Monthly Archives: September 2020

Today’s Goals Are Tomorrow’s Disappointments

Setting goals is an important part of any sort of development, athletic or otherwise. Without them, it’s easy to meander your way through life. As the Cheshire Cat told Alice during her adventures in Wonderland, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

One phenomenon that isn’t often spoken of, however, is what happens to us mentally after a goal has been met. It’s amazing how it can turn around.

I’ve seen this particularly after I started setting up a Pocket Radar Smart Coach for virtually every pitching lesson. Each pitch thrown is captured, and the result is displayed on a Smart Display unit in bright, red numbers.

I call it my “accountability meter” because it shows immediately if a pitcher is giving anything less than her best effort. A sudden dropoff of 6 mph is a very obvious indication that a pitcher was slacking off on that particular pitch.

Here’s the scenario I’m addressing. Let’s say a young pitcher is working hard trying to move from throwing 46 mph to 50 mph. She’s been practicing hard, working on whatever was assigned to her, and slowly her speed starts creeping up.

She gets up as high as 49 once, but then falls back a bit again. She knows she can do it.

Then the stars align and voila! The display reads 50. Then it does it again. And again.

There are big smiles and a whoop or two of triumph! Goal met! Pictures are taken and high fives (real or virtual) are exchanged.

A few weeks later, the pitcher continues her speed climb and achieves 52. Once again, celebrations all around and she starts looking toward 60 mph.

The next lesson she throws a bunch of 50s, but can’t quite seem to get over that mark. What happens now?

Is there still the elation she had just a few weeks before? Nope. Now it’s nothing but sadness.

That 50 mph speed that once seemed like a noble, worthy goal is now nothing but a frustrating disappointment.

That would be the case for Ajai in the photo at the top. She was all smiles when we took this picture a couple of months ago. But if that was her top speed today she would be anything but happy.

But that’s ok, because it’s all part of the journey. We always want to be building our skills; goals are the blocks we use to do it.

But once they have been met, they are really of no more use to us. Instead, they need to be replaced with bigger, better goals. That’s what drives any competitor to achieve more.

So yes, today’s goals will quickly become tomorrow’s disappointments. But that’s okay.

Remember how far you’ve come, but always keep in mind there is more to go. Stay hungry for new achievements and you just might amaze yourself.

Big Issues Don’t Always Require Big Solutions

Toward the end of the summer 2020 season (if you can call that a season), one of my pitching students, a terrific lefty named Sammie, developed some control trouble. Suddenly, out of nowhere, she started throwing everything off the plate to her throwing hand side.

We got together and we worked on it. I thought she might be going across her body instead of straight so we set up a couple of giant cones to try to steer her back down the straight and narrow as it were.

It helped a little, but not enough. She still struggled in her next game, and in her practice sessions.

This was definitely a problem that needed to be corrected so I racked my brain on what the probable root cause might have been. As it turned out, however, I didn’t need to think so hard.

I simply needed to remember my own advice, given about a year ago, regarding Occam’s Razor: If there is a simple solution and a complex one, the simple solution is usually the best.

In this case, I only needed to remember the opening song from “Les Miserables” – look down.

When I looked down at Sammie’s feet on the pitching rubber I knew exactly what the problem was. She was like this:

Notice her left foot way to the left. Ignore the dirty mat and rough ground around her.

We have been working on her sliding her foot over the center of her body and I thought she had that down. But somewhere along the way she stopped centering, and instead would only slide her foot slightly. As a result, everything was going down the left side, often off the plate.

So we worked once again on the proper slide across, placing her left foot more in this position before driving off:

Ah, that’s better! How long do you think those shoes will stay that white in those conditions?

Once she got her foot more in this position all her problems with being off the plate went away, as if by magic. Control was regained and she once again began dominating hitters.

So there’s the lesson for today. Sometimes a pitcher’s (or any athlete’s for that matter) issues aren’t being driven by some horrible breakdown in mechanics.

As we coaches work to acquire knowledge and hone our craft, we can get caught up in over-thinking the issues and the solutions. This is a good reminder that often a simple adjustment on a pitcher who has been doing well can get her right back on track.

William of Ockham may have been born in 1287. But he would have made a heck of a pitching coach.

“Hip Eye” Helps Encourage Driving the Back Side When Hitting

A few weeks ago I wrote about a cue I’d developed called “shoulder eye.” It’s worth reading the full post, but if you’re pressed for time the core concept is placing an eye sticker on the shoulder, then making sure the shoulder comes forward to see the ball before it tilts in.

Then last week I ran into another issue where the eye stickers came in handy.

In this case it was a fairly new student who was having some challenges getting the hang of driving her back hip around the front side to initiate her swing. She’d done fine off the tee, but when we moved to front toss she just couldn’t help but lead with her hands as she has since she started playing.

It’s way tiny, but it’s the white dot on her back hip.

So… off to my bag of tricks I went, and I came back with an eye sticker. I told her to place it on her back (in this case right) hip. (If you look closely at the top or the full-length photo you can see it.)

I then told her that in order to hit the ball, she had to make sure her “hip eye” came around to get a good look at the ball before starting her hands.

As with shoulder eye I’m not 100% of why this works. But I’m happy to report that it does.

My guess is that placing the eye on the hip (or shoulder) creates more of a, pardon the pun, visual for the hitter. Perhaps “bring your hip around” is too vague, whereas point this eye toward the ball first is more specific.

Or it could just be goofy enough to break well-established, unconscious thought patterns to enable new information to take over.

In any case, it seems to work. I’ve used it a couple of times since that first one and the difference was immediate.

The hitter wasn’t necessarily perfect – I like a lot of drive out of the back side. But it definitely set her down the right path.

So if you have a hitter who is having trouble latching onto the proper sequences of hips-shoulders-bat, or who isn’t using her hips at all, get some eyeball stickers and have her place it on her back hip. It might be just what she needs to start hitting with authority.

In Recruiting, Everything Is A Test

In the 2003 movie “The Recruit,” Al Pacino as CIA recruiter and trainer Walter Burke tells his new potential spies that at The Farm (the CIA’s legendary training ground) to believe none of what they see or hear because “everything is a test.” They quickly find out those are words they need to heed, which is what makes it a movie worth a watch.

Burke’s words that “everything is a test” are worth keeping in mind for softball recruiting as well. While you may not have the extreme experience of being thrown into the back of a van while being out with one of your teammates and being tortured until you break, it’s important to understand that everything you do on and off the field will be carefully observed and cataloged by college coaches looking for their future players.

One of the classic examples, of course, is how you speak to your parents. It doesn’t matter if they’re being annoying, or if you’re just upset because you made an error while the coach was watching.

If you snap at your parents while they’re talking to you and a coach sees it, you can bet that you will move down if not off the recruiting the list of the better teams. They don’t need to put up with your issues when they know they can find a player of comparable skills who will be much easier to deal with.

Oh, that also goes for how you speak to and listen to your team’s coaches. If you appear to be disrespectful or argumentative there, they’ll figure that’s how you’ll be with them as well. No thanks.

Speaking of errors, that’s another thing they look at. Not whether you made an error – college coaches understand physical errors happen – but how you handle it.

Do you get down on yourself? Do you carry the error on the field into your next at bat, or a strikeout or pop out into your pitching? If so, you’re probably not what they’re looking for.

Instead, they want and need players who can handle adversity, because they know there is plenty of it in fastpitch softball. Bad things are going to happen to everyone. But it’s the ones who can get past it quickly that will draw their attention.

It’s not just at games either. Sometimes coaches will come up to you at camp and offer a suggestion regarding your mechanics or a critique about something you did.

They may do it to help you overcome a perceived flaw. But they may also be doing it to see how you react. Will you accept the comment gracefully, or will you give the coach a “look” that says “leave me alone?”

College coaches want to know the players they recruit are, well, coachable. If they perceive you’re not, you’re probably going to get a hard pass. Everything is a test.

Another characteristic they look for is confidence. If a coach engages you in a conversation you’d best be able to hold up your end.

If you’re looking down, or mumbling your responses, or especially if you look to mom or dad before answering a question such as “Why are you interested in (our school)?” it tells them you may not have what it takes to hold up under the pressure of college softball.

That doesn’t mean you should be arrogant. But you should be able to look people in authority in the eye and give them straight, honest answers. It says you’re ready to go out on your own and do what needs to be done.

If you can’t currently do that, start practicing that skill along with your fielding, hitting, throwing, etc. It’s more important than you may realize.

At a tournament, coaches who are interested in you will also look at other things about you. Are you eating healthy foods, or is it all junk food all the time? That says something about how you take care of yourself.

How do you interact with teammates? Do you fit in with them or do you spend most of your time by yourself? When you do speak with them are you positive or negative? A good teammate or a prima donna?

You don’t have to be a social butterfly, but they do want to see you get along well with your peers. Or at least sufficiently well. College softball seasons can be long, with a lot of time spent together in close quarters. If you’re going to be a detriment to the team dynamic they’ll probably figure it’s best if you take your skills (and attitude) somewhere else.

Another thing many players miss is the quality of the materials they send to coaches. Not just whether their skills videos are slick, but whether there are typos in the cover letter or you have the wrong school or coach’s name on it.

These coaches aren’t stupid. They know you’re using the same basic letter and doing search-and-replace.

But they are looking at your attention to detail. Did you inspect the letter or email before you sent it to be sure there were no mistakes?

That’s an easy step to take. But if you can’t be bothered to pay attention to details when you’re presumably going to be on your best behavior, what evidence is there that you will pay attention to details in games? Or in your schoolwork for that matter?

A player on scholarship who can’t play due to grade issues is a giant waste of money – which they can’t afford, especially now.

College coaches are looking for more than just an individual who can hit, pitch, play a particular position, etc. Any coach worth playing for will have an overall idea of they types of players they need to win in terms of character, mental toughness, self-sacrifice, etc. and will look for those qualities as well.

Or as Herb Brooks says in “Miracle”:

The way college coaches find the right players is by speaking with them, observing them, and getting an overall sense of who they really are.

If you want to make yourself more recruitable, remember everything in the process is a test. Act accordingly.

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