Category Archives: General Thoughts

6 Tips for Easing Back Into Softball Mode

Diamonds warmup

Yesterday I had the opportunity to join in on an NFCAonline mentoring session. While several of the topics that came up were more oriented toward college programs, there was one in particular that was pretty universal: how to get players back into softball mode.

For many, these past three months may have been the longest layoff they’ve had from a formal practice/workout routine since they were pre-teens. That’s especially true for players above the Mason-Dixon line (not to be confused with the Mendoza line, which is a whole different issue), where the weather has been spotty at best, and sometimes downright uncooperative.

With not just indoor facilities but many parks closed, it’s likely many players have spent far more time than they would have otherwise making Tik Tok videos, streaming movies and TV shows, sleeping, eating junk food and doing whatever else is popular among young people these days.

I get that, too. It’s tough to get motivated when you don’t know whether your next game will be next month, next fall, or next year.

Sure, teams have been doing Zoom meetings to try to hang together, and various activities such as the Facebook videos where it looks like they’re throwing the ball from one player to the next. But none of that requires a whole lot of physical exertion or delivers much preparation to get out and play.

Now that summer leagues and travel ball is beginning to open up again, however, it’s important to ensure players who have been idle for the last few months are given the opportunity to ease their way back into playing. Otherwise there is a risk of even more time off due to injuries.

Here are six tips to help ensure players stay healthy as they start working to shake off the rust.

  • Limit overhand throwing for the first few weeks. Arm and shoulder injuries due to improper throwing mechanics were already a problem, even before the Great Layoff. It’s unlikely the underlying issues have magically gotten better. While the time off was good for healing old injuries, it also means players can be highly prone to new ones. That’s why it’s important to ease them back into throwing overhand. Pay even closer attention to throwing mechanics during warmups, and spend a little more time than normal on shorter, lighter throws. (If you don’t know what to look for in terms of mechanics, check out Austin Wasserman’s excellent High Level Throwing programs.) During fielding drills, save arms by having players toss the ball to the side or drop it in a bucket at times rather than throwing the ball to a base. When you do start having players throw full-out, set a limit and stick to it. This is especially true for catchers practicing throwdowns. Remember it’s been a while. Do maybe 10-12 at most to start, and work your way up from there.
  • Put more emphasis on stretching. I shouldn’t have to say this but I’m going to anyway. Players who have been largely inactive for the last couple of months likely have tight muscles. Even those who have been putting in some practice time on their own are probably not as limber as they were when they were more active with school, other sports and activities or anything that required more effort than shifting positions on the couch. They need to get those muscles, tendons and ligaments working properly again. For the first few practices be sure you plan extra time for dynamic stretches to begin practice, and watch to make sure they’re doing those stretches properly. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched teams slop their way through various stretches and then expect they’re ready to play.) When you’re approaching the end of practice, be sure to leave a little time for cool-down stretches too. This is important at any time, but especially right now. Get those muscles, tendons and ligaments loosened up properly now and you’ll face far fewer injury issues down the road.
  • Condition intelligently. There’s a good kind of sore, where you know you fatigued the muscles well so they can strengthen and improve, and there is a bad kind of sore where you over-worked the muscles and now it’s going to take some time to recover. Unless you are a certified strength and conditioning coach you probably aren’t sure of the where that line is. It’s going to be tempting to try to get your team into peak game shape in one or two practices. Don’t succumb to that temptation. Remember that young people can have all kinds of stuff going on beneath the surface – Osgood-Schlatter Disease, growth plates, chronic tendonitis, etc. – that can affect their performance and cause pain. Overconditioning early on can exacerbate these conditions. While there may be a desire to get them into mid-season shape right now, resist it. Ease them in and build to it, just as you would in any other season. It will pay off in the long term.
  • Limit repetitions. One of the keys to all of the above is to limit repetitions in the early rounds. Overuse injuries are essentially caused by performing more repetitions than the body is capable of safely handling. After a period of inactivity that number may be a lot lower than you’re used to in a practice setting. Deal with it. There are actually two benefits to it. First, variety in activities helps work different muscle groups. That’s why so many college coaches say they like multi-sport athletes. The kids they get are in better shape and less likely to be damaged. The second benefit is that you have a lot of ground to make up. Focusing too much in any one area means other areas are being ignored, and you know those other areas will come back to bite you. Fewer reps means less time spent, which means you have time for other areas.
  • Hydrate early and often. If your players have mostly been laying around doing nothing they probably aren’t going to be used to the physical exertion of stretches, much less a full-fledged practice. As a result they can dehydrate quickly. Be sure to take frequent water breaks, especially for the first couple of weeks, and keep an eye out for signs of dehydration. Better yet, let them bring their water with them from station to station or area to area. After all, it’s unlikely that 12 or 14 or whatever number of players on a team will all need the same amount of water at the same time(s).
  • Remember the mental side. While the most obvious challenges will be physical, the mental side of the game will also need to be worked on if your players are going to be game-ready when it’s time to go. You may be all softball all the time, but most (if not all) of your players are not. That means they may have forgotten things you expect them to know (especially in the younger age groups), so be sure to go through those mental aspects as well. Walking through coverages, backups, special plays, rules and rule changes, etc. helps get their minds back in softball mode while saving their bodies. If players aren’t performing at the level they remember themselves being at before, they may experience stress or anxiety on top of what they’re already experiencing. Pay attention to those aspects as well, because they may not be able to compartmentalize their worries and concerns as well as you wish they would. Keep them focused, keep them positive and keep them engaged and they will bounce back to where they should be much faster.

Once you get back on the field it’s going to be tempting to just jam down the accelerator and take off right away. Resist that temptation.

If you ease into it instead, with an intelligent plan that builds on itself, you’re far more likely to find success in both the short and long term. Good luck!

My Hope for Once Fastpitch Softball Resumes

KR huddle

Today’s post is inspired partially by this blog post from February at Softball Is for Girls, partially by some of the discussions I’ve seen on Facebook and the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, and maybe a little bit by this song from hair metal band Cinderella.

There’s no doubt it’s been unfortunate that we’ve had to hit the “pause” button on fastpitch softball over the last couple of months. It probably seems like longer because a lot of teams haven’t played outdoors since the fall, but in reality it’s really only been March through the beginning of May so far.

Still, if anything good can come out of it, I hope it’s that more people have a greater appreciation for the sport and what it means to them. Perhaps things that seemed more life-and-death before all of this aren’t taken quite as seriously. (Parents getting into fistfights on the sidelines, I’m looking at you.)

As the Cinderella song says, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. We’ve had it taken away from us, and in some areas it’s still not back yet. Although hopefully that will change soon.

Even where it is back, it’s not really back like it was before. Social distancing and additional rules are going to make it a very different experience, at least for a while.

Whenever you get to watch your next game, here are some of the things I hope for you:

  • At your first game or tournament, you take a few moments before or after just to soak up the atmosphere. We always seem to be in a rush to run from one thing to the next, and over a long season all the games and tournaments tend to blur together. So just take a moment to appreciate that you have the opportunity to do this again. Take in the sights, the sounds, the sun and the breeze on your skin, even the smells (as long as you’re not standing next to the Port-o-let. Remember that none of it is guaranteed, as we have just learned. Appreciate it.
  • Be a little kinder to the umpires. They have been through what you have been through, and yet they’re back on the field even though they don’t have any kids of their own to watch. They are here so your kids have an opportunity to play the sport we all love. Maybe stop and thank them – from a safe distance, of course.
  • Throw a little appreciation the coaches’ way as well. They now have all kinds of new challenges to deal with that weren’t there back in October. It’s not as easy as it looks. And yes, the coaches are going to make some poor decisions from time to time. Try not to take it so seriously. A bad day at the ballpark is better than a good day just about anywhere else.
  • Coaches, cut your parents a little slack too. At least most of them. Remember that they have been chomping at the bit to see their kids play again. They may be a bit overly enthusiastic at times. That doesn’t mean you have to put up with rude jerks – no one should – but try to recognize that the demand has been pent-up for a while and make take a bit before it levels out again.
  • Players, try not to take it all so seriously. You just got a taste of what life is like without softball, and what a real crisis looks like. Hopefully going 0-for-4 or giving up the game-winning hit doesn’t look quite so devastating anymore. Not that you want to settle for a poor performance, but you can’t let it define you either. Now that you’re back on the ballfield, try to enjoy every minute of it.
  • Perhaps most of all, parents please, please, please lighten up on your kids. You just got a taste of what life is like without softball. And so did your kids. If you turn it into a miserable experience for them they’re going to end up hating softball and probably quitting. THEN what will you do? Keep in mind that the shelter-in-place orders have made up a MUCH larger percentage of their lives, especially for 7-10 year olds, than they have for yours. For many, this was the first major world event that directly affected them. It may take them a while to fully adjust to being back on the field, or to get their skills back up to where they were. Deal with it. Enjoy seeing your kid(s) play, because one day it will all be taken away for good. Try to put that day off as long as you can, because I can tell you from first-hand experience you will miss it deeply.

For all the teams starting up again, good luck. For those who are still waiting on the go-ahead, I hope it comes quickly for you.

Whenever you get back there, however, I hope you have a little more appreciation for the opportunities you have and that you take advantage of them fully. For tomorrow is promised to no one.

Guide to the New Rules of Post-Pandemic Softball

Emma hitting virus

ARRR! Caution – there be satirical content here. 

It looks like softball is back on for 2020! That’s great news for everyone who has been itching to get out and see some ball played. And their kids.

But of course, we’re not out of the woods yet. Testing is still woefully lacking, and there is no vaccine or cure yet. According to healthcare nursing leaders, hospitals are really still just treating symptoms, not necessarily providing any cures.

So with that in mind, various organizations have started issuing some new rules to address the ongoing need to continue social distancing while being in a team setting.

The thing is, any new rule set can be confusing at first. It’s hard to know exactly what all should apply. So to help out with that I’m going to look at some of the rules – and the issues around the rules – and give you my interpretation of what needs to, or will, happen.

No need to thank me. All part of the service.

Rule #1 – no more than three players in the dugout. Ok, that should work in most dugouts. They’re wide enough to allow at least six feet between players. But who gets to be in the dugout?

That’s easy. One will be the hitter in the hole, so she is ready to go into the on-deck circle. The other two are the head coach’s kid and her best friend on the team. Extra incentive to becomes BFFs with the head coach’s kid.

What about when the head coach’s kid or her BFF is hitting and/or in the on-deck circle? Who goes in then?

That’s easy. No one. Because it wouldn’t be fair.

Rule #1A – players not in the dugout must congregate in a socially distant way in the area behind the backstop near the dugout. This is actually one of the more popular rule changes among the parents. Now they can have unfettered access to their daughters so they can critique their defense, coach up their hitting and tell them what idiots the coaches are in real time.

This new rule also gives helicopter parents an opportunity to check if their daughters need water, sunflower seeds, a cool rag, sun lotion, antibacterial wipes, ice cream from the snack bar or anything else during the game. Players in the 16U and 18U levels will particularly appreciate their parents being able to check on them throughout the 75 minutes they normally would have been away from them.

Rule #2 – Parents may not sit behind the backstop or within six feet of the dugout. They are required to sit in a line, a minimum of six feet per family unit, along the sidelines past the dugout or behind the outfield fence. Or even better in the parking lot or the seating area at the local Subway until the game is over.

The ruling bodies understand this rule will make it more difficult for them to coach their kid while she is at bat, and thus recommend establishing a series of large pantomime gestures so their daughters don’t miss out on this valuable, timely information. Wearing white makeup is optional but encouraged.

This rule will be strictly enforced, incidentally. Local biker gangs have been hired to take care of any disputes. We’ve seen how belligerent you parents can get.

Rule #3 – Direct contact should be avoided whenever possible. Of course, that’s already in the rules, which some teams ignore because hey, if you can give the best player on the other team a concussion and you don’t take advantage of it you’re not trying.

But there are other types of contact as well, so we must look at use cases.

  • Use case #1 – tag plays. You’ve heard of the phantom tag of second base in a double play. Now all tags will be phantom tags. If the defensive player catches the ball and makes a motion toward the runner before the runner crosses a line directly in front of and six feet to the side of a base, the runner is out.
  • Use case #2 – safety base. Orange safety bases will still be in use. But they will now be placed in foul territory a minimum of six feet away from the white base. The first base coach’s box will now be moved to the other side of the fence (or a line extending from the fence) which is okay because the first base coach is mostly useless on a play at first anyway. If the ball gets away from the fielders, from six feet away the batter runner should know, but if not all the parents sitting along the sidelines are welcome to advise the player on what she should do next by screaming at her like her hair is on fire.
  • Use case #3 – runner on first base. The first baseman must stay a minimum of six feet away from first base when there is a runner on that base. Like maybe up the line where she should be anyway.
  • Use case #4 – short blooping fly balls into the shallow outfield. No real rule change here. All three players going for the ball should pull up and let it fall between them. Like they always do.

Rule #4 – Social distancing behind the plate. Catchers are required to position themselves a minimum of six feet behind the back foot of the hitter, which will not be a huge change for some. Umpires should then position themselves six feet behind the catcher.

As a result of the distance between the plate and the umpire, balls and strikes will now be decided by a flip of a coin after every pitch. Again, not a big change for some.

Rule #5 – No gathering at the circle between each out. There is no need for the entire team to gather up to congratulate itself for every routine out. This is just a giant waste of time, especially when there are time limits anyway.

If you still must huddle up, all field players must remain outside the circle, which provides eight feet of distance from the pitcher (which is good because her health is far more important than the health of the rest of you put together). You must also maintain at least six feet from the player on either side. If you set up in a square pattern you should meet the minimum, although don’t ask us to do the geometry on that to prove it.

Rule #6 – No outside coolers or snacks of any kind will be allowed in the facility. This is not really a social distancing thing. It’s just we are not hosting these tournaments for our health, or because we like spending our entire weekend raking dirt and lining fields (if you’re lucky).

We are here to make money, and we’re already behind with the season starting in May (or June). So buy your food and drinks at the snack bar and help us give our organization’s treasurer an account worth embezzling.

Rule #7 – Personal protective equipment. All players should carry a large supply of antibacterial wipes (if you can find them, good luck with that!) in their bat bags at all times, and should use a new wipe each time they touch another person (accidentally or on purpose) or anything another person has touched (including the ground) or well, hell, anything. They should also wipe themselves off if they get dirty. A clean player is a happy player.

Latex gloves (or similar) are recommended, even though the minute you touch anything that might be infected those gloves are now useless to you. Hand sanitizer is also highly recommended, especially if you use the washroom facilities. Which is good advice even after there is a vaccine.

Masks are not required but are encouraged. We mean the cloth or surgical masks, not the hard protective face masks, because only players with weak skills need those, right? Nothing will make players feel better than wearing a cloth or paper mask over their mouth and nose in 90+ degree heat and 90% humidity from 8:00 am until 8:00 pm.

Rule #8 – Check-in. In addition to the usual documents (signed roster, proof of insurance, birth certificates, etc.) all coaches must now produce a waiver signed by each player (or their legal guardian) stating that if they end up catching COVID-19 or any other horrific disease after playing they will not hold the organization or the facility responsible.

Of course, this is America so you can still sue whoever you want whenever you want for whatever you want. But we’re hoping it at least discourages a few people.

Rule #9 – Post-game celebrations. There will be absolutely NO high-fiving, handshakes, or other direct contacts between two teams after a game. A friendly wave is allowed if performed from a safe distance.

Better still, use the old cheer, “2-4-6-8 who do we appreciate?” as seen in the Bad News Bears (original version) and millions of tee-ball games across the country.

Rule #10 – Gathering under canopies between games. Only one person per corner is allowed in each 10′ canopy, so plan accordingly to ensure you have enough canopies for the entire team, plus parents and siblings. Maybe every family unit should bring its own canopy so it looks like a Renaissance Faire has broken out. You work it out.

If these strict guidelines are not followed, see Rule #2 for enforcement procedures.

Rule #11 – Awarding of trophies/medals, t-shirts or other prizes. Trophies, awards and other prizes will be scattered six feet apart on the outfield grass, where teams can pick them up as-appropriate. The tournament directors are not taking any chances on coming into contact with your little petri dishes.

Rule #12 – Come, play, get the hell out. Do not loiter after games. When your team is out, no half-hour long speeches by the coaches, no hanging around the field soaking up the atmosphere, no parents going over the game play-by-play to discuss what an idiot the coach is.

Just pack your crap and leave. We have your money, you got to play. We don’t love you anymore. Go home where it’s (presumably) safe.

Hope that helps everyone! Have fun playing this season!

The Stockdale Paradox the Key to Making It Through the COVID-19 Lockdown

Mask

Today’s topic isn’t necessarily a softball-specific topic. But because so many of us are looking longingly at empty fields, especially on beautiful sunny days when the temperature gets up to shirtsleeve temperatures, I thought it was worth sharing.

I first came across the Stockdale Paradox in the book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t by Jim Collins. It is named after Admiral James Stockdale, who was the highest-ranking prisoner of war in the so-called “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam War.

If you want to read the full explanation you can do that here. I’m going to do my best to give you the abridged version.

The “Hanoi Hilton” was a horrible POW camp. Conditions were poor and the prisoners (American soldiers, sailors and marines) were beaten, tortured, starved and otherwise mistreated. All in all it was a miserable experience.

Adm. Stockdale was in it for seven years, from 1968 to the end of the war in 1974. Collins asked him why some of the prisoners (including him) were able to make it through with their spirits unbroken while others fell into deep sadness and depression.

He said the ones who struggled were the optimists. They would say, “We’ll be out of here by Christmas” or “We’ll be out of here by July 4.” But then Christmas or July 4 would come and go and they were still there. The continuous disappointment broke them.

The ones who came through it ok adopted what has come to be known as the Stockdale Paradox. Their attitude was basically, “We know we will make it out of here alive one day. We just don’t know when.”

The ones who handled it best were the ones who faced the brutal reality of a situation they couldn’t control and accepted it for what it was. They focused on doing what they needed to do to get through each day until they were finally release, believing all the time that the day would come.

That’s where a lot of us are right now – although to be honest we have nothing to complain about compared to the residents of the “Hanoi Hilton.” There’s a huge difference between being locked up in a cage, sleeping in the dirt and never knowing if you’re going to be dragged out and beaten and being stuck watching Neflix or videos of old softball games on your living room couch.

What we have to realize right now is we don’t know when it will be safe, not just for us but for our families, our neighbors and the most vulnerable among us, to begin going out to restaurants, movie theaters, concerts, worship services and yes, softball games, again. But we also have to believe that the day will come.

What we don’t know is when that day will come. If you pin all your hopes on May 1, or May 15, or July 1, or any specific date and it doesn’t happen, you will feel worse than you did before.

You may even fall into despair, or decide to do something stupid (like defy shelter-in-place orders) that only extend the situation even further – and perhaps increase the death toll needlessly.

Instead, know that one day this will all be over, or at least the worst of it will, and we’ll be able to get back to the rest of our lives again. Embrace the Stockdale Paradox and one day you too will be sporting an “I Survived the COVID-19 Pandemic” t-shirt at the local ballfield.

In the meantime, stay safe and wash your hands! And be sure to hit the Like and Share buttons so this message gets out to others who need it, and subscribe to get new posts delivered directly to your email as soon as they go live.

A College Player’s Perspective on a Lost Season

IMG_4319

This guest post was written by Taylor Danielson, a junior at the University of Indianapolis. She offers a first-hand account of what it was like to lose the rest of her college season when it was canceled due to the Covid-19 virus. 

Hours before the NCAA made the decision to cancel all remaining 2020 winter and spring seasons, my team and I were sitting at the airport in Orlando, Florida joking about everything that has, was, and is going on. As we got on the plane, it was business as usual.

We landed in Indianapolis, got off the plane, gathered our things and headed to the bus. While we were sitting and waiting for the bus and people got their electronics back up and running, social media sites were being overrun with news about business and school closures and sports seasons being cancelled all over the country.

It was at that moment when our hearts sank because we all knew we were next. At that point we didn’t realize the magnitude of this event. There weren’t a mass amount of cases in the United States, and it hadn’t started spreading like it is now.

The bus ride back to school was silent. We quietly sat and hoped we wouldn’t get the news that was almost inevitable. When we arrived back at school, we unloaded and put all the equipment away.

When everything was away we all sat in the locker room waiting to hear what our next move was from Coach. As the whole coaching staff came in, one look at their faces and we knew the news couldn’t be good.

We all sat in silence for a few minutes before Coach spoke up and informed us of what had happened, our season was over. Although we all realized these were necessary steps in order to keep everyone safe, it was a tough pill to swallow.

We were all heartbroken, crying in the locker room for at least 45 minutes. Personally, I was sad about the season, but knowing I had played my last game with my best friend

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Taylor and me (right) in happier times.

was the saddest part.

Taylor and I had been through a lot together. For her senior season to end the way it did breaks my heart. I would do anything to play one last home game with her, have one more laugh at practice, and one more squeal on the bus when we find out we are roommates.

This whole experience has taught me a lot. First, don’t take anything for granted. It may sound a bit cliché, but it doesn’t resonate until you experience it yourself. You truly never know when your last game is.

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Here we are after what turned out to be our last game together. This was just supposed to be one of many we’d take.

Second, always remember to have fun, even when you are struggling. This sudden end to the season has put a lot of things into perspective.

What I mean by that is don’t get caught up in things like your performance at the plate. I’ve been off to a slow start and am guilty of living and dying by each at bat.

Now that I am done for the season, I wish I wouldn’t have spent so much time worrying about what my batting average was or what I hoped my next at bat would look like. I realize now that there are a lot worse things that could happen besides an a bat that didn’t go your way.

You’re never going to get this time back, so it’s important to make the most of every moment. Lastly, cherish every friendship.

I may never play another game of softball with my best friend, but I have our memories and more importantly I still have her.  I am beyond thankful for the friendships this game has given me, especially the one I have with Taylor.  Teammates for a moment, friends for life.

The Value of Learning More Than One Position

Taylor Danielson takes personal responsibility by hustling to chase down a foul ball

This topic came up a couple of weeks ago when I was participating in a conference call with top pitching coaches from all over the country. We had wandered into more team-oriented topics when my friend James Clark mentioned that he always insists his players learn more than one position – with one of those preferably being outfield.

Apparently in these days of helicopter parents that is a fairly radical idea. Those parents (or should I say “those parents”) believe their child should spend all their time on the field in one spot. Preferably a “high-value” spot such as pitcher, catcher or shortstop.

To me, that is doing those players as well as the team a disservice. There are plenty of reasons for players to learn more than one position.

  • It elevates the level of play. Most of us don’t get better unless we’re pushed. Having two or more players getting playing time at a position pushes everyone to be at their best so they can be there for the big games.
  • It helps players learn the game. If you spend all your time at one position you may get to learn it thoroughly but you may not gain the bigger picture of how the game works. Softball is an individual sport played in a team setting. It really helps to know what all the other parts are doing.
  • It rounds out their skill sets. Different positions require different skills. Being a more well-rounded player makes players more valuable even in their primary positions. For example, shortstops who also play outfield gain more experience tracking balls in the air.
  • It gives players more options down the road. You may be the big gun at a position right now. But what if a “once in a career” player comes along who plays your position? Or just someone the coach likes more? Or you get hurt and can no longer play your chosen position, as happens now and then. If you can’t contribute anywhere else you’re likely to spend a lot of time riding the pines. Or the aluminum these days.
  • It helps players prove themselves in college. A player’s best chance to show coaches what she can do may not be at her primary position, especially if the coaches have an established starter. But if she can contribute elsewhere the coaches can get comfortable having her in the lineup, and then may be more willing to see what she can do at her primary position.

Those are some of the benefits to the players. There are also benefits to the team, such as:

  • It future-proofs the team. If only one player has any recent experience at a position and she gets hurt or decides to accept an offer in the middle of the season from what she perceives to be a higher-level team (it happens) it can take a while to break in someone new. If players have been splitting time you already have the next one up ready to go.
  • It offers more options to get players in the game. No one likes sitting, and playing time is probably the single biggest point of abrasion between players/parents and coaches. Everyone gets more opportunity when there is flexibility in the lineup.
  • It promotes the concept of “team” over “me.” Splitting time between positions helps players understand that everyone contributes to the success of the team, not just the stars. That mentality then carries over into other aspects, such as laying down a bunt when called upon when a player would rather swing away.
  • It gives coaches options for match-ups. If certain players can only play one position, and that position is occupied by a better player, the coach may not be able to put the best nine that match-up against a particular team on the field. Players who can play other positions give coaches options. It’s like having a larger bench without all the issues that presents.

Of course, not everyone agrees with this philosophy. I once lost a player when I was recruiting a team because I refused to guarantee a father that his daughter would only play one position. But that was ok – I ended up with four other players who could play that position just as well – and who were happy to do whatever the team needed.

In the end, only being able to play one position is a self-made trap. It may seem like a good idea but always keep in mind that fastpitch softball is a competitive sport.

Your coach may love you there today. But if he/she can find someone better for that position tomorrow, that player is going to get your spot. If you can’t contribute anywhere else it could make for a long, unhappy season.

If you broaden your skills, however, there will always be someone who wants you on their team. And on their field.

Things To Do While Waiting Out Covid-19

Well-groomed fastpitch softball field

Well, it’s official: the World Health Organization has declared the Covid-19 coronavirus a full-blown pandemic. The cascade effect has been postponement or outright cancellation of college and high school softball seasons, and could have a significant effect on the summer season as well.

(For those reading this post long after March 2020, it should be an interesting time capsule for how things were perceived while we were in the center of it. And much of what I’m going to say here applies to non-pandemic times too.)

At this point it would be easy to say “Aw, the heck with it” (or perhaps something a bit stronger), sit in the house and start power watching Stranger Things or Game of Thrones. Neither of which I have ever seen, by the way.

But you can also look at this extra, unexpected down time as a gift. There is plenty you can do without game or team activities.

And you’ll want to do them, because sooner or later this too shall pass and we will be back out in the sunshine, where we our biggest worry is whether we will knock those base runners in with a hit or get the out to win the game instead of whether we will fall deathly ill and infect a vulnerable family member.

So here are some suggestions on how to turn the currently bad situation to your advantage. Starting with…

Take some time off to heal

These days the softball season (like most other youth sports seasons) seems to run 12 months a year. That leaves little time to let your body rest and recuperate the way it needs to, because it seems like there is always some critically important game or tournament or camp or something coming up.

Well, now there isn’t, and we don’t know when there will be again. So take advantage of it. Take some time off and let your body do its healing thing. If you haven’t had your injury checked out and it’s causing sufficient pain, go visit your doctor. He/she may be thrilled to not have to look at another runny nose or listen to a wheezing cough.

woman in blue sweater lying on bed

Right now a little ankle pain doesn’t look so bad.

Even if you’re not injured, think about taking a week off just to let your body get some much-needed rest. You’ll be amazed at what it can do for you.

Fix the little issues that make big differences. One thing I’ve always prided myself on is being able to work around injuries to keep players on track. For example, I once gave a few pitching lessons to a girl in an ankle-to-hip hard cast.

Obviously we didn’t work on leg drive. Instead we focused on spins and stability. She sat on a stool and worked on perfecting her change, drop and curve balls.

Once the cast came off, she ended up being ahead of where she had been rather than behind. Shows you the value of narrow concentration.

If you’re a pitcher who has been struggling with whip, this is the perfect time to work on it, because you don’t have to worry about how it will affect you in a game. And if you’re diligent about it, by the time you do have to pitching to hitters again the whip will be second nature.

Or maybe you’re a hitter who tends to dip her back shoulder toward the catcher during her stride, or lets her hands get ahead of her hips. Take the time to fix it now.

Figure out what your biggest single issue is and work on it. If you get it done and the season is still on lockdown, work on another one. Rinse and repeat until it’s time to go play again.

Re-set your mindset

This particularly applies to college players who had already started their seasons. If it wasn’t going the way you’d hoped this temporary shut-down could be the best thing that happened to you (unless you’re a senior, in which case my heart goes out to you).

The first rules of holes is that when you find yourself in one, stop digging. That can be tough to do, however, when you are playing so many games trying to win a conference championship so you can get invited into the post-season tournament.

Now you have the perfect opportunity. First, let go of whatever was bothering you. Leave the past in the past and start looking forward.

Second, and this is most important, use this time to gain some perspective. When you were struggling or even in a slump, it seemed earth-shattering. But it wasn’t. At the end of the day, it was still just softball.

Now you’ve had softball taken away from you as the result of a rapidly-spreading disease that could affect your health (although so far it doesn’t seem likely) or the health of someone you love, like a parent or grandparent. THAT is earth-shattering.

Remember there are worse things than striking out with runners on base, booting an easy ground or fly ball, or giving up a walk-off hit. Like not getting to play at all.

Find the joy again in just being on the field, so when you are you’re able to keep things in perspective – which will likely help you improve your performance.

Learn to think like a coach

Talk to any coach who is a former player and sooner or later you’ll hear him/her say “If only I knew what I know now when I was playing.”

It’s unfortunate, but most of us don’t really put in the effort to really learn our craft until we’re put in a position where we have to teach someone else. It’s then that we decide we’d better know what we’re doing, in which case a whole new world opens up to us.

Why wait until your career is done? Start talking to knowledgeable people, watch video analysis of what top-level players do, check out DVDs from the library (or your coaches) and find whatever other information is available to you.

Sure, some of it is going to be garbage. Maybe a lot of it, especially random clips on YouTube. But if you compare what you’re seeing to what high-level players do you can start gaining a better understanding of what you should be doing so you can apply it to your own game.

Share what you know with younger players

You don’t have to go into full-on coaching or instructing. But if you’re hanging around somewhere and you run across a younger person who wants to learn a skill you know, take some time to share it with them.

Remember, when one coaches two learn.

Clean your stuff

Don’t just wash your uniform. Take the time to really do all you can to get the dirt, blood, grass and other stains out of it. Especially the white stuff. Fels-Naptha Laundry Bar and Stain Remover, which is available at most hardware stores as well as online, is great for that.

Clean the dirt out of your cleats, and wipe down the top parts. Maybe even polish them so they look great. If you have broken shoelaces now is a good time to change them.

Clean your glove with leather soap or saddle soap and put some conditioner in it. (Not oil, because that will make it heavy, but more of a paste-like conditioner.) If necessary, this is a great time to get it re-strung.

Wipe down your bat with soap and water. Remember how proud you were when it was shiny and new? See if you can feel like that again.

Give your batting gloves the sniff test. If you can do it from across the room it’s time to either try soaking them in laundry detergent for a bit or get a new pair.

And for goodness’ sake, clean out your equipment bag! Take everything out of it, including the 300 empty or partially empty water bottles crushed at the bottom of it, dump out the dirt, take a clean cloth and wipe it out, inside and out. Then, when you go to pack it up again, KonMari that sucker and only put things in it that make you happy.

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Yes, these bottles.

Stay positive

Things may look bleak right now, but they will get better. Best thing you can do is remain positive, because sooner or later (hopefully sooner) softball games will start to be played again and life will return to its hectic normal.

 

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Announcing a New Softball Success Service

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For the past 20+ years (can I really be that old?) I have been a private coach, primarily working with pitchers, hitters and catchers. During that time I have had an opportunity to teach many wonderful young women, helping them to achieve success and realize their dreams – whatever those dreams may be.

But through that time I have also come to recognize that there is an under-served constituency out there that is aching for someone to fill their needs. So today I am proud to announce a new service through Softball Success that I am calling “Parent and Player Validation,” or PPV for short.

The way it works is you bring your daughter to me, but rather than trying to teach her anything I just stand there for a half hour and tell you how awesome she is.

I will walk around and view her from different angles, put my hand on my chin, look serious, nod a few times, maybe whistle or say “whoa!” (although that costs extra) and even shoot a video or two and use it to show you why she’s so great. What I won’t do, however, is offer any of those bothersome suggestions or critiques because if you’re coming for this service I know you’re not interested in any of that claptrap. You just want to hear she’s perfect the way she is.

Now, I know this service won’t be of interest to any of my current students or their parents because they are all on-board with working hard and trying to improve themselves. I’m actually fortunate to work with an outstanding group of students.

Still, I realize there are people out there who can use this new service. I’ve run into them in the past.

I could tell because when I would tell a pitcher she needs to lock her shoulders in at release, or relax and whip her arm, or stay more upright instead of leaning forward the only reaction I would get is a stinkeye from both the parent and the student.

Or if I told a hitter she needed to lead with her hips, or keep her hands from dropping to her ribcage, or drive her back shoulder around the front instead of pulling the front shoulder out both parent and daughter look at me like I told them they smelled of elderberries.

Clearly, they weren’t interested in my honest opinion, or in changing anything. They simply wanted me, as a professional softball instructor, to validate what they already believed.

Of course, the core of great customer service is to give the people what they want (to paraphrase Marshall Field). So rather than fighting the tide, I’ve decided this could be a tremendous money-making opportunity.

With that in mind, I am thinking of a fee structure along the lines of:

  • Saying she is perfect and I wouldn’t change a thing – $100/half hour
  • Saying she is an incredible talent and one of the best I have ever seen – $200/half hour
  • Saying she is without a doubt the best I have ever seen in-person – $500/half hour
  • Saying she could possibly be the greatest player who ever played the game – $1,000/half hour

I haven’t locked into the actual dollar amount, but I’m figuring with as desperate as some people are for this type of validation this is probably a good starting point. I may also offer a discount if you just want to come in and have me say it without actually having to watch the player do anything since I would be able to squeeze another actual lesson in during the rest of the time. Or if you want to send me a 30 second video and have me email my effusive praise back to you.

I can see where this could lead to other services as well. For example, I can set aside a radar gun with a series of impressively high readings and let you take a picture with your daughter showing whatever reading matches what you think she’s throwing. I’m thinking $50 for that, at least to start. The possibilities are endless.

So let me know. If you’re looking for someone to tell you how awesome your daughter is without all the inconvenience of being told she needs to work on this or that, this new service should fit the bill.

Just remember that being told what you want to hear doesn’t mean she’ll perform well on the field, especially when she faces competition of equal or better ability. That actually takes work.

But if you just want to have your ego, and your daughter’s ego, stroked I am prepared to accommodate. All lines are now open…

The Up and Down Side of Modeling Elite Players

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One of the first (and most important) pieces of advice I give to parents who are trying to decide on a path for instruction for their daughters is to look at what elite-level players do. If you’re not being taught that, you should re-think what you’re doing.

Take pitchers for example. If you want to know whether you should turn the ball toward second base at the top of the circle and push it down the back side of the circle or turn it toward home and then pull it down with your palm face-up, video of elite players will give you the answer.

(SPOILER ALERT: The correct answer is pull it down. Ten points for Gryffindor if you got it right.)

Then there are hitters. Some people will tell you to swing with your bat and/or shoulders level at contact. But again, a quick Internet search of great hitters in both Major League Baseball and Power 25 fastpitch softball will show you that just ain’t so.

So does that mean you should just pick an elite-level player and model yourself after her (or him)? Not necessarily.

The thing you have to keep in mind is that elite-level players get to that level by virtue of more than their mechanics alone. There are a whole lot of other factors, beginning with their DNA, that go into making an elite player.

The hard reality is some players succeed despite their mechanics. Their athletic ability, focus, dedication, etc. is such that they can overcome even significant mechanical flaws.

Some pitchers will be hunched over and will throw their shoulders forward as they throw, even though biomechanics says they would be better off keeping their shoulder locked in around 45 degrees. But when they’re throwing 70+ mph doing what they’re doing, and racking up the Ks and Ws, most coaches aren’t going to worry it until it becomes a problem.

Does that mean you should follow their example? In a word, no. That player is succeeding in spite of her mechanics, not because of them. Us ordinary mortals can’t count on getting the same results.

The same goes for hitters who primarily rely on their upper body strength to hit for power. Somehow they have managed to make it work for them.

Most of us, however, will find if we are upper-body dominant we won’t be able to adjust to pitch speeds/location/movement. We’ll hit the ball a mile if it’s pitched where we’re swinging. But if it’s not – and the whole strategy behind pitching is to NOT pitch to a hitter’s strengths – we will likely swing and miss. A lot.

So what’s the answer? Should we try to understand and follow the mechanics of elite-level players or not?

For an answer, I would look to the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson. Yes, he died long before the first fastpitch softball game was played, but he had a pretty practical view of the world.

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Jefferson could call for a sac bunt with just a twitch of his eyebrow.

One of my favorite quotes from good ol’ Tom was “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” In other words, know what’s important and what’s not.

When looking at mechanics, don’t just look at what one or two elite level players does. Look for the common threads between all of them, and see what the majority tend to do.

Also, look at what other factors may affect the success certain players are having. If your daughter is a 78 lb. stick, modeling the mechanics of a preternaturally strong, thick-bodied beast of a player probably won’t deliver the same level of success.

Your daughter is going to need incredibly clean, efficient mechanics because she needs to get every bit of her body generating energy to transfer into the ball.

If your daughter isn’t an amazing athlete – that’s ok, you can admit it – she’s probably not going to be able to get by with too many standard deviations from what is biomechanically optimal. Again, you’ll want to stick with the things elite players do that are alike rather than excusing non-standard mechanics because so-and-so does the same thing.

Seeing what elite players do and following their example is a good thing – until it’s not.

Use video of elite players to see generally what all (or at least most) tend to do so you have a path to follow. But avoid techniques or mechanics in those players that appears to be outliers.

It’s your fastest path to success.

Main photo by Alexander Dummer on Pexels.com
Photo of Thomas Jefferson via Good Free Photos

Be As Water

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One of the most well-known pieces of advice from the late, great Bruce Lee was a simple three-word statement: be as water. For those interested in more of what he meant, or who are just wondering who the heck Bruce Lee was, here’s a video:

 

While Lee’s advice was ostensibly meant to encourage martial artists to give up their old, rigid approach to movement in favor of one that was more free-flowing, I find it’s also great advice for fastpitch softball players. Here are a few examples.

Pitchers

When pitchers want to throw harder, they tend to tighten up their muscles and become very stiff. They also do it when they’re trying to guide the ball to a location (even if it’s just the general strike zone). Yet that’s the worst possible thing to do in each situation.

If you’re trying to gain speed, remember tight muscles are slow muscles. You can swing your arm around much faster if you relax and let it go versus trying to force it around.

Being stiff when trying to gain better control also works against you, and actually makes it more difficult. If you are tight and off-line somewhere in your circle, you will stay there and the ball will go somewhere you don’t want it to.

But if you are loose, a gentle nudge is all it takes to get back on-line. Plus, you have momentum working for you, because if you are loose and using good mechanics (i.e., those that follow the natural way the body moves) it’s a lot easier to follow the natural line.

To improve as a pitcher, be as water.

Hitters

The same things about tight versus loose apply to hitters. If you try to muscle up on the ball you’ll lose the whipping action of the bat into the hitting zone, costing you valuable bat speed.

Being tight also makes it difficult to react and adjust to pitch speeds, spins and locations. A rigid swing will tend to continue going wherever it started to go; a relaxed swing allows you to make adjustments without losing bat speed.

Then there’s the mental aspect. If you are uptight generally (aka in your own head) you are going to be worried about far too many outside factors, such as your last at bat or the fight you had with your mother before the game, to bring your swing thought down to “see ball, hit ball.”

There will be no flow to your swing, just a sort of panicked flail as the ball comes in. You may even start seeing things that aren’t there, or lose your perspective on exactly where the strike zone is. Much can happen.

To improve as a hitter, be as water.

Fielders

As a fielder, you want to be able to move smoothly to the ball. You want your throws to be easy and sure.

That’s going to be tough if you are tight and rigid. The word “flow” is frequently used to describe a great fielder. And what water does.

Being rigid or mechanical in your movements is a sure ticket to many more errors than you should be making. And if you are that way because you are AFRAID of making errors and being pulled out of the game, it only gets worse. Forget about all that.

To improve as a fielder, be as water.

Approach to the Game

Perhaps the area Bruce Lee’s advice applied to most is your general approach to the game. In the video, he says that if you pour water into a cup it becomes the cup. If you pour it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot.

Fastpitch softball players need that type of flexibility as well. You may be asked to play a position that isn’t your usual one. You can either resist or go with it.

Yes, playing outfield rather than catcher or shortstop may not be your preference. But if you go with it and prove yourself in the role you were asked to play you are far more likely to get the opportunity to show what you can do in the position you want to play. I’ve seen it happen.

You may not like your coach’s coaching style. Understood – there are some bad coaches out there. But often it’s not a matter of good or bad, it’s just different than you prefer.

Rather than bracing yourself against it like a rock, be as water. Adjust your expectations and get as much as you can out of the experience. Everyone has something to teach – even if it’s just not to be like they are in the future.

You may not be getting the playing time you want or feel you deserve. That may be true. But before you just blame the coach and jump ship, ask yourself if you’re doing all you can do to earn the spot you want.

Are you diving for balls in practice? Are you displaying a positive attitude? Do you go to the weight room, take extra batting practice or bullpen work, ask for one more ground ball if you pooch one in practice, help clean up team equipment at the end of practice or a game, etc.?

Maybe the answer is yes and you’re just not getting a fair shot. It happens. But before you decide that, determine whether you have been trying to shape yourself to the program the way water shapes itself to the cup or wishing the program would shape itself to you.

Final Question

So after all of this, if I were to ask you which is stronger, the rock or the water, what would you answer?

Many would say the rock. Not a bad answer on the surface, because if you place a rock in a stream or river, the water will be forced to go around it.

Over time, however, the water will wear away the rock and any other obstacle in its path until it can once again flow smoothly.

So I ask you again: which is stronger, the rock or the water?

Be as water, my friend.

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