Developing Exceptional Bat Speed

Written By Charity Butler

Developing Exceptional Bat Speed

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Most hitters have the potential to drastically increase their bat speed, but the solution to quick hands is counter-intuitive. Hitters typically attempt to swing harder instead of smarter. Well trained hitters swing smarter and more efficiently by staying “short to the ball”. What does it mean to stay short? To clarify, we must re-visit math class. Do not panic; this one is easy!

Mentally draw the shortest route from point “A” to point “B” below.

A•

B•

If you drew a straight line, congratulations. You just aced my little geometry test! Geometry has proven that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Curvy lines are long and slow. Straight lines are short, quick and most effective for hitters.

As hitters, we want to create a short path for our hands from the starting position in our stance (point “A”) to contact (point “B”). This adjustment will dramatically increase bat speed.

The change is simple but not easy. To understand the concept fully, picture a sparkler attached to the end of the bat. Imagine drawing smoke lines in the air with the sparkler, and consider drawing a straight line from stance to contact.

Now, toss the sparkler image and visualize the bat in a pipe. The pipe is facing the same direction and is at the same angle as the bat while the hitter is in her stance and load positions. From this position, the hitter must pull her barrel out of the pipe without breaking the pipe.

To accomplish this, the barrel must stay loaded (meaning in line with the pipe), and the hands must continue forward with the wrists cocked backward.

If a hitter releases the wrists early by casting her hands or bat away from the body, she will break the pipe. If she drops the hands or barrel, again, she will break the pipe.

If she starts pulling the bat out of the pipe but stops her hands at or before contact, the barrel will end up in front of the hands, and she will break the pipe. The goal is to keep the hands in front of the barrel for as long as possible throughout the swing.

Take a timeout for a quick experiment:

Have the hitter begin her swing in slow motion. Pause the swing at any point while the hands are still in front of the barrel. In other words, the hands are between the barrel and the pitcher. Have her “get strong,” and keep the bat from moving. Then, grab the barrel and gently try shaking the bat.

Note: we do not typically want our hands tight during a swing. This exercise is an experiment designed to make a point, not to teach incorrect mechanics promoting tight hands.

The hitter should then take another slow motion swing but should not stop until extension, so the barrel is between the hitter’s hands and the pitcher. The hitter should “get strong” with her hands. The other player or coach should then wiggle the barrel again.

Does the hitter feel stronger with her hands in front or her barrel in front? If the experiment is conducted properly, she should feel strongest with her hands in front.

Leading with the hands for as long as possible throughout the swing will promote a short bat path which results in quicker hands and a faster bat.

Developing quick hands and maximizing efficiency from stance to contact is challenging! We cannot adequately cover all necessary elements in one article, but the off-season is the perfect time to focus on these more complex skill adjustments.

Now is the time! Start working on your hands and bat path this week. Below are some simple, yet effective drills to help:

Knob Punch—Set up a tall tee so the ball sits just below the level of the hitter’s hands in her stance position. Set the tee on the white chalk line of the batter’s box so the ball sits just inside the hitter’s front foot. The hitter will then pop the back side of the ball with the knob of her bat. The proper motion will result in weak ground balls rolling straight toward the middle of the field. The barrel should stay “in the pipe,” and her hands should move not only to the ball but through the ball. The bat should move more like a pool stick than a softball bat in this drill. This drill helps the hitter feel the proper mechanics during the initial forward movement with the hands and bat.

Ball Catch—Use baseballs or tennis balls for this drill. The hitter should stand in the box without a bat. She should emulate her regular hitting stance and set her hands in a comfortable position. Then, she will tuck her bottom hand (arm closest to the pitcher) into her chest, and her top hand stays in its typical stance position. A tosser, standing 10-15 feet in front of home plate, tosses one ball at the time over the inside corner of home plate. The hitter must catch the ball in line with or in front of her front foot. After 10-12 repetitions, she should switch hands and repeat the steps above. This drill allows hitters to isolate each hand and practice straight-line movements with the hands.

Tall Tee—Increase the tee height, so the ball sits at the very top of the hitter’s strike zone. Set the tee over the middle of the plate and a bit in front of the hitter’s front foot. The goal is to hit line drives up the middle. The simulated high pitch will encourage the hitter’s hands to move straight from stance to contact and will help reduce the muscle memory associated with dropping. If she can hit line drives up the middle from this position, she is doing a pretty good job of throwing her hands forward instead of casting away from the body.

Want quick hands? Work smart!

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But I Don’t Want to!

Written By Coach Dalton

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I hope you are sitting down as you read this. Because I’m going to ask you a brain teaser and I don’t want you to get dizzy thinking to hard and fall over. Are you ready?

When can you GET DIRTY without actually GETTING DIRTY?

Most of my articles to this point have involved the physical kind of dirt. But I submit that when you “roll up your sleeves” so to speak, you get over your fears and sacrifice yourself for the benefit of the team you have in deed “gotten dirty” regardless of how much physical soil/grass may be on your uniform.

A perfect example of this would someone laying down a sacrifice bunt while your teammate gets to score the winning run. It’s not really glamorous and lowers your batting average. But if you like winning then more often than not then this skill is crucial.

Yet week in and week out I watch games at all levels that are lost because players on one side or the other are in a situation of being able to win the game if they can bunt and yet the players can’t do it. CAN’T DO IT!

While I talk about bunting for hours with my students, and as you watch the videos you’ll see I’m at no loss of words regarding bunting. Yet I want to start the series by really keeping things very simple … At the end of the day bunting merely involves two things:

Physically it involves holding your bat out in front of the pitch so that the pitch hits the bat. That’s it.
Mentally it involves your willingness to sacrifice your chance for a home run for the betterment of the team. That’s it.
You aren’t trying to time anything.
You aren’t trying to hit it over the heads of lightening fast girls.
You simply have to let the ball travel to you and hit your bat.
But I don’t want to!

So why does such a straight forward combination of skills go so horribly, horribly wrong in games at every level? That wasn’t a rhetorical question if you can tell me why girls at every level of this game so consistently fail to execute this skill I would love for you to email me. Because for the life of me I just can’t figure it out.

If you are reading and you don’t have the answer to the question either then I hope you’ll join me in championing this much needed but so dramatically under practiced and under appreciated skill. Please watch the videos, practice the drills yourself and share them with your teams and the rest of the softball world.

As you watch the drills consider the fact that you can easily practice any of them in the comfort of your own living room. Simply have mom/dad toss some rolled up socks at you instead of a ball. You don’t even have to give up your favorite television shows because you can simply do the drills during the commercials. Can it be any easier than that?

As you progress, consider modifying the drills slightly to make them tougher and yet more fun? I know what you are thinking “what could be more fun or tougher than the drills I teach?” Fair question. Several of my drills this first week involve trying to catch the ball on the bat instead of poking the ball. The concept is that if you catch as you would a hot potato the ball will fall right into the bucket below you. Instead of using a bucket consider using a bowl and instead of a ball consider having them toss your favorite snack or M&M’s at you. If you do the drill correctly your favorite snack drops right into your bowl and you have a snack afterwards to celebrate your ability. Of course to simulate game conditions your heart will be broken when you throw away all of the snacks that missed the bowl and are now on the floor. You get to eat the ones that fall into the bowl, and like a game your heart is broken when you throw away those that hit the floor. If you are able to practice with teammates add some competition to the drills. 10 pitches to each other at a time and the first to 50 perfect bunts into the bucket wins.

They Lost Perspective On The Sport

Written By Bill Plummer

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They Lost Perspective On The Sport

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Lance Armstrong wanted it all and ended up failing miserably. Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez is still playing but has filed an appeal relating to his involvement in performance-enhancing drugs. A-Rod has been given a 211-game ban. Armstrong and Rodriguez are guilty of wanting it all in sports at any cost. They lost perspective on the sport they were involved with and didn’t care what they did to get what they wanted. What they wanted was more money and fame. It’s a sad situation, but they have no one to blame but themselves.

No matter if it’s Armstrong, A-Rod or any other athlete, college or pro, keeping everything in perspective is paramount. Even if you get a Division one softball scholarship, understand that with it comes a responsibility to live up to the policies and procedures of the college or university that has awarded you the scholarship. There are policies and procedures in pro and amateur sports, but too often these policies and procedures are violated and you read about it in the morning newspaper. Getting a full ride to a major university or college is a privilege and should be treated that way. Too often athletes, especially in Division One football, don’t treat it as a privilege and take it lightly. When they lose sight of this, they end losing their scholarship or, even worse, kicked off the team because they are arrested or violated the policy or procedure often.

Even if you get a Division One softball scholarship remember that there is life after softball and playing college softball is only four years. Perhaps you’ll be drafted by the NPF and might want to give pro softball a try. That is fine, but remember you aren’t going to get rich playing pro softball. The salaries in the NPF are small in comparison to other pro leagues. For June, July and August, the NPF salary is approximately $5,000 to $6.000 per player. If you play overseas, and especially in Japan, the salaries are considerably better, usually in the $100,000 to $300,000 range. So be sure that if you want to play pro softball, either in the USA or aboard, understand that eventually in time you will retire from the NPF to have a career in something else maybe besides softball or you might want to coach.

Unfortunately, because of the amount of money that is being squandered by pro teams, athletes are taking risks and don’t care about the consequences. In the long run they lose and leave behind a legacy of infamy that will label them for the rest of their lives. A-Rod said “The last seven months has been a nightmare, has been probably the worst time of my life for sure.” He doesn’t say who was to blame for this period of time. Of course it was A-Rod. Don’t end up like A-Rod or Armstrong. Keep a level head about your softball career during the time you’re playing and after the playing career is over. There is too much to lose. Your good name and reputation are not worth throwing them away for money. Armstrong and A-Rod did. And they’ve got to live with what they did for the rest of their lives. Don’t end up like them. Keep softball in perspective, on and off the field of play.

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Open Letter to a College Freshman

Written By Rob Crews

Open Letter To A College Freshman

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This is an open letter to a player headed to go and play college softball for the first time. Basically, it is what I have explained to all my girls during our final sessions before departure. It is important to me that they understand the adaptation process at its core and at an intellectual level.

Dear Molly,

I just wanted to write you this letter to offer some words of encouragement. I have been mentoring you for a number of years now. And being weeks away from going to college, I feel you are more than ready. In fact, you are ready both mentally and physically. Believe me, there is a huge difference.

Over the past 15 years, I have seen so many players like you -headed into a “different world” and thinking its all good.

Someone asked me the other day, “Rob, if you could tell your college-bound hitters one thing, what would that be?” “What is that 1 thing they need to know?”

Trust me, this is such a good question. And I will say this to you -“When a coach tries to change your swing or approach, don’t freak out.”

“That’s it?”

“Yes -that’s it.”

“Well, why?”

“Can you elaborate?”

In my recent years of mentoring and preparing hitters for intercollegiate competition, I have realized the need to re-focus my format -to create a format that is more adaptable to the possibility of being changed.

The truth is most softball hitters become extremely emotional during the process of adapting to a new hitting model. Especially a model which is radically different than the swing model one has employed for the past 4 or 5 years of their life. Here is where the emotion can be the biggest hindrance to improving and being able accept changes. Proof that emotion is really a weakness that disconnect the brain from the body.

Side note: Strengthening the connection of the brain to body is the point of practice and reps.

Apparently, the more educated the hitter, the more difficult it can be to adapt or buy into radical changes. The truth is, many of the programs with the younger assistant coaches have not been exposed to different hitting styles. These younger assistant coaches are more likely to teach only what they have learned or done themselves. The more experienced and open-minded hitting coaches will be able to adapt to the various styles throughout the team.

“So then, what should a new college hitter do when they find themselves in that situation.”

It basically comes down to mindset. In fact, it always comes down to mindset. I feel more comfortable as a mentor and coach, teaching hitters how to stick to specific principles in their hitting approach. This ensures adaptability on the part of the hitter-especially if the college coach does not have the ability to adapt. I learned this from hanging around professional baseball coaches. Seems like those pro baseball coaches realize they get more out of a player (sooner) if they can adapt as a coach and teach to the player -that is teach to a player’s natural swing. So sometimes I find myself teaching something I actually hate or disagree with fundamentally, but it works for the player. In other words, sometimes the comfortability of the hitter is more important than what I believe is fundamentally correct. There’s an old saying, “There’s more than one way to fry chicken.”

Now don’t get me wrong, there are certain things hitters want to do that are simply non-negotiable. However, there are benefits to allowing a hitter to adapt slowly and not force them into an uncomfortable place too soon. A seasoned, experienced coach understands this and will get more players too succeed. I would never want my stubbornness as a coach to be the reason for a player’s failures.

“Well I can tell you this, a lot of hitting coaches don’t teach outside of what they believe.”

That’s true. And that’s the reason why there aren’t many highly effective coaches out there. A lot of winning college hitting coaches have the ability to teach to the various hitting styles they will encounter. Better yet, they understand how to recruit players that can fit into their hitting model or they know they can transition into good college hitters.

People pay me to help get players to the next level. So if I am teaching what works at the HS/TRAVEL level and not the college level then I am serving myself and not the best interest of the athlete’s future. Therefore, my sole responsibility is to prepare my athletes to dominate the college experience -which is more mental and emotional than they can ever imagine.

“What advice if any do you have for the younger college coaches who are struggling with relating to the various hitters they will see on teams?” I would say, “Find out what you can learn from your hitters before you teach. Establish open dialogue and listen to the hitter’s interpretation of their own approach. It may prove to help you understand them better and help them more.” “Don’t be a supercoach and pick your coaching moments wisely.”

And to college-bound players, I admonish you to talk hitting with the coaching staff before you get there. If your coaches don’t love talking hitting then … read between the lines.

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3 Smart Softball Coaching Notes

Written By Stacie Mahoe

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3 Smart Softball Coaching Notes

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Coaching softball, or any youth sport, is no laughing matter. I recently came across coaches who didn’t think things through very well when they made the decision to coach. Or maybe they figured it couldn’t be that hard since the kids were young. Either that or they got into it for the wrong reasons. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they simply had no idea what coaching youth sports involves and got in over their heads.

I know in youth sports, they’re “just kids” but…

1) Often times their parents are paying money for their kids to play. They will have certain expectations. If nothing else, they will at least expect their child to LEARN in an environment where SAFETY is a priority. This means they expect you to TEACH, not just yell instructions.

2) Sports is an amazing way for kids to make memories AND learn some awesome life lessons along the way. Don’t short change them and leave them with a bad taste in their mouth instead. Even if the sport isn’t for them, they should at least be able to look back at the season as a worthwhile experience, not a complete waste of time.

Any time you coach, remember a few things…

BE ORGANIZED

I cannot stress this enough. If you’re going to coach, have a plan. What do you want to accomplish this season? What is your big picture for the team? Where are you headed and what is your plan to get there? How many times a week can or will you practice? How long will your practices be? Who is going to be on staff and what do you expect from them?

What kind of equipment do you have to work with? How will you communicate important information with your parents? Who is going to handle all the administrative and logistical planning, coordination, and communication? What league requirements do you need to know and abide by? What are you going to practice today? This week? Where are your team uniforms coming from? How much do they cost? What will be ordered as as team and what do parents need to get on their own?

Obviously, I could go on and on and on and on. Coaching demands a lot! Please do not take a coaching job lightly and think you can just figure things out as you go along. If you do, you sell yourself and, more importantly, the KIDS short! Not cool.

TAKE TIME TO “TRAIN” NOT JUST COMPETE

Competing endlessly isn’t a good idea. Talk with any elite or professional athlete or coach and they’ll tell you there are phases to training. All professional sports have an OFF-season for a reason!

There’s NO possible way you can train skills AND effectively prepare for competition all the time. Effectively learning and developing skill work and technique requires that you do so under conditions where “results” don’t matter. It requires an environment where you can focus solely on HOW you’re doing what you do with no regard to what the actual end results of your performance is.

Preparing for excellence in competition, however, requires pressure, intensity, speed, and a completely different environment from learning and developing skills. You cannot do BOTH very well at the same time. If you really want to develop skills, make time to do so without the pressure of competition breathing down your neck. If you really want to get ready for competition, make sure you’ve already put in enough time working skills so you can ramp things up and get more game like in training.

TAKE BREAKS

Believe it or not, eating, sleeping, and breathing softball 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year doesn’t work well. In order for our bodies and minds to function at th most optimal level we must take care of various areas of life, not just go hard core into one and only one. I’m as much for focus as much as the next person striving for excellence, but I also realize that the human body, mind, and spirit all need care for maximal output. This means you NEED to take breaks and allow your players to take breaks too. Skip this and you’ll eventually harm your performance, not help it.

I can’t tell you how many times people told me my daughter would “fall behind” because I didn’t put her in the winter league (yes, in Hawaii, there is a winter league for softball). Every year, after the summer was over, she took a break from softball. In addition to other things, this gave her the opportunity to concentrate and focus on grades for the entire first semester of each school year.

No matter how many times people bugged me about letting her play during the winter, we avoided it whenever possible. Was she behind when she got back into it in the spring?

A little.

She always had a some rust to shake off, but that never took long and once it was gone, she always looked far fresher and sharper than players who’d were burnt out from playing non-stop since the previous year!

Now that she’s a senior in high school, many of the girls she played ball with at 10-12 years old no longer play. A few do, but I would say, only about a quarter of her 10u-12u teammates still play. The rest stopped years ago. So how much did all those years in winter league, from age 9-14, really help? Train smart!

Remember…

More is not always better. Better is better. Never confuse more with better. Take any coaching job you accept seriously. You have the opportunity to help others. Make the most of it. Do it well. Use common sense. Never let the pressure or excitement of competition take you away from basic and essential fundamentals. Never allow criticism to sway your from true values. Be YOUniquely excellent 🙂

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One More. Always… One More.

Written By Jen Croneberger

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One More Always One More

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There is a quote that I have long lived by. It’s John Wooden’s personal philosophy on motivation.

“Success is the peace of mind which is a direct result of the self-satisfaction in knowing that you have made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”

There is so much truth to that: the self-satisfaction, for nothing more than seeing your own improvement, the knowing that you gave everything you had, and the peace of mind that you had nothing left in the end. I often see players who doubt and question themselves. This usually is a byproduct of not emptying the tank, of having regrets when it is all said and done. The focus of process vs. outcome is very much alive and very strongly routed in Wooden’s principles of success, in his pyramid and his books.

So how can our athletes never take the long walk of regret off the field? How do we create a culture of giving 100%, knowing that if they do, it will be enough, win or lose. We go back to the CTCs and the right focus on the right things. If we work on what we can control, the rest will take care of itself.

I think so often character, the first C in my Five C’s of a Mental Game Warrior program, is what sets the tone for work ethic. Being the right person, on and off the field. Doing the right thing at practice, always wanting to get better than you were yesterday.

I love watching my team practice when they are stuck in the fieldhouse, sharing the space with the baseball team, in less than ideal conditions. I like the intestinal fortitude I see when they are pushing the line of peak performance and fatigue. I have really bought into John Wooden’s philosophy of getting to know my players. Every one of them is different, every one of them have a different level at which they find optimal performance. The key word is awareness. Hitting the top of the mountain is great, but consistently being able to find it when it counts is priceless. We strive for that moment as coaches, when the athlete becomes aware of just how far they can go. It’s the greatest reward to see it pay off.

In asking our athletes if they are “All in,” they are often reminded that there is no other way but giving all of themselves, mentally, emotionally and physically. 100% of what they have is always required. And just when they think they can’t give anymore, they remind themselves of the “One more” philosophy. TS Eliot once said, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” The ability to push from the bottom up, to help every athlete in our program find the line for themselves, makes the path easier for them to walk down.

Limitations can be blinding. The “Law of the Lid,” as explained in John C. Maxwell’s book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, states that a group will never go beyond its leader. It will never break free from the lid until someone pushes the bar higher. This includes coaches, our captains and team leaders whom everyone else follows. We all know who they are. When they take one more cut, throw one more pitch, do one more lap, push out one more sprint, collapse after one more push-up, the others will follow. Energy is contagious. Both good and bad. When doing “one more” is a way of the program, the energy becomes brilliant and strong.

So how does your team define success? Is it the numbers in the stats column? Is it the mastering new pitches or getting all their bunts down? Or could it possibly start with character? With being the right people in the eyes of those around them? Give me the player willing to do one more any day and I will take them over the talent that is afraid to work hard. Give me the player who wants to be better than yesterday, regardless of sacrifice over the one who reminds us that practice is almost over. But most importantly, when we have a team of players who know that success is defined by the character they bring to practice, by the mentality of excellence, by the work ethic that can’t be challenged by anyone but themselves, we will find success is more than wins and losses.

One more. Always, one more.

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