Monthly Archives: October 2022
What Undefeated Records and Huge Run Differentials Really Say About Your Team
You see it just about every weekend in social media. “It” is the excited posts from parents describing their kids’ teams’ great weekend of fastpitch softball.
“Went 6-0 this weekend,” it will start, then go on to add, “And we outscored our opponents 64-3! This team is simply amazing.”
I get that you’re happy the team did so well. But in my mind, going 6-0 with a 64-3 run differential isn’t something to brag about. Instead, you should be embarrassed because clearly your team was in the wrong tournament for their ability level.
The reality is if your daughter’s team is ripping through the competition like that it’s not good for anyone. Even for your daughter’s team.
Yes, I get it that it’s fun to win. But remember that iron is forged in fire, and steel is honed by steel, not foam. If you want to get stronger you have to stress your muscles, not go through “exercise programs” where you don’t break a sweat.
So in order to get better, your team must play opponents who can place them at a risk of losing – not opponents they can tear through like a hot knife through butter. Sure, you may not end up with as much hardware to gather dust in your house.
But you will test yourself and get better as a result. An overall winning percentage of 60% to 70% is the sweet spot.
Of course, there are a couple of reasons teams find themselves playing weaker competition than they should.
Sometimes, especially with new and/or younger teams, there are a lot of unknowns and coaches aren’t sure how good they’re going to be. So the coaches plan a tournament schedule that protects the team against getting discouraged by having their heads handed to them every weekend if it turns out they’re not so hot.
But then it turns out the players are actually as good as the coaching staff thought they were during tryouts and there was no need to play that lower-level schedule. They are stuck with the schedule, however, so they end up playing a level below where they should be.
There’s nothing malicious there, just an unfortunate circumstance that resulted from a lot of unknowns. Good coaches will recognize this disparity and want to move their teams to a more appropriate level of play as quickly as possible.
(Unfortunately, they may find resistance from some of the parents who have fallen in love with winning and don’t want to “risk” losing more. If you’re one of those parents, stop complaining and instead thank your coach for wanting to help your daughter get better.)
The other option is more nefarious. In this case, the coaches knew they had a very good team but purposely opted to play a lower-level schedule so they could win more (and look better).
These types of teams/coaches are typically referred to as “trophy hunters.” They are where they are specifically so they can go 6-0 (or at worst 5-1) every weekend while racking up a 64-3 run differential.
Then when their kids end up in a more competitive softball situation and little Suzy is on the bench the parents can’t understand why the coach doesn’t recognize how great little Suzy is.
No matter which way you find yourself there, you don’t want to stay there.
In reality you don’t want your daughter’s team ripping through the competition week after week. You want it, and especially your daughter, to be challenged every week.
That’s how she will get better. And if the team has to struggle to win, rather than dominating all weekend, the win itself will be that much sweeter.
But if all you care about is winning, then yeah, leave the team that’s trying to better itself by playing better competition and find a trophy hunter. Lord knows there are plenty of those around.
The bottom line is that going undefeated every weekend and posting a huge run differential is nothing to write home about – or write on social media about. Especially if your daughter has aspirations of playing college softball.
Instead, play on a team where your daughter will be challenged every inning of every game of every tournament – one where the team walks out exhausted but proud, knowing it took everything they had to secure each victory. And one where the coaching staff is constantly seeking to challenge the players to play at their tops of their games rather than letting them slide by by beating up on weaker opponents.
It may be tougher to take the additional losses at first. But your daughter will benefit so much more in the long run, because she will develop into the player she’s meant to be.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com
For the Love of Gaia, Please Stop Teaching Screwballs to 10 Year Olds
There is a phenomenon I’ve noticed lately in my area and seemingly is happening across the country as I speak with other pitching instructors.
When I start lessons with a new pitcher I will ask her what pitches she throws. For pitchers under the age of 14 my expectation is fastball, change, and maybe a drop ball.
These days, however, I have been shocked at how many, even the 10 year olds, will include a “screwball” in their list of pitches. Especially when I then watch them pitch and they struggle to throw their basic fastball with any velocity or semblance of accuracy.
Who in the world thinks teaching a screwball to a 10 year old (or a 12 or 13 year old for that matter) is a good idea? Particularly the screwball that requires the pitcher to contort her arm and wrist outward in a twisting motion that includes the “hitchhiker” finish?
There is simply no good reason to be doing that. For one thing, most kids at that age have rather weak proprioception (body awareness of self movement), which means they often struggle to lock in a single movement pattern.
So, since the way you throw a screwball is in direct opposition to the way you throw a fastball (especially with internal rotation mechanics but it’s even true of hello elbow pitchers) why would you introduce a way of throwing that will interfere with development of core mechanics? Pitchers who are trying to learn both will be splitting their time between two opposing movements, pretty much ensuring they will master neither.
Then coaches and parents wonder why the poor kid can’t throw two strikes in a row in a game.
Just as important is the health and safety aspect of twisting your forearm and elbow against the way they’re designed to work. As my friend and fellow pitching coach Keeley Byrnes of Key Fundamentals points out, “Boys at that age are cautioned against throwing curve balls with a twisting action because of the stress it places on their elbow joints. Why would you encourage a softball pitcher to do the same thing?”
Keeley also points out that most 10 year olds don’t hit very well anyway, so developing a screwball at that age is unnecessary. You can get many hitters out by throwing a fastball over the plate with decent velocity (which means it’s not arcing in).
Tony Riello, a pitching coach, trainer, and licensed doctor of chiropractic, is also concerned about the effect throwing the twisty screwball can have on other body parts. He says, “To be that spread out left to then force the arm and shoulder right seems not healthy for either the back or the shoulder,” he says.
Then there’s the fact that in 99% of the cases a screwball isn’t really a screwball. It’s just a fastball that runs in on a hitter.
Why do I say that? Because if you look at the spin on 99% of so-called screwballs, especially among 10 year olds but even at the collegiate level, they don’t have the type of spin that would make them break. They have “bullet” spin, i.e., their axis of spin is facing the same direction as the direction of travel.
For a screwball to actually be a screwball the axis of spin would need to be on top of the ball, with spin direction going toward the throwing hand side. Just as a curve spins away from the throwing hand side.
So if you’re throwing a pitch that isn’t going to break anyway, why not just learn to throw an inside fastball instead? If you want it to run in a little more, stride out more to the glove side then let it run itself back in.
But again, you’re now giving that young pitcher who’s just trying to learn to throw the ball over the plate two different mechanics (stride straight, stride out) to use, which means she’s probably going to be half as effective on either one.
Oh, and that hitchhiker move that’s supposedly the “key” to the screwball and places all the stress on the elbow? It happens well after the ball is out of the pitcher’s hand, so it has no impact on the spin of the pitch whatsoever. Zero. None. Nada.
Finally, and perhaps most important, once a young pitcher can throw with decent velocity and locate her pitches (or at least throw 70% strikes) there are simply better pitches for her to learn first.
After the basic fastball, in my opinion (and in the opinion of most quality pitching coaches), the second pitch that should be learned is a changeup that can be thrown with the same arm and body speed as the fastball but resulting in a 10-15 mph speed differential. Throwing both the fastball and change at the right speeds for 70% strikes should be enough to keep the typical 10- or 12-year old pitcher busy for a while.
Next you would want to add a drop ball. The mechanics of a properly taught drop ball are very similar to the fastball. In fact, I like to say they are fraternal twins.
Making a ball drop at the right spot, especially given so many young hitters’ desire to stand up as they swing, will get you a lot more outs, either as strikeouts or groundouts. A good drop ball will still translate into more groundouts as you get older too – just ask Cat Osterman.
From there it’s a little less certain. You can go either rise ball or curve ball. I usually make the decision based on the pitcher’s tendencies.
A well-thrown rise ball is still an extremely effective pitch, even though it doesn’t actually break up. And a well-thrown curve will actually break either off the plate (traditional curve) or back onto it (backdoor curve). Either way it moves – unlike the screwball which mostly travels on the same line.
I would save the screwball for last – unless you happen to play in an area where slappers are predominant in the lineup. Which in the era of $500 bats and quality, year-round hitting instruction is about as scarce as screwballs that actually change direction.
There are simply better pitches to learn. And if you do work on a screwball, there are better ways to learn it than trying to twist your wrist and forearm off in a contorted move that should be outlawed by the Geneva Convention.
The bottom line is that, for the love of Gaia, there is no good reason to be teaching a screwball to a 10 year old – or any pitcher who hasn’t mastered her fastball and changeup first. Let’s make sure we’re giving our young pitchers the actual tools they need to succeed – and avoid those that can lead to injury and perhaps a career cut short.
It Always Helps to Have Perspective
One of the things I often tell players on their development journey is that yesterday’s achievements eventually become today’s disappointments.
For example, when a player first comes for hitting lessons she may be striking out all the time. Which means her goal is to not strike out so often, i.e., hit the ball instead.
She works hard and starts hitting regularly. Then she has a streak where she hits the ball but right at someone and she’s out every time.
She is still achieving the original goal – not striking out – but the goalposts for her expectations have moved and now anything less than a hit is a disappointment.
Probably the easiest place to see it, however, is with speed measurements for pitchers. Everyone always wants to get faster. I’m sure Monica Abbott, who I believe still throws the hardest out of all female players, would still love to add an mph or two if she could.
So pitchers work hard to achieve a new personal record. Then another. Then another, etc.
After a while, though, that first personal record she got so excited about is now a disappointment and perhaps even feels like a step backwards.
That’s why it helps to keep some perspective on the longer journey instead of just the next step.
That idea came home to roost last night when I was giving a lesson to a student (Gianna) who hasn’t been to lessons in a couple of weeks due to a volleyball-related thumb injury. (Don’t even get me started on how volleyball injuries impact softball players!)
Now, as you know the thumb is pretty important for gripping things like softballs. In fact, the opposable thumb is one of the key advantages that separates humans and other primates from most of the rest of the animal kingdom.
Gianna’s thumb had swollen up pretty badly and for the last couple of weeks she’d had trouble gripping anything. The swelling had finally gone down, and with a tournament coming up and her team already short a couple of other pitchers due to volleyball injuries (grrrr) she wanted to do all she could to help them.
So with her thumb stabilized and a bandage that wrapped around her wrist she decided to give it a go to see if she could pitch this weekend.
The short answer was yes, she could. But her speed was a little down from where it normally is. That’s ok, though, she was able to do it without pain (so she said) and to throw all her pitches.
Later on when I thought about the speed being down I had an epiphany.
You see, a year ago Gianna was struggling with some mechanical issues that were preventing her from getting the type of whip and pronation that would bring her speed up. She was working very hard to correct them but once those bad mechanics have set in the habits they create can be tough to break.
(One more piece of evidence that saying “Start with hello elbow and you can change later” is bad, bad advice.)
As I thought about it I realized that had she been throwing the speed she was averaging last night at this time last year, she would have been very excited and gone home on cloud nine. Because it was about 3 mph higher (whereas now it was 2-3 mph slower).
And that’s the point. Sometimes in our quest to get to “the next level” we sometimes forget to take a minute and look at how far we’ve come.
Keeping that longer-term perspective can help you stay positive when you hit the inevitable plateau and keep you going until you reach your next achievement.