Toward the end of the summer 2020 season (if you can call that a season), one of my pitching students, a terrific lefty named Sammie, developed some control trouble. Suddenly, out of nowhere, she started throwing everything off the plate to her throwing hand side.
We got together and we worked on it. I thought she might be going across her body instead of straight so we set up a couple of giant cones to try to steer her back down the straight and narrow as it were.
It helped a little, but not enough. She still struggled in her next game, and in her practice sessions.
This was definitely a problem that needed to be corrected so I racked my brain on what the probable root cause might have been. As it turned out, however, I didn’t need to think so hard.
In this case, I only needed to remember the opening song from “Les Miserables” – look down.
When I looked down at Sammie’s feet on the pitching rubber I knew exactly what the problem was. She was like this:
We have been working on her sliding her foot over the center of her body and I thought she had that down. But somewhere along the way she stopped centering, and instead would only slide her foot slightly. As a result, everything was going down the left side, often off the plate.
So we worked once again on the proper slide across, placing her left foot more in this position before driving off:
Once she got her foot more in this position all her problems with being off the plate went away, as if by magic. Control was regained and she once again began dominating hitters.
So there’s the lesson for today. Sometimes a pitcher’s (or any athlete’s for that matter) issues aren’t being driven by some horrible breakdown in mechanics.
As we coaches work to acquire knowledge and hone our craft, we can get caught up in over-thinking the issues and the solutions. This is a good reminder that often a simple adjustment on a pitcher who has been doing well can get her right back on track.
William of Ockham may have been born in 1287. But he would have made a heck of a pitching coach.
One of my favorite things to do is to go out and catch a game where one (or more) of my students is playing. It can be a bit nerve-wracking at times – especially if a pitching student is facing a hitting student since by default one of them is about to fail – but overall I find it highly valuable.
One of the best parts, of course, is seeing how they perform in context. It’s one thing for hitters to be banging balls all over the batting cage, or pitchers to be racking up the Ks in bullpen sessions. It’s another to see what they do in an actual game situation. It’s like Han Solo says:
About a week ago I had one of those rare opportunities. I didn’t have lessons until later, and high school softball starts pretty early (usually 4:30 during the weekdays) so I ran out to a local school to watch a hitting student named Ella play at least part of a game.
She came to bat twice against what I would characterize as a pretty good pitcher, and she struck out both times. As I watched her struggle I switched from “just here to enjoy a game” mode to “coach/analyst” mode.
I noticed something in her swing. Much as I would have liked to have run down to the dugout and told her about it I would never actually do such a thing. So I did the next best thing. I texted her mom, who was out of town, and asked her to share the information with Ella when the game was over.
Ella’s mom responded that she would, but then I had to leave in the middle of the game to go teach some lessons.
Later I got another text from Ella’s mom. Apparently after I left Ella hit a home run and a double. So she ended up 2-4 that day accumulating 6 total bases. Her mom did say she would pass my message along anyway.
But it figures. I don’t know if this happens to others, but I feel like it always happens to me. I go out to watch a student play and she seems to have a rough time. But I’ll hear before I got there she did awesome, or after I left she got it together and played like a champion.
It wasn’t just Ella either. A couple of days later I watched a 12U pitcher named Sammie for a bit in her first outdoor game of the season. It wasn’t pretty. In the first inning she pitched, which I was there to see, she gave up something like 6 walks, which is uncharacteristic for her and a total surprise after the great off-season she had. She also had 2 Ks, but it wasn’t exactly an offset.
Then I left for lessons, but continued to follow along on GameChanger. Of course, once I was gone she proceeded to strike out the side in the next inning, only giving up one meaningless walk.
It’s enough to make you wonder, “Is it me?” Now, I have heard from parents before that their daughters admit to being nervous when they see me at a game. They want to perform well when I come out to see them, and sometimes it makes them uptight.
Which I find strange since who is going to be a bigger fan and cheerleader for them than me? No reason to be nervous, go have fun. But just in case, I’ve started trying to find places to hide so they don’t know I’m there.
I do know I’m not alone in this. I remember the mom of another hitting student named Emma telling me she never got to see her daughter hit a home run. That was quite an accomplishment because her senior season in high school she hit 15 of them. But when mom was there nothing. She eventually did see one, but it was notable for being the exception.
Now, sometimes I go out to watch a game because I know a student is struggling. I consider that a fact-finding mission so we can get her back on track as quickly as possible, so I don’t even count those games in this post.
The ones I’m talking about is where I see or hear the player is doing well, and I go out with the intention of enjoying the show only to see her under-perform. Luckily no one has flat-out asked me not to come to a game yet, but frankly I sometimes wonder why.
The good news for my students is my lesson schedule (not to mention my wife) keeps me busy so I don’t have a lot of time to get out to games. But if you are one of my students and I do show up, please do me a favor. Relax, have a good time, and just play the way you play when I’m not there. We’ll all be happier for that.
So how about you? Ever have that experience when your student/daughter/whoever plays well EXCEPT when you’re there? Share your stories in the comments below!