Category Archives: General Thoughts

Getting Up for a Game When You’re Not Feeling It

When you're not feeling it, remember you owe it to the people who came to see you to do your best.

Every fastpitch softball player faces this situation sooner or later: it’s game day, and you’re just not feeling it.

Maybe it’s been a long season and you’re tired. Maybe it’s hot and humid out and you don’t handle hot and humid well. Maybe all your non-softball friends are doing something and you wish you could do it too. Maybe you’re so nervous about a big game that you just don’t feel like yourself.

Whatever the cause, feeling that you’re not feeling it can definitely get in the way of your performance. That’s where it helps to take a lesson from some famous musicians.

I’ve read interviews with several famous musicians who were asked how they managed to put so much energy into their performances night after night despite the grueling toll it takes to go from city to city and play for months at a time.

The answer they give is typically something to the effect of: “Yes, it can be hard, and there are times in the hotel or backstage that I just don’t feel like playing. I think maybe I can get by giving it just the minimal amount of effort. But then I think about the fan who saved his/her money to come and see me play, and this will be his/her only chance this year. Maybe it’s a first date, or an anniversary, or a birthday or something else special. Maybe it’s just someone who needs a little lift in their life. When I think about that, I realize I owe it to that person to do the very best I can, if for no other reason than to thank them. And I want them to walk away feeling like it was more than worth the money they spent.”

What a great attitude. They realize that in the line of work they’ve gone into they’ve made a bargain, and they need to keep up their end of it.

For fastpitch softball players it’s a little different. In our case, yes, there are the fans who came out to see the team play. It might be someone’s grandma who finally made it out to a game and hopes her granddaughter’s team will win. Or a little sister who is going to draw her impressions of the game by what she sees on the field. Or the brother home on leave from the military who wants a little piece of home in his life before he goes back to wherever he’s stationed.

But there might also be a college coach, or someone connected to a higher-level team, watching as well. What that person sees, that day, will be his/her first and most lasting impression of you. A great performance might catch his/her eye for the future. A poor one might get in the way of your goals down the line.

Even if none of that is the case, however, think about your coach. He/she made a decision to put you on the team and give you an opportunity to play. You also owe that person your very best. Every. Single. Time. You. Play.

Always remember that putting on that uniform and taking the field is a privilege. A lot of things had to happen the right way for you to have that privilege – starting with being born in a country where playing fastpitch softball is even an option.

Learn to appreciate the opportunity you have and you’ll learn how to feel it even when you’re not feeling it at first. And that, more than anything, will help you become the player you’re destined to be.

Fastpitch pitchers gotta pitch

Fastpitch pitchers need circle time to improve

Right now we are coming up on what is probably the toughest time of the year in fastpitch softball – tryout season.

While the current playing season hasn’t quite concluded yet for most players, the finish line is definitely in sight for most. And that means they need to make a decision about next year, asking the musical question:

In some cases it may be whether a player should make the jump from rec ball to travel ball. In other cases it’s whether to stay with the current team or move to a new one, or whether to play up or stay down. So many decisions!

I’m asked my advice on this a lot, and I usually share it on a one-to-one basis because every situation is a little different. But there are a few common scenarios where I can pretty much make a blanket recommendation.

The biggest one is about seeking out opportunity, especially if you are (or your daughter is) a pitcher. As my headline says, pitchers gotta pitch. You can practice all you want, but the only way you’re going to know if you’re getting better is if you get the opportunity to pitch in games. Not just a few scrub innings here or there, but quality innings.

So let’s look at this typical scenario. (I’m going to say you to keep it simple, but you can also read “your daughter.)

You’re on a team that already has two good, established pitchers who get the bulk of the work. You started pitching a year ago, and while you’ve been working hard you haven’t had much opportunity to show your stuff. The coaches are too afraid they might lose a game with you in the circle.

Odds are that situation isn’t going to get any better next year. It’s probably time for you to seek your fortunes elsewhere, even if it’s with a team that isn’t as good overall, or isn’t as likely to win as many games as your current team.

What you need right now are game innings. So what if the team doesn’t play great defense and you take some losses. What you want is the opportunity to get in the circle, make yourself better, and see if you can make the team better to boot. Now, if you improve and the team doesn’t, next year will probably be a different story. But for now, your best bet is to go where the opportunity is.

Another tough one is whether a 10U pitcher should move up when her team goes to 12U or stay down at 10U. There’s no single answer for this one. If you’re rocking it at 10U, you can probably move up to the next level no problem. Especially if you’re a bigger 10U player. A smaller one might have trouble adjusting to the larger ball and extra five feet of pitching distance.

On the other hand, if you’re a developing 10U pitcher who hasn’t had much circle time, the jump to 12U might be pretty rough. If you get rocked a couple of times at 12U that might be the end of your pitching career. My recommendation in general would be to stay down, get a chance to dominate and build some confidence first. It will help ease the transition.

What about going from rec ball to travel ball? That can be a pretty big (and eye-opening) jump. To me, this is more about general attitude toward the game. If softball is primarily a social thing for you, it may not be a good idea. The increased practice and game schedules, even at the lower end of travel ball, might be too much for you.

On the other hand, if you’re a competitive type you’re very likely going to thrive in the travel ball world. You’ll enjoy the harder practices and tougher competition. And you (as well as your parents) will likely make friends for life.

On the other side of the stay/go coin is the desire to win trophies above all else. Yes, there are teams you can go to that will let you clutter your bedroom, and the living room, and the basement with plastic “hardware.” But will they help you become a better player?

Winning teams aren’t always run by great coaches. Sometimes they’re run by a parent who has a very talented daughter (who also has a few talented friends) or they are able to attract very talented, already-formed players and assemble them into a team. The coaches don’t make them better, they just act like NASCAR drivers; the drivers don’t build the cars, they just drive them. Not that it doesn’t take skill to drive a NASCAR vehicle, but it’s a different skillset than getting the car ready for race day.

The point is, you want to know that if you’re not already fully-formed and ready to rock that you will get the training you need to get there. A team that wins less but learns more is probably going to be your better bet.

There are other scenarios as well, but these should form a good start. If you look at what your needs and desires from the game are, you’ll have a lot better idea as where you should be playing next year. Good luck with it!

Oh, and if I missed any scenarios or you have questions, feel free to mention them in the comments below.

10 ways fastpitch softball can change your life

Fastpitch softball can change your life

Guest post by Lily Jolie, www.baseballeagle.com

Most kids who start playing fastpitch softball do so because it looks like fun – and often it is. But there is more to it than that. In fact, it can be life-changing as this guest post points out. 

Playing sports and games benefit players in a greater way than most of the players presume. In fact, fastpitch softball can be beneficial in a lot of ways, from your personal life to interacting with other players and forming networks.

For instance, softball players know that there are times that they will lose while other times, they will win. This comprehension of success and failure makes it possible for the players to handle developments and challenges in their lives positively. Here are some of the ways that softball can change your life:

Travel 

Playing softball competitively provides you with opportunities to travel far and wide for competitions, tournaments, leagues, and friendly matches. What is more amazing about playing softball is that you also get a chance to travel to different states, countries, and even continents. This in turn provides you with mind blowing travel experiences and enables you to explore the world to learn more about people and different cultures. 

Great for body development 

Softball players often have better well-developed upper bodies than the ladies who do not play the sport. This is because when playing softball, players engage different muscles in their upper body to swing the bat and hit the ball. Additionally, it is a known fact that softball players have stronger and leaner hand and shoulder muscles than those who do not play the game. When playing softball, the whole body is usually active and as such, it becomes easy to burn fat deposits all over the body. This helps in maintaining a fat-free body hence removing the risk of developing obesity and other lifestyle diseases. 

Kills stress 

 Life is generally very stressful from family members, colleagues, studies and other responsibilities. Softball helps players to remain stress-free as the sport triggers the body to produce high amounts of stress-relieving hormones adrenaline and cortisol. In addition to this, when playing, the players feel relaxed and relieved thereby developing an optimistic feeling that helps them to overcome stress. By extension, the game is also very effective in fighting depression, especially among young players. This is because depression frequently comes about as a result of over-accumulated stress. 

Teamwork- How to manage relationships on a team 

Softball is a team sport that requires the input of all players if you hope to win. This teamwork helps players outside the sport as they go on with their daily routines at school or at work and become successful in whatever they are working on. This is achieved through collaborating with different people, workmates or students and eventually becoming successful. Working as team brings together different resources and skills thereby making the task easy to accomplish. 

Failure and Winning: To never give up 

Softball is a very dynamic sport. Failure in softball is inevitable, which makes winning that much sweeter. When players realize this, they are able to cope with loses and work toward triumphing over their opponents. The outcomes in softball translate to what goes on in real life. There are times in life when you will achieve something while you will fail at other times. This realization helps softball players to remain focused on their targets and goals without giving up. The same enthusiasm is very important in life is crucial in enabling people to remain focused on their targets regardless of the challenges and downfalls they experience on the way. 

Gives a way for communication 

Communication is the pillar of every relationship. Yet how you communicate depends on the situation and those you are communicating with. In softball, players communicate with different people including the coach, teammates, and their fans. To all of these classes of people, the players know the best language and terms to use; those that will easily be understandable to the other party. Likewise, communication is critical in real life and helps strengthen and bind relations. Since communication is a two-way affair, softball helps players to understand the feelings of the other party and hence know how to address them. This is a very important skill in real life as it helps in eliminating conflicts and misunderstandings. 

Time management 

Time management is a vital skill for everyone; the young and the old alike. When you have loads of tasks to accomplish within a specified time frame, time management skills will help you plan your schedule accordingly. When playing softball, you know how to balance time so that you have time for work/school, family, personal time, and playing softball. With good time management skills, it becomes easy to live a well-organized life with very little time wastage if any. 

Learn to live with your mistakes 

Most people find it hard to accept their mistakes and end up living in self-denial. This prevents them from collecting themselves after the mistakes and believing in their abilities again. In softball, mistakes constitute a definite aspect of the sport but even so, they do not prevent players from realizing success and winning their games. This enables the players to learn their mistakes quickly, learn not to judge others, and focus on what is at stake; winning. This skill when applied in real life leads to a successful and happy life without any regrets whatsoever. 

Improve your interpersonal skills 

When playing softball, you get to interact with different kinds of people with different characters and personalities. As such, players need to know how to interact with each player and understand them and handle each of them depending on their personalities. These interpersonal skills also come in handy in life as you interact with different people in the course of your work or studies. 

Creative thinking and decisions 

Winning in softball like in any other sport requires players to make decisions within split seconds. The game also requires creative thinking to identify the areas you can outshine your opponents in. This decisiveness is a very important aspect of life as it makes it possible to identify what you want and the means for achieving it. Likewise, creative thinking will help you identify opportunities and know how you can use them to your advantage. 

Generally, sports influence nearly all aspects of life and make it possible to live a well-balanced life. With softball, you get to enjoy a lot more benefits than in most other sports since the sport is fairly safe to play. The risk of injury or accidents in softball is quite minimal. Whether you are playing softball for recreation or as a career, you should be guaranteed to enjoy a well-balanced life that is success oriented. 

Photo credit: Foter.com

A shoutout to all the dads who keep fastpitch softball rolling

Fathers and daughters build a special relationship through fastpitch softball

With Father’s Day coming up tomorrow I thought it might be a nice idea to say something nice about all the dads who spend hours upon hours keeping this thing we call fastpitch softball rolling.

Parent coaches in general tend to get a bad rap. The term “Daddyball” refers to dad coaches who tend to favor their daughters and their daughter’s friends over other members of the team. That is a real phenomenon for sure, but I like to think it’s in the minority.

Most of the fathers who get involved do it for a simple reason: they love their daughters and want to be sure their daughters have an opportunity to play. Someone has to coach the team, so it usually gets left up to a few fathers to volunteer.

Often they played baseball in their youths, although not always. (Special kudos to those who never played baseball but step up anyway. That’s not easy.) The key thing, though, is they believe their daughters should have the opportunity to experience the benefits of playing this game we love.

Then there are the dads who don’t coach, but still take their daughters out to practice with them, and/or take them to practices and lessons. They could be at home pursuing their own hobbies, or working around the house, or even watch TV. But instead they’re out there, night after night in the heat, the cold, the drizzle, sometimes even the snow.

Sunday is Father’s Day, the special day for dads. And where will they be? Out at a softball diamond, hoping to stay out there all day. No breakfast in bed, no presents, no Bar-B-Qs or other special treatment for them. Instead they’ll be in dugouts, bleachers, and camp chairs, eating bad concession stand food, wiping dust out of their eyes and cheering for their favorite players.

As someone who did it for many years, I can tell you the time spent at and around the diamond was some of the best times of my life. Not to mention all the time spent in cars driving to and from various activities. We had so many great talks, and got to know each other so well. Yes, I’m a little more into it than most, but I think every father who uses fastpitch softball as quality time with his daughter(s) is rewarded abundantly.

So here’s to you, all the dads who spend your summers traipsing all over the area, and sometimes all over the country, so your daughters can build the types of skills and memories that will last long after the last strike has been thrown. Thank you for all you do at every level.

Lessons Learned from the Women’s College World Series

Oklahoma repeats as NCAA Division 1 softball champs

Well, that was quite a Women’s College World Series (WCWS) wasn’t it? Lots of fastpitch softball drama (the good kind) from the Regional games all the way up to Championship Series.

Show of hands: how many stayed up until the bottom of the 17th on Monday? I know I did, and I paid for it the rest of the week with interrupted sleep patterns.

As I did the lessons the last few weeks I also asked my students if they were watching the games. Some were, some weren’t. That’s too bad for the ones who weren’t because there’s lots to be learned from watching the game played at such a high level.

With that in mind, here are a few of my own observations and takeaways coming out of a very fun series.

Catchers need to block

Not just sometimes but every time. I saw several balls get by catchers in crucial situations because they tried to glove a ball and couldn’t quite do it. When pitches are coming in at 65+ mph and hit shinguards, they tend to bounce far away. And usually in odd directions.

Get that ball centered on your body – judging where it’s going, not where it is – get on your knees and get over the ball.

Good framing helps

There were definitely strikes called that could have gone either way. (And some, of course, that should have gone the other way, but that’s a different topic.) Catchers framing pitches well can sometimes – sometimes – make the difference.

More bullet spin than you’d expect

When the TV would show the slow motion replays of certain pitches, I was surprised to see just how many pitches had bullet spin rather than directional spin. Bullet spin is not generally desirable in fastpitch softball pitching

(For those who aren’t familiar with the term, bullet spin is when the ball is spinning like a clock face as it’s coming toward you, and you can see the “button” on the front. Bullets spin this way so they don’t move off their direct targets when fired. Good for bullets, bad for pitchers because nothing is easier to hit than a ball that doesn’t change direction.)

I know announcing from the press box is tougher than it looks – I’ve done it – but it was rather funny when a commentator would talk about so-and-so’s tight spin on her rise ball, or how the pitcher just threw a late breaking curve ball, and as he/she is saying it you can clearly see the ball with bullet spin.

Rise balls don’t really rise, but if they were going to they’d have to be spinning backwards. Curve balls would have to have side spin on them. And so forth. A ball with bullet spin isn’t going to break – early, late, or otherwise.

It pays to work on baserunning

I saw some really amazing plays where heads-up baserunning definitely gave the team on offense an advantage.

I saw a runner on first take second on a changeup. I saw runners alerting watching as a throw from the outfield was directed toward a base they weren’t going for, giving them a chance to advance unexpectedly. I saw runners sliding away from possible tags to avoid being out.

Then there was the other stuff. I saw runners going from first to second on a ground ball allow themselves to be tagged so the defense could make a double play. I saw runners over-estimating their speed when they were the only play in town and making an out instead of giving their team a base runner. I saw runners run in front of a fielder going for a ground ball instead of behind and getting called out for interference.

Getting runners on base is really the key to success. The more the merrier. But they don’t really matter until they reach one base: home. The more you can do to get them there, the more runs you’ll score and the more likely you are to win ballgames.

Putting the fast in fastpitch

By the time the Championship Series came around we had the opportunity to see some incredible pitching.

It’s hard to imagine thinking of a pitcher who throws in the mid-’60s as “slower,” but when the others are consistently in the 70s – even up to 75! – that kind of is the case.

What was interesting was that 70 mph pitch speeds didn’t make for 1-0 games. Even the 17 inning barn burner wound up with a double-digit run total. But the ability to throw flat-out harder than everyone else does make a difference, especially in crucial situations where a team really, really needs an out.

I think we saw that even at that level, it’s tough not to be enamored of the pitchers who can flat-out bring it.

It takes a pitching staff

It seems that gone are the days when you could just ride one big arm for the entire tournament. Even if she threw 200 pitches the day before.

Both Oklahoma and Florida got to the big dance using two pitchers, and on Tuesday night Florida pulled in a third and Oklahoma used four!

Has the pitching gotten worse, or the pitchers gotten softer? Not from where I sit. The hitters have simply gotten better. They say hitting is about timing and pitching is about disrupting timing. No better way to disrupt a group of hitters and keep them from getting comfortable in the batter’s box than by showing them different looks, speeds, and styles.

Great defense still makes a difference

Maybe more than ever. There were so many great defensive plays throughout the last few weeks that you could easily make a lengthy highlight reel just on that.

The key for the winners in different games wasn’t the spectacular stuff, though. A lot of it came down to making the plays they were supposed to make. You do that, and the rest is icing on the cake.

Great coaches care about their players

It’s unfortunate that at every level – even D1 college – there are coaches who care more about their records and looking good in front of whoever than they do about their players. Those coaches tend to view their players like the do the field or the equipment – pieces that are there to be used as-needed to fulfill the coach’s goals.

That’s not what you saw with the teams who made it to the final 8. Or especially the Championship Series. From the outside at least, both Patty Gasso and Tim Walton seem to genuinely care about their players, and build relationships with them. Not just the stars but also the role players.

I can’t remember who said it, but there is a quote from a coach who said something to the effect of “We all know the same X’s and O’s. It’s what you do with the players on your team that makes the difference.”

While knowing the game and recruiting great talent areimportant, many teams have smart coaches and great talent. There’s a reason Oklahoma and Florida have dominated the WCWS the last few years.

Umpires are human

Yup, saw some bad pitch calls and blown calls on plays at various bases. But while they may be the topic of conversation, those are the minority. That’s a tough job, and there are bound to be mistakes.

I occasionally make mistakes in my job too. I try not to but it happens. Get over it.

Seeing that umpires may blow a call should be that much more incentive to do more so that a blown call doesn’t cost you the game. In high school and college, games last seven innings. (In travel ball usually fewer due to time limits.) Within the allotted 21 outs there is ample time to hit, field, run bases, etc. in a way that will help your team win. Focus on that.

Look at it this way: if your team is leading 10-1 and an umpire blows a play at the plate, calling an opponent safe instead of out, no one is likely to get too worked up about it. Put yourself in that position and the rest takes care of itself.

Those were some of the things I saw. How about you? What stood out to you? What did you see that you haven’t before, or that made you cringe? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Sometimes you just gotta say…

Joel offers a good piece of mental game advice to fastpitch softball players

Fastpitch softball players know there’s nothing quite like getting caught in the “death spiral.” That’s one of those bad times when it seems like nothing goes right.

For pitchers, it’s giving up too many walks or hits – especially cheap ones. For fielders it’s those bad hops, or those throws that start to sail on you no matter what you do. For hitters, it’s all the things that go with being in a slump.

Things don’t go right for a bit, and you start getting down on yourself. The death spiral part comes when you start over-thinking things, or worrying too much about what your coach thinks, what your teammates think, what the peanut gallery up in the stands think, what the media thinks, even what strangers on the street think. Pretty soon it seems like the whole world is stacked up against you.

It’s at that point that you have to remember the wise words of Tom Cruise’s character Joel from Risky Business: Sometimes you just gotta say what the (heck). (WARNING: Joel doesn’t actually say “heck” in the clip. The link is NSFW, so turn the sound down. If you are not in high school yet, all I can say is don’t click or earmuffs.)

Easier said than done, sure. But I can attest it works, because one of my students went through that this year in her high school season, and that was how she turned it around (although I doubt she used the NSFW word.)

She’d gotten off to a rocky start hitting. This is a girl who can really bang the ball, a true five-tool player.

She’s also someone who really cares about doing well for her team, so underperforming really bothers her.

I hadn’t had a chance to get out to one of her games until a couple of weeks ago. By then I had heard she’d turned it around. I was talking to her and her parents during and after the game, and they all told me the same story.

As she put it, “I went out to play that day and I just said to myself, ‘I don’t care.'” Not that she didn’t care about the game, but she decided to quit worrying about the results and what everyone else was thinking.

It worked like magic. She relaxed and the hits started coming.

Bad things happen to everyone. Even good players. Even great ones. No great hitter ever had a career that didn’t have a slump at some point.

When it happens, just remember: sometimes you just gotta say what the @#$%.

Congratulations to Kate Kiser for signing at Bowdoin

Kate Kiser signs her National Letter of Intent to play volleyball at Bowdoin CollegeThis one is going to be a bit unusual because it’s actually not about a fastpitch softball signing. But I still want to offer my public congratulations to a terrific young woman, Kate Kiser, on her signing to play volleyball at Bowdoin College in Maine next year. Go Polar Bears – coolest mascot ever (pun intended).

So why is a softball guy talking volleyball? Because before she became a bigtime volleyball player with scholarship offers at all levels from all over the country, Kate was also a terrific pitcher and hitter.

I first met Kate when she was 9 or 10 years old. This was shortly after she’d survived a vicious attack by a large dog that had done so much damage she had to wear a pressure mask for a few weeks and had very visible scars.

Her mom Kim (also a terrific woman and a good friend) wanted to get Kate involved in something quickly to take her mind off the trauma, so she signed her up for softball. And knowing her daughter was not one to do anything halfway, she signed her up for some pitching lessons too.Excited for Kate Kiser

Kate was rather shy and quiet those first couple of lessons, but we hit it off pretty quickly. She was a diligent student, even at that age – one of those you don’t have to worry about whether she will practice in-between lessons or not. She had a rare will to succeed in whatever she did.

I remember after a few weeks she had a game, and was going to pitch. Her mom asked if she should try to do what I was teaching or do it the old way, and I said give it a try, and if it doesn’t work than do what you need to for now. This was during fall ball, so no harm, no foul.

She continued to develop, and after a while hitting lessons were added to the mix, perhaps when she was 11. Because of her busy schedule, as well as mine, lessons often didn’t start until 10:00 pm – pretty late for a young girl. But she was always full of energy.

One of the things I remember most about Kate is her curiosity. I encourage questions during lessons, and Kate would ask them. But then, when we were done, Kate would say “I have one more question,” which really was a lie because she had many more questions. 🙂 We’d chat until her mom decided everyone needed to get to bed.

At first, as a player, she had a rough time. She got onto a Daddy Ball travel team that had its favorites and its “all you others.” You know the type. Whatever Kate did wasn’t good enough for them.

I remember hearing about one tournament at a location where they had to stay in a hotel. She and a good friend of hers didn’t get on the field for pretty much the entire weekend. At 10! It was tough, but she bore it with grace and kept working.

By the time she got to 14U much had changed. By now she was drawing looks from college teams, pitching and hitting up a storm. (Her mom told me at the signing ceremony she was still getting contacts from college softball coaches even though she hadn’t played since her freshman year in high school.)

She built quite a reputation for herself, at least within the general region. People marveled at her “natural talent.” Her mom and I just had a good laugh about that. Because while Kate is undoubtedly a wonderful athlete, none of them were there when she couldn’t find the plate, or I had to cajole her to stop thinking so much and just let the pitch fly, or to “see ball, hit ball” instead of over-analyzing everything. It was her work ethic, not just her athleticism, that got her to that point.

No one gets there alone. Some of the coaches who have helped Kate Kiser along the way.Unfortunately for me and some college softball team, along the way Kate started playing club volleyball. She became a star there too, and eventually had to make a decision on which sport to play.

I blame myself for her decision. She always said her dream was to play for me as her coach. One day, when my 18U IOMT Castaways were going to be short a player for a practice game, I invited 14 year old Kate to come out and guest play for us. She did fine, and then apparently checked it off her bucket list. Just kidding, Kate. If you see her on a volleyball court you know why she went that way.

I do claim credit for two major things in her life, however. I introduced her to the music of Creedence Clearwater Revival (her tastes ran more to classical music at that time – did I mention she also played piano?) and I talked her mom into buying Kate her first Shamrock Shake. For better or for worse, long after she’s player her last game she’ll have me to thank for those two things.

All kidding aside, I am thrilled that Kate, once again after too much thinking, finally decided on her college. She plans to be a surgeon someday, and Bowdoin will be a great place to get that journey started while still being able to play volleyball. And you never know – maybe the softball team will need one more player to help them out and Kate will agree. Right after she asks one more question.

Congratulations, Kate. I know you’ll do well, and I wish you all the best!

Time to set a good example for our kids

If it's really for the kids, you need to set a good example as a coach or parent.

This is a topic I have written about often, but it bears repeating. Especially when it’s stated so well. We often talk about how softball (or any sport) is “for the kids.” But many times our actions don’t match our words, and it becomes clear it’s more about the coach and his/her record than the players. As this guest post points out, maybe it’s time to re-think how we conduct ourselves and become the people we’d like to see our players become. Oh, and if you’re anywhere near the Flower Mound, Texas area, be sure to check into lessons with him. – Ken

Guest post by Dana E. Maggs, Excel Hitting and Pitching Coach Dana E. Maggs

What kind of example are we setting for our kids? It is a question I have to ask myself often now.

As a coach I hear stories almost every week of a coach or parent loosing their temper at a game. I hear stories of HS coaches heaping mental abuse on players, just to drive them off the team. With multiple complaints from parents. Yet the administration continues to ignore the parents. Protecting the coach.

I hear stories of recreational coaches screaming at umpires and walking off the field flipping them off as they get tossed.

I could keep going but the bottom line here is where is the accountability from those who are responsible for stopping this kind of behavior? Not only are they driving kids from a game they love but they are also setting a poor example of how to act like an adult.

We see those same kinds of examples now at the professional level. Just last night a Boston basketball player flipped off a fan at a game. I am sure his wallet will be much lighter for that action. So he will be held accountable for it.

But at the HS, Rec, and Select baseball and softball level there seems to be a lack of accountability from the governing organizations. There is NO excuse for this kind of behavior in my opinion.

Far too often I have had new students who have come to me with their confidence broken and their self esteem torn to shreds because of a coach or an overbearing parent. Do not be that parent. Do not be that coach.

A lot of this comes from a “compete and win at all costs” attitude. It’s not just in sport. Its now in everything you and your kids do in life. And when this happens all sense of responsibility disappears from the coaches and in some cases the parents as well.

Why are we putting so much pressure on them to win? You don’t go into the work place as an adult without training and development. You don’t progress without practice and development in sport.

Ultimately, if done correctly, you will win your fair share of games without putting pressure on the kids every time they step on the field of play. Regardless of the game they choose.

This kind of pressure often manifests itself on the child in ways that will affect them for life. Not just in their performance.

I see it in their body language. I see it in their attitude. I see it in their fear of making a mistake and them waiting to hear a negative comment from an adult.

I sometimes have to cross that line myself as an instructor. But how you go about it is the key to being that coach who wants you to understand that failure is how we learn to improve and get better.

Shouting and screaming at them will not do it. These kinds of behaviors by adults should result in immediate dismissal of the coach or banning parents from attending games based on behavior.

There needs to be a lot more accountability at every level of youth sports now. Not on the kids but on the adults. Sadly, it’s the kids who often pay the price and as a result leave the game they once loved to play.

Making adjustments part of the fastpitch game plan

Fastpitch game plans are good, but when they stop working you have to make adjustments

Establishing a game plan is an important part of approaching fastpitch softball games strategically. Especially when you have the opportunity to scout your opponent.

For pitchers, you want to match your strengths to the hitters’ weaknesses. For defense, you want to play to the tendencies. For hitters, you want to get a feel for what’s coming so you  can jump on it when you see it.

Yet all too often I see game plans that look like they were written on stone tablets, dictated by a coach in the form of a burning bush. In other words, the game plan a team starts with is the one they stay with for the entire game.

The problem is, smart coaches on the other side are always looking to figure out what your game plan is so they can adjust theirs. If you just stay with the stone tablets, the game can turn on your pretty quickly.

For example, a coach who notices your hitter are very aggressive at the plate will want to throw more first-pitch changeups. Get you to the pull the ball foul, or swing through the pitch for an easy first strike.

You then have two options. You can continue to go to the plate looking for heat on the first pitch. Or you can recognize what’s happening and sit on the change. Then it’s up to the other team to stick stubbornly to their plan or make an adjustment.

Pitchers may have worked all week on a great sequence of pitches. But if you’re starting every hitter with a rise, or a curve, or a whatever, it probably won’t take them more than 2-3 innings to figure out there’s a pattern to your throwing. Once you see they’re onto you, it’s time to change it up  – perhaps literally with a changeup, or a drop, or a screw. Anything to get them to either swing at the wrong pitch or take it for a strike.

The less comfortable hitters are at the plate, the better it is for pitchers.

This mentality also applies to general strategy. Coaches who sac bunt whenever they get a runner on first are pretty easy to defend. In fact, with one team I coached, where I had a very athletic third baseman, I told her if she caught a bunt in the air for an out I would give her an ice cream upgrade, i.e. when the team went for ice cream cones I’d buy her whatever she wanted. Danged if she didn’t win that challenge too. But it was worth it.

The idea of making adjustments shouldn’t be foreign, especially if you watch football. They talk about halftime adjustments all the time. The winning team usually makes them, getting rid of the plays that aren’t working and changing their defenses to match what the offense is trying to do. The losing team usually doesn’t. And guess which coaching staff lasts longer?

The greatest game plan in the world is worthless if it’s not working – or if it stops working during the game. It’s not something you can pre-program for 7 innings.

Yes, know what you want to do going in, but don’t fall so in love with it that you can’t make changes when you need them. Recognize when the plan’s not working anymore and try something else.

If you can’t do it, maybe designate another coach or even a bench player to be that voice that says “Hey, time to change things up.” Then listen. You may just find yourself on the winning side at the end.

College softball not always the Valhalla you imagine

College softball may not be the Valhalla you imagine

There is a belief by many in the fastpitch softball world that making it to play in college gives you entry into a virtual Valhalla where the coaching is top-notch, the players are dedicated to and fully supportive of one another, and all the problems of school or travel ball disintegrate into the rarefied air of collegiate competition.

I’m here to tell you that’s not actually the case. At least not everywhere all the time. I was reminded of that yesterday while watching a collegiate game.

It was a well-played contest between two very competitive teams, each battling to the last out for the win. The weather conditions were hardly ideal, which made the competitive spirit of the players stand out that much more.

Yet sitting in the stands, I once again noticed how it isn’t all that much different from 10U travel ball. I’ve seen games at all levels, and talked to players and coaches as well. Here are a few of my observations on the similarities from yesterday and the past that will hopefully bring a measure of reality to your hoped-for college experience.

Parents still live and die with their daughters’ performances.

I’m sure this never goes away. But you can generally tell whose daughter is at the plate by the way the parents react. When it’s someone else’s kid, they’re relaxed and enjoying the game. When their kid comes to bat, they suddenly tense up.

Many bring out the smartphone to video the at-bat, probably to go over it later in great detail. I’ve heard tales about this or that dad who is pretty brutal on his daughter’s performance. (Moms not so much, although I’m sure it happens.)

Pitchers’ parents have it worse. They have to sit on the seat cushion of nails for the entire half inning. If their daughter struggles, they either tense up visibly or deflate like a balloon. Not all of them – many actually just sit and watch the game, supporting their daughters with the sheer force of their will as best they can – but there are those who definitely go too far with it.

Yelling at the umpires

Another surprising thing. Although it happens at pro games too so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.

But still, do parents really think they’re helping their cause by riding the home plate umpire? In the best care scenario, the plate ump will be a professional and ignore the peanut gallery. That’s usually what happens.

Below the best case, he/she might start giving a little more leeway to the opposing team just to prove a point. Umpires are human beings too (despite what some of you think) and subject to the same human reactions as the rest of us.

There is probably less yelling at and complaining about umpires overall than at a 10U game. But by the time the parents who do it have players of college age, they’ve had a lot of practice at it.

Complaining about the coaches

Pretty much the same thing as with umpires, only different topics. It’s all the usual complaints – playing time, coaching strategy, lineups (why would they put so-and-so in the 5 spot? She hasn’t had a hit since the Democrats controlled Congress!).

They’ll also critique every decision on the field, especially if it goes south. Stealing bases is a great idea until a runner gets thrown out. Then it’s “What were they thinking?” Why are we bunting, or why are we not bunting, is another popular question.

Even the pitch calling gets questioned on a case-by-case basis. Particularly if it results in a home run. Hey, it’s possible the right pitch was called but not thrown. Or the right pitch was called and thrown, but the hitter just did a heckuva job hitting it. That happens too.

Honestly, the parents or fans who do this are in the minority. Versus 10U ball where everyone is an expert and the score doesn’t matter. But it does go on. Why do you think coaches pretty much tell parents at the beginning of the season please come out and support us, but we don’t want to hear from you ever?

Players sniping at one another

I am pretty sure there are some college coaches who are good at keeping a lid on this sort of thing. But softball players are human, and not all humans are good at handling personal responsibility. So when something goes bad on the field, their instinct is to blame others instead of owning their own mistakes.

For example, a player who makes a bad throw might blame the receiver for not moving fast enough to catch it. Or a player who lets a spinner drop in front of her might blame another player for causing confusion by going after the ball – even though every team drills who has priority over who into their players’ heads from day one.

On offense, players might blame one another for lack of production at the plate in a give situation. Especially if the player who struck out with runners in scoring position isn’t a star.

These are the kinds of things losing teams do, even when they’re winning. It happens at 10U, 12U, 14U, etc. And it can happen in college.

Coaches having favorites – and non-favorites

It’s a pretty safe bet that all college coaches have favorites – the kids they count on more than others. The better ones at least make an effort to hide it. But many others make it pretty obvious.

One of the easiest ways to tell is by how long a leash each player has. For example, if player A makes an error, she gets yanked out of the game right away, benched so she can think about her egregious transgression and her sabotaging of the coach’s goal of joining the 500 wins club. If player B makes the same error, however, nothing. “Shake it off,” she’s told. Pretty easy to see who is the favorite.

The problem with this thinking, of course, is that should Player A get back on the field, she will be that much more uptight and cautious. She will be playing not to make an error instead of to make a play. That usually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Still, not every coach gets that. And the more they play favorites, the more they create the sorts of divisions in their teams that will prevent them from losing.

Focusing on one play as the reason for a loss

Yes, this still goes on in college too, unfortunately. I’ve written in the past about how it’s never just one thing that causes a loss. But not everyone understands that, even in college. Where they should.

That play at the plate where the runner was called safe when she was clearly out. That bad pitch that ended up in the outfield bleachers. That mishandled ground ball that let the winning run on base. And so forth.

All of these are but single incidents over the entire course of the game. In college there are no time limits, so the minimum length is 6.5 innings. That means the visitors have 21 outs to work with. The home team has either 18 or 21 depending on whether they are winning or losing after 6.5.

So yes, that play at home was costly. But how much would you care if your team had scored 6 more runs? A little argument, then you’d be laughing about it. Same for that error, or that meatball served up like you went to Olive Garden. They’re all meaningless if the team scores more runs, or plays better defense overall.

No game turns on just one play. There are ample opportunities to win throughout. But that instinct to make it all about one event can be strong. Even at the college level.

It’s still fastpitch softball

Just as the game itself doesn’t really change from 10U to college, the things around it don’t change much either. If you don’t believe me, try hanging out at a college game – the closer to home plate the better.

Then just listen to and watch what’s happening around you. Playing in college is still a worthwhile goal. Just be realistic about your expectations once you (or your daughter) get there.

It’s fun – but it’s not Valhalla.

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