Monthly Archives: November 2022

Don’t Pay a Coach to Watch Your Daughter Practice

The other day I was speaking with my friend James Clark (Coach James), a top-level pitching coach from Indiana. He is the owner and chief instructor at United Pitching Academy.

We were talking about some of the challenges of working with pitchers when he said something I thought was quite profound, and quite accurate.

James said, “Parents really shouldn’t be paying me to watch their daughter practice.”

I totally agree.

What he was talking about was the girl who comes in for a lesson, is given some homework to do to help her get better, then doesn’t pick up a ball again until her next lesson.

I always tell players and their parents that the time they spend with me is the least important part of the whole process. It’s the time they spend in-between visits to me that will determine their level of success.

The reason is they can really dig in and put in the quality reps, doing something specific over and over until they not only get it right, but can’t get it wrong. That’s not going to happen at a lesson.

Or at least it shouldn’t, which brings us back to today’s topic. If a player doesn’t work on whatever skill she’s supposed to work on in-between visits to the coach (and that includes team practice too, not just private lessons), she’s going to have to do it sometime.

So rather than mastering the skill on her own she’s going to have to try to learn it while she’s with the coach. Which (in the case of private lessons) the parents are essentially paying the coach to watch their daughter practice skills that already should have been acquired, or at least well on their way to being acquired.

That is a slow slog, and not a very efficient use of anyone’s time or the parents’ money.

In other words, this.

So what should the coach be doing instead? Tweaking any little aspects of current skills that might not be where they should be then moving on to new concepts that will help a player continue to grow.

Let’s use the example of a beginning pitcher. The coach teaches her how to lead the upper arm down from the K position in a lesson, how to keep it relaxed, and how to let the ball go with a pronating motion (turning her hand inward) to maximize velocity.

At first she’s probably going to be a bit awkward with it. But as she goes she starts relaxing and getting better releases. Then the lesson is over.

There are two things that can happen from here. One is that she goes home, mindfully works on the things she learned in the lesson, and comes back to the next lesson with that motion looking pretty natural.

The other is she doesn’t work on it at all, or “pitches” during the week but doesn’t pay attention to HOW she’s doing, and then comes back to her lesson the following week with all the same issues she had at the start of the previous lesson. So the coach has to go over all the same material again, because what I described from the K position is pretty foundational to becoming a quality pitcher.

In the first case, where she has the K motion down pretty well, the coach moves her into full circles or other drills that will help her continue to advance her skills and get her ready to compete. In the second case, the coach is essentially paid to watch her practice to try to get that motion down.

Nothing new is introduced because you shouldn’t move on to part two until you can reliably execute part one.

Where it really becomes a problem is when the coach is being paid to watch the player practice the same things over and over. Every lesson (or in the case of a team every practice) that’s spent on going over the same thing is time that’s not being spent learning new or more advanced concepts.

It doesn’t take long until the player is pretty far behind where she ought to be. Then both player and parent are wondering why they’re spending all this time and money and not getting better.

It would be like a painter working on a painting all day. Then overnight someone covers it with white paint and she has to do it again. It won’t take long before she’s frustrated and wondering if it’s even worth doing.

Although don’t let this guy fool you. Painting is a lot harder than he makes it out to be.

Coach James is absolutely right. Don’t pay to have your coach watch your daughter practice.

Instead, make sure she’s practicing during the week so the coach can continue to help her move forward. It’s a far better investment for all involved.

Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

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Tough Choice Leads to Sabrina Di Vito’s NLI

The path to success isn’t always an easy or smooth one. And sometimes you have to make some tough choices along that path to achieve your goals.

That’s what happened with Sabrina Di Vito a few years ago. The decision definitely paid off last week when she signed her National Letter of Intent (NLI) to continue her softball career with Marian University in Wisconsin. But it didn’t come without some soul-searching.

Sabrina is a talented athlete who loves both fastpitch softball and basketball. And is very good at both.

While that is a plus in most cases – I personally believe in the multi-sports athlete – it can be a little tough to play basketball at a high level and still find all the time needed to develop as a pitcher.

I’ve worked with Sabrina since she was 10. Our typical pattern was she would do lessons in the spring, summer, and early fall. Then basketball would kick in and I wouldn’t see her again until the following spring.

She would pitch well during the season, but had pretty much hit a plateau in terms of greater development. For example, she could throw a fastball with good speed, along with a changeup, and drop, but it was tough to move beyond those three pitches because the main focus was making sure she was ready to perform that weekend.

Then one day at the end of the summer before her freshman year Sabrina and her mom/catching partner Brandy told me that they had come to a conclusion: as much as Sabrina loved basketball and would continue to play, they had decided to prioritize softball which meant I would be seeing her throughout the winter as well.

A rare shot of the whole family in one place!

Needless to say I was delighted, because I felt like we’d finally have the chance to find out just how good Sabrina could be. I knew she’d set aside time not just for the lessons but for the homework that would come with it. That’s just who she is.

Well, it didn’t take long for that decision to start paying off. Sabrina started gaining more speed, and added a curve and rise to her arsenal of pitches.

And suddenly she started turning into a pitcher who could dominate hitters on a regular basis. In fact, in 2022 she set the single-season record for most wins by a softball pitcher at her high school – a school that has been around for more than 50 years!

She did very well in travel ball this summer too as part of a pitching troika that helped her Illinois Sluggers-Harms team win a lot of ballgames. Then this fall when two of three legs of that pitching stool were injured for a bit, she stepped up again as the workhorse, throwing game after game and getting stronger as she went.

All of which contributed to a lot of fun culminating in her signing her NLI.

The choice of school, by the way, was driven by the best reasoning too. Sabrina wanted to play college softball, but when she’s done playing she wants to be a nurse.

Those two goals are often mutually exclusive, unfortunately, due to the workload of a nursing program and the demands of college softball. But Marian is known for its willingness to work around the nursing schedule, enabling deserving players like Sabrina to continue to play as they pursue their career goals.

One other fun fact about Sabrina is how unshakably even-keeled she is – an awesome trait for a pitcher. It’s not just how when I give her a piece of instruction she just smiles, says ok, and does it.

Sometimes, just to see if I can get a rise out of her, I will say something that is, shall we say, more like what an “old school” type of coach might say.

Doesn’t bother her in the least. She gets the best of me on that every time by just saying “ok” or “uh-huh” and going on about her business.

In fact I’m told she finds it funny so at least I’m keeping her amused! So it’s a good thing she’s very self-motivated to be the best she can be.

In any case, congratulations Sabrina on securing your ticket to the next level. I’m glad when you reached the fork in the road you chose the one that led to softball.

Persistence Pays Off as Jenna Kosnoff Signs Her NLI

Today’s story is for every fastpitch softball player who may be a little undersized (for now), or perhaps struggles a bit to get all the body parts moving properly, or somehow doesn’t quite measure up to her teammates at the moment. It shows what you can do if you want it bad enough.

First though, I don’t want to bury the lede: earlier this week Jenna Kosnoff signed her national letter of intent to play for Maryville University in St. Louis. She will be pitching for them, yes, but when she’s not pitching she will likely play the field because she has a great glove and a powerful bat.

I’ve worked with Jenna since she was 10 years old. We started out with pitching, then added hitting later at her request.

Over the last few years she has racked up a lot of wins and a lot of strikeouts as a pitcher, and consistently delivered an amazingly high batting average, on base percentage, and on base plus slugging (OPS) in PGF tournaments. If you were to watch her play today it would be easy to say that she is clearly hugely talented so it’s no wonder she’s doing all that.

But the reality is it wasn’t that long ago that she was struggling great. When I first started working with her Jenna was a scrawny little thing with sticks for arms and legs. You would wonder if she would blow away if a stiff breeze came up.

Jenna never let her size define her, however. She was always determined to be a top player – to the point her dad Gary would tell me when they got home from a lesson she would often go down to their basement or in the garage to continue working on whatever we’d just gone over.

That’s one happy family.

One of the things Jenna struggled with was turning the ball back toward second base and pushing it down the back side of the circle. For those who don’t know that is a weak position for the arm, and one that totally eliminates any chance of getting acceleration and whip into release.

I was convinced that if she could get that corrected she’d start throwing a lot harder, so I finally recommended we shut her down completely from pitching (in the middle of the season) so she could focus on that movement. At that time Jenna was the #4 pitcher on a team where at least two of the others are also going to play college ball so it wasn’t much of a loss for the team. Her coach may have even been relieved because he was nice enough to give her innings even when she was under-performing.

It took about four months as I recall to make the fix. A lot of our lessons at that time never got past the K position. But Jenna never gave up or complained. She just worked it and worked it until we could see she was getting great arm bend and lag.

And just as I had said at the beginning of the process, her speed started going up. Her movement pitches also started working better, and she climbed the ladder to become a #1 pitcher who now throws in the low 60s.

To be honest, it wasn’t just the mechanics change. Jenna grew quite a bit too and worked out like a fiend to develop muscle.

She’s still on the slim side but her arms and legs no longer look like sticks. Still, without the mechanics change, and her determination to make it, I don’t think she’d be where she is today.

The other thing she did was learn to put everything she has into every pitch and every swing. When I went out to watch her play in one of her early games I saw her pitching with an arc – something she didn’t do in lessons.

She had to overcome the mentality of being careful to “just throw strikes.” Now, though, she’s the poster child for giving it all you’ve got every time.

So congratulations to Jenna on this tremendous accomplishment. She has definitely earned it.

And for all of you out there right now who may be being told you’re not enough, keep working. Good things will happen.

No Need to Paint the Corners with a Changeup

Recently my friend and fellow pitching coach Linda Lensch, a trainer with the NJ Ruthless and owner of Greased Lightning Fastpitch High Performance Instruction LLC attended an online presentation about how new technologies are improving and changing the game.

Linda was kind enough to share the PowerPoint of the presentation with a few of us pitching coaches. Included was some data, presented by Florida State assistant coach Troy Cameron, that came out of pitching tracking by YakkerTech at five D1 schools.

One of the things I found most interesting was the heat map on changeup locations and results, which you can see on the far left.

Notice how both the vast majority of pitch locations AND the vast majority of whiffs (swings and misses) aren’t on the corners. Instead, they are dead red.

I have been preaching this for years based on my own observations and experience, and have heard many college coaches say the same thing. You don’t have to be clever or try to paint the corners if you have an effective changeup. Just throw it down the middle, mid-thigh-high or below, and you’ll get the desired effect – a whiff.

Now we have the data to prove it.

I’ll say it again a little louder for those in the back, and for those who have been coaching he same way for 20 years and don’t like new information: YOU DON’T NEED TO PAINT THE CORNERS WITH A CHANGEUP. JUST THROW IT DEAD RED.

What does this mean from a practical standpoint?

For one, pitchers can quit wasting time trying to lean how to paint the corners with a changeup and instead focus their time on disguising the fact that it IS a changeup.

Most pitchers start out learning to throw different pitches down the middle, and then once they can do that will move on to moving them out. In this case, once a pitcher can throw it low and slow without giving it away in her motion she can move on to other pitches.

It also means coaches can quit insisting until their hair is on fire that their pitchers must be able to spot their changeups inside and out. Less stress for the pitcher and the pitch caller.

Yeah, something like this.

The pitchers’ parents can also relax in the stands if they see their daughters throwing changeups down the middle. It’s fine, dude or dudette. That’s where it’s most effective.

Why is it most effective down the middle? Now we get into speculation and theories, but I have a pretty good suspicion on that topic based on 20+ years of teaching that pitch.

The whole point of a changeup is to either induce a hitter to swing well ahead of the ball arriving at the plate or confuse her on what she’s seeing to the point where she lets the pitch go by before she can process it. The way you do that is by bringing the body and arm at one speed while having the ball travel at a different, slower speed. Easier said than done, by the way.

It’s like a reverse pitching machine. With a machine, the feeder’s arm usually moves glacially slow (and may even fumble putting the ball in the chute) while the pitch is delivered at 55, 60, 65, etc. mph. The arm speed and the pitch speed don’t match up, so the hitter is perpetually behind the pitch unless she know the keys to hitting off a machine.

With the changeup the opposite is true. The body and especially the arm are traveling through space at a rate of speed that matches the pitcher’s fastest pitch (usually the fastball), but the design of the pitch allows it to be delivered 12-15 mph slower than the fastest pitch without any visible clues that it will be slower.

That’s why you see hitters’ knees buckle when a well-thrown change comes at them. The visual clues and the reality don’t match up and they contort themselves into a pretzel trying to adjust on the fly.

Until they look like this.

And if you can do that as a pitcher, down the middle works just fine. In fact it’s probably preferable because it can fool umpires too, so why not make it easier for them to call?

Now, before anyone starts saying “Oh, that only works at the lower levels” remember where this data comes from. It comes from five colleges that tracked every pitch of their pitchers and their opponents during home games.

And since these are not cheap systems by any means, you can bet that these were some pretty big schools, i.e., ones you see on TV all the time. They’re the only ones with the budgets to afford it.

So if it works at that level, you can be pretty sure it will work at yours.

The data doesn’t lie. It’s all there in black and white and red.

Quit wasting time focusing on painting the corners with changeups and just turn your pitchers loose to deliver them where they will be most effective based on the data: dead red.

You’ll get better results. And your pitchers will have one less thing to worry about.

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