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Fastpitch Softball Drills Work Better When…

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By Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog

Fastpitch Drills Work Better When You Know Why You’re Doing Them

Yet another story from the fastpitch front, i.e. lessons. Tonight I was doing a pitching lesson where the pitcher brought her own catcher. The catcher happens to be a girl named Lindsay, a former player of mine and a personal favorite.

As the pitcher was working, she occasionally threw a ball into the ground. My expectation was that Lindsay would drop and block the ball, or at least catch it competently. But instead, she was just sort of swatting at it, which looked very odd.

After the pitching lesson I asked her what gives, and that’s when she told me she’d just come from a team workout (not sure if it was HS or travel ball) where the coach was bouncing balls into the catchers, who were only wearing masks. I asked her what the purpose/point of the drill was, and she said she didn’t know. None of the catchers did, apparently.

To me, that’s a problem. Forget that the drill itself is downright idiotic. Catchers need to learn to block the ball, and bouncing the ball in to them with no equipment on is no way to make that happen. It’s counter-productive and pretty much guarantees runs will score that shouldn’t.

For me, the problem is none of the girls executing it had any idea why they were doing it — or bothered to ask. If that’s the case, how do you know whether you’re doing it right or wrong, or getting out of it what you’re supposed to?

In my opinion there are good drills and not-so-good drills. But even the not-so-good drills can serve a purpose in the right hands.

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Where to Go to Discuss Fastpitch Softball

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By Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog

About once a year I like to tell the story of how the Discuss Fastpitch forum that we all love got started. I think just about everyone there will agree that it’s a tremendous resource whether you’re a rookie or a grizzled veteran. Yet it didn’t come from nowhere. So gather ’round the Yule log kiddies and here this great and hoary tale.

Many years ago there was a similar resource call the Fastpitch Forum. It was run by a guy named Dr. Alan Ross out in California who had a daughter who played, and for several years it offered the finest discussions anywhere.

Once Alan’s daughter graduated and stopped playing he lost interest, and the Fastpitch Forum was taken on by a couple of members who quickly let it slip into a sorry state. One in particular was the culprit, turning it into a forum for his political views, and soon it deteriorated to the point where nearly everyone left. Cue the sad music.

A few years later, one of the members of the old Fastpitch Forum thought it was time to give it another try. That person was Marc Dagenais.

Marc was launching his Softball Performance (https://www.softballperformance.com) network and wanted to give back to the community. He missed the old Fastpitch Forum with its lively and interesting discussion, and decided he would start a new one under the name Discuss Fastpitch Forum.

Marc contacted a few of the people he could find from the old forum (including yours truly) to let us know what he was doing, and soon the new forum had its first members. Marc’s goal was to create a place where civil, intelligent conversation about a wide variety of fastpitch topics (and only fastpitch topics) could be found on the Internet.

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The Line Between Well-Rounded and Over-Committed

By Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog

Many coaches, especially college coaches, have commented on the phenomenon of athletes specializing too early in a particular sport. They talk about the value of cross-training, and how softballers who play another sport are more well-rounded and better athletes overall. sports-silhouettes

All of that is no doubt true. Yet in this day and age, it’s getting tougher to be that multi-sport athlete — or have them on your team.

Like many other sports, fastpitch softball has become a year-round activity. Teams have practices and games in the fall, a few weeks after tryouts. Many continue through the winter months, either outside in warm weather climates or indoors in snow country. Then spring comes along and it’s time to get down to serious business.

That kind of schedule works for the softball specialists. They are there at every game and every practice, working hard to improve their skills. But for those with another sport (or two), it’s a different story.

Here’s why it can be a problem. Say the coach wants to introduce a new technique he/she learned at a coaching clinic. Maybe it’s a new way to drive weight shift while hitting, or a different way to execute a throw. He/she is all excited and anxious to get the whole team on board.

The problem is, Jill has a gymnastics meet and Erin has a basketball game that day. So the others learn the technique, but Jill and Erin don’t. Now the coach has to decide whether to go back over that technique again from scratch in another practice, or just start where the team left off and hope Jill and Erin catch up.

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It’s a release point, not a release line

By Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog

At some point in time, we all have that math class where we learn about the differences between points and lines. While this is a bit of an over-simplification, essentially a line is made up of a long series of points.brittany-release-point

So, why the math lesson? Because it helps pitchers visualize how to get more speed and more movement on their pitches. There is a reason it’s called a release point, and not a release line. Yet many pitchers take way too long to get the ball out of their hands from the start of the release to the end.

Let’s look at the basic fastball. A short, violent release is going to propel the ball out of the hand faster than a long, slower one. In fact, with a long release there is a danger of moving past the optimum release point, where the hand goes from being behind the elbow to in front of it. The longer the ball is in your hand after that, the more likely you are to push it toward the plate. Not only will that result in a slower pitch (because once you pass the optimal point your hand is starting to decelerate), it will also be  less accurate most of the time.

On a movement pitch the same principle applies. In order to maximize movement you first need to maximize spin. But the longer it takes to release the ball, start to finish, the less spin the ball will have.

All of that should make sense, both intellectually and from practical experience. Yet it can be difficult for pitchers, especially younger ones, to get the feel of “too long” versus short. Remember, they don’t think the same way as adults. But they can understand the difference between a point and a line. (And if they can’t, you can draw it for them.)

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The obsession with freshmen

By Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane Blog

It seems like one of the universal goals for softball fanatics is to see their daughters make the high school varsity team as abigstockphoto_teen_girl_softball_player_batt_49389541 freshman.

Certainly there are those who believe that if you don’t make varsity as a freshman you stand little chance to play Division 1 college ball. That may or may not be true, but it doesn’t matter because the ones who will be playing at that level on a team that matters are few and far between.

For most of the rest it’s really not about that. It’s more the honor (or ego boost) of seeing their daughters recognized as being better than others their age.

We all love our daughters and want the best for them. And often parents think that means going straight to varsity. Yet I can tell you from experience that it may not always be the best thing, especially in the long term.

Perhaps this is a local phenomenon, but I’ve noticed over the years that the girls who start on varsity as freshmen are often surpassed in performance by other players their age when they’re all juniors and seniors. In fact, many of those straight-to-varsity freshmen eventually wind up losing their spots to kids who judged to be lesser players earlier in their high school careers.

Take the case of one girl who came from one of those legacy families. You know the type — both her big sisters were high school stars and went on to play D1 college ball, so naturally she had to go straight to varsity too. She was a big, athletic girl with a strong arm, so she was put right into the shortstop position.

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Hitting: Take the fat part of the bat to the ball

By Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane Blog

Softball is a game of tradition. Often times that’s good, because it is good to honor the past, and it gives us a sense of where we’vestephanie-hands-above-the-ball been as well as where we’re headed. That’s why fastpitch softball, and its male cousin baseball, are still America’s national pastime.

Yet that tradition can also work against us, particularly when we cling to ideas and techniques that aren’t the best, simply because that’s the way we’ve always done it or the way we originally learned it.

A classic example of this type of thinking is the old hitter’s cue of “take your hands to the ball,” also known as”take the knob of the bat to the ball” or “throw your hands at the ball.” It was popular even back in my playing days, and I continue to hear it said whenever I walk by areas where people gather to work on hitting.

Unfortunately, it’s not only bad advice, it’s counter-productive. The truth is no good hitter hits that way, and any that hit with that instruction are ignoring it when they hit, either consciously or sub-consciously.

The idea of taking the hands to the ball is essentially an aiming device. It’s supposed to help the hitter get the bat on-plane so she can swing through the ball. The problem is you’re not trying to hit the ball with your hands, or the knob of the bat. You’re trying to use the fat end. So right away you have an issue. But it goes beyond that.

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Try To Develop Your Hindsight Early

By Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog

Last week I was out watching a high school game. During the game I wound up chatting with the father of a girl I used to coach. getting-the-sign

She was actually a year younger than most of the girls on the team, but a couple of times when those girls aged up I brought that one with us. She finally went to another team when we aged up to 18U and her parents wanted her to stay in 16U ball so she could be more at the top of the skill level instead of always being behind.

During the course of the conversation, the dad looked at me and said out of the blue, “We really had some good teams.”

I thought it was an interesting statement to make. I think it was one of those things you only realize in hindsight, after playing on another team or two and getting a chance to sample how things are done elsewhere.

We’ve all had that experience at some time. Maybe it was in school, or at a job. Maybe it was in a different activity or sport. Wherever it was, the experience was essentially we didn’t appreciate what we had, or how good we had it, until it was gone.

The softball season can be long — especially these days when it seems like it’s a 365 day season. It’s mostly made up of getting ready for a game or tournament, traveling to a game, tournament or practice, or being at a game, tournament or practice.

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Taking the hump out of the backhand change

By Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog

One of the most common problems with the backhand change is a tendency for it to have a hump — a tendency to go up around chest or belly high before it gets to the plate. If it happens too late it can be a big issue, because there’s another name for a changeup that comes in too high: a home run. jessica-change

A clue as to why that happens comes from another name for the backhand change — the flip change. Pitchers are often taught that at release they should flick or flip the wrist. The problem with that method is that it can create an “escape hatch” for the pitch to move upwards. Depending on how they do the flip, the fingers may wind up point upward, which means when the ball comes out it has a slight upward trajectory. As it gets closer to the plate it continues moving upward until it reaches its highest point, then starts losing altitude due to gravity. The result is a path that looks like a hump.

In my experience, the better way to throw the backhand change is to lift the ball slightly as you come toward the hip, then pull the hand straight forward, keeping the palm pointing down. When you do that, the fingers block the ball from moving upward. As a result, the ball can’t go any higher than the hand is at release, and it begins moving downward from there.

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Walking the Line Between Too Much Praise – And Not Enough

By Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog

Read any articles about today’s athletes by long-time coaches and you will see a common theme. They will all talk about how fragile today’s players are. bigstockphoto_softball_player_in_uniform_hol_5067566

Not physically, of course. Better nutrition and more attention to injury prevention has made today’s kids pretty durable physically. No, what those coaches are talking about is their mental games.

Gen Y, or the Millennials, or whatever you want to call them have grown up being told by their parents that they are wonderful, and everything they do is wonderful as well. They have grown up on praise, and many don’t know any other way of life.

While that might seem like a good, positive environment, it can actually work against those kids. Praise that is handed out like candy is fairly meaningless, and often rewards minimal effort instead of encouraging maximum effort. It also hurts the coach’s credibility in the eyes of his/her players.

I have observed practices where every normal occurance was praised as if it were an extraordinary effort, and every mistake was excused away. Needless to say, very little learning was happening. The players might have felt good, but from a “feeding the soul” point of view it was more like eating dessert than getting a substantial meal.

Praise is something that really ought to be earned. When a player hears “That was great” or “You were awesome” it ought to be for something noteworthy. Otherwise you’re setting the bar too low, and you have nowhere to go when she really does do something outstanding. It’s a bit like swearing. If you’re constantly lacing your conversation with profanities, how will anyone know when
you’re really mad?

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Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

By Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog

There are any number of thing in this game that confuse and astound me. One is certainly the love some coaches have for the sacrifice bunt. Get a runner on first with nobody out, and the next hitter up, regardless of her batting average or OPS will be called upon to lay down a bunt. But that’s a story for another day. group-shot

Another is the incredibly horrible things some coaches will say or do on the softball field. These otherwise polite and reasonable folks will go absolutely crazy at the slightest provocation, sometimes abusing umpires and other times their own players. But we’re not here to talk about that either today.

No, what amazes me is how year after year some coaches will go through their seasons relying on one pitcher, or one key position player, as if the possibilities of illness or injury cease to exist during the season.

It’s easy to see this during the high school season because team and pitchers’ records are posted in the newspaper. If the records match, or are close — the pitcher is 32-4 and the team is 34-4 — you know you’ve found one. I know of a couple of teams in my area that were like that last year.

I look at a team like that and say they’re just one sprained ankle or case of mono or bad set of grades away from their season being over. And why?

Because their coach was so obsessed with winning that he/she didn’t put a backup plan in place. He/she didn’t give anyone else game experience, didn’t give the team a chance to get used to someone else, didn’t find out what his/her team could do without the stud in place.

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