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
One of the most common questions I get from the parents of fastpitch softball pitchers is “How many pitches should my daughter throw per day?” Sometimes they’re worried that throw too much, but most of the time it’s that they don’t throw enough.
I know they’re looking for a hard and fast number, like 100, but it’s actually a tough question to give a blanket answer to. Here’s why.
If I tell them 100, or 200, or 50, then someone is probably going to start counting the pitches. The goal then becomes getting to the target number when the goal should be to improve with every pitch. That’s just human nature.
The problem is empty repetitions, where you’re just throwing to hit the number, are like eating empty calories. It might feel good at the time, but you’re really not helping yourself.
In fact, in the long run you may be hurting yourself. Just as you are what you eat, you also are what you practice. If you practice the wrong mechanics simply because you’re trying to hit that count of 100 pitches, you’re locking down a way of throwing that will make you worse, or at least keep you in the same place, rather than making you better.
I know this from personal experience. When I was a young lad, I took piano lessons. The requirement was I had to practice for a half hour a day. Well, a lot of times I wanted to be outside with my friends instead of sitting at our crappy old piano that had some broken keys, playing exercises and songs I didn’t care about. So I put in the required half hour (and not a minute more) without really accomplishing much of anything.
If you’re hungry and have a candy bar, you’ve staved off the hunger for a bit. But you haven’t nourished your body. You’re not making it healthier; you’re just making yourself fatter and more prone to whatever illness is going around. If your goal is to be strong and healthy, you need to eat foods that will help you accomplish that goal. Which means thinking before you eat.
The same is true of practicing. At each practice session you should have a goal. Maybe you need to fix your arm circle, or improve your leg drive, or gain control of your change-up. There’s always something to work on.
Knowing what your goal is, you should work toward that. It may come in 20 pitches. It may come in 1,000 pitches spread across a period of days. Whatever it takes, you should focus on what you need to do to reach your goal rather than how many pitches you’ve thrown that day.
It’s a much more efficient way to practice. In fact, I’d rather see a player throw 20 mindful pitches, or spend 10 mindful minutes working on something, than just “putting in the time” like a prisoner in the Big House.
This idea doesn’t just apply to pitching, by the way. It is the same for hitting, throwing, base running, position play, and so forth. Empty repetitions gain you nothing. In fact, the mindset that makes them empty will also tend to make them less than great, helping you get worse instead of better.
Instead, go for the substance. Nurture your game with focused practice and you’ll reach your goals more quickly – and with greater ease.
I was thinking about this today as I was thinking about my daughters and a couple of other players who used to play with us.
If you are a current player, there are no doubt times when you find the whole training/practicing thing to be a pain. In fact, you may sometimes look at yet another game or tournament and think “Much as I love the game it sure will be nice when it’s all over and my time is my own.”
Take it from those players I was talking about at the beginning. I have yet to run into a former player who doesn’t wish she could get back out on the field just one more time to play a game or tournament that matters.
Yes, you can still play slow pitch, or maybe if you’re lucky you can find a fastpitch league somewhere. But it’s not the same. There just isn’t the level of intensity you find when you’re playing competitive ball on a regular basis, whether that’s travel, rec, high school or college.
You may not miss it right away. But one day you’ll realize just how much fun it was, and how cool, and you’ll wish you could go back and do it all again, just one more time. So…
If you’re currently a player in her last season, keep that in mind as you’re lifting, or going to lessons, or practicing. It does have an expiration date.
Also keep in mind that this final year you will be as good as you’re ever going to be, because once you’re done practicing and playing regularly all those skills you worked so hard to gain will start to deteriorate. Maybe not much at first, but they will go, and things that once came easily will now be more difficult. Or they may not be there at all anymore.
Use that as your special motivation to get past the grind of preparation. Make sure when you leave the game you feel there’s nothing more you could have done to make yourself better. Because if you don’t, once that last out is recorded you’ll have the rest of your life ahead of you. And you won’t want to spend it wishing you’d done a little more, or appreciated it a little more.
Take it from those who have come and gone before you.