The Hitter’s Approach: Hitting in All Counts! Written By Chez Sievers
During my softball career, I considered myself to be a pretty good hitter. Looking back, I could have been a smarter hitter.
Here’s why: I had a POOR approach. Which was NO approach. 5’0, Manny Ramirez leg lift, taking hacks with reckless abandonment. I’d get myself out by swinging at bad pitches.
After coaching for 8 years, this is the approach I’ve gathered from experience and working with some of the top hitting coaches in softball.
1. IDENTIFY what pitches your hitter can HANDLE. If she has a long swing, then low pitches
are more ideal for her. Pitches above her belt may not be pitches she hits well. If she identifies and attacks “her” pitches, she will be more successful.
2. Early in the Count, ATTACK Belly Button to Mid-Thigh Strikes. ELEVATED pitches have a higher probability of being driven in the gaps for doubles and home runs. LOW pitches at the knees are more likely to be hit for low line drives and ground balls. That’s why drop ball pitchers are considered to be “ground ball” pitchers. If you apply this approach, you should see your power numbers increase and unfortunately you might see pop ups increase too.
Here’s are some easy ways to create a visual strike zone on a low budget:
Burrito Toss: Take a rolled up sliding mat or an old goal post padding. Place it front of the home plate and toss. Get your hitters to attack belly button to mid-thigh strikes.
Roped Toss: Pick up 1/2” rope and 2 carabiners from your local home improvement store. Cut the rope to the width of the cage and tie a carabiner at each end. Set the rope just above the knees and start tossing.
3. Behind in the Count, what pitch is the opposing pitcher throwing with 2 STRIKES? Depending on the pitcher, Change Ups and Rise balls are typically thrown in 2-strike counts. Create a 2- strike approach around these pitches. If they know it’s coming, they won’t be surprised when they see it. You should have your players practice seeing the change up and reacting to the fastball.
At the beginning of the year, during practice, before games, I talk to the team about our approach which is usually “attack belt high strikes.” Each hitter has their routine or method to get them “in the zone.” With certain hitters in the hole, I’ll ask her, “What’s your approach?” They verbalize their plan and attempt to execute it. If they don’t commit to their plan, they have no one to blame but themselves. I used to tear my hair out telling them what pitch was coming and what pitch to attack. And you know what? People don’t absorb the lecture. The human brain can only retain five pieces of information in a span of 30 seconds if it’s not repeated. Information tends to bounce off of them like a force field if it isn’t repeated. The good news is if you work on strike zone awareness and approach, you should improve pitch selection, slugging percentage, and 2-strike hitting.
My Coaching Family Tree, Written By Matt Lisle
As another great year of presenters came and went at the NFCA Convention in December, I was inspired to reflect on my own coaching career. I’ve always known that my philosophy of coaching, drills, and strategies, were merely a melting pot of the ideas of my mentors. And of course, the ideas of my mentors were borrowed from their mentors, and so on, and so on. However, I’ve never given much thought as to where each philosophy had originated. Obviously I wasn’t the source, but like most great coaches I know that I have borrowed most of my ideas from other great coaching minds.
Looking back 13 years ago as a young high school head coach to now, I realized how little I knew about the game when I first started coaching. My knowledge and experiences of the game was passed on by only a few coaches mostly that of my own father. Don’t get me wrong, dad was a great coach and manager of players but as a young player I remember recanting my performances on the ride home from games more so than asking for coaching advice.”
As my first coaching season came to a close at the wise old age of 23, I had the realization that I better stop faking it (as a coach) by merely repeating the clichés I’d heard as a player, and actually begin developing my own coaching philosophy, so I could do a better job of developing the players and teams I worked with. It was then that I began my own journey to learn as much as I could about coaching and teaching. I begin to read every book and watch every DVD I could get my hands on. And as the digital age has developed, YouTube had become an even bigger resource! Each year I would continue to add to my own knowledge base, expanding my abilities to become my own person, and not just merely a clone of previous mentors.
As I began taking personal ownership, I have come to develop a personal coaching philosophy on everything from hitting, to the best way to wear a glove. But even with all the technology and information that was available to me over the years, my greatest philosophical implementations were always the result of personal encounters. Such encounters were made at conventions and clinics, like the NFCA, and even more so with coaches that I had the good fortune to work with.
Throughout my reflection of the last 13 seasons, I decided that I wanted to write down the names of each person that has shaped me as a coach and hopefully pass these names onto other coaches, so that they could have some resources on their journey as well.
I’ve spent the majority of my research and learning time on hitting. I love offense and creating havoc for the defense. Along the road I was fortunate to meet a man named Craig Wallenbrock. Craig is a relatively unknown name to the public because he doesn’t mass produce DVD’s or spend time arguing mechanics on message boards. Craig currently works with over a dozen major league teams as a hitting consultant and has worked with many of the big name players in professional baseball. I was incredibly blessed to be able to spend some time with him and have many hours of video footage of himself and many other of his major league hitting coach colleagues breaking down the mechanics, timing and approach of the swing. Don Slaught is another great hitting mind who has influenced the philosophy on hitting mechanics. His software Right View Pro and the accompanying videos does a great job of breaking down and teaching the swing of elite hitters, both softball and baseball. Slaught and Wallenbrock are good friends and agree (for the most part) on the mechanics of the swing, so it was great to have another resource at my fingers with Right View Pro. I highly recommend if your budget allows.
Along the way I learned an incredible amount about the best way to train softball and baseball players and I have abandoned “old school” things like static stretching, and long distance running and replaced them with dynamic stretching and focusing on explosive movements. I’ve learned to train our players like sprinters and not marathon runners. Marcus Elliott from P3 Performance in Santa Barbara and Eric Cressey on the East Coast are the two best in the business, in my experience, and I would highly recommend each coach to seek out everything they’ve talked about regarding our game. Google is a great place to start.
Arm care is another important aspect to our program and it should be to all programs. I became friends withAlan Jaeger of Jaeger Sports at the baseball convention a few years back. His J-Bands and arm throwing routine is one of the most important things I think a team can do. I’ve seen numerous players have incredible gains in velocity, distance and healthy arms since starting to use his bands and routine over the last few years. His new DVD Thrive on Throwing 2 has a 16 minute section just on softball long toss for pitchers starring Monica Abbott. I couldn’t get my hands on it fast enough.
Making the switch to softball from baseball after 10 years made me a newbie again desperately seeking out information on how to teach and manage pitchers. I hit the lottery when my first softball coaching job was as an assistant at the University of Oregon under the tutelage of head coach Mike White. Mike is considered by many of my colleagues, and around the world, as not only one of the best pitchers to ever play this game but one of the best teachers of pitching as well. In our practices, on and off the field, I tried to absorb as much as possible from Mike about pitching as he would allow (I tend to ask a lot of questions) and am eternally grateful to have done so. Amanda Scarborough is another coach and former pitcher that I have learned a great deal from regarding mechanics and training pitchers. She has videos online that are definitely worth watching and sharing with your players. At this year’s convention, University of Washington pitching coach Lance Glasoe has began to reshape the way that I’m going to manage my pitchers with his presentation. Having a detailed and organized plan like he has given me feels like a secret weapon that everyone should have.
When it comes to defense, I think I’ve taken a little bit from over 20 different coaches across baseball and softball. Most recently I’ve adopted University of Virginia head coach Blake Millers’ double play turning philosophy as well as his rundown philosophy (he presented at the 2012 NFCA and was also an assistant with me at Oregon). In regards to fundamentals of infield play, I met Ed Servais (Head Baseball Coach, Creighton) at a clinic once. Ed’s teams are known as one of the best defensively in the country every season. Outfield play is another area that I’ve just taken little pieces from many different coaches whether in person, at clinics or via video. There are so many great drills online as soon as you hit “search”.
When I’m working with camps or giving clinics across the country, I speak mostly on hitting but I get to teach and work with catchers a lot as well. Catching at the high school and college level is neglected so much more than anything else as many teams’ catchers are used strictly as a Fungo Assistant and bullpen. I believe that you can make the biggest improvement to your teams’ defense by spending 2-3 hours a week with your catchers developing them. If you’re looking for somewhere to start gaining knowledge, the best on this planet at least, is the New England Catching Camp. Their almost three hour DVD on catching is a must have for your collection and I have watched it over 20 times and have had several of my players watch it. Another great resource for catching is Xan Barksdale (Asst. Baseball Coach, East Tenn State) he has a book on catching that is one of the best I’ve found and shares a lot of information and drills online at his website and on YouTube.
I have spent a lot of time developing my own style of offense strategy. My teams are always known as teams that cause havoc on the defense. We have wristbands that display over 20 offensive plays from “Fake Squeeze and Steal” to something we call “Cardinal Fake Bunt” (something they teach in the St. Louis Cardinals farm system). I have come across many coaches who think that it’s too complicated of a system for players to learn and say things like “I would rather simplify it”. Although I agree with trying to simplify things for players to understand, I also believe that players don’t need the game “dumbed down” for them and will rise to the expectation given if it’s taught well. A few seasons ago, we won over 10 games by 1 run. This wasn’t because of great pitching (although it wasn’t too shabby). It was because we found ways to create runs when needed.
TEAM BUILDING & CULTURE
When it comes to team building and culture (which I think is the most important of all the coaching topics) my greatest influencer is Bruce Brown of Proactive Coaching. The Captains & Coaches Workshop DVD was a game changer for me as a coach and can’t recommend it enough. His team works with many of the top teams in the country in all sports and you can get access to all of his books and DVD’s online. Yvette Healy (Head Coach, U of Wisconsin) did a great job at this year’s convention, speaking on culture and books to read as a coach and with your players. There are so many books out there on culture and team building. Try to read as many as you can and find the things that fit you and your program the best.
Besides hitting and catching the most common topic that I speak at clinics about is program building & practice planning. I’ve taken from so many good coaches on this area but I’ll name just a few that have stood out. John Cohen (Head Baseball Coach, Mississippi State) is one of the best I’ve come across and you can get his all-access DVD online. Another one would be a convention presenter from this year in Joe Evans (Texas A&M). I always stress to coaches to make a Master Plan with everything that you need to cover over the course of a season from 1st/3rd’s, bunt defenses, rundowns and more. Coach Evans spoke directly on that and shared her master plan checklist with everyone. I highly recommend having yours on hand for practice planning for the week. I know that Coach Evans plan will be a great addition to mine.
MY ADVICE TO YOU
The best advice that I can give coaches is to always be learning, growing, and changing. The worst thing that you can do as a coach is to develop a philosophy on something whether it be hitting, pitching or even bunt defense, and spend your entire career trying to defend it. Be open and willing that what you have been teaching may not be the best way and that you can always learn a better way from someone else. I see former players of mine from ten years ago and cringe when I think of the way that I taught them hitting, etc. This is why I love going to conventions, clinics and spending time with other coaches. If I can sit through a 45-minute clinic on a topic and can find just one small nugget to pull from it to add to my repertoire then that time was well spent. Sometimes you find more than a nugget and feel like you want to throw out your entire philosophy on something. Don’t completely abandon your philosophy and grab someone else’s until you’ve implemented it in small doses. (Or at least wait until the off-season)
ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
Whether you are a first year coach or a thirty-year veteran, I encourage you to write down your Coaching Family Tree, if not for yourself for your coaches that you may have an influence on and continue to add to it all the time. The biggest thing I took from this year’s convention wasn’t about hitting, pitching, practice planning or recruiting. The most important thing I took away was during Alyson Habetz’s (Alabama Softball) introduction of Patrick Murphy (Head Coach, Alabama) at the Hall-Of-Fame banquet. She gave countless accounts of Coach Murphy’s “attitude of gratitude” when it came to everyone he came into contact with. That’s how I want to be described as someday. I am eternally grateful to every member of my Coaching Family Tree and the influence they’ve had on me over the years and will continue to have.
The Importance of Teaching Written By Mike Adams
There are several types of coaches. The coach I prefer is the coach that likes to teach. I became involved in coaching, like many coaches, at a young U level because I didn’t agree with the way my daughter was being coached. I watched the coach for her 6U team be more involved in achieving the “W” than teaching the players how to play. Beginning the next year, I worked within the local rec league to help define the season’s rules to promote the learning process further. We attempted a couple of times to get all of the coaches on board as a collective group on how and what skills we were going to apply. A core group emerged eventually that met in preseason to establish the game play. Where I grew up this idea was actually implemented by the high school varsity coach. He was tired of reteaching and training players in high school with different philosophies and gamemanship after years of what he considered faulty coaching priorities. His answer was to become highly involved in the little league process and ran coaching clinics all the time. He networked with the other coaches so well that his high school teams were his kids from the moment they set foot on the field and they knew what was expected of their play and how to go about achieving those standards.
Ok, My ADD started to go off track. Where it becomes relevant again is that one of the things I see with my daughter at the U14 level is quite a few players are always focused on the out at first. I even hear parents say they should always go to first. Well, in my opinion, that works fine only at younger levels. When players are starting out, you don’t want to confuse them with too many instructions. After all, making sand castles is one thing they are already concentrating on!So you teach them to “go one”. This gets drilled into their head until they don’t think about it anymore. A few years later, you throw the next piece into the puzzle. This can vary between a few options with the two most popular being get the lead runner or get the closest out first. We, as coaches, know there are certain times that one is better than the other, but remember, this is a learning process. You really need to pick one of the above mentioned plays and stick with that strategy until the players understand it and the why. After they do, and we are not talking 2-3 games here, then you introduce the third method. Keep in mind when you teach these methods, make sure the understanding of why you want them to do it is part of the drill. This helps them to development their mental game.
The reason for throwing to 1st is because it is always a force out with the batter-runner not having a lead off and therefore usually takes the longest to get to base. It is ALWAYS a play and requires the least thought which is why we teach that first. Closest runner is important because there are times that tagging someone running by just makes more sense. If you are 4 feet from second and second is a force, then going there is a safe and easy out. This play definitely takes more thought than just going to first. Before the pitch, the player must assess where everyone is, knowing that if the balls goes to “x” I am going to do “y”. Getting the lead runner out is very important, especially when there are less than 2 outs. Again, these are my opinions. I have gotten into it with parents when there were less than 2 outs, runner on second and third, ball is bunted and pitcher runs up and stays stoning the girl at third. With sideline parents yelling the throw should go after the girl out at first. By going for the safe out though the girl on third easily would have made it home, unless completely ignoring her base coach, who would undoubtedly be watching for the play to move across field. There is a philosophy that defense wins games; to a point I agree. If they never score, you will never lose. You may tie (depending on your league rules), but you will never lose. Plus, at that point, I have the bases loaded for the next play which makes it very easy to get outs. Barring a grand slam, of course, which wouldn’t be that great. Another way to see how this strategy works is look at it from the offensive side. The goal of offense is to score. Getting on base is a step in scoring but scoring is the ultimate goal. Stopping them from achieving this goal will win the game.
Getting back to the preseason rule setting. One of the questions we kept in mind when changing the rec rules was what would promote learning. One of the biggest fights was over overthrows. The situation was when learning (remember all of these are at the lower age groups) there are a ton of overthrows. Anyone disagree? Well, in leagues that didn’t limit the amount of overthrows, the coaches just had the players always hold the ball essentially teaching them to stop play as soon as they got the ball. The second popular thing was to get it to the pitcher. Which is better than holding the ball, but what if there are plays to be made? We altered the rules to allow advancing to the next base on an overthrow once per at bat. This allowed us to teach the players to throw to first (for example) and if it is overthrown, hustle to the ball and attempt the next out without fear of the runner advancing another base because you made another overthrow. This simple tweak got the players hustling, got them keeping track of what game play is going on as well. The other 2 methods didn’t really get taught that year; the focus was made on fielding the ball and making good throws. Players just beginning will not be able to throw perfectly, it comes with time, confidence and practice. If you don’t put that time into game play they may never learn.
Further in my daughter’s career, she had a coach that had the girls bunting like crazy. I was really perplexed at first. Trying to figure out the method to his madness nearly made me mad as well. At first always bunting cost us the game. Hard to watch. Later on in the season, I noticed he had the girls that were doing a good job bunting start hitting. That is when I got it. Learning is more important than the win. By the end of the season, most of the girls could bunt…a very valuable skill in my book. Seeing girls the same age on other teams struggle with it makes me appreciate the coach that took the loss in order to teach. I am sure that the players next coach was very excited to be able to take a batter and know they can bunt, as well as hit.
Another mistake I see with coaches paying more attention to the win rather than teaching is positioning. I have heard it from both parents and other coaches “at sometime the player needs to stay at a position to hone that skill” Although I agree that staying in one position will allow a player to really play that position well, it will also lock that player into only that position. Which player would you rather have on your team, a superstar 3rd baseman that can’t play any other position, or a player who knows how to play, and has played every position. I don’t know about your teams, but mine has players getting hurt. The versatile player is gold in my book. How many of you have said “I like so-and-so, I can put them anywhere”? I thought so…. There is another advantage to putting players in different positions. They get to learn perspective and the challenges of the different positions. For example, try putting your pitcher at catcher. Heck at the same time have the catcher pitch! I am going to guess that the pitcher had no idea how fast the catcher has to react. I am going to guess the catcher had no idea how hard it is to aim at a spot with the catcher not being consistent with the glove. Does second base (or shortstop) understand how annoying it is for a catcher to go to throw down and not see anyone paying attention or running to second looking for the throwdown? Going the opposite way, does the catcher know how annoying it is for second or shortstop to have the catcher wait until they are there until they throw? (FYI, you save serious time by having the catcher throw down to the bag and having the cover catch it on the fly) Having a cut off infielder swap with an outfielder and see how they do when the cut off isn’t vocal helping the outfielder. The swaps are endless and there are plenty of things to learn. I already mentioned in a previous blog, the added benefit of finding that a player is really good at a position they haven’t tried.
Players also get caught up with the need to win mindset as well. Every team has better players and players that need work. When you tell them to pair up, I am betting that the best players match with the best players. They want to look good, so they pair up with the one that makes them look the best. What they should be taught is to want to bring the lesser players up to their level. I have heard “I don’t like playing catch with X because she can’t catch my fast throws”. What that means to me is during a game if X needs to catch a ball either it won’t be thrown hard or it will be thrown hard and they won’t know how to catch it. There are multiple ways to deal with this issue depending on how the players accept instruction. If you have great leaders on the team then just mentioning it to them may fix the issue. Other times I have had to “randomly” move girls around. When I hear a player say something about how a player needs work, I ask what they have done to help that player. I usually get blank stares or worse they told the player they were doing it wrong. Time for the coach to teach the player how to be a better player-coach.
Sometimes we get so caught up with what will get the “W” we forget about what gets us there. Am I saying that you shouldn’t care about winning? No, not at all. I am saying there is a time and place to place the importance of winning vs losing. Regional Championship game is NOT the place I would put people in new positions. Playing a regular season game and up by 6 or 7 runs? That might be the time to swap around. Just remember, in order to play well you must learn. When you don’t continue to learn, you are stagnant.
How to Teach Focus at a Young Age Written By Keri Casas
Many coaches tend to start seeing their first gray hairs while trying to maintain focus throughout practice or a game with female athletes. As an adult, we sometimes forget how difficult it is for a young female athlete to stay focused for a 2 hour practice, listen to a 10 minute lecture, or even pay attention to a 2 minute play. At a young age, female athletes are thinking about more things than you want them to or even things you did not know they were thinking.
Young, female athletes are thinkers, daydreamers, and socialites, for the most part. Many of them enjoy going to practice simply for the socializing rather than actually playing the sport. You have to remember, a sport at a young age isn’t necessarily about a sport yet, and as a coach and a parent, you want to keep this in mind. Joining a team is incredibly important for female athletes to learn how to socialize with other athletes, learn how to work in groups, and learn how to communicate effectively with their peers. It is also a time for young athletes to learn mechanics, the basics of the game, and of course, to have fun. At 10 years old, you want your athlete to enjoy the game and develop memories that they will have for a lifetime.
With this said, this does not mean young athletes need to lack structure. Young athletes can be shaped at this age to learn discipline, and focus, while enjoying their time on the field. So how do you help these female athletes maintain focus through long practices and games? Patience. Coaches and parents of female athletes need a lot of patience and a lot of persistence to develop structure amongst several 10 year old female athletes running amuck. When a coach loses their temper, or shows their frustration with lack of focus from their young team, the athletes will notice this and continue to act out. Young female athletes tend to avoid negative feedback and will continue to do what makes them happy instead, i.e. messing around on the field.
So now that you are patient with your team, and they have your attention, how do you maintain their attention for the next few hours? Play games. Young female athletes love to play games, and love to win games. When you create competition in your practices, your athletes will tend to stay focused.
For example: say you are losing your female athletes attention towards the end of practice and you want them to finish the last 20 minutes. As a coach, call everyone in and say you are playing a game. The game is to see how many athletes can hit the ball to centerfield. If 5 out of 10 athletes hit the ball to centerfield, the whole team doesn’t have to run to the tree and back.
A game like this will promote competitiveness because they don’t want to run to the tree. It will also help maintain team unity as they need to work together to accomplish the goal, meaning that all of the athletes will stay involved because the punishment is for the entire team; not a “single loser”. Not only are you just playing a game, but your team is working to hit the ball to centerfield, i.e. up the middle, the ideal hitting zone.
By remaining patient and promoting teamwork through consecutive games or activities, young athletes will maintain focus, determination, and competitiveness throughout your practices and games. Not only will the athletes learn different mechanics through their games at practice, they will also have fond memories of the fun they had with their team.
Key Points for Maintaining Focus in a Young Athlete
1.) Be patient. Young, female athletes have a very imaginative mind and like to share every thought and feeling they have. Listen to them, ask them questions, and bring them back to focus when they are done sharing with you.
2.) Play games. Young, female athlete can be highly competitive and like to participate in games. The more games you play, the more you will maintain focus in your practices
3.) Remember that these girls are young athletes. They are playing a game because they think it is fun, not hard work. Let them be young and enjoy the game as much as possible while still giving them direction and structure.
Top 10 Lessons You Don’t Want Your Athlete To Learn! Written By John Michael Kelly
After finishing 11 tournaments in 12 weeks in various venues around the country in June and July one sad truth I saw that continues to plague the great sport of softball is bad behavior by both parents and coaches.
This bad behavior is damaging to your athlete, her team, and the organization. It cheapens the game in front of parents, other teams and college coaches.
So, here are 10 lessons you absolutely do not want your athlete to learn while on the softball field:
1. Not playing when a college coach is there to watch. I saw this in Colorado and I couldn’t believe it. The coach knew the athlete had a coach coming to scout her and he still did not play her in a meaningless pool game. Unforgivable! (The lesson: “My coach doesn’t care about me.”)
2. Putting a single athlete above the team. You know, “It’s all about my kid…scr** the team.” Pointing out your athletes statistics compared to her teammates.This kind of selfishly is becoming more and more prevalent. (The lesson: “I matter more than my teammates, and my stats define me.”)
3. Ripping your players. I saw this every weekend…coaching yelling and belittling their players. Really? You expect female athletes to respect and play hard for you when you embarrass them and rip into their confidence? These teams were usually eliminated early in the tournament. I wonder why? (The lesson: “My ego as a coach is more important than how you feel or how you play.”)
4. Bad mouthing coaches in front of everyone. I realize national tournaments mean more $$ spent, but rein in the emotional outbursts and act like an adult. If you don’t like the coach or his/her strategy then change teams at the end of the season. Just don’t poison the well DURING a tournament. Also understand there are game and tournament strategies you don’t understand that involve how a roster is utilized. (The lesson: “I never need to respect my coaches because my parents think they’re idiots.”)
5. Talking to college coaches. College coaches do not want to (and, in many cases, are forbidden by NCAA rules) talk to parents about their kids. Give them room and let your coaches and official team representative speak with them. Pimping your kid really only hurts her chances. College coaches know you embellish the truth, so back off. (The lesson: “My parents embarrass me in front of the coaches.”)
6. Quitting on your team. I saw it a few times whereby a player wasn’t getting playing time at Nationals and the parent pulled their kid, packed up and went home. Or, after approaching the coach about it the coach cut the kid. Yikes…can’t we all just get along! (The lesson: “I don’t have to honor my commitments because it’s all about me.”)
7. Being habitually late to games. There always seems to be one or two kids on a team that ALWAYS show up late to pre-game warm ups. Why? Plan it out, use Google maps or your cell GPS. Set the alarm earlier. Do whatever it takes. Don’t make your coaches have two sets of rules for the team. (The lesson: “It doesn’t matter if I’m late.”)
8. Talking to your athlete DURING the game. This is a major “no-no” in my book. Give her plenty of water or Gatorade BEFORE the game. Do not approach the dugout to talk about the game. I even saw a mom walk right into the dugout during the game to give her kid nachos. Seriously? Let the coaches coach, and the players play. You can do your mom or dad thing AFTER the game is over. (The lesson: “I don’t have to follow team rules, nor do I have to grow up!”)
9. Hopping teams. I see (back to the “me first” myopic mentality) too many players changing teams each season without a legitimate reason. In truth the green isn’t always greener. With the explosion of travel/club softball comes elevated competition to recruit players. Many coaches will tell you exactly what you want to hear so beware. Not to mention hopping teams yanks your athlete from friends and a comfort zone she may have been thriving in. The one caveat to this is a truly bad situation, in which leaving is the logical option (The lesson: “My princess deserves better because she is the best player on the team.” translation to the athlete: “My parents don’t trust me to succeed on this team. They just keep pushing me. I don’t want to change teams again. I like it here.”)
10. Yelling at umpires. Man, at national tournaments this was at epidemic levels this summer! Please honor the game and respect all those who make it happen: coaches, umpires, the opponent and every player on your athlete’s team. (The lesson: “I don’t need to respect the umpires, and I can always blame them for my failures.”)
Thanks for reading!
So what is it that separates the good from great? Written By Chez Sievers
To answer this question, I asked some of the great middle infielders in softball this very question. Here’s what they had to say:
Lead – The great middles are leaders that are most reliable on defense. They’re clutch in the intense situation. Good middles tend to follow and blend in with the crowd. GM’s (great middles) set the bar for what work ethic and execution look like. Leaders break through mental and physical barriers because they know their destination.
“The great ball players understand and don’t mind doing the extras because the extras aren’t extras, it’s part of the territory of being great.”
- Bianca Mejia, LIU Assistant Softball Coach
A great middle doesn’t have to be an All-American to put in more practice because practice doesn’t feel like work. Practice feels like play. The game should always feel like play.
“Great middles not only have the physical ability but they also demand a presence. They are the vocal leaders and the leaders by example.”
Ashley Charters, Former University of Washington Second Baseman, USA Team, USSSA Pride
You don’t have to be an Olympian to be a vocal leader. Communicate; give max effort, and have the courage to do what is necessary to help the team win.
The Anticipating Mind
“Good fielders just participate in the game; great fielders are playing the game in their minds to be one step ahead of the next play.” – Kaylan Howard
Kaylan Howard, former All-American Oregon Duck second baseman, makes an important distinction in how the good and great players approach the game. GM’s keep a mental scorebook throughout the game of the hitter’s tendencies. You’ll see them adjust their positioning on the field according to past at-bats.
“I think the biggest separating factors are knowing the game and having the confidence to communicate and run the defense.” – Lauren Lappin
Lappin, former USA Softball player, Professional Softball player, and wonderful human being, makes an important point that great middles “know the game.” When a GM conditions the mind to know exactly how to counter every move of the offense, that conditioning breeds confidence. Conditioning the mind and body is done through experience, repetition, and retention.
The greats have the ability to anticipate the most probable play before the ball is hit.
“Great middle infielders have the natural ability to read the ball within the hitting zone, understand hitters tendencies and have a great first step, therefore having a great angle to catch any ball.” – Ashley Charters
Charters formulates a key assessment as to why great middles are able to cover so much ground. If you anticipate where the ball will be hit, your chances of making the out increase. And when a GM anticipates consistently and correctly, they make plays. They get outs.
“A great SS has got to think like a coach…one play at a time, one play ahead, and anticipate the move!” – Jen McFalls, Former USA Olympian, University of Texas Coach
Eyes – Through conscious and unconscious repetition, great middles use their eyes to guide them. When they’re awake, they track the ball with our eyes. In their sleep, they will sometimes dream of tracking an imaginary ball. By watching the ball with intense focus and clarity, GM’s react to the angle of ball off bat and position themselves in proximity to where the ball will be hit.
“Great middles know how to read spin and hops to pick their approach.”
Depending on how the hitter strikes the ball, middles can see the spin of the ball and predict how the ball will bounce. With seeing spin comes recognizing the speed and direction of the ball. Coach JT D’Amico of University of Washington, stresses the importance of recognizing speed and direction because it is vital to decision making. Through processing information through our eyes, our body sends messages to the rest of our body telling it to move according to the speed and direction.
Feet – Your feet take you from point A to point B. 90% of the GM’s I asked about what separates the good from the great middles mentioned footwork.
“What separates the good infielders from the great infielders is how they use their feet. You could have the best arm in the world, but if you do not understand how to use your feet correctly then your 100mph throws doesn’t matter. Feet are key!”
– Jenn Salling, Pennsylvania Rebellion, Former University of Washington Shortstop
When watching great middles, they look like they’re gliding across the field.
It’s important to mention that great middles have great hands and/or glovework. They have the ability to absorb and diffuse hops with fluidity depending on speed of ball and where it may land.
In the next Smart Softball video, I will go into more detail about glovework and daily practice in the infield.
Want to know more about glove work? Subscribe to the Smart Softball mailing list to receive the latest videos on fielding, hitting, and coaching.
“Commitment: It separates the doers from dreamers.” – John C. Maxwell
How I Became a College Softball Coach, Written By Matt Lisle
I had always been a fan of softball. I loved the tempo & speed of the game. I hadn’t watched a ton of collegiate softball until the 2012 season. I ended up watching every single game of the regionals, super regionals and Women’s College World Series that was televised. By the end of the three-day battle between Kealani Ricketts of Oklahoma and Jackie Traina of Alabama, I was completely in love with the sport.
The Power of Email
The night of the final game of the Women’s College World Series I decided to try an experiment. I put together my resume and before I went to bed, I emailed it out to over 500 college baseball coaches and 500 college softball coaches letting them know my interest in returning to coaching collegiately.
When I had woken up in the morning, I had three emails from college baseball coaches with interest in having me join their staff. I had over 100 emails from college softball coaches. The responses were so overwhelming that I spent the next two days researching each program, each coach and making a spreadsheet of the Top 10 schools I was interested in. I figured this was God giving me a sign that maybe it was time to make a switch.
I spent the next few days doing phone interviews with coaches from all over the country as I tried to narrow down what would be the best fit for my family and myself especially if I was going to have to move them across the country again.
A One Man Wolfpack
I had narrowed it down to my Top 3 with the leading candidate being North Carolina State led by Head Coach Lisa Navas. She brought me out to campus to work a camp for a few days and interview me to see if I was a good fit for her. I loved the campus, the players I got to meet and I knew Coach Navas was a great fit for me. While I was there for a few days, I roomed with USA Men’s Fastpitch Hall-of-Famer Avon Meacham who currently coaches at University of South Florida. Avon and I became great friends in a short amount of time reminiscent of Summer Camp in Junior High.
On my second to last day of my trip to NC State, Coach Navas offered me a position and I told my wife it was a great fit and to start the packing. On the morning of my last day, while helping work camp with several of the Wolfpack players, I started to notice that within a five minute window many of them began sobbing in tears. I came to find out that Coach Navas had been let go that morning which also meant my tenure at NC State would last less than 24 hours. I spent the next few hours sharing somber moments helping Coach Navas clean out her office and sharing a final meal in Raleigh. I particularly remember taking extra care of carrying her ACC Coach of the Year glass plaque to her car.
The rest of that day, I remember feeling deep empathy for a woman that had started the program and you could tell had poured her heart and soul into her players. Coach Navas ended up giving me a big hug as she dropped me off at the airport apologizing that she wouldn’t be able to give me the opportunity to come work with her.
I remember flying home on the plane thinking, “OK God. What’s the plan here? I thought this was the place for us, I guess it’s back to the drawing board”.
The next day, I received an email from Oregon Head Coach Mike White asking if I was still interested in a position. (Almost a month after I had emailed him). I immediately emailed him back and asked him to use Avon Meacham as a reference. Avon had played several years with Coach White on the Men’s USA team. (crazy coincidence?) In what felt like a whirlwind 24 hour period, I ended up accepting a position with Pac-12 powerhouse and WCWS participant University of Oregon.
I’ll never forget getting an email from Coach Candrea at Arizona the next morning asking if I could throw BP and if I was still interested in a position there. Turning down Coach Candrea was one of the hardest and nearly surreal things I’ve ever done. I still can’t believe I wrote back saying that I wasn’t interested anymore.
A month later, my father and brother helped me drive the UHaul to Eugene, Oregon and wife and kids flew up a few days later, thus beginning my softball-coaching career.
The Softball Coaching Community
There were many coaches and friends who advised me when I started the process of transitioning from baseball to softball that if I went to coaching softball that it would be very difficult to go back to baseball if I wanted to. Many others couldn’t believe that I was even considering coaching softball and that they believed I would go back to coaching baseball after a short time.
In the now two years that I made the switch, I want to share with you why I have stayed with coaching softball and will continue to.
First, there isn’t a more welcoming and friendly community than the college softball coaching community. I feared that my lack of experience in fastpitch and my circle being so small to start that it would be a long difficult transition for me. It has been anything but. The NFCA has been an incredible organization that has help connect me with so many great coaches, mentors and friends. The friends that I have made in my short tenure in softball have been life changing. They are now some of my closest friends.
Over the course of the last NFCA Convention I became good friends with too many coaches to name including Dartmouth Head Coach Rachel Hanson. I mention her only because I now tease her that she is the female version of me. (I’m not sure if she’d take that as a compliment). There are too many coaches to name that have reached out to me, befriended me, advised me and cared for me since I’ve gotten started coaching softball that is overwhelming.
Secondly, and most importantly there are the players; the reason why we all call coach in the first place. I have been so blessed to work with some of the best players in my two years in this game. I have gotten total buy in from almost every one of the players I have gotten to work with and have loved the relationships I’ve been able to foster with them.
The Difference Between Boys & Girls
The question asked most by my baseball coaching friends is always, “What’s it like coaching girls? How much different is it?”
In my now almost 15 years of coaching experience, I can say that coaching boys vs. coaching girls is completely different. In my experience, boys have this innate posture of “I know it all already” which hinders buy in. It doesn’t completely prevent it but it does slow the process for many young men. You can still get buy in from boys, but whether they got it from a former coach, parent or TV personality they carry a lot of baggage with them when it comes to working on new concepts. In my experience with girls so far, they listen better and have a posture of learning and wanting to get better, more so than boys.
I have also seen much larger jumps in improvement with girls that I’ve worked with. This season we had three catchers that you wouldn’t even recognize from the beginning of fall to the end of the season. I truly believe that our 3rd string catcher was one of the best defensive catchers in the league after all the work she put in.
Sometimes I hear coaches so that they believe that boys are more competitive and want to win/succeed more than girls do. I don’t buy this. The players that I’ve had the privilege to coach over the last few seasons in softball want to win and work hard to get better just as much as any boy I’ve ever coached.
A myth that I want to debunk immediately is the myth that girls can’t handle complex ideas and strategies. As coaches we want to make things as simple as possible for our players and that’s good. But simple doesn’t mean easy or dumbing it down. I’ve come across many coaches that don’t want their girls to work on complex things because they don’t think they’re capable of doing it. This is false. Players will rise to the expectation given to them. Boy or Girl.
Softball has been Life Giving
The best answer that I can give to people that ask me about the switch from baseball to softball is really simple actually. Coaching softball has just been more life giving to me. The community of coaches and players that I’ve gotten to know encourage and inspire me every day with their attitude, their effort and most of all…their love. Everyday I wake up I’m excited and passionate about the day ahead of me and every day after a game and practice, I can’t wait for the next one to start.
The softball community has become family to me. I have been so grateful for the opportunities given to me in this game in such a short amount of time and the relationships I’ve built with the coaches I’ve gotten to work with and learn from and will continue to build. I can’t wait to see this game continue to grow and I can’t wait to grow with it.