Monthly Archives: May 2021

Loyalty Is a Two-Way Street

This is the time of year when the rubber starts to hit the road in travel ball. All the promises of tryouts, all the good intentions, and all the talk of “we’re in it for the girls” starts getting tested as games get real and the outcome of the season is at stake.

The result is that some players/families begin to get disenchanted with their positions on the team and start thinking they might be better-served somewhere else.

They may or may not be correct. If you’re a player or parent who thinks playing time should be handed out like Halloween candy, regardless of effort or output, you’re probably not going to be any happier on the next team than you are on this one.

Your lack of skills and knowledge will be a detriment to whatever team you’re on, and coaches will recognize that pretty quickly. Your lack of effort to improve will also be noticed, making it easier for you to be left watching the game from the dugout.

But there is another class of player who may also be facing this decision. She has been working hard, showing improvement, earning her right to be on the field. But for whatever reason, the coaches have made their decision not to play her and that’s the end of that.

No matter what that player does or shows she can do, her fate on this team is sealed. Those are the ones who may find it necessary to seek a team.

Yes, I’ve seen all the bloviating on Facebook and other sources about how you just have to stick it out, and how horrible it is that players switch teams so quickly these days – whether that’s at the youth or college level.

I’m all for having to work your way up, and quite frankly think you should never join a team where you will clearly be the best player, either overall or at your position. The competition will make you better.

But all of those memes and rants presume you are working with a level playing field. Unfortunately, there are a lot of ways the field can be made permanently unlevel.

One common example is a player might play the same position as the coach’s daughter, or the coach’s daughter’s best friend. For a certain type of coach, that means his/her daughter or her friend will always play every inning at that position – no matter how many errors she makes or how many times she strikes out with runners in scoring position.

At that point, you either resign yourself to playing another position or playing your position with another team. If there isn’t an opportunity to ever show what you can do, the only option left is the status quo. Or as my friend Ray Minchew puts it, “It’s tough to build a track record when you never get on the track.”

What that often means is that you fall into the category of “spare parts.” A team needs a minimum of nine players to field a full team, but it’s likely that all nine won’t be able to be at every game. So it also needs people to fill in.

That’s where you come in. If one of the starters can’t make it, and the coach can’t find a guest player to fill that spot, you get on the field. Just know that once the starter comes back you will be back to the bench, no matter how well you did when you had that opportunity.

One of the things the “just tough it out” proponents will tend to bring up at this point is loyalty. They will moan how players are selfish and no one shows loyalty to the team anymore.

In my opinion, however, loyalty is a two-way street. If a coach isn’t loyal enough to his/her players to give them opportunities to demonstrate their abilities and legitimately compete for a spot, why should any of the players be loyal to the coach or team?

The reality is they probably won’t be. If all decisions are transactional, i.e., either the coach wants to win and doesn’t care if players are happy or the coach is more interested in keeping certain players happy or making them the “stars.” there is little reason to stick around if you’re not part of the “in-crowd.” Your situation isn’t going to change.

All anyone should be able to expect is a fair shot at playing. They then have to show what they can do.

But if they do, they should be rewarded appropriately. Otherwise, what is the incentive for working hard or for sticking it out?

If you’re a coach who wants loyalty from your team, start by showing loyalty to your players. ALL your players, not just your favorites or the ones who share a last name with you.

No one signs up for a team for the opportunity to ride the bench all season with no hope of parole. They want to play. Every. Single. One. Of. Them.

Give them that opportunity and they will be yours for life. But if you don’t do it, don’t be surprised when your “spare parts” decide they’d rather seek their fortunes elsewhere.

How A Can of Marking Paint Can Help Hitters Hit Better

Grace Bradley named to All-State team

There is no shortage of companies out there that manufacture a variety of devices to help hitters hit better. Some are worth the money, others may be well-meaning but detrimental, and still others may be just another ploy to separate you from your money.

One thing I have found to be both helpful and affordable, however, is a $5-$7 can of plain old white marking paint. (You may even be able to find it for less.)

Here’s how I came about this amazing discovery.

I was working with a couple of college players last summer on a large field with no fences. They were hitting bombs off front toss, but both felt like they were just popping it up because their hits weren’t getting all that far from the infield. Or at least that’s what they thought.

The problem was it as a HUGE open field with a lot of grass in the outfield. Enough to put a full-size soccer field behind it.

So when they hit the ball, it was a lot closer to them than it was to the other side of the field. Hence their thought that it didn’t go far.

It was at that point I decide to go to the local hardware store and pick up a can of line marking paint. With the can in hand, I paced off 200 feet from home plate and marked a line. I chose 200 feet because that is the typical fence distance in high schools and colleges, so a fly ball past the line would be a home run just about everywhere.

Also useful for leaving messages for annoying people. But you didn’t hear that from me.

I did this once to left, once to center, and once to right. I then marked lines in-between just to make them easier to spot depending on where you stood.

(I followed this up by measuring with a 100 foot measuring tape. Proud to say I was within one foot of the tape measure thanks to skills I learned in marching band.)

The next time we did a hitting session I was able to show those hitters that those little can-of-corn fly balls they thought they were hitting were actually traveling 210, 230, sometimes 270 feet. That certainly helped them gain a whole different feeling about what they were doing!

I now try to mark those lines on any field I use. Even if a hitter doesn’t hit anything “over,” just getting close can be quite the confidence-booster. Line drives that fall short but roll past are now seen as getting to the fence, which is a whole different feeling as well.

The only downside, of course, is when whoever owns the field cuts the grass. You then have to re-mark the lines or you will lose them. Worst case you simply have to measure again. (PRO Trick: Try to find landmarks out to the sides, like a shed or a permanent sign, to help you find your markers when they fade.)

I have done this with multiple girls and it has produced tremendous results for me. Knowing the lines are out there gives them a goal, keeping them accountable and encouraging them to give their all on every repetition – kind of like using a radar gun on a pitcher.

As great as it is physically, however, I think the best effect is psychological. When a girl sees she is CAPABLE of hitting the ball to or over a fence it changes her entire approach at the plate.

Rather than just hoping to make weak contact she will then intentionally start trying to hit the ball hard. When that happens, the results tend to improve.

If you have a hitter who needs a little perspective like this, try stopping by your local hardware store or home center and picking up a can of line marking paint. It could pay huge dividends for you.

College Playoffs and WCWS Create Unique Learning Opportunity

The next few weeks promise to be a softball fanatic’s dream.

First you have all the major D1 college conference championships that will be televised on the various flavors of ESPN. Plus all the others that are available through various streaming services, including D2 and D3.

Then there are the regionals, super regionals and Women’s College World Series games that will take us through early June. Here’s an overview of what that schedule will look like.

While I’m sure it will be enjoyable to watch, there’s more to it than just entertainment. All this great softball on TV provides an invaluable learning opportunity for young teams – and one which most of today’s players don’t seem to take much advantage of.

When I start with a new student, I will often ask her if she can name any famous players at whatever skill we’ll be working on. For example, if it’s a new pitching student I’ll ask who she admires as a pitcher or what famous names she knows.

More often than not I get a blank stare. If I name a few for them, such as Cat Osterman, Amanda Scarborough, Monica Abbott, or Sarah Pauly, most of the time they may have heard of the name but have never seen them pitch.

As a result, most of the time they have no idea what a high-level pitcher looks like in action. The same is true for hitters and fielders.

That’s why the next few weeks present such a tremendous opportunity. Some of the best players in the world will be showcased doing what they do best. These are young women who do what you would like your players to do.

So why not take advantage of that and replace a normal practice with a watch party? You can find out when a local or semi-local team is playing and watch that game.

Or see if there is a player from your area on one of the teams and have your team watch her specifically. Show them that these aren’t just figures on TV but real players who once stood where your players do now.

Make a party of it. Supply some snacks, order some pizza, maybe even organize a sleepover if that’s appropriate. Then at game time, actually watch what happens and discuss the action on the field.

You might even pause the game and run back a good play to show the effort that went into it, or re-watch a bad play to talk about what should have happened instead. You can also talk about the strategy of why a team or player did what they did (good or bad) to help raise your team’s collective softball IQ.

It has been estimated that the majority of people in the world (65%) are visual learners. Showing your players both good and bad examples in real time helps them understand more thoroughly the techniques and strategies you’re trying to teach them.

As you watch the game, perhaps the coaches and players can make a list of things they want to work on at the next practice. Maybe it’s diving to catch a ball. Maybe it’s a type of slide they saw, or a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch. Maybe it’s a suicide squeeze.

Whatever it is, seeing it performed and then trying it themselves may be just the spark they need to inspire them to play at a higher level than they are now.

Watching a game on TV also gives your players a chance to gain some perspective about their own performance. They may see a pitcher give up a critical home run, then come back to strike out the next hitter.

They may see a player make an error to give up the go-ahead run, then come through later in the game with a key hit. Ultimately, especially in an elimination game, they will see the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” played out in real time.

The other nice thing about watching the games on TV (versus going in person, which is also a great experience) is that it doesn’t cost much. A little food and drink, the price of the cable or streaming channel (if it isn’t free) and the time to clean up afterwards is about all you need.

But you can create a learning and bonding experience that will benefit your players for a long time to come.

Sure, we all like to grind away on the field. But if all your players ever see is each other, and players on other teams of comparable ability, they may never realize there is a much larger world out there.

Show them some of the best in the world playing the game at a high level and you just might inspire a level of play and enthusiasm in them that they wouldn’t have achieved before.

Still Value in Learning to Think Like a Pitcher

These days, even at the younger levels, it seems like the goal is to turn softball players into robots. Nowhere is that illustrated more than the way pitch calling is often handled these days.

In many instances, perhaps even most, coaches are calling pitches from the bench. This occurs whether they actually know how to call a game or not. (Many do not.)

All that’s expected of pitchers and catchers is that they look at their ubiquitous arm bands, follow the rows and columns to the number called, and then throw whatever the answer key says. No thought required, and no shaking off the call.

That’s why I was heartened to receive an email from Tony Carlin, whose daughter Alyssa is a class of ’23 player currently pitching for her high school team.

She was pitching a game, he says, and breezed through the first four innings. Then, as I discussed in a previous post, she began to run into some trouble in the fifth inning.

The opposing team began to hit her, probably because they’d seen her a couple of times by now and was in a different situation than she usually faces in time limit-shortened games. I will let Tony tell the rest of the story:

“The 6th and 7th inning she told me she changed her strategy , and she did very well. She noticed that the batters started showing confidence, were making good contact, and were swinging at the 1st pitch, so she threw everything off the plate or below the knees and got them to chase , and chase badly.”

Brilliant! Alyssa saw that the other team’s hitters were trying to jump on her first pitch so she just threw junk at them – the kinds of pitches you normally reserve for an 0-2 or 1-2 count. In doing so she re-took control of the game and got the win.

What I like most is that she wasn’t just in the circle throwing – she was thinking.

Pitching to hitters is very much a cat-and-mouse game. When the hitters change what they’re doing, pitchers must adjust or they may end up getting clobbered.

But what do you do when the coach is calling the pitches and insisting you throw what he/she calls? Figure out how to change the equation while living within the parameters.

For example, if the call is for a dropball on the outside corner and you know the umpire is giving that and more, throw the ball off the plate. If hitters are being aggressive, throw it a little lower or further outside – anywhere it’s tougher to hit.

If hitters are routinely taking the first pitch, throw your first pitch fat on the plate, the way you would on a 3-0 count. If hitters are routinely laying off a pitch in a location and the umpire is calling it, talk to your coach about starting the hitter with that pitch.

After all, the goal is to get ahead of the hitter. What better way than to throw a pitch she doesn’t like to swing at? You never know – you may force the hitters to start swinging at pitches they don’t like and can’t hit well, either giving you a free strike or a weak contact that turns into an out.

The key thing is to pay attention to what is going on, and figure out for yourself where you can gain an advantage. It’s not only a lot more effective – it’s a lot more fun.

One other thing Tony told me is he was reminding Alyssa to pitch the full seven innings required for a traditional game by holding up seven fingers. He said the coach probably thought he was signaling pitches from the sidelines but he would never do that. He just wanted to be sure she didn’t fall into the time limit trap.

There is more to pitching than great mechanics – much more. True pitchers know how to take what hitters (and umpires) are giving them and use it to their advantage.

Pitchers should regularly walk through imaginary lineups, types of hitters, and situation to learn not just how to throw but what to throw when. It just might help you get out of a serious jam someday.

%d bloggers like this: