Category Archives: Coaching
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.
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
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
Be the Scarecrow, Not the Tin Man
One of the world’s most beloved movies is “The Wizard of Oz.” Audiences young and old love the story of Dorothy and her quest to follow the Yellow Brick Road so she can return home to Kansas (after ungratefully wishing she could go somewhere else; you parents can relate).
Along the way she meets three traveling companions. We’ll set aside the Cowardly Lion for now because he doesn’t have much to do with today’s subject.
That leaves us with the Scarecrow and the Tin Man.
These two characters offer the perfect way to describe how your athletes should be moving on the field.
Basically you want them to be the Scarecrow, not the Tin Man.
The Scarecrow is loose and relaxed. While yes, he does fall down a lot, the looseness of his limbs is the way you want your players to be when they are pitching, throwing overhand, hitting, fielding, running, etc.
By contrast, the Tin Man is very stiff. Even after he gets his joints oiled up he’s not exactly fluid when he moves.
He looks rather, well, clunky – because he is. As the Wizard of Oz himself says, he is a “clinking, clanking, clattering collection of caliginous junk.”
(In case you were wondering, “caliginous” is an archaic word that means misty, dim, obscure or dark. I looked it up. So it really doesn’t fit the rest of the description other than sounding like the other words. You’re welcome.)
In pretty much any athletic movement you want the body to be fluid. The energy should flow from one part to another (usually from the ground up) and the joints should remain unlocked.
But it can be difficult for players, especially younger ones, to understand exactly what that looks or feels like. If they’re used to be stiff when they walk or do other things in their daily lives they may not know how to get that flow.
But if you tell them to be the Scarecrow rather than the Tin Man, they instantly have a visual to help them put it into context. They may not get the Scarecrow part right away, but when you contrast him with the Tin Man it becomes a whole lot clearer.
Remember that coaching isn’t just about saying the right things or having the greatest amount of knowledge. It’s about being able to explain what you’re going for in a way your players can understand – and apply.
Telling them to be like the Scarecrow is a fairly specific way of telling them to “be loose and flexible” that gives them a model they can draw from based on their past experiences.
And if you find they can’t because they haven’t seen the movie – you now have a new team building activity to help them along their own Yellow Brick Road of success.
The One Tool Every Fastpitch Coach Needs in His/Her Bag
There are all kinds of devices and training tools available to fastpitch softball (and other) coaches today. A quick scan of Amazon or any sporting goods website will offer all kinds of ways to solve all kinds of problems at all kinds of price points.
But there is one tool today’s coaches need to make sure they have in their bags if they want to meet the expectations of many fastpitch players and especially parents today: a magic wand.
(Mine happens to be a Sirius Black model, as I’m sure Coach Katie McKay Phillips has already identified. If you don’t know who Sirius Black is, you really need to read more.)
The reason you need a magic wand is simple: many players and parents want to see instant improvement in individuals and teams.
They don’t want to spend hours practicing skills such as hitting, throwing, and pitching in the basement, backyard, or batting cages. They don’t want to spend hours out at the field learning their positions and what plays to make in specific situations or how to communicate where the ball will go.
Instead, they want you as the coach to wave a magic wand and take the team from looking like a group of misfit toys to a unit that can compete for tournament championships every weekend. So you’d best have a magic wand in your bag to show them you’re trying to give them what they want!
Now, of course, as any Harry Potter fan knows the wand is only as good as the wizard who wields it. So you’d best be practicing your spells and charms.
Once you have your wand, here are a few you can try. Some are directly from the Hogwarts courseware, while others are spells and charms of my own design.
Just remember, if you are a total Muggle and can’t get them to work, you’ll have to acquire the results the long, old-fashioned way – with lots of practice and repetition.
- Wingardium Leviosa – This one is one of the first Hogwarts students learn. It’s a levitation charm used to lift objects. Comes in mighty handy when your team can’t hit too well. Throw a little Wingardium Leviosa at a weak ground ball and watch it turn into a soaring line drive. You can also use it more subtly to turn a weak pop-up into a duck snort that sails just out of reach of every converging fielder. I’m sure you’ve seen that before.
- Expellliarmus – Good for when an opposing fielder is about to make a play that will result in a costly out. Originally designed to pull an opponent’s wand from his/her hand, it’s also great for turning a routine fielding opportunity into an instant error. No doubt you’ve seen this one being used by your opponents to make you look like you’ve never taught your players how to play. Naturally some coaches over-use it and then your team makes error after error, giving up a big inning. After all, the team couldn’t be that bad on their own after spending THE ENTIRE WEEK working on fielding ground balls and bunts.
- Petrificus Totalus – This is a full body binding spell that causes temporary complete paralysis. You have probably seen this one in action when your hitters were at the plate. The opposing pitcher throws a meatball down the middle of the plate and your hitter watches it go by for strike three. They didn’t freeze up on their own – they were hit with Petrificus Totalus by a wizard on the other side of the field. What other explanation could there be?
- Oblivius – This one is really handy becaue it enables you to erase the memory of people or events you don’t want someone to remember. It can be used in a couple of different ways. When used on opponents you can cause them to forget what to do with the ball on defense so they just stand there confused, holding it and looking around. No doubt you’ve seen this one in use as well. For your own team, you can use it when your pitcher just gave up a home run or other big hit to an opposing hitter and has now lost total confidence in herself and her ability to throw a strike. A little Oblivius and she’s right back in there. Coaches can also use it on themselves to forget bad innings or entire games before it gives them ulcers.
- Accio – The summoning spell that brings things to you. You’ll have to teach it to your players so the ball goes to them. How else do you explain a sure home run that hits a phantom gust of win and stays in the yard so the worst fielder in the game can catch it?
- Confundus Charm (Confundo) – Ever see three fielders converge on a ball only to let it drop between all of them? That’s Confundo in action.
- Instanteous Pitchus – Learning to pitch can be a long, arduous journey filled with hard work and major disappointments. But it doesn’t have to be. If you use this charm correctly you can turn any wannabe-pitcher into an instant ace in just one lesson. Which is what many parents expect of their coaches. No long, boring practice time or hours spent chasing balls around a backstop. Any pitcher can go from zero to hero if you apply this charm.
- Sluggeraramus – Does for hitters what Instanteous Pitchus does for pitchers. Or what parents expect purchasing a $500 bat will do for a kid with a 5 cent swing. If you can cast this spell, which is not easy to do, you won’t have to use Wingardium Leviosa so much in a game because every hit will already be a great one.
- Awareweed – Not so much a spell or charm as an herbal potion you can feed your players in lieu of spending practice time teaching them what to do with the ball in specific situations. Somehow they will just know where the ball should go, such as whether they should throw home to try to cut down the lead runner or realize that run is already scoring so go after one who is more vulnerable. It also gives them situational understanding, such as throwing to first for the sure out when your team has a 10-run lead rather than trying to get the runner heading home on a tag play. When your team is loaded up on Awareweed, coaches and parents can just sit back and enjoy the magic happening on the field.
- Silencio – While this silencing spell can be used on players when their incessant cheers are giving you a headache, it’s best applied to all the parent “coaches” in the stands who are yelling advice to their players (especially at the plate) or providing a running monolog of every play you as the coach should have made (after the fact, of course), criticisms of personnel or baserunning decisions, ideas on how to improve run production, and whatever else pops into their mind at the time. It can (and should) also be applied to those who have decided it’s their job to teach the umpire how to do his/her job.
That’s a fairly comprehensive list – enough to keep you studying for at least a year until you can pass your Ordinary Wizarding Level (O.W.L.) exam and more on to more advanced spells, charms, and potions.
That said, if you don’t have access to a wand, or can’t make it work, you’re going to have to do it the old-fashioned way – and explain it to your players and their parents as well.
The old-fashioned way isn’t quite as easy for them, and it takes longer, but it brings its own kind of magic as players achieve capabilities on their own they never dreamed they could acquire. And in the long run it’s a lot more satisfying because it’s been earned.
You Can’t Hurry Player Development
Perhaps you’ve seen the recent Tweet from Olympian and all-time great fastpitch softball pitcher Cat Osterman in response to Extra Innings Softball calling for nominations for ranking of players who will graduate high school in 2028. (In case you’re not aware or don’t want to do the math, this would be a ranking of players who are currently in 7th – that’s right 7th – grade.)
It’s been making the rounds on social media as a meme too. In it, Cat said:
Just for perspective… I would have been no where (sic) near this list as a 7th grader… NO WHERE CLOSE! So much changes in the next 2-5 years… this is plain silly.
I couldn’t agree more. At a time when kids today are already under so much more pressure from the “professionalization” of youth sports, and facing increased mental health issues on top of all the challenges that have always come with transitioning from grade schooler to young adult, adding one more thing for coaches, parents, and players to obsess over seems like a bad idea.
What you often end up with is some who become sad, depressed, anxious, etc. because they didn’t make the list. And others who experience those feelings because they did make the list and feel like they now have to live up to the expectations.
But this sense of heightened expectations doesn’t just apply to players supposedly at the top of the game. It can happen at all levels when coaches and parents lose sight of what the real mission is.
Softball is a game, and games are supposed to be fun. But an obsessive focus on winning and performance can suck all the fun out of it.
And what is the number one reason in every survey that players say they quit playing a sport they once loved? Because it isn’t fun anymore.
From 14 years old and down, the focus should be on player development and the process of learning rather than on outcomes. This is true even for so-called “competitive” teams.
(Not saying older teams shouldn’t develop their players too, but there is more imperative for them to keep an eye on the W-L column as well.)
Fastpitch softball is a complex game full of multiple decisions for situations and many moving parts for skills. Taking a shortcut on overall development so you can get wins today is the fastest way to stunt a player’s growth.
Sure, winning now is fun. But think of player development as giving players the tools they need to continue winning when the competition gets tougher.
Imagine if Cat Osterman’s coaches looked at her in 7th grade and decided she just didn’t have what it takes to be a pitcher because she walked too many people or didn’t hit her spots every time or whatever unrealistic demand they had of her.
Or what if they let her pitch but yelled ridiculous things at her like “Slow down your motion so you can throw more strikes.” Her 11U team might have won a few more games, but it’s unlikely any of us would know who she is. And her mantle wouldn’t include any Olympic medals or the various other prizes she’s earned as a premier pitcher.
Another pitcher who was in that boat was one who is thought by many to be the greatest of all time – Lisa Fernandez. She was told by a famous (but unnamed) pitching coach in Southern California that she should forget about the position because she didn’t have the build or the ability.
In her first outing she said she walked 21 batters and hit 21 batters. But somewhere along the way she was allowed to develop, slowly but surely, until she ended up being the winning pitcher in not just one but two gold medal games at the Olympics. Not to mention all her other accomplishments. You can look it up.
She probably wouldn’t have been at the top of anyone’s list in 7th grade either. But over time she became the player she was meant to be because she had the chance to grow into herself.
As Cat said, a lot can happen to a player between 7th grade and senior year. Some who peak early may find themselves falling behind later as the late bloomers begin to find themselves.
Others who don’t look like much on a 10U or 12U roster may work hard, benefit from a late growth spurt and coaches who give them opportunities, and suddenly find themselves becoming all-conference, all-area, or even all-state honorees. It’s almost impossible to predict.
Each of us finds our way in our own time. Coaches should keep that in mind.
At the youth level, keep your focus on player development and encourage those in your charge to play at the top of their abilities, whatever they may be at that point, rather than just doing whatever it takes to win today. You may just find you have some hidden gems – and make some lifelong friends in the process.
Stupid Things Coaches Say (But Shouldn’t)
People say stupid things every day in all walks of life. All you have to do is watch the news or go onto social media or even listen to conversations happening around you in a semi-crowded area and I guarantee within five minutes you’ll find something that makes you slap your forehead and shudder in disbelief.
Fastpitch softball coaches are not immune to this phenomenon. We all say stupid things from time to time.
Sometimes it’s from frustration, like asking a player if their parents are first cousins. Sometimes it’s because we haven’t updated our information since the last century, like telling hitters to “squish the bug” or “throw your hands at the ball.” Sometimes, like telling a pitcher “just throw strikes,” it’s because we simply don’t know what else to say.
I’m not talking about any of those instances here. What we’re going to cover today is the stuff where coaches should know better but they say those things anyway because they just don’t bother to think before they speak. Starting with…
You Have to Throw 60 mph to Pitch on Varsity
The other day I was talking to one of my pitching students and she passed along a statement her school’s varsity coach had made. He/she looked her right in the eye and said, “To pitch on varsity you have throw 60 miles an hour.”
Now, that’s a great aspirational goal. But what if no one in the school can throw 60 mph? Does that mean the coach is going to cancel the season?
Of course not. There are plenty of high school varsity pitchers who don’t throw 60 mph.
In fact, according to this blog post from Radar Sports, the average 17 to 18 year old (the age of high school juniors and seniors) throws 54 to 57 mph. While this chart from Fastpitcher.com places the average 18 year old at 55-59 mph and the average college pitcher at 68 to 65 mph.
From my own observation (with use of my Pocket Radar Smart Coach) I can also tell you that many college pitchers are actually on the lower, even sub-60, end of that spectrum. Watch enough games on TV and you’ll see some at the D1 level who rarely break 60 mph.
But that’s ok because last time I checked games are not decided based on which pitcher throws the most pitches the fastest. The outcomes are determined by which team can hold the other to fewer runs than their own team scores.
So a pitcher who may not be blazingly fast, but who can hit her spots and make the ball move on-command will often do better than one who throw hard but grooves everything down the middle.
That’s not to say speed isn’t important. It is, as I point out here.
But honestly, I’ll take a pitcher who consistently can throw eight-pitch innings over one who is racking up more Ks but taking substantially more pitches to do it. Especially on a hot, humid day.
We Lost Because Our Bench Was Too Quiet
This is a statement that often pops up in the post-game speech. It’s usually said when the coach’s favorites under-performed and the coach didn’t make the necessary adjustments (i.e., take those kids out and put someone else in).
Of all the stupid statement, this one has to be the stupidest on several levels in my opinion. I mean really? You lost because the bench players, who have no physical effect on the game whatsoever, didn’t make enough noise?
First of all, the players on the field shouldn’t require the people in the dugout to make noise in order for them to get “up” for the game. That’s something that should happen automatically.
Playing is a privilege, and it’s up to every player to get themselves motivated to play the game.
Secondly, it’s one thing if there is a lot of natural team chemistry and the dugout players are excited and supportive of their teammates. It’s another if the team is filled with cliques and the “noise” is an artificial event the bench players are being forced to create, perhaps to cover up for the fact that their team isn’t actually very good.
You lose because you make too many errors and let in too many runs. You lose because you don’t score enough runs. You lose because you didn’t do the things you needed to win on the field. That’s it.
Blaming the bench for being too quiet is like blaming the heat for killing your garden after you failed to water it all week. It’s just an excuse to divert attention from the real problem.
The Umpire Cost Us the Game
Blaming the umpire for a loss is a convenient excuse, and often an emotional reaction to a single incident. But let’s get real.
Even if the game was decided on a blown call in the bottom of the seventh, that’s not the sole (or even main) reason your team lost, Coach.
Your team had seven innings to put up more runs. If they had put up one more run in each of those innings you would have had a seven-run cushion and you’d be laughing about that one blown call right now.
Not to mention if they’d put up one more run in three of those innings you would still have had a lead that took the pressure off your defense and made that one play far less important.
Another thing your team could have done was not give up a couple of unearned runs by bobbling a simple ground ball or dropping a fly ball. Or your outfielder could have prevented the ball from getting by her instead of going for a spectacular diving catch when none was required to help keep some runs off the board.
Perhaps sending the runner home from third when the ball was clearly ahead of her would have kept a big inning going instead of killing it. Who knows how many more runs might have been scored?
The reality is no game comes down to one play. There were many plays prior to that one that could have changed the outcome.
Instead of fixating on one bad call, think of what you can do to ensure the next bad call doesn’t decide the outcome of that game.
I’ve Been Doing Things My Way for 20 Years
This one is often heard from coaches who would rather cling to their old ways of teaching the game than actually learn something new.
Yes, change can be hard at times. It can be even harder if you have to admit that the way you’ve been doing things may not have been the best way. None of us wants to look like we’ve been wrong for years.
But it’s not about being wrong before. It’s about being willing to adjust what you’re teaching when a better way comes along.
It’s one thing if you didn’t know there was a better way, or you misunderstood something you thought you know. Heck, I’ve discovered a whole host of things I was teaching in various aspects of the game that were sub-optimal or just flat-out wrong.
But when confronted with new and better information, I was willing to make that change. No need to defend the old ways.
Think about what you would want in a heart surgeon. Do you want someone who is still operating the way they did in 2002, or someone who has continued to learn and incorporate new techniques, new approaches, new equipment, etc. into their procedures?
I know which one I would choose.
It’s the same for coaches. There has never been as much research into what the most effective strategies and techniques for winning in fastpitch softball are.
We have statistical data that demonstrates why automatically sacrifice bunting when you get a runner on first, especially in this day and age of super hot bats and awesome hitters, will reduce your run production instead of enhance it. (Yes, these are baseball statistics but softball has done similar analytics and come to the same conclusion.)
We have measurable data that shows the pitch locations that produce the most swings and misses for each type of pitch.
We have technology that measures bat paths and arm deceleration speeds to help optimize player performance.
None of that was commonly available 20 years ago. So why not take advantage of it now?
If you’re still doing things the way you always did, you’re not paying attention and the game is leaving you behind. Open your mind to new possibilities.
Ultimately you may still reject some or all of what you hear. But at least you’re doing it as an informed choice rather than just a matter of stubborn habit.
Those are just a few examples of the stupid things coaches say. What have you heard, and why does it drive you crazy?
For the Love of Gaia, Please Stop Teaching Screwballs to 10 Year Olds
There is a phenomenon I’ve noticed lately in my area and seemingly is happening across the country as I speak with other pitching instructors.
When I start lessons with a new pitcher I will ask her what pitches she throws. For pitchers under the age of 14 my expectation is fastball, change, and maybe a drop ball.
These days, however, I have been shocked at how many, even the 10 year olds, will include a “screwball” in their list of pitches. Especially when I then watch them pitch and they struggle to throw their basic fastball with any velocity or semblance of accuracy.
Who in the world thinks teaching a screwball to a 10 year old (or a 12 or 13 year old for that matter) is a good idea? Particularly the screwball that requires the pitcher to contort her arm and wrist outward in a twisting motion that includes the “hitchhiker” finish?
There is simply no good reason to be doing that. For one thing, most kids at that age have rather weak proprioception (body awareness of self movement), which means they often struggle to lock in a single movement pattern.
So, since the way you throw a screwball is in direct opposition to the way you throw a fastball (especially with internal rotation mechanics but it’s even true of hello elbow pitchers) why would you introduce a way of throwing that will interfere with development of core mechanics? Pitchers who are trying to learn both will be splitting their time between two opposing movements, pretty much ensuring they will master neither.
Then coaches and parents wonder why the poor kid can’t throw two strikes in a row in a game.
Just as important is the health and safety aspect of twisting your forearm and elbow against the way they’re designed to work. As my friend and fellow pitching coach Keeley Byrnes of Key Fundamentals points out, “Boys at that age are cautioned against throwing curve balls with a twisting action because of the stress it places on their elbow joints. Why would you encourage a softball pitcher to do the same thing?”
Keeley also points out that most 10 year olds don’t hit very well anyway, so developing a screwball at that age is unnecessary. You can get many hitters out by throwing a fastball over the plate with decent velocity (which means it’s not arcing in).
Tony Riello, a pitching coach, trainer, and licensed doctor of chiropractic, is also concerned about the effect throwing the twisty screwball can have on other body parts. He says, “To be that spread out left to then force the arm and shoulder right seems not healthy for either the back or the shoulder,” he says.
Then there’s the fact that in 99% of the cases a screwball isn’t really a screwball. It’s just a fastball that runs in on a hitter.
Why do I say that? Because if you look at the spin on 99% of so-called screwballs, especially among 10 year olds but even at the collegiate level, they don’t have the type of spin that would make them break. They have “bullet” spin, i.e., their axis of spin is facing the same direction as the direction of travel.
For a screwball to actually be a screwball the axis of spin would need to be on top of the ball, with spin direction going toward the throwing hand side. Just as a curve spins away from the throwing hand side.
So if you’re throwing a pitch that isn’t going to break anyway, why not just learn to throw an inside fastball instead? If you want it to run in a little more, stride out more to the glove side then let it run itself back in.
But again, you’re now giving that young pitcher who’s just trying to learn to throw the ball over the plate two different mechanics (stride straight, stride out) to use, which means she’s probably going to be half as effective on either one.
Oh, and that hitchhiker move that’s supposedly the “key” to the screwball and places all the stress on the elbow? It happens well after the ball is out of the pitcher’s hand, so it has no impact on the spin of the pitch whatsoever. Zero. None. Nada.
Finally, and perhaps most important, once a young pitcher can throw with decent velocity and locate her pitches (or at least throw 70% strikes) there are simply better pitches for her to learn first.
After the basic fastball, in my opinion (and in the opinion of most quality pitching coaches), the second pitch that should be learned is a changeup that can be thrown with the same arm and body speed as the fastball but resulting in a 10-15 mph speed differential. Throwing both the fastball and change at the right speeds for 70% strikes should be enough to keep the typical 10- or 12-year old pitcher busy for a while.
Next you would want to add a drop ball. The mechanics of a properly taught drop ball are very similar to the fastball. In fact, I like to say they are fraternal twins.
Making a ball drop at the right spot, especially given so many young hitters’ desire to stand up as they swing, will get you a lot more outs, either as strikeouts or groundouts. A good drop ball will still translate into more groundouts as you get older too – just ask Cat Osterman.
From there it’s a little less certain. You can go either rise ball or curve ball. I usually make the decision based on the pitcher’s tendencies.
A well-thrown rise ball is still an extremely effective pitch, even though it doesn’t actually break up. And a well-thrown curve will actually break either off the plate (traditional curve) or back onto it (backdoor curve). Either way it moves – unlike the screwball which mostly travels on the same line.
I would save the screwball for last – unless you happen to play in an area where slappers are predominant in the lineup. Which in the era of $500 bats and quality, year-round hitting instruction is about as scarce as screwballs that actually change direction.
There are simply better pitches to learn. And if you do work on a screwball, there are better ways to learn it than trying to twist your wrist and forearm off in a contorted move that should be outlawed by the Geneva Convention.
The bottom line is that, for the love of Gaia, there is no good reason to be teaching a screwball to a 10 year old – or any pitcher who hasn’t mastered her fastball and changeup first. Let’s make sure we’re giving our young pitchers the actual tools they need to succeed – and avoid those that can lead to injury and perhaps a career cut short.
Why “I Don’t Know” Is Not a Sufficient Answer
If you asked the average person whether playing fastpitch softball is a physical or mental activity, there’s a good chance the answer would be “physical.” After all, there’s a lot of movement involved, and these days many softball players are training their bodies to the point of constant exhaustion (a topic for another day).
In reality, however, it’s a trick question. Because while it is obviously physical, there is also a huge element of mental activity that goes into it as well.
Or at least there should be.
When I train a player, I tend to use what’s known as the Socratic Method. The short version is I don’t just constantly tell them what to do; instead, once they’ve been taught something I will ask them questions to try to ensure they actually understand what we’re trying to do instead of just blindly following directions.
For example, if I am working with a pitcher and she throws a pitch in the dirt on her throwing hand side, rather than saying “You released too early” or “You were too open at release” or whatever the issue was, I will instead ask her “Why did that happen?” It is then up to her to think through what she has (supposedly) learned, plus what she felt, in order to provide an answer to the question.
The goal, of course, is to help the player become her own pitching, hitting, fielding, whatever, coach.
We want that so when she’s practicing on her own she can make corrections to keep her on the right path. We also want that because I’m sure the last thing that player wants is for Mom, Dad, Team Coach, or the spectators on the sidelines to be shouting instructions out to her in a game.
When I ask these questions the answers I receive aren’t always right. But to me there is one answer that is always wrong: I don’t know.
Because even if a player provides an incorrect response to the question, at least she’s making an effort to figure it out. She may not quite understand what she should be doing yet but she’s trying.
Saying I don’t know, however, to me shows a total lack of mental engagement in the process of whatever we’re doing. It’s the easy way out, basically saying, “Tell me so I can robotically follow directions” rather than really digging in to understand the movement we’re trying to achieve at a deeper level.
When I hear “I don’t know,” I always think of Mr. Hand and Spicoli.
In a softball context, in turning the tables the conversation would go, “Will I be able to get hitters out Coach?” “I don’t know.” “Will I get some hits instead of striking out?” “I don’t know.” “Will I be able to make the quick throw?” “I don’t know.”
And that’s the reality of it. If a player’s brain is not engaged as she practices she could just as easily be practicing the wrong things – in which case when she goes into a game she won’t have the skills she needs to succeed.
Now, I’m not saying “I don’t know” is always the wrong answer. If the coach who is asking the question of a player hasn’t taught her whatever he/she is asking, the player shouldn’t be expected to know. In which case “I don’t know” is correct.
Or if a player asks a coach about something out of his/her area of expertise, like how to throw a riseball if the coach has no background in pitching, or what strengthening exercises they should do at home if the coach hasn’t researched it, “I don’t know” is a better answer than just making something up so the coach doesn’t look “stupid.”
I actually wish more coaches would give that answer when it’s appropriate.
But when the activity is something fundamental that has been taught and reinforced dozens or hundreds of times before, “I don’t know” is not a sufficient answer. The player should know and be able to self-correct.
That’s the fast track to improvement and advancement. Because players who can identify issues on their own can correct them on their own and keep themselves moving forward; those who can’t, well, they’re doomed to repeat those mistakes over and over.
If you’re a coach, hold your players accountable by asking questions they should know the answers to and then making them accountable for it. If you’re a parent, reinforce the importance of players getting their brains engaged instead of mindlessly going through whatever motions they’re being told to do at the time.
And if you’re a player, take ownership of your softball education and really learn what you’re being taught. Not just the movements but the reasons for them, and why things go wrong when they go wrong.
It’s one of the biggest keys to producing better, more consistent results. Which makes the games a lot more fun.
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com
Even the Most Talented Benefit from Good Coaching
Whether you love him, think he’s silly, or fall somewhere in between, there’s no denying that Elvis Presley was one of the most recognizable and successful humans to ever walk the face of the earth. Even today, more than 40 years after his death, when I ask a young softball player if they know who Elvis was the answer is almost always “yes.” That’s staying power.
Yet as unique a talent as Elvis was, it’s unlikely that he would have become so indelibly etched on the annals of history had it not been for his manager, Col. Tom Parker.
To get an idea of the impact Parker made, he was once asked why he took a higher-than-normal percentage of Elvis’ earnings. Parker supposedly replied, “When I met Elvis he had a million dollar’s worth of talent. Now he has a million dollars.”
That story, and thousands of others like it throughout history, demonstrate the value of finding the right mentor or coach. Someone who sees what you can become and works to help you get there rather than simply walking repeating information they may have heard somewhere before and rotely walking you through a series of meaningless drills.
So what are some of the attributes you should look for in a coach, either for a team or a private instructor? Here are some based on my experience.
1. A high level of current knowledge.
This might seem obvious but it’s actually not. There are lots of coaches out there who haven’t learned a thing over the last 5, 10, 20 or more years. Fastpitch softball is evolving all the time, with plenty of smart people doing research, looking at statistics and videos, and discovering new things.
If the coach isn’t keeping up and taking advantage of these new discoveries you may want to find someone who is. Especially if your goal is to play “at the next level,” whatever that happens to be.
2. Coaching to the individual instead of the masses.
It’s very easy for coaches to approach each player as a nameless, faceless piece moving through the machine. These types of coaches have all their players do the same drills and follow the same path regardless of ability to execute. If the players aren’t getting it or can’t keep up for whatever reason they just get pushed to the side or even benched.
A good coach will recognize a player who is struggling and look for the reason why. Is it that the player doesn’t understand what they’re supposed to do? Is it simply a lack of experience that can be corrected through more reps or is there a physical limitation that is preventing the athlete from moving in the desired way?
Whatever the reason, a good coach will look for the answer and make adjustments accordingly in order to help that player get on the field and perform her best.
3. Recognizing (and appreciating) different players have different personalities.
This is sort of like #2 above but is less about physical inabilities and more about learning how to interact with different athletes.
Some players, especially young ones, can be shy or at least uncomfortable around people they don’t know. If that’s the case the coach needs to recognize it and try to find a way to connect with the player so she can increase her comfort level in order to be more receptive to the coaching.
Some players are very straightforward and serious, while others can be goofy and off the wall. It doesn’t mean the latter are any less dedicated or are paying attention less. They’re simply seeing the world through their own unique lenses.
Essentially, if a coach has 12 players on a team he or she may need 12 different coaching styles to bring out the best in them. You want a coach who understands that and can deal with players in the way in which they respond best.
4. Demonstrating servant leadership
We’ve all seen coaches who are all about themselves and their won-lost records. They’re not looking to develop their players; they measure their success solely on the number of games they win.
That may be a valid approach for a college or professional coach (although that can also be debated). But definitely for youth coaches and mentors you should be looking for someone who takes more of a servant leadership approach.
Basically a servant leader is one who puts the success of the player(s) or team ahead of their own personal success. A good example on the team side is how they react after a game.
A more self-centered coach will take credit for wins and place blame on individuals or the team for losses. A servant leader will take responsibility for losses and give credit to the players or team for wins.
I’m not saying the self-centered coach’s teams (or students if he/she is a private coach) can’t win a lot of games. There are enough of them out there who do.
But if the goal is to ensure the particular player you care most about achieves a high level of success you’re going to want to look for a servant leader.
(Of course, Col. Tom was anything but a servant leader. He was actually pretty self-serving and often did things for Elvis because they benefited him too. But you get the point.)
5. A sense of what’s right and wrong
We seem to live in a pretty morally ambiguous world these days. In many cases right and wrong seem to be treated as if they are conditional or transactional.
But underneath it all there are right things and wrong things to do. You want to find a coach or mentor who is at least trying to do the right things for their athletes.
It’s funny. Parent coaches often get a bad rap. The terms “Daddyball” and “Mommyball” come to mind, which is a description of a parent who is in coaching for the benefit of their own child, and everyone else comes second.
But that’s not always the case. I know, and have known, plenty of great parent coaches who are in it for everyone. I’ve also known (or known of) plenty of so-called “paid professional” coaches who play favorites, let parents influence their decisions on playing time and positions, and outright screw over players they don’t like or who don’t fit their idea of what a player should be.
The thing is a sense of right and wrong isn’t something you put on like a uniform. It’s something that’s inside of you, a part of you like your heart or lungs.
If you really want a good experience, and a coach who can help an athlete become her best self, look for someone who does things because they’re the right thing to do, not just the expedient thing to do. That coach will provide guidance and character development that will not only help on the field but also long after the player has hung up her cleats.
So there you have it. What do you think?
Are there other characteristics of a great coach or mentor I’ve missed? If so, share your thoughts in the comments below.