Blog Archives

Getting Up for a Game When You’re Not Feeling It

When you're not feeling it, remember you owe it to the people who came to see you to do your best.

Every fastpitch softball player faces this situation sooner or later: it’s game day, and you’re just not feeling it.

Maybe it’s been a long season and you’re tired. Maybe it’s hot and humid out and you don’t handle hot and humid well. Maybe all your non-softball friends are doing something and you wish you could do it too. Maybe you’re so nervous about a big game that you just don’t feel like yourself.

Whatever the cause, feeling that you’re not feeling it can definitely get in the way of your performance. That’s where it helps to take a lesson from some famous musicians.

I’ve read interviews with several famous musicians who were asked how they managed to put so much energy into their performances night after night despite the grueling toll it takes to go from city to city and play for months at a time.

The answer they give is typically something to the effect of: “Yes, it can be hard, and there are times in the hotel or backstage that I just don’t feel like playing. I think maybe I can get by giving it just the minimal amount of effort. But then I think about the fan who saved his/her money to come and see me play, and this will be his/her only chance this year. Maybe it’s a first date, or an anniversary, or a birthday or something else special. Maybe it’s just someone who needs a little lift in their life. When I think about that, I realize I owe it to that person to do the very best I can, if for no other reason than to thank them. And I want them to walk away feeling like it was more than worth the money they spent.”

What a great attitude. They realize that in the line of work they’ve gone into they’ve made a bargain, and they need to keep up their end of it.

For fastpitch softball players it’s a little different. In our case, yes, there are the fans who came out to see the team play. It might be someone’s grandma who finally made it out to a game and hopes her granddaughter’s team will win. Or a little sister who is going to draw her impressions of the game by what she sees on the field. Or the brother home on leave from the military who wants a little piece of home in his life before he goes back to wherever he’s stationed.

But there might also be a college coach, or someone connected to a higher-level team, watching as well. What that person sees, that day, will be his/her first and most lasting impression of you. A great performance might catch his/her eye for the future. A poor one might get in the way of your goals down the line.

Even if none of that is the case, however, think about your coach. He/she made a decision to put you on the team and give you an opportunity to play. You also owe that person your very best. Every. Single. Time. You. Play.

Always remember that putting on that uniform and taking the field is a privilege. A lot of things had to happen the right way for you to have that privilege – starting with being born in a country where playing fastpitch softball is even an option.

Learn to appreciate the opportunity you have and you’ll learn how to feel it even when you’re not feeling it at first. And that, more than anything, will help you become the player you’re destined to be.

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Fastpitch pitchers gotta pitch

Fastpitch pitchers need circle time to improve

Right now we are coming up on what is probably the toughest time of the year in fastpitch softball – tryout season.

While the current playing season hasn’t quite concluded yet for most players, the finish line is definitely in sight for most. And that means they need to make a decision about next year, asking the musical question:

In some cases it may be whether a player should make the jump from rec ball to travel ball. In other cases it’s whether to stay with the current team or move to a new one, or whether to play up or stay down. So many decisions!

I’m asked my advice on this a lot, and I usually share it on a one-to-one basis because every situation is a little different. But there are a few common scenarios where I can pretty much make a blanket recommendation.

The biggest one is about seeking out opportunity, especially if you are (or your daughter is) a pitcher. As my headline says, pitchers gotta pitch. You can practice all you want, but the only way you’re going to know if you’re getting better is if you get the opportunity to pitch in games. Not just a few scrub innings here or there, but quality innings.

So let’s look at this typical scenario. (I’m going to say you to keep it simple, but you can also read “your daughter.)

You’re on a team that already has two good, established pitchers who get the bulk of the work. You started pitching a year ago, and while you’ve been working hard you haven’t had much opportunity to show your stuff. The coaches are too afraid they might lose a game with you in the circle.

Odds are that situation isn’t going to get any better next year. It’s probably time for you to seek your fortunes elsewhere, even if it’s with a team that isn’t as good overall, or isn’t as likely to win as many games as your current team.

What you need right now are game innings. So what if the team doesn’t play great defense and you take some losses. What you want is the opportunity to get in the circle, make yourself better, and see if you can make the team better to boot. Now, if you improve and the team doesn’t, next year will probably be a different story. But for now, your best bet is to go where the opportunity is.

Another tough one is whether a 10U pitcher should move up when her team goes to 12U or stay down at 10U. There’s no single answer for this one. If you’re rocking it at 10U, you can probably move up to the next level no problem. Especially if you’re a bigger 10U player. A smaller one might have trouble adjusting to the larger ball and extra five feet of pitching distance.

On the other hand, if you’re a developing 10U pitcher who hasn’t had much circle time, the jump to 12U might be pretty rough. If you get rocked a couple of times at 12U that might be the end of your pitching career. My recommendation in general would be to stay down, get a chance to dominate and build some confidence first. It will help ease the transition.

What about going from rec ball to travel ball? That can be a pretty big (and eye-opening) jump. To me, this is more about general attitude toward the game. If softball is primarily a social thing for you, it may not be a good idea. The increased practice and game schedules, even at the lower end of travel ball, might be too much for you.

On the other hand, if you’re a competitive type you’re very likely going to thrive in the travel ball world. You’ll enjoy the harder practices and tougher competition. And you (as well as your parents) will likely make friends for life.

On the other side of the stay/go coin is the desire to win trophies above all else. Yes, there are teams you can go to that will let you clutter your bedroom, and the living room, and the basement with plastic “hardware.” But will they help you become a better player?

Winning teams aren’t always run by great coaches. Sometimes they’re run by a parent who has a very talented daughter (who also has a few talented friends) or they are able to attract very talented, already-formed players and assemble them into a team. The coaches don’t make them better, they just act like NASCAR drivers; the drivers don’t build the cars, they just drive them. Not that it doesn’t take skill to drive a NASCAR vehicle, but it’s a different skillset than getting the car ready for race day.

The point is, you want to know that if you’re not already fully-formed and ready to rock that you will get the training you need to get there. A team that wins less but learns more is probably going to be your better bet.

There are other scenarios as well, but these should form a good start. If you look at what your needs and desires from the game are, you’ll have a lot better idea as where you should be playing next year. Good luck with it!

Oh, and if I missed any scenarios or you have questions, feel free to mention them in the comments below.

Thank goodness for Kyle Schwarber

Tough times can happen to anyone, even MLB stars.

Once again an odd title for a fastpitch softball blog, but bear with me. It’ll make sense.

Adversity is one of those things most fastpitch softball players have to face at one time or another. Our sport is hard, and it’s unforgiving.

Just a few inches either way on a pitch can mean the difference between a backward K and walking in the tying run. It can also mean the difference between a line drive single and a line drive out.

When too many bad things start to happen, it can quickly become overwhelming – especially for young players contending with all those hormones, social pressures, and other things we adults tend to forget about as soon as we can. It can definitely get players feeling bad about themselves, and into a mindset that they are the only ones it’s happening to.

So again, thank goodness for Kyle Schwarber. He was one of the heroes of the Cubs’ World Series win in 2016, coming back from a knee injury to play a key role in several victories. A guy who seemingly had it all knocked.

Well, if you don’t follow the Cubs you may not be aware that for the last couple of weeks he wasn’t with the Chicago National League ballclub . Instead, he was down on their AAA affiliate in Iowa.

The reason? After all his heroics and accolades, he’d lost his swing this year. Just couldn’t quite seem to get into a groove, relax and hit. So the Cubs thought they’d take some pressure off of him, let him go into the minors for a few games to get his swing back away from the glare of the spotlight in Chicago.

It seems to have worked, because he’s back with the Big Club now. (Glad I checked that – gotta love the Internet.) Hopefully he’s exorcised his hitting demons and will start tearing it up again.

The lesson here for young fastpitch softball players is that it can happen to anyone. Schwarber gets paid millions of dollars to play a game that bears a lot of similarities to ours. If he can lose his swing, what makes a fastpitch players whose parents are paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for them to play think it can’t happen to them?

Fastpitch players may not have a lower-level farm team to go to when they are in trouble, but they can certainly follow the same principles:

  • R-E-L-A-X (mixing a little football in here, even if it’s from a team I despise) – The world isn’t coming to an end, and peace in our time isn’t riding on your next at bat. You already know you can do well because you’ve done it before. Worrying won’t help. Just get out of your own head for a bit and try to ease the tension.
  • Go back to basics – Work on your fundamentals. If you’re having trouble hitting, jump on a tee and take some quality swings. If you’re a pitcher who has lost her control, work your way back from the end of the pitch and see where the problem is occurring.
  • Stay positive – It’s easy to fall into the negative thinking trap. But having trouble doesn’t make you a bad player, or a bad person. It just makes you human. Try a little positive self-talk. Think about what it felt like when you were successful. Focus on the good and it will come back a lot faster.
  • Know you will come through it – I remember reading about something called the Stockdale Paradox in the book Good to Great. If you want the long version, follow the link (I highly recommend it). Otherwise, here’s the short version. When you’re in a tough situation, you need to do two things. One is know you’ll come through it. The second is don’t put a timeline on when you will come through it, because if you don’t come out of your funk by the next day, or the next tournament, or the next whatever deadline, you’ll get more depressed and make your situation worse.

If a player like Kyle Schwarber can hit a point where he needs to take a step back in Iowa, it can happen to anyone. Just know you’re not alone, and remember that often the only way out is through.

Photo by Minda Haas, @minda33, Instagram minda.haas

4 Things to Include When Reaching Out to College Coaches

4 things to include for college coaches

Guest post by Lindsay White, Let’sGetSigned.com, Instagram: @LetsGetSigned. For many young softball players, playing in college is the dream. They know they need to contact college coaches to make that dream happen, but beyond that they’re not sure what to say or do. This guest post from Lindsay White, who has been through the journey and now helps others, will provide some more specific guidance on how to achieve greater success in your hunt for a place to play in college. 

So you want to play college ball but don’t really know where to start. Or maybe you’ve already started reaching out to some coaches but haven’t heard anything back. Trust me, you’re not alone. (And if you haven’t started reaching out yet, what are you waiting for? Go for it!)

Remember, coaches have busy schedules and aren’t always able to reply to your email at lightning speed. They’re probably sifting through their emails as we speak and will eventually get to yours. Don’t give up just yet.

I don’t know how many times I’ve been at a tournament speaking to girls and their parents and they say… “I just don’t know what to say in my emails,” or… “I wrote an email introducing myself but never heard anything back.” This happens a lot, trust me!

So today I’m going to help you out. I’m going to show you how to stand out in a coach’s in box and ACTUALLY get a reply by following the 4 tips below when reaching out to college coaches.

1. Include the Coach’s Name

This one might seem obvious, but I can’t stress its importance enough (and many times it’s overlooked). Make sure to include the coach’s NAME.

The absolute worst thing you can do is copy and paste the same email over and over again to 100 college coaches. And trust me, they can tell. Addressing them by name at the beginning of your email shows that you wrote this email specifically to them.

I don’t know how many times I’ve worked with a student athlete, taken a look at the emails they’ve been sending and I see this at the top of their email…

“To Whom It May Concern”

or… “Hey Coach”…

or… “Mr. Peterson”

First of all, “To Whom It May Concern” shows that you took absolutely zero time researching who you’re contacting. You might as well tell them you picked their team out of a hat.

Second, “Hey Coach” will have them wondering if you even know their name. Grab their attention by showing them you know EXACTLY who you’re contacting. That you reached out to them specifically because you’re interested in playing for them.

Last, “Mr. Peterson” is just weird; they aren’t your 3rd period history teacher. Have you ever been on the field and yelled to your coach… “hey! Mr. Peterson?” No. This will just catch them off guard and leave them a bit confused.

Make sure to start the email with “Hi Coach XYZ,”…

Do NOT miss this step!

2. Tell Them Specifically Why You Want to Play for Them

Again, coaches can tell when you’ve copied and pasted the same email over and over again. You want to show coaches that you know exactly who they are, know a bit about their program and why you want to play for them specifically.

Do you know how many emails these coaches are getting from girls a week? Do you know how many of them are probably copy and pasting the same email to tons of other coaches?

Most emails sent to college coaches are super generalized. Meaning, any coach could read it and it would apply to them. No, you want the coach to read it and realize that you reached out to them specifically, because you want to play for THEIR school in particular.

Take a look at this general email below:

“Hi there!

 My name is Lindsay White and I’d love the opportunity to play for your team. I’m a center fielder and think I’d be great asset to your program. I live in Salt Lake City, Utah and will be graduating in 2019.

 I look forward to hearing from you!

 -Lindsay”

Now take a look at the email below where I tailor the email to this specific coach:

“Hi Coach Isakson!

 First off, I want to say congratulations for winning your regional this year. That’s so exciting! You had such an awesome group of girls.

Anyway, I can’t help but notice that you’ll be losing 2 of your starting outfielders in 2019. I’m sure you’re already looking to fill those spots. It just so happens that I’m a center fielder and will be graduating high school in 2019 and would LOVE the opportunity to play for you and wear the Grizzly uniform

I look forward to hearing from you!

 -Lindsay”

In the second email, I not only address the coach by name, I show that I know about his program and how they did this year (that I’ve done my homework), and I even mention their school mascot. This coach clearly knows I sent this email to him and only him.

3. Include A Player Profile

The best thing you can do is to keep your email short, simple and easy to read. Like I said, their inbox is probably overflowing. The last thing they have time for is to open a super long email and take out 10 minutes of their time just to read through it.

Make it so they can skip the boring stuff, and go straight to the good stuff… the stuff they’re actually looking for.

This is where your player profile comes in. What’s a player profile? It’s a simple document, ideally a single page, of all stuff softball. What position you play, when you graduate, any special awards you’ve received, where you’re from, etc.

This becomes their quick reference guide; you’ll want to attach it to your email as a PDF document. Now they can quickly print it off and add it to their stack of prospects, and can come back to it later if needed.Sample player profiles for fastpitch softball players

Not sure exactly what to include in your Player Profile? Or maybe you have one but it’s just a word document and not organized very well. Don’t worry, I designed 3 different templates you can use. These templates are sure to help you stand out from all the other girls. Click HERE to download these Player Profile templates. Just pick your favorite design, edit it to your own information, save as a PDF and now you’ve got a killer profile to send out.

4. Your Game Schedule

Please don’t ever send an email out without including your summer game schedule and/or your high school game schedule. These coaches want to come watch you play (if possible). They can’t do that if you don’t let them know when and where you’ll be playing.

Often times these coaches will already be at your tournaments scouting (if you’re in the same area). But they’ll be SURE to make sure to come find you. You already reached out to them, told them you want to play for them, trust me, they’ll make time to come find YOU.

Sometimes coaches aren’t always able to make it, simply because you live far away or they’re busy. Trust me, they have connections everywhere. Sometimes a coach will send a friend, colleague, or another coach to scout you out.

A game schedule is overlooked way too often. Put it in the very first email you send them. That way, they have all the information all in one place and don’t have to come back to you asking for more info.

Making their job easier is your goal. And trust me, not many other girls are doing most or even any of these 4 things.

Use this post as a guideline when writing your next or even first email to a coach and you’ll be super happy with the results.

And don’t forget to download your Player Profile templates HERE. Coaches will be super impressed, trust me!

Have you already been reaching out to coaches? Leave a comment below and tell me how it’s going.

 

Lindsay WhiteLindsay White played every varsity softball game in high school from freshman to senior year. She then went on to play in the SWAC conference, making All-Region 2 years in a row. She then got signed to Dixie State University where she graduated with a degree in Business. She now works with high school girls to help get them signed to play college softball on scholarship, with amazing success. Many of her girls have gotten signed within just a few months of implementing her strategies.

10 ways fastpitch softball can change your life

Fastpitch softball can change your life

Guest post by Lily Jolie, www.baseballeagle.com

Most kids who start playing fastpitch softball do so because it looks like fun – and often it is. But there is more to it than that. In fact, it can be life-changing as this guest post points out. 

Playing sports and games benefit players in a greater way than most of the players presume. In fact, fastpitch softball can be beneficial in a lot of ways, from your personal life to interacting with other players and forming networks.

For instance, softball players know that there are times that they will lose while other times, they will win. This comprehension of success and failure makes it possible for the players to handle developments and challenges in their lives positively. Here are some of the ways that softball can change your life:

Travel 

Playing softball competitively provides you with opportunities to travel far and wide for competitions, tournaments, leagues, and friendly matches. What is more amazing about playing softball is that you also get a chance to travel to different states, countries, and even continents. This in turn provides you with mind blowing travel experiences and enables you to explore the world to learn more about people and different cultures. 

Great for body development 

Softball players often have better well-developed upper bodies than the ladies who do not play the sport. This is because when playing softball, players engage different muscles in their upper body to swing the bat and hit the ball. Additionally, it is a known fact that softball players have stronger and leaner hand and shoulder muscles than those who do not play the game. When playing softball, the whole body is usually active and as such, it becomes easy to burn fat deposits all over the body. This helps in maintaining a fat-free body hence removing the risk of developing obesity and other lifestyle diseases. 

Kills stress 

 Life is generally very stressful from family members, colleagues, studies and other responsibilities. Softball helps players to remain stress-free as the sport triggers the body to produce high amounts of stress-relieving hormones adrenaline and cortisol. In addition to this, when playing, the players feel relaxed and relieved thereby developing an optimistic feeling that helps them to overcome stress. By extension, the game is also very effective in fighting depression, especially among young players. This is because depression frequently comes about as a result of over-accumulated stress. 

Teamwork- How to manage relationships on a team 

Softball is a team sport that requires the input of all players if you hope to win. This teamwork helps players outside the sport as they go on with their daily routines at school or at work and become successful in whatever they are working on. This is achieved through collaborating with different people, workmates or students and eventually becoming successful. Working as team brings together different resources and skills thereby making the task easy to accomplish. 

Failure and Winning: To never give up 

Softball is a very dynamic sport. Failure in softball is inevitable, which makes winning that much sweeter. When players realize this, they are able to cope with loses and work toward triumphing over their opponents. The outcomes in softball translate to what goes on in real life. There are times in life when you will achieve something while you will fail at other times. This realization helps softball players to remain focused on their targets and goals without giving up. The same enthusiasm is very important in life is crucial in enabling people to remain focused on their targets regardless of the challenges and downfalls they experience on the way. 

Gives a way for communication 

Communication is the pillar of every relationship. Yet how you communicate depends on the situation and those you are communicating with. In softball, players communicate with different people including the coach, teammates, and their fans. To all of these classes of people, the players know the best language and terms to use; those that will easily be understandable to the other party. Likewise, communication is critical in real life and helps strengthen and bind relations. Since communication is a two-way affair, softball helps players to understand the feelings of the other party and hence know how to address them. This is a very important skill in real life as it helps in eliminating conflicts and misunderstandings. 

Time management 

Time management is a vital skill for everyone; the young and the old alike. When you have loads of tasks to accomplish within a specified time frame, time management skills will help you plan your schedule accordingly. When playing softball, you know how to balance time so that you have time for work/school, family, personal time, and playing softball. With good time management skills, it becomes easy to live a well-organized life with very little time wastage if any. 

Learn to live with your mistakes 

Most people find it hard to accept their mistakes and end up living in self-denial. This prevents them from collecting themselves after the mistakes and believing in their abilities again. In softball, mistakes constitute a definite aspect of the sport but even so, they do not prevent players from realizing success and winning their games. This enables the players to learn their mistakes quickly, learn not to judge others, and focus on what is at stake; winning. This skill when applied in real life leads to a successful and happy life without any regrets whatsoever. 

Improve your interpersonal skills 

When playing softball, you get to interact with different kinds of people with different characters and personalities. As such, players need to know how to interact with each player and understand them and handle each of them depending on their personalities. These interpersonal skills also come in handy in life as you interact with different people in the course of your work or studies. 

Creative thinking and decisions 

Winning in softball like in any other sport requires players to make decisions within split seconds. The game also requires creative thinking to identify the areas you can outshine your opponents in. This decisiveness is a very important aspect of life as it makes it possible to identify what you want and the means for achieving it. Likewise, creative thinking will help you identify opportunities and know how you can use them to your advantage. 

Generally, sports influence nearly all aspects of life and make it possible to live a well-balanced life. With softball, you get to enjoy a lot more benefits than in most other sports since the sport is fairly safe to play. The risk of injury or accidents in softball is quite minimal. Whether you are playing softball for recreation or as a career, you should be guaranteed to enjoy a well-balanced life that is success oriented. 

Photo credit: Foter.com

A shoutout to all the dads who keep fastpitch softball rolling

Fathers and daughters build a special relationship through fastpitch softball

With Father’s Day coming up tomorrow I thought it might be a nice idea to say something nice about all the dads who spend hours upon hours keeping this thing we call fastpitch softball rolling.

Parent coaches in general tend to get a bad rap. The term “Daddyball” refers to dad coaches who tend to favor their daughters and their daughter’s friends over other members of the team. That is a real phenomenon for sure, but I like to think it’s in the minority.

Most of the fathers who get involved do it for a simple reason: they love their daughters and want to be sure their daughters have an opportunity to play. Someone has to coach the team, so it usually gets left up to a few fathers to volunteer.

Often they played baseball in their youths, although not always. (Special kudos to those who never played baseball but step up anyway. That’s not easy.) The key thing, though, is they believe their daughters should have the opportunity to experience the benefits of playing this game we love.

Then there are the dads who don’t coach, but still take their daughters out to practice with them, and/or take them to practices and lessons. They could be at home pursuing their own hobbies, or working around the house, or even watch TV. But instead they’re out there, night after night in the heat, the cold, the drizzle, sometimes even the snow.

Sunday is Father’s Day, the special day for dads. And where will they be? Out at a softball diamond, hoping to stay out there all day. No breakfast in bed, no presents, no Bar-B-Qs or other special treatment for them. Instead they’ll be in dugouts, bleachers, and camp chairs, eating bad concession stand food, wiping dust out of their eyes and cheering for their favorite players.

As someone who did it for many years, I can tell you the time spent at and around the diamond was some of the best times of my life. Not to mention all the time spent in cars driving to and from various activities. We had so many great talks, and got to know each other so well. Yes, I’m a little more into it than most, but I think every father who uses fastpitch softball as quality time with his daughter(s) is rewarded abundantly.

So here’s to you, all the dads who spend your summers traipsing all over the area, and sometimes all over the country, so your daughters can build the types of skills and memories that will last long after the last strike has been thrown. Thank you for all you do at every level.

Lessons Learned from the Women’s College World Series

Oklahoma repeats as NCAA Division 1 softball champs

Well, that was quite a Women’s College World Series (WCWS) wasn’t it? Lots of fastpitch softball drama (the good kind) from the Regional games all the way up to Championship Series.

Show of hands: how many stayed up until the bottom of the 17th on Monday? I know I did, and I paid for it the rest of the week with interrupted sleep patterns.

As I did the lessons the last few weeks I also asked my students if they were watching the games. Some were, some weren’t. That’s too bad for the ones who weren’t because there’s lots to be learned from watching the game played at such a high level.

With that in mind, here are a few of my own observations and takeaways coming out of a very fun series.

Catchers need to block

Not just sometimes but every time. I saw several balls get by catchers in crucial situations because they tried to glove a ball and couldn’t quite do it. When pitches are coming in at 65+ mph and hit shinguards, they tend to bounce far away. And usually in odd directions.

Get that ball centered on your body – judging where it’s going, not where it is – get on your knees and get over the ball.

Good framing helps

There were definitely strikes called that could have gone either way. (And some, of course, that should have gone the other way, but that’s a different topic.) Catchers framing pitches well can sometimes – sometimes – make the difference.

More bullet spin than you’d expect

When the TV would show the slow motion replays of certain pitches, I was surprised to see just how many pitches had bullet spin rather than directional spin. Bullet spin is not generally desirable in fastpitch softball pitching

(For those who aren’t familiar with the term, bullet spin is when the ball is spinning like a clock face as it’s coming toward you, and you can see the “button” on the front. Bullets spin this way so they don’t move off their direct targets when fired. Good for bullets, bad for pitchers because nothing is easier to hit than a ball that doesn’t change direction.)

I know announcing from the press box is tougher than it looks – I’ve done it – but it was rather funny when a commentator would talk about so-and-so’s tight spin on her rise ball, or how the pitcher just threw a late breaking curve ball, and as he/she is saying it you can clearly see the ball with bullet spin.

Rise balls don’t really rise, but if they were going to they’d have to be spinning backwards. Curve balls would have to have side spin on them. And so forth. A ball with bullet spin isn’t going to break – early, late, or otherwise.

It pays to work on baserunning

I saw some really amazing plays where heads-up baserunning definitely gave the team on offense an advantage.

I saw a runner on first take second on a changeup. I saw runners alerting watching as a throw from the outfield was directed toward a base they weren’t going for, giving them a chance to advance unexpectedly. I saw runners sliding away from possible tags to avoid being out.

Then there was the other stuff. I saw runners going from first to second on a ground ball allow themselves to be tagged so the defense could make a double play. I saw runners over-estimating their speed when they were the only play in town and making an out instead of giving their team a base runner. I saw runners run in front of a fielder going for a ground ball instead of behind and getting called out for interference.

Getting runners on base is really the key to success. The more the merrier. But they don’t really matter until they reach one base: home. The more you can do to get them there, the more runs you’ll score and the more likely you are to win ballgames.

Putting the fast in fastpitch

By the time the Championship Series came around we had the opportunity to see some incredible pitching.

It’s hard to imagine thinking of a pitcher who throws in the mid-’60s as “slower,” but when the others are consistently in the 70s – even up to 75! – that kind of is the case.

What was interesting was that 70 mph pitch speeds didn’t make for 1-0 games. Even the 17 inning barn burner wound up with a double-digit run total. But the ability to throw flat-out harder than everyone else does make a difference, especially in crucial situations where a team really, really needs an out.

I think we saw that even at that level, it’s tough not to be enamored of the pitchers who can flat-out bring it.

It takes a pitching staff

It seems that gone are the days when you could just ride one big arm for the entire tournament. Even if she threw 200 pitches the day before.

Both Oklahoma and Florida got to the big dance using two pitchers, and on Tuesday night Florida pulled in a third and Oklahoma used four!

Has the pitching gotten worse, or the pitchers gotten softer? Not from where I sit. The hitters have simply gotten better. They say hitting is about timing and pitching is about disrupting timing. No better way to disrupt a group of hitters and keep them from getting comfortable in the batter’s box than by showing them different looks, speeds, and styles.

Great defense still makes a difference

Maybe more than ever. There were so many great defensive plays throughout the last few weeks that you could easily make a lengthy highlight reel just on that.

The key for the winners in different games wasn’t the spectacular stuff, though. A lot of it came down to making the plays they were supposed to make. You do that, and the rest is icing on the cake.

Great coaches care about their players

It’s unfortunate that at every level – even D1 college – there are coaches who care more about their records and looking good in front of whoever than they do about their players. Those coaches tend to view their players like the do the field or the equipment – pieces that are there to be used as-needed to fulfill the coach’s goals.

That’s not what you saw with the teams who made it to the final 8. Or especially the Championship Series. From the outside at least, both Patty Gasso and Tim Walton seem to genuinely care about their players, and build relationships with them. Not just the stars but also the role players.

I can’t remember who said it, but there is a quote from a coach who said something to the effect of “We all know the same X’s and O’s. It’s what you do with the players on your team that makes the difference.”

While knowing the game and recruiting great talent areimportant, many teams have smart coaches and great talent. There’s a reason Oklahoma and Florida have dominated the WCWS the last few years.

Umpires are human

Yup, saw some bad pitch calls and blown calls on plays at various bases. But while they may be the topic of conversation, those are the minority. That’s a tough job, and there are bound to be mistakes.

I occasionally make mistakes in my job too. I try not to but it happens. Get over it.

Seeing that umpires may blow a call should be that much more incentive to do more so that a blown call doesn’t cost you the game. In high school and college, games last seven innings. (In travel ball usually fewer due to time limits.) Within the allotted 21 outs there is ample time to hit, field, run bases, etc. in a way that will help your team win. Focus on that.

Look at it this way: if your team is leading 10-1 and an umpire blows a play at the plate, calling an opponent safe instead of out, no one is likely to get too worked up about it. Put yourself in that position and the rest takes care of itself.

Those were some of the things I saw. How about you? What stood out to you? What did you see that you haven’t before, or that made you cringe? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Fastpitch catchers: On your feet or on your knees

Throwing from your feet or your knees doesn't matter, as long as you get the job done

University of Minnesota vs. Oklahoma State University Women’s softball.

Ok, I’ll admit it. The headline was my opportunity to offer a tribute to one of my favorite Blue Oyster Cult albums. But it does have relevance for fastpitch catchers as well as coaches when it comes to making throws to various bases.

There is certainly a perception in some circles that to be a high-level catcher you have to be able to throw from your knees. Of course, like many of these so-called “absolutes” that is simply not true.

Throwing out runners on a steal is basically a math problem. Since it’s summer let’s make the math easy to start.

Let’s say the runner can go from first to second in 3.0 seconds and the pitcher is throwing 60 mph, which means it takes 0.4 seconds from the time leaves her hand until it reaches the plate. Simple subtraction says 3.0 – 0.4 = 2.6.

That’s the amount of time the catcher has from the moment the ball hits her glove to the moment it must be at second base to catch that runner: 2.6 seconds, aka her “pop” time. Notice that nowhere in that simple mathematical formula does it say anything about how the ball is thrown, because it doesn’t matter. It just has to get there on time.

So if the catcher can throw hard enough to get the ball to the base in 1.5 seconds, that means she has 1.1 second to receive the ball, get into position, transfer the ball to her throwing hand and get it on her way.

If it takes less time to throw the ball, she has more time for the other stuff. If it takes her more time to throw, the transfer and positioning time goes down.

Of course, when you’re talking about high-level catching, such as at the D1 college level, 2.6 seconds is a terrible pop time. You won’t be catching if that’s what it takes. They’re looking for sub-2.0 times, the faster the better.

So using our simple math again, if the runner has 2.6 speed and the pitch is still taking 0.4 seconds to reach the plate, the pop time is 2.2 seconds. Allow for a little variance and you’re looking at, say, 1.8 seconds.

Now the throw must get there much faster, but it still doesn’t matter how it gets there as long as it gets there on time. There are no style points in softball. It either works or it doesn’t.

As I’ve been watching the D1 Regionals and Super Regionals I’ve seen both. Some catchers have thrown from their knees, while others popped up. Why the difference?

Sometimes it’s dictated by where the pitch comes in. A high pitch, whether it’s intentional with a rise ball or some other pitch that got away from the pitcher will lead to a throw from your feet. It would be silly to throw from your knees in that situation.

On low pitches it’s a little different. For some catchers, going to their knees feels right. For others, especially those who lack speed or mobility, it may be too difficult to get to their feet in time to make the throw. They simply don’t have the agility so they must go to their knees. Those who are quicker and more agile, on the other hand, can get up, get into position, and make the throw with time to spare.

Ultimately it comes down to 1) what it takes to get the job done and 2) personal preference. As long as the ball beats the runner to the bag in time to make the tag and get the out, how it got there doesn’t matter. Not even a little bit.

I’ll take a catcher who throws from her feet and gets people out over one who throws from knees and doesn’t, or gets very few, any day of the week, and for a double header on Sunday. I’m sure any college coach would agree, because only a fool would think otherwise.

What a way to end your career

 

UW Madison's Kirsten Stevens was named to the 2017 Eugene Regional All-Tournament Team

Just had to give one last shout out to Kirsten Stevens at the University of Wisconsin Madison for ending her fastpitch softball career with a bang. Kirsten was named to the Eugene Regional All-Tournament team after a stellar performance last weekend.

Her key accomplishment in the Regional was throwing a 2-0, five-hit shutout against the UIC Flames in a must-win game. It’s my understanding that this was the farthest UW Madison has gone in the NCAA Division 1 tournament in its history, and she got to be a contributor to the team getting there. Kirsten Stevens Named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week

In that game, Kirsten secure 8 strikeouts, including one to end the nail-biter of a 7th inning when UIC threatened to tie the game by opening the inning with two hits to put runners on first and second with no outs. But Kirsten bore down, getting the next hitter to pop up a bunt attempt on a lovely riseball to relieve some pressure, then inducing another out before finishing out the game with the final K to send UW Madison to the finals against Oregon.

It was quite the storybook finish for her. Or so it appeared.

The next day, Kirsten was brought in to throw one more time after UW Madison fell behind the Ducks. After settling in she was able to secure three outs, including once again finishing out the inning with a K, bringing her tournament total to 9, which was second only to Oregon star Maggie Balint. Her tournament ERA was 0.88, which was also good for second-best, this time behind Oregon’s Miranda Elish, who blanked the Badgers in the final. To add to the accomplishments, Kirsten gave up no walks in 8 innings pitched, making her #1 in K/BB ratio. Needless to say, she was on fire.

It was quite a way for the senior to finish a great career filled with many accolades. Congrats to Kirsten on a job, and a pitching career, well done.

Related content:

Big 10 Pitcher of the Week

Record-setting win

Sometimes you just gotta say…

Joel offers a good piece of mental game advice to fastpitch softball players

Fastpitch softball players know there’s nothing quite like getting caught in the “death spiral.” That’s one of those bad times when it seems like nothing goes right.

For pitchers, it’s giving up too many walks or hits – especially cheap ones. For fielders it’s those bad hops, or those throws that start to sail on you no matter what you do. For hitters, it’s all the things that go with being in a slump.

Things don’t go right for a bit, and you start getting down on yourself. The death spiral part comes when you start over-thinking things, or worrying too much about what your coach thinks, what your teammates think, what the peanut gallery up in the stands think, what the media thinks, even what strangers on the street think. Pretty soon it seems like the whole world is stacked up against you.

It’s at that point that you have to remember the wise words of Tom Cruise’s character Joel from Risky Business: Sometimes you just gotta say what the (heck). (WARNING: Joel doesn’t actually say “heck” in the clip. The link is NSFW, so turn the sound down. If you are not in high school yet, all I can say is don’t click or earmuffs.)

Easier said than done, sure. But I can attest it works, because one of my students went through that this year in her high school season, and that was how she turned it around (although I doubt she used the NSFW word.)

She’d gotten off to a rocky start hitting. This is a girl who can really bang the ball, a true five-tool player.

She’s also someone who really cares about doing well for her team, so underperforming really bothers her.

I hadn’t had a chance to get out to one of her games until a couple of weeks ago. By then I had heard she’d turned it around. I was talking to her and her parents during and after the game, and they all told me the same story.

As she put it, “I went out to play that day and I just said to myself, ‘I don’t care.'” Not that she didn’t care about the game, but she decided to quit worrying about the results and what everyone else was thinking.

It worked like magic. She relaxed and the hits started coming.

Bad things happen to everyone. Even good players. Even great ones. No great hitter ever had a career that didn’t have a slump at some point.

When it happens, just remember: sometimes you just gotta say what the @#$%.

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