Monthly Archives: March 2023
5 Ways to Help a Player Look Really Bad
You would think that one of the core parts of a coach’s job is to help ensure all of his/her players look good whenever they step onto the field. After all, pretty much every program at every level includes some form of “We are here for the girls” in their mission statement.
Yet the reality is you would be wrong. Because while most coaches sincerely love what they do and helping young people succeed, experience shows that is not true in every case.
Unfortunately, some are so caught up in their petty grievances and vendettas against individual players, families, outside coaches, other organizations or administrators at their schools or in their programs, etc., they kind of lose sight of their purpose and instead tend to make their decisions more to gain revenge or right perceived wrongs against them than to help players and win ballgames.
I know this sounds strange to some of you. But I’m sure many have experienced it first-hand.
In fact, this whole post was inspired by a rant a friend and fellow pitching coach had about exactly this type of situation. Not going to share his name because he hasn’t posted it publicly but I’m sure he knows who he is.
So if, rather than wanting to win ballgames and being willing to put a literal elephant on the field to do it, your first goal is to ensure that the targets of your anger feel the full weight and glory of your wrath, here are some suggestions to make it happen.
Throw pitchers into games cold
No better way to make even a great pitcher look bad than to just yank her off the bench, or better yet off another position on the field, and send her into the circle without a proper warmup. (BONUS: You also have the opportunity to help her get hurt! What a marvelous two-fer.)
Every pitcher needs time to warm up. Modern windmill pitching requires and incredibly complex and precise set of movements that must be intricately timed to produce the best results.
That’s why even the greats such as Lisa Fernandez, Cat Osterman, Monica Abbott, Sarah Pauly, Yukiko Ueno, etc. all would take their time loosening up their arms, finding their way to timing, and working on spinning the ball properly before games.
So if you want to “prove” to everyone that a particular pitcher isn’t good enough (and justify why you’re pitching another girl ahead of her) throw her in the game cold, preferably with runners on base, and let her struggle as she tries to find her rhythm. Very satisfying!
Put players in positions they haven’t practiced
Fielding and catching are the same skills no matter where you stand on the field, right? So why can’t any player play any position?
The reality is there are all kinds of nuances, physical and strategic, that go into every position. Which means there is a big difference between playing, say, third base and first base, or shortstop and first.
There’s even a different feel between outfield positions – not to mention different responsibilities. And forget about going into the outfield all of sudden when you’ve always trained as an infielder.
So if you want to make a player look bad, put her in a position she’s never practiced and has zero level of comfort in. If you can do it in a pressure situation so much the better.
Then be sure to yell when she bobbles or drops a ball, or throws to the wrong base, or makes some other type of mistake. That always helps.
Yell instructions to hitters while they’re at the plate
But don’t just yell out the instructions – insist that they follow them. For example, if a hitter likes to hold her hands a little low, tell her to hold them higher, and keep telling her until she does it.
Hitting is a tough skill to master to begin with. But giving her instructions she’s not comfortable with and insisting she follows them will really help throw her off her game and ensure she looks bad.
Or here’s another great idea. If you know a hitter’s flaws, yell them out loudly so the person calling pitches on the other side knows how to pitch to her.
For example, if she’s a sucker for high pitches, loudly state “Lay off the high ones” before the first pitch. If she tends to swing at pitches in the dirt, you can jauntily yell, “Don’t chase pitches in the dirt.”
The combination of changing her swing in the middle of an at-bat AND ensuring she sees a steady diet of pitches to her greatest swing flaw ought to help drive that batting average right down to where you want it.
Blame Player B for Player A’s mistakes
There’s nothing quite as much fun as taking the mistake of a player you like and foisting it on a player you don’t. This sort of deflection can really help bring down the spirits of the one you don’t like while simultaneously avoiding having to hold your favorites accountable.
Take the throw from short to first on a ground ball. The shortstop (who is “your kind of player”) picks up a routine grounder and proceeds to three-hop it to the first baseman (who is on your you-know-what list for whatever reason).
There was no reason for the ball to bounce once, much less three times, but the first baseman fails to pick it cleanly and the runner reaches base. You can let the shortstop slide while screaming at the first baseman that she has to “get those.”
Or what about a pitch in the dirt? This time you love the pitcher but find the catcher annoying.
The ball goes into the dirt in the opposite batter’s box for the fifth time that inning and finally gets away from the catcher, advancing a runner. Do you talk to your pitcher about hitting her spots?
No, of course not. You yell at the catcher because she missed it. Now everyone knows the pitcher is doing great but the catcher just sucks. Mission accomplished.
Hold players to different standards – and embarrass them when you do it
One of the best ways to ensure a player looks bad when you want her to is to put her under different scrutiny than her teammates. Bonus points if you can make it obvious you have favorites and non-favorites.
For example, a time-honored classic is to allow your “good” or favored players to make multiple errors in a game (or even an inning), but pull those you don’t like after a single error. If you can pull her off the field in the middle of an inning so she has to do a “walk of shame” in front of everyone at the field, even better.
For pitchers, you can sit idly in the dugout twiddling your thumbs while a favored pitcher walks several hitters while yanking a pitcher you don’t especially care for after one or two. Again, bonus points for yelling “We can’t defend a walk” after the first one. Double bonus points if the reality is you actually can’t defend a ground ball, pop up, or fly ball either.
You don’t even have to be that obvious, though. You can simply grunt and groan loudly in frustration whenever a player you don’t like does something bad while sitting silently or offering words of encouragement to one you do. The message will come through loud and clear.
Put ’em in their place
These are just a few examples. I’m sure many of you have seen more – perhaps some even more egregious.
It doesn’t take much, really. All you need is a little imagination and a burning desire to make sure players you don’t like for whatever reason look as bad as possible.
All it takes is a toxic combination of pettiness and ignorance.
Whether your goal is to make yourself feel big and important or just to drive girls you don’t like off the team and maybe even out of the sport, these tips will help. Now go show them who’s the boss.
Top photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com
Helping Players Feel Good about Themselves More Critical Than Ever
In February of this year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed the most recent results of its survey on the mental health of youths, along with a 10-year analysis of trends in that area. The news, in many cases, isn’t good – especially for teenage girls
The Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report: 2011-2021 showed that 57% of teenage girls reported feeling a persistent sense of sadness or hopelessness in the last year. That’s an all-time high, and a full 21 percentage points increase over 10 years ago. Additionally, 41% of teenage girls reported experiencing poor mental health in the last 30 days, and nearly one-third (30%) considered suicide over the last year versus 19% in 2011.
These are disturbing figures to say the least, and they are definitely trending in the wrong direction. So what can fastpitch softball coaches do to help the situation? Here are a few suggestions.
Create a Positive, Welcoming Atmosphere
Most of your players probably won’t show that they are experiencing feelings of sadness or hopelessness at practice or at games, but that doesn’t mean those feelings aren’t there.
Many may see playing softball as the best part of their day. It can be a refuge from all the rest of the turmoil of social media, peer pressure, grade pressure, etc. they’re facing.
But if practices and games consist of a lot of yelling, screaming, brutal criticism, and punishment, softball can quickly become one more burden contributing to the downhill spiral.
Instead of taking a command and control approach try being more positive with your players. Try to catch them doing good instead of always commenting on what they’re doing wrong.
I’m not saying you have to turn practice into a birthday party without the cake. There is certainly a time for correction and a need to hold players accountable.
But don’t make it all negative. Look for the positives and help players feel good about themselves when they perform well – or even make an effort to do things they couldn’t before.
You never know when a kind word or a metaphorical pat on the back might be the thing that keeps one of your players from becoming another sad statistic.
Pay Attention to Warning Signs
It’s unlikely any of your players will come out and say they’re feeling unhappy or having difficulty. People with depression in particular get really good at covering it up – at least until the dam breaks.
One thing to look for is a change in the way they interact with their teammates. If they are suddenly quiet and withdrawn where they were once boisterous and interactive it could be a sign something is going on with them.
It may just be a problem with a teammate or two, but it could also be a sign of something deeper. Either way, you’ll want to know about it and address is sooner rather than later.
This also applies to how they interact with you. If a player used to speak with you on a regular basis but has now become withdrawn it could be a sign of something deeper going on in their lives.
You can also look for a change of eating habits. If you’re doing team meals, or even just handing out snacks to keep your players fueled through a long practice, take not if someone suddenly stops eating or just picks at their food.
Pay attention to how they manage their equipment. Now, some players are just slobs who throw everything in their bags haphazardly. That doesn’t mean they’re experiencing sadness. In fact, some of the happiest players I’ve ever known have earned the name “Pigpen.”
If, however, a player used to take better care of her equipment but is now letting it stay dirty or putting it away in a random manner, you may want to initiate a conversation to check in on her mental health.
You may also notice a sudden loss of focus, such as a player making mentals errors she didn’t used to make. If she is having difficulty coping with her life she may not be able concentrate her efforts on the task at hand. Instead of just yelling “focus!” you might want to check if there is something deeper going on.
Finally, pay attention to whether a player is suddenly reporting more injuries or illnesses than she did before. That could be the case, or it could be a sign of her not being able to muster the enthusiasm to participate and using injury/illness as an excuse.
If it seems to be becoming a habit you may want to sit her down and find out if there is something more going on.
Offer a Sympathetic Ear
Many teens who experience these feelings of sadness or hopelessness tend to feel like there is nowhere they can go to discuss them. They’re afraid of their peers finding out, and some may be uncomfortable talking to their parents about it.
Make sure your players know they can always come to you to talk about what’s going on in their lives. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should try to solve them, however.
In simple cases you can offer some friendly advice and encouragement. Often times teens simply have a desperate need to be heard or to get what they’re feeling out in the open.
But if you suspect something deeper is happening in their lives you’ll want to refer them to a qualified, Board-certified mental health professional. That person will be trained to help teens work through their feelings and recognize deeper issues that could have a profound effect on their physical and mental health in the future.
Just showing you care in a meaningful way, however, can be just the boost that player needs to take the next step to getting past her issues.
There is a temptation for some among us to blame these mental health issues on kids today being “soft” or “snowflakes.” “Back in my day,” they like to say, “we didn’t have these problems.”
Actually you did, but no one talked about it. They just suffered in misery, and some took their lives, because no one was recognizing the problem.
It’s also true that life today is very different than it was 10, 15, 25 or more years ago. The pace is faster, and the exposure to impossible standards is relentless.
In softball terms that can mean seeing pitchers your age (or younger) throwing harder than you in social media posts and feeling like you’re not good enough. Never mind that you’ve added a few mph over the last several months and are doing well in your games. You’re still be compared to everyone in the country.
Or it can mean seeing all these hitters blasting home runs while you’re hitting singles, or seeing a list of “Top 10 12 year olds” and not seeing your name on the list.
None of that existed in the so-called “good old days.” But it does now.
That’s why it’s important to be aware of what’s happening with your players and do whatever you can to give them a great experience. You may not just change a game outcome or two. You could change a life.
Photo by Randylle Deligero on Pexels.com
Posting Up Properly Is Key to a Dynamic Drop Ball
Of all the movement pitches (i.e., anything that isn’t a flat fastball or changeup), the one with the highest reward v lowest risk is the drop ball.
At worst, if a drop ball doesn’t drop it’s still a low fastball. Low pitches are generally tougher to hit hard than higher ones, which is why many coaches love to the work the bottom of the strike zone.
I’ve sometimes used a drop ball that isn’t dropping to help solve the problem of a pitcher throwing fastballs that are rising out of the zone. Pitches don’t always have to “work” to work.
At best, if it doesn’t cause a hitter to swing and miss entirely it will often result in a weak ground ball. As long as you have a solid infield that should mean a lot of relatively easy outs and a low-scoring game.
Compare that to a curve or screw that doesn’t curve or screw, remaining flat and easy to hit. Or a riseball that doesn’t “rise” and ends up sitting in the power zone of a good hitter. All of those will get you in a whole heap o’ trouble.
if you’re going to throw a drop ball, though, you really do want it to work. Ideally it should come in flat, around thigh-high or just above the knees, until it’s a few feet from the plate – at which point it dives for the ground as if it hit the top of a frame and got deflected down.
Making that happen, however, is easier said than done. As any pitcher who has tried it can tell you.
One of the big keys you’ll hear to throwing an effective drop ball is to move your weight forward at release, sometimes referred to as “posting up.” This move essentially has the pitcher standing more vertical (straight up and down) at release rather than being tilted slightly backward.
One reason for posting up is to change the release angle of the pitch. If the ball is coming out flat, or moving upward only a degree or two out of the hand, it stands a much better chance of actually dropping suddenly versus a pitch with a higher angle of release.
Why does the release angle matter? The short answer is because you’re working WITH gravity instead of trying to fight it.
(If you’re curious as to what actually makes the drop ball drop, check out the explanation at the end of this post. For the rest of you, I won’t bore you with those details here.)
For most drops, the other key is to release the ball a little earlier than you would a fastball – basically at the back of the back leg instead of between the legs. Posting up will naturally move your release back to this point.
Try this: stand with your feet at a 45 degree angle to where you want to “throw” your imaginary pitch and your weight distributed evenly on both feet. See where your arm hangs.
It’s probably slightly in front of your back leg.
Now shift your weight so 95% or more is on your front foot, and you’re just using your back foot for balance. If you kept it relaxed your arm is likely hanging a little further back relative to your body.
Without even trying you shifted your release point back some.
Getting the feel of this position when you’re going full speed can be difficult. Many pitchers will tend to throw and then post up afterwards. Luckily I have a drill for that.
In the video below, Karsyn is standing completely on her front foot while leaving her back foot toe-down for balance. You can check this by having the pitcher lift her back foot off the ground then settle it it back down on top of the toe.
Now she throws with a full circle motion, focusing on a quick release. (While we’re demonstrating a pronation/peel drop here, it also works with a rollover drop release, as long as you’re not encouraging a release out in front of the body as some do.)
With a couple of pitches you should start seeing the ball come in flat, or slightly upward, then drop as if rolling off the proverbial table. Getting the feel from this position is pretty easy.
Just be sure the pitcher is throwing with a fast arm circle, i.e., at her regular fastball/drop ball speed. Otherwise, if the pitch is too slow, yes it will drop but it’s more of what I call a “gravity drop.”
That’s not what we’re looking for. We want a pitch that is about the same speed as the fastball (+/- a couple of mph) but has a dynamic drop to it at the end.
If you have a pitcher who is struggling to get the ball to drop, or is throwing it straight down into the ground, give this drill a try. I call it the Best Drop Ball Drill in the World, and once you do it you may call it that as well.
Why Drop Balls Drop
Ok, as promised, here’s the basic explanation of the physics of why a drop ball drops suddenly.
There are two key concepts here. The first is Bernoulli’s Principle, which is the same reason airplanes fly (only upside down as you will see).
In the case of the ball, the movement through the air and the spin direction of the ball (ideally straight over the top, or 12:00 to 6:00) creates a difference in the air pressure on the top of the ball versus the bottom.
Because the air has to travel a longer distance on the bottom versus the top (because of the forward spin) there is less air pressure on the bottom of the ball. When this difference is great enough the high pressure on the top will push the ball down and it will drop like a rock.
This pressure difference is aided by the seams and the Magnus Effect.
The seams help increase the effect of ball’s spin on creating a pressure differential. The higher the seams the more the airflow gets increase over the top and interrupted on the bottom.
The Magnus Effect build on Bernoulli’s Principle by incorporating the effect of the ball spinning (as well as the orientation of the axis).
Bernoulli’s Principle basically looks at the effect of a static object moving through the air (or in actuality liquid but let’s stay with air) and its spin axis. The faster the ball spins, the more of a pressure difference is created and therefore the greater the movement.
If the spin axis is perpendicular to the direction of travel (i.e., the spin axis is on the exact side of the ball as it moves forward) it has its greatest efficiency and thus will create the best ball movement.
Now you know.
To Be a Great Coach, Be Curious
Since this is a fastpitch softball blog I will be writing about this in fastpitch softball terms. But the reality is it applies to any type of coach, instructor, teacher, etc. in any line of work where the goal is to help others learn new things or do things better.
There are many characteristics that combine to make a good coach. But if there is one that the truly great coaches share it is that they are curious.
I don’t mean they stick their noses into other people’s business or go rummaging through their garbage cans late at night. No, I’m referring to the kind of curiosity about why things work the way they work – and how they can work better.
You might think that would be an automatic, but you’d be wrong. It’s very easy for coaches to get stuck in their ways.
Certainly that applies to older coaches. I hear all the time, “I’ve been doing it this way for X number of years and it’s worked great for me so why should I change?”
The answer, of course, is that new research and new discoveries are being made all the time. If you had a choice of teaching something that is adequate or teaching something that is life-changing, wouldn’t you want to go with life-changing?
You’ll never know if something new is life-changing, however, if you aren’t curious enough to check it out.
But even young coaches can be stuck in their ways and un-curious. Take all the players who, when they transition to becoming coaches, don’t bother expanding their horizons and seeing what the latest thinking is in techniques or strategies.
Instead, they simply repeat what THEIR coaches told them.
A good example is pitchers who were taught “hello elbow” (HE) methods of pitching. They dutifully did all the drills (wrist snaps up-close, T drills, big finishes, etc.) their coaches told them to do. Never mind that when they pitched they actually used internal rotation (IR) mechanics.
Now that they’re starting to teach other pitchers do they go to clinics, or look at videos of high-level pitchers, or high speed videos of themselves pitching for that matter, or invest the time to take an online course such as the Pauly Girl Fastpitch High Performance Pitching certification?
Nope. They just keep repeating what their coaches told them. Who probably repeated what their coaches told them. And the cycle continues.
There is an amazing treasure trove of information out there from highly respected experts and highly accomplished and innovative coaches. Sure, there’s a lot of crap out there too.
But if you’re curious you can sort the great from the garbage pretty quickly to ensure that what you’re spending your time learning will actually be helpful.
This idea of being curious applies to more than just softball-specific training. The best coaches I know are looking to other sports to see how they train and how that information can be applied to their players.
They’re learning more about nutrition, stretching, exercise, rest and recovery, mental game strategies and other areas that can impact a player’s performance. They are using technologies they couldn’t even have dreamed of having when they started their careers.
In short, they are in constant search of new and better information and techniques that will allow them to serve their players better – and help those players learn how to achieve success off the field as well as on.
Look, I know it’s easy to get stuck in a particular way of doing things, especially if you’ve had success with it as a player or a coach. But why limit yourself only to what you know now?
Think of it this way: someone offers to give you a new car for free. You can choose between one built in the 90s (still brand new and in perfect working condition) or one that was built this year.
Which would you choose?
I’m pretty sure you’d take the one built this year because it will have a lot more capabilities and be more suitable for today’s world.
It’s the same with knowledge. Why remain stuck in the 90s, or the 2000s, or whatever previous decade you want to name, when there is so much more available to you today?
In our fast-paced world you’re either moving forward or falling behind. If you want to keep moving forward and become (or continue to be) a great coach, don’t just settle for what you’ve always done.
Be curious. You might just be amazed at how valuable (and thrilling) it can be.
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com
Improvement Is Often Measured in Inches, Not Miles
In a perfect world, when a player walks out of practice she would be noticeably better than when she walked in. Her physical skills will have visibly improved, her understanding of the game (or a portion of it) will have grown measurably, and/or her confidence in her abilities will have increased exponentially.
That’s not what happens in the real world, however. At least most of the time.
The reality is most improvements in those areas are far more subtle. They are better-measured in inches, not miles (centimeters, not kilometers for my non-U.S. readers), which means the immediate gains are often barely perceptible.
But that doesn’t mean they’re not happening. They are; they’re just too small to notice on a day-to-day basis.
Think about how kids grow. If you see a child every day, you probably don’t notice how much they’re growing physically until you notice them compared to an object in the house – or they complain about their clothes or shoes not fitting anymore.
The gains they’ve made in height and/or weight have happened so gradually that you didn’t really see them until realized they are now four inches taller than when the summer started.
Now think about a kid you haven’t seen in a while. She also grew four inches since the last time you saw her.
But because there has been a huge gap between the last sighting and this one, you instantly recognize how much she’s grown.
That’s the way it often is with sports improvements as well. For example, a pitcher starts out awkwardly swinging her arm around and pushing the ball out slowly just trying to get it to and over the plate.
Then she starts working on her pitching mechanics. They don’t change immediately, but maybe in that first lesson she learns to relax a bit and let the ball come out of her hand instead of forcing it so much.
She still looks awkward in the big picture, but a little change has occurred. Over time, more of those changes occur and eventually she looks “like a pitcher” as she effortlessly flings the ball forward for fast strike after fast strike.
It isn’t until you reflect back on where she started, however, that you realize how far she’s come. Not all in one leap, but inch by inch, making subtle change after subtle change that over time work together to help her become the high-performer she is today.
It’s a shame that this concept isn’t better-understood, because I think the unrealistic expectations for improvement that are often set lead too many kids to give up on something they love before that cumulative effect has had a chance to kick in.
I have definitely seen this over the many, many years I have coached teams and taught lessons. When kids who started out behind the pack put in the work they often end up passing their peers and becoming stars on their respective teams.
Not all at once, mind you. But over time the learn and grow, their control over their own bodies improves, their understanding of the skills and the game increases, and suddenly people are talking about how lucky their parents are that the kid is such a “natural.” If only those people knew.
Sure, there are natural athletes who seem to pick things up quickly. But even they hit a point where improvement becomes more incremental and hard-won.
The truth is the players who make it the farthest aren’t necessarily the ones who start fastest out of the blocks. The successful players are the ones who keep plugging away at it, little by little, day by day, inch by hard-fought inch.
Even when it seems like they’re not getting anywhere.
Because if your daughter keeps moving forward, even just a little each session, over time you will be amazed to realize just how far she’s come.
Photo by Andrew Patrick on Pexels.com