Category Archives: General Thoughts
I don’t think too many people would disagree that we have an umpire dilemma in fastpitch softball. Actually it applies to officials in all sports but since this is a fastpitch softball blog we will stick to umpires. Those of you who see it in other sports can make your own translations.
Now, for the some the umpire dilemma comes down to one thought: Umpires these days suck. But the reality is that mindset is a big part of the problem we are facing today.
Being an umpire is an incredibly difficult job. Plate umpires in particular have to make hundreds of decisions each game, and often half the people in attendance thinks most of them are wrong.
How did I come to hundreds? Well, figure if each pitcher throws 100 pitches in a game that’s roughly 200 right there. Add in force outs at bases, tag plays, interference or obstruction calls, runners tagging up, infield fly rule, illegal pitches, runners leaving early, fair/foul calls, etc. and you get a large number.
Complicating all of that is sometimes these plays are happening simultaneously, such as ball/strike and runners leaving early. Kind of difficult to see both, especially at the upper levels where things happen very quickly.
They have to get each one of these calls right too or they’ll likely find themselves featured on one of the many Facebook or other Internet groups dedicated to fastpitch softball. In tournaments, umpires may work seven or more games in a day, Which means they could be making, say, 250 decision x 7 games, for a total of 1,750 decisions in a single day.
It’s statistically unlikely that they will get every single one of them correct, no matter how hard they try. Perhaps some day we will have impartial robots to make all of those decisions. But I’ll bet even then there will be parents who think they’ve been programmed to cheat their teams out of a win.
Sometimes umpire do this without a break, and often in oppressive heat and humidity while being on their feet ALL DAY. My back hurts just thinking about it.
They also have to know all the nuances of an arcane and ever-changing rulebook from memory. It’s easy to know the stuff that happens all the time.
But when it comes to the things that rarely happen it can be more challenging. Of course, there will always be some “helpful” parent more than willing to correct them from the sidelines if they get it wrong.
The real issue, however, is that being called out on the Internet is the least of their worries these days. This female umpire from Missouri was one of the latest to find that out.
The verbal abuse umpires often take is bad enough, especially in a world where a lot of people seem to have lost their ability to filter their thoughts and think every one must be shared with the world. But when did people start thinking physical assault was an appropriate response to little Sally getting rung up on a bang-bang tag play?
What all of this has led to is a shortage of umpires as older ones retire and younger people pass on the idea like my wife seeing mushrooms on a pizza. They may love the sport and want to help, but a small dose of crazy parents convinces them to find something less stressful or dangerous to do with their spare time, like bungee jumping or extreme sports.
In an ideal world, every game would have a minimum of two umpires. One behind the plate, and one in the field.
Two umpires allow them to work as a team to get closer to calls on the field, to get a second opinion on a checked swing, to have one watch balls and strikes while the other watches for illegal pitches and runners leaving early, or to consult with their partner if they’re not sure about a call or rule.
But in today’s world having two or more umpires at high school, travel or rec league games is becoming increasingly difficult. In fact, it’s becoming more difficult to get one umpire to all the games that need to be covered, leading to more widespread cancelations as these Google search results show.
So here’s the dilemma. Given everything said above, how do you get more people to raise their hands to become umpires to not only backfill the current shortage but also enable the sport to continue to grow?
One obvious answer is for all those parents, coaches, and other spectators on the sideline who think they know so much to take some classes, become certified, and strap on some shin guards, chest protectors and masks and do the job themselves.
Riiiight. That’s gonna happen.
The real solution is for the people on the sidelines to start acting like decent human beings and show some respect to the officials who are giving up their weeknights and weekends for very low pay so the kids can play. I know it sounds simplistic but it really is the key, especially for drawing former players into the ranks.
Many will try it but leave because of the verbal abuse and sometimes threats of violence. It’s not worth it to them to listen to the constant insults and jawjacking or take the chance on getting clocked in the parking lot.
Cut all of that out and you not only attract more young people – you keep them, reducing the number you need to attract in the future.
None of this requires legislation or any grand gestures either. It starts with each individual.
If you just worry about you, and maybe your significant other if he/she has no filter and/or anger management issues, you can make a difference. As more people adopt this attitude the epidemic of umpire abuse will subside and you’ll not only attract more candidates – you’ll get better, smarter ones.
You know the old quote “Be the change you want to see in the world”? That’s what we’re talking about here. (And no, Gandhi never actually said that, although he said something close.)
The point is you can help turn the tide. Be kind. The only good reason to chase down an umpire after the game is to thank him or her for taking on this normally thankless job – even if you didn’t like the way they did it.
When I was coaching teams, we would have every player say thank you to the umpires after the game, even if we didn’t think much of that umpire. We did it as a sign of respect not only to that person but to the position and to the game.
Give this idea a try. You may find it makes the games a lot more enjoyable for you and everyone around you.
We are coming up to the best time of the year for fastpitch softball fanatics: the NCAA D1 Women’s Softball tournament. Over the next couple of weeks 64 of (presumably) the best college softball teams in the country will be going head-to-head to see which will ultimately make it into the Elite 8 and the Women’s College World Series WCWS).
Fortunately for those of us who love it, these games will be all over ESPN. Not because ESPN has any particular love or feels any particular sense of responsibility to the sport, but because over the last few years it has been a rating juggernaut.
In fact, last year alone it drew more than 1.2 million viewers, which is 60% more than the Men’s Baseball College World Series. It draws the eyeballs, which draws the sponsors, which ensures you’ll see it.
Yet as popular as it is, if you ask the average youth or even high school player if she plans to watch any of the games, she will probably turn her head and stare at you the way a dog does when you ask it if it knows what it just did. That’s her way of saying no.
In fact, I have found over the years that most players don’t have a favorite team, or a favorite player, or can even name a college or pro player. That’s because it never occurs to them to watch the games. And if they do watch because a parent makes them, they don’t really pay attention or get invested in it.
That’s a shame, because there is much that younger players can learn by watching these elite athletes perform in the biggest showcase fastpitch softball has. (Yes, you can argue that the Olympics and other international tournaments offer a higher level of play but there’s no guarantee softball will be in the Olympics again – and just try finding international tournaments if you don’t have more than a basic cable or satellite subscription.)
So with that in mind, here are some of the reasons why you either want to watch the games with your favorite player or team live, or DVR them and watch them later. Even if you feel you have to turn off the sound on some of them.
1. See the Speed of the Game
This is probably one of the biggest eye-openers, especially for players in the 10-14 year age range. The game happens fast.
Players who are used to taking their time gathering a ground ball and making a throw to first, or jogging after a pop fly, will see how quickly plays develop – and are over. With slappers in particular, one little bobble by an infielder (no matter how minor it seems) gives the hitter just enough time to reach base safely.
Seeing the sense of urgency in every play can help individuals and teams learn to play at a higher level.
2. Watch How Top Players Execute Their Skills
It’s often said that when you’re looking at what techniques or mechanics to use for pitching, fielding, throwing, hitting, etc. that we should look at how the best players in the world do it. While the players on TV may not all be the “best” players they’re still pretty darned good at what they do so they make fine examples to study.
Here’s where DVRing the games comes in particularly handy. If a player hits a home run, you can go back and look at her swing from the multiple angles they show. Sooner or later you’ll get to see how a top pitcher throws her riseball – assuming it’s an actual rise and not a gyro spinning high fastball.
You can also use it for quantitative analysis, such as looking at how many pitchers use the “hello elbow” technique versus how many are using internal rotation. You can compare how many hitters “squish the bug” on their back leg versus shift their weight forward and get completely off the leg.
You can watch how infielders throw on a bang-bang play, how they make tags on steals, how they position themselves in bunt situations. You can watch how outfielders go back on a ball and how they scoop and throw home in a do-or-die situation. You can watch how many catchers throw from their knees versus their feet, and the specific techniques they use.
It’s a virtual cornucopia of skills on display, all delivered free to your living room.
3. See How Player Recover from Mistakes
One of the biggest challenges youth players face is learning how to recover from their mistakes, e.g., committing errors, striking out (particularly with runners on base), giving up leadoff walks, etc. As a general rule girls take “failure” rather hard, to the point where fear of failure can prevent them from performing at their highest level.
Well ya know what? Those players on TV do all those things too.
I remember the great Cindy Bristow telling a room full of coaches at a clinic that “My girls make the same mistakes your girls do. They just do it faster.”
So having your player(s) see one of the best in the game bobble a ball, strikeout, throw a wild pitch with a runner on third, or make some other mistake at the least will show her she’s in good company. (It will also show coaches and parents why they need to have realistic expectations for their 10 year olds.)
But the most important lesson for the player will be what happens next. Instead of brooding about it, the player in the WCWS will move on and keep playing. Sure, she may beat herself up over it later, especially if her team loses, but in the moment she pushes it down because she knows she needs to be ready for the next opportunity.
That is not necessarily a natural skill for most humans. But it’s one that can be learned of you make the effort.
4. Hear Some Inspirational Stories
Softball is absolutely a game of failure and adversity. And for some the journey is more challenging than others.
It’s easy to assume that everyone you see was a star from the beginning who was recognized for their talent and treated like royalty their whole career. But that isn’t always the case.
Fortunately, ESPN does a great job of profiling players and where they came from to tell fascinating human interest stories. Such as last year when Odicci Alexander captured the nation’s hearts with her story of being self-taught before leading her James Madison University team to the WCWS.
There are always stories players can relate to. Some talk about overcoming challenging injuries, including some that were supposed to be career-ending.
Some relate to issues such as being cut from a travel team or not making varsity and having to work even harder to elevate their games. Some involve personal tragedies.
Whatever the story, it shows that obstacles are only temporary – if you have the will to overcome them.
5. Bond With Your Player(s)
Remember the great James Earl Jones speech in “Field of Dreams” about how America marched along like an army of steamrollers, but through it all there was baseball? The shared experience of watching a sport played at its highest level can really help parents bond with their children and coaches bond with their players.
To make that happen, of course, you can’t make watching the games like school. Or at least totally like school.
Sure, you can go over plays and evaluate the coverages and executions. But you can also simply appreciate an amazing diving catch or the inner struggle on both sides of a 12-pitch at-bat.
But of course the best part will be spending time with those players sharing something you mutually love.
6. Follow the Benjamins
In the beginning of this post I mentioned that ESPN broadcasts every game of the tournament not because they love softball or softball players so much but because it makes them money. Lots of money.
Well, the downside of that is if the audience dries up so does the coverage. So if you want to keep seeing games on TV, even occasionally, one of the best things you can do is watch them now.
Keep those ratings growing and it will encourage even more coverage. Otherwise you’ll be singing this sad song.
First of all, before we get into today’s topic I want to share something I’ve found with others who rely on devices such as the Pocket Radar Smart Coach to take continuous readings. I imagine it also applies to those streaming games on GameChanger, SidelineHD and other technologies that rely on outside power, although I haven’t tested them personally.
The thing I’ve discovered is the value of a heavy duty power block when you can’t access AC power. I’ve been using my Smart Coach with battery power for a couple of years now, and I’ve always relied on the small promotional power blocks you get as a giveaway at trade shows and such.
If you are careful you can get about four hours out of them before a charge is needed, so I’d always have three or four available. The problem was they could go out in the middle of a lesson or game, which meant taking time to change one out for another.
A few months ago I bought an Anker PowerCore III to use with my Smart Coach during lessons. Wow, what a difference!
Now instead of maybe getting one night out of the power block by turning it off when I wasn’t teaching pitching I can leave it on for four or five hours at a time with no worries. In fact, this week I did an entire week’s worth of lessons, 4-5 hours per day/night, on a single charge.
That is way easier than having to shuffle units and recharge them every day. So if you’re like I was and being cheap, don’t be. It’s well worth the $50 to get what seems like endless power for your devices. Now on with today’s topic.
You see it all over Facebook, Instagram, and other social media: photos of happy pitchers, catchers, hitters, etc. proudly showing off their latest numbers on a radar gun or other device. I myself post them all the time when a student achieves a new measurable.
While I obviously believe measuring progress with numbers is a good thing, there are also some downsides or “gotchas” that can also crop up in all the excitement. So here’s a look at some of the plusses and minuses of measurables.
These days when I do lessons the Smart Coach is always going, capturing the speed of every pitch and showing it on the Pocket Radar Smart Display in big red numbers. (No, it’s not a paid endorsement, just the facts of what I use.)
I call it my accountability meter. In the midst of a long lesson, especially on a hot day or after a long day at school, it’s easy for fastpitch softball players to want to take a few pitches, hits, throws, etc. off.
When you’re just eyeballing it they can get away with it. But when the numbers are showing up every time, it’s much more difficult.
Players have to put the effort in EVERY time or it becomes pretty obvious.
Beyond that, having numbers on every repetition helps show whether changes we are making are working. For example, if a pitcher is working on improving her whip without using her legs, having a radar going helps determine whether changes are being made at the fundamental level or whether they’re merely cosmetic.
(As a side note, it’s amazing how close to a pitcher’s full speed she can get by taking the legs out and just focusing on arm whip and a quick pronation at release. But that’s a topic for another day.)
The same is true of overhand throws. I have a couple of 11U catchers in particular (hello Lia and Amelie) who love to throw against the radar to see how hard they’re throwing. It’s no coincidence they are also throwing out baserunners on steals while many of their peers struggle to just get the ball to the base.
Using a radar, a BlastMotion sensor, 4D Motion sensors and other devices helps take the guesswork out of what’s happening with a player. They give you a solid foundation to use in deciding how to move forward and let you see whether you’re making the kind of progress you want to make.
If not, you know you have to do something else to drive improvement. In many cases they help you see “under the hood” in a way that even video can’t.
And on an intangible level, they encourage players to keep working so they can earn the recognition (as well as the occasional Starbucks gift card) that comes with accomplishing a goal.
There’s an old saying that goes “If you don’t know where you’re going any road will take you there.” Having measurables gives players a destination that keeps them focused so they can become all they can be.
Again, while I am a fan of measurables (and the use of a radar unit in particular), I recognize there are also some minuses to the practice.
Probably the biggest of which is when players (or parents) use the figures to compare themselves to others, good and bad.
For example, for some parents, no matter how far their daughter has come in the past few weeks/months/years, if someone else’s kid’s numbers are better then their own player’s numbers are not enough. Everyone wants to be #1 after all.
Yet that’s a poor use of numbers – especially if they are coming from different sources. There are ways to “juice” the numbers on a radar gun, or to screw them up and take them lower than they actually are, so Millie’s 55 may be as good as Sasha’s 58 if the two of them were to throw to the same radar unit.
There’s also the chance that players (and coaches and parents) can get so caught up in the race for speed or estimated distance on a hit or another parameter that they forget about all the wild pitches or swings and misses that occurred between readings.
The reality is there is more to athletic performance than the raw numbers. Pitchers have to be able to hit their spots and spin the ball properly if they’re going to be effective at higher levels.
Hitters have to not only hit like studs in the cage but also on-demand when they’re facing a real pitcher. After all, you only get one shot when you hit the ball fair, so being able to smoke 250′ bombs in-between a bunch of weak ground balls and popups probably won’t be that effective on the field. You’ll never get the chance for the bombs.
Being able to achieve a 70 mph overhand throw doesn’t mean much if you can’t hit your target. It just means it gets to the parking lot faster – and rolls a lot farther away.
In other words, measurables are just one of many tools that can be used to evaluate the quality of a player. But since they’re easier to understand and compare they’re often misused or abused.
It’s like the football linebacker with 5% body fat and a physic like an Adonis. He may look good getting off the bus, but if he can’t tackle he’s not going to be around very long.
The other big minus is not recognizing there are certain biological reasons why one player can throw or hit harder, or run faster, than others. Insisting every player must hit certain numbers, especially at younger ages, doesn’t take into account that some may simply not be physically developed enough yet to keep up with the others.
Doesn’t mean they can’t get there eventually. But right now, they may be giving all they have to get to where they are.
The one thing scientists haven’t figured out how to measure yet is a player’s softball IQ. While Player A may look like a stud for how hard she can throw, she may not be as valuable as Player B who knows WHERE to throw the ball in various situations.
And since throwing a runner out by one step counts the same as throwing her out by six steps, coaches may want to set the numbers aside in favor of the smarter player.
The bottom line is measurables are great for charting a player’s progress against herself and her own goals. They help see whether improvements are being made or whether a change of course may be necessary.
At the same time, however, they can also be misused, either in making player decisions or by parents trying to claim bragging rights for the sake of their own egos. Especially when the quality of the measurements can’t be confirmed.
My recommendation is to understand what you’re looking at and how to use it, and take them with a grain of salt rather than using them as absolutes. The more parents and coaches do that, the more value they’ll find in the measurables.
Once again today’s topic is the result of a reader suggestion – this time from my friend and pitching coach extraordinaire Jamison (James Clark). James is a PaulyGirl Fastpitch Elite Level certified pitching coach in the Southeastern Indiana area – Richmond, specifically – so if you’re a pitcher in search of a great coach check his United Fastpitch Academy Facebook page.
James was going to do a presentation on how to handle the car ride home and asked me if I had ever covered this topic. I checked and surprisingly I had not, so here we are today.
Ah yes, the car ride home after a game. Few things in sports generate such a wide range of emotions in such a cramped space.
It’s been a while since I’ve taken one (my kids are all long grown and done with their sports careers) but I do remember those days. The time in the car before as well as after the games was some of the best time my kids and I spent (don’t worry, I checked with them).
Now, at this point you’re probably thinking my advice is going to amount to “don’t replay the whole game in the car” or something like that. While you may not to go over the whole game, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about it at all.
The truth is the car ride home offers ample learning as well as bonding opportunities. But it has to be handled carefully in order not to become contentious.
With that in mind, following are some carefully curated do’s and don’ts for the car ride home after a game or a long tournament weekend.
- Keep it positive. It’s easy to launch into a diatribe about everything that went wrong, or wasn’t as good as it could have been. Resist that temptation, especially if it’s going to be a long ride. No one will benefit from an hour of unhappy silence.
- Take emotion out of it. Anger, frustration, disappointment and similar emotions are counter-productive. They’re also reactions to the moment – reactions you may regret later. You can talk about what went right or wrong in a calm way, with more of a focus on the facts instead of letting emotions get in the way.
- Listen more than you talk. It’s easy to fall into the trap of dominating the conversation about the game, especially if you feel like you have a lot to say. But remember you were just watching the game. Your favorite player was in the middle of it. Give her a chance to talk about what she wants to talk about – even if it’s something other than the game. Remember that youths of playing age often have a lot of hormones and other issues to deal with outside of the game. Give them the opportunity to share them – and respect them when they don’t want to share them. They’ll come around. I promise.
- Use the opportunity to talk strategy. One of the ways to keep emotion out of the conversation is to talk strategy rather than performance. For example, a pitcher’s parent can talk about pitch sequences or what can be done to attack a particular type of a hitter such as a slapper – especially if it’s the first time the pitcher faced one. A fielder’s parent can talk about what to do with the ball in certain situations, e.g., the value of going after the lead runner in the infield rather than automatically throwing every ground ball to first. For hitting, parents can talk about being more selective when ahead in the count, or ways to keep calm and focused when the hitter gets behind. Fastpitch softball is a complex game, and it’s impossible to anticipate every situation in practices. The aftermath of a game provides a great opportunity to cover some of them.
- Take a long-term view. Next week there will be another game or tournament with its own new challenges, and the frustrations of this one will forgotten. But the memories of those car rides home – whether they are good or bad – will last forever. Think about the way you want your daughter(s) to remember what it was like to ride home with you when they are long past their playing days.
- Stop for ice cream or another treat now and then. It’s easy to treat your favorite player when her team wins or when she did something great. But sometimes it’s needed even more after a tough loss or a poor performance as this old Lifesavers commercial demonstrates. A little detour to a favorite place might be just the thing to celebrate life’s triumphs or lift the spirits after a defeat – and secure the bond between parents and players.
- Trash the coach. You may not agree with all (or any) of the coach’s decisions or his/her approach to the game, but the car ride home from a game or tournament is not the time to share those opinions. Even if you know your player agrees. Try to decompress without getting into such a volatile issue. If you need to talk about how a coach is managing the game or treating players (especially your own) save it for another day. And if you really feel you can coach the team better – volunteer and prove it.
- Trash her teammates. Yes, #25 may have made three errors in the field and the entire last half of the lineup couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a boat. But it doesn’t do anyone any good for you to talk about it ad nauseum. Team chemistry is critical to high performance, yet it is also quite delicate. Don’t be the person who gets in the way of it. Besides, at least some of the girls you’re talking about may be her friends.
- Trash the umpires. As a group, umpires make easy targets for our anger and frustration. Yet the reality is (with very rare exceptions) the umpires aren’t out to “get” your player or your team. In 99% of the cases they couldn’t care less about who wins or what the outcome of a particular play is. Beyond that, no game outcome ever comes down to a single umpire’s call, because if your team had been up 11-0 no one would have cared about a blown call. They had ample opportunity to take the umpires out of it and didn’t. If you’re unhappy about the quality of officiating in your area don’t complain. Put in the work, get your certification, and DO something about it.
- Belittle or become hyper-critical of your player. It’s tough enough to be a young person these days, especially with all the expectations placed on them and all the pressures from coaches and outside factors such as social media. The last thing they need is one of the people they trust the most – you – adding to it when they are already feeling vulnerable and perhaps raw and exposed. This doesn’t just apply to the car ride home, by the way, it’s good advice for any time.
- Take it all too seriously. It may seem like life or death when you’re in the middle of it. But it’s really not. Fastpitch softball is a game, and games are supposed to be fun. Remember that and the car ride home will be a whole lot more enjoyable.
Photo by Taras Makarenko on Pexels.com
As an instructor who is mostly teaching lessons while my students are out playing, one of the greatest innovations in softball in the last 10 years is GameChanger.
(I say this despite the fact that I used to used iScore when I was coaching teams. Both are similar, but like VHS v Beta back in the VCR days, there is a clear winner in the battle for dominance among the masses.)
The beauty of GameChanger et. al. is that when you can’t be at the ballpark you can still keep up on what’s happening during the game. Or after.
(If am not teaching a lesson at the moment and my students are doing well I like to watch in real time. If they are struggling I am old school superstitious enough to believe I’m jinxing them and will check out the final box score later.)
Of course, as the short story The Monkey’s Paw (and the later Bruce Springsteen song) says, with every wish comes a curse.
In the case of GameChanger the curse is that the report you see doesn’t always tell the whole story. Or even an accurate one.
The challenge is that the person keeping score in GameChanger often is a volunteer, usually a parent, frequently a parent who missed the parent meeting and thus got stuck with the job instead of getting to do something simpler like line up hotels for away tournaments or convince the league’s governing board that softball girls deserve to have their fields lined and dragged for games, just like the boys’ baseball teams do.
So the GameChanger parents muddles through as best he/she can. And while the parent may get training on the technical aspects of how to enter information (and how to change it when they realize they screwed up the batting order or mixed up which field is left and which is right), they don’t get the opportunity to learn the nuances of how to score a game in a way that makes sense to someone who knows the game and wants to see what’s really going on.
Luckily, GameChanger parent, you have me! So without further ado, here are some of the nuances no one tells you when you agree to use up your online minutes to post the info on GameChanger.
Left Handed Hitter v Right Handed Hitter
Let’s start with this because it’s pretty basic and simple. For each player, it’s important to mark whether they hit left- or right-handed. Not that it affects the stats at all, but because it helps people who are watching remotely confirm that the Jennifer N they’re seeing is the one they want to watch. Not one of the three other Jennifer Ns on the team.
It’s also important for slappers, particularly newbie slappers who are just making the transition. And it helps give a more accurate picture of the game.
It’s just a simple button. If you have lefties on the team, give that button a click so they show up correctly.
Pop Out v Fly Ball v Line Drive
This one probably drives me battier (pun intended) than anything else because it just defies the laws of softball as well as logic.
If a ball goes out to an outfield, it is a fly ball, not a pop out. A pop out is contact that is caught in the infield area, either in fair or foul territory.
Saying “Mary T pops out to right fielder Sally J” when the ball has clearly traveled 180 feet is just wrong. The only time it would be correct is if Sally J is playing incredibly shallow in right field and the ball goes way up in the air and then comes down to her within spitting distance of the infield.
By the same token, a hitter cannot fly out to an infielder. She can hit a line drive out, or a pop out.
But even if she has to go backwards to catch the ball it’s not a fly ball. A fly ball has a trajectory that carries it well beyond where an infielder could catch it.
A line drive is basically a ball hit in a way gives it an upward trajectory but isn’t as high as a fly ball or pop up. This very basic drawing should help scorers distinguish between them.
Please, please, please, get this right. Otherwise it’s like nails on a chalkboard.
Hit v Error
This one should be pretty straightforward. But apparently it’s not so let me clarify.
If the batter hits the ball in fair territory and no one touches it, it’s a hit. Doesn’t matter how far it went or whether it was on the ground or in the air. It’s a hit.
If the batter hits the ball and a fielder touches it but doesn’t make the play, 99 times out of 100 it’s an error. The exception is a little leeway can be granted if touching the ball required extraordinary effort. Extraordinary effort being defined as “laid herself out to get there” not “stopped picking dandelions when the ball hit her in the shins.”
If the ball came to the fielder and she played hacky-sack with it as she tried to field it, or she fielded it cleanly but threw the ball toward South America instead of the base where an out could be obtained, it’s an error. Even if that fielder was your daughter.
While I have said in the past that I believe slappers should get credit for a hit if they bang the ball off a fielder’s shins and beat the throw, the reality is that’s not how it’s officially scored. It’s still reached on error. Deal with it.
The one area where judgment comes into play is if the ball could have been fielded for an out with an ordinary effort, i.e., it rolls through the hitter’s legs or drops next to an outfielder.
Even though it wasn’t touched, it should have resulted in an out had the fielder played it correctly so it’s considered an error.
This whole “outs v errors,” by the way, is why college coaches tend to take the stats players post on the Internet with a huge dollop of salt. Unless they know the scorer has a high level of skill, they can suspect that batting averages of .825 or ERAs of 0.25 on most teams owe more to scorer inexperience or manipulation than the player’s skills.
Slap v Bunt
People who are new to softball can be excused for not understanding this difference. But it’s an important distinction.
If the batter sticks the bat out with the intention of having the ball hit the bat and roll a few feet away, it’s a bunt. If the batter (especially a left handed batter who is running up on the pitch) takes a swing, or even a half swing, it’s considered a slap whether it comes off hard or soft.
Marking it correctly doesn’t affect the stats at all. But for the parents (or hitting coach) of a slapper who can’t be there it makes a huge deal in knowing that the player is using the skills she’s been training on.
Extra Base Hits and Which Fielder Is Named
Maybe this is just my personal preference but seeing “Jolene T hits ground ball double to shortstop Tina K” is another thing that makes no sense to me. How in the world do you hit a double to the shortstop?
The short answer is you don’t. You hit a hard ground ball that got through the infield and went toward an outfield position. That’s who it should be marked going to.
Getting It Right
Again, it’s great that apps such as GameChanger are available to allow interested parties to follow multiple games from afar. But as long as you’re putting in the effort to record the game, you might as well do it correctly.
Understand these differences and you’ll help everyone get a better idea of what’s really happening/what really happened, which makes following along more fun.
One of the things that makes hitting so difficult is you not only have to develop great swing mechanics; you also have to time them to the speed, direction, and movement of the pitch.
Since there are no style points in softball (i.e., no judges holding up cards reading 9.5 for a beautiful swing) the only thing that matters is how well you hit the pitch. Yes, having great mechanics contributes to being able to hit the pitch well, but they have to be timed properly to get the best effect.
And that’s something many hitters struggle with. One of the big reasons, at least in my experience, has nothing to do with athleticism or ability.
Instead, it’s a fear of looking bad, or of being yelled at otherwise chastised for swinging at a bad pitch. So, those hitters will wait too long to ensure the pitch is good, putting themselves behind and thus letting the ball get too deep on them before they initiate their swings.
How do you overcome that fear? One way is to teach hitters to think “yes-yes-yes-no.”
In other words, they’re always swinging until they actually see it’s a bad pitch instead of waiting to swing until they see it’s a good pitch.
Still, if they’re really worried about looking bad they may still hesitate. So here’s another way to explain it to them.
Ask them whether they can affect things in the past, present, or future. Unless they’ve skipped every science class ever they will likely tell you the present and future.
Then take a ball and hold it either even with their bodies or a little behind. Explain to them that this ball is in the past.
Therefore swinging at it is pointless because they can’t change the outcome. It’s by them and it’s done.
Then hold the ball at the proper contact point and tell them this pitch is in the present and they can do a lot with it. Then hold it further in front and say it’s in the future.
Now, if they start swinging at the future ball (too early) can they still make an adjustment and get on-time? It may not be easy depending on HOW early they are, but it is possible, especially if you have a ell-sequenced swing.
So with that in mind, is it better to be a little too early or a little too late? Too early, of course, because you can still change it. Once you’re late it’s all over – unless you happen to have a time machine handy, in which case quit playing softball and go back in time to buy some Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon stock.
It’s all about keeping it simple. Hitters may not understand some of the complexities of proper timing, but pretty much everyone can relate to the idea of past-present-future.
Get them focused on affecting the present and future and they’ll spend a lot less time regretting their decisions in the past.
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Today’s topic was a suggestion from Tim Husted, who was the founder and guiding force behind the Danes fastpitch softball program, which gave players in Wisconsin and Minnesota the opportunity to play at the highest levels. Tim knows a thing or two about developing players so they can continue their careers in college, having done so for many young ladies while the program was active.
Tim was commenting on my post “Accuracy Without Speed = Batting Practice,” saying essentially that too many parents and coaches these days are focused on achieving short-term success rather working toward longer-term greatness. But, he added, it also shows up in parents being afraid to let their kids fail because they don’t understand that failure is an essential component of developing great players.
I know, it sounds counter-intuitive doesn’t it? No parent likes to see their kid(s) fail.
Our hearts bleed for them, and our kids’ pain becomes our pain – only amplified. It can be particularly debilitating for parents who are living vicariously through their kids’ sports careers.
The result is we do whatever we can to help our kids avoid failure, and the negative feelings associated with it.
Sometimes that means an “everybody gets a trophy” approach. Which I personally believe is ok at the younger ages to reward participation, but not after about the age of 10, and then only in rec leagues.
Sometimes that means jumping from team to team to find a starting spot rather than competing for one. There are definitely times when leaving a particular team is the right decision, such as when all positions are set and there is no opportunity to compete for a starting job.
That happens more than people like to admit too. But leaving in lieu of working hard is not a good solution.
And sometimes it means disgruntled parents starting their own teams or agreeing to coach with the express purpose of making their kid the star, whether it’s deserved or not.
Here’s the reality, however: failure is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s pretty rare to find anyone who is successful as an adult who did not face some level of failure earlier in his or her life.
Amanda Scarborough often talks about how early in her career she was not at the top of the pitching depth chart on her travel and high school teams. One of the all-time greats, three-time Olympic Gold Medalist Lisa Fernandez, says she walked 20 batters in her first pitching outing and was told by a well-known pitching coach in California that she’d “never be a pitcher.” Many other greats in all walks of life have similar backstories.
The thing is, they didn’t let failure or disappointment define them. Instead, they learned from it and used it as fuel.
This is what coaches, and especially parents, need to understand. Failure isn’t a bad thing. It’s an essential part of the learning process.
People who succeed all the time (if there is such a thing) don’t learn how to overcome obstacles. They aren’t driven to hone their skills to improve. They don’t gain the mental toughness required to play at the highest level.
The pain of failure drives us to not want to feel that way again. Which either means we stop doing the activity or we work to ensure (to the best of our abilities) that it doesn’t happen again.
And that’s where the development comes in. Failure doesn’t mean you’re not good enough. It means you aren’t good enough right now.
But that can change. While your DNA, which defines your base athletic ability, is what it is, mental and physical skills can be developed.
As a team coach and an instructor I’ve worked with many, many kids who didn’t start out as superstars, or even competent players for that matter. But with guidance and dedication they went on to pass more naturally gifted players in terms of performance on the field. And I know many coaches, including Tim, who have similar stories.
Failure helps point out the flaws in your game so you can work on them. It drives us to achieve more than success alone ever will.
Good players like to work on their strengths. Great players prefer to work on their weaknesses.
Then there’s the idea of failure as fuel, which I mentioned earlier. Sometimes failing at something is just the kick in the pants we as humans need to drive us to improve beyond what we may have done otherwise.
I know this from personal experience. My first year as a travel ball coach my oldest daughter’s team was very successful, winning the bulk of our games along with taking first place in the highly competitive travel league we were a part of.
I remember feeling really good about myself as a coach – until I found out half the team was leaving to join a new team in our organization coached by the dad of a girl who was more popular than my daughter. I was shocked and disappointed.
But rather than quit, or whine about it, I took that failure and used it to drive me to become the best coach I could be. I took classes, read books, watched videos, talked to other coaches, and did everything I could to become so good that no player would ever even consider leaving.
While I can’t say I fully achieved that goal – there will always be some attrition, and there’s always more to learn – it definitely made me a much better coach and put me on the path that I still follow today. I’m not sure the same would have happened had that first team all stayed.
Another benefit failure brings is that it makes success that much sweeter and more satisfying. It’s difficult to appreciate triumph if you’ve never experienced defeat.
Not to mention if you are afraid of failure you’re more likely to play weaker competition to ensure you’ll win. I’ve known teams like that.
Their coaches play teams they know they can beat, thinking a better won-loss record makes them look like better coaches. But all it really does is stunt the development of their players because those players aren’t being challenged.
If you’re going undefeated in every tournament and posting up 80-3 run differentials you’re not a great team. You’re playing in the wrong tournaments.
A 60% – 70% win rate will do far more to ensure player development than a closet full of trophies, medals, plaques and rings.
The bottom line is that while failure is painful, it can be a good kind of pain – like what you feel after a particularly grueling workout. It’s not something that should be feared and avoided at all costs.
Instead, it should be embraced as part of the learning process.
Failure doesn’t have to be a dead end. In fact, it can be the starting point for something much, much better.
The choice is yours.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com
Much of the U.S. is about to enter tryout time for high school ball. Over the next few weeks, players will have the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and intangibles in the hopes of making the team of their choice.
For most, the preference will be making varsity because, well, that’s the top team and who doesn’t want to be the best? For some, however, it will be just getting on a team at all, or being placed on a team where they will have the opportunity to play for their school rather than cheer others on from the bench.
At this point there isn’t much players can do about their skills. Wherever they are now in their journeys is what they will take into tryouts.
There are some things they can do, however, to give themselves their best chance of making their desired team. While the best thing they can do is be amazing talented and proficient at softball, the type of player that can carry a team to a state title, very few are in that category. So here are a few tips for the rest.
Be On Time and Ready to Go
The simple act of being on time seems to be a lost art today.
That’s a shame, because in my book being late sends a message of “My time is more important than your time.” And since making a team relies on the judgment of the person to whom you’re sending that message, it automatically puts the player who’s trying out in the hole.
A good axiom to follow is “If you’re 15 minutes early you’re on time; if you’re on time you’re late.”
But there’s more to it than just being there. Players also want to make sure they have everything they need out and organized.
For example, if hitting is part of the tryout (and most likely it will be), they shouldn’t wait until it’s time to hit to dig their helmet out of their bat bags, dump out the old granola bar wrappers and find their batting gloves. Those items should already be out so they can be picked up whenever the coach sends them to the cage.
Being on time and ready helps players look like they know what they’re doing. All else being equal, it might be the deciding factor between varsity and JV, or being cut.
Don’t Wait to Be Asked to Show Every Skill
This is something I particularly talk to hitters about, but it’s important at every phase.
Take a hitter who can slug bunt (show a bunt then quickly pull back and slap the ball on the ground). While fastpitch softball has gone crazy for home runs there are still a lot of coaches who understand the value of the short game as well. Having a player who can draw a defense in and then slap the ball through the holes, potentially moving a runner from first to third or second to home would be attractive to many.
Yet the coaches evaluating the tryout won’t have any idea the player can do that unless she demonstrates it during hitting. If the coach doesn’t ask about it (and he/she probably won’t), it’s important for the player to say, “Would you like to see me slug bunt?” or whatever it’s called locally.
The same goes for pitchers. Often coaches will line up prospective pitchers and either use a radar or eyeball who throws the hardest and make decisions from there. So a player with good movement and deceptive speed changes but average speed won’t necessarily stand out.
It’s incumbent upon the pitcher to ensure the coach sees her other pitches. That will help separate her from the girls who throw as hard, or even harder, but can’t do anything else. A smart coach will understand the value of movement and speed changes.
Be Positive and Talkative
A big part of succeeding at tryouts is getting noticed. Now, if a high school player can pitch a legit 70 mph, or hit 300 foot bombs, it’s likely she will be noticed even if she’s as stone-faced and quiet as the Sphinx.
For those who don’t possess those superhuman skills, which is most players, they need to make more of a connection to the coaches and potential new teammates. One way to do that is to engage coaches and other players in conversation.
That doesn’t mean be a mindless chatterbox. But a little friendly conversation goes a long way toward showing what a great team member that player might be.
Even something as simple as, “Hi Coach, good to see you. How is your day going?” will help a player stand out from most of their peers. And if the decision comes down to a player who is pleasant and positive versus one who is quiet or a downer, with skill levels being equal, the coach is more likely to select the friendly one. That’s just human nature.
Try to Be First to Each Station
Coaches like players who hustle. One way to demonstrate that quality is by trying to be first to each station (if different stations are being used).
Say that the tryout players are broken into infielders, outfielders, and hitters, and each group is expected to rotate to all three stations. When the coach calls “switch,” the smart player will not walk or jog but will run to the next station.
Getting there first shows enthusiasm. Getting there not only first but a couple of minutes before everyone else helps demonstrate the type of hustle that every coach wants but rarely finds. If a player is on the bubble, showing hustle can be a key differentiator.
Wear Something Memorable
This tip probably isn’t so important in a small school where everyone pretty much knows everyone, coaches and players alike. But in a larger school with many players trying out for a few slots, it helps to stand out from the crowd.
That doesn’t mean wear something outrageous. A lot of coaches aren’t looking for “colorful” players.
But it does mean players should wear something that makes it easier to identify or recall them with. It could be neon green shoes, or regular shoes with neon green laces. It could be a Metallica t-shirt in a sea of travel team jerseys, or a big ol’ bow in a player’s hair. Anything that gives a coach an easy way to identify that player even if he/she doesn’t know the player’s name.
Of course, some people have built-in identifiers. If a player is the only redhead, or the only member of a particular race or ethnic group, or the only left hander, she’s going to stand out automatically.
For everyone else, find a way to make it easy for all the coaches to recall who the player is instantly.
Help Clean Up at the End
After a long day of tryouts everyone usually just wants to get out and go home. That’s understandable, but it does present another opportunity to win the tryout.
Odds are the group (or a group, such as freshmen) will be told to clean up and put things away. Most players will slop through the process as quickly as possible to get out.
Motivated players, however, can take this opportunity to not only pick things up but help ensure they are organized when they are put away. They may even have the opportunity to speak with the coach a bit while they are doing it.
Smart coaches are always looking for ways to improve team chemistry. Players who show they have that ability will be that much more attractive when it’s time to decide who stays and who goes – and who goes where.
Need the Goods
Of course, none of this makes a difference if the player isn’t very good to begin with. But for those whose fate is hanging in the balance, going that extra mile as laid out here might just make the difference and help them get on the bus. What they do from there is up to them.
Clock photo by Stas Knop on Pexels.com
Clown [hoto by Nishant Aneja on Pexels.com
Sphinx photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com
You have probably heard the statement that it takes 10,000 hours to master a particular skill. While there is definitely some dispute about this statement, especially since one size never fits all, the more critical point is that for 99.999% of the population it takes a lot of repetition to truly get good at something.
What most don’t realize, however, is that in most endeavors there are two types of work.
One can be classified as traditional “homework,” i.e., you learn the basics at practice or lessons and then you continue to work on them at home. The other is what I call “herework,” or the work you do during those practices or lessons.
The challenge for many players is they (and often their parents) think they can accomplish everything they need during the herework and don’t feel the need to do the homework. Here’s why that’s a critical mistake.
Let’s say you’re a pitcher who has been taught to turn the ball back toward second, lock your arm, and push the ball down the back side of the circle. You’ve come to realize that’s not what elite pitchers do, so you go to an instructor who can teach you how to keep a bend in the elbow and the ball oriented to generate whip.
The coach can show you how to do it, and walk you throw various drills that will encourage the change in behavior. That’s good herework and very valuable to the learning process.
But if you leave the practice and don’t work on those same drills while you’re on your own (homework), you’re probably not going to be able to replace your old habits with new ones. So you will continue to perform the movements the way you’ve always done them because that’s what is ingrained into you.
The problem with that is the next time you go to practice or a lesson, you’re right back to square one. Which means instead of building on what you’ve learned already you have to go back and try to learn it again. That’s not much fun (or very efficient) for either you or the coach.
What it comes down to is herework is about making changes, or learning how to make changes. Homework is about locking those changes in so you can continue to move forward.
The same is true with hitters dropping their hands. You know it’s a bad thing, and you can learn what to do instead of dropping your hands to swing the bat in practice. But if you don’t work on that new approach at home, it’s pretty unlikely you will quit dropping them any time soon.
Now, I don’t want to imply that this is a one-week process. How long it takes depends on how long you’ve been doing what you’re doing and how badly you want to change it.
After all, many players want the reward of improvement but are reluctant to put in the hard work to achieve it. I think many also hope their coach will wave a magic wand and make them instantly better.
But it doesn’t work that way. While it may not take 10,000 hours, it does take some investment of time, on your own, to replace old habits with new and see the types of improvements you want to make.
Understanding the difference between herework and homework will help you get there much faster.