Category Archives: General Thoughts

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.

We would have missed out on this.

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.

Good call, unnamed pitching coach.

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.

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Teaching Hitters to Track the Ball More Effectively

Go to any facility where there are teams or individuals hitting in batting cages and sooner or later you’re likely to hear the phrase, “Track the ball all the way into the catcher’s glove.” While it’s doubtful that hitters can actually see the ball hit the bat at the point of contact, the idea of trying to track the ball as long as you can is a good one.

The problem most coaches face when trying to get their hitters to track the ball longer (instead of getting a glimpse then swinging) is that there are no consequences for not doing it. Well, other than not hitting well. But as soon as the coach’s back is turned, hitters are likely to go back to not following the ball all the way to the catcher’s glove.

But, dear blog follower, I have a solution for the dilemma. It actually came up by accident, but I noticed how the pattern had changed so I’m taking credit!

Hooray for me.

All you need is a batting cage with a tight protective net at the back of it.

For the past few months I’ve been throwing front toss to hitters in a cage that has a very tight net at the back. When one of my errant pitches (and there are many of them) would hit the net, it would bounce back at the hitter with enough velocity to be annoying.

Yeah, kind of like that.

What I noticed was a lot of the hitters would watch the ball all the way to that net so they could get out of the way when the ball bounced back. Some of them then made a game of trying to catch the ball when it popped up off the net, and they got pretty good at it.

Since their first priority was hitting any good pitches I managed to throw, it took some effort to see the ball coming back and catch it.

But today I was in a different cage that didn’t have such a tight net. And that’s where I saw the effect take place.

One of the hitters who liked to catch the ball was still following it to the back screen, even though it wasn’t going to bounce back. She’d built a habit of it in the other cage to the point where she now automatically watches the ball all the way back.

Between that and the Reynaldo drill, which she has become very good at, she is seeing the ball much better – and hitting the heck out of it.

So I guess the lesson here is if you want to encourage your hitters to watch the ball longer, find a nice, tight net and put it behind the plate when you front toss to them. They’ll definitely learn to keep an eye on it all the way in.

(And yes, I know the hitter in the top photo is hitting off a tee. It’s tough to throw front toss and take a picture at the same time. Deal with it.)

Happy New Year! Time to Set New Goals

As John Lennon once sang, another year over, a new one just begun. (Or about to in any case.)

He always did have a way of getting right to the heart of the matter.

For most of us, the turning of a new year is filled with hope and anticipation. It also marks a great time to at least think about making changes.

We make all the usual resolutions – lose weight, get more exercise/join a gym (not always the same thing) quit smoking, quit or cut back on drinking, learn a language, etc. There’s just something about the finality of one year ending and a new one starting that makes it seem like a great time to do a little personal upgrading.

Of course, as U2 sang, “Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.”

Just in case you haven’t heard it enough already.

Yet if those changes are going to happen they’re not going to happen magically. You have to make them happen. A big part of this for fastpitch softball players, coaches, and parents revolves around your goals.

Hopefully you’ve written those goals down and posted them where you can see them. Nothing like a visual reminder of where you want to go.

But even if you haven’t you probably know in your heart what they are.

So here’s my question for you: When was the last time you really thought about those goals? And more importantly, do they still apply?

Maybe it’s been a few months, or a year, or more, since you set your original goals. But you’re a different person now than you were then, with additional experiences and knowledge under your belt.

Is what you wanted six months or a year ago the same things you want now? If so, can you add some specificity to them?

For coaches

For example, if you’re a coach perhaps you had a goal of increasing your knowledge about the sport. You took some online classes and attended a couple of coaches clinics, and are now a better coach than you were.

So you’ve achieved that general goal. But are there areas where you could still do better? Perhaps it’s time to change your goals to address those areas.

In my personal experience I always felt like I was good at teaching the technical aspects of the game, along with the rules and what to do in specific situations. But I also felt like I wasn’t as good at the strategic aspects as I should be.

So my goal became to learn more about different strategies and how to apply them and when to apply them. It became a difference-maker for me.

Coaches, make an honest evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses. Where do you tend to lose games or players? How would you attack your team if you were an opposing coach?

Then seek out courses, or a mentor, or some other means that can help you shore up that area.

For players

If you’re a player, think about the major aspects of the game: offense and defense. Then think about the sub-groups.

For offense, you’re basically looking at hitting (including the short game) and baserunning. For defense, it’s fielding and throwing – overhand and underhand for pitchers.

Then break it down further into what you do well and what you don’t. In some cases also take into consideration what you can’t really change and how you can work around it.

Baserunning is a great example. If you’re fast you have a natural advantage. But are you smart?

If you can recognize opportunities sooner, and understand when it’s time to take chances and when it’s time to lay up even if you *think* you can make it, you’ll be a lot more successful. I’ll take average speed with intelligence over blazing speed without a clue pretty much every time.

What if you’re not fast? In fact, what if you’re a complete turtle? There are still things you can do.

Seek out a running coach who specializes in sprinters. He/she may not be able to make you fast, but he/she can probably make you faster than you are now by teaching you how to run better technically and how to condition yourself to run better. Every tenth of a second you can shave off your time going from one base to the next will help.

Then make sure you learn everything there is to know so you’re the smartest baserunner on your team. That’s especially important when you’re the trail runner.

I remember a situation where my team had runners on second and third. Kaity, the runner on second, was one of the slowest on a team that wasn’t too fast to begin with.

A ground ball was hit into the infield and I was entirely focused on getting the runner on third home. I watched the play from the third base coach’s box like a spectator.

Fortunately, Kaity was smart. She didn’t wait for any instructions from me, so when I looked back toward her (finally) she was already standing on third.

I said, “At least one of us was paying attention.” She replied, “Don’t worry Coach, I’ve got your back.”

Over the last six months or a year you’ve probably made many improvements to your game. Think about where you may fall short, or what you’d like to do better, and set that as your new goal.

For parents

Here we’re assuming non-coaching parents. Probably one of the biggest goals you can set for yourself is learning when to keep your mouth shut. Which is probably most of the time.

Just kidding, although in some cases it probably applies. But there are things you can do based on your player’s goals.

For example, if your daughter wants to play in college, and seems like she’s serious about it rather than thinking wishfully about it, start educating yourself about the whole recruiting process. It can be beastly, so the sooner you learn about it the better off you’ll be (and the less likely you are to make a critical mistake).

Step one is to talk to the parents of older players who have already been recruited. Find out what they did, what helped them the most, and what mistakes they made. Softball parents who have been through it can be an invaluable and impartial resource to guide you through it.

There are also tons of resources online. Some are better than others, and some are really just blatant commercials to buy their services.

That’s why you probably want to talk with other parents or coaches who have gone through the process first to give you some background. But those outside resources can help you make better decisions, especially if your player isn’t a can’t-miss P5 prospect.

Outside of that, learning more about the game and pieces of it related to what your player does can help you make better decisions when it comes to selecting teams and private coaches if you so choose. These days softball is a big investment so you want to be sure your money is being spent wisely.

As with players and coaches, think about what’s most important for you to improve on this year and set it as a goal. It’ll improve not only your experience but your player’s as well.

Keep moving forward

Always remember that goals should be concrete and realistic. Not necessarily easily achievable, but achievable.

Once you’ve set those goals, take the time (like now) to periodically evaluate them to determine if you’ve achieved them or even if you want to achieve them. Then adjust your goals accordingly.

The more you keep your smaller goals focused on achieving the bigger ones, the better chance you’ll have of ending up where you want to end up.

Happy New Year to all, and let’s make it a good one!

Photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels.com

Don’t Pay a Coach to Watch Your Daughter Practice

The other day I was speaking with my friend James Clark (Coach James), a top-level pitching coach from Indiana. He is the owner and chief instructor at United Pitching Academy.

We were talking about some of the challenges of working with pitchers when he said something I thought was quite profound, and quite accurate.

James said, “Parents really shouldn’t be paying me to watch their daughter practice.”

I totally agree.

What he was talking about was the girl who comes in for a lesson, is given some homework to do to help her get better, then doesn’t pick up a ball again until her next lesson.

I always tell players and their parents that the time they spend with me is the least important part of the whole process. It’s the time they spend in-between visits to me that will determine their level of success.

The reason is they can really dig in and put in the quality reps, doing something specific over and over until they not only get it right, but can’t get it wrong. That’s not going to happen at a lesson.

Or at least it shouldn’t, which brings us back to today’s topic. If a player doesn’t work on whatever skill she’s supposed to work on in-between visits to the coach (and that includes team practice too, not just private lessons), she’s going to have to do it sometime.

So rather than mastering the skill on her own she’s going to have to try to learn it while she’s with the coach. Which (in the case of private lessons) the parents are essentially paying the coach to watch their daughter practice skills that already should have been acquired, or at least well on their way to being acquired.

That is a slow slog, and not a very efficient use of anyone’s time or the parents’ money.

In other words, this.

So what should the coach be doing instead? Tweaking any little aspects of current skills that might not be where they should be then moving on to new concepts that will help a player continue to grow.

Let’s use the example of a beginning pitcher. The coach teaches her how to lead the upper arm down from the K position in a lesson, how to keep it relaxed, and how to let the ball go with a pronating motion (turning her hand inward) to maximize velocity.

At first she’s probably going to be a bit awkward with it. But as she goes she starts relaxing and getting better releases. Then the lesson is over.

There are two things that can happen from here. One is that she goes home, mindfully works on the things she learned in the lesson, and comes back to the next lesson with that motion looking pretty natural.

The other is she doesn’t work on it at all, or “pitches” during the week but doesn’t pay attention to HOW she’s doing, and then comes back to her lesson the following week with all the same issues she had at the start of the previous lesson. So the coach has to go over all the same material again, because what I described from the K position is pretty foundational to becoming a quality pitcher.

In the first case, where she has the K motion down pretty well, the coach moves her into full circles or other drills that will help her continue to advance her skills and get her ready to compete. In the second case, the coach is essentially paid to watch her practice to try to get that motion down.

Nothing new is introduced because you shouldn’t move on to part two until you can reliably execute part one.

Where it really becomes a problem is when the coach is being paid to watch the player practice the same things over and over. Every lesson (or in the case of a team every practice) that’s spent on going over the same thing is time that’s not being spent learning new or more advanced concepts.

It doesn’t take long until the player is pretty far behind where she ought to be. Then both player and parent are wondering why they’re spending all this time and money and not getting better.

It would be like a painter working on a painting all day. Then overnight someone covers it with white paint and she has to do it again. It won’t take long before she’s frustrated and wondering if it’s even worth doing.

Although don’t let this guy fool you. Painting is a lot harder than he makes it out to be.

Coach James is absolutely right. Don’t pay to have your coach watch your daughter practice.

Instead, make sure she’s practicing during the week so the coach can continue to help her move forward. It’s a far better investment for all involved.

Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

What Undefeated Records and Huge Run Differentials Really Say About Your Team

You see it just about every weekend in social media. “It” is the excited posts from parents describing their kids’ teams’ great weekend of fastpitch softball.

“Went 6-0 this weekend,” it will start, then go on to add, “And we outscored our opponents 64-3! This team is simply amazing.”

I get that you’re happy the team did so well. But in my mind, going 6-0 with a 64-3 run differential isn’t something to brag about. Instead, you should be embarrassed because clearly your team was in the wrong tournament for their ability level.

The reality is if your daughter’s team is ripping through the competition like that it’s not good for anyone. Even for your daughter’s team.

Yes, I get it that it’s fun to win. But remember that iron is forged in fire, and steel is honed by steel, not foam. If you want to get stronger you have to stress your muscles, not go through “exercise programs” where you don’t break a sweat.

Feel the burn.

So in order to get better, your team must play opponents who can place them at a risk of losing – not opponents they can tear through like a hot knife through butter. Sure, you may not end up with as much hardware to gather dust in your house.

But you will test yourself and get better as a result. An overall winning percentage of 60% to 70% is the sweet spot.

Of course, there are a couple of reasons teams find themselves playing weaker competition than they should.

Sometimes, especially with new and/or younger teams, there are a lot of unknowns and coaches aren’t sure how good they’re going to be. So the coaches plan a tournament schedule that protects the team against getting discouraged by having their heads handed to them every weekend if it turns out they’re not so hot.

But then it turns out the players are actually as good as the coaching staff thought they were during tryouts and there was no need to play that lower-level schedule. They are stuck with the schedule, however, so they end up playing a level below where they should be.

There’s nothing malicious there, just an unfortunate circumstance that resulted from a lot of unknowns. Good coaches will recognize this disparity and want to move their teams to a more appropriate level of play as quickly as possible.

(Unfortunately, they may find resistance from some of the parents who have fallen in love with winning and don’t want to “risk” losing more. If you’re one of those parents, stop complaining and instead thank your coach for wanting to help your daughter get better.)

Instead of doing this to the coach.

The other option is more nefarious. In this case, the coaches knew they had a very good team but purposely opted to play a lower-level schedule so they could win more (and look better).

These types of teams/coaches are typically referred to as “trophy hunters.” They are where they are specifically so they can go 6-0 (or at worst 5-1) every weekend while racking up a 64-3 run differential.

Then when their kids end up in a more competitive softball situation and little Suzy is on the bench the parents can’t understand why the coach doesn’t recognize how great little Suzy is.

No matter which way you find yourself there, you don’t want to stay there.

In reality you don’t want your daughter’s team ripping through the competition week after week. You want it, and especially your daughter, to be challenged every week.

That’s how she will get better. And if the team has to struggle to win, rather than dominating all weekend, the win itself will be that much sweeter.

But if all you care about is winning, then yeah, leave the team that’s trying to better itself by playing better competition and find a trophy hunter. Lord knows there are plenty of those around.

The bottom line is that going undefeated every weekend and posting a huge run differential is nothing to write home about – or write on social media about. Especially if your daughter has aspirations of playing college softball.

Instead, play on a team where your daughter will be challenged every inning of every game of every tournament – one where the team walks out exhausted but proud, knowing it took everything they had to secure each victory. And one where the coaching staff is constantly seeking to challenge the players to play at their tops of their games rather than letting them slide by by beating up on weaker opponents.

It may be tougher to take the additional losses at first. But your daughter will benefit so much more in the long run, because she will develop into the player she’s meant to be.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

It Always Helps to Have Perspective

One of the things I often tell players on their development journey is that yesterday’s achievements eventually become today’s disappointments.

For example, when a player first comes for hitting lessons she may be striking out all the time. Which means her goal is to not strike out so often, i.e., hit the ball instead.

She works hard and starts hitting regularly. Then she has a streak where she hits the ball but right at someone and she’s out every time.

She is still achieving the original goal – not striking out – but the goalposts for her expectations have moved and now anything less than a hit is a disappointment.

Probably the easiest place to see it, however, is with speed measurements for pitchers. Everyone always wants to get faster. I’m sure Monica Abbott, who I believe still throws the hardest out of all female players, would still love to add an mph or two if she could.

So pitchers work hard to achieve a new personal record. Then another. Then another, etc.

After a while, though, that first personal record she got so excited about is now a disappointment and perhaps even feels like a step backwards.

That’s why it helps to keep some perspective on the longer journey instead of just the next step.

That idea came home to roost last night when I was giving a lesson to a student (Gianna) who hasn’t been to lessons in a couple of weeks due to a volleyball-related thumb injury. (Don’t even get me started on how volleyball injuries impact softball players!)

Now, as you know the thumb is pretty important for gripping things like softballs. In fact, the opposable thumb is one of the key advantages that separates humans and other primates from most of the rest of the animal kingdom.

And makes ideas like this possible.

Gianna’s thumb had swollen up pretty badly and for the last couple of weeks she’d had trouble gripping anything. The swelling had finally gone down, and with a tournament coming up and her team already short a couple of other pitchers due to volleyball injuries (grrrr) she wanted to do all she could to help them.

So with her thumb stabilized and a bandage that wrapped around her wrist she decided to give it a go to see if she could pitch this weekend.

The short answer was yes, she could. But her speed was a little down from where it normally is. That’s ok, though, she was able to do it without pain (so she said) and to throw all her pitches.

Later on when I thought about the speed being down I had an epiphany.

You see, a year ago Gianna was struggling with some mechanical issues that were preventing her from getting the type of whip and pronation that would bring her speed up. She was working very hard to correct them but once those bad mechanics have set in the habits they create can be tough to break.

(One more piece of evidence that saying “Start with hello elbow and you can change later” is bad, bad advice.)

How parents should react when they hear that.

As I thought about it I realized that had she been throwing the speed she was averaging last night at this time last year, she would have been very excited and gone home on cloud nine. Because it was about 3 mph higher (whereas now it was 2-3 mph slower).

And that’s the point. Sometimes in our quest to get to “the next level” we sometimes forget to take a minute and look at how far we’ve come.

Keeping that longer-term perspective can help you stay positive when you hit the inevitable plateau and keep you going until you reach your next achievement.

Rick and Sarah Pauly Pitching Clinic Coming to Northern Illinois Suburbs

Here’s some great news for everyone in the Midwest who has ever wanted to bring their daughters to a clinic with Rick and Sarah Pauly but were held back by the distance.

For the first time ever, Rick and Sarah are coming to the far north suburbs of Illinois – McHenry specifically! They will be at Pro Player on October 15 for two sessions. 

The morning session will be more beginner/intermediate going over the basics of IR pitching. Great opportunity to try it out if you’ve never been exposed to it, or to get the core movements reinforced if you are already going down that path. Most likely that session will also cover the changeup. 

The afternoon session is the advanced group covering movement pitches, including the rise and drop, along with the change. Pitchers in this group should already have strong fundamentals in internal rotation pitching, with the ability to throw hard with great control. 

More information is available in the downloadable flyer below. This is a great opportunity for anyone to work with two of the best pitching coaches out there, but especially pitchers in Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and the UP. Take advantage of this opportunity while you can. 

Want to Get Better? Try Doing Nothing!

Ok yes, today’s title was purposely click baity. Because I don’t mean literally to sit around all day on the couch staring at a screen or eating Cheetohs (or doing both; I’m not here to judge).

Sorry all you players who hoped to use my blog to justify telling your parents to chill, or whatever you say nowadays.

What I’m actually talking about is learning to use your body the way it’s meant to be used rather than trying to do too much and getting in the way of your best performance.

A great example, and one I’ve talked about many times here, is using “hello elbow” (HE) mechanics for pitching.

With HE, you push the ball down the back side of the circle and try to get your hand behind the ball early going into the release zone. You then pull your arm through the release zone with your bicep while (supposedly) snapping your wrist hard as you let go of the ball, finishing with your elbow pointing at your catcher.

While this may seem like a way to add energy into the ball in theory, in practice the opposite is true. It actually slows down your arm, because your using the small bicep muscle instead of the larger back muscles to bring the arm down, and gets in the way of your arm’s natural movements as it passes your hip.

Even biceps like these.

It’s also an unnatural movement pattern. To prove it, stand up, let your arms hang at your sides, and see which way your hand is facing. Unless you have something very odd going on your palm is in toward your thigh, not turned face-forward.

Your arm wants to turn in that way when you’re pitching too. In order for that to happen, all you have to do is NOTHING – don’t force it out, don’t force a follow through, really don’t do anything. The ball will come out as your hand turns and you will transfer way more energy into the ball than you would have if your tried to do something.

It’s very Seinfeldian.

This, incidentally, is something I often use to help pitchers whose arms are naturally trying to do internal rotation (IR) but are also using an HE finish because that’s what has been drilled into them for the last three years gain a quick speed boost. They start out using their HE mechanics from the K position and we look at the speed reading.

I then have them lose the forced finish and just let the arm naturally pronate at it reaches the bottom of the circle. They can usually add 2-3 mph immediately just by doing nothing.

Or let’s look at hitting. Many young and inexperienced hitters will try to over-use their arms and shoulders when bringing the bat to the ball.

It makes sense on some level because the bat is in your hands and you want to hit the ball hard.

Yet that is the one of the worst things you can do. When you pull the bat with your arms and shoulders you have to start your swing before you know where the ball is going to be (never a good idea).

You will also lose your ability to adjust your swing to where the ball is going because you’ve built up so much momentum in whatever direction your started. Not to mention that muscles get smaller and weaker as you move away from your core so you’re not generating nearly as much energy as your body is capable of producing.

Again, the better choice is to do nothing with your arms early in the swing, and instead let your lower body and core muscles generate energy and start moving the bat toward the ball (while the bat is still near your shoulder). Then, once you’re well into your turn and you see where the ball is headed you can let the bat head launch, resulting in a much better hit, and a more reliable process.

Does doing nothing work for overhand throwing as well?

You betcha.

How many times have you seen players lined up across from each other, throwing arm elbow in their glove and wrists snapping furiously while their forearms don’t move? Probably more times than you can count.

This is a completely pointless drill because no one, and I mean NO ONE, purposely snaps their wrists when they throw overhand. Instead, they relax their wrists and allow the whipping action to snap their wrists for them – which is far more powerful.

To prove it, close your fingers up and try to fan yourself by snapping your wrist. Not much air there, right?

Something to keep in mind at hot tournaments.

Now relax your wrist and move your forearm back and forth quickly. Ahh, that’s the stuff. That breeze you now feel is more energy being generated, which moves more air into your face.

So if that’s the case, why would you ever try to do something when you’re releasing the ball rather than doing nothing and letting biomechanics produce better results for you?

There are countless other examples but you get the picture. The point is, forcing unnatural movements onto your body, while they might make you “feel” like you’re working harder, are actually very inefficient.

If you want to maximize your performance, make sure the energy you’re producing is delivering the results you’re going for. Just doing nothing and watch your numbers climb.

Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on Pexels.com

There’s Always Someone Watching

A few weeks ago one of my students pitched in a tournament. The game didn’t go particularly well, she said, as her team lost 8-0.

Not exactly the type of outcome that makes you a legend. So what happened next was very cool.

Her dad ran into the coach of the winning team in one of the common areas, and the coach was very complimentary.

“Your daughter pitched a great game,” the coach said. “What happened on the scoreboard wasn’t her fault. Her team just made too many errors.”

The pitcher’s dad thanked him for the kind words. But then came the shocker.

“Has your daughter committed to a team yet for next year?” the coach asked. “If not, I’d love to offer her a spot on my team.”

Think about that. The opposing team tapped that girl for eight runs and the coach of that team offered her a roster spot right there.

What this proves is a simple fact. As they say in the Ocean’s 11 remake, there’s always someone watching.

Although that is a little creepy in a hotel setting.

What that coach saw, I assume, was not a pitcher who was losing a ballgame but instead a pitcher who was battling to try to keep her team in it, even if the rest of the team was shooting itself in the foot. She didn’t give up, or complain, or do the things many athletes do when things aren’t going their way.

Instead she showed strength of character (as well as quality of performance) to a degree that impressed the coach enough to want her on his team.

That is something every athlete in every sport should keep in mind as they play. It’s easy to be happy or “up” or “fierce” when your team is winning and you’re performing well.

What you get when you practice looking fierce in the mirror.

But the ones who really stand out are the players who can do it in the face of adversity – like giving your opponents extra outs on a hot Sunday afternoon. Not because someone might be watching but because that’s who they are.

But the someone watching part is important. It could be, as in this case, the coach of a future travel team who can offer a better opportunity.

It could be the local high school coach checking out the incoming freshmen. It could be a college coach who is looking for the right players to help their team win a conference championship and go to a post-season tournament.

Heck, it might even be a future employer who just happens to be out watching their daughter play ball.

Whoever it is you just never know who might be watching. And who might be very impressed with how you handle yourself when things aren’t going well.

So keep that in mind on your tough days. Instead of sulking, or complaining, or just giving up, keep on playing. Do your best every time no matter how roughly things are going.

Because there’s always someone watching who could make a huge difference in your life.

If Softball HAS to Have Time Limits…

I’m pretty sure I’ve made my feelings about time limits for fastpitch softball games pretty clear. You can read all about them in this post. Or this one.

The short version is I don’t like them. Never have, never will.

The reason is fastpitch softball wasn’t designed to have time limits. It’s supposed to have INNING limits, i.e., the game is over after seven (count ’em) seven innings.

As a result the basic rules of the game are designed on the premise of having unlimited time to complete the game. Unfortunately, the reality is that time limits are here to stay.

Most tournaments are designed to make money for the hosting organization, so tournament directors are incented to squeeze as many games as they can into two, or three, or however many days. (The larger tournaments are incented to keep people in town for as many days as possible by spreading the early games out for two or three days and then jamming them all in at the end, but that’s a different issue.)

So what better way to fit 10 lbs. of games into a 5 lb. set of fields than to insist that games end after 90, or 85, or 75, or however many minutes? Even fewer if there were rain delays that prevented games from being played on time?

While time limits themselves are an affront to the game, where the real problems come in is when coaches start all kinds of tomfoolery to take advantage of the disparity between the rules and the consequences of time limits.

You know the ones: the visitors are on the field clinging to a two-run lead and want to either take advantage of “drop dead” rules (where the inning ends when the buzzer goes off) or the “no new inning” rule. So the visiting coach makes a pitching change, then a catching change, then goes out for an unnecessary circle visit for the new pitcher to run time off the clock.

In another instance, the home team is clinging to a one-run lead with five minutes left on the clock so their coach has each hitter go to the plate only to suddenly discover she needs to tie her shoes in a manner not seen since preschool.

Yeah, like this.

If that isn’t enough, the third base coach will pull a hitter in for a conference which, judging by the length, has them discussing how to bring peace to the Middle East.

People on the sidelines will ask why the umpires aren’t doing anything to hurry the game along, but there is actually nothing they can do because there are no rules about what you can do in the last five minutes of the game – because the game isn’t supposed to have a last five minutes!

Duh!

It’s a mess for sure. But I have an idea for how to solve this issue. It’s actually brilliant in its simplicity.

All other sports that have time limits have the time broken into even blocks – quarters, halves, periods, etc. So why not do the same for softball?

If you’re going to have time limits, don’t have one limit for the whole game. Set a time limit for each inning.

If you want games completed in 90 minutes, break the game into 15 minute innings (7.5 for each side plus one minute for each transition). You will still get at least five innings in, but you will eliminate the need for coaches to pull those bush league stalling stunts.

Half innings can also end after three outs, and the remaining time (if any) goes toward the other team’s next inning unless it’s the end of the game. So if the visitors get the home team out in three innings, the remaining time gets added to their upcoming offensive inning, giving both sides an incentive to play their best every inning.

What happens if you’re in the middle of inning with bases loaded when the time expires? Sorry, the inning is over, just like if a basketball team is on a scoring run when the half ends.

Now, you will have to work in some sort of stalling penalty if one team jumps out to a big lead in the first or second inning and then tries to rob the other team of their at-bats. I think it will be pretty obvious if it keeps happening, in which case if the umpire judges it is intentional he/she can award the stalling team’s minutes to other side. That should help keep everyone honest for most of the game anyway.

It’s not an ideal solution, I know. It could be very difficult to manage, especially at first when teams aren’t used to having to play “beat the clock” throughout the entire game.

But as I said before, it’s the way every other game with a clock works. So why not softball?

And maybe, just maybe, if this approach causes such havoc and a sufficient volume of complaints the powers that be will outlaw not only inning time limits but the whole ability to impose time limits at all.

Then their only choice would be to reduce the number of innings in a game for that tournament which, while still not ideal, would be more in keeping with the spirit of the game. It might mean taking on a couple fewer teams into the tournament, but with the proliferation of tournaments these days I doubt anyone would be left without a place to play.

Sure, hosting organizations might make a little less money, or have to reduce the bragging rights about how many teams they have in the tournament. But I’m sure they’ll find another way to make up that lost revenue – or learn they can live without it.

Mull this idea over and let me know in the comments what you think. If nothing else it will give softball parents one less thing to complain about on Monday mornings.

Scoreboard clock image Wyatt Determan, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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