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If you are a player I sure hope you aren’t disappointed if you were hoping for another great article about Getting Dirty because this month’s article is vastly different. In fact it’s for coaches and not players this month. Don’t worry I will be back next month with dirt. Plenty of DIRT. In fact next month I will be starting a series on sliding.
But this month is for coaches. You see the guy who puts this magazine together asked all of us if we could somehow incorporate the National Fastpitch Coaching Association’s National Convention which was held in December into our articles. Yikes! What’s a poor writer to do when he was on the field with players and didn’t get to attend this year? Well not wanting to disappoint him I figured I’d simply pretend I was delivering a presentation at the convention.
While the setting is imaginary the message is real. I love this game and I LOVE “softball players.” I assure you I would have challenged you as strongly in San Antonio as I do in this video. So coaches sit back, relax and pretend you are seeing my presentation as the key note address for the NFCA Convention. What? You didn’t think I was going to pretend I was delivering a presentation on the last day, in the smallest, hottest room right after lunch did you?
For the past 15 months we’ve worked together on some of the most important aspects of the game. This month is no different we are going to look at the single most important thing you can do to ensure you have a long career in the sport.
That’s right there are millions of different drills that instructors could work with you on physically or mentally. But all of them pale in comparison to what I want you to learn this month because I truly believe this one thing alone will help prolong your career in this great sport.
If you’ve been reading my column for any length of time you know I could drag this on for pages as your curiosity builds but I won’t. I’m going to jump right to the point. For one solid month I want you to DO NOTHING.
No the phrase DO NOTHING is not an acronym for doing lots of work. I mean it exactly the way it sounds. For one month out of the year I want you to do absolutely nothing physical related to softball. What great athletes understand that others miss is the fact that constant punishment on your body takes a toll on you. Without taking the dedicated time to allowing it to heal your body breaks down. Your brilliant career is cut short because of constant nagging injuries. All the work you did for 12 years to prepare for college softball goes to waste if you can’t make it to the field.
I don’t want that to happen to you. I want you to achieve all of the wonderful dreams you have for yourself in this sport. I honestly believe that the best way for that to happen is if you allow yourself the downtime to just DO NOTHING and let your body and your mind heal. To fully recover. To regain its explosiveness. To regain the fire and passion deep inside of itself.
I know that in all of the driving, the practices, the games, the lifting, the running, the agility and the time working off a tee you may have forgotten how to simply DO NOTHING. In this month’s video Stephanie and Emily are going to remind you how to just relax and be a teenage girl. No joke I we spent time preparing a video just to help you remember how to do things that are not related to softball.
As it happens December is the perfect month for my students in the State of Georgia to DO NOTHING. They have finished their high school season which is in the fall and they have completed their fall college showcase tournaments. As they entertain you this month be thinking about when the best time for you to take a month off might be. When can you commit 30 straight days to allowing your body to rest? What activities can you fill those 30 days with to keep yourself busy? How could you pour some time into helping your parents whose lives are turned upside down by your normal softball activities? How could you use this brief downtime to build up your siblings who are forced to sit at game after game in the heat/cold supporting you.
We all choose how we spend our time. I hope that you’ll accept my invitation to dedicate time to allowing your body to heal so that your career is a healthy and lengthy one and for 30 days simply DO NOTHING.
For some of you the past two months have been difficult. I’ve asked you sacrifice yourself at bat via a sacrifice bunt. Phooey! I’ve asked you to get over serious fears of getting your head close to contact to ensure you. Yikes! This month I’m going to show you some ways to use your mad bunting skills to actually get base hits.
Typically it doesn’t matter to me whether you watch the video before or after my article. But this month I’d like to have you watch the video first. So please stop reading, press play then come back and read the rest after you’ve watched the video.
What I wanted you to see in the video is that Amanda is every bit as big and strong as I am and the more important point being that Amanda is a power hitter. A good power hitter. She doesn’t need to resort to bunting because she can’t hit. While I have a lot of speedy little base running maniacs I could have used for this video I chose to use Amanda because she uses bunting as a weapon like a hit.
There are many times when you go up to bat in close games and the infielders respect your power and are playing deeper than normal. They play deep to try and increase their chances of covering holes and to provide them more time to track shallow line drives/bloops. That is the perfect time for what many of you already know as a quick bunt. You simply wait as long as possible and then bunt. I’m guessing your coaches already have you practice that kind of thing. An alternative is to try and get the defense thinking they are missing something. You show bunt so they will creep up, since they started back their creeping doesn’t matter. Then you pull back.
Now they get a fear in them “crud this is a power hitter and now I’m too close” so they get on their heals and think about retreating. Then you actually do the quick bunt.
As a side note – If you watch the video again notice how at first Amanda just practiced the timing and her hands didn’t convince anyone she was really hitting, then I asked her to really sell the swing by adjusting her hands and pulling the bat back. No reason you have to try a dozen mechanical things at once. Do what’s comfortable at first, then add another aspect of what you ultimately want to achieve.
An alternative that I really love is what I call a sneaky bunt. It’s basically a quick bunt with the added benefit of some movement. Let’s face it your bunts are “money” by this point so there should be no harm in having you add a little movement so that you not only catch them by surprise you give yourself a head start with some movement as well. Two things are crucial for your success with this type of bunt: First you better be able to track the ball and get the bunt down. Second your timing is critical. If you land out of the box before contact you are going to be called out. If you start late, then you have no advance movement it’s just a quick bunt.
The last thing to work on this month is a fake bunt – slap. Not a fake bunt then swing. For this you show bunt, stay squared up for the bunt and then slide your bottom hand up then simply slap the ball towards a specific spot. Why would you want to do this? Why not just swing? Well it’s all about the situation. Let’s imagine a game situation where you have a runner at first base with no outs. You show bunt. “Ah-ha” thinks the third basemen she figured you may want to advance the runner. So she plays up more than she should because she wants to shoot out your lead runner and show you. The short stop thinks to herself “Cool she’s just bunting so I can cheat and cover second to cover the throw if the runner goes.” All stuff that goes on all of the time right. Except that in this situation you aren’t just bunting you are trying to take advantage of their thought process. If you could swing and hit an open spot all of the time your batting average would be much higher than whatever it is now. So I’m not asking you to fully pivot, move your head, change your stance or anything that hinders your chances of success. I’m simply asking you to stay squared up, remain at the same height to sell the sacrifice bunt and then slap your front hand right at the line where you know it will be to hard for the third basemen and will either force the short stop to make a great backhanded play if she didn’t cheat or lead to an easy base hit if she does cheat.
Notice in the video that the best way to practice is to actually draw a success line. A targeted spot where you can build muscle memory knowing it will lead not only to the runner advancing but your being safe as well. Hopefully the angle of the camera helped you understand just what their 3B or 1B would see and how hard it would be for them to react to your fake bunt – slap.
I dedicated 3 solid months to working on bunting because I believe in it.
My players gave up the opportunity to dive and get dirty on a world wide stage because they believe in bunting and believed that my diving instead of them would prove a point.
Gary Leland gave me the freedom to spend 3 solid months working on bunting because he believes in bunting as well.
While good points those are answers to the wrong question. The right question is “Do you believe bunting is a valuable weapon?” The world is full of players who are horrible bunters because they only bunt when the coach forces them to. Nobody likes to be forced to do anything. I want you to want to bunt because you are confident now that you can. I want you to want to bunt because you belief it is a valuable weapon. I want you to bunt because you want to.
One of the common themes in nearly all of my articles is how to deal with fears. There are certainly lots of reasonable fears that players have in this great game. Fears that I recognize and help you fully understand what to do differently so that you don't have to be afraid. But the fear of getting hit in the head with the ball when you are bunting isn't one of them. Oh it's a fear, just not a reasonable one.
I'm not saying I'm a big fan of getting hit in the face with the ball. But there is one important difference between me being hit in the head with the ball and you being hit in the head with the ball while you are bunting. That difference is called a BATTING HELMET. You get to wear one to completely protect your head and your face, but I don't get to.
POW! You get hit in the helmet and you might be “freaked out” for a second or two but you will still be fine. But if you keep turning your head away you are opening your throat up to the ball and that will hurt. So stop it. Recognize that you are wearing helmet and there is no reason to be afraid.
This month I'm going to ask you to do something that there is no way you will do if you remain even slightly afraid of the ball. I'm going to ask you to …gulp… get your head, specifically your eyes, as close to the point of contact as you possibly can. Remember those rolled up socks I had you have your mom toss to you last month? Get them back out because it's time to practice with them again. This time I want you to wear your helmet and as they are coming at you I want you to track them with your eyes right into the bat so that your face gets as close to contact as you possibly can.
Transition from the socks to using waffle balls. Like last month keep working on trying to bunt the ball off the very end of the bat. Have you noticed that the farther the ball is outside the harder it is to get your head at the contact point? There is a reason for that … it is. Despite your best intentions your neck doesn't stretch as far as you might want it to. So what's a girl to do? How about crowding the plate instead of backing off the plate? No way if you crowd the plate the ball might just hit you in the head. Oh yeah that's the safest part of your body with a helmet on. So do it. Have the person tossing to you start tossing them right at you. When they do you will learn an incredible lesson. It is really, really, really easy to bunt a ball that is coming right at you.
So now that you are getting more comfortable I'm going to ask you to do something that will make you uncomfortable again. I'm going to ask you hold the bat so that only about the 6 inches at the end of the bat will be showing and bunt the ball that way. Now I'm willing to bet your eyes work a little harder and you will bunt the ball off the very end of the bat. Be sure to watch the video at this point if you aren't sure how you should be holding your hands.
Once you get comfortable doing that with waffle balls I'm going to ask you to do something a little uncomfortable again … have the person tossing to you start tossing real softballs. Not kidding. When they do that you will have no choice but to focus even harder with those eyes. Keep in mind when they are tossing the ball their job isn't to toss the ball straight at the end of the bat. It's your job to move your hands to ensure you catch the ball at the end of the bat or the ball will hurt your fingers. Your eyes will be your best friend and will get you through this. You've GOT THIS!!!
After you rock that drill there is one more step in the development of your amazing ability to use your eyes.
After you rock that drill there is one more step in the confidence you are building as an amazing bunter.
After you rock that drill there is one more thing I need you to try that is crazier than using just the last 6 inches of the bat. I want you to hold the bat like you are pointing it at the pitcher and bunt the ball using the very end of it just like Lauren did in the video. Practice that until you get really comfortable then I want you to think about something. Think about the fact that you can drop down perfect bunts using nothing but the end of the bat when you using those tiny little eye balls the way you are using them.
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.
Your ability to do what you've been dreaming of is now out of your hands and completely in the hands of your partner. So think through all of your options. Choose carefully.
Some of you probably aren't comfortable with that. Trust your career to someone else. Yikes. But guess what? It's time to put your big girl pants on now.
Sure you rocked the first month diving from your knees and your feet leaning forward in May. Yeah you totally lit it up last month diving to your sides. But now it's time to put all your practice for the past 2 months together and do this at full speed like … I don't know maybe like you were in a game or something and the championship depended on it. To do that you absolutely have to have a partner committed to helping you by making great tosses.
Just as we got started two months ago the first diving should simply be for balls straight in front of you. What I love about the accompanying videos is that they are totally portable with you. No reason not to have your iPad at the field with you to watch Savannah and Graham this month (for you) and your partner can see how I toss the ball for them. What you both will see is that the tosses need to be low. Forcing you to get low, and get your glove under the ball.
If I was some big time fancy smancy instructor I would probably film them 100 times and edit the video so that everything you see is perfect. They look perfect. I look perfect. Reality is that I'm not sure how seeing two players doing perfect dives every time would help you. Yes these videos are supposed to help you understand the concepts and help you build confidence. But seriously you aren't perfect either. Just like you will see in the videos both of them do something wrong as we get started. What I don't want is for you to make mistakes and walk away thinking “I can't do it.” Instead I want you to realize that failure as you start learning is just part of the process. Also part of the process with a partner learning to make good tosses to lead you towards the perfect dive.
As you are watching them come forward once I feel like they are both into it I just make some tosses that will force them to their side. As they did on their knees initially in June Graham and Savannah's brains are smart enough to say to their hips “pivot 12.2 degrees to the left/right” and as they dive they are still really diving “straight” it just happens to not be coming straight at you. This will be important for your tossing partner to understand as well. No need to say “lets do 5 straight, 5 to the right side and 5 to the left side” just let them know that once you appear comfortable they should toss it to lead you in any direction so that you will see just how smart and athletic you are. As with last month the most important thing to remember is to always, always, always extend both of those arms so whether or not you make the catch you come up safely.
As you feel comfortable you can work on practicing tosses where you are running full speed to one side or the other and have your partner toss the ball. From your vantage point you are simply catching a ball straight in front of you but your partner is tossing it much differently now because they see that you are actually going side to side. A key learning point that you will hear during this drill in the video is me telling Savannah to “super woman” the catch. What you don't want to do is get in the habit of hitting your knee before diving. You want to imagine that you are flying through the air like super woman. If you recall from the very first diving video when you “fly” like super woman your neck will be arched, your chest will be off the ground and your knees will be slightly off the ground. If you haven't watch that video or haven't tried it just lay down right now. Extend your arms forward and imagine that you are flying. See to easy. By doing that you will ensure that it is your torso, that large area of your body from just above your knees to just below your chest that takes the impact of the dive and ensures that your face doesn't plant into the ground. When diving for the ball the added advantage is that it kind of forces you to watch the ball into the glove when your fear might normally take over.
Ok now back to the video. One of the final things you need to work on is diving for balls that are over your head. This is one of the hardest things there is to practice. Please not because it's hard for you because you totally rock by now. It's hard because it is so hard for the tosser to judge where to toss the ball. As we practice in the video you'll notice that Savannah starts on her knees again, I have her lean out and give me an idea of where to toss the ball. Once I'm comfortable that I have a good idea of where to toss the ball, and you know it's all about Coach Dalton, I have Graham try it standing up. You can do the same thing. From your perspective the only difference in everything dive you have done thus far is that you are looking backwards in the opposite direction of where you are diving. Good thing there are no trees or brick walls in the middle of our fields.
I want you to know that I truly consider it a blessing for you to bring me into your household and give me the opportunity to help you improve in this sport that I so deeply love. As the video ends I want you to replay it multiple times. Get the sound of my final “THAT A BABY” into your head. From this point forward as you start totally robbing other players of solid hits that they thought they had, feel free to replay “THAT A BABY” in your head. Cause I'm always in your corner and by all means feel free to thank your partner. Because the reality it is would be hard for you to build the confidence to make the play you just did without their efforts in leading you with the perfect toss. They kind of rock to.