The One Tool Every Fastpitch Coach Needs in His/Her Bag
There are all kinds of devices and training tools available to fastpitch softball (and other) coaches today. A quick scan of Amazon or any sporting goods website will offer all kinds of ways to solve all kinds of problems at all kinds of price points.
But there is one tool today’s coaches need to make sure they have in their bags if they want to meet the expectations of many fastpitch players and especially parents today: a magic wand.
(Mine happens to be a Sirius Black model, as I’m sure Coach Katie McKay Phillips has already identified. If you don’t know who Sirius Black is, you really need to read more.)
The reason you need a magic wand is simple: many players and parents want to see instant improvement in individuals and teams.
They don’t want to spend hours practicing skills such as hitting, throwing, and pitching in the basement, backyard, or batting cages. They don’t want to spend hours out at the field learning their positions and what plays to make in specific situations or how to communicate where the ball will go.
Instead, they want you as the coach to wave a magic wand and take the team from looking like a group of misfit toys to a unit that can compete for tournament championships every weekend. So you’d best have a magic wand in your bag to show them you’re trying to give them what they want!
Now, of course, as any Harry Potter fan knows the wand is only as good as the wizard who wields it. So you’d best be practicing your spells and charms.
Once you have your wand, here are a few you can try. Some are directly from the Hogwarts courseware, while others are spells and charms of my own design.
Just remember, if you are a total Muggle and can’t get them to work, you’ll have to acquire the results the long, old-fashioned way – with lots of practice and repetition.
- Wingardium Leviosa – This one is one of the first Hogwarts students learn. It’s a levitation charm used to lift objects. Comes in mighty handy when your team can’t hit too well. Throw a little Wingardium Leviosa at a weak ground ball and watch it turn into a soaring line drive. You can also use it more subtly to turn a weak pop-up into a duck snort that sails just out of reach of every converging fielder. I’m sure you’ve seen that before.
- Expellliarmus – Good for when an opposing fielder is about to make a play that will result in a costly out. Originally designed to pull an opponent’s wand from his/her hand, it’s also great for turning a routine fielding opportunity into an instant error. No doubt you’ve seen this one being used by your opponents to make you look like you’ve never taught your players how to play. Naturally some coaches over-use it and then your team makes error after error, giving up a big inning. After all, the team couldn’t be that bad on their own after spending THE ENTIRE WEEK working on fielding ground balls and bunts.
- Petrificus Totalus – This is a full body binding spell that causes temporary complete paralysis. You have probably seen this one in action when your hitters were at the plate. The opposing pitcher throws a meatball down the middle of the plate and your hitter watches it go by for strike three. They didn’t freeze up on their own – they were hit with Petrificus Totalus by a wizard on the other side of the field. What other explanation could there be?
- Oblivius – This one is really handy becaue it enables you to erase the memory of people or events you don’t want someone to remember. It can be used in a couple of different ways. When used on opponents you can cause them to forget what to do with the ball on defense so they just stand there confused, holding it and looking around. No doubt you’ve seen this one in use as well. For your own team, you can use it when your pitcher just gave up a home run or other big hit to an opposing hitter and has now lost total confidence in herself and her ability to throw a strike. A little Oblivius and she’s right back in there. Coaches can also use it on themselves to forget bad innings or entire games before it gives them ulcers.
- Accio – The summoning spell that brings things to you. You’ll have to teach it to your players so the ball goes to them. How else do you explain a sure home run that hits a phantom gust of win and stays in the yard so the worst fielder in the game can catch it?
- Confundus Charm (Confundo) – Ever see three fielders converge on a ball only to let it drop between all of them? That’s Confundo in action.
- Instanteous Pitchus – Learning to pitch can be a long, arduous journey filled with hard work and major disappointments. But it doesn’t have to be. If you use this charm correctly you can turn any wannabe-pitcher into an instant ace in just one lesson. Which is what many parents expect of their coaches. No long, boring practice time or hours spent chasing balls around a backstop. Any pitcher can go from zero to hero if you apply this charm.
- Sluggeraramus – Does for hitters what Instanteous Pitchus does for pitchers. Or what parents expect purchasing a $500 bat will do for a kid with a 5 cent swing. If you can cast this spell, which is not easy to do, you won’t have to use Wingardium Leviosa so much in a game because every hit will already be a great one.
- Awareweed – Not so much a spell or charm as an herbal potion you can feed your players in lieu of spending practice time teaching them what to do with the ball in specific situations. Somehow they will just know where the ball should go, such as whether they should throw home to try to cut down the lead runner or realize that run is already scoring so go after one who is more vulnerable. It also gives them situational understanding, such as throwing to first for the sure out when your team has a 10-run lead rather than trying to get the runner heading home on a tag play. When your team is loaded up on Awareweed, coaches and parents can just sit back and enjoy the magic happening on the field.
- Silencio – While this silencing spell can be used on players when their incessant cheers are giving you a headache, it’s best applied to all the parent “coaches” in the stands who are yelling advice to their players (especially at the plate) or providing a running monolog of every play you as the coach should have made (after the fact, of course), criticisms of personnel or baserunning decisions, ideas on how to improve run production, and whatever else pops into their mind at the time. It can (and should) also be applied to those who have decided it’s their job to teach the umpire how to do his/her job.
That’s a fairly comprehensive list – enough to keep you studying for at least a year until you can pass your Ordinary Wizarding Level (O.W.L.) exam and more on to more advanced spells, charms, and potions.
That said, if you don’t have access to a wand, or can’t make it work, you’re going to have to do it the old-fashioned way – and explain it to your players and their parents as well.
The old-fashioned way isn’t quite as easy for them, and it takes longer, but it brings its own kind of magic as players achieve capabilities on their own they never dreamed they could acquire. And in the long run it’s a lot more satisfying because it’s been earned.
Coaching, Bearded Dragons and Relationship Building
It was yet another oppressively hot, very humid day here in the Midwest – the type we used to associate with Mississippi but now is happening here on a regular basis.
My first lesson of the afternoon, a young 10U pitcher we’ll call Hermione (for reasons that will become obvious shortly), had the look of someone who wanted to be anywhere but a pitching lesson.
“Jump some rope to warm up,” I told her, and she slowly shuffled over to the fence where the rope was hanging before giving it a half-hearted effort. Then she went out to throw with her mom, and could barely get the ball there despite the fact they weren’t more than 15 feet apart.
This was the second time in a row she had come out that way. “Maybe she just doesn’t want to pitch,” I said to her mom. That’s ok, I said, but then no sense torturing her with a lesson.
Mom left it up to Hermione and she said she wanted to do it so we continued – after I talked to her for a few minutes.
“I know it’s hot,” I told her, “but there’s nothing we can do about that. But attitude is a choice. You can choose to put the effort in or not – it’s totally in your control.”
That worked about as well as you’d expect it to work on a 10U player, but we continued anyway.
“She may be tired,” her mom offered. “We went to the zoo yesterday.”
“Really?” I replied, thinking we might have a different way to approach things. “What zoo?” I asked Hermione.
“Mmph,” she said.
“Milwaukee,” her mom added.
“I love the Milwaukee Zoo,” I said to Hermione. “What are your favorite exhibits?”
“Mmph,” she replied again.
Then mom stepped in again. “We went to the small mammals, (something else I don’t remember), and reptiles.”
“Reptiles?” I said. That’s an unusual choice if you’re only seeing three.
“I like reptiles.” Hermione offered.
Aha! An actual response. I dug into it a little more, and then came the turning point. Her mom said the reptile house didn’t have any bearded dragons.
“Oh, you like those?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said with some enthusiasm. “I have a bearded dragon in my room.”
From then on it was like someone flipped a switch. Instead of looking like someone in a hostage video she became quite animated as we talked about beardies in general (that’s what the “in the know” people call them) and hers in particular.
Over the course of the lesson I learned her beardy’s name as Phoenix Firebolt (for Dumbledore’s pet and Harry Potter’s broomstick), which of course meant I also learned she liked Harry Potter. I learned that beardies eat grain and bugs, and that bugs are a lot more expensive than grain.
I learned she liked to dress Phoenix up in costumes, and that Phoenix wasn’t exactly a fan.
“I just have a couple,” she told me. “A lot of people do it all the time.
I also learned she liked to take Phoenix for walks, and that if she took the leash off outside without an adult present Phoenix would try to escape. A lesson discovered the hard way.
Throughout all of this conversation Hermione continued to pitch. Her throws got harder and more accurate.
I would make corrections here or there, but quickly follow that up with a beardy question. The lesson flew by, with Hermione making tremendous progress.
It was a good reminder for me. There is a saying that players don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
In other words, your ability as a coach to build a relationship with a player on her terms is critical to your success.
Whether it carries over automatically to next week remains to be seen. But hopefully, at least with this one player, I have a key to unlock her resistance or reluctance and help her enjoy her pitching lessons instead of just enduring them.
That’s the challenge for all coaches. Get to know your players, especially at the younger ages. Find out what floats their boats.
Because if you can establish some common ground there, they just might let you in a little faster to help them become the players they’re meant to be.
Bearded dragon photo by Saketh Upadhya on Pexels.com