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Softball tryouts – hitting off the pitching machine

In my last post, I offered up some general tips for a successful tryout. While it was aimed at high school softball tryouts, the truth is those tips apply to all types of tryouts – and most to more than just fastpitch softball.

Included in the post was a brief mention about getting used to hitting off a pitching machine if that’s what will be used during your tryouts. This is an issue a lot of players face.

They will crush it against front toss and even live pitching. But stand them up in front of a machine and they struggle.

So for all of you who are in that boat, or know someone who is, I’m reprising this video blog to help you make sure you’re ready when it’s time to show your stuff. Follow these tips and you should have much greater success in showing what you can really do.

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It’s not where you start the race…

One of my favorite sayings is “It’s not where you start the race that counts, but where you finish.” I will say it to players who didn’t make a team they wanted, or who start the season riding the bench, or otherwise find themselves in a less than desirable position.

Erin Yazel catch

One of my favorite pictures of Erin Yazel. A far cry from the girl who could barely catch a ball hit to her. 

Of course, it’s easy to say things like that; platitudes come easily. So I thought I’d share one of my favorite success stories today – one that proves that saying is more than words.

I first met Erin Yazel when she was a first-year 14U player. (I’m old school, so I only recognize even number team levels.) As I understand it, Erin had joined an A-level fastpitch team after coming from rec ball. Not on the basis of her skills as much as the team needed players and Erin tried out.

To put a little more perspective on it, I came to that team as an assistant coach after it was already formed, about midway through the offseason. When you’re working indoors in a small gym it’s tough to get a real read on things.

Once we were outside, however, it became apparent that even though she was an outfielder Erin’s outfield skills were not quite at the level that was expected. That was a potential problem since the team had a few legitimate A-level players and some of their parents were vocal about who could cut it and who couldn’t.

Erin was a hard worker, though, and a good kid, so I went to the head coach and asked her if I could work with Erin separately at practice to help her learn to track fly balls better. The head coach agreed, and off we went. I also suggested to Erin that I could meet her before practice, or stay after, to help her hone her skills some more. She was more than willing since she wanted to be a full-fledged contributor and she, her dad Steve and I spent a lot of time together.

Over the course of that first season she got better and more reliable, although she did end up breaking her nose in a game when she lost track of a fly ball in center. That one was ugly to see and hear, but it didn’t stop her. After a couple of weeks off she was back on the field, more determined than ever.

One of the qualities Erin brought with her was that she was fast – like 2.7 home to first fast. So naturally I suggested she spend the off-season becoming a lefty slapper.

We worked on that the entire winter, along with bunting and swinging away, and by the next spring she was a different player. She took naturally to slapping and soon had earned the leadoff spot in the lineup for our travel team. She also made her JV team as a freshman, and likely would’ve gone straight to varsity if the head coach hadn’t come straight from baseball and didn’t understand the importance of speed and the short game (a deficiency he fixed the following year, by the way).

Erin went on to have a great high school career as well as a travel ball career, and actually came back to me a couple of years later to play on my IOMT Castaways team. I encouraged her to try college softball, and even helped her make a recruiting video, but in the end she decided it wasn’t for her.

ISU club softball team

Erin’s ISU club team. She is first row, second from the right.

But that doesn’t mean it was the end of her fastpitch career. Instead, she became involved in the Illinois State University club team. If you’re not familiar with the concept, club teams are groups of girls who form their own teams and play against similar teams from other schools. It’s fun and competitive, without the bigtime commitment and time sink of playing at the college varsity level.

This past year was Erin’s second playing for the Redbirds, and it’s clear she’s still loving the game. Her mom Judy sent me her stats.

For the season she had a batting average of .488, with an OBP of .533 and slugging percentage of .537. In 41 at bats she had just 4 strikeouts, and her OPS was a healthy 1.090. You can check out her whole line here.

That’s pretty impressive for a girl who had trouble even getting on the field her first year of travel ball. But it shows what you can do when you have a love for the game, the determination to improve, and the support of great parents. Not to mention self confidence, which Erin always had boatloads of despite some of the outcomes.

So if you’re not quite where you want to be, take a lesson from Erin. Don’t let anyone else define you, and don’t define yourself by where you start. Because that doesn’t matter. The most important consideration is where you finish.

 

Be the you they already like

This one is for all the fastpitch softball players (and other athletes as well) who are having trouble with being nervous because you’re afraid of failing or letting the team down. In other words, facing a lack of confidence. Tina pitching

First off, know that everyone goes through this now and then in every walk of life. Even the professionals who are being paid millions of dollars (thousands of dollars in the case of pro softball, but that’s a story for a different day) to play.

The best thing you can do for yourself is to forget about trying to live up to some ideal you think you have to meet and remember that your coach put you on this team for a reason. He or she thought you had something that would help the team win, whether it’s a game, a tournament, a conference championship or some other prize. All you have to be is who the coach already saw and you’ll be fine.

So if you’re a hitter, instead of hesitating until the last possible split second before you get into your swing, start early and slow so you can be aggressive in putting the bat on the ball. She who hesitates tends to hit pop-ups and grounders. But hitters who take their practice swings into the batter’s box and make a plan to hit the ball hard usually do.

If you’re a pitcher who has put the work in, there’s no need to worry about whether you can throw strikes. If you did it in practice you’ll do it in a game. Quit focusing on outcomes and instead just relax and pitch your game. If you’ve been handed the ball the coach clearly thinks you can get the job done. Why would you argue with the coach? 🙂

It’s the same for fielders too. Unless you’re a super great hitter who the coach is trying to hide on defense, you know what to do when the ball comes to you. Just do it. (No, this is not a paid placement.)

Look, everyone makes an error now and then. Everyone has a bad day at the plate, or in the circle, or on the basepaths. That’s what makes the game of softball so hard – and so good when it goes well.

You don’t have to be the next Cat Osterman or Sarah Pauly or Lauren Chamberlain or anyone else. You just have to be you. Just do the things that got you into this position and you’ll have all the success you could ever imagine.

Now go get ’em!

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