College Softball Camps: Who, When, Why?

by Robby Wilson

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College Softball Camps: Who, When, Why?

How do you know which college recruiting camps you should or shouldn’t be signing your daughter up for? It’s the most sensitive yet, misunderstood part of the softball recruiting process…camps. Years ago the common thought “in the softball world” was “camps are where recruiting happens”. So the question is…where do I start? The statement is partially true. About as true as “what’s the fastest route between California and Florida in a car”? Well, the loosely defined answer which is similar to the above would be “on the interstate instead of backroads”. Which interstate? At what speed? In which car?

The same questions need to be asked by the athlete and the families, when discussing taking the camp route for recruiting. Let me add/clarify by saying there’s much more to camps than just recruiting. Camps are a phenomenal way to get one on one training from some of the best minds in softball. But somewhere along the way, the recruiting of the athlete became the more focused aspect of the camp versus the development of the athlete, when it came to college camps. It’s much more complex than “I want to go to XYZ University, so I’m going to go to their camp on September 9th”.

Does that school meet your needs athletically, academically, morally, spiritually, regionally, etc.?

Or the equally important questions…does the coach of that program have a need that matches your graduation year and position? Are you the “type” of player that coach recruits?

With 1,600+ college softball programs, there’s never been any shortage of college softball recruiting camps. And especially now that the new NCAA D1 rules began in mid-August (https://www.nsr-inc.com/scouting-news/divisioni-softball-recruiting-calendar/) , you can bet there will be even more, many on the same weekends as each other, and the importance of attending the RIGHT ones becomes even more important than it was before.

It’s important to note here that the term “camps” is loosely referring to not only to “institutional camps” on the coach’s campus, but also showcase camps of which many athletes in the recruiting process frequently attend with the intention of the “bowling ball approach”…meaning roll the ball down the lane at a bunch of pins instead of one pin and let’s see what pins fall and which ones stay. Don’t get me wrong, I am 110% for showcase camps if they’re ran the right way by the experienced people such as JerradHardin.com, HeadFirst Honor Roll Camps, Faster2First, among a few others. But again, somewhere along the way everyone got lost and forgot the true focus, the athlete! Nowadays everybody thinks they can run a showcase camp and I’ll be the first to tell you, they’re not all good ones.

NSR College Softball Camps Scouting

So Are Showcase Camps Good?

Yes, if it’s the right people running it, with the coaches applicable to that particular athlete’s ability, and the coach(es) there have expressed prior interest in the athlete and it is simply serving as the opportunity for the coach to put a face to the email or call. However, the wrong showcase camp can cost you $100-1,000 and do nothing but waste your time and money.

So How Do I Know Which Institutional Camps To Attend?

First, were you personally invited by the coach? Personally…invited…personally. Let that sink in for a second. Let’s assume you’re getting a bunch of camp email invitations and I know not everyone reading this actually will be, which is a whole new set of Q&A because that means you’re absolutely nowhere in the recruiting process.  But for the sake of this blog, let’s assume you are receiving a bunch of camp invites in your email. Some are on the same weekends as the others. Some you’ve attended before and the coaches “invited” you back again, and again. Some you’ve not attended but you totally want to play at that school because they have a cool website, you’ve seen them on tv, or you like their uniforms (yes, I’m kidding). You end up registering for the camp this weekend at XYZ university because they’re on tv (or whatever reason)…the problem is, the coach over at ABC university actually invited you to his camp and it’s on the same weekend. And he has a need that matches your graduation year, position, plus the school has your major and he’s actually seen some video of you and has some interest in confirming your abilities via his camp. But you didn’t know that because when you saw the multitude of camp invites and immediately narrowed down based on whatever the biggest, most television broadcasted team was, you immediately chose that one.

You wouldn’t believe how many very talented prospects I’ve seen lose a solid D2 or even mid-major D1 opportunity because they were too busy going to this power 5 camp for the 11th time in hopes that this camp will be the camp that the coach notices her. And vise versa! No kidding…a truly talented kid who has power 5 ability, but immediately only goes to the camps of the smaller programs that are far less applicable, simply because someone, somewhere told her to “be realistic” which is true…but the very definition of being realistic is “someone who has a good grip on the reality of a situation and understands what can and cannot be done, something that is a practical, achievable idea, or something that resembles the actual truth about life or a situation, based on vast experience”. Did you catch the key words there? BASED ON VAST EXPERIENCE. What teenager much less a parent or even most travel coaches, have “vast experience” in the softball recruiting world? Few…I’d say less than 1% that is for certain.

Either way you look at it, you:

  1. Over-assess or under-assess your abilities, selling yourself short or missing out on truly applicable opportunities
  2. Don’t understand that college softball recruiting is subjective not objective. So just because this particular school isn’t giving you the time of day doesn’t absolutely mean you can’t play at that LEVEL, it means the coach of that school isn’t interested in your style of play and/or abilities or simply doesn’t have the need for you. (Sidebar: See #1)
  3. The measuring stick you’re using is broken or not broken-in (aka vast experience)

So now, how do you know which ones to attend over the others? The best advice I can give you is don’t attempt to figure out that puzzle alone. Even with my prospects I work with as their scout, touching base with the applicable coaches to verify they have a need that matches certain athletes and that this particular camp would be the right evaluation opportunity for that coach, is so vital to success in recruiting. At the completion of camp or at the worst, that week, we should know if the coach says “yes” or “no”.

There’s a reason they call it “the recruiting process” and not “the recruiting day”. If done correctly, each step of the recruiting process SHOULD lead you to the next step of the process. There’s only four steps, believe it or not…but I would safely bet that half of prospects I talk to got lost somewhere along the way in step one or two, and started the process all over again, over and over, not knowing any better.

I’m Not Getting Email Invites To Camps, What Do I Do?

Get help, now. You’re more than welcome to simply google “college softball camps” and believe me, there’s a myriad of websites out there that will give you list upon list of college softball camps. I just googled it and the smallest list had 289 camps…for September through December! Try deciphering that and determining which ones to attend (don’t really). Get help, really. Don’t try to figure that out on your own. A lot of wasted time and money shooting fish in a barrel if you do go at it alone.

Bottom Line?

College softball recruiting is a subjective, not objective, recruiting sport. Simply said, college coaches recruit based on their “recruiting personalities”. Don’t think of an invite to camp as a sign of the coach’s interest or probability of making an offer. Keep in mind, the schools are making a profit from each player who attends. Most of the time any athlete who can pay to attend will be invited to attend. What you have to keep in mind is that the coaches may only actually be recruiting 5-10 players annually and may actually already have several of them committed or working towards that. So, the chance of you simply and randomly “being discovered at camp” aren’t exactly in your favor. A lot of coach put a huge deal of weight on their institutional camp(s) and see it as a big-time asset in being able to evaluate possible athletes vs currently committed ones. Other coaches simply use it for revenue, PR, etc. Coaches invite hundreds of prospects to their camps because they are revenue for their program. The hard truth is that out of those hundreds, they are only evaluating a small portion of the athletes at camp for their program. You know those 4-7 kids that were standing over to the side at some point in time talking to the college coach during camp? Those are the “prospects”…the other 90-92/100 kids? Those are the “campers”.

In short? Have a plan and don’t go at it alone. Be assessed by a subjective party. Be advised by an experienced party with the more than just 5-10 college coach relationships. There’s 1650+ college softball programs out there…so why in the world would you limit yourself when you’re trying to find the right fit?

Feel free to email Coach Wilson any camp and/or recruiting related questions to rwilson@nsr-inc.com or check him out on www.nsr-inc.com/softball

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Robby Wilson

Robby Wilson

Robby Wilson is the National Director of Softball Scouting. Robby has a B.S. in Exercise Science and has been a certified strength and conditioning specialist working with High School and College athletes for 10 years and scouting for NSR over 6 years. As a previous college athlete and high school standout Robby endured the recruiting process himself and has seen firsthand, the changes over the years. As the Director of Scouting, Robby works with College Coaches, high school/club athletes, as well as high school and travel coaches on a daily basis in pursuit of getting the athlete the right exposure and promoting those athletes to collegiate athletic programs for them to continue the love for their sport while getting a quality education. Join Robbie On: Facebook/NSRsoftball, Twitter, Facebook/NSRArkansas.

Sliding Into the Diamond Dust

24-carat Thoughts

Base Coach Helmets
Sliding Into The Diamond Dust By Tim Pollins

Sliding Into the Diamond Dust

By Tim Pollins

Following are a boatload of 24-carat thoughts that entered my tiny brain as I watched the 2017 softball playoffs, up to and including the Women's College World Series.  In no particular order:

1)  Final Matchup:  Sooners do it again!  Florida and Oklahoma entered the postseason with each having won two of the past four titles.  The victor in this tilt would own a third recent championship and bragging rights.  Game 1 was a roller coaster ride for the ages, with unlikely comebacks by Florida falling just short in the 17-inning affair.  Game 2, though feeling a bit anticlimactic at first, ratcheted up the intensity and the prcoeedings were taut thereafter.  The Sooners grabbed the national crown with their unique blend of dominant pitching, stellar defense, clutch hitting, blazing team speed, and the inspired coaching of Patty Gasso.  In 2016, Oklahoma was deemed by many — myself included — to be a year away from being serious contenders.  Instead, they became white-hot and steamrolled to the crown.  This year there was talk of the ballclub being less hungry right up until they went on another blistering tear and — despite some anxious moments courtesy of North Dakota State — the Sooners dispatched whichever teams stood in their way of a title defense.  The players are smart and clutch and Gasso, their fearless leader, routinely makes gutsy calls as if they were no-brainers.

2)  Here's how I imagine the exchange went between a Minnesota Representative and a member of the Selection Committee:

MR:  In this year of stifled offense, we have two of the few players who have over 70 runs batted in, plus a 20-homer hitter.  Our workhorse pitcher is no worse than the second or third best performer in the circle in the country.  Our four best regular batters hit for averages of .426, .396, .380, and .374.  All 8 of our batters who started every game hit .330 or above. Entering the upcoming playoffs, the team is 14-0 at home this season, 18-3 on the road, and 18-0 at neutral sites.  The ballclub was 22-1 in Big Ten competition.  Against non-conference opponents who are in this tournament, the Golden Gophers collected two wins apiece from Texas, Notre Dame, and North Dakota State, and one each from LSU, Fresno State, Oregon State, and California.  In picking up those 10 impressive victories, Minnesota lost zero games against that group. The Gophers were ranked as high as #1 late in the campaign by both major polls.  So how do you rate this juggernaut?

SC:  Um, a 17th seed, I guess.

And that led to what will always be called The Minnesota Snub.

If the Selection Committee member had been a single individual, he would have been peppered with questions along the lines of “It's personal, isn't it?”  I had Minnesota in my top 3 for most of the season, as obviously did many others.  For them not to be given one of the 16 national seeds was a miscarriage of justice.  In addition to Minnesota, the shocking twist was unfair to Alabama.  Based on its own excellent track record, the Crimson Tide was just a tad down this season and was mostly hoping to be considered strong enough to host a regional.  They were, but having the Golden Gophers on tap as a second-round opponent was not what they deserved.  I was fit to be tied when one of the talking heads — seeing that all 16 seeds had advanced to the super regionals — somehow had the nerve to mouth something like “Well, the Committee got it totally right.”  Wrong!  Yes, Minnesota did run into a buzz saw in the form of Alabama pitching.  To me, the battle between Osorio and Groenewegen was the best-pitched game from two opposing pitchers that I saw all year.  I and others are clearly arguing that the Gophers should have been given a seeding through the super regionals.  You don't think home field would have meant a lot in a reasonably seeded bracket?  In my view, Minnesota was cheated out of a chance to contend for national glory.  We can't even be sure that the Selection Committee wasn't idiotic enough to rank the Big Ten regular season and conference tourney champs well below 17.  This is chicanery at its nadir.  Or as Cheri Kempf put it about the controversial ending to the fabuous pitching duel:  “That game ended on strike 2.”

3)  Should all 13 SEC teams have been invited to the national tournament?  Probably not, but one could make a case either way.  I'm not against an entire league going in per se.  The SEC has been the strongest conference for several years.  Now that all 13 of its softball programs are striving mightily to be competitive, it might be a rarity whenever an SEC entry does not look to be playoff worthy. Beyond that, the Pac-12 landed 8 of its 9 participants in the tourney, so this issue is not a big deal. A couple of factors push me in the opposite direction, however.  On the day after the regular season ended, a McNeese State player posted on Facebook that she had just played her final game for the school.  Whether she had forgotten about the playoffs or knew she wouldn't get into those games, I can't say.  But I then wondered whether McNeese had somehow not made the cut for the postseason.  After that, I made sure USC Upstate had made the field.  In both cases, the teams were safely in.  Even so, I vowed that nobody would have been able to justify putting SEC bottom dwellers in the field ahead of squads as impressive as McNeese State and USC Upstate.  My other concern is that for 2017, I was of the opinion that one and possibly two SEC schools did not belong in the national competition.  The less obvious choice for me in that regard was Georgia, though in the case of a team being invited to compete in the national playoffs but not in its own conference tourney (when everyone else was), the optics are admittedly bad.  What message is being sent to the players in other conferences?  That an SEC team doesn't need to keep up with its conference sisters at all in order to qualify for a run in the postseason?  I don't like that one bit. A majority of the schools need to finish first or (maybe) second in their league in order to get in the main draw, while an SEC entry can finish 13th in the conference and needn't worry at all about not being selected?  That's kooky talk!  The bigger problem was Missouri.  The team began the season well, but that did not last long.  As the ballclub's own coach admitted, they were finding new ways to lose games on a near daily basis.  I rooted hard for Missouri in 2016 for any number of reasons, but the atmosphere has been toxic there for a while.  The Tigers were falling apart towards the end of the campaign and they were exactly the caliber of team that should not be given the chance to extend its season.  Having said all this, I love watching the SEC Network in large part because that conference truly does play the best brand of ball at the collegiate level.  Oh, but others are gaining on them and that is a positive development for the sport.

4)  The next time somebody with a microphone starts talking about RPI, listen carefully.  They always begin the same way by mentioning that RPI is only one of many tools used by selection committes to rank teams.  Now focus.  Everything they say after that makes it clear that RPI is considered first among equals and the favored tool of the gods!  For example, a big deal was made out of the fact that Baylor was #13 in RPI heading into the 2016 playoffs, yet didn't warrant one of the 16 national seeds.  They alone suffered that fate.  Do you realize how many ways a slight edge in RPI can be more than offset by a variety of counter measures?  And yet the grumbling last year continued after the only two seeded teams that failed to reach the super regionals were Kentucky and Tennessee — both SEC entries.  Aren't we to the point where we almost automatically — and wrongly — assume that the stronger the RPI number, the better the team?  I'm sure RPI can be a useful measurement if not overvalued.  Keep in mind that there is bias and/or shortcuts in every system.  I guarantee you that part of what props up RPI exists in the realm of circular logic.

5)  The best I saw in 2017:

Lacey Waldrop Smiling Award — Grinning Gator Gourley

Always the happiest person in the ballpark — Alyson Habetz

Prettiest swing — Nikki Udria

Consistent power hitting back to back — Jessie Warren & Alex Powers

Hitting duo up the middle — Delaney Spaulding & Kylee Perez

Fielding duo up the middle — Amber Serrett & Constance Quinn

Bat control — Lindsey Cargill

Hand/eye coordination — Sydney Romero

Clutch and feared hitter — Shay Knighten

Command — Sara Groenewagen

Rise ball — Alexis Osorio

Drop ball — Kaitlin Lee

Curve ball — Danielle O'Toole

Dominance  — Kelly Barnhill

Changeup —  Delanie Gourley

Fielding pitcher — Danielle O'Toole

Smoothest delivery — Jessica Burroughs

Coolest angle to the plate — Kaylee Carlson

Windup with the most moving parts — Kelsee Sellman

Versatile — Aleshia Ocasio, Bailey Landry, Megan Good

Athletic — Megan Good, Aleshia Ocasio, Bailey Landry

Winner — Paige Parker

Perfect form — Caleigh Clifton

Wildly underrated — Fordham

She was a blur on the bases and her boldness and audacity made me say “Wow”!!! — Morgan Zerkle.

6)  Player of the Year: 

I correctly guessed that Kelly Barnhill, Meghan Gregg, and Megan Good would be the three finalists.  I could convince myself to lobby for any member of that trio with no problem.  Barnhill was totally dominant in the circle and Gregg's season was probably even better than Kasey Cooper's 2016 top 3 finish.  Still, my vote — if I had one — would be cast for Megan Good. I realize and fully appreciate what Barnhill did, but there ended up being half a dozen or so pitchers with sub 1.00 earned run averages — and Megan Good was one of them.  I believe she gave up less than a run per game last year as well.  If I'm not mistaken, there is a tacit agreement among conferences to have a league Pitcher of the Year and a league Player of the Year who is not a pitcher.  Megan Good was somehow both.  I'm assuming that means she was the best hitter not only for JMU, but for the entire Colonial Athletic Association, as well as their most valuable performer in the circle.  We've seen some fine hitting pitchers diversify through the collegiate ranks, but nothing in recent memory can match Good's incredible double.  She's also tall and extremely athletic, so forget about spouting any nonsense about the quality of her competition.  She would dominate anywhere and should be a superstar in NPF if she chooses to go that route.  I'd rank her pro upside as high as anybody else's.  So there!

7)  Last year I was shocked by how much I concurred with the official All-American teams.  I was especially pleased to see that players whose numbers had fallen off weren't automatically included from muscle memory or whatever.  This time around, I'm still more or less in basic agreement, but there was at least one egregious mistake. The three All-American teams combined feature 55 players.  So there is sometimes plenty of room for borderline candidates.  As for these listings:  8 shortstops and Delaney Spaulding isn't one of them?!  That has to be a clerical error.  Check out her numbers and see what I mean.  And that doesn't even take into account her superior defense.  Without mentioning which players I might want to dump to make room for Spaulding and possibly others, I would suggest that the following softballers deserved consideration for All-American status.  Did some or all of them receive that courtesy?  I can't say, but here are my five “too little/too late” recommendations:

Maddy Grimm — Kent State

Erika Piancastelli — McNeese State

Elicia D'Orazio — Marshall

Holly McKinnon — USC Upstate

Morgan Flores — Washington

8)  I did some cursory research and think I discovered that none of the other conferences have copied that loopy and unbalanced schedule that the SEC operates under.  So it appears future postseason announcements will include the kind of thing we've been hearing — “Florida and LSU did not play each other this season” —  even though both coaches swear their teams do compete in the same league.  I'm starting to suspect that the setup is designed to minimize conference losses.

9)  The Bases Loaded concept and implementation proved to be a big success.  Showing all games wire to wire and jumping around smartly to keep viewers fully informed was quite the rush.  It did become more difficult to chart some of the shifting media coverage, but that was a small price to pay for so much action.  An added plus is that ESPN now had an excuse to expand Kayla Braud's role on the telecasts.  As predicted here, once Braud loosened up a bit a year or so ago she was destined to be a focal point of the presentation. ( Kayla's list of strengths allows you to check a lot of boxes.)  I'll wager Braud is surprised by how much she digs her current gig.  I didn't get full introductions to many of the  broadcasters, so I don't have a lot to say on that front.  I must admit I got a kick out of the Alex Loeb/Megan Willis pairing.  They were very cute together and Willis can be entertainingly unpredictable.  Sometimes I feel as if Cheri Kempf is trying to sell me something, but she is still the one most likely to directly confront a controversy.  In addition to her memorable “that game ended on strike two” line, Kempf patiently and thoroughly took the viewers through the goings-on relative to those infernal obstruction sequences.  Nothing against the talented Eric Collins, but I was “ascared” that ESPN was breaking up my dream team consisting of Adam Amin and Amanda Scarborough — particularly in view of how many times Collins identified Scarborough as his partner.  I enjoy Eric's work on the NPF games and I think he was even sharper with Amanda.  Still, I was delighted when I found out that the dream team would indeed be working selected games after all.  Collins and Scarborough have such different temperaments.  In what may or may not have been a conscious decision, she countered his double-barreled enthusiasm with small doses of levity.  When she was back in the booth with Amin, she cracked everyone up with a clever line at Amin's pretend expense.  Jennie Ritter is always thoughtful and informative.  Beth Mowins teamed with Michele Smith and Jessica Mendoza and they still call a great game.  During the 17-inning thrill ride, the three broadcasters were downright giddy at times.  I will say — and this doesn't necessarily refer to any one group — that there were an inordinate number of mistakes made on the telecasts.  Not knowing who was at bat was perhaps the most frequent error this time around.  Too often the play-by-play announcers gave the audience the wrong number of outs.  This is a forum where it's easy to make some miscues.  I only bring this up because the flubs were much more in evidence than usual.  Holly Rowe, Laura Rutledge, and the other sideline reporters asked open-ended questions that elicited decent answers and less than usual “feelspeak.”  Nice job.  The only thing on my wish list that wasn't indulged was Danielle Lawrie getting a chance for an encore to her intriguing booth analysis work in last year's playoffs.

10) Short Questions and Comments:

It didn't appear as if adjusting the schedule to limit the number of multi-game days had much of an effect on any aspect of the proceedings, but that could be an uninformed guess on my part.  All things being equal, I'm more likely to favor rule changes that reward pitching staffs and/or penalize pitching units featuring one hurler only.

Defensively, the catchers at the college level are sensational on their way to becoming even more so.  I love it that there is room for a few lefty catchers.  Reagan Dykes is the odd duck batting right and throwing left!

Between the conference tournaments and the national playoffs, have you ever seen so many bunts being popped straight up in the air?  Please don't claim you weren't warned.  That fundamental skill needs to be mastered by entire rosters if at all possible.

Why are home runs down so significantly?  Surely it's more than just power pitching.  There are too many of these ebbs and flows from season to season with inadequate insights into why.

Situational hitting is slightly on the upswing (no pun intended).  That's progress that ought to be developed much further.

We're always hearing about the USA National Team.  Are those roster spots all sewn up or can players lacking connections try out for the squad?

Why don't subs play more?  I read something the other day that suggested softball might have the most grueling schedule in collegiate competition.  If true, why not give more playing time to heretofore light contributors who might surprise you?  At first, I thought this was the case simply because so many head coaches are cautious and conservative, but I now believe it's an unwritten agreement between players and coaches.  The best players want to compete in all of the games and somehow make their wishes known.  Maybe it's just trendy now not to develop much of a bench.

Should batters be given credit for accumulating piles of walks?  Sure, they're being pitched around for a reason.  Except for not earning an RBI via the walk if the bases aren't full, a base on balls is often as good as a hit.  A player's high on-base percentage is an important offensive contribution.

Players invariably assume they're running as fast as they can from home to first base, but they're not.  Best of all:  this can be taught.

I never hear talk about stolen base percentage on the broadcasts.  In baseball, a rule of thumb is that a player has to successfully swipe 75% of the bags in order to be an actual contributor on offense in that category.  I assume something similar exists in softball.

Only one or two pitchers were throwing at 70 miles per hour a year ago, but now pert near everybody does?  Trust me — the guns are either not functioning properly now or weren't doing so previously.

11) My “they will be even better in 2017” results:  Okay, I missed by a little on Florida State.  They are the gold standard in the ACC and have been for many years.  I honestly expected them to be in the final matchup vs. Oklahoma (Florida was my second choice).  The Seminoles were a bit unlucky in these playoffs and didn't bow out too much earlier than last year's Final Four finish.  I was right on the money in predicting bigger things for Ole Miss.  They made all kinds of strides forward throughout the season and they're likely to take several more giant steps next year.  Technically, the only way for my Oklahoma prediction to come true would be for them to win the championship in two games rather than last season's three games.  I believe I had that!

12) College softball has a (hopefully temporary) problem somewhat analogous to an NBA conundrum.  Pro basketball coaches are now given to resting their stars on certain nights, which leads to oodles of disappointed fans.  Lack of adequate lineup protection is costing some of this sport's most compelling hitters to be issued free passes to first base as a measure designed to pitch around dangerous bats.  It's frustrating to arrive at the ballpark and watch as your favorite hitter never takes the bat off her shoulder.  How to address this issue and alter the dynamic?  I reckon it will need to happen organically and from within.  In the meantime, we'll never know if Sahvanna Jaquish would have knocked in 100 runs had coaches allowed their circle dwellers to pitch to her more.

13) I realize I've gone back and forth on the subject of the slap hitters from day one.  Well, I'm back and more firmly on their side than ever.  The reason for yet another semi change of heart?  I was reminded by Ole Miss and Marshall just how much I love team speed in every sport.  Seeing how disruptive speed can be is so invigorating!  Proud defenses become discombobulated when true quickness is in their neighborhood.  Running to a victory via a befuddled defense is way cool.  On the other hand, a new trend seems to be pinch-hitting for high-average slappers late in games so that it won't take five or six hits to score one run!  Such is the fate of these valuable yet at times undervalued resources.

14) Umpires actually seem to be making a higher percentage of calls correctly these days, but the ones they're missing are ever so crucial!  So many games are scoreless  after four, five, or six innings.  I like a good pitcher's duel as much as the next bozo, but there are two aspects of those tight tilts that bother me. One is that more than a handful of power arms in the circle utterly overwhelm the hitters on the opposing team more often than not.  In those instances, the lineups appear diminished and the sport seems unbalanced.  My other fear is that the longer two teams remain evenly matched, the more likely an umpire's bad call will decide who wins and who loses.  When some runs are scored early in games, there's time to adjust or rise above a blown call.  Later in the contest?  Not so much.

15) I watched games this season with an eye toward identifying players I regard as underrated in one way or another.  In addition to the performers I listed as perhaps worthy of All-American consideration, here are 18 other valuable assets who may or may not be receiving the local, regional, or national attention they deserve:

Justyce McClain — McNeese State

Sydney Canessa — Fordham    

Mackenzie Toler — Mississippi State

Julia Hollingsworth — Marshall

Alyssa Derrick — Maine

Rachel Carlson — Maine

Marissa Reynolds — Princeton

Tahlia Snider — FAMU

Stephanie Texeira — FIU

Donna Conrad — Albany

Elizabeth Snow — Albany

Kelsey Riley — Texas Southern

Cassidy Clarke — San Jose State

Shaye Harre — Southern Illinois

Amanda Ulzheimer — Fairfield

Whitney Gillespie — Jacksonville State

Jacquelyn Sertic — North Dakota State

Nicole Schroeder — Arkansas

In addition, I had planned to present an elaborate “compare and contrast” treatment that would have revealed that USC Upstate shortstop Ansley Gilstrap and UCLA left fielder Gabrielle Maurice are both underrated even though they are also highly regarded.  Alas, my deadline for this project looms ever nearer and so I need to start wrapping things up.  While readers missed a genuine opportunity to laugh, cry, and run the gamut of human emotions, you still have peanut butter!  One of Maurice's 2017 numbers gives a false read on her true value to the Bruins over her four-year career.  Gilstrap, on the other hand, is only halfway through her tenure with the Spartans and is hitting on all cylinders. Trust me — I would have tied it all together.

16) I consulted with a few doctors several years ago complaining of pain that kept running up and down my left arm.  The first two medicos asked me when I had undergone elbow surgery.  I replied — truthfully — “never” and they all but accused me of lying to them.  Well, the third doctor posed the same question, got the same answer, and then exclaimed:  “Then you must be a baseball pitcher.”  He then explained to me that my injury had to be the result of either a botched operation or a few thousand too many curve balls. I signed up to undergo cubital tunnel syndrome surgery to prevent the condition from becoming any worse. The procedure basically worked.  I did keep dropping my tennis racket on the court for a while, but that subsided soon enough.  And I had no trouble at all hefting and guiding my 16-pound bowling ball to its rightful place in the 1-2 pocket.  All is forgiven.

The reason for the above sob story is because my left-handed scrawl is incredibly tough to read and write these days.  I'm often scrambling around trying to jot down the names of players who are not using batting gloves when they hit.  Therefore, I probably make numerous mistakes on that front.

Here are some folks who have no use for batting gloves:  Celina Felix, Jade Gortarez, Shelby Hiers, Jordan Roberts, Bailey Hemphill, Reagan Dykes, Sydney Romero, Whitney Jordan, Casey McCrackin, Alyssa Barrera, Kay Kay Fronda, Kelly Martinez, Jessie Scroggins, Danica Mercado, Hannah Flippen, Heather Bowen, Kasey Cooper, Scarlet McSwain, Aloise Tribulet, Braxton Burnside, Kobie Pettis, Annie Aldrete,  Randee O'Donnell, Sara Novak, Victoria Williams, Lindsay Mayer, Maddy Grimm, Holly Speers, Jordon Augustus, Aidan Falk, Carsyn Gordon, Cali Harrod, Jessica Mrozek, Loren Krzyko, Caylan Adams, Kat Moore, Sarai Nu, Tristan Edwards, Shelby Miller, Cristy Wagner, Brooke Marquez, Amanda Brashear, Kyla Walker, Lindsay Cargill, Casey Stangel, Leila Chambers, Tiarra Davis, Brandi Needham, Abigail Tolbert, Elizabeth DeShields, Alex Cruz, Jacquelyn Sertic, Haley Meinen, Jamie McGuire, Lauren Lindvall, Chloe Rathburn, and Kirsten Mack.  There are plenty more, but I couldn't handle the paperwork.  Again, I apologize if you're on this list yet shouldn't be.  It's clear we're on schedule to take over the world, but let's have a picnic first. Naked hands only, of course.  See you there.

17) I have a hunch these two players will be special talents:

Braxton Burnside — Missouri & Morgan Reed — Notre Dame

Feedback is always welcome here.

Catcher Zone: Self Assessment and Self Confidence

Written By Bryan Ingalls

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Catcher Zone Self Assessment And Self Confidence

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In order to truly improve at your craft and perform on the field at high levels, two things are vital; self confidence and the ability to give yourself an honest self assessment. Those two things come at completely different times. The self confidence aspect should always be there but more so than ever when you are on the field in a game. You have to believe that you have the ability to perform at a level that you may not be able to. Thinking you can do something is a very powerful tool. But one thing that we should all be able to do as an athlete outside of the game type situation is be able to give ourselves an honest self assessment.

Believing you are better than what you are when you are in battle is a powerful tool to perform higher than the levels you may be capable of, but believing you are better than what you are in your training will severely hinder your ability to actually get there. Sometimes it is very difficult to think to yourself that there is something you cannot do, but you have to be realistic with yourself in order to improve on certain things. The power of the self assessment is the first step to believing in a process to improve your game physically and mentally. Your coach or instructor may be one of the best in the game, but if you as the athlete do not buy in, than you will not get better.

You need to give an honest assessment, write down your strengths as an athlete, but also write down your weaknesses. Your goal should be to make your weaknesses your strengths and make your strengths become second nature. For example, if you are a shortstop, you may do extremely well moving to your glove side, but struggle a bit on the approach going to your right. Identify that weakness and work on it. Get stronger, get faster, learn how to read to ball off the bat better, and improve your skills or approach to the ball. You should never ignore your strengths, those need to constantly be worked on as well, but the weaknesses need the extra attention. During practice and training you should never think to yourself, I can do it all, I am the best. There is always something to improve on and there is always someone better.

With that being said a flip must be switched when it becomes game time. There is a quote that seems simple but it is so true, “The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is a little bit extra”. That extra 10-15% of intent and self confidence makes the world of difference when it comes to competition. Whatever you are thinking in your head, you are right. You are up to bat and the Pitcher may be the best in the league, and you think to yourself, “Man, she is good; no way can I hit her”. You are right, you are already defeated. But if you think to yourself, “Yea, she is good, but she can't throw the ball by me, I am even better”, you may surprise yourself with the result. Mindset and self confidence in a one on one battle is one of the most important things you can bring as an asset, but it is not something that any coach can give you. You have to believe in yourself and what you are doing, and that goes back to the self assessment.

By giving that self assessment to yourself and working on the things that you may struggle with better prepares yourself for that battle. Practice is like studying, and the games are the test. If the chemistry exam is the test do not tell yourself you know the periodic table of elements when you are studying when you really don't. You are setting yourself up for failure. Think to yourself, “I really need to know this. I need to put the time in and get to know this so I can go into the test ready”. Once the test comes do not go in worried. You prepared, you did what you had to do and right now all you have to do is go in confidently and trust your preparation.

It is a very fine line, basically what is being said is that you should humble yourself, break yourself down, admit your weaknesses, and then do what you have to do to make them better. But once that game comes you have to trust that process, trust your preparation and believe that you are even better than you are. You cannot make that extraordinary play, hit, or pitch without believing in yourself that you can do it. The mind is a beautiful and powerful thing, use it to your advantage to give that little extra and become extraordinary.

Dallas / Fort Worth Coaches Group

Great Players

Written By Bill Plummer

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Great Players

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One of the most overused word in sports is great. It seems these days that many athletes are great and people freely like to label these athletes as great. It happens in softball as in other sports. You hear fans talk and they mention that such and such is a great player. Not really. Maybe in their minds the player is great, but in reality there are very few great players.

Certain players may dominate an era or a period of years and they could be classified great for that period of time. In reality there are many players who are average, good and excellent. Not that many are great, but people forget that and unfortunately don't look at an athlete's career to determine if the athlete was dominate enough to be considered great.

In women's fastpitch softball, two athletes are generally considered the greatest or the greatest for their period of time. They are Joan Joyce, the current coach at Florida Atlantic University, and Lisa Fernandez, an assistant coach at her alma mater, UCLA.

Joyce and Fernandez each excelled as pitchers and playing a different position when not pitching. Joyce played first base and Fernandez third base. Besides playing another position, each was gifted on the mound. Joyce and Fernandez dominated inside the circle and certainly earned their distinction as the greatest players of their respective eras.

Unfortunately, as time passes people forget what each of these two athletes did in their career and their careers become only memories to many people. If you were fortunate enough to have watched either one of these two play–and this writer did–you didn't forget their dominance on the softball field.

Fernandez starred at UCLA and of course has the distinction of being the only player in the history of college softball to lead the nation in batting and ERA. In 1992, Fernandez batted .510 to lead all hitters and had an ERA of 0.25 against the nation's best collegiate players. She finished with a 93-7 pitching record and a .382 career batting average. She was a member of three USA Olympic teams and batted at a record of .545 in her last Olympics. Lisa is clearly the “total package” and could have excelled at whatever position she wanted to play instead of third base when she wasn't pitching. Her determination and work effort to be the best was unrivaled.

Who knows if an athlete in the future will duplicate this or surpass this feat, but I doubt it. It takes enough time, effort and preparation to be good at one phase of softball let alone another phase of the game.

Joyce, who excelled at other sports such as golf, basketball, and volleyball, was named an ASA All-American 18 times and shared or won outright the MVP award in the ASA Women's Major Fast Pitch Championship eight times. She is a member of nine Halls of Fame and had an overall pitching record of 753 wins and 42 losses, plus a .327 career batting average. In 1994, she was named the head coach at Florida Atlantic and has had only one losing record during that time. Joyce retired from ASA play after the 1975 season and then devoted her efforts to pro softball for the Connecticut Falcons.

So the next time someone says such and such is great, stop and think and remember that very few athletes are actually great in the overall history of their particular sport. For Joan Joyce and Lisa Fernandez, there wasn't any doubt. They were and still are the greatest.

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Effective Visualization

Written By Renee Ferguson

Fastpitch Radio Network Fastpitch Softball Website

Effective Visualization

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Visualization- what is it and how does it help you be a better athlete?

Visualization is one of those elusive tools often used by coaches to try and get their players to imagine on the field successes. When executed properly, visualization can help catapult your players to the next level while helping them overcome challenges on the field. Many coaches explain visualization as closing your eyes and seeing yourself execute the task at hand perfectly. For example, seeing yourself take the perfect swing at the plate and driving in the game-winning run. While this explanation is correct, it is very difficult for athletes to do. Below I will expand on the idea of visualization and teach you how to effectively put it to use.

I was first introduced to the idea of visualization around the age of 12 by my pitching instructor. He would often try and get me to slow down and visualize myself throwing the perfect pitch. I, like any other 12 year old, listened to my instructor and closed my eyes and tried to see myself throwing the pitch. (When I say tried, I mean I closed my eyes just long enough for him to think I had seen myself throw the perfect pitch.) There were times I put effort into it, but most of the time I brushed it off as being unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Now as a pitching coach I realize just how mistaken I was.

Visualization should not be limited by just your eyes; it should use all 5 senses. In order for it to work its best you must be able to see it, feel it, smell it, taste it and hear it. Since I was a pitcher I am going to focus on that aspect of the game, however, the items below can be easily converted to any other aspect of the game or in other areas of life.

So let's start with the basics- visualization is a tool that is used to help pitchers/players overcome challenges and/or speed up the learning process by involving not only their body- but also their mind. True visualization takes time and should be handled over multiple sessions with your player. You cannot expect to throw your players into the details of visualization head first if you want them to succeed. You should not emphasize their speed of learning as much as you should emphasize and encourage them to have a mastery mindset when approaching visualization.

The first session should take place during a one on one (or group at the college age) session. Explain to them exactly what you want them to do. Example: “I want you to physically stand on the pitching rubber, close your eyes and visualize yourself (watch yourself) going through your pitching motion and throwing the most perfect pitch you have ever thrown.” Give them some time and then ask, “Were you actually able to see yourself do this?” Most girls will tell you yes, but don't take their word for it at first. (Chances are they are having a hard time but do not want to disappoint you.) Ask them to describe in detail what they saw. What color shirt was her catcher wearing? Was there a chalk circle around the mound? What did the pitch do? What pitch did you throw? You will be able to tell pretty quickly how clearly they were able to see things during their initial attempt at visualization. During the first session you want to expand on the details of what you are expecting as much as possible- this is their first impression of the skill after all.

In the next phase of this session you want to introduce the concept of “feeling” the pitch. You can do this by saying the following: “I want you to physically stand on the pitching rubber, close your eyes and visualize going through your pitching motion as we did last time. But this time I want you to imagine, that you can actually feel yourself going through the motion of the pitch. Feel your hands come together, feel your muscles tighten as you explode off the mound, feel the resistance you create as you land and feel your arm whip through to your target.” Have them try this a few times but if the whole motion seems too daunting for them, have them work on one or two things at a time- like feeling themselves take their place on the mound and having their hands come together. If you check in with them and they say they still cannot do it, have them physically complete the two steps focusing on how it feels and then have them step behind the mound and ask them to repeat that step in their mind with their eyes closed. Now that they have something to refer to, feeling their visualization should be a little bit easier. Continue going through this until they are able to feel the whole pitching motion with their mind. For ease and time, you can break this down into multiple sessions if the student is having a big problem feeling the visualization. You do NOT want to frustrate them; you want to allow them to take baby steps to complete the task if that is what is needed by them. Remember everyone works at their own pace and what might be simple for some is often difficult for many.

The goal of the second session is to introduce the idea of feeling other aspects of the pitching scenario. For example, add the game element into it because it will force so many more uncontrollable things into their mind. Perhaps they now feel their heart pounding, the sweat on their forehead, or the heat from the sun on their skin. You want them to incorporate as many touch items as possible here. You can guide them if necessary but they should try and pick things that they feel on a regular basis while on the mound. That way the things they are trying to recall are familiar items. Basically you want them to become hypersensitive to what their experience on the mound is really like.

By the third session they should seem pretty comfortable recalling the feel of their pitching motion and how the external items feel when they step on the mound. It's at this time you want to introduce the concept of seeing what is going on around them. We often teach pitchers to have tunnel vision when on the mound, but for visualization purposes we want them to recognize the background scene. (Side note- once they are able to recognize things around them they can take steps to ensure it affects them less during games by practicing blocking certain things out through visualization.) As they visualize the background they see while they are in the pitching circle, have them explain it to you in as much detail as possible. So instead of accepting “I see the umpire”, have them focus on what the umpire is doing, is he setting up behind the catcher or is he getting a drink of water. If they see fans (parents) ask what color shirts they are wearing and if they have sunglasses on. Make them work to recall as many details as possible; there are no wrong answers you just want to exercise their mind the way you do their bodies in practice. This process may be difficult for them at first and will probably make them uncomfortable, but this is normal. If they are really struggling, they can open their eyes while you talk to them and probe them for information. The answers don't have to reflect actual instances that occurred recently, but you want them to find something they can recall with ease to insert into their visualization practices. Seeing their catcher give them a sign should be an easy one to recall because the mind has seen it so many times it becomes ingrained.

The fourth session will start with you walking them through the visualization steps you have already introduced and then talking to them about the sounds they hear from the fans around the field. You want them to tell you the cheer that is coming out of the opposing dugout as well as their own.

They need to be able to focus on each sound individually. The ultimate goal will be to use visualization to teach them only to focus on the sounds they WANT or NEED to hear thereby creating their ideal on the field scenario for success.

During the fifth session, you want to begin to talk to them about the smells they smell and the tastes they taste while on the mound. Perhaps it's the smell of ballpark hot dogs, rain in the air, or the dirt getting kicked up. They may also recall the taste of the sunflower seeds they eat during the game or the flavor of the bubble gum they chew. Since they are used to the amount of detail you want from each sense this should be easier than the last session, and they should begin to elaborate the smells and tastes to you with little prompting. I know it may seem weird to ask the pitcher to visualize the smells and tastes they experience when on the pitching mound, but I want to stress its importance, visualization works because the student should be able to imagine game situations as close to a real live game as possible so they can teach themselves to visualize the desired outcome of any given game situation before it happens.

Now, it's time to help the student to put it all together. The first time you review everything together you want them to stand on the pitching rubber and verbally tell you what they see, smell, taste, feel and hear during the visualization process and then have them open their eyes and pitch. Next, you want them to close their eyes and only visualize what they see, smell, taste, feel and hear. After they visualize you want them to pitch the ball trying to recreate exactly what they just created in their mind. You always want to reiterate to them that they want to visualize the best pitch they have ever thrown or the ideal scenario they would like to create. An example of this would be to have them visualize a pressure situation with a perfect outcome: bases loaded, bottom of 7th, tying run at 3rd, full count on the batter, and they have to throw the best rise ball they have ever thrown to strike the batter out at the plate. The goal is to get them to be able to visualize and perform the desired outcome every single time they are faced with it during a game. It teaches them to anticipate success especially in those critical high stress, high performance situations.

The more your players practice visualizing, and the more seriously it is taken, the bigger the impact visualization will have on their level of play. It is also important to mention that visualization is an important life skill for everyone to have. It's like having your own personal life coach because you can and will change the outcomes in every aspect of a player's life. Perhaps the student you are working with is a poor test taker. If they can apply visualization to enhance their athletic abilities they can surely use it to increase the probability of becoming a better test taker because they will have the skills to imagine taking the test and succeeding before they actually sit down to take it. Visualization requires a lot of hard work in the beginning but once it is learned it becomes second nature.

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