Have a Great Season!

Well we’re finally underway. Good luck to coaches, players, parents, family, umpires… everyone who makes the softball season fun.

From a training perspective, don’t get too wound up. I used to give myself at least a couple of games before I even starting considering whether to start worrying about wins or losses. If my team lost the first two games, I told myself, it was just a sign that I was building for the long run.

Remember to get those reps in during practice, instead of focusing too much on your team not looking bad on opening day. You’ve had little to no time to practice this year due to the weather, so don’t sweat it, the games are going to be chaotic and there will be plenty of mistakes!

Hitters Hit

More hitting today. Nothing technical, not talking mechanics here. Just a plea: Please coaches, let your hitters hit.

The showdown between the pitcher and batter is one of the great one-on-one match-ups in sports. Getting a key hit in a game, getting your first single, your first extra base hit, or just plain crushing a pitch are all up there with the top feel good moments in sports. So let’s not short-change our hitters and deny them part of the joy of the game.

Don’t short-change your hitters in practice. Get swings in! Have fun! Be judicious with live batting practices and scrimmages because time is scarce. With all of the overhead your hitters might not get as many good pitches as you had hoped.

Instead consider games like pepper, hit-the-coach, indian, bubble-ball, and over-the-line. For 10u and under a simple whiffle ball game at the end of practice can be extremely fun. Run efficient multi-station practices at the batting cage when your girls are old enough.

Don’t short-change your hitters in games. Have a continuous batting order that picks up where you left off the game before. Encourage hitters to be aggressive. Don’t always give certain batters in your lineup take and bunt signs. If you do this and/or always bat them near the end of the lineup, they won’t get the chance to improve.

While plate-discipline is obviously important, I personally don’t believe in giving take signs during at least the first half of the rec season for 10u and below.

Don’t short-change your hitters by forcing overly simple and/or un-athletic hitting mechanics on them. Educate yourself at to what high level hitters do. In this day and age you can easily look at many high level softball and baseball hitters online. I will at some point post how easy it is to download video and step through it frame-by-frame. For example, if you are currently promoting a simple 1-2 stand-still-and-push-your-arms swing, you might want to watch my first video a few times through. And then… come out to my hitting drills day for coaches!

Don’t short-change your hitters by forcing hitting styles on them that aren’t mechanically advantageous or disadvantageous. This happens all the time. Coaches force their entire team to stop moving their hands, to get rid of their strides, or start with their back elbow down. Many great hitters over the decades have employed many different styles. Learn what is style and what is good or bad mechanics.

Fact or Fiction: The Pitcher Supplies the Power

You will hear this phrase said at some point: “The pitcher supplies the power.” It may even be during a major league broadcast. Is this claim really true? Or does the batter have to supply the power?

Robert Adair answers this question quite thoroughly in his book, “The Physics of Baseball“. It’s a good read if you can stomach some math and physics. The technical answer goes into how much distance will be added to a struck ball if a pitch is thrown say 1mph faster. There are conditions such as wind and humidity that of course will affect this one way or another on a given day, but those aren’t of great interest. There are properties of the ball, which do not change. The COR (coefficient of restitution) specifies how much energy of the pitched ball will be successfully retained after colliding with the bat, affecting the rebound velocity.

But when looking at the critical aspects of a struck ball, the pitch velocity, the bat velocity and mass, and the point of contact, it turns out that adding velocity to the pitch does not translate drastically into exit velocity, or power, for the batter.

So the answer is that of course the pitcher supplies some of the power, but the batter supplies the great majority. Therefore to be a successful hitter at higher levels, hitters will have to provide athletic swings that generate bat speed.

Still not convinced? The book also provides a beautiful simple way to think about this question. We basically already know the answer if we think about it for a minute. We are not surprised at all when we see a coach hit long fly balls to outfielders without an extreme amount of effort. There is no “power” being supplied to the coach. The ball has no velocity opposite the direction the coach is hitting.

On the other hand, we also intuitively know that if a batter bunts a ball it isn’t going to go very far. This is the case where the bat has little to no velocity, and therefore the only power is supplied by the pitch. We can make a pretty good guess that if a pitcher is throwing 50mph, for example, increasing the pitch to 100mph still really won’t result in the bunted ball traveling very far.

Movement in Hitting

“I coach youth teams in the spring, summer and fall. I travel to high school, college and pro games. I gather video as much as possible. I have probably 2 terabytes of hitting video.

It is painfully obvious that hitters across all levels aren’t learning what elite hitters doing.

There seems to be a fear of movement. A fear of letting hitters be athletic. A fear of inconsistency. In my opinion, this needs to change.”

— Bobby Tewksbary

I could not agree more. I long felt that too many coaches were quieting hitters down, and even removing basic elements of the swing such as the stride (it is possible to have a good no-stride swing but that’s a different topic). I’ve seen too many hitters who look more like statues at the plate than this player, Georgia’s Alex Hugo:


[click on image to see swing]

I also could not agree more with Tewksbary when he says young hitters should be encouraged to try many types of movements. When doing batting drills, why not try taking a huge swing like Babe Ruth, or swing like Ty Cobb? Exaggerating movements in practice can help hitters incorporate new movements into their game swings. Even if an exaggerated movement isn’t used in games swings it can help hitters feel something that the coach is trying to teach.

Effective Practices Part 2 – Stretching Your Time Too Thin

Let’s take a look at my practice plan from part 1:

5:00 – Stretching and Calisthenics

5:10 – Throwing progression

5:20 – Long Toss

5:30 – etc., continuing on until 6 or 6:30

Today I will focus on the first item, “Stretching and Calisthenics”. I have 10 minutes for this in my plan. How do I make good use of this time? To answer that maybe I should first figure out what I am trying to accomplish. Three benefits come to mind: getting warmed up to practice without injury, conditioning, and discipline. While I won’t discount the benefits of conditioning and discipline, over time I largely focus on getting warmed up quickly.

You may have creative ways to get more out of your warmups than I, but I’ve found that my warmups can generally be put into two categories. Category 1 is indeed stretching and calisthenics. I have found if I let the girls or new assistants run this portion of practice, it will generally end up looking like the beginning of a PE period at school. There will be a lot of “1-2-3-4-SIXTEEN, 1-2-3-4-SEVENTEEN” type of stuff going on, and static stretches. Category 2 is when my girls run through a quick set of dynamic stretches (movements). I don’t forget to include stretches for the shoulder, which is very important in softball.

Over the years I’ve formed some opinions about these two types of warmups, while trying not to be an absolutist. Having girls run this portion of practice encourages leadership, and routines with a PE or boot camp flavor encourage discipline. Conditioning is important too. But there are numerous potential problems. It seems like dynamic stretches are recommended over static stretches for warming up (but apparently elementary schools didn’t get the memo). These types of routines have invariably lasted much longer than planned, and I almost always have to cut girls off as they are shouting out to teammates to commence repetition number 25.

Keeping in mind that you have a very limited amount of practice time, you may want to consider a quicker more dynamic warmup routine. You can still devote more time in the occasional practice where you do longer routines, but stretching can stretch into a monstrosity, leaving you behind schedule for what you really wanted to get to, softball. Consider building some conditioning benefits into your drills, maybe doing little competitions that involve running. Don’t forget the importance of a light run and a few minutes of stretching at the end of a tough practice, either.

Effective Practices Part 1 – Getting Off to a Good Start

This is the first in a multi-part series on running effective practices that are more efficient in terms of time usage and getting results. I could have included a part 0 that strongly recommends you have a plan for your practices. That is a good prerequisite, having a plan. So let me start with a plan that seems pretty innocuous:

5:00 – Stretching and Calisthenics

5:10 – Throwing progression

5:20 – Long Toss

5:30 – etc., continuing on until 6 or 6:30

What could possibly be wrong with this plan? Plenty, actually. I will delve a bit more into this plan in future posts. For now I want to focus on one simple fact: My plan requires that everyone be at practice on time. In the frenetic culture of Silicon Valley, that’s a pretty big requirement. What if everyone doesn’t show up on time? What if players trickle in?

Well, if I think that my warmup and throwing is important, then I will most likely attempt to have assistants or parents take the late players and do shortened warmups in small groups. Sound familiar? This is frustrating and not optimal. Often this leads to starting late, as it builds in the desire to wait for just a few more kids to show up. Frustration and even anger can start to set in, which can have negative effects on your practice and reduce the enjoyment for the team as well as yourself. Players are now scattered into groups, and you’ve often lost the help of your assistants when you start other drills with the main group. And again, often your entire timeline has been thrown off and you have less time to get through what you wanted to cover.

So what is the remedy? A draconian crackdown on tardiness? You may try that, but it may be a losing battle. In fact it may not even be possible if a player or two have ongoing conflicts and get there as best they can, but have to be late some times.

As an alternative my suggestion is start your practices with drills or games that don’t depend on everyone being there or that require players’ arms to be fully warmed up. Maybe at the end of your practice plan you were thinking of playing bubble-ball or whiffle ball. Consider moving a fun activity like that to the beginning.

Showing up on time then becomes it’s own reward. Also consider how easy late arrivals can be added to your first planned activity. Now players can get reps in immediately and the frustration of waiting for players to arrive is gone. Once everyone is there you can do the sorts of things where everyone should be present.