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Seems Like I Never Get to See the Good Stuff


One of my favorite things to do is to go out and catch a game where one (or more) of my students is playing. It can be a bit nerve-wracking at times – especially if a pitching student is facing a hitting student since by default one of them is about to fail – but overall I find it highly valuable.

One of the best parts, of course, is seeing how they perform in context. It’s one thing for hitters to be banging balls all over the batting cage, or pitchers to be racking up the Ks in bullpen sessions. It’s another to see what they do in an actual game situation. It’s like Han Solo says:

About a week ago I had one of those rare opportunities. I didn’t have lessons until later, and high school softball starts pretty early (usually 4:30 during the weekdays) so I ran out to a local school to watch a hitting student named Ella play at least part of a game.

She came to bat twice against what I would characterize as a pretty good pitcher, and she struck out both times. As I watched her struggle I switched from “just here to enjoy a game” mode to “coach/analyst” mode.

I noticed something in her swing. Much as I would have liked to have run down to the dugout and told her about it I would never actually do such a thing. So I did the next best thing. I texted her mom, who was out of town, and asked her to share the information with Ella when the game was over.

Ella’s mom responded that she would, but then I had to leave in the middle of the game to go teach some lessons.

Later I got another text from Ella’s mom. Apparently after I left Ella hit a home run and a double. So she ended up 2-4 that day accumulating 6 total bases. Her mom did say she would pass my message along anyway.

But it figures. I don’t know if this happens to others, but I feel like it always happens to me. I go out to watch a student play and she seems to have a rough time. But I’ll hear before I got there she did awesome, or after I left she got it together and played like a champion.

It wasn’t just Ella either. A couple of days later I watched a 12U pitcher named Sammie for a bit in her first outdoor game of the season. It wasn’t pretty. In the first inning she pitched, which I was there to see, she gave up something like 6 walks, which is uncharacteristic for her and a total surprise after the great off-season she had. She also had 2 Ks, but it wasn’t exactly an offset.

Then I left for lessons, but continued to follow along on GameChanger. Of course, once I was gone she proceeded to strike out the side in the next inning, only giving up one meaningless walk.

It’s enough to make you wonder, “Is it me?” Now, I have heard from parents before that their daughters admit to being nervous when they see me at a game. They want to perform well when I come out to see them, and sometimes it makes them uptight.

Which I find strange since who is going to be a bigger fan and cheerleader for them than me? No reason to be nervous, go have fun. But just in case, I’ve started trying to find places to hide so they don’t know I’m there.

I do know I’m not alone in this. I remember the mom of another hitting student named Emma telling me she never got to see her daughter hit a home run. That was quite an accomplishment because her senior season in high school she hit 15 of them. But when mom was there nothing. She eventually did see one, but it was notable for being the exception.

Now, sometimes I go out to watch a game because I know a student is struggling. I consider that a fact-finding mission so we can get her back on track as quickly as possible, so I don’t even count those games in this post.

The ones I’m talking about is where I see or hear the player is doing well, and I go out with the intention of enjoying the show only to see her under-perform. Luckily no one has flat-out asked me not to come to a game yet, but frankly I sometimes wonder why.

The good news for my students is my lesson schedule (not to mention my wife) keeps me busy so I don’t have a lot of time to get out to games. But if you are one of my students and I do show up, please do me a favor. Relax, have a good time, and just play the way you play when I’m not there. We’ll all be happier for that.

So how about you? Ever have that experience when your student/daughter/whoever plays well EXCEPT when you’re there? Share your stories in the comments below!



The three-pitch challenge

One of the continuing challenges of learning the game of fastpitch softball is transferring skills from practice to a game. That’s because they’re often two different experiences.

In practice, you get multiple repetitions to execute the same skills. If you miss one, no worries – you have the opportunity to try it again. That makes for a (generally) more relaxed atmosphere.

In games it’s a different story. You fail, and you often pay the consequences for it. That adds a lot of pressure, which makes it even more difficult to execute the skill correctly.

So how do you add game-like pressure to practice? I’ve written about that before here and here and I’m sure in other areas too. You just have to be creative. Here’s another way.

I call it the three-pitch challenge, and it’s a great way to end a good session. Here are the basics: You tell the pitcher you’re going to call three pitches. If she executes all three in a row properly – i.e., right location, right break on a breaking pitch, right speed for a change, etc. – she’s done for the day. But she can’t stop until she gets three in a row. Throw two good ones and blow the third and you start back at zero.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But it can get in a pitcher’s head pretty quickly.

One of the pitchers I like to do this with is a very talented girl named Katie. I like doing it because she hates it, by the way, so I know it’s accomplishing what I want it to do. I will say she has gotten better at it over time, which has also translated into her on-field pitching. She is so driven and such a perfectionist that she’d get herself all wound up if a couple of pitches didn’t go right. Now she’s learned to re-channel that energy into making the next pitch better rather than worrying about what the last pitch didn’t do.

When I do this with pitchers I often try to get them an early win. I’ll pick a pitch that I’m pretty confident they’re going to throw properly. I might even go with two high-confidence pitches for the first two. Then I’ll select one that was either a struggle or perhaps was the focus for the day.

For example, let’s say she’s been spotting her fastball for a strike, but wanted to work on her drop ball because it wasn’t working the last game. I’ll go with fastball low and out for pitch one (must be a strike to count). Then perhaps a change for the second pitch, assuming it’s been working pretty well. Then I’ll ask for the drop on the third pitch. That’s going to tell us whether the gains she made that day are going to hold up under pressure.

As a variation you can let the pitcher choose which pitches she’s going to throw. The only caveat is she can’t throw the same pitch twice in a sequence of three. That may seem like it’s easier for the pitcher, but it actually adds more pressure. Since she made the decision of what to throw, the sole responsibility is on her. You’d be surprised what that can do to confidence. Or maybe not if you’ve experienced it.

No matter who is calling the pitches, you have to watch for the point of no return – that point where the pitcher is too deep in her own head. At that point I’ll change the pitch calls to presumably make it easier to get out of this particular session without giving up totally, and be a little liberal on what I’ll accept for the pitch – such as a drop that drops a little, or a fastball that’s a borderline strike.

Three pitches doesn’t sound like much, but when there’s something at stake (like being done with a lesson) it can have a significant impact. Next time you’re looking for an exclamation point on a pitching session, give the three-pitch challenge a try.

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