenience. Good news for those who don’t want to carry the instruction manual with them.

(Incidentally, while I primarily use the Smart Coach and Smart Display to measure pitch speeds, you can also set it up to measure ball exit speed off the tee for hitters. So if you’re a team coach wondering if it’s worth it for two or three pitchers, that is something else to keep in mind when determining the value.)

Basic set-up

The set-up for the Pocket Radar Smart Display is pretty simple. You connect the Smart Coach to the Smart Display using a cable with a USB connector on one side and a mini connector on the radar unit side.

The USB side connects to the Smart Display, and then you plug in the power source, which powers both the Smart Display and the Smart Coach. For power, you can either use a power bank (the type you use to power a mobile phone or tablet when the battery is running low) or use the supplied cable and plug to plug directly into an AC power source.

You can also insert four C-cell batteries into the Smart Display but I don’t recommend that if you plan to use the radar to capture every pitch. You’ll end up spending a fortune on batteries if they’re not rechargeable.

If you need portable power, use a power bank – you can get several hours of performance out of it depending on the unit you use. If you get a cylindrical power bank you can insert it into the compartment for the C cell batteries and run a cable out to the input, keeping the power source more secure.

Once you have all the connections you have a couple of additional options. If you are outdoors and have the Smart Coach set up safely on a tripod behind a backstop, you can also mount the Smart Display to the fence using the two supplied carabiner clips, or hang it below the tripod.

If you can’t mount the Smart Display to or behind a protective backstop – for example, when you are indoors in a net batting cage – you can use an extension USB cable to run the display out to the side and set it on the ground where it is unlikely to take a direct hit. The built-in kick-back handle lets you tilt it up for easier reading as well as greater stability. Fortunately, Pocket Radar offers a 50 foot cable as a separately purchased accessory if you need it.

That’s actually what I have been using indoors and so far it has worked very well. It seems to be durable enough to handle the constant rolling and unrolling required if you have to set it up and take it down every day as I do.

It’s not quite as convenient as the Bluetooth connection with a mobile phone or tablet, but you also don’t have to worry about interference. It also frees your phone or tablet for other duties, such as taking video, measuring spin rates with a Bluetooth-enabled ball and app or playing music.

That said, I’m told the good folks at Pocket Radar are looking into the possibility of making it Bluetooth-enabled in the future. If it comes true, hopefully they will offer either a retrofit kit or a buyback option as they have with other products.

With everything in place, all that’s left is to turn it on using the red button on the side of the Smart Display, push the white button on the Smart Coach to wake it up and press and hold the Mode button on the Smart Coach to set it to continuous mode. That’s it – you’re all set to start capturing pitches.

Instant feedback

Each time the pitcher throws a pitch, the speed is shown on the digital display in big, bright red numbers. The numbers remain visible for a few seconds, then turn off. At that point you’re ready to capture the next pitch.

One of the best features of the Smart Display is that if the pitcher hits a new speed high, you can use the recall function to bring that number back so you can take a photo as I did here. While showing the numbers on the Smart Coach itself is nice, there’s nothing like showing them in big, bright numbers to give the pitcher an extra sense of pride.

Alyssa 55

Nothing like the pride of accomplishment.

The display will hold for about a minute, I think, which should be ample time to get the photo. But if not, just go back and pull it up again.

Having this instant, continuous feedback, by the way, has had a positive effect on my students as I wrote in another blog post. Seeing where they are tends to make them push themselves to achieve higher speeds. Having the numbers in a big, bright display that anyone in the area can see adds a bit of accountability too. No one wants to be seen as slacking off or underachieving when others are watching.

Watch the (outside) nickle hardware

I will admit I was a bit concerned when I was first using the Smart Display because it seemed like it was prone to lose power and shut down any time I had a student pick it up to take a photo. What I discovered, however, that it wasn’t the Smart Display that was the problem.

It was actually the power connection cable from my power block to the unit. It apparently was cheap, and after not much use broke somewhere in the middle. If I set it just right it would work, but if I moved it even slightly it didn’t.

Once I started using a new cable the problem went away. I share that story so you don’t freak out if you have a similar issue. Check the nickle hardware first, especially the power block and cable you probably picked up for free at a trade show or as a gift for attending a presentation. You’ll save yourself a lot of embarrassment.

Cost

By now you’re probably wondering what all of this wonderfulness costs. It’s not cheap. The Smart Display retails for $499.99 on the Pocket Radar website, and a quick search showed that price holding across the Internet so it’s definitely not for the casual user.

(There was one exception, which showed the Pro Radar System and Smart Display for $69.99 but you probably want to steer clear of that. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is.)

There is also a bundle that includes the Smart Coach and Smart Display for $799.99. That might be worthwhile if you don’t own the Smart Coach yet. But if you already own the radar unit itself, you’re better off purchasing the Smart Display separately.

Final word

As you can probably tell, I really like the Pocket Radar Smart Display. I can keep it and all the accessories in my car, which means I don’t have to remember to charge and bring my iPad to every lesson – an issue I had a couple of times, which was disappointing for both myself and my students.

I also don’t have the risk of my iPad falling out of bag or “walking away” in a crowded facility if someone sees me tucking it away after lessons. It’s also a less attractive target to be stolen since it basically has one function and you need a Smart Coach to operate it.

More importantly, the bright display and the mounting options will be a definite plus when I am giving lessons outside. I wasn’t relishing the idea of setting my iPad down in the dirt. Now I won’t have to.

For facilities, pitching coaches, programs with multiple teams or even team coaches who are serious about measuring performance and holding players accountable, the Smart Display is a great addition to the Smart Coach. It’s also a smart investment in your players’ futures.

CORRECTION: I originally said you couldn’t use the Smart Display and the Smart Coach app at the same time, but I was incorrect about that. You can. When I tried it I forgot I had to re-pair the Smart Coach with my iPhone because it had previously been paired to my iPad. So you if you want to capture the history, or shoot a video with the embedded speed on it, or use the audible announcement of the speed, you CAN do that while running the Smart Display. This review has been updated to reflect the new (to me)  information.  

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