Monthly Archives: August 2022

Land the Helicopter: How Parents Can Get the Best Value from Their Child’s Softball Lessons

Here’s the situation. You are bringing your fastpitch softball player (or any child in any sport for that matter) to a private instructor.

Presumably you have vetted that instructor and think he/she has something to offer your player. Then, when the instructor explains how to do something you take it upon yourself to repeat the exact same instructions to your daughter (or son)?

Probably more of you than you care to admit. I get why you do it.

You’re excited, and you see the value in what’s being said. You’re also anxious to be sure your daughter (or son) understands what’s being said so she (or he) can execute it flawlessly. Not to mention you’re probably used to giving your child instructions in all areas of her (or his) life.

Yet whether you realize it or not, all you’ve done is get in the way of the learning process. It would be like following your daughter (or son) to math or history class and repeating everything the teacher says – as if your daughter (or son) can only understand information when it’s given by you.

To get the best value for the money you’re investing, you need to let the instructor do his (or her) job. Unless the instructor speaks a different language and you need to translate, or your daughter (or son) is hearing-impaired and needs you to sign what’s being said, allow the instructor to speak and interact directly with your daughter (or son).

The reality is if you and an instructor are both talking, your daughter (or son) is going to tend to hear your voice over the instructor’s. After all, she (or he) is used to hearing you and is attuned to your voice.

They don’t like it, but they’re attuned to it.

But if you’re bringing your daughter (or son) to an instructor, presumably it’s because the instructor has a level of expertise you don’t possess. Or your daughter (or son) just tunes you out and needs to hear the same thing from a different voice.

Either way, if you’re repeating what the instructor says you’re not getting what you want out of it.

It’s like the scene in the movie “The Blind Side” where the private tutor is suggesting topics for Michael Oher to write about. At one point she mentions “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” at which point Michael’s father starts quoting the poem from the couch as he’s watching basketball.

The tutor (played by the great Kathy Bates) then says to him, “How about you come teach then and I’ll watch basketball?”

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be involved in the lessons. I will always invite parents to come in close to observe and listen so they can reinforce what I’m teaching. After all, I tell them, they will spend a lot more time with their daughter (or son) than I ever will.

But it’s not an open invitation to jump in and conduct the lesson, or parrot what I just said.

No really, you don’t have to repeat everything.

It’s an opportunity to hear it first-hand rather than trying to guess what’s being said from a distance based on hand gestures and other movements.

Now, if a parent needs a clarification because he/she doesn’t understand, then absolutely. Speak up.

If a parent recognizes that his/her daughter (or son) isn’t getting it, based on verbal cues, then yes, they should encourage their daughter (or son) to ask a question rather than standing there silently in panic. No problem there.

But they should let the instructor instruct.

That especially goes for the bucket parents who are on the receiving end of pitches. Don’t tell your daughter (or son) to throw strikes, or complain that you’re having to chase the ball or that your daughter (or son) isn’t doing this or that correct.

That’s the instructor’s job. He or she probably has a process, and you inserting other ideas can mess that up considerably.

Simply pay attention to what’s being said, try to understand what the goals are for the lesson, and be supportive as your daughter (or son) attempts to learn something new or get out of her (or his) comfort zone to improve her (or his) performance.

Yes, we know you want your daughter (or son) to be successful, and in our modern world you want that success to come fast. But remember everyone learns at their own pace. If you’re bringing your daughter (or son) to a professional, let that professional do his/her job.

In the end the progress will be faster, and you’ll feel like you got a lot more for your investment of time and money.

Photo by Jean van der Meulen on Pexels.com

Want to Get Better? Try Doing Nothing!

Ok yes, today’s title was purposely click baity. Because I don’t mean literally to sit around all day on the couch staring at a screen or eating Cheetohs (or doing both; I’m not here to judge).

Sorry all you players who hoped to use my blog to justify telling your parents to chill, or whatever you say nowadays.

What I’m actually talking about is learning to use your body the way it’s meant to be used rather than trying to do too much and getting in the way of your best performance.

A great example, and one I’ve talked about many times here, is using “hello elbow” (HE) mechanics for pitching.

With HE, you push the ball down the back side of the circle and try to get your hand behind the ball early going into the release zone. You then pull your arm through the release zone with your bicep while (supposedly) snapping your wrist hard as you let go of the ball, finishing with your elbow pointing at your catcher.

While this may seem like a way to add energy into the ball in theory, in practice the opposite is true. It actually slows down your arm, because your using the small bicep muscle instead of the larger back muscles to bring the arm down, and gets in the way of your arm’s natural movements as it passes your hip.

Even biceps like these.

It’s also an unnatural movement pattern. To prove it, stand up, let your arms hang at your sides, and see which way your hand is facing. Unless you have something very odd going on your palm is in toward your thigh, not turned face-forward.

Your arm wants to turn in that way when you’re pitching too. In order for that to happen, all you have to do is NOTHING – don’t force it out, don’t force a follow through, really don’t do anything. The ball will come out as your hand turns and you will transfer way more energy into the ball than you would have if your tried to do something.

It’s very Seinfeldian.

This, incidentally, is something I often use to help pitchers whose arms are naturally trying to do internal rotation (IR) but are also using an HE finish because that’s what has been drilled into them for the last three years gain a quick speed boost. They start out using their HE mechanics from the K position and we look at the speed reading.

I then have them lose the forced finish and just let the arm naturally pronate at it reaches the bottom of the circle. They can usually add 2-3 mph immediately just by doing nothing.

Or let’s look at hitting. Many young and inexperienced hitters will try to over-use their arms and shoulders when bringing the bat to the ball.

It makes sense on some level because the bat is in your hands and you want to hit the ball hard.

Yet that is the one of the worst things you can do. When you pull the bat with your arms and shoulders you have to start your swing before you know where the ball is going to be (never a good idea).

You will also lose your ability to adjust your swing to where the ball is going because you’ve built up so much momentum in whatever direction your started. Not to mention that muscles get smaller and weaker as you move away from your core so you’re not generating nearly as much energy as your body is capable of producing.

Again, the better choice is to do nothing with your arms early in the swing, and instead let your lower body and core muscles generate energy and start moving the bat toward the ball (while the bat is still near your shoulder). Then, once you’re well into your turn and you see where the ball is headed you can let the bat head launch, resulting in a much better hit, and a more reliable process.

Does doing nothing work for overhand throwing as well?

You betcha.

How many times have you seen players lined up across from each other, throwing arm elbow in their glove and wrists snapping furiously while their forearms don’t move? Probably more times than you can count.

This is a completely pointless drill because no one, and I mean NO ONE, purposely snaps their wrists when they throw overhand. Instead, they relax their wrists and allow the whipping action to snap their wrists for them – which is far more powerful.

To prove it, close your fingers up and try to fan yourself by snapping your wrist. Not much air there, right?

Something to keep in mind at hot tournaments.

Now relax your wrist and move your forearm back and forth quickly. Ahh, that’s the stuff. That breeze you now feel is more energy being generated, which moves more air into your face.

So if that’s the case, why would you ever try to do something when you’re releasing the ball rather than doing nothing and letting biomechanics produce better results for you?

There are countless other examples but you get the picture. The point is, forcing unnatural movements onto your body, while they might make you “feel” like you’re working harder, are actually very inefficient.

If you want to maximize your performance, make sure the energy you’re producing is delivering the results you’re going for. Just doing nothing and watch your numbers climb.

Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on Pexels.com

Even the Most Talented Benefit from Good Coaching

Whether you love him, think he’s silly, or fall somewhere in between, there’s no denying that Elvis Presley was one of the most recognizable and successful humans to ever walk the face of the earth. Even today, more than 40 years after his death, when I ask a young softball player if they know who Elvis was the answer is almost always “yes.” That’s staying power.

Yet as unique a talent as Elvis was, it’s unlikely that he would have become so indelibly etched on the annals of history had it not been for his manager, Col. Tom Parker.

To get an idea of the impact Parker made, he was once asked why he took a higher-than-normal percentage of Elvis’ earnings. Parker supposedly replied, “When I met Elvis he had a million dollar’s worth of talent. Now he has a million dollars.”

That story, and thousands of others like it throughout history, demonstrate the value of finding the right mentor or coach. Someone who sees what you can become and works to help you get there rather than simply walking repeating information they may have heard somewhere before and rotely walking you through a series of meaningless drills.

So what are some of the attributes you should look for in a coach, either for a team or a private instructor? Here are some based on my experience.

1. A high level of current knowledge.

This might seem obvious but it’s actually not. There are lots of coaches out there who haven’t learned a thing over the last 5, 10, 20 or more years. Fastpitch softball is evolving all the time, with plenty of smart people doing research, looking at statistics and videos, and discovering new things.

VHS tapes are not a good source of info anymore.

If the coach isn’t keeping up and taking advantage of these new discoveries you may want to find someone who is. Especially if your goal is to play “at the next level,” whatever that happens to be.

2. Coaching to the individual instead of the masses.

It’s very easy for coaches to approach each player as a nameless, faceless piece moving through the machine. These types of coaches have all their players do the same drills and follow the same path regardless of ability to execute. If the players aren’t getting it or can’t keep up for whatever reason they just get pushed to the side or even benched.

A good coach will recognize a player who is struggling and look for the reason why. Is it that the player doesn’t understand what they’re supposed to do? Is it simply a lack of experience that can be corrected through more reps or is there a physical limitation that is preventing the athlete from moving in the desired way?

Whatever the reason, a good coach will look for the answer and make adjustments accordingly in order to help that player get on the field and perform her best.

3. Recognizing (and appreciating) different players have different personalities.

This is sort of like #2 above but is less about physical inabilities and more about learning how to interact with different athletes.

Some players, especially young ones, can be shy or at least uncomfortable around people they don’t know. If that’s the case the coach needs to recognize it and try to find a way to connect with the player so she can increase her comfort level in order to be more receptive to the coaching.

Some players are very straightforward and serious, while others can be goofy and off the wall. It doesn’t mean the latter are any less dedicated or are paying attention less. They’re simply seeing the world through their own unique lenses.

If she can hit bombs what do you care?

Essentially, if a coach has 12 players on a team he or she may need 12 different coaching styles to bring out the best in them. You want a coach who understands that and can deal with players in the way in which they respond best.

4. Demonstrating servant leadership

We’ve all seen coaches who are all about themselves and their won-lost records. They’re not looking to develop their players; they measure their success solely on the number of games they win.

That may be a valid approach for a college or professional coach (although that can also be debated). But definitely for youth coaches and mentors you should be looking for someone who takes more of a servant leadership approach.

Basically a servant leader is one who puts the success of the player(s) or team ahead of their own personal success. A good example on the team side is how they react after a game.

A more self-centered coach will take credit for wins and place blame on individuals or the team for losses. A servant leader will take responsibility for losses and give credit to the players or team for wins.

I’m not saying the self-centered coach’s teams (or students if he/she is a private coach) can’t win a lot of games. There are enough of them out there who do.

But if the goal is to ensure the particular player you care most about achieves a high level of success you’re going to want to look for a servant leader.

(Of course, Col. Tom was anything but a servant leader. He was actually pretty self-serving and often did things for Elvis because they benefited him too. But you get the point.)

5. A sense of what’s right and wrong

We seem to live in a pretty morally ambiguous world these days. In many cases right and wrong seem to be treated as if they are conditional or transactional.

But underneath it all there are right things and wrong things to do. You want to find a coach or mentor who is at least trying to do the right things for their athletes.

It’s funny. Parent coaches often get a bad rap. The terms “Daddyball” and “Mommyball” come to mind, which is a description of a parent who is in coaching for the benefit of their own child, and everyone else comes second.

But that’s not always the case. I know, and have known, plenty of great parent coaches who are in it for everyone. I’ve also known (or known of) plenty of so-called “paid professional” coaches who play favorites, let parents influence their decisions on playing time and positions, and outright screw over players they don’t like or who don’t fit their idea of what a player should be.

The thing is a sense of right and wrong isn’t something you put on like a uniform. It’s something that’s inside of you, a part of you like your heart or lungs.

If you really want a good experience, and a coach who can help an athlete become her best self, look for someone who does things because they’re the right thing to do, not just the expedient thing to do. That coach will provide guidance and character development that will not only help on the field but also long after the player has hung up her cleats.

So there you have it. What do you think?

Are there other characteristics of a great coach or mentor I’ve missed? If so, share your thoughts in the comments below.

There’s Always Someone Watching

A few weeks ago one of my students pitched in a tournament. The game didn’t go particularly well, she said, as her team lost 8-0.

Not exactly the type of outcome that makes you a legend. So what happened next was very cool.

Her dad ran into the coach of the winning team in one of the common areas, and the coach was very complimentary.

“Your daughter pitched a great game,” the coach said. “What happened on the scoreboard wasn’t her fault. Her team just made too many errors.”

The pitcher’s dad thanked him for the kind words. But then came the shocker.

“Has your daughter committed to a team yet for next year?” the coach asked. “If not, I’d love to offer her a spot on my team.”

Think about that. The opposing team tapped that girl for eight runs and the coach of that team offered her a roster spot right there.

What this proves is a simple fact. As they say in the Ocean’s 11 remake, there’s always someone watching.

Although that is a little creepy in a hotel setting.

What that coach saw, I assume, was not a pitcher who was losing a ballgame but instead a pitcher who was battling to try to keep her team in it, even if the rest of the team was shooting itself in the foot. She didn’t give up, or complain, or do the things many athletes do when things aren’t going their way.

Instead she showed strength of character (as well as quality of performance) to a degree that impressed the coach enough to want her on his team.

That is something every athlete in every sport should keep in mind as they play. It’s easy to be happy or “up” or “fierce” when your team is winning and you’re performing well.

What you get when you practice looking fierce in the mirror.

But the ones who really stand out are the players who can do it in the face of adversity – like giving your opponents extra outs on a hot Sunday afternoon. Not because someone might be watching but because that’s who they are.

But the someone watching part is important. It could be, as in this case, the coach of a future travel team who can offer a better opportunity.

It could be the local high school coach checking out the incoming freshmen. It could be a college coach who is looking for the right players to help their team win a conference championship and go to a post-season tournament.

Heck, it might even be a future employer who just happens to be out watching their daughter play ball.

Whoever it is you just never know who might be watching. And who might be very impressed with how you handle yourself when things aren’t going well.

So keep that in mind on your tough days. Instead of sulking, or complaining, or just giving up, keep on playing. Do your best every time no matter how roughly things are going.

Because there’s always someone watching who could make a huge difference in your life.

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