Monthly Archives: July 2022

If Softball HAS to Have Time Limits…

I’m pretty sure I’ve made my feelings about time limits for fastpitch softball games pretty clear. You can read all about them in this post. Or this one.

The short version is I don’t like them. Never have, never will.

The reason is fastpitch softball wasn’t designed to have time limits. It’s supposed to have INNING limits, i.e., the game is over after seven (count ’em) seven innings.

As a result the basic rules of the game are designed on the premise of having unlimited time to complete the game. Unfortunately, the reality is that time limits are here to stay.

Most tournaments are designed to make money for the hosting organization, so tournament directors are incented to squeeze as many games as they can into two, or three, or however many days. (The larger tournaments are incented to keep people in town for as many days as possible by spreading the early games out for two or three days and then jamming them all in at the end, but that’s a different issue.)

So what better way to fit 10 lbs. of games into a 5 lb. set of fields than to insist that games end after 90, or 85, or 75, or however many minutes? Even fewer if there were rain delays that prevented games from being played on time?

While time limits themselves are an affront to the game, where the real problems come in is when coaches start all kinds of tomfoolery to take advantage of the disparity between the rules and the consequences of time limits.

You know the ones: the visitors are on the field clinging to a two-run lead and want to either take advantage of “drop dead” rules (where the inning ends when the buzzer goes off) or the “no new inning” rule. So the visiting coach makes a pitching change, then a catching change, then goes out for an unnecessary circle visit for the new pitcher to run time off the clock.

In another instance, the home team is clinging to a one-run lead with five minutes left on the clock so their coach has each hitter go to the plate only to suddenly discover she needs to tie her shoes in a manner not seen since preschool.

Yeah, like this.

If that isn’t enough, the third base coach will pull a hitter in for a conference which, judging by the length, has them discussing how to bring peace to the Middle East.

People on the sidelines will ask why the umpires aren’t doing anything to hurry the game along, but there is actually nothing they can do because there are no rules about what you can do in the last five minutes of the game – because the game isn’t supposed to have a last five minutes!

Duh!

It’s a mess for sure. But I have an idea for how to solve this issue. It’s actually brilliant in its simplicity.

All other sports that have time limits have the time broken into even blocks – quarters, halves, periods, etc. So why not do the same for softball?

If you’re going to have time limits, don’t have one limit for the whole game. Set a time limit for each inning.

If you want games completed in 90 minutes, break the game into 15 minute innings (7.5 for each side plus one minute for each transition). You will still get at least five innings in, but you will eliminate the need for coaches to pull those bush league stalling stunts.

Half innings can also end after three outs, and the remaining time (if any) goes toward the other team’s next inning unless it’s the end of the game. So if the visitors get the home team out in three innings, the remaining time gets added to their upcoming offensive inning, giving both sides an incentive to play their best every inning.

What happens if you’re in the middle of inning with bases loaded when the time expires? Sorry, the inning is over, just like if a basketball team is on a scoring run when the half ends.

Now, you will have to work in some sort of stalling penalty if one team jumps out to a big lead in the first or second inning and then tries to rob the other team of their at-bats. I think it will be pretty obvious if it keeps happening, in which case if the umpire judges it is intentional he/she can award the stalling team’s minutes to other side. That should help keep everyone honest for most of the game anyway.

It’s not an ideal solution, I know. It could be very difficult to manage, especially at first when teams aren’t used to having to play “beat the clock” throughout the entire game.

But as I said before, it’s the way every other game with a clock works. So why not softball?

And maybe, just maybe, if this approach causes such havoc and a sufficient volume of complaints the powers that be will outlaw not only inning time limits but the whole ability to impose time limits at all.

Then their only choice would be to reduce the number of innings in a game for that tournament which, while still not ideal, would be more in keeping with the spirit of the game. It might mean taking on a couple fewer teams into the tournament, but with the proliferation of tournaments these days I doubt anyone would be left without a place to play.

Sure, hosting organizations might make a little less money, or have to reduce the bragging rights about how many teams they have in the tournament. But I’m sure they’ll find another way to make up that lost revenue – or learn they can live without it.

Mull this idea over and let me know in the comments what you think. If nothing else it will give softball parents one less thing to complain about on Monday mornings.

Scoreboard clock image Wyatt Determan, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Didn’t Make the Team? Rise Like a Phoenix

One of the most legendary and beloved creatures in Greek (and other) mythology is the phoenix.

If you’re not familiar with it, at the seeming end of its life the phoenix bursts into flames, leaving behind nothing but ashes. Because it is immortal, however, the phoenix rises back up from those ashes to become even better and more powerful each time it goes through that cycle.

There is a reason I am sharing this story today.

The tryout season can be a rough time for coaches, parents, and players in the best of times. But nowhere is it harder than when a player doesn’t make her first choice team.

Believe me, I know. As a longtime coach I can tell you that cutting players from the roster was always one of the toughest things to do.

But that doesn’t compare to what the players and their parents go through. The disappointment, the sadness, and especially the sense of betrayal if they suddenly find that they are no longer on a team they’ve been a part of previously.

Here’s something I can guarantee, however: it’s not the end of the world. One quick look at postings on Facebook groups will show that there are still plenty of teams looking for players.

The reality is today there is no shortage of teams in most areas, which means there is a cornucopia of opportunities awaiting those who are determined to play and show what they can do. So take heart – while you may feel like you went down in flames today, you will find a place to play in the long term.

It’s not often you get to see a cornucopia photo so far away from Thanksgiving

Of course, in the short term it still stinks. But that doesn’t mean you just have to take it on the chin.

It’s ok to be sad. You may even shed some tears over not being with a particular team, or no longer playing with friends you’ve made, or whatever other disappointments you’re feeling. It’s perfectly fine.

But then it’s time to do something about it!

Grab your glove, your bat, your cleats, and whatever else you need and start trying out for teams that need what you have to offer. Find a place to play for the next year.

Doesn’t matter whether it’s a step up, a sideways move, or even a step down from where you’ve played before. What you need is the chance to hone your game skills as you play the game you love.

In reality you should look at it as an opportunity. Perhaps you were the #10 or #11 player on your old roster. Now you have the chance to prove yourself to be one of the top players, without all the previously established notions your old coaches had about you.

Or maybe you were the #3 or #4 pitcher on your old team, fighting to get an inning or two of pitching in pool play. On your new team you may have the chance to establish yourself as #1 or #2 because your new coaches are looking at you with fresh eyes. It’s all under your control.

Naturally, none of that will happen by chance. You’re going to have to want it, and work for it, probably harder than you have before.

But here’s the other takeaway from your recent unsuccessful tryout experience. You can use it as fuel to keep you working hard at times when you start thinking you’d rather be doing something else.

Imagine getting the opportunity to play against the team that cut you and dominating them in the circle or going 4-for-4 with a couple of extra base hits or making a game-saving play on defense. How will you feel then?

Pretty darned good I would imagine. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of proving others wrong about you and showing them directly what they missed.

Yeah, you know it!

I can tell you this from personal experience, albeit from the other side.

One of the big drivers for me in always trying to learn more and better myself as a coach was having players leave my team after a successful season. They thought they could do better elsewhere.

So after I got over the shock I dug in and tried to make myself so good as a coach that no one would ever want to leave a team I coached again. That pain started me on a journey that continues today.

All in all I’d have to say the temporary sadness was far outweighed by all the great experiences I’ve had and all the great players I’ve gotten to coach since.

So lick your wounds today, but don’t let them rule your life. Pick yourself up, and know that if you believe in yourself and are willing to work hard to achieve your dreams there will be better days ahead.

Get out on as many fields as it takes and find a place to play for next season. Be like a phoenix, rise from the ashes and get ready to fly.

Oh, and if you have a personal story of rising up from a failed tryout or other endeavor and going on to have a great career be sure to share it in the comments to help today’s players with their journey.

Phoenix photo by Estefania Quintero on Flickr

Cornucopia photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

It’s Getting to Be Time to Take a Break

Not for me – my work never ends. But for players we are coming to a natural point to dial back the softball activities so they can rest and recover and maybe experience other things life has to offer.

I know it can be difficult to think of stopping the relentless pursuit of perfection, whether that’s among coaches whose self-worth is tied up in their won-loss records or players (and by that I mostly mean parents) who are laser-focused on winning that college scholarship.

But everyone needs a little vacation from what they’re normally doing to ensure they continue to perform at their highest level the rest of the year.

Right now a lot of teams (although not all) have finished their seasons. Shockingly many have already held their tryouts and selected their teams for 2022-2023 so that’s out of the way.

Even those who haven’t quite finished are getting to the point of winding down the 2021-2022 season. So rather than jumping right into next year, why not put a pin in the softball activities for a little while and go do something else?

This advice, by the way, also applies to my own students. I love you all, but taking a little time off from lessons and practice so you can come at next season with a fresh perspective (and fresh body) would be a good thing. I’ll still be here when you’re ready to get going again.

Of course, for some of you who are all softball all the time you may not know what else to do with yourself. Here are 15 suggestions of how to spend the next few weeks.

  1. Lay around and do nothing. After the intensity of the season doing nothing in particular is perfectly acceptable.
  2. Sleep late. A lot of players skimp on the sleep during the season, especially high school and college players while school is in session. Take this time to build your sleep bank up again. You’re going to need it soon.
  3. Hang out at the pool or lake or water park (if it’s warm enough). Most coaches prohibit going to the pool on game or practice days because it can drain energy and hurt performance. Since every day is a game or practice day these days here’s your chance to enjoy the healing effects of floating in the water.
  4. Visit with non-softball friends. Sure, you love your teammates to death. But it’s ok to have non-softball or even non-athlete friends too. Go hang with them and do young people things.
  5. Visit family. Your grandparents would love to see you. So would your cousins. Spend some quality time with them. Because you may go from team to team but family is forever.
  6. Go to an amusement park. Spend the whole day there without thinking about what time you have to leave to make it to practice. Ride the roller coasters. See the shows. Eat junk (but not enough to throw up on the rides). In other words, have fun.
  7. Go to the zoo or a museum or a botanical garden. Anywhere you can take a leisurely stroll, look at things, and just BE.
  8. See a concert. Doesn’t have to be a big name star. It could just be a local band playing for free in the park, or at a local venue. Music is good for the soul. And since most performances occur at the same time as you normally practice or play, here’s your chance to hear music the way it was intended to be played – live!
  9. Watch a movie or a play in an actual theater. Just remember you’re not in your living room anymore so shut the heck up when the performance is happening.
  10. Go to dinner at a place where you don’t have to bring your own food to the table or where there aren’t 100 TVs playing sports all around you. Enjoy the experience of eating without worrying about what time to get back for warmups.
  11. Have a picnic. Yes, a good old-fashioned picnic where you bring some food and drinks, spread out a blanket, and just enjoy the day in the shade instead of on a blazing hot field.
  12. Go stargazing. Again, grab a blanket, go outside at night in a dark area, and just look up at the marvelous show above you. Appreciate how many stars there are, and remember that even if there is another planet out there somewhere with sentient beings they don’t care if you made an error, struck out, or hit a home run during the championship game this season.
  13. Have a campfire – or go camping. Building on #12, instead of going out for an hour get back to nature and either build a fire in the backyard (with parental supervision if required) or grab a tent and go to an actual campground and hang out in nature. There is something magical about staring at a real fire, especially outdoors (versus in a fireplace).
  14. Learn something entirely new that has nothing to do with softball. Play a musical instrument. Ask someone to teach you how to sew/knit/crochet. Take a course on computer programming. Try another sport like golf or tennis. Start collecting stamps or coins or something else that interests you. A good diversion will not only be good for now, but could also help you decompress once you get back to playing and practicing.
  15. Take a trip to somewhere new. It’s a big, wide world out there full of interesting people and places. Go somewhere where the goal is to experience the location instead of running from the hotel to the ballfield and back again.

These are just a few ideas. I’m sure you can come up with more if you give it some thought.

The key is to get away completely so you can rest, recover, put the last season behind you, and get ready to get back at it with even greater enthusiasm. Remember that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Take a little time off of softball and you’ll probably find your love for it has grown even more while you’ve been away.

Photo by Mateusz Dach on Pexels.com

The Case for Posting New High Pitch Speeds

You’ve probably seen the same Facebook posts I see: Internet pitching experts (I suppose taking a break from their other career of Internet virology or economics experts) complaining about coaches and parents posting when their pitcher daughter hits a new high speed.

They go into a whole rant about how pitching speed isn’t important, it’s more important to locate the pitch and spin it, blah blah blah. It reminds me of this clip from the Jim Carrey movie Liar, Liar:

I get their point to a point, though. Often times coaches become obsessed with raw speed to the point where they ignore other factors.

While it’s true that a pitcher who can overpower hitters with speed can rack up more Ks, that’s not the only way to get hitters out. I personally love a pitcher who can consistently close out an inning in 6-10 pitches – especially on a super hot, muggy day.

Let’s get the team off the hot plate infield as quickly as possible and into where the pop-up tents and sports drinks are.

So then why get so excited about new pitch speeds? It’s simple – it’s a way of measuring how well the pitcher is progressing toward locking down her mechanics.

The key is that these measurements should not be used to rank one pitcher over another. The value, at least the way I use them, is in ranking the pitcher relative to herself.

I have a Pocket Radar set up with a SmartDisplay at every lesson. The pitcher can see the speed results of every pitch. So can her catcher if he/she turns to look.

I call it my accountability meter. If the pitcher is slacking off from where her speed usually is I can see it right away and can “suggest” she put more effort in.

At the same time, it also clues me in to the fact that this pitcher just may not have it today.

Perhaps she just came from a two-hour basketball practice full of conditioning drills. Her legs are dead and she’s just not capable of generating max speed. So maybe we work on spins, or focus on her release point, or do other things that don’t rely on her legs.

Or maybe she’s starting to get sick, or nursing an injury. Whatever the issue is, the radar provides a quick clue that something isn’t quite optimal.

The important point is that we are measuring that pitcher relative to herself, not her teammates or some other random pitcher on the Internet. And I post the speeds to celebrate the individual’s achievement, whatever that may be.

If it was purely about speed, or promoting the pitching coach, those coaches would only post the new highs of their kids throwing 60+. I’ve certainly seen that.

But for me, I’m just as excited for the high school pitcher who came to me throwing 43 and is now throwing 48 as I am for the 60+ girls. Maybe even moreso.

You see, it takes a certain combination of factors (including genetics) to throw at higher velocities. Those who are athletically gifted can reach that level much more easily than those who are not.

But for some pitchers, especially those who are smaller and lighter, increasing their speed at all may take a lot more work than it does for the athletically gifted. So while in the pantheon of pitching prowess 48 may not sound like much, for that particular pitch it’s a huge deal, the culmination of a whole lot of effort and practice.

Achievements like that deserve to be celebrated.

Hooray!

Having a way of measuring progress, and celebrating it through social media, also provides some great incentive to those pitchers. Especially after they’ve been through it a couple of times.

They see the radar there. They want their picture taken and posted, and they want to be able to say they throw X, which is faster than they have before.

So I don’t have to do much to motivate them to work. They go for it themselves. And once they’ve hit it they work even harder to make it their baseline so they can move on to the next speed goal.

All of which helps them grow into the pitchers they’re meant to be.

Does that mean we focus on speed exclusively? Of course not!

Spot and spin are still incredibly important, as is the ability to throw a changeup that looks like it will be that fast while taking 12-15 mph off of the result. That’s pitching instead of just throwing.

But the name of the game is FASTpitch softball. Which to me means every pitcher should be doing all she can to wring every ounce of speed she can out of her body, because all those elements work better if you start from a higher baseline.

I tell my students we have four words to live by: faster is always better. That doesn’t just mean the speed of the pitch but also the approach taken to delivering it.

If you move faster your body will create and transfer more energy. That’s science (force=mass x acceleration). It will also disguise your changeup better.

So let the naysayers complain. In my mind, measuring the speed of every pitch helps keep pitchers focused and on upward trajectory.

Not so their parents or coaches can get bragging rights. But so they become the pitchers they’re meant to be.

Applying Deep Practice to Overcome Stumbling Blocks

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Anyone who has read the book The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle has heard of the concept of “deep practice.” You may have blown right by it but you’ve heard of it.

Part of the key to deep practice is repeating movements over and over in ultra-slow motion. As I recall Coyle says movements should be so slow that someone passing by casually can’t tell what you’re trying to do.

This week I had a chance to test this idea out on several pitching students to see how much it would help. The short version (and spoiler alert): quite a bit.

Each of these students, whose ages varied from 10 to 16, was having trouble throwing her changeup. Specifically they were all having trouble getting their hand into the proper position at the right time to make it work.

When it happened the first time I remembered The Talent Code and told the pitcher to work through how to get her hand turned the right way at the right time going ultra-slowly. After about a dozen reps at that speed I told her to go back to the pitching rubber and throw it.

The pitch was spot-on. Not just once but every time she threw it.

Pretty much how we reacted.

Hmmm, I thought, that worked pretty well. But of course “one” is not a valid sample.

So, the next student who had trouble with her change was advised to do the same. And we got the same results!

As I recall I did this with half a dozen students and it worked every time. Not just a little bit but to the point where if the pitcher threw that pitch in a game it most likely would have resulted in either a swing and miss or a hitter frozen mid-swing.

Of course, six isn’t really a valid sample either so I plan to continue the experiment with students who are having trouble with the mechanics of any pitch. I fully expect I will get similar results regardless of the pitch.

I hesitate to say it’s a magic bullet. But so far, it’s about as close as I’ve found.

This has nothing to do with the story but I found it amusing.

The good news is this technique isn’t just for pitchers. It can be applied to any skill where an athlete knows what to do at some level but isn’t quite able to do it.

Have a hitter who is having trouble keeping the bat head up until she turns the corner and then turning the bat over? Have her do it properly, very, very slowly, over and over.

Have a fielder who keeps dropping her elbow instead of getting into a good throwing position? Have her work on the proper technique, very, very slowly, over and over.

Have a catcher who is sitting back on her heels when she blocks instead of getting her shoulders out in front of her knees? Have shortstop who is having trouble transferring the ball for a double play? You get the idea.

Just one caution. I’m fairly certain the benefits we achieved so far were temporary. That’s why I’ve told the girls who did it to keep practicing that way, 20-50 times per day.

The beauty is they don’t need a field, or a ball, or a tee, or a catcher, or anything else. Just enough space to work on the proper movement patterns until they’re locked in – however long it takes.

If you have a player who is struggling to do something, especially something she’s shown she can do before, give the ultra-slow movement approach a try. And if you do, let us all know how it works out in the comments below!

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