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When softball coach and player preferences clash

The coach's job is to get a pillow

There’s an old saying that if a hitter can hit .400 (or whatever number you prefer) standing on her head, the coach’s job is to get her a pillow. It’s really just a snazzier way of saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Yet for many coaches, it’s almost impossible to resist the temptation to tinker. I get that you can always improve on something. But as they say in Bull Durham, a player on a streak has to respect the streak. (WARNING: This clip is definite NSFW so use earbuds.)

Coaches need to as well. They may believe in their hearts that hitters should always go after the first pitch, because pitchers are likely to throw strikes to try to get ahead.

But if the player feels more comfortable letting that first one go by, AND in doing so can perform well later in the count, it makes sense to let her do it. After all, Ted Williams rarely swung at the first pitch and he seemed to do ok considering he’s generally thought to be the greatest MLB hitter ever.

The same goes for calling pitches. The coach may be a huge fan of throwing low and outside, but if that’s not a pitcher’s strength you’re just asking for her to get lit up.

Or take the case of a favorite pitch. The coach may be a huge fan of the screwball, or the riseball, or some other pitch. But if the pitcher has better pitches in her arsenal, it makes more sense to rely more on those. Coaches may love the idea of speed, but if you don’t throw some changeups now and then hitter will eventually time the pitches and then it’s bye bye speed pitch.

I’ve talked lots of times about getting stuck in certain philosophies, such as sacrifice bunting a runner to second every time you get one of first with no outs. Not only doesn’t it make sense mathematically, it also makes you very predictable.

And why play for one run all the time when you have a lineup that can put up multiple runs in an inning?

One of my favorite stories involves the U.S. Olympic team, I believe in 2004. When Lisa Fernandez wasn’t pitching, she started at 3rd base and hit cleanup. But when she was pitching, the team would use a DP in her place, because back then (and really up until recently) the “book” said you DP for the pitcher.

In an interview Mike Candrea said he finally realized that every time he put his best pitcher into the game he was taking out one of his best bats, which was foolish. By bucking conventional wisdom and letting her hit for herself, he not only kept her bat in the lineup but actually added one more by using the DP for someone that didn’t hit as well.

One Gold Medal later that looked like a pretty good idea. And you’re starting to see a lot more of that thinking in the college game today.

As coaches we all have our preferences, beliefs, and philosophies. They may have worked for us in the past, but we always have to be mindful of the present.

Rather than getting caught up in “shoulds,” we need to focus on what is.

Oh, and if you are a player, keep this mind. From time to time, you’ll probably be told to do this or that by a well-meaning coach. If you’re struggling or under-performing, it may be a good idea.

But if you’re kicking butt and taking names, think about this. If you don’t follow that advice but keep performing, the coach may not be happy with you but will likely leave you in anyway. He/she would be foolish to take you out and hurt the team’s chances of winning just to prove a point. If you do follow the advice and your success rates goes down, however, you’ll likely find yourself on the bench eventually.

Not an easy choice, I know. But that’s the reality. Hopefully, however, your coach will be one who keeps a ready supply of pillows around.

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The Indiana Jones drill for fastpitch pitchers

Increasing leg drive is an important factor in maximizing speed for fastpitch pitchers. While a lot of the speed comes out of properly using the arm, strong leg drive helps generate more power that can be transferred into the arm.

Sometimes, however, no matter how much you talk about leg drive the pitcher has trouble feeling what it’s really like. She steps or maybe jumps forward a little, but doesn’t really push and drive.

If you’re facing that situation, here’s a fun little drill I like to call the Indiana Jones drill. The name comes from a scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

You remember the one. It’s when he’s trying to get to the room that actually contains the Holy Grail. 

Indy had already passed the first test, the one with the sawblades that come flying out of the walls (the Penitent Man), and is now up to the second test about the name of God. He must jump from letter to letter spelling out the name Jehovah (and at first forgets there was no J in the Latin alphabet and thus must start with I).

In this drill, the pitcher starts at the rubber, then jumps forward, one jump at a time and alternating legs, until she reaches the plate, as Abbie is demonstrating here. Then she goes back the other way.

As she does this, count the number of jumps it takes. Then challenge her to cover the distance in one less jump. As she continues to try to take out one jump she will be developing not only leg strength but also the feel of what it’s like to push out more powerfully.

It’s fun, and it works. Of course, the Indy reference works better if the pitcher has seen the movie. But if nothing else the dads are amused.

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