Monthly Archives: March 2021

Advice From the Batman: Play to Win

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Last weekend my two sons Adam and Eric came over to the house for a big event: to watch “Zach Snyder’s Justice League.

First off let me say that while the movie is more than four hours long it was time well-spent. Not only because I got to spend that kind of time with two of my favorite people in the world but also because the movie is everything the fans who pushed for it to be released hoped it would be.

If you like epic comic book movies where the characters have real motivations, and lots of action, and you have access to HBO Max (or know someone who does) be sure to check it out. You won’t be disappointed. Here’s a little taste:

Ok, on to softball.

After battling the villain Steppenwolf (and losing), the heroes (sans Superman) are all in the Batcave talking about what their next move is. One of them (can’t remember who, did I say it was a four hour long movie?) makes a suggestion for a strategy. Then the Batman says something profound – something to the effect of:

“That’s just playing not to lose. All that does is delay how long it takes you to lose. We need to play to win.”

What a great concept. Playing not to lose just delays how long it takes you to lose.

Think about that in a softball context, especially now that nearly every travel softball game has a time limit. How many times have you seen coaches call time out for an unnecessary mound conference, or had their hitters go to the plate and slowly tie their shoes, or do some other stall tactic to try to get the “drop dead” alert to go off before they have to do anything?

Plenty, I’m sure.

They may think they’re playing to win, but really they’re playing not to lose. The message they’re sending to their team is either “I don’t think we can beat this team straight up but we’re ahead right now so let’s take it” or “I’m afraid you guys will do something to screw up this victory so I’m not going to give you the chance.”

And yes, the result might be that they win that game. But all it really did was delay how long it will take them to get knocked out.

Winners play to win.

Let’s look at another situation – the coach who doesn’t want her team taking any chances. Don’t throw down to first to try to pick off the runner because you might throw the ball into right field. Don’t try to hit the ball hard with two strikes, just make contact. Don’t throw a drop ball with two strikes because the catcher might miss it.

Those are all things great players do. But this coach isn’t looking for great. She’s looking to not lose because of a mistake.

Now, there are definitely times to be conservative in your approach. But not all the time. That’s playing not to lose instead of playing to win.

The problem with playing not to lose is you put your fate into someone else’s hands. Yes, you’ve minimized your mistakes, but you’ve also minimized your ability to rise above your current level of play to become something greater.

And if every player on the team is afraid to make a mistake, maybe because the coach will scream at her or yank her out of the game in the middle of an inning, the team will never come close to fulfilling its potential. Instead, it will just be trying to hold on for as long as it can until a team that wants it more comes and takes it away from them.

It’s like they say in the grossly underrated comedy “Fired Up!” – you’ve gotta risk it to get the biscuit.

Sure, it’s riskier to play to win than to play not to lose. But what’s the point of playing if you’re not playing to win?

Coaches, teach your players to be confident in their abilities even when it might be easier to just lay back and tie their shoes for five minutes. It’s better for them, and in the long run it will be better for you as well.

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Explaining Explosive

Explosive. Dynamic. Ballistic. These are all words that are used to describe the way the body should move in fastpitch softball.

Pitchers are told to explode off the rubber and to make the arm whip a ballistic move. Hitters are told to explode their hips and then let the bat explode through the ball. Fielders are told to make a dynamic move laterally to get to the ball.

That’s all well and good, and those are great words to describe the types of movement that are involved. If you’re an adult.

If you’re a kid, especially a younger player, those big words may not mean as much. They know they’re supposed to explode, but they don’t exactly know what that looks like.

That’s where it’s important to relate what you want to something that’s already within their experience. Particularly if it’s something visual.

When you’re talking about explosion, a balloon makes a handy prop.

Blow up the balloon, and first let the air back out slowly. You can relate it to how they’re moving now.

Then pull out a pin and pop the balloon. Tell them that is what explosion looks like.

(This is particularly fun if you have kids on your team who look like they’re aliens searching the skies for the mother ship when you’re talking to them. It will definitely get their attention, and encourage them to watch you more closely from now.)

The key here is showing how quickly and suddenly the balloon goes from being inflated to being gone. One quick poke with the pin and it’s no longer there.

If you don’t have a balloon and a pin handy, another way to explain it is to talk about how you would try to scare a sibling by jumping out at him or her.

If you just walk out in front of them, they’re unlikely to be scared. Annoyed, perhaps, but not scared.

But if you pop up from behind a door, or a couch, or something else that keeps you hidden from sight until the sibling enters the room (like a jump scare in a cheesy ’80s horror movie), you can get them to jump and maybe even drop that bowl of cornflakes they just got finished preparing. Just be ready to run afterwards.

It’s easy for fastpitch softball players to get so caught up in trying to do things the right way mechanically that they become, well, mechanical. They move slowly and deliberately, which might look good on a slow motion video but doesn’t do much for helping them generate power.

Giving them the balloon or jump scare demonstration will help them understand better what you’re looking for, and more importantly what will help them produce better results.

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5 Tips for Preparing Yourself for Tryouts

Fastpitch softball can change your life

The fastpitch softball tryout season for high school is rapidly approaching in many areas. Normally it’s already over by now, but thanks to COVID-19 it’s been delayed by a few weeks.

I’m sure the parents who are used to sitting in nasty cold weather (whatever that is for your area) don’t mind pushing the season back until a little closer to actual Spring.

Now, I have written in the past about things you can do to show well on the day(s) of tryouts. Those articles were brilliant, of course, and you can find them here and here. Others have as well.

But what isn’t talked about much are the things you can do before tryouts begin to help you show your best. Remember the old saying that “Success is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

The opportunity is the tryouts, and you don’t have a lot of control over what happens there. But the preparation is what happens before that day, and you have plenty of control over that.

Here are a few things you can do to ensure you’re ready when the opportunity presents itself.

#1 Start running. A lot.

Yes, I know. You got into softball because you don’t like running. But in a tryout you’d better be prepared to do a lot of it.

You might think that softball teams have their prospects run a lot during tryouts to get them in shape for the season. In some cases that may be true.

But often they use running to weed out the players who are dabbling versus those who are committed. It’s a lot easier to win when your team is committed.

If I wanted to run I would have stuck with @#$%&* soccer.

It also saves them the heartache of having to make cuts. Except for maybe a sadistic few, most coaches (especially in high school) don’t like having to cut players. It takes an emotional toll.

So if they can get those players to cut themselves it makes their job that much easier.

Bottom line is, if you’re planning to make it through the first two to three days of tryouts, start running sprints and distance now. You can thank me later.

#2 Learn to hit off a pitching machine.

I hear this all the time: “I can’t hit off a pitching machine.” Well, sister, you’d better learn because that’s what’s used in a lot of high school tryouts.

You can be the greatest hitter in the world (or at least your school) off of a live pitcher. But it’s unlikely anyone is going to see that during a tryout because they don’t have a live pitcher throwing to hitters.

If you’re lucky they’ll have a coach doing front toss. But more than likely you’ll be facing a wheel machine because that enables coaches to see you hitting against more speed.

The problem is the way pitching machines are fed makes it very difficult for those who aren’t used to it to be successful. Fortunately for you, I did an entire video blog on this topic, so check it out and practice the techniques to help yourself get ready. You’ll be glad you did.

#3 Make sure your throwing is spot-on.

This is an area many players don’t even think about. But it can be a huge difference-maker, especially if you’re not an overall standout athlete.

I know when I used to do tryouts our coaches would watch prospects throwing in warmups. It would look like we were just impatiently waiting for them to finish their obligatory warm-ups, but actually we’d be looking at their throwing technique.

Those who can throw smoothly and confidently, and hit their targets at least most of the time, stand out from the girls who push the ball, drop their elbows, or whip their arms wildly around their heads.

Statistically, 80% of all errors are throwing errors, so if you can eliminate those you again stand a much better chance of winning a ballgame. And the easiest way you can do that is to select players who already know how to throw a ball.

This can be a problem even for players who throw, hard by the way. An inaccurate hard throw will bang off the fence much further than a softer inaccurate throw, so don’t make your judgment based solely on how good an arm you have. Be sure you can hit what you’re throwing at too.

If your arm does need some work you can try this product. You can also look into the High Level Throwing program, which can make a huge difference in a relatively short amount of time.

Whichever way you go, get on it fast. Learning to throw properly can not only help you look better in a tryout. It can save you from a lot of pain and arm injuries down the road.

#4 Check your equipment and replace it as-needed.

When you go to a tryout you want to be sure not only that your equipment works but that you look like you’re an Ace. A floppy, beat-up glove, shoes with holes in them, catcher’s gear that looks like it’s been through a war, a bat with the grip hanging off or paint falling off, etc. doesn’t make a very good first impression.

Particularly if you have to stop to make repairs.

Go through all the gear you will use during a tryout and ask yourself, “Does this look like the equipment a top-level player would use?” If not, and if you have the ability, replace it.

The same, incidentally, goes for the clothes you plan to wear at the tryout. First impressions do count.

If your lucky t-shirt is all raggedy, or your favorite softball pants look like you were crawling around the alley looking for quarters, find something else to wear. Can’t do much about the pants, but you can always wear the lucky t-shirt under another shirt or jersey.

#5 Know the environment where you’ll be trying out.

In some areas it will be obvious whether tryouts will be held inside or outside. If it’s 30 degrees outside with snow on the field you can bet you’ll be indoors.

But with tryouts happening later in many parts of the country it may not be so simple. You might even be indoors one day and outdoors the next.

As a result, you’ll want to be sure you’re prepared no matter what the decision will be. If you’ll be in a gym, have a good pair of gym shoes available to wear. If you’ll be on turf, have turf shoes. For a regular softball field, have cleats.

If you even suspect you’ll be outside during the day, be sure to pack your sunglasses. Nothing worse than missing fly balls in the outfield not because you can’t catch but because you can’t see.

Also be sure you have warm clothes in case you’re outside for an extended period of time. That includes jackets that will keep the wind from cutting through your clothes.

Can you believe Coach is still having outdoor tryouts today?

A hoodie may seem warm, but if it’s chilly and the wind kicks up you’ll find out just how little protection it offers. A warm hat or headband will also be in order, as well as a warm pair of socks (assuming you can still get your cleats on over them).

If you’re miserable, it will show in your demeanor and your play. Being ready for any conditions will help you show your best.

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Penguin photo by DSD on Pexels.com

The Importance of the Poker Face When Catching for Your Daughter

While I am definitely not a big-time gambler, I have always thought that if I wanted to put together a high-stakes poker game where I would have a high chance of winning I would invite the bucket parents of young, preferably beginner, fastpitch softball pitchers.

Not that they have a lot of money available to drop in a game. Lord knows you could buy your own college on what some parents spend trying to get their daughters a scholarship, and even lower-level play can empty a bank account faster than my friends and I could destroy the buffet options at a Pizza Hut.

But whatever money they do have would quickly be mine for one simple reason: their inability to hide their emotions on any sort of regular basis.

I’m sure it doesn’t happen intentionally, but I see it time and again. Their daughter throws a strike and they’re all smiles and excitement, ready to call Patty Gasso to tell her they have her next ticket to the Women’s College World Series punched.

Then the next pitch the ball is in the dirt behind the imaginary batter and they look like they’ve just been told they have to tell John Wick his new dog is dead. Kind of reminds me of this guy:

Well, maybe not quite to that extent. But all the signs are there.

The crestfallen face. The biting of the lower lip. The shoulder slump. The slow walk to retrieve the ball. The pleading in the eyes to “just throw strikes.” Or conversely the unbridled glee when the pitch does what it’s supposed to, like Ralphie and his brother Randy opening presents on Christmas morning.

The thing is I don’t think they’re showing these emotions on purpose. In fact, they probably don’t even know they’re doing it.

But I can see them.

And if I can see them guess who else can?

That’s right, Their daughters, who (in almost all cases) are doing their best to learn this very complicated skill.

Here’s the problem. As a general rule, girls tend to be more focused on pleasing others than boys. And they really want to please their parents.

So if mom or dad inadvertently looks angry, frustrated, disgusted, like their world has ended, etc., it will launch a whole range of emotions accelerated by raging hormones. And at that point, it becomes even more difficult for them to pitch with any semblance of speed and accuracy.

This is an important lesson for every parent (and coach) to learn. I know I had to.

Both of my daughters pitched, and they certainly reacted to however I reacted. I didn’t realize it, however, until I took the ASEP coaching course and they talked about body language and what it tells your team.

It was a real eye-opener for me because I pretty much ticked all the boxes. Hanging Head Syndrome. Heavy Sighs. Banging my hand on the fence when something would go wrong.

I had to work at developing that steely-eyed poker face so that no matter what happened it became a non-event. It wasn’t easy, and I would backslide now and then. But it was worth it.

That’s what I recommend for you bucket parents. Pitching in fastpitch softball is hard. If you don’t believe me, pay close attention in your daughter’s next lesson and then go home and try to do the things she is being asked to do. Then keep in mind she has the body control and fine motor skills of child or adolescent, not an adult.

The best thing you can do for your daughter’s development is to work on your poker face. Learn to control your emotions like a Jedi so that no matter what happens your face, and your body language remains completely neutral.

If you can do that, it will free her to develop her skills guilt-free, which will hasten her improvement considerably. Before you know it you won’t need those abilities because she’ll be performing at a level that makes it a little easier to relax and enjoy the ride.

Don’t worry, though. All that effort you put into hiding your true feelings won’t go to waste. You can instead apply those skills the next time you’re at a tournament and the parents decide a little “adult time” at the local casino is in order. With a little luck you might even be able to cover the weekend’s expense.

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