Monthly Archives: February 2022
6 Tips for Winning at Tryouts
Much of the U.S. is about to enter tryout time for high school ball. Over the next few weeks, players will have the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and intangibles in the hopes of making the team of their choice.
For most, the preference will be making varsity because, well, that’s the top team and who doesn’t want to be the best? For some, however, it will be just getting on a team at all, or being placed on a team where they will have the opportunity to play for their school rather than cheer others on from the bench.
At this point there isn’t much players can do about their skills. Wherever they are now in their journeys is what they will take into tryouts.
There are some things they can do, however, to give themselves their best chance of making their desired team. While the best thing they can do is be amazing talented and proficient at softball, the type of player that can carry a team to a state title, very few are in that category. So here are a few tips for the rest.
Be On Time and Ready to Go
The simple act of being on time seems to be a lost art today.
That’s a shame, because in my book being late sends a message of “My time is more important than your time.” And since making a team relies on the judgment of the person to whom you’re sending that message, it automatically puts the player who’s trying out in the hole.
A good axiom to follow is “If you’re 15 minutes early you’re on time; if you’re on time you’re late.”
But there’s more to it than just being there. Players also want to make sure they have everything they need out and organized.
For example, if hitting is part of the tryout (and most likely it will be), they shouldn’t wait until it’s time to hit to dig their helmet out of their bat bags, dump out the old granola bar wrappers and find their batting gloves. Those items should already be out so they can be picked up whenever the coach sends them to the cage.
Being on time and ready helps players look like they know what they’re doing. All else being equal, it might be the deciding factor between varsity and JV, or being cut.
Don’t Wait to Be Asked to Show Every Skill
This is something I particularly talk to hitters about, but it’s important at every phase.
Take a hitter who can slug bunt (show a bunt then quickly pull back and slap the ball on the ground). While fastpitch softball has gone crazy for home runs there are still a lot of coaches who understand the value of the short game as well. Having a player who can draw a defense in and then slap the ball through the holes, potentially moving a runner from first to third or second to home would be attractive to many.
Yet the coaches evaluating the tryout won’t have any idea the player can do that unless she demonstrates it during hitting. If the coach doesn’t ask about it (and he/she probably won’t), it’s important for the player to say, “Would you like to see me slug bunt?” or whatever it’s called locally.
The same goes for pitchers. Often coaches will line up prospective pitchers and either use a radar or eyeball who throws the hardest and make decisions from there. So a player with good movement and deceptive speed changes but average speed won’t necessarily stand out.
It’s incumbent upon the pitcher to ensure the coach sees her other pitches. That will help separate her from the girls who throw as hard, or even harder, but can’t do anything else. A smart coach will understand the value of movement and speed changes.
Be Positive and Talkative
A big part of succeeding at tryouts is getting noticed. Now, if a high school player can pitch a legit 70 mph, or hit 300 foot bombs, it’s likely she will be noticed even if she’s as stone-faced and quiet as the Sphinx.
For those who don’t possess those superhuman skills, which is most players, they need to make more of a connection to the coaches and potential new teammates. One way to do that is to engage coaches and other players in conversation.
That doesn’t mean be a mindless chatterbox. But a little friendly conversation goes a long way toward showing what a great team member that player might be.
Even something as simple as, “Hi Coach, good to see you. How is your day going?” will help a player stand out from most of their peers. And if the decision comes down to a player who is pleasant and positive versus one who is quiet or a downer, with skill levels being equal, the coach is more likely to select the friendly one. That’s just human nature.
Try to Be First to Each Station
Coaches like players who hustle. One way to demonstrate that quality is by trying to be first to each station (if different stations are being used).
Say that the tryout players are broken into infielders, outfielders, and hitters, and each group is expected to rotate to all three stations. When the coach calls “switch,” the smart player will not walk or jog but will run to the next station.
Getting there first shows enthusiasm. Getting there not only first but a couple of minutes before everyone else helps demonstrate the type of hustle that every coach wants but rarely finds. If a player is on the bubble, showing hustle can be a key differentiator.
Wear Something Memorable
This tip probably isn’t so important in a small school where everyone pretty much knows everyone, coaches and players alike. But in a larger school with many players trying out for a few slots, it helps to stand out from the crowd.
That doesn’t mean wear something outrageous. A lot of coaches aren’t looking for “colorful” players.
But it does mean players should wear something that makes it easier to identify or recall them with. It could be neon green shoes, or regular shoes with neon green laces. It could be a Metallica t-shirt in a sea of travel team jerseys, or a big ol’ bow in a player’s hair. Anything that gives a coach an easy way to identify that player even if he/she doesn’t know the player’s name.
Of course, some people have built-in identifiers. If a player is the only redhead, or the only member of a particular race or ethnic group, or the only left hander, she’s going to stand out automatically.
For everyone else, find a way to make it easy for all the coaches to recall who the player is instantly.
Help Clean Up at the End
After a long day of tryouts everyone usually just wants to get out and go home. That’s understandable, but it does present another opportunity to win the tryout.
Odds are the group (or a group, such as freshmen) will be told to clean up and put things away. Most players will slop through the process as quickly as possible to get out.
Motivated players, however, can take this opportunity to not only pick things up but help ensure they are organized when they are put away. They may even have the opportunity to speak with the coach a bit while they are doing it.
Smart coaches are always looking for ways to improve team chemistry. Players who show they have that ability will be that much more attractive when it’s time to decide who stays and who goes – and who goes where.
Need the Goods
Of course, none of this makes a difference if the player isn’t very good to begin with. But for those whose fate is hanging in the balance, going that extra mile as laid out here might just make the difference and help them get on the bus. What they do from there is up to them.
Clock photo by Stas Knop on Pexels.com
Clown [hoto by Nishant Aneja on Pexels.com
Sphinx photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com
Two Hands or One? It Depends
I’m pretty sure every fastpitch softball player ever has been instructed to catch with two hands. This mantra is drilled into them from the first time they put on a glove – and often until the last time.
Yet if you watch high-level players play you will often see players catching with just their glove hand. So which way is correct?
The answer is: it depends.
Sorry to equivocate but there is no “right,” one-size-fits-all answer. Because either way can be right depending on the situation.
Using two hands
When receiving a throw, the two-handed approach is generally preferred if the ball is thrown within the area of the torso. Using two hands helps secure the ball and protects against an error in case it accidentally doesn’t make its way into the pocket of the glove.
Two hands are also generally preferred when a throw must be made immediately following the catch, such as on a potential double play. Catching with two hands means the throwing hand is right there with the glove, enabling a faster transfer than if the throwing hand is somewhere else.
Another time two hands is the way to go is when fielding a ground ball between the feet. Especially if it is bouncing instead of rolling. Using two hands makes it easier to react to the unexpected and still make the play.
In the outfield, players should be using two hands to field a fly ball they are already camped under. I know, I know, lots of MLB players use one hand but keep in mind their gloves are large and the ball is much smaller. Not to mention they are bigger and stronger.
Fastpitch softball outfielders are better served using two hands so they can clamp down on the ball after the catch. Just be sure the throwing hand is to the side rather than helping to close the back of the glove like so many seem to like to do.
Finally, when outfielders are fielding a rolling or bouncing ball with no need to make an immediate play, two hands is the way to go.
Using one hand
It would be safe to assume that any situation that isn’t mentioned above would be better-served by using one hand. And you’d be right. But let’s go through a few anyway.
The first is when the player has to reach for a ball, i.e., ball that falls outside their center mass. Reaching with one hand allows you to reach further than doing it with one hand.
That’s just science. The extra inches gained may make the difference between an out and an error.
This reaching applies not just left, right, and up but also down. For example, an outfielder making a do-or-die play will be better off reaching down with her glove hand only so she can keep moving fast and pick up the ball on the run in order to gain more momentum into the throw. Trying to use two hands will only slow her down.
On ground balls, anything to the right or left will work better with one hand – again because it increases the player’s range. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen players try to go laterally with two hands only to see them miss by an inch or two. Maddening!
There are also a couple of positions that are (or at least should be) primarily one-handed. Take first base for example.
While it would be nice if all throws came right to them with time to spare, the reality is that’s rarely the case. First basemen are always stretching in some direction, even if it’s forward.
Having a first baseman try to make these catches one-handed is a rookie mistake. Letting them reach with the glove, and throw the other hand back, will help your team secure more outs, especially as the pace of play gets faster. You can read more about that here.
Catcher is another one-handed position, although for different reasons.
Most times catchers are going to try to receive their ball in the center, even if they have to move that center from side-to-side. The issue here is protecting their throwing hand.
Balls deflecting off bats, bouncing off the dirt, or even breaking suddenly all put the throwing hand at first. Sprain a thumb, jam a finger, or even break a bone in the back of the hand and that valuable catcher will be watching from the sidelines for a while.
Learning to receive with one hand while keeping the other protected will help keep that catcher on the field when you need her.
One-handed catching also has the added bonus of reducing the time to transfer the ball from the glove to the throwing hand on a steal.
Catchers who use both hands to catch the ball tend to pause to transfer the ball before pulling it back to throw. By catching with one hand catchers can bring the ball and mitt to the throwing hand, thus making the transfer part of the throw instead of a separate operation.
It’s a difference of hundredths of a second, but those hundredths can make the difference between safe and out. Here’s where you can learn more about one-handed catching.
So you can see there’s no single blanket answer. How many hands to use depends on the position and the situation.
My recommendation is to teach all players to do it both ways when appropriate. And for goodness sake let your catchers and first basemen use one hand even during warmups so they can build that all-important skill.
Softball Pitching: How You Start Learning Matters
One of the hot topics in the fastpitch softball world is the debate over pitching mechanics. If you haven’t been following any of the dozens of Facebook pages devoted to softball, it essentially breaks down into two camps: internal rotation (IR) and hello elbow (HE). (Full disclosure: I am firmly in the IR camp.)
I’m not going to go into great detail in this post about the differences between the two approaches, as I have done that before. As have other excellent instructors.
Instead I will just briefly summarize that IR is characterized by a bent elbow on the back side of the circle that allows the humerus (upper arm) and elbow to lead down the circle until it is “trapped” by the ribcage, which enables the lower arm to whip past the upper arm and the forearm to pronate into release as it brushes against the hip with a low, natural follow-through. Whereas HE relies on a straight arm and a pushing movement down the back side of the circle with no contact against other body parts until finally the wrist is snapped up purposefully and the hand is pulled up forcefully, usually resulting the hand touching the shoulder (or coming close) and the elbow pointing at the catcher (hence the name).
What’s interesting in this debate is it seems like many defending the HE approach are actually conceding that IR is a better mechanic and that it’s what 99.999% of elite level pitchers use. But they say that HE is a good way to start pitchers, and then they can find their way to IR mechanics when they are older and more mature.
As long-time pitching instructor I can tell you that’s not true. And here’s why.
We are all creatures of our habits. Whatever behavior is ingrained into us early is often difficult to break, even if the old approach is forced and the new approach works more naturally with the body.
A good example is handwriting. Back in less enlightened days, left handers were often forced in school to write with their right hands, either with the intention of helping them fit into the world better or to enforce conformity.
In their later years, as they discovered their left-handedness, they might try to write with that hand but many found it difficult. Moving back to the left hand often took a tremendous amount of work, essentially sending them back to starting from scratch.
In my experience, pitching is the same way. Not always – pitchers who were resistant to the whole HE approach, or who didn’t do it for very long, have been able to make the switch fairly quickly.
But for plenty of others it was incredibly different. Not with the finish where they pull their hands up – that part is so forced that it’s relatively easy to stop, or they will do it well after the ball is gone as a sort of separate movement.
The real culprit is the instruction to turn the ball backwards toward second base, lock out the elbow, and push the ball down the back side of the circle into release. THAT habit has proved incredibly difficult for some to break, especially if whoever taught them originally was adamant about it.
Unfortunately, locking out the elbow and pushing the ball down removes any possibility of whipping the lower arm through the release zone or achieving brush contact. Which means there is no multiplication of energy at release, which limits speed.
Pitchers who are smaller, slimmer, not blessed with a ton of fast twitch muscles or lack other compensating factors really struggle to increase their speed past a certain basic level – no matter how hard they work at it. Until they learn to accelerate the ball by achieving a whipping motion they will not achieve their potential.
And that’s why saying “It’s ok to start them with HE” is a bad idea. Well-meaning coaches or parents will set an artificial cap on speed (as well as their ability to throw movement pitches) that will be difficult to overcome.
Think of it this way: if you want your child to be a kind, well-mannered person, it’s not a good idea to let them start their lives by being rude and disrespectful.
You want to ingrain the desired behaviors early in their lives, setting a good foundation for their eventual entry into society.
The same is true of pitching mechanics. If you want to ensure a pitcher reaches her full potential (and don’t we all?), don’t just start them with any old approach. Teach them right from the start and they’ll achieve more throughout their careers.
Homework v Herework
You have probably heard the statement that it takes 10,000 hours to master a particular skill. While there is definitely some dispute about this statement, especially since one size never fits all, the more critical point is that for 99.999% of the population it takes a lot of repetition to truly get good at something.
What most don’t realize, however, is that in most endeavors there are two types of work.
One can be classified as traditional “homework,” i.e., you learn the basics at practice or lessons and then you continue to work on them at home. The other is what I call “herework,” or the work you do during those practices or lessons.
The challenge for many players is they (and often their parents) think they can accomplish everything they need during the herework and don’t feel the need to do the homework. Here’s why that’s a critical mistake.
Let’s say you’re a pitcher who has been taught to turn the ball back toward second, lock your arm, and push the ball down the back side of the circle. You’ve come to realize that’s not what elite pitchers do, so you go to an instructor who can teach you how to keep a bend in the elbow and the ball oriented to generate whip.
The coach can show you how to do it, and walk you throw various drills that will encourage the change in behavior. That’s good herework and very valuable to the learning process.
But if you leave the practice and don’t work on those same drills while you’re on your own (homework), you’re probably not going to be able to replace your old habits with new ones. So you will continue to perform the movements the way you’ve always done them because that’s what is ingrained into you.
The problem with that is the next time you go to practice or a lesson, you’re right back to square one. Which means instead of building on what you’ve learned already you have to go back and try to learn it again. That’s not much fun (or very efficient) for either you or the coach.
What it comes down to is herework is about making changes, or learning how to make changes. Homework is about locking those changes in so you can continue to move forward.
The same is true with hitters dropping their hands. You know it’s a bad thing, and you can learn what to do instead of dropping your hands to swing the bat in practice. But if you don’t work on that new approach at home, it’s pretty unlikely you will quit dropping them any time soon.
Now, I don’t want to imply that this is a one-week process. How long it takes depends on how long you’ve been doing what you’re doing and how badly you want to change it.
After all, many players want the reward of improvement but are reluctant to put in the hard work to achieve it. I think many also hope their coach will wave a magic wand and make them instantly better.
But it doesn’t work that way. While it may not take 10,000 hours, it does take some investment of time, on your own, to replace old habits with new and see the types of improvements you want to make.
Understanding the difference between herework and homework will help you get there much faster.