The fastpitch softball tryout season for high school is rapidly approaching in many areas. Normally it’s already over by now, but thanks to COVID-19 it’s been delayed by a few weeks.
I’m sure the parents who are used to sitting in nasty cold weather (whatever that is for your area) don’t mind pushing the season back until a little closer to actual Spring.
But what isn’t talked about much are the things you can do before tryouts begin to help you show your best. Remember the old saying that “Success is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
The opportunity is the tryouts, and you don’t have a lot of control over what happens there. But the preparation is what happens before that day, and you have plenty of control over that.
Here are a few things you can do to ensure you’re ready when the opportunity presents itself.
#1 Start running. A lot.
Yes, I know. You got into softball because you don’t like running. But in a tryout you’d better be prepared to do a lot of it.
You might think that softball teams have their prospects run a lot during tryouts to get them in shape for the season. In some cases that may be true.
But often they use running to weed out the players who are dabbling versus those who are committed. It’s a lot easier to win when your team is committed.
It also saves them the heartache of having to make cuts. Except for maybe a sadistic few, most coaches (especially in high school) don’t like having to cut players. It takes an emotional toll.
So if they can get those players to cut themselves it makes their job that much easier.
Bottom line is, if you’re planning to make it through the first two to three days of tryouts, start running sprints and distance now. You can thank me later.
#2 Learn to hit off a pitching machine.
I hear this all the time: “I can’t hit off a pitching machine.” Well, sister, you’d better learn because that’s what’s used in a lot of high school tryouts.
You can be the greatest hitter in the world (or at least your school) off of a live pitcher. But it’s unlikely anyone is going to see that during a tryout because they don’t have a live pitcher throwing to hitters.
If you’re lucky they’ll have a coach doing front toss. But more than likely you’ll be facing a wheel machine because that enables coaches to see you hitting against more speed.
The problem is the way pitching machines are fed makes it very difficult for those who aren’t used to it to be successful. Fortunately for you, I did an entire video blog on this topic, so check it out and practice the techniques to help yourself get ready. You’ll be glad you did.
#3 Make sure your throwing is spot-on.
This is an area many players don’t even think about. But it can be a huge difference-maker, especially if you’re not an overall standout athlete.
I know when I used to do tryouts our coaches would watch prospects throwing in warmups. It would look like we were just impatiently waiting for them to finish their obligatory warm-ups, but actually we’d be looking at their throwing technique.
Those who can throw smoothly and confidently, and hit their targets at least most of the time, stand out from the girls who push the ball, drop their elbows, or whip their arms wildly around their heads.
Statistically, 80% of all errors are throwing errors, so if you can eliminate those you again stand a much better chance of winning a ballgame. And the easiest way you can do that is to select players who already know how to throw a ball.
This can be a problem even for players who throw, hard by the way. An inaccurate hard throw will bang off the fence much further than a softer inaccurate throw, so don’t make your judgment based solely on how good an arm you have. Be sure you can hit what you’re throwing at too.
Whichever way you go, get on it fast. Learning to throw properly can not only help you look better in a tryout. It can save you from a lot of pain and arm injuries down the road.
#4 Check your equipment and replace it as-needed.
When you go to a tryout you want to be sure not only that your equipment works but that you look like you’re an Ace. A floppy, beat-up glove, shoes with holes in them, catcher’s gear that looks like it’s been through a war, a bat with the grip hanging off or paint falling off, etc. doesn’t make a very good first impression.
Particularly if you have to stop to make repairs.
Go through all the gear you will use during a tryout and ask yourself, “Does this look like the equipment a top-level player would use?” If not, and if you have the ability, replace it.
The same, incidentally, goes for the clothes you plan to wear at the tryout. First impressions do count.
If your lucky t-shirt is all raggedy, or your favorite softball pants look like you were crawling around the alley looking for quarters, find something else to wear. Can’t do much about the pants, but you can always wear the lucky t-shirt under another shirt or jersey.
#5 Know the environment where you’ll be trying out.
In some areas it will be obvious whether tryouts will be held inside or outside. If it’s 30 degrees outside with snow on the field you can bet you’ll be indoors.
But with tryouts happening later in many parts of the country it may not be so simple. You might even be indoors one day and outdoors the next.
As a result, you’ll want to be sure you’re prepared no matter what the decision will be. If you’ll be in a gym, have a good pair of gym shoes available to wear. If you’ll be on turf, have turf shoes. For a regular softball field, have cleats.
If you even suspect you’ll be outside during the day, be sure to pack your sunglasses. Nothing worse than missing fly balls in the outfield not because you can’t catch but because you can’t see.
Also be sure you have warm clothes in case you’re outside for an extended period of time. That includes jackets that will keep the wind from cutting through your clothes.
A hoodie may seem warm, but if it’s chilly and the wind kicks up you’ll find out just how little protection it offers. A warm hat or headband will also be in order, as well as a warm pair of socks (assuming you can still get your cleats on over them).
If you’re miserable, it will show in your demeanor and your play. Being ready for any conditions will help you show your best.
Running photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com
Penguin photo by DSD on Pexels.com
Good news for my readers who live in the general north suburban area of Chicago – or are willing to get there from further away. The Pro Player Hurricanes are sponsoring a High Level Throwing clinic with Austin Wasserman November 14-15 in McHenry, Illinois. It’s at the Pro-Player Consultants facility, 5112 Prime Parkway, which is a great place for a clinic. I should know, because I teach lessons there.
There are two three-hour sessions each day that break down as follows:
Saturday, November 14
- Session 1: 10:00 am – 1 pm (10U-12U players)
- Session 2: 2:00 – 5:00 pm (13U-18U players
Sunday, November 15
- Session 1: 12:00 – 3:00 pm (10U-12U player)
- Session 2: 3:00 – 6:00 pm (13U-18U players)
The cost for a session is $150 per player. This is a rare opportunity to learn how to throw more powerfully – and safer – from one of the leading experts in the world.
Full information is available on the flyer (click the download button. If you want to up your daughter’s game with the overhand throw, be sure to get signed up by going to https://www.wassermanstrengthfl.com/high-level-throwing-clinic-mchenry-il/
Let me start by saying I am a fan of continuous learning. I believe it is every coach’s responsibility to constantly question what they already “know,” look for new information and innovation, and keep up with the latest advances in our sport.
This is one of the reasons I pursued and attained Elite certification in the High Performance Pitching program back in the December/January timeframe, and continue to participate in weekly calls with other accomplished pitching coaches from across the country. I’ve been doing this for a long time and could easily decide to be comfortable with what I already knew. But if there is a chance I can do better in helping the athletes I coach you can bet I will look into it.
All that said, there is another side to this mostly positive coin – what I would term as “chasing rainbows.” A coach who is chasing rainbows isn’t really looking to add to their knowledge and synthesize what they believe so they can teach it in an organized manner.
Instead, this is a coach with no set of firm beliefs to challenge. Instead, he/she merely adopts and repeats whatever he/she heard most recently from someone perceived as being smarter than the coach. Here’s an example.
A hitting coach attends a coach’s clinic where the presenter explains why you want a slight uppercut swing with the hips leading the hands. So she takes furious notes, highlights the handout, and runs back to her team to show them this “new” way to hit.
Note that she doesn’t take time to compare the information to what high-level hitters do, or to think through how it applies to the players on her team. She simply parrots the talking points and hopes for the best.
A few months later, she attends another clinic where the presenter talks about starting with the hands and swinging down on the ball to create backspin. Again, she takes furious notes, highlights the handout, and guess what? Now her team is learning an entirely new way to swing (and an incorrect one, I might add) before the players have had a chance to master the previous way.
What you end up with is a team caught somewhere between their original swings, the techniques of the first clinic and the techniques of the second clinic. Then the head coach wonders why the team has a collective batting average of .257 and can’t seem to produce runs on any sort of scale.
A better approach would be to start with a firm set of beliefs about hitting, preferably based on the teachings of someone who has been successful coaching hitters along with a close study of high-speed video of high-level softball and baseball players actually swinging the bat.
Note that I didn’t say a study of what those high-level players say. Just because they can hit doesn’t mean they know how to explain what they do. You’d be surprised how many of them say one thing and do something else.
Once the coach has a starting point, then start taking in information and comparing it to those beliefs in the same manner. For example the conflict between whether to swing down on the ball or swing with a slight uppercut at contact.
Whichever side the coach starts on, look at information from the opposite side and see how it compares to those high-level swings. If what is being said matches what is being seen, the coach will probably want to re-evaluate her beliefs. If it doesn’t, the coach is probably already on the right track.
When a coach can attend a clinic or other presentation and critically evaluate the material being presented she can be fairly confident that her decision on whether to adopt what is being taught there or discard it will be a good one.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be a binary choice. The coach may find that 95% of what is being presented is just old thinking, but that the other 5% has some value, if not for the whole team at least for one player.
This is especially true when it comes to drills. People talk about “good drills” and “bad drills.” But with rare exceptions, any drill is good that can help a player get to where she needs to go, even if it’s not the best course for everyone.
This idea of working to adopt a firm philosophy doesn’t just apply to hitter. It can apply to any skill within fastpitch softball, even if what you’ve been doing has been successful.
Heck, I’ve taught throwing a certain way for a number of years, based on the best information I had available to me at the time. After being exposed to Austin Wasserman’s High Level Throwing program I’ve changed what I teach to some extent. Not because it’s the flavor du jour, but because what he says makes sense in the context of what I already understand about throwing.
For many of us, change can be difficult. But for some it actually comes too easily.
Find something or a set of somethings you believe in after careful consideration, then work to build from there. Because the funny thing about chasing rainbows is that while you may feel you’re getting closer, you’ll never catch them. And you may actually take yourself farther away from your preferred destination.