Category Archives: Short game

Return of the Indiana United Fastpitch Elite/Rick Pauly Clinics

Earlier this year I blogged about a fantastic fastpitch pitching event held, of all places, in Southeastern Indiana. Put on by Rick Pauly, hosted by Indiana United Elite Fastpitch and Coach James Clark, and featuring an array of top-level pitching coaches, it was an incredible learning experience for players, parents and coaches alike.img_0764

Never one to be content to rest on his laurels, Coach James has outdone himself with the latest iteration. The 2017 clinic, again in Richmond, Indiana, has expanded in its scope to not only offer top-level pitching instruction but also clinics on hitting, catching, the short game/slapping and defense.

This year’s instructor lineup is impressive once again, with college coaches and former college and NPF players offering hands-on instruction. The nice thing about these clinics is they’re not like so many, where they show a big name who is the “face” but then have very little interaction. The faces you see on the flyer will all be actively participating in or leading the instruction.

Throughout the weekend there will be plenty of time for discussions and questions too. One of the highlights for me last time was many of the instructors gathered together in a room tossing around ideas and opinions until the wee hours of the morning – all part of an impromptu session that began with a simple question. Those little side conversations alone are worth the price of admission.

Coach James promises it will be bigger and better than ever, and I believe it! The clinic runs the weekend of January 6,7 and 8, 2017 – timed this time to both make sure it didn’t interfere with high school and college seasons and to give players time to lock down what they learn before tryouts begin for spring high school ball.

Click here to register, and here to schedule the sessions you want and to pay. Most sessions are $70 each and run an hour and 15 minutes. The exceptions are the recruiting discussion that costs $25, and the beginning and advanced pitching sessions with Rick and Sara Pauly which cost $150 and are scheduled for 3 hours, although last year Rick was having such a great time he ran a bit long on both sessions.

Download the flyer for complete information, and then be sure you sign up now. Slots are filling fast. I’m sure you’ll find it’s a great investment in your softball future.

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Strategy for winning the international tie breaker

One of the staples of fastpitch softball tournaments is the international tie breaker, or ITB. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a way of trying to get to a winner faster in a tie game. After seven innings, or the time limit expires if you’re playing with one of those, each team starts the inning with a runner on second base. The runner on second is the last out from the previous inning. Each team gets three outs to try to score as many runs as they can in their half-inning. If one score more than the other, they win. It’s sort of like the soccer shoot-out for those of you watching the World Cup, or a shoot-out in hockey. While I said “as many runs as you can,” in most instances you’re trying to get one run. Most games that go to the ITB are not double-digit slugfests. They’re usually low-scoring affairs, which is why you start with a runner on second. Softball strategy 101 says the team at bat should sacrifice bunt the runner to third, and then take two outs to try to bring her home. That’s what most teams do. But I have a strategy that, if you have the right pieces in place, can help you get that runner at least to third with no outs. It depends on two things. The first is a runner with decent speed – enough to make it a challenge for the shortstop to cover on a steal. The second is a hitter with the ability to slug bunt, i.e., show bunt then pull back and slap the ball hard on the ground. Here’s how you take advantage of them. If you can get the hitter to a favorable count such as 2-0 where the pitcher really needs to throw a strike, have your runner on second steal third, and your hitter execute a slug bunt. When you do this, you’re starting out by giving the defensive team what they expect – a bunt. Third base will likely be playing up for the bunt, which means the shortstop must cover third on a steal. When your runner takes off, the shortstop will likely start moving to cover third on the throw from the catcher. You may also get the second baseman moving to cover first if the first baseman is also playing close. That opens up some space. After showing bunt and pulling back, the hitter attempts to slap the ball on the ground, either to where the shortstop or second baseman normally plays. There are several possible good outcomes. One is if the shortstop or second baseman did start moving to their respective corners and the hitter gets the ball on the ground, it will roll through the area they vacated, perhaps to the outfield grass. Since your runner was already stealing, she may be far enough along to keep going and score. And you have a runner on first with no outs. What about if the hitter swings and misses? No problem. Perhaps the act of pulling back gets the shortstop to freeze long enough to allow your runner to get to third unchallenged. Even if she keeps going it’s still a tough play at third. A poor throw or a miss and your runner is either safe at third or headed home. Again, you also have a runner at first with no outs. And that runner will likely be standing on second after the next pitch, because the defense can’t afford to let the runner on third score. If the hitter goes for the slug and hits it directly to a fielder, the runner on second is still likely to get to third cleanly, although the batter may be out depending on her speed. In that case you’re no worse off than if you’d sacrifice bunted. Any of those outcomes will make you look like an offensive genius. About the only thing that can go wrong is if your hitter pops up instead of putting the ball on the ground. In that case the batter is out and the runner who was on second will probably get doubled off. Then everyone thinks you’re an idiot. Still, the odds are in your favor. With the summer tournament season heating up, you’re likely to face an ITB sooner or later. Keep this strategy in mind and you just may improve your odds of winning. Now it’s your turn? What other non-standard strategies do you employ on the ITB?

Learning to slap is an off-season project

I was talking to one of my softball hitting students the other day, and she was telling me how her high school coaches have been having her hit from the left hand side. Now, understand that in theory it’s a good idea. She’s very fast, and would probably benefit from being that extra couple of steps closer to first.

The problem is, no one ever said a thing to her about it during the off-season, or even hinted that she should learn it. They just sent her up to the plate and told her to hit from the other side.

That’s just insane. To get an idea of how difficult that is, try eating an entire meal with your opposite hand. Then try doing it with chopsticks. Then try doing it while someone moves the plate around while you eat.

Learning to slap from the left if you’re a right-handed hitter is an off-season project. It takes a good year for right handed hitters to really become comfortable slapping and drag bunting from the left side, and usually longer for them to be able to swing away competently. Everything is backward, and it’s awkward.

What I don’t get is no coach in his/her right mind would ever consider sending a player out to play a field position opposite-handed without training. That would be insane. The player might be able to catch the ball, but certainly wouldn’t be able to throw it very well. And hitting is a much tougher skill to learn than throwing.

I’ve said before that my philosophy on slapping is to “burn the ships.” If you’re going to become a slapper there can’t be any of that two strikes and turn around stuff. You’re either in or you’re out. But with no training, and with no time to develop, your chances for success are very low. Extremely low. Practically non-existent, even if you’re a great natural athlete.

If you’re thinking about turning a righty around, don’t do it now. Wait for the off-season and give her time to develop properly. Otherwise, all you’re really going to accomplish is making a player frustrated and unhappy.

Oh by the way — usually you turn around a righty who isn’t a particularly good hitter, because you’re not losing much and have a lot to gain. In this case, this girl is a very good right handed hitter. Even went yard in a high school game. So to take the bat out of her hands right now makes even less sense.

Yes, I’ve turned hitters around successfully before, and yes, I’ve worked with this girl on it a little. I stand by my original statement – it’s a project for the next off-season.

Helping slappers learn to stay in on the plate

Converting a right-handed hitter into a lefty slapper has any number of challenges — not the least of which is it’s awkward as all get-out. To get some small measure of just how tough it is to make that move, take one day and do everything with your opposite hand — eat, write, deal cards, whatever.

Now picture that in addition to those things you’re doing them while moving, and while whatever it is you’re trying to do is moving too. Hey, hitting is tough enough. But doing it opposite-handed while running toward the pitcher? That’s just nuts.

Yet it can be worth all the effort, because a girl who can put the ball in play and get up the line fast enough to put pressure on the defense is highly valuable. After all, as Coach Candrea says, speed never has a slump.

So yes, there are lots of good reasons to do it. But it takes a lot more than just moving the hitter across the plate and saying “watch how Natasha Watley does it.”

One of the toughest parts is learning to keep the shoulders closed toward the plate so the hitter can drive the ball toward the left side of the infield. That’s important, of course, to make the throw take longer and give the hitter the best chance of getting on base. But after taking the crossover step, especially for a righty that is being converted over, it’s very natural to turn the shoulders along with the hips as shown in the first video. When that happens, the hitter is far more likely to pull the ball to the right or hit it back at the pitcher than to drive it to the left.

You can tell her to keep her shoulders in, but that’s easier said than done. So here’s a more specific instruction. Tell her that as her left foot crosses over her right, she should pull her left shoulder back. When that occurs (as seen in the second video clip) the shoulders stay closed and she’s in a good position to slap.

It’s simple, but it works!

Are the new, hotter bats killing the short game?

I don’t know about you, but it sure seems to me like the short game — traditionally one of the key strategies as well as one of the things that separates fastpitch softball from baseball — is going the way of wood bats. Certainly the most recent Women’s College World Series is evidence of that. Those games used to be 2-1 or even 1-0 10-inning affairs, not 15-9 blowouts. But you can even see it at the local level on ballfields all over country.

While more hitting instruction and moving the pitching rubber back have certainly contributed to more of a focus on power, I think there’s more to it than that. I can’t help but wonder if the newest, hottest bats don’t have something to do with it too. Not just the fact that a 5’2″, 95 lb. girl with a weak swing can drive a ball to a 200′ fence these days. But that the bats themselves are making it more difficult to be successful bunting. Softball bunting

Consider how much the ball jumps off the bat on a regular swing. If you hit the sweet spot it flies. Now consider that many girls without good training also try to bunt the ball off the sweet spot (instead of the end of the bat as they should). What do you think happens when a hard pitch hits the sweet spot on a bunt? It goes too far, making the ball easier to field and the short game less successful.

You still can bunt with these new, hotter bats. But it takes more work. You have to pull back and “catch” the ball with the bat (instead of pushing out at it). And you have to use the end of the bat, which is a deader part of the bat and thus won’t hit the ball as far.

This is not a new technique. It’s been a standard part of bunting for at least as long as I’ve been coaching, and I’m sure for many years before that. But with the new bat technology it has become a lot more critical.

A good short game is still important to long-term success. Make the adjustment and you’ll have some great weapons at your disposal.

The lost art of bunting

Like many of you out there we recently completed tryout season. We judged players on a wide variety of skills both offensive and defensive. One thing that struck me as I watched player after player was how it seems like the art of bunting has been lost.

The biggest flaw was a tendency for hitters to swat at the ball instead of receive it. To lay down a good, soft bunt you need to catch the ball with the bat — pull back on it slightly as the ball makes contact, like a soccer player trapping a pass. Instead, what I saw a lot of was players punching the bat toward the ball as it came in.

I’m not sure why that’s happening. Maybe coaches aren’t spending as much time on bunting as they used to. In this era of hotter bats perhaps it’s being abandoned. Or maybe the coaches themselves just don’t know how to teach it. In any case, it’s nearly impossible to lay down a soft bunt when you’re punching at the ball. 

A good way to teach “catching” the ball is to tape an old glove onto the end of a short, light bat and have players actually try to catch the ball as it’s pitched. They’ll figure out very quickly that they have to softly receive it if they have any hope of keeping it in the glove. You can also use a lacrosse stick, although you may have to use baseballs to get them to fit into the basket.

Bunts that are hit too hard become easy outs. A bunt that only travels about 10 feet from the plate gives the bunter a much better chance of making it on base because the fielders have to run further to reach the ball. The only way to make that happen is to use a soft bunting technique.

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