Category Archives: General Thoughts
As you may have possibly heard as a fastpitch softball fanatic, our sport is back in the Olympics for the first time since 2008! This is a rare moment to watch the best players in the world compete on a huge stage with presentation budget of a major network production.
It’s also the last time for the next eight years as the sport is not included in the 2024 Paris Olympics. It is expected to return in 2028 and 2032 when the games flip to the U.S. and Australia. Who knows what will happen after that?
So since this is such an unusual opportunity you’ll want to make the most of it. Not just to sit back and enjoy the games (although that’s great) but also to learn all you can while you have the opportunity.
So to help with that, here are a few pointers on some things to pay closer attention to. The Speed of Play.
The Speed of Play
I’m not talking about pitch speeds, although they are incredible too. I’m talking about what happens when a ball is put in play.
Look at what happens on a ground ball. It is scooped up and on its way to first in a “blink and you’ll miss it” fashion. There is no double-clutching, no calmly standing up and then casually firing it over. It’s there and gone.
Or look at the baserunners. Even the ones you would think are more powerful than fleet are incredibly fast. If a ball is hit between two fielders in the outfield there’s a good chance the runner on first is going to third. Bobble it at all and she’s heading for home.
Everything is amazingly fast. If you want to know what to work on in your/your daughter’s/you players’ games, work on that.
For example, don’t just hit them ground balls. Run a stopwatch and challenge them to make the play in less than three seconds. I find blowing an air horn when the stopwatch hits three seconds provides a pretty good indicator of whether they were successful enough.
Work on just pure running too. I know most people get into softball because they don’t like all the running in other sports, but it’s something that does need to be addressed.
While you can’t make everyone fast you can help them get faster. The faster your team is the more pressure it puts on the defense and the more runs you can score when you need them.
Here you can start by making sure your players are running on their toes instead of heels or flat feet. Then do a lot of short, quick sprints.
Run down a hill. Have two or more players run against each other, perhaps letting one player start in front of the other. Have them play tag around the basepaths. Anything to get the feet and arms moving faster.
Watch the Pitching Mechanics
The coverage I have seen so far has been amazing at showing pitching mechanics. We are getting great closeup shots of what is happening at release on great pitchers such as Cat Osterman, Monica Abbott, and Yukiko Ueno.
Notice how close they are to their bodies at release, to the point where their forearms brush against their hips. Note how on a curve ball the hand kind of wraps around the back hip instead of being out and away.
Watch how they release the ball with a smooth, whipping motion. Note that they are vertical or leaning slightly back instead of being bent forward.
Also watch how they seem to glide on their back leg, like they’re riding a skateboard, until the front foot lands. Then they go into whip and release.
While you’re watching that, also note that they don’t drag their back legs behind them like zombies. The leg stays under them, which is what allows that skateboard-like movement.
It’s really a Master Class on pitching, happening pitch after pitch.
Listen to the Communication
With no crowd noise to speak of you can hear what’s going on down on the field more clearly. While at first you may list to the description of the play, maybe watch a second time and listen to what’s happening on the field.
They’re not down there keeping to themselves. Those players are communicating.
They’re talking before the play to make sure everyone knows their responsibilities. They’re talking during the play to help direct throws and avoid confusion. And they’re talking afterward to clean up any issues and pick up their teammates if something went wrong.
The more you communicate the better you’ll play as a team. Learn from the best.
What Happens Away from the Ball
The initial camera work is going to follow the ball. That makes sense because that’s where the main action is.
But during replays from other angles, look at what other players are doing. Who is backing up at a base? What is the right fielder doing on a throw from center to third?
If there is a steal or a bunt, who is fielding it and what are the other players doing?
For example, with a runner on first, if the third baseman fields the ball who goes to cover third in her place when the ball is bunted? Is it the shortstop, leaving second uncovered?
Unlikely since they may want to go for the lead runner. So is it the catcher? Pitcher? Left fielder?
The more you see how Olympic teams operate in particular situations the better idea you’ll have of what your team/daughter should be doing. Or at least learning.
How Tough Hitting Is Against Great Pitching
So far there hasn’t been a ton of offense in most of the games. That’s to be expected with such great pitchers.
Maybe it will change as the tournament goes on and the hitters get used to the high level of pitching they’re seeing. But right now it does demonstrate how challenging hitting can be – even for the best players in the world.
That’s something to keep in mind when your daughter goes 0 for 8 on a Saturday, or your team hits a collective .225. No matter how hard you work, a lot of good things have to happen to succeed at hitting.
That said, practicing properly (and often) gives you your best chance to succeed. Each of the players you’re watching works incredibly hard to do what she does.
Imagine where those hitters would be without all that hard work.
Softball is a game built on failure. It’s those who can push past it who will ultimately succeed.
They Make Mistakes Too
I think this is an important lesson for parents (and some coaches) to learn. These are the very best players in the world, presumably. But at some key moments, usually when their team can afford it the least, you will see a player here or there make an error.
It happens. It’s unfortunate but it does, even to the best. Especially in a pressure situation.
What parents (and some coaches) need to take away from that is these things are going to happen occasionally so you can’t freak out or get down on your daughter/player or scream at her in a way that makes her feel bad about herself.
This applies not to just physical errors but mental errors. If you’re a coach, make the correction in a non-judgmental way and move on. Believe me, she didn’t do it just to make you look bad or ruin your day.
If you’re a parent, be supportive. She’s probably already feeling horrible about it. Instead of making it worse help her learn from the experience so she doesn’t repeat it.
Realizing even the best players in the world make mistakes now and then will help you enjoy your daughter’s/players’ playing more and avoid turning one bad play into a bad inning – or a bad game.
Anyway, those are a few of the things I think you should be watching for as you enjoy softball in the Olympics. Any other thoughts? Leave them in the comments below,
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As I write this we are in the middle of summer vacation time here in the U.S. Families all over America are packing themselves up from wherever they live and traveling to a different area, state, time zone, etc. in search of a little R&R.
Even softball families are in that process. Some have already finished their seasons, while others are fitting in a little vacation time before or after tournaments.
For me, when I think of vacations I am reminded of taking my family to a lake for some serious downtime. Originally that meant the North Woods of Wisconsin, where we and various members of my wife’s family would rent cabins.
As part of the rental, we would get motorized row boats that we could use to go fishing. I’ve never been much of a fisherman, and didn’t grow up rowing boats so I found that a bit of a challenge at first, but when in Rome…
Now years later I’ve come to realize that those motorized row boats are the perfect analogy for the role of the back leg in pitching and hitting. Because it can either be a propeller or an anchor when you’re trying to be explosive.
A propeller will help you get where you’re going faster. Being fairly incompetent at rowing a boat, at least at first, I found the propeller to be a much easier way to get from point A to point B, even if those two points weren’t that far apart.
As long as you can fire up the motor (not always easy in a free rental), you can open the throttle and steer your way there while relaxing. That’s a lot easier than using oars to move through the water, especially if you’re using one oar more than the other, in which case you tend to make more of a circle than a straight line.
An anchor, on the other hand, is designed to hold you in place once you get to where you’re going. If you leave the anchor down, even with a motor, it will be much hard to get to your destination.
So it is in softball. In pitching, you want the “drive” leg to propel your center forward, enabling you to glide lightly along the ground until your front leg lands. Do it quick and powerfully enough and the sudden stop will help sling/whip your arm through the release zone.
But if you don’t engage your drive leg, and instead just run past it with your stride leg, the drive leg will turn into an anchor, lifelessly dragging behind you and slowing you down. When that happens, the drive leg doesn’t drive at all, but instead gets pulled along in the classic zombie walk. This is why it’s often called “zombie leg.”
Clearly one is better and more effective than the other in creating speed and enabling stability at release. Hopefully I don’t have to tell you which one that is.
While not quite as obvious or debilitating, the same effect occurs in overhand throwing. If the throwing side isn’t engaged actively as a propeller it becomes an anchor, which affects both speed and accuracy.
What about hitting? The same is true, although in a different way.
In hitting, you want the lower body to create the power. While that is really more of the core than the legs themselves, the rear leg contributes by having its knee start pulling toward the front knee, unweighting the leg so the hips can fire forward at maximum velocity.
If the hitter doesn’t get off the back foot the hips are unable to rotate rapidly or fully, and you wind up with more of an upper body swing that pulls the contact point further back. You’re then not hitting in the green zone.
The bottom line (no pun intended) is the back leg can either be an aid or a hindrance in making athletic movements in softball. Which it is depends entirely on the player.
Get it actively engaged, doing what it should do, and it becomes a propeller that helps drive better performance. Leave it behind and it will be an anchor, slowing the player down and creating a huge drag on performance.
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Most of the time my blog post are more oriented toward players (and their parents) who, shall we say, don’t have the greatest athletic gifts. Not to mention coaches who are trying to make their teams competitive through sheer hard work.
Today, though, I am going to turn that concept on its head. This one is for those players who won the genetic lottery.
You know the ones. They are naturally bigger, stronger, faster, with better eyesight, better hand-to-eye coordination, more fast twitch muscles and other attributes that most of us wish we (or our kids/players) had.
They are always a big fish, no matter what size pond they’re in.
Here’s my message to those players and their families: that genetic lottery has more than one winner. In fact, while the total number may be small compared to all the players who play the game, it’s still much larger than the number of spots on coveted teams.
Which means if you want one of those spots you need to keep working hard. Probably even harder than players with lesser natural ability because all your real competition is at least as able as you. Maybe even more gifted.
I know that may be hard to believe, especially if you don’t get to see a lot of ultra-talented players wherever you play. But believe me, they’re out there.
When you have more natural ability than everyone else it’s easy to fall into the trap of relying on it. After all, if your overhand throw is 60 mph and all your teammates’ (and opponents) are closer to 50 mph it’s easy to think you take it easy in practice or just rely on your ability in a game.
But in the end, you’re not competing against the players around you for those coveted spots. You’re competing against a small universe of players you may not see but who are definitely out there.
Which means you need to make sure your skill level and understanding of the game, not to mention your mental game, is on a par with them.
My suggestion, if you want to find a local role model, is to look at the player on your team, in your league or conference, etc. who doesn’t seem to have a lot of natural ability but is succeeding anyway. That player got there by working harder than everyone else and not getting discouraged when she failed.
Instead, when she failed she used it as fuel and a learning experience to help her get better.
That girl has to have better technique at whatever she does because if she doesn’t she’ll never see the field. Coaches aren’t falling all over themselves to get her on their team or put her in their lineup, so she has to prove herself every time she steps across the chalk line.
Study her. Learn from her. Do what she does.
If she boots a ground ball, she probably asks for another one. Do the same.
If she’s struggling to hit she doesn’t go into a funk. She pulls the tee out and works on whatever she knows her issues are. And believe me she knows what they are because she pays close attention when a coach is working with her.
Basically, instead of acting like a “super talent,” instead become a grinder. Work to gain the best technique not because you have to today, but because one day you will need it. Gain that mentality and you’ll find the road to the top is significantly easier than it would have been otherwise.
Talent, athleticism, whatever you want to call it, is definitely a good thing. If you won the genetic lottery be sure to thank your parents early and often. Genetics can’t be taught.
Don’t let that ability sucker you into complacency, however. Approach the game like you were the last one to make the roster instead of the first one invited and we just might see you on ESPN one day.
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This is the time of year when the rubber starts to hit the road in travel ball. All the promises of tryouts, all the good intentions, and all the talk of “we’re in it for the girls” starts getting tested as games get real and the outcome of the season is at stake.
The result is that some players/families begin to get disenchanted with their positions on the team and start thinking they might be better-served somewhere else.
They may or may not be correct. If you’re a player or parent who thinks playing time should be handed out like Halloween candy, regardless of effort or output, you’re probably not going to be any happier on the next team than you are on this one.
Your lack of skills and knowledge will be a detriment to whatever team you’re on, and coaches will recognize that pretty quickly. Your lack of effort to improve will also be noticed, making it easier for you to be left watching the game from the dugout.
But there is another class of player who may also be facing this decision. She has been working hard, showing improvement, earning her right to be on the field. But for whatever reason, the coaches have made their decision not to play her and that’s the end of that.
No matter what that player does or shows she can do, her fate on this team is sealed. Those are the ones who may find it necessary to seek a team.
Yes, I’ve seen all the bloviating on Facebook and other sources about how you just have to stick it out, and how horrible it is that players switch teams so quickly these days – whether that’s at the youth or college level.
I’m all for having to work your way up, and quite frankly think you should never join a team where you will clearly be the best player, either overall or at your position. The competition will make you better.
But all of those memes and rants presume you are working with a level playing field. Unfortunately, there are a lot of ways the field can be made permanently unlevel.
One common example is a player might play the same position as the coach’s daughter, or the coach’s daughter’s best friend. For a certain type of coach, that means his/her daughter or her friend will always play every inning at that position – no matter how many errors she makes or how many times she strikes out with runners in scoring position.
At that point, you either resign yourself to playing another position or playing your position with another team. If there isn’t an opportunity to ever show what you can do, the only option left is the status quo. Or as my friend Ray Minchew puts it, “It’s tough to build a track record when you never get on the track.”
What that often means is that you fall into the category of “spare parts.” A team needs a minimum of nine players to field a full team, but it’s likely that all nine won’t be able to be at every game. So it also needs people to fill in.
That’s where you come in. If one of the starters can’t make it, and the coach can’t find a guest player to fill that spot, you get on the field. Just know that once the starter comes back you will be back to the bench, no matter how well you did when you had that opportunity.
One of the things the “just tough it out” proponents will tend to bring up at this point is loyalty. They will moan how players are selfish and no one shows loyalty to the team anymore.
In my opinion, however, loyalty is a two-way street. If a coach isn’t loyal enough to his/her players to give them opportunities to demonstrate their abilities and legitimately compete for a spot, why should any of the players be loyal to the coach or team?
The reality is they probably won’t be. If all decisions are transactional, i.e., either the coach wants to win and doesn’t care if players are happy or the coach is more interested in keeping certain players happy or making them the “stars.” there is little reason to stick around if you’re not part of the “in-crowd.” Your situation isn’t going to change.
All anyone should be able to expect is a fair shot at playing. They then have to show what they can do.
But if they do, they should be rewarded appropriately. Otherwise, what is the incentive for working hard or for sticking it out?
If you’re a coach who wants loyalty from your team, start by showing loyalty to your players. ALL your players, not just your favorites or the ones who share a last name with you.
No one signs up for a team for the opportunity to ride the bench all season with no hope of parole. They want to play. Every. Single. One. Of. Them.
Give them that opportunity and they will be yours for life. But if you don’t do it, don’t be surprised when your “spare parts” decide they’d rather seek their fortunes elsewhere.
I have made it clear in the past that I am not a fan of time limits on fastpitch softball games. Maybe I’m just old but I believe the game is meant to be played over a minimum of seven innings, no matter how long that takes.
Time limits, however, are a fact of life in travel ball. Whether you believe it’s tournament directors/organizations being greedy by trying to squeeze 10 lbs. of play into a 5 lb. set of fields or well-meaning tournament directors/organizations trying to ensure that games run on time out of respect for the teams who spend all day at the ballpark, time limits don’t appear to be going anywhere any time soon.
With that in mind, I have a few observations on how these time limits are affecting the game today, and how they will affect it in the future. Whether you agree or disagree, let me know in the comments below.
Observation #1: Pitchers find it more difficult to last seven innings when required. I am seeing that a lot in high school ball right now.
Pitchers who are used to games lasting 75 or 85 minutes are able to perform at a high level for five innings or so. But come inning #6, they start having a lot more trouble.
Now, I know some will say that’s because they’ve gone around the batting order a couple of times and the hitters have seen them. But I don’t think that’s the sole reason.
I believe that mentally they are used to the games being done by that point, and the thought that they have to keep going requires some adjustment. For some, it can even get tough at the end of the fifth as they realize they still need to have something in the tank for another two innings.
Does that mean they can’t adjust? Of course not. But it may take them a while before they learn to pace themselves properly for a seven-inning game.
Observation #2: Teams can no longer ride one pitcher for the season. Back in the day, to be successful a travel team, high school team, or even a college team really needed only one Ace pitcher. She was expected to carry the load, pitching every inning (or nearly every inning at least) in every major tournament.
That is no longer the case. Now, it could be that the hitters have gotten a lot better, actually working at their craft in the off-season like pitchers always have.
Rule changes have also made it tougher to ride one pitcher. Pushing the pitching distance back and moving from white balls with white seams to yellow balls with red seams has brought more offense into the game. So has bat technology, which sometimes allows a ball struck with a half swing to carry over the fence.
But I also think the way travel teams and tournaments are structured has had an effect on pitchers’ ability to carry that type of load. All the stop/start of more games can place more stress on young arms, so teams are spreading the load more.
While I think that’s a good thing overall, it also means many young pitchers don’t learn HOW to carry the load. They know there’s always help available.
Greater availability of facilities and lessons also means there are more pitchers out there than ever before. Those pitchers aren’t going to stick around very long, however, if they don’t get innings, so that means coaches must ensure #2 and #3 receive enough circle time to stay with the team.
From a health and safety perspective that’s a good thing, in my opinion. But it does mean that fewer #1s are learning how to be that pitcher. They are becoming more inclined to thinking they did their job in game one, and now it’s time for someone else to step up.
Observation #3: We will likely see more specialization in the future. As a result of the previous changes, I think it’s likely fastpitch softball, especially at the collegiate level, will start to look more like baseball, with a bullpen full of specialists.
Right now, all pitchers are considered to be starters. That doesn’t mean they all get starts – that decision is still merit-based (or political, depending on who you talk to).
But pitchers in a college bullpen aren’t thought of as being middle relievers, or closers, or really anything other than an arm available to throw in a game.
I think that will change, especially with a generation of pitchers used to working within time limits. That girl who is lights-out for one inning but deteriorates rapidly after?
Instead of trying to force her to improve her endurance, make her a closer. She can just go in and rocket the ball for three or four hitters rather than giving the top of the lineup a chance to see the starter for a third or fourth time.
Your #3 or #4 starter? Maybe she’s better suited to be a middle reliever. Pair her up with a starter where she will be a contrast – like a dropball pitcher paired with a riseball pitcher – and let her come in when hitters start getting comfortable with the starter.
The more teams use their pitchers as a staff in specific roles rather than trying to fit everyone into the “starter” category, the more they can become strategic.
Would it be better to have one Ace you knew you could ride the whole way? Maybe. But thanks to the way pitchers are being developed these days I think that ship has sailed.
Rather than fighting it, it’s time for colleges to look at what they’re getting and figure out how best to use them. The good news for players is that this sort of change in thinking might open up some new opportunities that weren’t there before. Especially for those who fit that “closer” description.
The foundation of softball at the high school and collegiate levels is youth softball – primarily travel ball. Changes there will affect the way the game is played all the way up the food chain.
Rather than fighting it, or clinging to old ways, schools need to take a hard look at the way the game is being played at the younger levels and adjust their strategies accordingly. Those who do will likely have greater success in both the short- and long-term.
As I have mentioned plenty of times in the past, “A League of Their Own” is one of my favorite movies. Not just sports movies but movies in general.
A particular highlight (at least for me) is Jon Lovitz as Ernie Capidino, the scout assigned to find players for the new women’s professional baseball league. He has many hilarious lines, including this one as he tries to hustle new recruit Marla Hooch onto the train so they can get on their way:
Maybe I had this in the back of my mind as I was working with some young pitchers tonight, because the idea of a train came to me as I was trying to explain how to get more drive out of the lower half of the body instead of just lurching forward with the upper body.
I told them that everything from the waist down is the train, and everything from the waist up is the passenger. In order for the passenger to reach her destination the train has to move and carry the passenger. If the passenger is what moves, or primarily moves, it’s unlikely that it will be able to carry the train out of the station.
In other words, it’s the lower body that drives out, with both feet moving forward at the same time, rather than the head and shoulders leading the way. With the former you get power, good posture and stability. With the latter you get all kinds of problems, including reduced speed, a lack of consistency and ultimately pitches that fly all over the place.
Once the pitcher understands, the goal is to get the train in motion and let the passenger just go along for the ride. That comes with getting a bit of a push from the stride leg and then a good push from the drive leg instead of letting the stride leg just run past and reach out.
The drive leg has to actively push/thrust out. This is made easier, of course, if the core is already over or even slightly in front of the pitching rubber instead of behind it as the legs begin to push.
The more there is a feeling of motion and coordinated effort between the feet, the hips and the rest of the core, the more efficiently and effectively the pitcher will drive forward. That movement creates more energy that can be transferred into the ball.
But if the passenger, i.e., the upper body, is what initiates the drive forward, a ton of energy will be left behind and it will feel like the passenger is dragging the train behind her. Which is as much wasted effort as it sounds.
So if you have a pitcher who is leading with the upper body, try having her picture the train and the passenger. It might be just what she needs to improve her overall drive.
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Explosive. Dynamic. Ballistic. These are all words that are used to describe the way the body should move in fastpitch softball.
Pitchers are told to explode off the rubber and to make the arm whip a ballistic move. Hitters are told to explode their hips and then let the bat explode through the ball. Fielders are told to make a dynamic move laterally to get to the ball.
That’s all well and good, and those are great words to describe the types of movement that are involved. If you’re an adult.
If you’re a kid, especially a younger player, those big words may not mean as much. They know they’re supposed to explode, but they don’t exactly know what that looks like.
That’s where it’s important to relate what you want to something that’s already within their experience. Particularly if it’s something visual.
When you’re talking about explosion, a balloon makes a handy prop.
Blow up the balloon, and first let the air back out slowly. You can relate it to how they’re moving now.
Then pull out a pin and pop the balloon. Tell them that is what explosion looks like.
(This is particularly fun if you have kids on your team who look like they’re aliens searching the skies for the mother ship when you’re talking to them. It will definitely get their attention, and encourage them to watch you more closely from now.)
The key here is showing how quickly and suddenly the balloon goes from being inflated to being gone. One quick poke with the pin and it’s no longer there.
If you don’t have a balloon and a pin handy, another way to explain it is to talk about how you would try to scare a sibling by jumping out at him or her.
If you just walk out in front of them, they’re unlikely to be scared. Annoyed, perhaps, but not scared.
But if you pop up from behind a door, or a couch, or something else that keeps you hidden from sight until the sibling enters the room (like a jump scare in a cheesy ’80s horror movie), you can get them to jump and maybe even drop that bowl of cornflakes they just got finished preparing. Just be ready to run afterwards.
It’s easy for fastpitch softball players to get so caught up in trying to do things the right way mechanically that they become, well, mechanical. They move slowly and deliberately, which might look good on a slow motion video but doesn’t do much for helping them generate power.
Giving them the balloon or jump scare demonstration will help them understand better what you’re looking for, and more importantly what will help them produce better results.
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The fastpitch softball tryout season for high school is rapidly approaching in many areas. Normally it’s already over by now, but thanks to COVID-19 it’s been delayed by a few weeks.
I’m sure the parents who are used to sitting in nasty cold weather (whatever that is for your area) don’t mind pushing the season back until a little closer to actual Spring.
But what isn’t talked about much are the things you can do before tryouts begin to help you show your best. Remember the old saying that “Success is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
The opportunity is the tryouts, and you don’t have a lot of control over what happens there. But the preparation is what happens before that day, and you have plenty of control over that.
Here are a few things you can do to ensure you’re ready when the opportunity presents itself.
#1 Start running. A lot.
Yes, I know. You got into softball because you don’t like running. But in a tryout you’d better be prepared to do a lot of it.
You might think that softball teams have their prospects run a lot during tryouts to get them in shape for the season. In some cases that may be true.
But often they use running to weed out the players who are dabbling versus those who are committed. It’s a lot easier to win when your team is committed.
It also saves them the heartache of having to make cuts. Except for maybe a sadistic few, most coaches (especially in high school) don’t like having to cut players. It takes an emotional toll.
So if they can get those players to cut themselves it makes their job that much easier.
Bottom line is, if you’re planning to make it through the first two to three days of tryouts, start running sprints and distance now. You can thank me later.
#2 Learn to hit off a pitching machine.
I hear this all the time: “I can’t hit off a pitching machine.” Well, sister, you’d better learn because that’s what’s used in a lot of high school tryouts.
You can be the greatest hitter in the world (or at least your school) off of a live pitcher. But it’s unlikely anyone is going to see that during a tryout because they don’t have a live pitcher throwing to hitters.
If you’re lucky they’ll have a coach doing front toss. But more than likely you’ll be facing a wheel machine because that enables coaches to see you hitting against more speed.
The problem is the way pitching machines are fed makes it very difficult for those who aren’t used to it to be successful. Fortunately for you, I did an entire video blog on this topic, so check it out and practice the techniques to help yourself get ready. You’ll be glad you did.
#3 Make sure your throwing is spot-on.
This is an area many players don’t even think about. But it can be a huge difference-maker, especially if you’re not an overall standout athlete.
I know when I used to do tryouts our coaches would watch prospects throwing in warmups. It would look like we were just impatiently waiting for them to finish their obligatory warm-ups, but actually we’d be looking at their throwing technique.
Those who can throw smoothly and confidently, and hit their targets at least most of the time, stand out from the girls who push the ball, drop their elbows, or whip their arms wildly around their heads.
Statistically, 80% of all errors are throwing errors, so if you can eliminate those you again stand a much better chance of winning a ballgame. And the easiest way you can do that is to select players who already know how to throw a ball.
This can be a problem even for players who throw, hard by the way. An inaccurate hard throw will bang off the fence much further than a softer inaccurate throw, so don’t make your judgment based solely on how good an arm you have. Be sure you can hit what you’re throwing at too.
Whichever way you go, get on it fast. Learning to throw properly can not only help you look better in a tryout. It can save you from a lot of pain and arm injuries down the road.
#4 Check your equipment and replace it as-needed.
When you go to a tryout you want to be sure not only that your equipment works but that you look like you’re an Ace. A floppy, beat-up glove, shoes with holes in them, catcher’s gear that looks like it’s been through a war, a bat with the grip hanging off or paint falling off, etc. doesn’t make a very good first impression.
Particularly if you have to stop to make repairs.
Go through all the gear you will use during a tryout and ask yourself, “Does this look like the equipment a top-level player would use?” If not, and if you have the ability, replace it.
The same, incidentally, goes for the clothes you plan to wear at the tryout. First impressions do count.
If your lucky t-shirt is all raggedy, or your favorite softball pants look like you were crawling around the alley looking for quarters, find something else to wear. Can’t do much about the pants, but you can always wear the lucky t-shirt under another shirt or jersey.
#5 Know the environment where you’ll be trying out.
In some areas it will be obvious whether tryouts will be held inside or outside. If it’s 30 degrees outside with snow on the field you can bet you’ll be indoors.
But with tryouts happening later in many parts of the country it may not be so simple. You might even be indoors one day and outdoors the next.
As a result, you’ll want to be sure you’re prepared no matter what the decision will be. If you’ll be in a gym, have a good pair of gym shoes available to wear. If you’ll be on turf, have turf shoes. For a regular softball field, have cleats.
If you even suspect you’ll be outside during the day, be sure to pack your sunglasses. Nothing worse than missing fly balls in the outfield not because you can’t catch but because you can’t see.
Also be sure you have warm clothes in case you’re outside for an extended period of time. That includes jackets that will keep the wind from cutting through your clothes.
A hoodie may seem warm, but if it’s chilly and the wind kicks up you’ll find out just how little protection it offers. A warm hat or headband will also be in order, as well as a warm pair of socks (assuming you can still get your cleats on over them).
If you’re miserable, it will show in your demeanor and your play. Being ready for any conditions will help you show your best.
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One of the most common tropes you’ll hear about the value of playing team sports like fastpitch softball is that they teach life lessons. You hear about learning how to work in a group, how to push yourself to the limit (and then get past it), how to be dedicated, how to set goals and work to achieve them, how to overcome adversity, blah, blah, blah.
All of that is true. But there’s another lesson waiting there for players that often seems to be ignored. And that lesson is that life is too short to play for (or work for) jerks.
What does that mean? Think of your softball career as a metaphor for your life. It has a beginning, a middle, and unfortunately an end.
It’s like this voiceover from the movie Moneyball says: At some point we’re all told we can’t play the game anymore.
So let’s say you start playing at the age of eight, and you play through high school. The majority of high school graduates are 18, so that’s 10 years.
Continue on through college and you can tack on another four years – or five if there is a global pandemic in the middle of your career and you decide to hang around for that bonus year. So in most cases 14 years at best.
If you spend four of those years playing for a coach who constantly abuses and belittles you, puts you down constantly and believes the louder he/she screams the better you will play that’s either 40% or nearly 30% of your career spent being anywhere from unhappy to miserable.
In work years, figuring a 45-year career, 40% would be 18 years and 30% would be 13.5 years (high school v. college) in a job you hate going to and that makes you feel bad about yourself every day. That’s a long time to be unhappy in your life.
So the lesson you should learn if you are faced with this situation on your team is that you don’t have to just suck it up and put up with it. You do have options, like finding another team.
Because believe me, if you’re in a job like that you’re definitely going to want to find a different one. We spend way too much of our lives working to be miserable the whole time.
Now, at this point I think it’s important to differentiate between the occasional outburst (or verbal kick in the pants) from a coach and an abusive situation. Anyone who ever played for me can tell you I wasn’t beyond bringing the hammer down now and then when my teams under-performed or just weren’t paying attention to what they were doing.
Sometimes that can be a good thing, especially if it is in contrast to a coach’s usual style. We all need a little motivation now and then.
But that’s different than the coach whose only volume in speaking to players is 10, and whose words only convey negative messages. To me, that’s basically a coach who has no idea what he/she is doing and figures if they spew enough venom everyone will be too busy licking their wounds to notice.
It’s like this one time when a team I was coaching took a tough loss in a big tournament, knocking us into the loser’s bracket. In the post-game meeting everyone was waiting to get pummeled I’m sure.
Instead, in an over-the-top voice that clearly showed I was joking I simply yelled “Play better” and made a “crack the whip” gesture. It was a parody of coaches they had seen and played for before – the ones who had no idea how to help their players play better but figured if they yelled enough it would happen as if by magic. They laughed and the tension was broken.
I’d love to say we went on to work our way back through the loser’s bracket and won the tournament, but no that didn’t happen. Not every story gets a fairy tale ending.
Back to the topic, coaches always like to talk about holding their players “accountable.” Another phrase I find simultaneously horrifying and amusing when you are talking about 10-12 year olds, by the way. Adults have a funny way of understanding how young kids think.
But if that is the case, players also need to hold their coaches accountable. Coaches need to lead, not just scream to play better. They should support their players when they are giving their all, even if the outcomes aren’t what they hoped for.
Coaches should understand that the pitcher didn’t walk three hitters in a row by choice, hitters didn’t intend to take that third strike, fielders didn’t plan on booting the ground ball or dropping the fly ball, baserunners didn’t intend to slide too far and get tagged out.
Most of all, that South Park episode aside, players don’t take the field with the intention of losing the game. That stuff just happens.
Instead of screaming insults, coaches should work with players to ensure it doesn’t continue to happen, or give them direction on how to work on it themselves. If that’s not happening, and the screaming continues, players shouldn’t put it up with it.
Instead, they should find another team where the atmosphere is better. Because someday, they may face the same choice with a job, and if they don’t learn to value themselves may find themselves doomed to spend a lot of time in a job they hate instead of one that inspires them and gets them excited to go to work every day.
You only have so much time to play competitive fastpitch softball. Use it wisely.
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As a longtime instructor I have had the privilege of working with hundreds of young ladies (and a few of their brothers) to help them improve their baseball and softball skills. Along the way I have seen some patterns emerge.
So, to help you ensure you’re getting the greatest value out of your substantial investment, following are a few tips to help with your approach. It presumes you have already done your homework and chosen your instructor wisely, i.e., your instructor is teaching the techniques that the best players in the world use. If not, all the other parents will be on the sidelines saying…
With that in mind, here we go.
Tip #1 – Pay attention during lessons!
I can’t tell you how many times during a lesson I’ve been talking to a student and then had this experience.
Whether you’re indoors or outdoors there can be a lot of distractions. But you need to be able to block them out and stay focused on what the instructor is saying.
You never know – it could be life-changing, or at least career-changing.
While we instructors do seem to like to hear ourselves talk, we’re usually doing it for a good reason. We’re trying to drop some knowledge that will help our students become better players.
When I see a student looking around everywhere but me I will usually tell them “There is nothing over there that will help you become a better softball player. Stay here with me.”
These days we are all more easily distracted than ever. But staying focused during instruction, and then in executing the skill, will help shorten the learning curve considerably.
Tip #2 – Be sure to bring all your needed equipment
Shouldn’t need to be said but apparently it does. At least in my experience.
Before you come to a lesson check your bag to be sure you have your glove, bat, batting gloves, catcher’s gear, cleats or turf shoes, hair ties, sunglasses and everything else you will need that day. Don’t assume they’re in there – take a complete inventory.
And while you’re in there, clear out all the old water and sports drink bottles along with wrappers and other garbage. Doesn’t really have anything to do with the lesson but it’s good to do that now and again anyway.
Tip #3 – You still have to practice
Yes, it would be nice if your instructor could just wave his/her magic wand and make you better. But it doesn’t work that way. I know, because I teach all my students the same thing but get varying results.
Think of as an instructor as being like Google Maps (or your other GPS app of choice). If you plug a starting point and a destination into Google maps, it will give you detailed, turn-by-turn directions along with a visual map.
But if you want to get to where you’re going you still have to get in your vehicle and drive. The app doesn’t transport you anywhere (at least not yet; I’m sure they’re working on it). It just shows you how YOU can get there.
It’s the same with an instructor. He/she will show you the techniques you need to succeed. But you still have to put in the work.
Tip #4 – You need to bring your brain when you practice
One of the questions I get all the time is “How much should she practice during the week?” I know it’s well-intentioned – the idea is to give someone’s daughter a number that is higher than “none,” which is probably what she is planning on – but it also implies that practice is a time-based activity.
It’s not. It’s more of an accomplishing goals and learning something type of activity. To put it in another learning content, how many hours should someone practice to learn how to do division or parse a sentence?
In school, the answer is as long as it takes. If you pick it up quickly you can put in fewer hours. If you struggle, you will have to put in more. Because the goal isn’t to check off time on a checklist. It’s to master the skill so you can move on to the next one.
In softball it’s the same. Making practice a time-based experience is counter-productive.
Instead, you need to bring your brain and really work to learn whatever it is you’ve been assigned to learn. Not just until you get it right; keep working at it until you can’t do it wrong.
Funny thing is if you practice mindfully (to use what I think is still a popular term) you probably won’t have to practice as long. Our brains are powerful and often underrated contributors to athletic success.
Make sure you understand what you need to work on when you leave your lesson, then pay attention to whether you’re getting it right when you practice, and there’s a good chance you won’t have to put in as many hours on it. Although you may want to anyway because it’s fun.
Tip #5 – Don’t just work on what you’re already good at
There is a certain comfort in succeeding. Doing something right and getting great results makes us feel good about ourselves. But it doesn’t do much to help us overcome our flaws.
The best students I’ve ever worked with, when given the option, would always ask to work on things they don’t do well. That makes sense.
No matter how long a lesson is, the time is limited. Why waste time on something you already know how to do?
When you’re there with the instructor you should want to work on your weak areas so you can get the instructor’s guidance on how to make them stronger.
The same is true when you’re practicing on your own. If all you ever work on is what you’re already good at you’re missing a huge opportunity for improvement.
Instead, work to bring your weak areas up to the level of your strong ones and you’ll be better overall at whatever it is you’re trying to do.
Tip #6 – Do your assigned homework
Again, assuming you’ve chosen your instructor well you will likely be given homework to do before the next lesson. That homework probably relates to whatever it was you were working on during the lesson.
The next time you go to practice, be sure you work on whatever that assignment was. Especially if it doesn’t involve going through the entire skill, but instead breaking down a piece of it.
If your pitching instructor gave you drills or a drill progression to work on lag, spend most of your time doing those drills. If your hitting instructors gave you an assignment to improve your ability to extend and hit through the ball, work on that.
Understand that the instructor saw a flaw, or something that will limit you from being the best you can be. By doing the homework you will be able to overcome that specific flaw and internalize the movements, which will help you gain better outcomes.
Yes, it’s more fun to throw full pitches, or hit off live pitching, or take ground balls/fly balls off a bat, etc. But those activities likely won’t help you overcome whatever is holding you back. Focusing on a particular area that is weak and improving it to match your other skills will.
Tip #7 – Write stuff down during or after your lesson
On their second lesson I give every one of my students a small, blank notebook with a pen. It’s not just to give them some sort of gift to say “thank you for coming.” It’s so they can write down what we’re working on, either during the lesson or afterwards.
We all think we can remember everything off the tops of our heads. But we’re not nearly as good at that as we think.
If you really want to be sure you know what to work on, and how to work on it, you should write it down while it’s fresh in your mind.
That way, three days later when you go back out to practice, you’ll know what you need to do – and how to do it. Remember that practice doesn’t make perfect – it makes permanent. Be sure you’re practice the right things the right way.
Tip #8 – Understand that it is a journey
We live in an instant-everything world these days. If we want to know something we just ask our phones or our home devices – no additional effort required.
If we want food we pop it in the microwave or air fryer and a few minutes later dinner is served.
Unfortunately, human skills development cannot be sped up to that degree with technology. Yes, video and measurement devices can help us learn a little faster, but it’s still going to take a lot blood, sweat and tears.
And even after all of that you still may not see the results right away. Especially if you’re overcoming some particularly bad habits.
It takes time for new skills to overtake the old ones, and for you to feel comfortable enough executing them to be able to give it your all. In fact, you may find that the only way you can execute new skills properly right now is by going less than 100%. Sometimes considerably less.
That’s ok. It’s better to learn the movements first, then build up the speed of execution. Because when you get to the point where you can just …
…you’ll be amazed at all the incredible things you can do.