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Extension Increases Batting Averages

Written By Charity Butler

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Extension Increases Batting Averages

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Extend—to stretch out; draw out to full length

A key component for consistent and powerful hitting is extension. The majority of hitters rarely reach full, maximized extension.

Extension in the context of hitting means keeping the meat of the barrel in the hitting zone as long as possible. The hitting zone begins at the point where the hitter can first reach the incoming pitch to the point that the ball completely passes the hitter on its way to the catcher’s mitt.

Extension creates whip! For inspiration, watch Willow Smith’s music video “Whip My Hair.” The video is fun and provides a valuable visual. Go ahead and watch it on YouTube now.

Whip is created by reaching full extension, and extension requires letting go. As hitters, we have to trust our hands. Like whipping your hair, trusting your hands is uncomfortable at first. The improved results produced by full extension, however, are well worth the momentary awkwardness.

To keep the topic simple, we will begin by focusing on pitches thrown down the middle of home plate. These same concepts can be easily adjusted to apply to pitches of any location.

For pitches thrown down the middle of the plate, the hitting zone extends toward the pitcher. Therefore, hitters should keep the bat barrel whipping toward the pitcher for as long as possible.

With my students, the first concept we solidify is the Power Line, an imaginary line drawn from the back tip of home plate all the way through center field.

Once a hitter reaches full extension, her barrel will actually point down her Power Line toward center field, before any roll of the wrist or finish takes place.

Many hitters are so concerned with finishing hard that they pull themselves away from their Power Line before reaching full extension. When this happens, hitters physically work hard, but they will not experience maximum results.

They are working against themselves and cutting the swing short. The barrel does not stay in the hitting zone as long as it should. This decreases consistency.

Consistency is quite simple: when the bat stays where the ball is going to be for a longer period of time, the hitter is more likely to make good contact.

The opposite is also true. When the bat only stays where the ball crosses (hitting zone) for a short period of time, the hitter’s likelihood of solid connection decreases.

In short, maximizing extension increases batting averages.

Pull hitters may hit the ball hard but, typically, do not maximize their consistency. Pulling the ball often is a sign of ineffective extension. If a hitter pulls pitches that are thrown outside or over the middle of home plate, her extension is usually misdirected. When a pull hitter reaches full extension, the point of her bat is usually directed more toward the foul line than toward center field.

On the other hand, some pull hitters never reach extension. The arms stay bent throughout the entire swing, and the hands are never fully released. This mistake, also known as “alligator arms,” is quite common.

Overcoming alligator arms, like whipping your hair, requires getting uncomfortable. Throwing the hands away from the body through center field demands trust. Letting go through the power line can be awkward and unnerving.

To whip your hair, you must release it away from the body. This requires “letting your hair down”… literally. This seeming silliness can also prove a bit uncomfortable at first but can mimic the trust required to develop full extension. Try it right now! Seriously. Whip your hair!

Feel the release required to whip your hair and now apply that feeling to the swing. Let go through the Power Line. Release the hands and the bat head to whip through the zone. For a video example and drill to help achieve this whip, click the Charity’s Drill icon.

Although adjusting extension is initially uncomfortable for hitters, the dividends pay huge rewards. Hitters can gain both power and consistency in a matter of minutes.

Misdirected extension or lack of extension altogether keeps the bat barrel from staying long through the hitting zone. Making the adjustment allows players to immediately hit the ball harder and more often.

To simplify the concept, picture the Power Line. Think about starting the swing through the Power Line and staying on the line as long as possible.

Hitting more ground balls is sometimes an initial result of this change. If the length and direction of extension is improving, the ground balls should be hit toward the middle of the field. Allow time and practice reps for the changes to become more natural.

Once the hitter is comfortable with the extension adjustment, simply add the concept of punching through the pitcher. Repeated ground balls are usually the result of the hands rolling too soon. If a hitter punches through the pitcher, keeping hands palm up/palm down as long as possible through the hitting zone and all the way to full extension, those ground balls up the middle become line drives that burn the center fielder.

To achieve full extension, generate whip and increase the batting average get comfortable with being uncomfortable!

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Pitcher Catcher Relationship: Nonverbal and Verbal Communication to Teammates

Written By Bryan Ingalls

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Pitcher Catcher Relationship

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We have talked immensely about the communication and the relationship between the Pitcher and the Catcher, but communication should not end just there. The battery working well together without a doubt enhances each others talents and abilities but also the other seven players on the field have your back as well. The defense should not be left out of the equation so it is very important that they know what is going on and everyone is on the same page.

Small forms of communication take place constantly throughout the game and sometimes can be taken for granted but should always be thought about. Every player on the team should know the signals for pitches. Most players and coaches may think “What do we need to know them for? I am not a pitcher or a catcher.” But it is your job to defend and if you know what pitch and location is coming it can and will help you in setting up and getting a jump on some of the balls. If you know that a drop ball is coming, you know that there is a better chance for a ground ball coming than a rise ball. If the mental game and learning how to read a hitter is taught, then knowing what pitch to call is certainly a very important piece of information without a doubt.

This game can be very complicated yet at the same time very simple if there is the right thought process. In between every pitch you have a few seconds as a defender to think about the situation that may or may not take place. What do I do on a ground ball to my left or right or if I am charging or if it is hit hard? Little things like that are very important. So as those thoughts go through your head the communication with your other fielders take place. Talk with the fielder next to you, talk about who is covering what bag or where you position yourself in the field so maybe the player next to you can make adjustments. All of these little adjustments can be made based on the batter and pitch and location.

A couple of the big things a pitcher can relay to the fielders are simple hand gestures as to who has the bag at second on a groundball back to them. You cannot turn two without the first one, but if the first out comes smoother and more efficient then you will have a better opportunity of getting that second out. The catcher also plays a big role in reminders.

Since day one it has been said that the catcher is the field general and is the boss on the field. Small things like who covers what on a bunt, who is covering second base on the steal, who is backing up, etc. If you think there is nothing to do and nothing to talk about than you are mistaken, Softball like many sports is a sport that is full of communication and you rely on your teammates more than ever.

As a catcher myself, one thing that I always make sure is relayed to the fielders is who is covering second base and always giving the first and third basemen the pitches. Those are non verbal cues that to the average eye may always go unnoticed. But the corner infielders are in the line of fire and if I can give them a heads up that this pitch is designed to go their way it helps the team become more successful and also gives them an avenue to protect themselves along the way.

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Creating a Defensive Culture

Written By Lisa Iancin “LI”

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Creating A Defensive Culture

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My mind has been on this topic for a long time now. Like football, can softball games be won by superior defense? How important is it to have a solid defensive culture in a game that typically values homeruns and RBI? Do we tend to place more emphasis on individual victors such as the winning pitcher or the clutch hitter who knocked in the game-winning run? If so, how loud is the voice of the unsung heroes who seldom get the spotlight but are a part of each constant out made as a collective defensive unit?

If you are like me and have played college softball or even beyond into the pros, then you have had many coaches in your life. Although they all had different coaching styles and offered their own unique lessons of wisdom, there is always one cliché that gets mention on the field: “the team that makes the less errors, is the team that wins.” Yea, yea coach I’ve heard that so many times before. We all know it’s true though. For some reason, maybe we are just resistant to accepting coaching advice that places emphasis on the importance of defense. If so, why is that? I believe it is because solid defense can’t be achieved alone, but is dependent on the entire team unit. Even if you can sit back and ride on the talent of your Ace pitcher, she can’t pitch every game. When it comes to hitting, there is only one batter standing in the box at a time. For that moment, all of the pressure is on her shoulders, while everyone else chomps on sunflower seeds in the dugout to calm their nerves. On defense, however, no one can relax ever! The second you sit back on your heels is the exact moment when the ball is hit to you and you’ve missed your hop. Knowing that you are responsible for the unknowing, pitch by pitch throughout the course of a half inning can be stressful. As one person can hit the ball over the fence to win a game, a defense needs to rely on each other to execute each play from the pitch, to fielding and throwing the ball, to receiving the ball for an out. Therefore as a defensive unit, we need to ask ourselves if we are ready to work together and only be as strong as our weakest link. If we want to turn double plays, are we ready to make eye contact and communicate about base coverage and where to throw? Although offense allows more space for players to bask in the sun of their own batting average, defense does not offer an immediate statistic for teamwork, short of a championship.

To achieve Game Speed Defense we need to be sure our team has a Defensive Culture. We will be more likely to win by having a vision of winning. In order to execute a win, our team needs to value each of the mundane defensive plays just as much as we value the clutch hitting or individual performances. I have seen so many fastpitch softball games that were lost by an overthrow or a fielding error. If your team can walk off the field with no errors on the scoreboard, you have given the offense less opportunity to score. Repeat that over the course of a season, and I would say your odds at winning are high. Just because most post-game interviews usually involve one microphone and a close-up camera angle, never forget that you have chosen to play a team sport.

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The Common Flaw In Female Pitchers’ Mechanics You May Not Even Realize Is There

Written By Carly Schonberg

The Common Flaw In Female Pitchers' Mechanics You May Not Even Realize Is There

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If you look carefully when instructing or watching many female windmill pitchers, especially young ones, you will begin to see a tiny mechanical flaw that is becoming so common I’d almost call it an epidemic.

I see it in my own students, in others during games, even in online videos of pitchers from all over the country: a small pivot of the push-off foot that takes place prior to the load.

It's often so slight and quick that it may go unnoticed by many pitching coaches. It took me several years of teaching to discover that it may be the single most ubiquitous mechanical problem. Though this turn of the push foot seems so small—insignificant even—it can trigger a domino effect that results in a much larger breakdown of the pitching mechanics.

First and foremost, the poor foot alignment weakens the push off the rubber, limiting the potential velocity of the entire pitch (think of trying to steal a base with your feet turned out like a duck—my bet is you'll be thrown out). It can prevent the push leg from achieving the full extension needed for explosive results. It can also cause premature opening of the upper body as the torso attempts to realign itself with the support leg. Very often, it leads to common drive through issues such as the dreaded illegal crow hop or the power-draining “anchor leg,” when the instep of the foot is dragged hard through the dirt.

Popular training aids like the Power Push (an attachment for the pitching rubber that sandwiches the pitcher's foot between two small barricades, preventing turning) and the Power Drive (a pedal-like device that tilts the push foot downward) have been developed to discourage this very problem and help facilitate a proper push off the rubber. They do not, however, address the key issue: WHY are so many girls prematurely pivoting their feet in the first place?

The answer is pretty simple: turning the foot out is a natural compensation for key weaknesses elsewhere in the body. While the exact cause can vary from pitcher to pitcher and should always be determined on an individual basis with the combined help of a pitching coach and a strength training professional, it is typically one—or a combination—of three culprits: hip instability, ankle immobility, and lack of core strength.

Hip instability is extremely common in young female athletes who are just beginning or have not yet begun a serious strength training regimen. When asked to perform initial diagnostic physical movements such as squatting or lunging, many girls will find that their knees naturally want to move inward toward each other. This is a counter-reaction to the hip's natural tendency to pop outward. If you could ask a subject to stand on one leg and then allow his or her body to go limp like a rag doll, you'd see this in the collapse of the leg: the hip would pop out and the knee would fall in.

A proper load in windmill pitching is a strong weight-bearing action—not unlike the diagnostic squatting and lunging exercises—followed by an explosive push. When a pitcher does not have the hip stability to support that action, she turns out her foot in anticipation of the load in order to counterbalance the knee's inclination to collapse inward.

Ankle immobility (or inflexibility) can cause a similar reaction. In order for a pitcher to load deeply, her ankle must be flexible enough to allow her knee to come straight out comfortably over her foot. When this capacity is not present, the knee again seeks that inward angle where it can bend farther and move more freely. The foot, again, pivots outward to compensate.

Core weakness can contribute in a couple of ways. For one, it is extremely common for girls to stand naturally with a sway (an arch) in their lower backs. If a pitcher assumes this posture on the pitching rubber—as opposed to tucking the pelvis forward and engaging the core, straightening the back—it can encourage the hip's natural tendency to pop outward, as explained above. Additionally, in an ideal pitching motion, the torso opens up to the side after a strong forward push has taken place, as the arms are transitioning from being lined up together at eye level to assuming the “K” position. It takes incredible core strength to be able to make this transition in the middle of the pitch—basically, in mid-air. The average female windmill pitcher, especially in the early stages of her development, does not have enough core strength to accomplish this consistently. Subconsciously, she begins to pivot her push foot outward so that the opening of her torso occurs gradually as she pushes off the rubber, while the upper body strives to realign itself with the support leg. She successfully opens her torso, but she loses power and stability as a result.

So what's the solution? Adopting a strength training program that addresses ALL of these areas will make a pitcher better, whether she is affected by all, some, or even none of the aforementioned weaknesses. The athlete should never feel discouraged or inferior for having these weaknesses. In fact, it is more common for young females to have them than not to have them. This information should merely stress the importance of supplementing pitching practice and knowledge of the proper pitching mechanics with regular, productive strength workouts.

It is entirely possible that the use of a training aid, or even just specific focus on keeping the push foot and knee forward during pitching workouts, will be necessary if the outward pivot has become an ingrained habit independent of other body weaknesses. For best results, however, address the underlying cause first.