Stupid Things Coaches Say (But Shouldn’t)
People say stupid things every day in all walks of life. All you have to do is watch the news or go onto social media or even listen to conversations happening around you in a semi-crowded area and I guarantee within five minutes you’ll find something that makes you slap your forehead and shudder in disbelief.
Fastpitch softball coaches are not immune to this phenomenon. We all say stupid things from time to time.
Sometimes it’s from frustration, like asking a player if their parents are first cousins. Sometimes it’s because we haven’t updated our information since the last century, like telling hitters to “squish the bug” or “throw your hands at the ball.” Sometimes, like telling a pitcher “just throw strikes,” it’s because we simply don’t know what else to say.
I’m not talking about any of those instances here. What we’re going to cover today is the stuff where coaches should know better but they say those things anyway because they just don’t bother to think before they speak. Starting with…
You Have to Throw 60 mph to Pitch on Varsity
The other day I was talking to one of my pitching students and she passed along a statement her school’s varsity coach had made. He/she looked her right in the eye and said, “To pitch on varsity you have throw 60 miles an hour.”
Now, that’s a great aspirational goal. But what if no one in the school can throw 60 mph? Does that mean the coach is going to cancel the season?
Of course not. There are plenty of high school varsity pitchers who don’t throw 60 mph.
In fact, according to this blog post from Radar Sports, the average 17 to 18 year old (the age of high school juniors and seniors) throws 54 to 57 mph. While this chart from Fastpitcher.com places the average 18 year old at 55-59 mph and the average college pitcher at 68 to 65 mph.
From my own observation (with use of my Pocket Radar Smart Coach) I can also tell you that many college pitchers are actually on the lower, even sub-60, end of that spectrum. Watch enough games on TV and you’ll see some at the D1 level who rarely break 60 mph.
But that’s ok because last time I checked games are not decided based on which pitcher throws the most pitches the fastest. The outcomes are determined by which team can hold the other to fewer runs than their own team scores.
So a pitcher who may not be blazingly fast, but who can hit her spots and make the ball move on-command will often do better than one who throw hard but grooves everything down the middle.
That’s not to say speed isn’t important. It is, as I point out here.
But honestly, I’ll take a pitcher who consistently can throw eight-pitch innings over one who is racking up more Ks but taking substantially more pitches to do it. Especially on a hot, humid day.
We Lost Because Our Bench Was Too Quiet
This is a statement that often pops up in the post-game speech. It’s usually said when the coach’s favorites under-performed and the coach didn’t make the necessary adjustments (i.e., take those kids out and put someone else in).
Of all the stupid statement, this one has to be the stupidest on several levels in my opinion. I mean really? You lost because the bench players, who have no physical effect on the game whatsoever, didn’t make enough noise?
First of all, the players on the field shouldn’t require the people in the dugout to make noise in order for them to get “up” for the game. That’s something that should happen automatically.
Playing is a privilege, and it’s up to every player to get themselves motivated to play the game.
Secondly, it’s one thing if there is a lot of natural team chemistry and the dugout players are excited and supportive of their teammates. It’s another if the team is filled with cliques and the “noise” is an artificial event the bench players are being forced to create, perhaps to cover up for the fact that their team isn’t actually very good.
You lose because you make too many errors and let in too many runs. You lose because you don’t score enough runs. You lose because you didn’t do the things you needed to win on the field. That’s it.
Blaming the bench for being too quiet is like blaming the heat for killing your garden after you failed to water it all week. It’s just an excuse to divert attention from the real problem.
The Umpire Cost Us the Game
Blaming the umpire for a loss is a convenient excuse, and often an emotional reaction to a single incident. But let’s get real.
Even if the game was decided on a blown call in the bottom of the seventh, that’s not the sole (or even main) reason your team lost, Coach.
Your team had seven innings to put up more runs. If they had put up one more run in each of those innings you would have had a seven-run cushion and you’d be laughing about that one blown call right now.
Not to mention if they’d put up one more run in three of those innings you would still have had a lead that took the pressure off your defense and made that one play far less important.
Another thing your team could have done was not give up a couple of unearned runs by bobbling a simple ground ball or dropping a fly ball. Or your outfielder could have prevented the ball from getting by her instead of going for a spectacular diving catch when none was required to help keep some runs off the board.
Perhaps sending the runner home from third when the ball was clearly ahead of her would have kept a big inning going instead of killing it. Who knows how many more runs might have been scored?
The reality is no game comes down to one play. There were many plays prior to that one that could have changed the outcome.
Instead of fixating on one bad call, think of what you can do to ensure the next bad call doesn’t decide the outcome of that game.
I’ve Been Doing Things My Way for 20 Years
This one is often heard from coaches who would rather cling to their old ways of teaching the game than actually learn something new.
Yes, change can be hard at times. It can be even harder if you have to admit that the way you’ve been doing things may not have been the best way. None of us wants to look like we’ve been wrong for years.
But it’s not about being wrong before. It’s about being willing to adjust what you’re teaching when a better way comes along.
It’s one thing if you didn’t know there was a better way, or you misunderstood something you thought you know. Heck, I’ve discovered a whole host of things I was teaching in various aspects of the game that were sub-optimal or just flat-out wrong.
But when confronted with new and better information, I was willing to make that change. No need to defend the old ways.
Think about what you would want in a heart surgeon. Do you want someone who is still operating the way they did in 2002, or someone who has continued to learn and incorporate new techniques, new approaches, new equipment, etc. into their procedures?
I know which one I would choose.
It’s the same for coaches. There has never been as much research into what the most effective strategies and techniques for winning in fastpitch softball are.
We have statistical data that demonstrates why automatically sacrifice bunting when you get a runner on first, especially in this day and age of super hot bats and awesome hitters, will reduce your run production instead of enhance it. (Yes, these are baseball statistics but softball has done similar analytics and come to the same conclusion.)
We have measurable data that shows the pitch locations that produce the most swings and misses for each type of pitch.
We have technology that measures bat paths and arm deceleration speeds to help optimize player performance.
None of that was commonly available 20 years ago. So why not take advantage of it now?
If you’re still doing things the way you always did, you’re not paying attention and the game is leaving you behind. Open your mind to new possibilities.
Ultimately you may still reject some or all of what you hear. But at least you’re doing it as an informed choice rather than just a matter of stubborn habit.
Those are just a few examples of the stupid things coaches say. What have you heard, and why does it drive you crazy?
No Need to Paint the Corners with a Changeup
Recently my friend and fellow pitching coach Linda Lensch, a trainer with the NJ Ruthless and owner of Greased Lightning Fastpitch High Performance Instruction LLC attended an online presentation about how new technologies are improving and changing the game.
Linda was kind enough to share the PowerPoint of the presentation with a few of us pitching coaches. Included was some data, presented by Florida State assistant coach Troy Cameron, that came out of pitching tracking by YakkerTech at five D1 schools.
One of the things I found most interesting was the heat map on changeup locations and results, which you can see on the far left.
Notice how both the vast majority of pitch locations AND the vast majority of whiffs (swings and misses) aren’t on the corners. Instead, they are dead red.
I have been preaching this for years based on my own observations and experience, and have heard many college coaches say the same thing. You don’t have to be clever or try to paint the corners if you have an effective changeup. Just throw it down the middle, mid-thigh-high or below, and you’ll get the desired effect – a whiff.
Now we have the data to prove it.
I’ll say it again a little louder for those in the back, and for those who have been coaching he same way for 20 years and don’t like new information: YOU DON’T NEED TO PAINT THE CORNERS WITH A CHANGEUP. JUST THROW IT DEAD RED.
What does this mean from a practical standpoint?
For one, pitchers can quit wasting time trying to lean how to paint the corners with a changeup and instead focus their time on disguising the fact that it IS a changeup.
Most pitchers start out learning to throw different pitches down the middle, and then once they can do that will move on to moving them out. In this case, once a pitcher can throw it low and slow without giving it away in her motion she can move on to other pitches.
It also means coaches can quit insisting until their hair is on fire that their pitchers must be able to spot their changeups inside and out. Less stress for the pitcher and the pitch caller.
The pitchers’ parents can also relax in the stands if they see their daughters throwing changeups down the middle. It’s fine, dude or dudette. That’s where it’s most effective.
Why is it most effective down the middle? Now we get into speculation and theories, but I have a pretty good suspicion on that topic based on 20+ years of teaching that pitch.
The whole point of a changeup is to either induce a hitter to swing well ahead of the ball arriving at the plate or confuse her on what she’s seeing to the point where she lets the pitch go by before she can process it. The way you do that is by bringing the body and arm at one speed while having the ball travel at a different, slower speed. Easier said than done, by the way.
It’s like a reverse pitching machine. With a machine, the feeder’s arm usually moves glacially slow (and may even fumble putting the ball in the chute) while the pitch is delivered at 55, 60, 65, etc. mph. The arm speed and the pitch speed don’t match up, so the hitter is perpetually behind the pitch unless she know the keys to hitting off a machine.
With the changeup the opposite is true. The body and especially the arm are traveling through space at a rate of speed that matches the pitcher’s fastest pitch (usually the fastball), but the design of the pitch allows it to be delivered 12-15 mph slower than the fastest pitch without any visible clues that it will be slower.
That’s why you see hitters’ knees buckle when a well-thrown change comes at them. The visual clues and the reality don’t match up and they contort themselves into a pretzel trying to adjust on the fly.
And if you can do that as a pitcher, down the middle works just fine. In fact it’s probably preferable because it can fool umpires too, so why not make it easier for them to call?
Now, before anyone starts saying “Oh, that only works at the lower levels” remember where this data comes from. It comes from five colleges that tracked every pitch of their pitchers and their opponents during home games.
And since these are not cheap systems by any means, you can bet that these were some pretty big schools, i.e., ones you see on TV all the time. They’re the only ones with the budgets to afford it.
So if it works at that level, you can be pretty sure it will work at yours.
The data doesn’t lie. It’s all there in black and white and red.
Quit wasting time focusing on painting the corners with changeups and just turn your pitchers loose to deliver them where they will be most effective based on the data: dead red.
You’ll get better results. And your pitchers will have one less thing to worry about.