The Hitter’s Approach: Hitting in All Counts!

The Hitter’s Approach: Hitting in All Counts!

The Hitter’s Approach: Hitting in All Counts! Written By Chez Sievers

During my softball career, I considered myself to be a pretty good hitter. Looking back, I could have been a smarter hitter.

Here’s why: I had a POOR approach. Which was NO approach. 5’0, Manny Ramirez leg lift, taking hacks with reckless abandonment. I’d get myself out by swinging at bad pitches.

After coaching for 8 years, this is the approach I’ve gathered from experience and working with some of the top hitting coaches in softball.

1. IDENTIFY what pitches your hitter can HANDLE. If she has a long swing, then low pitches
are more ideal for her. Pitches above her belt may not be pitches she hits well. If she identifies and attacks “her” pitches, she will be more successful.

2. Early in the Count, ATTACK Belly Button to Mid-Thigh Strikes. ELEVATED pitches have a higher probability of being driven in the gaps for doubles and home runs. LOW pitches at the knees are more likely to be hit for low line drives and ground balls. That’s why drop ball pitchers are considered to be “ground ball” pitchers. If you apply this approach, you should see your power numbers increase and unfortunately you might see pop ups increase too.

Here’s are some easy ways to create a visual strike zone on a low budget:

Burrito Toss: Take a rolled up sliding mat or an old goal post padding. Place it front of the home plate and toss. Get your hitters to attack belly button to mid-thigh strikes.

Burrito Toss 1 Burrito Toss 2 Burrito Toss3

Roped Toss: Pick up 1/2” rope and 2 carabiners from your local home improvement store. Cut the rope to the width of the cage and tie a carabiner at each end. Set the rope just above the knees and start tossing.

3. Behind in the Count, what pitch is the opposing pitcher throwing with 2 STRIKES? Depending on the pitcher, Change Ups and Rise balls are typically thrown in 2-strike counts. Create a 2- strike approach around these pitches. If they know it’s coming, they won’t be surprised when they see it. You should have your players practice seeing the change up and reacting to the fastball.

Rope Toss 3 Rope Toss copy

At the beginning of the year, during practice, before games, I talk to the team about our approach which is usually “attack belt high strikes.” Each hitter has their routine or method to get them “in the zone.” With certain hitters in the hole, I’ll ask her, “What’s your approach?” They verbalize their plan and attempt to execute it. If they don’t commit to their plan, they have no one to blame but themselves. I used to tear my hair out telling them what pitch was coming and what pitch to attack. And you know what? People don’t absorb the lecture. The human brain can only retain five pieces of information in a span of 30 seconds if it’s not repeated. Information tends to bounce off of them like a force field if it isn’t repeated. The good news is if you work on strike zone awareness and approach, you should improve pitch selection, slugging percentage, and 2-strike hitting.

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So What Is It That Separates The Good From Great?

So What Is It That Separates The Good From Great?

So what is it that separates the good from great? Written By Chez Sievers

To answer this question, I asked some of the great middle infielders in softball this very question. Here’s what they had to say:

Lead – The great middles are leaders that are most reliable on defense. They’re clutch in the intense situation. Good middles tend to follow and blend in with the crowd. GM’s (great middles) set the bar for what work ethic and execution look like. Leaders break through mental and physical barriers because they know their destination.

“The great ball players understand and don't mind doing the extras because the extras aren't extras, it's part of the territory of being great.”
– Bianca Mejia, LIU Assistant Softball Coach

A great middle doesn’t have to be an All-American to put in more practice because practice doesn’t feel like work. Practice feels like play. The game should always feel like play.

“Great middles not only have the physical ability but they also demand a presence. They are the vocal leaders and the leaders by example.”
Ashley Charters, Former University of Washington Second Baseman, USA Team, USSSA Pride

You don’t have to be an Olympian to be a vocal leader. Communicate; give max effort, and have the courage to do what is necessary to help the team win.

The Anticipating Mind

“Good fielders just participate in the game; great fielders are playing the game in their minds to be one step ahead of the next play.” – Kaylan Howard

Kaylan Howard, former All-American Oregon Duck second baseman, makes an important distinction in how the good and great players approach the game. GM’s keep a mental scorebook throughout the game of the hitter’s tendencies. You’ll see them adjust their positioning on the field according to past at-bats.

“I think the biggest separating factors are knowing the game and having the confidence to communicate and run the defense.” – Lauren Lappin

Lappin, former USA Softball player, Professional Softball player, and wonderful human being, makes an important point that great middles “know the game.” When a GM conditions the mind to know exactly how to counter every move of the offense, that conditioning breeds confidence. Conditioning the mind and body is done through experience, repetition, and retention.

The greats have the ability to anticipate the most probable play before the ball is hit.

“Great middle infielders have the natural ability to read the ball within the hitting zone, understand hitters tendencies and have a great first step, therefore having a great angle to catch any ball.” – Ashley Charters

Charters formulates a key assessment as to why great middles are able to cover so much ground. If you anticipate where the ball will be hit, your chances of making the out increase. And when a GM anticipates consistently and correctly, they make plays. They get outs.

“A great SS has got to think like a coach…one play at a time, one play ahead, and anticipate the move!” – Jen McFalls, Former USA Olympian, University of Texas Coach

Eyes – Through conscious and unconscious repetition, great middles use their eyes to guide them. When they’re awake, they track the ball with our eyes. In their sleep, they will sometimes dream of tracking an imaginary ball. By watching the ball with intense focus and clarity, GM’s react to the angle of ball off bat and position themselves in proximity to where the ball will be hit.

“Great middles know how to read spin and hops to pick their approach.”
Lauren Lappin

Depending on how the hitter strikes the ball, middles can see the spin of the ball and predict how the ball will bounce. With seeing spin comes recognizing the speed and direction of the ball. Coach JT D’Amico of University of Washington, stresses the importance of recognizing speed and direction because it is vital to decision making. Through processing information through our eyes, our body sends messages to the rest of our body telling it to move according to the speed and direction.

Feet – Your feet take you from point A to point B. 90% of the GM’s I asked about what separates the good from the great middles mentioned footwork.

“What separates the good infielders from the great infielders is how they use their feet. You could have the best arm in the world, but if you do not understand how to use your feet correctly then your 100mph throws doesn’t matter. Feet are key!”
– Jenn Salling, Pennsylvania Rebellion, Former University of Washington Shortstop

When watching great middles, they look like they’re gliding across the field.

Hands
It’s important to mention that great middles have great hands and/or glovework. They have the ability to absorb and diffuse hops with fluidity depending on speed of ball and where it may land.

In the next Smart Softball video, I will go into more detail about glovework and daily practice in the infield.

Want to know more about glove work? Subscribe to the Smart Softball mailing list to receive the latest videos on fielding, hitting, and coaching.

“Commitment: It separates the doers from dreamers.” – John C. Maxwell

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This is not what I signed up for. Is it time to leave?

Leave or go

This is not what I signed up for. Is it time to leave? Written By Chez Sievers

Oh, the conundrum of switching teams. This question tends to come up frequently on the message boards. Almost every parent and player has been faced with this burning question. Is there really a right answer? Every family has a different situation and a different set of variables to work with. We thought the coaching would be better. My daughter isn’t getting better. We pay all this money but there are no college coaches at our games. Here are some questions you should sit down as a family and discuss to make the best possible decision.

1. What’s important to you and your daughter? This question is usually the driving force in your decision-making. The answers will vary. Rank these 9 choices by level of importance and then rate your team. You can always add another category to fit your needs. You can then use this list to measure where your current team ranks and others rank.
A. Competitiveness/Winning Record
B. Playing Time
C. Exposure
D. Coaching
E. Friendship
F. Distance
G. Values
H. Cost
I. Communication
J. Level of Enjoyment

2.Have you communicated with your coaches about your concerns? If not, do this as soon as possible.

3.Is my daughter being challenged in a way that develops her skills, resiliency, and competitiveness?

4. Will my daughter’s performance and development grow or decline over time if we stayed on this team? If the answer is decline, then it’s probably time to find a better fit.

Taking an objective look at your current situation is essential to making a well thought decision rather than an impulsive decision. Changing teams means disrupting their learning path. With young girls growing and changing every minute, this decision deserves good attention.

What if my daughter is on a decent team and has the opportunity to play for a well-known team that gets more college exposure and college scholarships?

That all depends on what’s important to you? It’s a hard decision for the family. Here’s my point of view:

If your daughter is playing for a college scholarship, then she needs to go to the well-known team. But the next question is…Will she play? Where does she rank on the depth chart? If she’s the third string position player, your daughter might not see playing time for a while or she may have to learn a position where she could be a #1 or #2 position player.

If your daughter loves her experience and is getting quality instruction, guidance, and is being actively recruited, then you might want to stay.

Overall, what’s important to you and your daughter will drive the decision you make. If you’re still stumped, send me an email and I’ll help you and your family find the best solution.

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The Untold Story of the 12U Coach

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The Untold Story of the 12U Coach Written By Chez Sievers

Early on in my coaching career, I was coaching 12U & 14U girls. Malleable and fragile, these girls looked up to my coaching staff made up of all former college softball players. I was intense to say the least. Some would say I was a bit militant. Part of that comes from how I was coached. My father was my coach for most of my life. Perfection, performance and execution we’re drilled into me. At times, I felt like nothing was ever good enough. On the grass area for pre-game, we would go through our offensive warm-up and the man would be on me by my first swing giving me the infamous Kung-Fu brow. “Stop trying to pull the ball!” he exclaimed. In my mind, I yelled back at him, “I’m not trying too. It’s called a warmup!” That never happened of course.

After college, I went into coaching and I followed a similar coaching strategy. We had detailed practices, beach workouts, and one on one sessions with the players. If a kid did something wrong, I would make them run, do pushups, or a squat circuit as punishment. I thought I was doing a good job at practice, but we were still losing games. I felt defeated. What I was doing wasn’t working? Was I setting unrealistic expectations on these girls? Was I pushing them too hard? I prayed that the players would come back the next week. I coached these teams for two years and decided to give it up.

I learned to forgive myself because I wasn’t perfect. The recurring message that kept coming up was perfection is not realistic. I heard a quote that said something like, “Asking for Perfection is like telling your mind to go Mars.” You know it exists but it’s nearly impossible to get there.

What I learned from that experience was so essential to my development as a coach. We like to tell ourselves that we’re supposed to have all the answers and that’s just not fair.

As a result of coaching the 12U & 14U girls, a number of them went on to play Division I, Division II, and Division III. Some of parents still keep in touch with me and say that they’re experience playing on my team was essential in their development. This puts a big smile on my face because at the time I was coaching that travel team and thought I was a huge failure. Now, I look back at that experience and I can laugh. Laugh at how those mistakes made me better

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