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.