Author Archives: Ken Krause
5 Reasons Lefties Should Be Trying to Hit to Right
The other day I was working with a left-handed hitter and noticed two things.
The first was that her sister, who went out to shag balls after her own lesson, set herself up in left field. The second was that the sister was correct – everything was going out that way.
I told the girl who was hitting that she was late, needed to get her front foot down earlier to be on time, especially on inside pitches, and all the usual advice for someone who is behind the ball. But then it occurred to me – she might have been going that way on purpose.
So I did the most sensible thing I could – I asked her about it. “Did someone tell you to hit to left all the time?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied. “My old team coach.”
This is the second time I’ve heard that from a lefty. The first actually got that advice from a supposed hitting coach.
Forcing lefties to try to hit to left on every pitch makes no sense to me. Sure, if the pitch is outside you should go with it. That’s hitting 101.
But on a middle-in pitch? No way! Here are five reasons why that’s just plain old bad advice.
Giving Up Power
This is the most obvious reason. The power alley for any hitter is to their pull side.
You get the most body and bat velocity on an inside pitch when you pull it. Laying back on an inside pitch to try to hit it to left is taking the bat out of the hitter’s hands, which you don’t want to do – especially in today’s power-driven game.
Encouraging the hitter to barrel up on the ball and hit to her pull side will result in bigger, better, more productive contacts. And a much higher slugging (SLG) and on base plus slugging (OPS) percentage, leading to more runs scored and opportunities taken advantage of.
Creating a Longer Throw from the Corner
If a left-handed hitter pulls the ball deep down the first base line and has any speed at all there’s a pretty good chance she will end up with a triple. It’s a long throw from that corner to third base, and will likely actually involve two long throws – one from the corner to the second base relay, and another from the relay to third.
A hit to the left field corner, however, will more likely result in a double. It’s a much shorter throw and one that doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t except for the younger levels) involve a relay. One less throw means one less chance for something to go wrong for the defense.
I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather have my runner on third than on second. As this chart from 6-4-3 Charts shows, your odds of scoring go up considerably regardless of the number of outs when your baserunner is on third:
You probably didn’t need a chart to show you that – it’s pretty easy to figure out on your own – but it always helps to have evidence.
Hitting Behind the Runner
Coaches spend a lot of time
talking screaming at their right-handed hitters about the need to learn how to hit behind the runner at first. Then why shouldn’t lefties be encouraged to do it as well?
It ought to come natural to a lefty. Now, part of the reason for hitting behind the runner is to take advantage of a second baseman covering second on a steal, which is less common in softball and probably doesn’t happen with a lefty at the plate.
But what about advancing a speedy runner from first to third? Again, longer throw from right.
A well-hit ball to right, even one that doesn’t find a gap, gives that speedy runner a chance to get from first to third with one hit. A well-hit ball to left that doesn’t find a gap will probably still require the runner to hold up at second because the ball is in front of her.
So if you’re teaching your lefties to go to left all the time you’re leaving more potential scoring opportunities on the table. In a tight game, the ability to go to right instead of left could mean the difference between a W and an L.
Taking Advantage of a (Potentially) Weaker Fielder
This isn’t always the case. There are plenty of great right fielders, especially on higher-level teams.
But for many teams, right field is where they try to hide the player who may have a great bat but a so-so ability to track a fly ball or field a ground ball cleanly.
Why hit to the defense’s strength when you can hit to its weakness instead? At worst, if right field is a great fielder you’re probably at a break-even point.
If she’s not, however, you can take advantage of the softball maxim that the ball will always find the fielder a team is trying to hide.
Reducing Their Chances of Being Recruited
Most of today’s college coaches want/expect their hitters to be able to hit for power. Not just in the traditional cleanup or 3-4-5 spots but all the way through the lineup.
A lefty who only hits to left looks like a weak hitter. (And is, in fact, a weak hitter.)
Unless that lefty is also a can’t-miss shortstop, college coaches are going to tend to pass on position players who don’t look like they can get around on a pitch. That’s just reality.
Teach your lefties to pull the ball when it’s appropriate and they stand a much better chance of grabbing a college coach’s attention. And keeping it until signing day.
Don’t. Just Don’t
Teaching lefties to hit to left as their default is bad for them and bad for the team. It also doesn’t make much logical sense.
Encourage them to pull the ball to right when it’s pitched middle-in and you -and they – will have much greater success.
The First Rule of Changeups
Whether you have seen the movie or not, I think most people have heard that the first rule of Fight Club is that you never talk about fight club.
This quote came to mind a few days ago while I was working with a new student on developing her changeup. As I watched her it hit me: the first rule of changeups is that they can never LOOK like changeups – at least until you release the ball. After that, they’d better!
What do I mean by they can never look like changeups? Basically, you don’t want to have to do anything with your approach, your body, or anything else to make a changeup work.
The changeup should always look like it’s going to be a fastball until the ball is on its way, when suddenly the hitter realizes (hopefully too late) that the pitch they thought was coming is not the pitch that’s actually coming.
Yet people teach crazy and self-defeating stuff about the changeup all the time. So to help those of you who are just getting into it, here are some things you definitely don’t want or need to do to make a changeup work.
Using Strange Grips
This is something I see all the time. I’ll ask a new student who says she throws a changeup to show it to me, and the first thing she does is start tucking a knuckle or two, or go into a “circle change” grip where you hold the ball with the middle through little fingers while the thumb and first finger make a circle.
All of that is not only unnecessary but it’s actually counter-productive. What makes a changeup work is that it surprises the hitter.
If you go into some crazy grip that is easily spotted from the coaching box, or worse yet from the batter’s box, the only surprise that’s going to happen is you being surprised at how quickly that pitch leaves the ballpark.
If you really want to disguise the change you should be able to use your fastball grip to throw the changeup. Because, and I will say it loud for the people in the back, it’s not the grip that makes a pitch work; it’s how the pitch is thrown.
If you have a well-designed changeup you’ll be able to use your fastball grip, maybe with a slight modification such as sliding the thumb over a little, and still take the right amount of speed off.
Slowing Down Your Arm or Body
This is another one that is pretty obvious to the hitter, the coaching staff, the players on the bench, and even people just cutting through the park to get to the pickleball courts.
If you have to slow your arm down to throw a changeup, you’re not throwing a changeup. You’re throwing a weak fastball.
Think of a changeup as being the polar opposite of most people’s experiences hitting off a pitching machine fed by a human. The human slowly brings the ball down to the chute to put it in, maybe fumbles with it a bit, then the ball shoots out at 65 mph or whatever speed the coach thinks will help hitters hit better. (Spoiler alert: setting the machine too high actually hurts your hitters.)
The reason machines are so hard to hit off of is that the visual cues of the arm don’t match the speed of the pitch. Because if you actually threw the ball with that arm motion it would go about three feet away at a speed of 5 mph.
A great changeup turns that model on its head. The arm and body speed indicate a pitch coming in at whatever the pitcher’s top speed has been.
But because of the way it’s released, the ball itself actually comes out much slower. The mismatch between the arm speed and ball speed upset the hitter’s timing and either gets her to swing way too early (and perhaps screw herself into the ground) or freezes her in place while her brain tries to figure out the discrepancy,
Either way, the hitter is left wondering what happened – and now has something new to worry about at the plate because she doesn’t want to be fooled again.
Making a Face or Changing Body Language
This is something that often happens prior to the pitch.
Maybe the pitcher has developed a habit of sticking her tongue out before she throws a change. Maybe she changes where she stands on the pitching rubber or does a different glove snap or alters their windup or has some other little “cheat” that helps her throw the pitch.
All of these things can send a SnapChat to the hitter that a changeup is about to happen.
Smart pitchers will video themselves throwing fastballs and changeups , especially in-game, to see if anything they’re doing is giving away the pitch that’s about to be thrown. If there isn’t, great.
But if there is, they need to work at it until they’re not giving it away anymore. The pitcher’s chief weapon when throwing a changeup is the element of surprise.
They need to make sure they’re maintaining it until the ball is actually on its way.
Keep the Secret
A changeup that everyone knows is coming is not going to be very effective. And given today’s hot bats it can be downright dangerous for the pitcher.
Remember that the first rule of throwing a changeup is that it can’t look like you’re going to throw a changeup and y
The Essence of Being a Great Teammate
There have been tons of books and articles written instructing players on how to be a great teammate. Many of them talk about things like cheering loudly in the dugout or communicating well or standing up for a teammate if he/she is verbally or even physically attacked.
But one of the best things you can do is to simply step up and do something that needs to be done to help the team – even if it’s outside your normal role. I recently heard a great example involving one of my pitching students, a young lady named Sammie.
Sammie’s high school team was scheduled to play a game that day. They typically have just enough to actually play, so when they discovered that their one and only catcher had gone home sick from school it left a giant hole in the lineup someone had to fill.
I’m sure you can see where this is headed: Sammie said she would volunteer.
Now, as I understand it Sammie has never caught before in her life. Not even in rec ball.
She has always been a pitcher, and she has become an excellent pitcher. But she had pitched the day before while fighting through an injury so her pitching again wasn’t a possibility.
She could have just stood by and looked the other way, but the team needed someone and she said she’d strap on the gear and give it a shot.
That’s remarkable enough. But there’s one other minor factor that makes it even better.
If you look at the photo at the top of this blog post what do you see? Look closer. There you have it.
No, that photo isn’t reversed. Sammie is a lefty.
So basically you have a lefty who has never played the position before stepping up to play one of the toughest and most important positions on the field. And one with some extra risk of getting hurt through foul tips or chasing after pop-ups or plays at the plate or just flat-out missing the ball because you’re not used to catching it while someone is swinging.
In my world, that’s the essence of being a great teammate. Because if Sammie doesn’t step up (and clearly no one else plans to either) the team doesn’t play.
There are many ways players can contribute to a team. But when you’re willing to look beyond your own needs and worries and do something that’s well outside your comfort zone you separate yourself from the crowd.
Or as Mr. Spock would say:
The Run Rule – and the Golden Rule
Most of us are taught the Golden Rule as children: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
So you have to wonder what goes through some coaches’ heads when their team is clearly going to run rule their opponents but they decide to keep their foot on the offensive accelerator anyway. I mean, why would you beat an opponent by 15 runs when you could do it by 30 runs instead? Right?
This topic came up when I was talking to a coach friend of mine who recently saw this type of beating in real time. She wondered why the coach of the superior team felt the need to run up the score when the game was already decided pretty early.
I didn’t have an answer. Maybe the winning coach wasn’t used to being in that situation and didn’t know how to control events on the field.
Maybe she thought that hanging a big number on their opponents would somehow give her team more confidence and they’d start playing better. Maybe she just didn’t know any better.
Maybe the losing team over-reached (or under-researched) when entering that tournament or scheduling that game and put themselves in a bad situation.
Or maybe, just maybe, the winning coach enjoyed the feeling of beating up on a weaker team. There are people like that out there.
Whatever the reason, scores of big numbers to 0 or 1 really shouldn’t happen. Once the direction of the game has been established as being greatly lopsided, the coach of the team on top should do what he/she can to keep it under control rather than humiliating a group of kids who may not have been playing for very long or just don’t have the talent to compete at that particular level.
There are several ways the superior team can help keep the score from getting out of hand:
- One of the first things to do is quit stealing bases. Not just actual steals but even on passed balls or wild pitches, and especially with a runner on third. Just hold the runners where they are to give the fielding team more of an opportunity to make plays without the offensive team racking up runs.
- You can also have baserunners run station-to-station. In other words, even though runners could move up two or three bases at a time, just have them move up to the next base and stop. And no taking an extra base on an overthrow. I can already hear the objections: “But I want to teach my runners to be aggressive and this will hurt that plan.” Stop already with that. First of all, the head coach can (quietly) explain what the team is doing (and why), letting the team know it’s only for this one game. And if pulling up in one game really leads baserunners to be unaggressive in the next game, well, the coach has some more work to do on teaching the game.
- You can have runners slow down a little to give fielders a little extra time to make a play. Not too much – you don’t want to look like you’re trying to show up the other team. But a little bit might help.
- If those steps don’t help, the team on offense can start making outs on purpose. One of the classic strategies is to have baserunners leave the base early so they can be called out by the umpire. In my experience it’s best to let the umpire know quietly you’re planning to do it so they are watching for it.
- Another way is to have hitters line up at one of the edges of the box and then step out as they hit. For example, a hitter who strides can have her front foot at the front of the batter’s box and stride out. A slapper can run out of the box and slap or bunt. Again, it helps to let the umpire know you’re doing it to make it easier for him/her to call.
- On a ground ball, baserunners can gently run into fielders to be called for interference rather than going around. It should be just enough to be seen, but definitely not enough to cause distress or injury.
- And, of course, for teams that have designated starters and subs, put those subs in early. The starters might appreciate the break and the subs will have a chance to play. Just make sure the starters know it’s now their turn to support their teammates on the field and at the plate. The risk here is that the subs will be anxious to show what they can do and might bring a little too much enthusiasm to the opportunity. So make sure everyone on your side understands what’s happening and what they are expected to do.
There are also a couple of ways I wouldn’t go about it, including:
- Telling a hitter to strike out on purpose, or just go for a weak hit. While the intention may be good, you run the risk of having that come back to bite you in a game where you do need a hit.
- Having players bat opposite-handed. Again, while the intention might be good, it could also be viewed as trying to show up the other team. They feel bad enough. No use adding insult to injury.
- Having all your hitters bunt. Most teams spend less time on their bunt defense than their standard ground ball defense. This is especially true of weak teams in my experience. While you may think you’re helping them, you could be making them look even worse.
Coaches should want to keep the score somewhat under control because it’s the right thing to do. Again, the Golden Rule.
You wouldn’t want someone running the score up on your team, so don’t do it to someone else. But there’s another reason too.
You may have also heard the phrase “Karma (or payback) is a b***h.”
Some day that team you’re humiliating today might get better while yours loses a step or two.
Coaches tend to have long memories for these sorts of things, so should that day come what you do today could have a big impact on how you end up looking and feeling then.
No one learns anything when a team runs up the score on a weaker opponent. Except that maybe someone doesn’t have much class.
“Do unto others” and you can never go wrong. The lessons learned there will be worth a lot more than a few extra runs in the “runs for” column.
No Virginia; Data and Stats Aren’t “Ruining” the Game
One of the most popular complaints heard these days about both fastpitch softball and baseball these days is that all the attention being paid to data and statistical information is “ruining” the game. Old-timers (or Traditionalists as we’ll call them since they’re not always old and older coaches are often the first to adopt new breakthroughs) in particular long for the days when decisions were made based on experience and gut instinct alone.
Well, the problem with that is a whole lot fewer people actually have great gut instincts than think they do.
And to be honest, experience is really just data/statistics stored in a different way.
The reality is data and statistics can be extremely helpful in developing players as well as making in-game decisions. Let’s look at a few cases where understanding the data and statistics can be a difference-maker.
Setting up batting orders
Traditionalists believe they know who the good hitters are. And barring something crazy they will tend to build their lineups based on those beliefs, even when that approach clearly isn’t working.
Those who use data and statistics on a regular basis will take a look at who is actually hitting well in games – especially who has a hot hand right now – and try to give those players more at bats. It might not always work out, e.g., a hitter who does well in the relatively low pressure 6 spot might struggle more at 2 or 3.
But if certain players are out-hitting others, even if they don’t look like they should be, it’s definitely worth finding out if a lineup shakeup might produce a few more runs.
Using pitchers more effectively
While there are still plenty of old-school coaches out there who think they can ride one arm to a championship, in reality that has become much more difficult to do. Better training for hitters, and quite frankly more exposure to quality pitchers, means seeing the same pitcher three or four times is often an advantage for the offense late in the game.
With data and statistics coaches can see not only which starter matches up best with a particular team but which relievers seem to be most effective following those starters.
For example, say you have a fireballing lefty start the game. She does great a couple of times through the lineup, but then the offense seems to have figured her out.
Who do you put in now? Your next best Ace or perhaps more of an offspeed/spin pitcher? With data at your disposal you can see how well opposing teams have hit each so far after pulling the starter.
While there are no guarantees it will work again, you’ll at least have a starting point for making the decision. You might also use the information to assign specific roles to pitchers, such as middle reliever or closer, based on their effectiveness in different parts of the game – just like baseball does.
By seeing who performs well when you can manage your staff to ensure you’re making the most informed decisions you can while also perhaps saving your best arms for when they’re needed most.
Dealing with defensive shifts
This is probably one of the most-hated aspects of data and statistics, and the one that draws the most complaints. Seeing three infielders stacked up on the right side, or an infielder in an outfieldish position because statistically that’s where a particular hitter normally hits, is believed to be an abomination on the game.
Why? Because your hitter can’t do what he/she normally does and get away with it? Too bad.
Any type of unusual shift is going to create a glaring weakness. A smart offense coach (or player) will take advantage of it. A stubborn one will get burned by it.
I remember watching a Major League Baseball game a few years ago where the defense shifted to the right side, leaving the third baseman roughly between second and third. The hitter took some big cuts and eventually grounded out to one of those fielders on the right side.
I couldn’t understand why that hitter didn’t just bunt the ball down the third base line. He could have walked to first.
I get that contracts may be structured for extra base hits and all that, but the core idea of baseball/softball is get on base, then get to the next base until you make it back home. Laying down a bunt where no one can get to it will accomplish that.
It will also make the defense eventually reconsider the wisdom of those special shifts, so problem solved.
Selecting a pinch hitter
Pinch hitting is a tough role. You’re basically sitting and watching the game with little pressure until a critical situation comes up.
Then you’re put in under maximum pressure. It’s not for everyone, and even great hitters can crumble under those circumstances.
With data and statistics, however, you can see who performs well under pressure – including which bench players do the best job of producing quality at-bats when called on. They’re not necessarily the ones with the highest overall batting average, but they are the ones who are best prepared for the specific circumstances you’re facing.
Having that information at your disposal can help guide you to a better decision. One that is based in fact rather than emotion.
Data and statistics aren’t just valuable for in-game decision-making. They can also be tremendously helpful when you’re trying to improve players in practice or lessons.
A good example is helping pitchers learn how to spin their pitches. Tools such as Rapsodo or the DK ball can measure spin rates and spin directions to help pitchers learn the techniques that will lead to late break on the ball.
A radar unit, particularly one that is running constantly, can help pitchers see whether they are progressing while also holding them accountable to give maximum effort throughout the session.
The same radar unit can measure bat speed and ball exit velocity to determine if a hitter is progressing. Sensors such as Blast Motion that attach to the bat can provide even more data about bat position, launch angles, etc. that can help hitters hone their craft.
And complete systems such as 4D Motion can really get “under the hood” to show whether the way a player is moving is optimal in order to make deeper corrections that can have a profound effect on success.
These and other measurements use proven science to help players optimize their approach to a variety of skills that will help them perform better in the field – without all the guesswork and opinions that often hamper training.
Does that mean data and statistics are a panacea that means coaches no longer have to know what they’re doing to succeed? Of course not.
The most important aspect of coaching remains the ability to relate to players and get the best out of them.
But data and statistics are great tools that help coaches see what they need to see they can focus on the areas that will deliver the best return on investment in every player. The coaches who embrace them, and learn what they really mean, will gain a tremendous advantage over those who still just want to rely on gut instinct.
In my opinion it’s definitely worth the time and effort.
Photo by ThisIsEngineering on Pexels.com
Relentless Competitors: Nature or Nurture?
Today’s post was inspired by a Facebook post from my friend and fellow pitching coach James Clark. James is the owner and chief instructor of United Pitching Academy in Centerville, Indiana and is very familiar with what it takes to build champions.
His original question was:
He and I chatted about it a bit ourselves and I will share some of his thoughts shortly. But you have to admit it’s a great question – especially since it generated a lot of comments on both sides of the issue. First, though, my thoughts.
In my experience it’s kind of a mix of both. Some people come by their competitiveness and relentless desire to win naturally.
On the positive side, these are the types of players who will spend extra hours taking ground balls or spinning pitches from close distance or getting in extra batting practice or hitting the weight room. During games they keep a positive attitude and do their best to lift their teammates, even when their team is down a bunch of runs, because they just can’t fathom losing without doing everything they can to win.
(On the negative side, these are also the players who will play through injuries when they should be taking time to heal themselves, and sometimes can be harsh on teammates they don’t think are giving the same level of effort.)
You don’t really have to do anything to push these players to give their all. They know no other way to approach the game.
It’s like the story about football legend Lou Holtz being asked how he became such a great motivator of players. “I find the players who are self-motivated and cut everyone else,” he said.
Those players stand out, however, precisely because they are so rare. For the rest, having that type of indomitable spirit and high level of competitiveness is something that has to be nurtured.
Especially in female athletes, because even today, in 2023, society doesn’t really value those traits in females as much as they do in males. Just look at the controversy over the NCAA women’s D1 basketball championship where a simple taunting gesture – one that would probably hardly raise an eyebrow on the men’s side – became a national scandal.
James and I both agree that competitiveness is hard-baked into our DNA at some level as part of our survival mechanism. As he put it:
“The natural selection idea stems from prehistoric/caveman times. You had to compete with nature to survive. Failure to do this was certain death.
“Needing to hunt and kill your next meal fostered the sense of survival. In modern times we tend to use sports to feed this primal instinct.. If it’s not fostered within a culture where leadership is promoting this “succeed or fail to survive mentality it eventually goes away.”
I agree with that thought. At one point in our early existence it was kill or be killed. Our primitive reptile brains still retain that somewhere.
But I also believe once humans began organizing themselves into societies they were able to distribute workloads based on ability. Those who were inclined to hunt would hunt, while those who were inclined to farm would farm.
The farmers might still compete for who could grow the most food or the largest pumpkins, and could defend themselves if they had to. But they were largely relieved of the “kill or be killed out of necessity” aspect of life and so perhaps didn’t have that same urgency.
Which brings us to today with sports. For some, it’s definitely a way of life, which means winning and losing is uber-important to them.
Winning brings satisfaction while losing brings literal pain and suffering. (You would think winning would bring delight but I think for most uber-competitors the joy is short-lived because there’s always another hill to conquer.)
For others, winning is less life-and-death. Sure, everyone wants to win, but for this group it’s not so life-and-death. And there’s always a segment of the population that’s just content to play whether they win or lose.
Which means coaches will need to bring that long-buried competitive streak out in those players. They will need to inspire those players to pursue winning at a deeper level than they may have on their own.
A big part of that is establishing a culture where winning is an important goal. Players have to have a big desire to win before they will go out of their way to compete better.
Finding a “lead goat” or two who can help drive the others is important. Take the natural competitors and make their enthusiasm infectious.
The belief that “we can do this” has taken many teams from the cellar to the penthouse and inspired players to do things they never thought they could (or would) do.
In my opinion, and I think James would agree, it’s one of the greatest gifts a coach can give his or her players. Because learning how to compete and succeed in sports is a skill that can be easily transferred to other aspects in a person’s life. Because everything in life is a competition at some level, so the sooner you learn how to compete, and build a burning desire to win, the better prepared you will be for life’s larger challenges.
In many cases, when you have a natural relentless competitor the best things the coach can do is guide them in how to direct that energy, give them the tools to pursue their passion, and then stay out of their way.
For everyone else, that’s where the real coaching comes in. It’s not just about X’s and O’s, or mechanics or strategies. It’s about lighting that spark that may be buried deep inside of them to help them exceed their current expectations in order to become the players they’re meant to be.
Make a commitment to be that spark.
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.