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Softball Performance Tips – When You Know the Outcome

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IMG_4849 (Photo credit: Tom Dibble)

By Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog

I was at a high school game today when an interesting scenario took place.  The home team was in the midst of a rally, having just scored three runs to pull within three runs of the visitors.

With a runner on third and one out, the batter hit a ground ball to deep short.  The runner on third took off (possibly a little late), and was cut down at home on a nice throw and catch from the shortstop to the catcher.

Immediately the parents on the home team side were upset, some more than others, with some vocalizing their unhappiness.  At that point the mom of the home team’s pitcher (who is one of my students), an experienced coach herself, asked me if I would’ve sent the runner.

“Probably not,” I told her. “At least not right away. If there had been runners on second and third yes, but otherwise I would’ve tried to draw that throw home to protect my batter and get another runner on base.

But,” I added, “it’s always easier to make that call once you know the outcome of sending her.”

I then went on to explain some possible scenarios that would’ve had the runner safe.  The shortstop could’ve airmailed the ball in instead of firing a strike home.  The catcher could’ve pulled off the ball early trying to make the tag.  The base runner could’ve done a slide-by to the foul side of the plate instead of sliding right into the tag.  If any of those had happened, no one would’ve said boo, except good job.

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Sports Parenting Tips: The Days Are Long But…

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By Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog

There is an old parenting saying that goes “The days are long but the years are short.” With the high school and travel seasons coming up in many areas right now, fastpitch parents would do well to heed that advice.

It wasn’t long ago that some of us were in your shoes. We were madly rushing from practice to game, or game to game, or lessons to practice or some other combination, wondering how we were ever going to do it all and keep up our houses and lawns and all that too.

Rest assured, however, that one day it will end. There won’t be anymore lessons, or practices, or games to get to. There won’t be any injuries to nurse or feelings to massage. And you may just find yourself wishing you had one more day of hot, sweaty tournament play to enjoy.

The time goes fast. It really does. And between running from here to there like a crazy person and being disappointed by an unexpected loss, sometimes it gets easy to lose your perspective. Don’t let that happen.

Take a little time to stop and drink it all in. Sure you may be freezing watching a HS game up North, but one day before you know it you will be all snug in your house on a cold April day because you don’t have a game to go to anymore.

Yes, today your lawn may be looking a little ragged, but one day soon you’ll have time to cut it with a pair of scissors if you want. Most importantly, yes your daughter may have gone 0 for today. But it won’t be long before she has the final at bat of her career and you will wish you were back pacing the sidelines hoping for a duck snort just to get her out of her painful slump.

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Dealing with Softball Parents: Impose Your Own 24-Hour Rule

By Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog

softballcoaching-24hourruleWith all the crazy parent stuff that goes on these days, many teams and programs have adopted the so-called “24 hour” rule. With it, parents are not allowed to talk to coaches about something that happens in a game, or playing time, or any other issue until 24 hours after a game.

Yet often the same coaches who want parents to take 24 hours to cool down forget they can use a little cooldown time too, especially after a poor performance by the team. That can be a huge mistake for a couple of reasons.

One is that it’s tough to objectively assess the facts of a game in the heat of battle or directly thereafter. What seems like a horrible game at the time may not look as bad when it’s a little further in the rear view mirror.

The other is that you may say something to blow off steam at the time that comes back to bite you in the behind later. Any experienced coach can tell stories about things that were said that could never be unsaid. It can lead to all kinds of trouble.

I know I certainly can. Sometimes you’re just so frustrated you can’t wait to let your team have it. Yet I learned from more experienced coaches that often the best thing to do is impose a 24 hour rule on yourself to give you time to collect your thoughts and plan what you’re going to say a little better. It’s an idea that has served me well.

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Be a Parent First, Coach Second

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By Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog

Traditionally, the holidays are a time for family. So what better time to take a step back and re-evaluate your priorities than during this time when things usually slow down a bit? Especially when it comes to being a parent/coach.

Most people who coach start out for the right reasons. Usually a team their daughter is on needs a coach, the coach has some knowledge and wants to give back to the game, and the parents wants to spend more quality time with his/her daughter.

Somewhere along the way, though, competitive natures come out and even for those with the best intentions it becomes a little less about spending time with your daughter and more about racking up the W’s. That’s when the trouble starts.

Suddenly your daughter isn’t your daughter anymore. She’s the kid who threw a pitch down the middle on an 0-2 count with the winning run on second. Or she’s the kid who dropped the easy fly ball, booted the grounder, or popped up with runners in scoring position.

At that point, just when she needs a hug and a Lifesaver candy, she instead gets the dagger eyes from the coach/parent who expected her to do better in that tough situation. “She’s a better player than that,” you think. “She knew the game was on the line and she choked. Arrrgggghhh!”

Yes, that’s true. She is, and she did. She knows it. She definitely knows it. And what she needs is a parent to tell her everything will be ok, the sun will come up tomorrow and the world will keep on spinning. But if you’re too busy being the Coach, you may forget to tell her that.

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Softball Hitting Q&A with Crystl Bustos

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By Stacie Mahoe

After having Crystl Bustos in Hawaii and getting to see her work with young softball players, I thought she’d be a good person to ask about softball hitting and hitting instruction. Crystl graciously took some time to answer 10 softball hitting instruction questions for us!

1. What’s your favorite thing about working with young hitters?
My favorite thing about working with young hitters is to watch them grow and get better

2. What are some of the common myths or misconceptions hitters come to you with? (things they’ve been told by other coaches that isn’t really helpful)
Squish the bug. That this is softball not baseball so the swing is way different. That they can’t hit homeruns.

3. What is the hardest part of teaching hitters to improve their swing?
Getting them to practice at home!

4. When a hitter comes to you and has multiple areas of her swing to work on, how do you know where to start?
I start from the ground up and age sometimes plays a role.

5. What are some of the most common problems you see in hitters that come to you for help?
They don’t know why they should do what we are telling them to do.

6. What are some of the things you feel you do differently from other hitting coaches?
I get them to understand why we do what we do and how to fix it themselves.

7. When a parent is looking for a hitting instructor to send their daughter to, what should they look for? What kinds of questions should they ask?
Why do you do that? Why is that wrong? Why is that way right? A good hitting coach should know “why” and it when they tell you “why” it should make sense.

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Softball Coaching – The View From the Dugout is Just Fine

By Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog

We are about halfway through the summer fastpitch softball season, which means teams are starting to find out exactly what they have. In some cases, perhaps there have been pleasant surprises — players playing above the level you thought.

In others, perhaps that worldbeater of a team you thought you had isn’t quite as good as you expected. Which means it’s time to do a little retooling to get ready for the second half.

softball-dugoutOne of the phenomena that goes along with under-performing is the ever-helpful observations and suggestions from the peanut gallery, i.e. the parents. I’m not sure exactly what they think we’re doing in the dugout, or what sort of a veil they think is placed over the field-side opening. But it’s apparent that they often mistake a player’s inability for our ability to recognize them.

So for all those who have taken on the obligation to point out the obvious, here’s a little info from inside the dugout.

Yes, we’re aware that player A is slow. You don’t have to be a WCWS winner to figure that out. We’d like her to be faster, but whether it’s nature or nurture, she’s not going to get a whole lot faster in the next three weeks. Deal with it. We have.

We are also aware that our catcher doesn’t have a very strong arm. No one taught her to throw correctly, so she has some issues. We are working on it, believe me. But until it gets better, yeah, there are going to be some stolen bases. Still, her upside outweighs her downside so take a chill pill and remember these things take time.

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Softball Tips – 3 Little Pigs

By Dalton Ruer

I was recently reading a very huge book and wanted to share an excerpt from this story with those of you who may not be familiar with it. It is very complicated stuff so I will interrupt the story with my own commentary so that you don’t get lost.

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Once there was a mother pig who had three little pigs. She did not have enough to keep them, so she sent them out to seek their fortunes. The first little pig had not gone far when he met a man with a bundle of straw. The little pig said to him, “Please, man, give me that straw to build me a house.” This the man did, and soon the little pig had built a house with it. Just after the house was built, along came a wolf. He knocked at the door of the little pig’s house and called, “Little pig, little pig, let me come in!” But the little pig answered, “No, no! Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin!” Then the wolf said, “I’ll huff and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house in!” So he huffed and he puffed until he blew the house in, and ate up that little pig.

This is great stuff. Seriously! Where were this little pigs brothers or friends when he chose to build his house out of straw? Not a single person in his life that would step up and say “Look. I know you are in a hurry to be on your own, but a house of straw just isn’t going to last long.” More importantly though is what kind of people are you surrounding yourself with? Are you building a network of support for yourself that will tell you the truth and challenge you to work harder, or is your life only full of friends who will tell you what you want to hear? As a team are you rushing to get into games/tournaments or are you taking the proper time to build a solid foundation? When you lose (repeatedly) do you just chalk it up to luck, or do you figure out what is really the core problem(s) and take the time to seek new training in order to overcome the problems for good?

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Softball Tips – Give ‘Em a Rest

By Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog

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The latest issue of Fastpitch Delivery, the official newspaper of the NFCA, contains an article that covers a position statement from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) regarding the increase in injuries in youth sports. Essentially, they attribute it to the face that it seems athletes these days never get a break. They are pretty much required to play their sport — in this case fastpitch softball — year ’round.

As has been mentioned on the Discuss Fastpitch Forum before, the NATA focuses particularly on over-use and repetitive use injuries. Running and throwing are called out particularly — both overhand and pitching for the latter.

It is a fact that in our society we place a high premium on winning. As a result, more and more teams seem to go non-stop. The end of one season blends into the beginning of the next. In fact, in the battle for players some teams are now holding their tryouts BEFORE Nationals are completed. That’s just wrong on so many levels.

While adults like to win, and often pin their self-worth on leading their 12 year old daughters’ teams to victory in whatever tournament they’re in that weekend, it does begin to take a toll on the players. It is critically important for players to be able to rest and recover after a long season — both physically and mentally. Yet that rest and recovery time often takes a back seat to the need to get ready for next year.

It’s tough not to do it, too. You know everyone else is, and you’re afraid they’re gaining an edge by doing it. So you drag your team out to the field and get going right away. Then when arm or leg trouble starts up it becomes an even bigger problem.

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Softball Tryouts Problem – What Ever Happened to Earning Your Spot?

By Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog

softball helicopter parentHad an interesting experience with tryouts this year, and I doubt it’s an isolated incident. In fact, it seems to be something that’s indicative of our society as a whole, as it’s not the first time I’ve heard of something like this.

Here’s the basic situation: we had a girl try out for catcher, but then got a note saying she had decided to play for another team. That in and of itself is fine — you should play for whomever you want.

But it was the reason that really stuck with me. Apparently during the tryouts, her dad saw that she clearly was not the best catcher trying out. I then heard through the grapevine he talked to someone affiliated with this other team who promised she’d be number one there, and the decision was made.

I find that rather disturbing. Instead of looking at where his daughter might receive the best training or best competition, he based his decision on the instant gratification of a guaranteed starting spot. It makes me sad, not only for society but for that kid and all the others like her.

A big part of sports is measuring yourself against other players and striving to become the best. If you are in the number two spot, you should have incentive to work on your game and get better. There’s a lot of satisfaction in knocking the former #1 off her pedestal.

Yet that’s not what seems to be happening. Helicopter parents — those who hover over their kids, smoothing the way for them on everything from which teachers they get in school to making sure they get into the right clubs or organizations — don’t want to see their kids fight or struggle for anything.

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Softball Father-Daughter/Player Relationship

By Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog

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You see it at any softball park: the dynamics between fathers and the softball playing daughters. While it mostly applies to coaches, it probably really extends to any father who is involved at any level in his daughter’s playing career.

This is something I have first-hand knowledge of. I coached two daughters through their softball careers. They were far enough apart in age that when one finished I was able to start with the second.

Each experience was different, yet there were also some similarities. First, understand that I was probably more into the game than either of them. In fact, they don’t get why I have continued to coach once their careers were over, but have more or less come to accept it.

What that meant, though, was that I would often want to talk about a particular game, or the team, or a technique or skill and they wouldn’t. It could be frustrating on both sides.

Yet when it came down to it, both were actually happy that their father coached them. It’s a complex dynamic to be sure, and more than a little difficult to explain unless you’ve experienced it.

For the daughters, there are two basic effects of having Dad as the coach. Either you get all the privileges — automatic entry onto the All Star team, favored spot in the batting order, play the position you want, etc. — or you get screwed.

In the latter scenario, you end up sitting out a little more because it’s easier to sit you out than someone else’s kid, or you’re held to a higher standard of conduct that anyone else on the team, or you receive no special favors — even though all the other kids on the team seem to get them. About the best you can hope for is first choice of uniform numbers. And oh yeah, it seems like you always wind up carrying equipment while the others scatter after a tournament.

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