Category Archives: Equipment

The importance of tee work in fastpitch softball

Tee hitting is for players of all ages, including accomplished hitters like Grace Bradley

Players, especially younger ones, often look at the hitting tee as something that’s only useful to beginners. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Working off the tee has a huge amoung of value to players of all experience levels, as this guest post by David Morgan of The Planet of Baseball explains.  

One thing most new fastpitch softball players realize as soon as they get into the game is there is actually nothing soft about softball. They quickly find that hitting a ball is not as easy as great hitters make it look.

It is common to find that new players have very poor swings and some may not even know how to hit off a tee. However, softball coaches have devised various drills that can help players improve their skills and develop good hitting habits.

One way softball players can learn how to hit off a tee is to regularly engage in tee work. We shall explore how tee work helps softball players to become better at the sport.

Improving accuracy

Accuracy is definitely important in the game of softball. For a player to hit off a tee accurately, he/she must maintain focus; tee work is very useful in achieving this precision.

For example, it`s possible for a coach to hang a target on a pole and ask the players to hit it. This target should be placed at eye level so that the player can easily see it.

The major advantage of this method is the player clearly knows whether he/she hits the target or not. In the event that the player misses regularly, the coach could use this opportunity to help the player work on her swings. In addition, it could help the coach identify if the player has problems concentrating by observing whether he/she regularly take his/her eye off the ball.

Body Timing

One common problem that softball players must combat is knowing how to time their bodies.

In fact it is common for softball players to lower their hands as they begin their swing. The result of this is that they end up missing balls they should have hit. Engaging in tee work helps address this problem.

The easiest way to accomplish this is to have players with this issue hit off a high tee, for instance  somewhere around the chest region. If the player happens to drop his/her hands, then her bat would go right under the ball. When players repeat this practice often, the tendency to drop their hands as they begin their swing will be reduced.

Keeps the body in shape

Apart from helping players improve their skills, tee work can also help keep players in good shape.

Sometimes, most players come back from an extended lay off only to discover that their bodies are no longer in tune with the game. This is when tee work becomes very important as it helps to prepare the muscles for the new season.

It can also help players work on specific problems before a game begins, such as an inability to hit to the opposite field. The ability to hit to the backside enables a player to move runners and throw off the defense.

Developing more advanced skills

In most cases tee work is done when the coach is present. However, mature players can also do it on their own.

One of the advanced skills a player can develop from hitting off a stationary tee is the ability to hit to both the left and right sides, again using targets. For instance, if it is an inside pitch work, the targets are placed to the left for a right-handed hitter. The targets are placed to the right for outside pitch work.

In addition, other important skills such as swinging through the ball, as well as hitting further back in the strike zone can be developed from regular tee work.

Final words

In conclusion, we have been able to provide some good reasons why we believe tee work is very important in softball. Having good equipment, including quality tees and the best softball bats, is important as well. The better your equipment, the more you will enjoy practicing – and the more success you’ll have in the game.

My name is David, I am an editor/co-founder of www.theplanetofbaseball.com. Being a software engineer by day and a baseball/softball blogger by night, I also participated in the training activities of a youth baseball team at my hometown. I have passion with baseball, it pertains to my life from childhood until now and I love to share what is related to that passion with others. I believe in the support of other baseball bloggers like me to spread the passion.

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Way cool: Slugger lets you customize your bat

Back when the Louisville Slugger Catalyst  fastpitch bats first came out and were the hot bats, my daughter Kim had a chance to get one for free, courtesy of my friends at Softball Magazine. But she decided to pass because they were yellow and she just didn’t like the way they looked. I know, right?

While it shouldn’t make a difference – the only measure of a bat should be how well you can hit with it – it actually does seem to matter. Kim’s not the only one to object to a piece of equipment because of its appearance.

These are all the same Louisville Slugger LTX HYPER fastpitch bat, customized to a wide variety of color choices and combinations.

Not your mother’s Slugger – you can customize your LXT HYPER fastpitch bat to suit your preferences. and tastes

For those with daughters/players who are fashion-forward, however, there is good news. On June 1 Louisville Slugger announced not only the release of the new LXT HYPER fastpitch bat line, but an amazing feature – you can customize it to suit your tastes by going here.

I tried it out earlier in the week and it’s way cool. Often times when companies say you can customize a product they mean you can change a couple of colors, or a graphic here or there. With the LXT HYPER you essentially start out with a colorless bat, then specify the color of every component, from the knob to the end cap.

(WARNING: If you are graphically challenged you may want to have one of your more artistic friends check your work before you submit, as you can really make it crazy. Unless that’s what you’re going for.)

I tried the site out earlier in the week and it was pretty easy to use. It walks you through the choices, and as you make each one that choice gets added to “your” bat. They have lots of color options, including some fades in certain areas, enabling you to go from subtle and reserved to Fantasia. You’ll be amazed at how many choices you’ll have to make.

Once you get the colors selected, you can also further customize your bat by having your name or nickname imprinted on it. You only get 9 characters, however. Not bad if your name is Sue Rolls but you’ll have some decisions to make if it’s Hyacynth Mickelweed. There are three font selections, from a script type of writing to a blockier style. But no matter what you put, at least there won’t be any more arguments with teammates should you happen to select all the same colors for your bat.

Now, it might be tempting for the whole team to get the same color combination, or you may want to select colors based on your current team. But these things tend to be moving targets. If you change teams, or your school team has a vastly different color scheme than your travel team, it might not work out so well. Just something to keep in mind.

Of course, good looks alone are no reason to select a bat. Ultimately it has to perform. Slugger’s press release says:

“Available in -11, -10, -9 and -8 weight drops, the LXT HYPER’s 100 percent composite design now features the all-new PBF Barrel Technology that doubles the sweet spot for unmatched power. Louisville Slugger has also improved the LXT HYPER’s patented TRU3 Dynamic Socket Connection, allowing for necessary movement between the barrel and handle. This maximizes barrel trampoline effect, while also eliminating negative vibration. The result is the absolute best possible feel when you bring the bat through the zone.”

Understand that all this wonderfulness doesn’t come cheap. The retail price is $479. But if you’re looking for a high-performance bat that lets you express your personality on the way to the plate as well as at it, and you can afford it, the LXT HYPER is definitely worth a look.

Product Review: Jugs Tee – It’s All About That Base

Batting tees are one of the most important tools a hitter can own. They’re great for working on swing mechanics, pitch locations and other techniques. They’re also great for getting in a few warm-up swings before the game.Jugs T

There are all types of tees out there – all rubber, all plastic, a combination of the two. Lately, though, the most popular design has been a metal pipe-style with an inverted rubber cone on the top. You’ll typically find them in facilities with batting cages.
They’re not much to look at, and they often have a weight ring at the bottom of them to keep them from getting knocked over, but they get the job done.

The venerable Jugs Sports company is out to change all of that with their new professional style Jugs T. Retailing for $74.95, it improves on previous designs from other manufacturers in several ways, making it a great choice for facilities, coaches and individual hitters.

The first thing you’ll notice is how beautiful it looks. First-generation tee designs looked like they were built with steam fitting pipes and plywood from the local hardware store. The Jugs T appears to be made from highly polished aluminum with a solid metal base (more on the base in a minute). The bottom section is a deep, shiny blue, while the extension section is natural silver in color. You feel good just taking it out of the package.
It assembles in about 30 seconds – just screw the extension section into the base and you’re good to go. The rubber cone also feels thicker and more rigid than earlier tee models.

That comes in handy if you live up north like I do and leave the tee in the car during cold weather. With other tee designs if the cone is bent while it’s sitting in the trunk it takes a while before it holds a ball reliably.

Not the Jugs T. The thicker material bounces right back and is ready to go. I know – I tried it.

All of that is nice. But the real differentiator, in my opinion, is the base. It’s a solid metal plate instead of wood, and it is heavy – 10 lbs. according to the Jugs website. No need to put a 10 lb. barbell weight on this tee. In fact, the first couple of days I had it I kept handing it to people and telling them to feel the heft. It also has a pentagonal design that keeps it from going over the side if someone swings too low, and the entire base is coated in rubber so it won’t scuff gym floors.

Don’t worry about carting it around, however. The base also has a cutout that forms a convenient carrying handle. It’s easy to transport from cage to cage, or from the dugout to a practice area.

Another issue tees can sometimes develop is the inability to keep the ball at the desired height. You set the ball on it and the shaft starts to sink. So far that doesn’t seem like it will be a problem with this tee. It feels very solid when you raise and lower it, a good sign that it will continue to hold its ground even after repeated use. The adjustment range is a standard 23 inches to 46 inches – comparable to other tees I’ve used – making it ideal for your smallest players as well as your tallest ones.

Overall, like everything Jugs produces it’s a high-quality piece of equipment. If you’re looking for a professional style hitting tee that will stand up to tough use year after year, the Jugs T is a great choice.

History of pitch speed measurement

We tend to take pitch speed measurement for granted today. It’s a common sight at MLB games, and TV coverage of women’s college softball  and even Little League softball often displays the speed of evScouteeery pitch – sometimes accurately, sometimes not so much.

At the local level, speed measurement with radar guns used to be pretty much limited to pitching coaches who could afford a Jugs or Stalker gun. But the introduction of several new quality products over the past few years, such as the Glove Radar and Pocket Radar/Ball Coach, has put it into the hands of the average bucket dad or mom. Whether that’s good or bad remains to be seen.

But it wasn’t always that way, as this article from the Scoutee blog points out. (Scoutee is another new radar-based speed measurement product that in this case works with a smartphone. What will they think of next?)

Back in the day they tried all kinds of crazy set-ups and devices to measure pitch speed, including having a pitcher throw as a motorcycle raced by at 86 mph. The article provides a pretty comprehensive description of the search to accurately measure speed.

Be glad you live in the times you do. It’s far easier to annoy your daughter or players with speed measurements than it used to be!

Beware of an over-reliance on gimmicks

You see them everywhere – in magazines, on websites, in YouTube videos and everywhere else fastpitch softball folks look for information. “They” are all the devices that promise to make your players better.

I call them “gimmicks” because often times that’s how they’re presented. The impression you’re given is that for $29.95 (plus shipping & handling), or $79.95 or $249.95 you can buy better performance. Gang, I can tell you that it just ain’t so.

I’m not saying these devices can’t help. Many of them can be useful in the right hands. But in order for yours to be the right hands, you first need to understand how a particular skill needs to be performed, and to a reasonably deep level.

A favorite example of mine comes from tryouts a few years ago. Three other coaches and I were observing pitching tryouts for a 16U team. One of the other coaches had a device that measures the spin rate of the ball and was using it to measure the revolutions per second of a pitcher’s curve ball.

“Ooooh” one of them exclaimed as a pitcher threw a pitch. “21.” “22.” And so on. They were all so focused on the device and what it supposedly told them that not a single one of them was watching the actual pitch.  If they had, they would’ve noticed that the “curve ball” was spinning pretty close to 12 to 6 (fastball or drop ball spin) and wasn’t moving at all. Even down.

By the standards of the device, this pitcher was throwing an awesome curve. But in the real world, she wasn’t even throwing a decent one. And last time I checked, hitters hit pitches thrown in the real world.

As an instructor I see this all the time. Some coaches have an entire bag full of gimmicks, and they just move from one to the next. Especially hitting coaches for some reason. Some I’ve seen just love to bring out the devices.

But if you don’t understand what you’re trying to achieve, the effectiveness of the device is pretty much wasted at worst, or randomly effective at best. It’s like plopping down $300 for the world’s best hammer when what you really need is a $3 screwdriver.

If you really want to help your players/daughter(s) improve you don’t need a duffel bag full of stuff. At least not right away. Instead, first take the time to learn how those skills should be performed. Study college games on TV. Look for video on the Internet. Invest in DVDs and books. Attend training seminars/coaches clinics where an accomplished coach with a history of success breaks down the skill in detail. Go to http://www.discussfastpitch.com and read the discussions there. In other words, first seek out information.

Once you have a feel for what the skill should look like, and how it should be executed, you’ll be in a better position to decide which devices can really help you teach those skills and make improvements in your players and which ones will end up sitting on a shelf on in a duffel bag in your garage collecting dust.

What makes me say that? I have my own collection of devices that I bought when I started coaching, hoping to find the magic one. Some were worthwhile, many were not. The more I learned, the better I was able to see which ones might be helpful and which ones would be relegated to the Island of Misfit Softball Toys.

That goes for choosing a coach too, whether it’s a private instructor or a team coach. Someone who’s pulling out gimmick after gimmick instead of having your daughter work on actual pitching, hitting, fielding, throwing or whatever skill it is she’s trying to learn may not be your best choice. Devices are no substitute for knowledge.

Ultimately the value of a device goes up in direct proportion to your understanding what you’re trying to accomplish with it. Become competent at that first and you’ll make better decisions on how to spend the rest of your cash.

Muchera – a different type of sliding pants

The other day in my email I found an interesting note from someone who has invented a new type of sliding pants. These pants, under the brand name Muchera, combine traditional sliding pants with knee and shin protection.

That’s an interesting concept. Back when I started coaching in the 1990s, sliding pads were a big thing in fastpitch softball. Of course, the players wore shorts then, so if you didn’t have some sort of knee/shin protection you’d end up with some pretty nasty-looking scrapes and bruises. They also wore slider shorts – some padded, some not.

This new idea combines the two of them. Given that almost all female fastpitch teams these days are wearing regular baseball pants it makes sense. You can throw these on underneath and no one will be the wiser. No more hassling with trying to remember if you packed your slider after the last game or not. (Incidentally, for you slow pitch players they have them in men’s sizes as well.) 

They’re not quite ready for purchase yet – the inventor is working on getting the first 300 pairs made. But be sure to check it out, because any aggressive baserunner is likely to want a pair of these pants!

NOTE: This post was edited because of a change in the plans for bringing the pants to market.  

Product review: Jennie Finch Softball Powerline Pitching Mat

When you live North of the Mason-Dixon line, you tend to spend a good part of your fastpitch softball off-season training time indoors. While that certainly beats freezing your butt off in sub-zero temperatures, it also presents some interesting challenges — especially for pitchers.

For several years I have used a couple of different pitching mats rather than having students pitch off the floor. The mats have built-in pitching rubbers, which is good, and the one from Club K also had the powerline built into it. (The other one, a turf-type, did not, but I solved that with some line marking paint.) The trouble, though, was that they tended to slide on the turf surfaces used in batting cage facilities due to their rubber backing. I constantly had to adjust the mats to keep them lined up with the plate. I’m sure they work fine on a wood gym floor, but how many of us have access to those?

It’s not a problem anymore, though. I recently purchase two of the Jennie Finch Softball Powerline Pitching Mats with foam backs, and I have to say they’ve been acting as-advertised. The web listing claimed that the foam back would stick like Velcro to a turf surface, and by golly that’s exactly what has happened. After a week’s worth of using them in two different locations I can safely say that they have not moved an inch, even when used by some strong pitchers.

That alone made them worth the price ($215 plus $30 for shipping). But they are also good mats in other ways.

The turf surface itself is high-quality, and appears as though it will be very durable even under regular use. The bright green turf is split by a bright white powerline that makes it easy for students to see and keep themselves going straight. The mat is also thick, providing a little cushioning when landing versus the usual thin turf over concrete floors. My students have definitely appreciated that.

The transaction with On Deck Sports was smooth, and the mats were delivered within a few days. Incidentally, they come with a vinyl carrier that makes them easy to cart to and from a facility. The carrier was tucked into the center of the rolled-up mat, so you’ll want to grab it before you bring it somewhere.

Time will tell as far as durability goes. But if you’ve been struggling with keeping a pitching mat in place, I can definitely recommend this one. Just be sure you specify the foam backing.

One final word. If you watch the video demo, you’ll see Jennie Finch is illegal on every pitch she throws from it. That’s unfortunate, and I wish someone would notice and correct that. But don’t let that discourage you. It’s still a good product.

What’s in your coach’s bag?

Most coaches have a bag or two they use to carry various items. Typically, one bag has items such as lineup cards, a clipboard, maybe an eraseable board to post the lineup, a scorebook, pens and pencils and assorted other items. The other bag might carry a glove, an extra ball or two, a stopwatch and maybe a bat.

But after nearly 15 years of coaching, I’ve found there are a host of other items that can come in handy. Throw them in your bag and, like a Boy Scout, you should be prepared for just about anything.

  • Dandelion puller — This tool comes in handy if you’re using the breakaway bases with the thin post. A little dirt gets in there after a slide and the base won’t sit right. If there’s no ground crew around, the dandelion puller will help you.
  • Resin bag — On a hot, humid day it can be tough for pitchers to get a good grip on the ball. A resin bag can help keep the pitching hand dry. Some pitchers like them whether it’s hot or not because it helps them get a little extra spin on the ball.
  • Towel — Into ever life a little rain must fall. Every coach should have a towel handy to dry off the ball when it gets wet. Sure beats using your shirt.
  • Duct tape — You folks from the South know what I’m talking about. Duct tape can fix just about anything. Have a shoe falling apart? Duct tape it. Lineup board blowing around on a windy day? Duct tape it. Water bottle leaking? Duct tape it. Is there anything it can’t do?
  • Glove repair kit — In a perfect world, all your players would take great care of their equipment and inspect it regularly. Doesn’t happen. You can’t do much about a dented bat, but if a player comes to you with a broken glove what are you going to do? Loan her a glove she’s not familiar with? Not good. But if you have a lace pulling kit you can make a quick repair and get her back on her way. Be sure to have some spare lacing just in case it isn’t just out but broken.
  • Glove cream — Ok, so she decides to get a new glove and it’s not broken in. You can help get her on her way with a little glove cream. Just remember to do it after the game or practice, not before.
  • Tape measure — I have been on fields that just didn’t quite look right. But unless you can prove the pitching rubber is set too far or too close, or the bases are the wrong distance, you can’t get it corrected. A 100′ tape measure doesn’t take up much room, but it can be a life saver. It’s also good for measuring pitching distances during warn-ups, too.
  • Spare batting gloves — Let’s face it — kids lose things. If one of your hitters loses a batting glove you can come to the rescue with a loaner.
  • Sunscreen — You need it yourself, but also make sure your players are wearing it. If they don’t have any you can loan them yours.
  • Insect repellent — Shouldn’t need it during the day, but if you’re playing at dusk, or on a field with lights, you’ll be glad you have it.
  • Fold-up jacket or poncho — When the rain starts you’ll want to be protected. After all, you’re not 14 anymore.

Those are many of the things in my bag. What’s in yours? Did I miss anything? If so, add them to the comments below.

A cue for hitters who are dropping their hands

Dropping the hands is a fairly common problem among young hitters. I personally think some of that is due to the number of coaches telling their hitters to “throw your hands at the ball,” and part of it is telling them to “swing level,” which translates in their heads to “level to the ground.” But mostly it’s probably just a natural reaction to trying to hit a moving ball with a moving bat.

Tonight I was working with a girl who was doing just that. She was trying to hit a thigh-high pitch, but her hands were coming down so low that there wasn’t much angle to her bat. I wanted her to make sure she was keeping her hands above the ball, but saying that just didn’t seem to make sense to her. So I told her to keep her hands above her waist, and just lower the bat to get to the ball.

Bingo! That seemed to work. She went from hitting bouncing ground balls to driving line drives and pounding some deep fly balls. She continued to hit through the ball consistently.

I don’t know if it will work for everybody, but it certainly worked tonight — probably because it was specific and measurable. Saying keep your hands above the ball requires judgment. Saying keep your hands above your waist (or bellybutton) is a lot easier to understand and execute.

Feeling better about my team’s hitting

Over the past couple of weekends our team has been struggling at the plate. It’s not that we’ve been overpowered by great pitching for the most part. In fact, I’d say the pitching overall has been on the weak side. But in spite of that we’ve been popping up and hitting a lot of weak ground balls. It’s been maddening, really.

So tonight I’m watching the KFC World Cup series — USA v. Australia. USA got up 3-1 early, and was in command of the game. Then Australia brought in a relief pitcher, a girl throwing a lot of pitches in the low 50s, with a few in the high 50s. So what do you think happened?

The USA has hit five straight weak pop-ups. They are really struggling with the off-speed and general junk.

These are some of the best hitters in the world, and they’re having trouble making the adjustment — doing exactly what we were doing. Somehow I suspect they’ll get through it quicker, but I guess tonight I’m seeing it can happen to anyone. I’m feeling a little better about our difficulties adjusting. But just a little!

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