Category Archives: Hitting
One of the best AND worst things to ever happen to fastpitch softball training has to be the ready availability of instructional videos on sources such as YouTube.
It’s one of the best things because it has made a whole world of knowledge available to parents (and coaches) that was never available before. Personally, I think it’s one of the big reasons there is far more parity in the sport than there used to be.
Prior to YouTube, much of the best knowledge was concentrated in Southern California among a small group of coaches. If you were lucky enough to live near one, you received high-level coaching. If you were on the other side of the country, maybe not so much.
But once better information started becoming more available on YouTube (and through the Internet generally), enthusiastic players, parents and coaches were able to learn from the best no matter where they lived. Not saying everyone took advantage of it – there’s still a lot of bad coaching out there – but at least the information became available.
So why do I think it’s also one of the worst things that happened? Because parents and coaches could see how their kids/players looked compared to the examples, and the top-level players, and many became obsessed with trying to get their kids/players to look like the ones they saw on video.
That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing either. But where it became a problem is they wanted to make it happen instantly. So rather than addressing one issue at a time, they started trying to fix everything at once. That is probably the least effective way to learn anything.
What does that mean? Take a pitcher for example. The parent/coach sees the pitcher doesn’t have enough leg drive, so he/she starts working on that. Then he/she notices the arm seems a little stiff. So rather than continuing to focus attention on the leg drive, the pitcher now starts focusing on keeping the arm loose.
Then the parent/coach sees the glove swimming out and… well, you get the idea.
All of those are valid corrections. But it’s difficult, if not impossible to make all of them at once. Or even all in one session.
(DISCLAIMER: I know about this from direct experience because I used to do it too. Probably still do now and then, but I try to catch myself before it gets out of hand.)
A better approach is to set priorities, and then work on those priorities – even if other parts of the skill aren’t up to par. Or even if they are affected by the changes you’re making right now.
The reason is despite all the talk and hype about it, science has shown us that there is no such thing as multitasking. (Sorry all you people who think you’re good at it.)
The human brain can only pay attention to one task at a time. And making corrections to softball mechanics, or anything else for that matter, takes time, no matter how much we wish that wasn’t true.
Enabling players to remain focused on making a single correction, then moving to the next, will produce far better results than trying to fix everything at once.
But what about the discussions on how random practice (doing different things each time) is better than block practice (doing the same thing over and over)? That is true after a certain point, once the player has acquired a certain level of proficiency in the skill. For example, fielding ground balls to the left, right and center, hard and soft without establishing a set pattern will help translate those infield skills to a game better than doing 10 to the left, then 10 to the right, etc.
But that presumes the player already knows how to field ground balls to the left, center and right, hard and soft. If not, the fielder must first acquire that skill, which is best accomplished through repetition and focus.
Giving players who are learning new skills, or replacing old skills with new ones, an opportunity to focus on one specific piece at a time (and without pressure for overall results, such as pitchers throwing strikes or fielders not making any errors) will create a better foundation and ultimately shorten the learning curve. Then, once the player has reached a certain level of at least conscious competence you can start moving into ensuring all the pieces are working the way they should.
Yes, there is a lot of great information out there (and plenty of bad too). And yes, it would be nice if you could just say things once and your kids/players would grasp it all right away. But that’s not how things work.
Avoid the temptation to “correction jump” (the coaching version of task jumping) and you’ll find you produce better long-term results – with far less frustration for you and your kids/players.
The summer is a distant memory. Especially for those of us who got snow on Halloween! Can you believe that? Sticking-to-the-ground-over-your-ankles snow on Halloween.
Fall ball is either behind us already as well, or there is one more weekend to go. Then there’s a lull before it all starts again.
It’s definitely a great time of the softball year to take some time off. Rest and recovery is a good thing, and now that we have joined the indoor sports in playing practically year-round it’s tough to find a few weeks you can string together to let your body (and mind) heal from the grind.
For some, however, this might be a great time for something else – i.e., hitting the reset button and either correcting major flaws or making major upgrades in mechanics and approach.
There is never a bad time to work on improving yourself and your game. But making major changes carries some risks when you’re also expected to play at your most effective level during the week or on the weekend.
Let’s take pitchers for example. To achieve all she’s capable of, a pitcher may need to work on her posture, or her leg drive, or her ability to whip the ball through the release zone. But it can be difficult to work on those things if doing so causes her to be wilder than when she sticks with her old habits.
Most coaches would rather have their pitcher bend forward and throw consistent strikes than work on staying upright and throwing too high, or too low, or too wide. Especially if that pitcher is their #1. That’s just the nature of things, and it’s very understandable.
Still, every pitch the pitcher throws bent forward so she can throw a strike is another step in the wrong long-term direction. And it will take her that much longer to get to where she needs to be to reach her potential.
It’s the same for hitters. Working on developing a better swing that will make a hitter more effective at higher levels doesn’t always yield great results at first. Anything that’s different is uncomfortable at first, and hitting is so dependent on quick reactions that walking the line between the old and new swings may throw the hitter off entirely.
Again, most coaches will take a good hit with an ugly swing over strikeout or weak ground ball or pop-up with a good swing. They’re not interested in how many home runs that hitter will hit in two years with her new and improved swing. They’re focused on getting her on base, or scoring that runner on third, now. Can’t say I blame them. I would be too.
Once upon a time there were three distinct parts to the season. There was the off-season, which lasted a few months, then the pre-season for a month or two, then the actual season.
That’s not the case anymore. Fall ball has gone from being a time of once-a-week practices and a game here or there to almost the equivalent of the summer season. Some of the tournaments in the fall are arguably more important than many in the summer for those who play in college, because college coaches are in attendance in droves. You don’t want to look bad in front of a gaggle of college coaches.
So right now, from the beginning of November to the end of December, is about the only time for players to make major changes in a safe environment. Pitchers can work on improving their drive mechanics, or their posture, or other core fundamentals without having to worry about the results of the pitch.
They can throw the ball all over the place for now, as long as they do it with the correct mechanics. It’s a form of failing up. Not to be confused with the version where someone sucks without trying to get better but gets rewarded anyway. As they replace old habits with new ones the control will come back – and be better than ever.
Hitters can work on developing their swings without having to worry about the consequences. As they move from conscious competence (having to think about how to move correctly) to unconscious competence (not thinking about what they’re doing but doing it right anyway) they can shift 100% of their focus to seeing the ball and hitting it hard. Suddenly all those cage pop-ups and ground balls start turning into rising line drives that smack off the back of the cage – and rebound back at the hitter if there is a solid wall behind the far end.
Everyone can work on their throwing mechanics – still one of the most under-taught parts of the game. Instead of measuring success by “the ball got to where they were throwing” fielders can develop mechanics that will help them throw harder and faster while protecting their arms and shoulders from injuries.
Most times of the year the pressure to perform in games out-ranks the desire to make improvements. Not right now.
For those who know they need to make major changes, this is the ideal time. Get to work, either on your own or with a qualified instructor, so by the time you start up again you’re ready to play (and show) better than ever.
And if you’re not in need of major rework, enjoy your time off. You’ve earned it.
Hang around a softball field even for just a couple of games and you’re likely to hear a well-meaning third base coach tell a hitter “You’re pulling your head out!” The implication is that rather than watching the ball all the way into the hitting zone (or to the bat, which you’re actually unlikely to do due to a concept called angular velocity) the hitter is swinging her neck around in a way that takes her eyes away from the hitting zone.
Seeing the ball for as long as possible IS important, especially as those crafty pitchers develop late-breaking movement pitches. Hitters definitely want to follow the ball in rather than having their eyes looking up the baseline.
But the root cause of the problem isn’t the hitter’s head or neck. They actually have a fairly limited range of motion. The actual problem is that the front shoulder is pulling out, usually in an attempt to get the body to rotate as part of the swing.
Don’t believe me? Try this quick experiment. Stand up in a relaxed position, facing forward. Now, without moving your shoulders try turning your head/neck.
If you’re like me, about the best you can do comfortably is around 90 degrees, which is basically looking straight at the pitcher. It wouldn’t be too difficult from there to continue following the ball.
Now reset to your original position and pull your front shoulder out, allowing your head to go along with it. Now where are you looking? Probably somewhere between the shortstop and the third base line for a right handed hitter.
The only way to follow the ball now is to look back against the direction your shoulder and head are turning. That’s going to be difficult, because your head naturally wants to go in the same direction your torso is turning. Probably has something to do with our primitive survival instincts where we needed to see the danger and be in the best position to react to it.
So the reality is it’s not the head that’s the problem. It’s the front shoulder pulling away.
Of course, it’s not just the ability to see the ball that’s affected. When the front shoulder pulls out the bat’s angle of attack also changes. So instead of driving into the ball, the bat is more likely to deflect it to the opposite field, especially on inside pitches.
The hitter doesn’t fully engage the bat when contact is made either, which affects power. Again tough to drive the bat through the ball effectively when the upper body is pulling away from the ball.
The point is, drills to correct the head pulling out, such as the popular one where the hitter bites down on her jersey, aren’t going to be very effective on their own because you’re treating the symptom rather than the “disease.” In fact, if the front shoulder is pulling out instead of staying in place early in the swing, biting down on the jersey over that shoulder will actually encourage what you’re trying to correct.
The key, instead, is to get hitters to understand the importance of keeping the front shoulder in and driving the hips and then the shoulders, in sequence, around the front side. Take the back side into the ball, rather than pulling the front away, and the head/eyes problem will take care of itself.
Not only that, the hitter will be in a far better position to not only see the ball but attack it with all of her power, at the right time and the right position along its flight path from the pitcher to the plate. It’s a win all the way around.
Understand that when you’re trying to teach a hitter how to rotate the body into the ball it’s easier and more natural to pull the front side out, because that allows her to spin around her center. Just the way you would spin if you were playing “helicopter.”
It takes work and discipline to learn how to drive around the front side instead. But the effort will definitely be worth it.
Players, coaches, parents and fans all love them – those hits that take off like rockets. There’s nothing like seeing a well-struck, majestic line drive rising into the distance, especially if it clears a fence.
Learning to hit those awesome rockets, however, can be counter-intuitive. As I have pointed out before, because you want to hit the ball with the bat there is a natural tendency to focus on yanking the bat into the hitting zone with the shoulders and arms.
Players seem to believe (understandably) that the faster they pull the bat through with their arms, the farther the ball will go. This belief is often reinforced, incidentally, by the improper use of ball exit speed measurements that focus only on the numbers rather than looking at the technique as well. You can get better numbers off the tee, but that won’t necessarily translate into rockets off of live pitching for a variety of reasons.
During a lesson this week I was trying to explain how each of the body sections contributes to the swing when a thought occurred to me. To hit a rocket, a player should be like a rocket.
Think about it. Where does the power in a rocket come from? The bottom section. That has to fire first, with a lot of effort, to get the rocket going.
If you put all that power into the middle section, the rocket wouldn’t go anywhere because it needs to thrust against the ground to break free. Instead, it would just blow up on the launch pad.
Once you have things going, the secondary stage kicks in. It builds on the momentum created by the first stage to really start driving the rocket toward its destination.
Finally, there’s the payload section. That’s the part that carries the astronauts, or the satellite, or the exploratory vehicle, or the communications array that will alert our eventual alien overlords that we are here, we are too primitive to get to them, and thus we are ripe for exploitation and eventual elimination.
In hitting, the lower body is the first stage of the rocket. It initiates the swing and supplies the bulk of the power that will be applied.
The shoulders and upper torso are the middle stage, adding on to the power of the first stage and providing guidance on where the rocket should go.
The bat is the payload stage – the point of the whole process. It takes advantage of everything that has gone before to deliver the final result, which is the hit.
Stick to that sequence and you will hit well. Do them out of order and the result will likely be a huge, fiery crash and burn.
So as you’re working with hitters, trying to explain how to properly sequence the swing, give this analogy a try. Maybe even show them this video:
Then send them out on the field for their own rocket launch.
Tell me if you’ve seen (or personally experienced) this before. A hitter looks great on the tee. All her mechanics are correct and her movements are correctly sequenced. She’s pounding the ball so hard you’re afraid it’s going to break the back of the cage.
Then you move her into a live hitting situation – doesn’t have to be a full pitch, it could be easy front toss from a short distance – and suddenly that potential game-winning swing all falls apart.
Instead of driving the ball, the hitter is popping up, especially to the opposite field, or hitting weak dribblers back to the pitcher. What the heck happened?
Odds are she’s late getting to the bat to the ball. And no matter how soon she starts, she continues to be late.
You’ve probably heard it said on many occasions that hitting is all about timing. Well, that’s true, but not always in the way you think.
It’s not just about the start time. It’s really about where the hitter’s front foot is when it’s time to swing.
The front foot landing should be the trigger for the swing (i.e., the launch of the hips) to begin. Which means it has to be down on time. If it’s not, there’s no time to execute the rest of the swing and what you’ll end up with is essentially an arm swing, with the body following afterwards.
Ok, you understand this can help when the hitter doesn’t get going on time. But your hitter, if anything, was early and yet she still was behind the actual pitch.
I call this syndrome “early to be late.” What happens is the hitter sees the pitcher go into her motion and she begins her load. Then she realizes she started too early, so she stays back in the loaded position and waits for the pitcher to release the ball.
At that point it’s game over, advantage pitcher. There is simply not going to be enough time to stride/weight shift properly, launch the hips (without the shoulders), turn the shoulders, and bring the bat to the ball.
Getting stuck on the back side during the load is deadly to hitters. What they need to do instead is “bounce off” of it. In other words, they need to “load and go” right away rather than sitting and waiting for the pitch to be thrown.
Ideally, they will adjust their start time to make that happen. But if they can’t break the habit of being early they should learn to eat up the time difference by striding/weight shifting slower to be sure the front foot is down on time so the rest of the swing can be executed.
I’ve personally seen the difference this seemingly slight change makes. Rather than struggling to get to the ball (and feeling overwhelmed, which leads to arm swings), hitters suddenly feel more in command.
They get to that “oh yeah moment,” where the ball looks like a beach ball and they’re ready to jump on it, more consistently. And avoid that “oh crap moment” where they realize right before the swing that nothing good is going to happen.
How do you get there? Same way you get to Carnegie Hall.
Ok, seriously, hitters have to train themselves to overcome their basic instincts to wait on the pitch and start striding/weight shifting, even if they feel like it’s too soon. Once they can get to that point, and see the results, they’ll be more inclined to replace the old habit with a new one.
On the tee, or even at home in a bedroom, have hitters consciously work on their “load and go” mindset. Then do front toss and look for that hesitation.
If they still can’t break the habit, stand in front of them without the ball and go through the motion, encouraging them to get off that back side and start their forward movement at the right time. Then go back to front toss, and finally to full-length pitching.
It may take some time – the mind is a powerful thing, and once it latches onto something it doesn’t always like to let go. But sooner or later a willing hitter can overcome it.
Once she does, she’ll be well on her way to becoming the hitter she wants to be. And that you want her to be.
Baseball legend Ted Williams once said that hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports. I think it’s safe to say that not only does that statement extend to fastpitch softball, but it may apply even more given that the actual time to read, react to, and hit a pitch is comparable, but the pitchers stand closer and the ball can move both up and down through the zone (where a baseball is always traveling on a downward plane).
The point here, however, isn’t to argue that one is tougher than the other. It’s more to acknowledge that they’re both extremely difficult (as anyone who has ever done it can attest), which means any given at bat can be both exhilarating and frustrating.
That’s the reason why hitters (and their coaches) spend so much time studying the swing, and working on the swing, and sweating all the details. The goal is to create mechanics that enable hitters to get to the ball on time and hit it well and effortlessly when they do make contact.
Yet here’s the thing: while better mechanics definitely help you get to the ball more powerfully and efficiently, mechanics alone are not enough. After all, there are no style points in fastpitch softball. A beautiful swing and miss in a game is still a strike. An ugly swing that results in a fair ball no one catches is still a hit.
So yes, it takes more than good (or great) swing mechanics to be a successful hitter. You also have to have the right mental approach – one than enables you to walk to the plate with cool confidence, knowing that you are prepared to win the battle between the pitcher and you. I like to call it the “gunslinger mentality.”
And what better example of that mindset is there than Val Kilmer’s portrayal of Doc Holliday in the movie Tombstone? In the most tension-ridden situations he brings a sense of cool calm that not only helps him prepare for a possible gunfight but also helps avert the crisis by striking fear into the heart of his adversary.
If you haven’t seen the movie (or if you have and just want to enjoy it again), here’s a good example of Doc at his “I’ve got this situation under control” best:
And yes, the man with the rifle really is a very young (and a bit heavier) Billy Bob Thornton.
Here’s another fun example:
The movie is filled with them. In each you see that it isn’t just his reputed skill with a gun but his attitude that carries the day.
(In reality, incidentally, it’s generally believed that while Doc did have a fast draw he wasn’t exactly an accurate shot. He also killed far fewer men than he let on, probably so he wouldn’t actually have to be tested in a gunfight. But I digress.)
The key takeaway here is the swagger he brings when he walks into a tense situation, like the potential showdown with Johnny Ringo in the second clip. His “I’ve got this” attitude helps him prepare for whatever comes next.
That’s the kind of attitude hitters need to bring to the plate. Rather than worrying about the situation, or how good the pitcher is supposed to be, or whether coaches/parents/teammates will be mad at her if she fails, or any of the other doubts that can creep in when one steps into the batter’s box, hitters instead need to believe in themselves and their abilities.
If they’ve put in the work to develop their swings and learn how to see the ball well, it’s not them who should be worried. It’s the other team.
If you know (or are) a hitter who’s great in the cage but struggles in games, I recommend watching Tombstone, or at least the Doc Holliday clips on YouTube, to see what cool confidence looks like. (The whole movie is great, even if you don’t particularly care for Westerns, so it will be time well spent.)
Then encourage them to adopt a similar attitude as they step into the batter’s box. Stare down that pitcher. Give her a little smile. And finally, swing like they have everything under control. You’ll be amazed at the difference a little swagger can make.
When someone says “it’s time to practice” what’s the first thing that springs to mind? For most of us involved in fastpitch softball the answer is probably grabbing some equipment, running out to a field or facility, and then spending the next 30, 60, or more minutes hard at work (as Paige is doing in the photo above).
While that approach is generally a good thing, it also has a downside (doesn’t everything?). When we’re in that mindset, we tend to think if we can’t do those things (get to a field or facility, spend 30-60 minutes) then we are unable to practice. In fact, “practice” kind of becomes an activity unto itself that requires special effort.
That’s unfortunate because for some players it could mean going a week or more without making any progress to get better. For others, especially those who are trying to learn new skills, it could even mean they get worse, or regress all the way back to step one.
It doesn’t have to be that way, however. Practice doesn’t have to involve going somewhere or making a special effort. And it certainly doesn’t have to be tied to a set amount of time.
Working on fastpitch softball skills anytime, anywhere, for any length of time can help players get better (or at least maintain their gains) versus doing nothing at all. The key is for players to know what they need to focus on and work those movements.
Take pitching, for example. Perhaps a player is having a tough time learning to relax the arm in the circle so she can whip the hand through at the end. In a full practice session with a catcher, she may be too focused on throwing strikes – double if the catcher is her dad. in that case she may continue to lock out the elbow and “guide” the ball to the plate.
But at home in her bedroom, or standing outside waiting for the bus, or marching through the house she can make arm circles and focus on staying relaxed throughout. No ball, field, facility, or catcher required. Learning to make the proper arm movement will help her know what it feels like when she’s actually pitching so she can carry the improvement forward there.
She doesn’t need to spend a half hour doing it either. If she takes 5 or 10 minutes it will help. Do that three random times during the day and she’ll have put in 15-30 minutes without even realizing it.
The same goes for hitters. Maybe the hitter is having trouble learning to lead with her hips, or is having a problem with barring out her front arm during the swing. She can practice the correct movements wherever she happens to be standing, whenever she has the chance.
The more she makes those movements the more natural they will become – and the easier they will be to execute when she’s actually up to bat.
Practicing in small increments may even have some benefits over longer sessions, especially if the longer sessions are focused on one thing. It’s similar to block practice v randomized practice.
In block practice you focus on one thing for a long time. With randomized practice you don’t linger on a single skill for any length of time. You essentially go from skill to skill. Studies have shown that the skills transfer better in game situations when practice is more randomized, at least in part because you get too used to doing the same thing over and over – an opportunity you don’t have in a game.
The other benefit to the shorter sessions in random locations is it lets players concentrate on the specific movements they need to improve on rather than the outcomes of those movements. And as we all know, in the end if you do the right things in the right way the outcomes will take care of themselves.
This isn’t to say longer, more formal practice sessions aren’t necessary. They absolutely are. But they’re not the only way to practice.
Taking advantage of whatever time and space is available is a great way to ensure players continue to improve. And it definitely beats using “I don’t have the time/I can’t get to the field or gym” as an excuse to do nothing.
Most fastpitch softball (and baseball for that matter) hitting coaches agree that tee work is one of the most valuable ways hitters can spend their time. By taking the element of a moving ball out of the equation hitters can focus on developing the mechanics that will enable them to hit the ball harder, farther, at better launch angle, and with more consistency rather than simply trying to “make contact.”
The typical tee is great for simulating pitches from just above the knees up to the armpits on all but those on the most extreme ends of the height spectrum. But what about those extra low pitches that umpire strike zones sometimes dictate hitters must be able to cover?
Without understanding the adjustments that need to be made on shin-high, or just-below-the-knee pitches, hitters will be more likely to swing over the top of the ball resulting in a sinking line drive or a weak grounder. Which, of course, is exactly the result pitchers (and whoever is calling pitches) are hoping for when they throw it there in the first place.
This is where the Jugs Short T is such a great addition to your hitting toolbox. Built with the same durable construction and materials as the regular Jugs T, which was previously reviewed here, the Short T makes it easy to get quality reps going after those pesky low pitches.
Getting down to it
The advantage of the Short T is that it can go as low as 16 inches off the ground, then extend up to 23 inches. (The standard Jugs T starts at 24 inches high.) That should cover the bottom of the zone (and then some) for just about any hitter.
The base is the same as that used for the standard Jugs T, which means if you’re tight on space and don’t mind putting in a little extra effort you can carry one base and two tee heights. They also sell a combo kit with both heights if you are so inclined.
The base itself is heavy enough to keep from getting knocked over even by strong hitters who swing under the ball – no need to carry an extra weight around. It also has a convenient carrying handle built in, making it easy to move from a shed, locker, car, etc. to wherever you plan to hit.
The tee section itself is solid enough to hold its height even after repeated use, yet still slides up and down easily. I’ve had my standard Jugs T for several years now and it holds as well as it did the day I got it – unlike some tees that eventually start sinking the minute you put a ball on them.
You can use it with multiple hitters, day after day, with no worries that it will lose its solid performance over time.
While the primary reason anyone would purchase the Short T is to work on low pitches, it can also be used to address another issue that is common with fastpitch softball hitters – the desire to stand up straight as they make contact.
Part of that habit, I’m sure, is driven by well-meaning but poorly informed coaches who instruct their hitters to “swing level” or “keep your shoulders level.” That’s just not how good hitters hit. Instead, they tend to have a shoulder angle that tilts in toward the ball.
Or it could just be that they got into the habit of standing up straight and never learned anything different. No matter the cause, the desire to finish standing up with shoulders level is a problem.
When you think about how little surface of the bat and ball contact each other, even a deviation of an inch – say from starting to stand up, which pulls the bat up – can have a significant effect on the outcome of the swing. Demonstrate you can’t hit the low pitch well and you will see a steady diet of dropballs and low fastballs for the rest of the game – especially if you’re a big hitter.
A phrase I like to use is “get on it and stay on it.” In other words, adjust to the pitch and then stay there. The Jugs Short T helps train that behavior by forcing hitters to go lower and stay down. If they try to stand up as they swing they will either miss completely or just tap the ball.
That’s what Grace Bradley, a powerful hitter in her own right, is working on in this video.
She is building a pattern where she can go down and dig the ball out to get the kind of launch angle that helps create her high OPS.
After a few practice swings on the Jugs Short T we switched to front toss and she was digging out even the ankle-high stuff for line drives that move base runners and let her trot rather than sprint around the bases.
That’s bad news for pitchers too. Because if they can’t throw you high, and they can’t throw you low, you’re going to be an awfully tough out.
Worth the money
Whether you (or your team if you’re a coach) is struggling with the low pitch or you just want to train your hitters to adjust better overall, at $75 to $80 retail the Jugs Short T is a great investment. It will help you create better hitters this year. And for many years to come.
The once-funny and now just more generally creepy comedian and filmmaker Woody Allen has been quoted as saying “80% of success is just showing up” or something to that effect.
While most times ol’ Woody isn’t the person you want to take advice from in anything having to do with kids, in this statement he is most definitely correct. Especially when it comes to the early stages of learning fastpitch softball skills.
Let’s take hitting for example. Hitting even a decently fast pitch in fastpitch softball requires a series of movements that must be performed correctly individually, sequenced correctly, and timed correctly. Some of those movements and sequences aren’t necessarily intuitive.
Since the object of the skill is to hit the ball with the bat, it’s easy for young hitters to assume that they should focus on taking the bat to the ball first. If their body turns afterward, so much the better.
But that’s actually the opposite of what they should be doing. The proper sequence is hips-shoulders-bat. A good instructor will teach that sequence, which not only maximizes power but the time the hitter has to see the ball before committing to the swing and the ability to hit the ball in the proper zone.
If that young hitter who’s still learning only comes to lessons once every few weeks, however, there’s a very good chance she will forget all about the proper sequence and spend her time practicing a bat-first swing. Then her distraught parents will wonder why they’re paying all this money for lessons and not getting better.
It becomes even more important with windmill pitching because in my opinion there is so much that can go wrong – and failure is more obvious. If you have a bad swing but still manage to make contact with the bat you can get on base.
But if you’re not throwing strikes, or you’re throwing easy-to-hit strikes, you’re going to have a tough day. As I tell my students, the circle looks bright and shiny from the outside, but it can be a cold, dark place on the inside.
Again, with windmill pitching some of the movements aren’t necessarily intuitive. If they were, you’d see more rec league pitchers using good form.
But instead, most untrained pitchers tend to stay facing forward, take a short step off the pitching rubber, and proceed to push/guide the ball toward the plate. THAT is what feels natural and intuitive. But it’s not what great pitchers do.
If a newbie pitcher only goes to lessons now and then and then gets put into a game before she’s ready, she will likely find herself like Luke Skywalker in the cave on Dagobah.
To really get the maximum value out of lessons in the early stages, it’s important to receive consistent training. That’s because you’re setting the foundation for all that is to come.
My recommendation is once per week – no more, no less – although you can do it going every other week if necessary. It will just likely take a bit longer to get where you want to go.
That regularity – and the short time between reviews by the instructor – helps keep players from veering too far off the path to success. It’s easier to do a reset when the training is consistent.
Going sporadically, however, gives the illusion of training without the benefits. Too much can go wrong in the meantime, and we all know it’s a lot easier to develop bad habits than to break them.
Instruction always works better when you apply it properly. In the early stages especially, that requires consistency. Make the commitment, even when it’s challenging, and you’ll see the rewards a whole lot faster.
Every week I receive an email that links to pieces of instructional videos for fastpitch softball. And almost every week I end up shaking my head at what I see in them – especially because the company that sends the videos out is charging people good money for such poor instruction.
This week held yet another perfect example. A college coach (from a big name D1 school as I recall) was talking about flaws in loading when hitting. He had a young player, maybe 12U or 14U, there with him helping him demonstrate.
And what was his big advice? Don’t let the head and the front foot move in the same direction at the same time during the “load.’
First of all, he seems to be confused between the load and stride. He kept saying load but most of the discussion was about the stride. So he might want to check that out first.
But regardless of the terminology, he was basically saying that the front foot should move first, then the head should follow afterward. All I could think was “that poor girl.”
Let’s see if this coach’s advice passes the evidence test. Here’s a video of some MLB hitters taken from the side. Watch them as they stride and see if their head moves with the foot or not.
If the camera is steady you can place your cursor on the hitter’s head and see if the head stays there. If not, compare the head position to the background throughout the stride.
What do you see? I know what I see. The head and the center of gravity are moving forward as these hitters stride.
Of course, maybe these are just extraordinary athletes. And they’re men. So let’s look at former Michigan star Sierra Romero, who did pretty well for herself this year with the NPF’s USSSA Pride. Advance the video to about 2:14 to see the stride, and again what do you see her head doing as her front foot moves forward?
The point here isn’t to take on the specific video I watched, although hopefully by now you’re ready to disregard that particular piece of advice. It’s more to say that parents and players should be careful about what they accept as good instruction.
You would think a college coach, presumably a hitting coach, would understand the swing and how it works. But clearly that isn’t necessarily true.
It’s the same thing with taking advice from a former player because she was/is a star in college, or high school. Often times players and former players just repeat what they were told when they were growing up, even if it’s not what they actually did/do, because they haven’t put the time in to study the mechanics.
The best thing you can do is educate yourself. Before you blindly accept advice or training from anyone – and that includes me, by the way – take what they’re saying and see if that’s what the top current players do. If not, you should find someone who will teach you those mechanics and approaches.
Hitting is easier to compare, because you not only have top college, NPF, and National Team players to compare what’s said to what’s done, but you also have MLB hitters. Hitting is hitting after all, and anyone who tells you softball has a different swing needs to throw out their VHS tapes and at least buy a DVD or two from this millennium.
Or there’s this new thing out called YouTube that all the kids are talking about. Maybe those instructors want to check it out.
The hitting exception is slapping. They don’t do that in MLB, so you’ll need to look at softball only.
The same goes for pitching, because videos of MLB players will be of little use. But there’s plenty of good video of top pitchers in game action, which is where you want to check them out. See what makes them successful in games and compare that to what you’re being told. Here’s a good starting point for you.
Catching, fielding, throwing, base running, all of those are similar skills between fastpitch softball and baseball, so you have plenty of source material there. Sure, there are nuances, mostly driven by the difference in the length of the basepaths and size of the field overall, but anyone with even a little experience watching both should be able to adjust for that.
It’s easy to buy into a reputation, or a great set of credentials. But neither of those will help you on the field.
Be a smart consumer. Make sure what you’re being taught, no matter who is teaching it, matches up with what great players do. Otherwise, save your money on lessons or DVDs until you’ve confirmed your investment will take you where you need to go.