Well, it’s official: the World Health Organization has declared the Covid-19 coronavirus a full-blown pandemic. The cascade effect has been postponement or outright cancellation of college and high school softball seasons, and could have a significant effect on the summer season as well.
(For those reading this post long after March 2020, it should be an interesting time capsule for how things were perceived while we were in the center of it. And much of what I’m going to say here applies to non-pandemic times too.)
At this point it would be easy to say “Aw, the heck with it” (or perhaps something a bit stronger), sit in the house and start power watching Stranger Things or Game of Thrones. Neither of which I have ever seen, by the way.
But you can also look at this extra, unexpected down time as a gift. There is plenty you can do without game or team activities.
And you’ll want to do them, because sooner or later this too shall pass and we will be back out in the sunshine, where we our biggest worry is whether we will knock those base runners in with a hit or get the out to win the game instead of whether we will fall deathly ill and infect a vulnerable family member.
So here are some suggestions on how to turn the currently bad situation to your advantage. Starting with…
Take some time off to heal
These days the softball season (like most other youth sports seasons) seems to run 12 months a year. That leaves little time to let your body rest and recuperate the way it needs to, because it seems like there is always some critically important game or tournament or camp or something coming up.
Well, now there isn’t, and we don’t know when there will be again. So take advantage of it. Take some time off and let your body do its healing thing. If you haven’t had your injury checked out and it’s causing sufficient pain, go visit your doctor. He/she may be thrilled to not have to look at another runny nose or listen to a wheezing cough.
Even if you’re not injured, think about taking a week off just to let your body get some much-needed rest. You’ll be amazed at what it can do for you.
Fix the little issues that make big differences. One thing I’ve always prided myself on is being able to work around injuries to keep players on track. For example, I once gave a few pitching lessons to a girl in an ankle-to-hip hard cast.
Obviously we didn’t work on leg drive. Instead we focused on spins and stability. She sat on a stool and worked on perfecting her change, drop and curve balls.
Once the cast came off, she ended up being ahead of where she had been rather than behind. Shows you the value of narrow concentration.
If you’re a pitcher who has been struggling with whip, this is the perfect time to work on it, because you don’t have to worry about how it will affect you in a game. And if you’re diligent about it, by the time you do have to pitching to hitters again the whip will be second nature.
Or maybe you’re a hitter who tends to dip her back shoulder toward the catcher during her stride, or lets her hands get ahead of her hips. Take the time to fix it now.
Figure out what your biggest single issue is and work on it. If you get it done and the season is still on lockdown, work on another one. Rinse and repeat until it’s time to go play again.
Re-set your mindset
This particularly applies to college players who had already started their seasons. If it wasn’t going the way you’d hoped this temporary shut-down could be the best thing that happened to you (unless you’re a senior, in which case my heart goes out to you).
The first rules of holes is that when you find yourself in one, stop digging. That can be tough to do, however, when you are playing so many games trying to win a conference championship so you can get invited into the post-season tournament.
Now you have the perfect opportunity. First, let go of whatever was bothering you. Leave the past in the past and start looking forward.
Second, and this is most important, use this time to gain some perspective. When you were struggling or even in a slump, it seemed earth-shattering. But it wasn’t. At the end of the day, it was still just softball.
Now you’ve had softball taken away from you as the result of a rapidly-spreading disease that could affect your health (although so far it doesn’t seem likely) or the health of someone you love, like a parent or grandparent. THAT is earth-shattering.
Remember there are worse things than striking out with runners on base, booting an easy ground or fly ball, or giving up a walk-off hit. Like not getting to play at all.
Find the joy again in just being on the field, so when you are you’re able to keep things in perspective – which will likely help you improve your performance.
Learn to think like a coach
Talk to any coach who is a former player and sooner or later you’ll hear him/her say “If only I knew what I know now when I was playing.”
It’s unfortunate, but most of us don’t really put in the effort to really learn our craft until we’re put in a position where we have to teach someone else. It’s then that we decide we’d better know what we’re doing, in which case a whole new world opens up to us.
Why wait until your career is done? Start talking to knowledgeable people, watch video analysis of what top-level players do, check out DVDs from the library (or your coaches) and find whatever other information is available to you.
Sure, some of it is going to be garbage. Maybe a lot of it, especially random clips on YouTube. But if you compare what you’re seeing to what high-level players do you can start gaining a better understanding of what you should be doing so you can apply it to your own game.
Share what you know with younger players
You don’t have to go into full-on coaching or instructing. But if you’re hanging around somewhere and you run across a younger person who wants to learn a skill you know, take some time to share it with them.
Remember, when one coaches two learn.
Clean your stuff
Don’t just wash your uniform. Take the time to really do all you can to get the dirt, blood, grass and other stains out of it. Especially the white stuff. Fels-Naptha Laundry Bar and Stain Remover, which is available at most hardware stores as well as online, is great for that.
Clean the dirt out of your cleats, and wipe down the top parts. Maybe even polish them so they look great. If you have broken shoelaces now is a good time to change them.
Clean your glove with leather soap or saddle soap and put some conditioner in it. (Not oil, because that will make it heavy, but more of a paste-like conditioner.) If necessary, this is a great time to get it re-strung.
Wipe down your bat with soap and water. Remember how proud you were when it was shiny and new? See if you can feel like that again.
Give your batting gloves the sniff test. If you can do it from across the room it’s time to either try soaking them in laundry detergent for a bit or get a new pair.
And for goodness’ sake, clean out your equipment bag! Take everything out of it, including the 300 empty or partially empty water bottles crushed at the bottom of it, dump out the dirt, take a clean cloth and wipe it out, inside and out. Then, when you go to pack it up again, KonMari that sucker and only put things in it that make you happy.
Things may look bleak right now, but they will get better. Best thing you can do is remain positive, because sooner or later (hopefully sooner) softball games will start to be played again and life will return to its hectic normal.
Sick person photo by Polina Tankilevitch on <a href=”https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-in-blue-sweater-lying-on-bed-3873179/” rel=”nofollow”>Pexels.com</a>
Sometimes getting a player to understand the value of practice can be difficult. Those who aren’t the most dedicated to fastpitch softball can find a hundred excuses not to practice. So here’s a fun way of explaining how they will benefit.
Whenever I start lessons with a new student, toward the end I like to ask them if they know where New York City and Los Angeles are on a map. Most the time they do – or at least say they do. I hear today’s students are a bit geography-challenged.
Anyway, once we’ve established they know where each is, I will ask them how many different ways there are to get from New York to LA. The student will then start naming off various modes of travel – plane, train, car, bicycle, jog, walk, etc. Some will even suggest a boat, which is possible but certainly not easy.
I then ask them which is the fastest way to make the trip, at which point they will almost always answer “plane.” Which is correct, at least until Star Trek transporters become a reality.
I will then explain if they practice regularly, and with their minds on what they’re doing, that’s like going from New York to Los Angeles in a plane. But if they only pick up a ball, bat, glove, etc. when they’re at a lesson, it’s like walking from New York to LA. You can still get there, but it’s going to take a whole lot longer and be a lot more painful.
At some point or another, if they want to be successful players must put in the time. There’s no way around that. They can either do it in a concentrated way, such as practicing 3-4 times per week, or they can stretch the same amount of practice over many weeks.
The thing is, if they choose the latter they may find they haven’t quite gotten to where they want to be by the time the season starts. At which point it will be difficult to make up the rest of the ground that was lost.
There’s also the retention issue. The more time that passes between attempts at a new skill, the more likely players are to forget exactly what they’re supposed to do or how they’re supposed to do it. That means at least part of the time of their next attempt is going to be spent trying to regain ground they’d already covered.
As General Patton says (at least in the movie) “I don’t like to pay for the same real estate twice.” But that’s exactly what you’re doing if you have to keep relearning things you already should know.
Whether you’re in-season or in the off-season, it’s in the player’s best interest to work regularly on learning whatever it is she’s trying to learn. Otherwise she should probably make sure she has a good pair of walking shoes – and a nice cushion for sitting on the bench.