Putting It All Together

Written By Dalton Ruer

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In my first article you learned what causes so many injuries sliding and how to avoid them. In the second you learned how to truly distribute your weight and slide instead of just doing a seat drop. In this article it is time to put it all together and actually slide. I hope you are stoked because I’ve been waiting 3 long months to see you do this. Well 3 long months to tell you to do it and hope that you’d at least email me and say “I slid, I slid, I slid …. I totally did a real slide and now I’m the greatest ball player in the world.” Or whatever your version of letting me know might be.

The first thing I want you to understand before taking that next step is that it’s always about safety. This month you need to do every drill, even the ones on your own with a helmet on. I’ve got nothing but time so go get it and put it on now.

As you lay down and distribute your weight the last piece of safety involves keeping your eyes on your toes. As long as you do that your head won’t slam into the ground. The extra benefit of looking at your toes is that you’ll be able to actually see the base and the player who may be trying to tag you out. Those two things might not be as pretty as the birdie up in the air but both are more important to your being safe than the bird is so look at them instead. Go and practice laying back so that your shoulder blades touch the ground, your arms straight back but your eyes stay focused on your toes. After you think you have that you are ready for 1 more drill on your own.

No matter where you live if you have been to a Cracker Barrel you have seen a rocking chair. If you don’t live in a part of the world with Cracker Barrel restaurants I’m willing to bet you’ve seen a rocking chair anyway. The reason I bring them up is because unless you tip to far back they don’t slam into the ground, they simply rock down and rock right back forward. To me it only seems logical that rocking is a lot safer than say slamming your back into the ground when you slide. So as you sit on the ground with your arms up in the air and eyes on your toes I want you relax your core muscles and actually picture your back being like a rocking chair nice and round, and rock down and rock back up instead of slamming down and struggling to get back up. Each time you do this drill try and speed things up. Rock down and back up faster and faster and faster.

One thing that you’ll notice in the video is that I don’t edit out the mistakes that Caitlin or Walker make. It isn’t because I’m lazy it is because I want you to know that I realize players aren’t perfect. Not you and not even the girls that I choose to use to shoot videos to help players around the world like you learn. The one thing you will see in all of my videos though is that I ask them to work on 1 thing at a time so that their next slide is better than the previous one. I hope that yours are as well. Another item I really want to point out as you watch the video this month is that at 1 point I said something to Caitlin while Walker was to far away to hear for sure what I said. As she came running to the bat she stopped because she was unsure what I might have said. I could have edited that out but sliding is just 1 skill in this great game. The bigger point I wanted to be sure you took away was that there is nothing wrong with asking questions even when you are shooting a video. Be sure you fully understand what you’re supposed to and what the expectations are.

Now that you’ve done everything you can do on your own and you’ve watched the video it’s time to head to a real field and find someone who can hold the bat for you for your final few drills with the bat. If you are going to make your parents take you the least you can do is buy them some ice cream afterwards to thank them. The drill for this month is very similar to the final drills last month. Come running at the bat as fast as you can, use it as leverage as you distribute your weight but now you are ready to actually let go of it. Even if you come to a complete stop I want you to actually let go of the bat, rock your shoulders to the ground and rock back up. Each time you progress you should be able to let go sooner and sooner so that you’ll actually be able to slide.

When I started this series 2 months ago knowing that many of you were afraid to slide. I seriously would be very happy to hear from any of you who have now gotten through that fear and are GETTING DIRTY the safe way.

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Protect Your Booty

Written By Dalton Ruer

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Now that’s not something you read very often, nor something I’ve ever written before. However, I thought it was a great attention getter and pretty much sums up this month’s video.

Last month you’ll recall we looked at all of the ways that players are injured while attempting to slide and how they can be avoided. The number one safety issue is keeping your extended knee bent so your leg can give. After that it all comes down to distributing your body weight so that you can over come friction and actually slide.

Perhaps you’ve been part of a team or seen pictures/videos online of teams that practice sliding using a slip and slide. They are fun and certainly work well with the concept of team building and a cookout perhaps I don’t really like idea of practicing sliding in that way. Nor do I like the cardboard box and socks approach. I’m not scroogish against players having fun it’s just that both of those techniques allow you to slide anyway you want including ways that on a ball field will cause a lot of friction or cause serious injury.

My fundamental philosophy for anything is to practice the way you expect to play in the game. So this month Caitlin and Walker and of course YOU will be doing lots of sliding on the field. In a game you may end up sliding 2-3 times at most. During the course of a tournament you might slide 10 times. During the filming of this video the girls probably slid 60+ times. That’s a lot of friction that they incurred. That’s a lot of friction that you will incur as you put in the time learning how to truly distribute your weight. So my best advice … you guessed … is to protect your booty. I want your body to feel the friction. Get stuck in it if need be. But I don’t want you to needlessly burn yourself from the repetitiveness of what you’ll be doing this month.

Unlike most other drills I’ve asked you to practice the ones this month are going to require you to have 2 people who can help you and they will need a bat. Coaches if you are watching this is the perfect type of practice to involve as many parents as possible. As long as you let them know to bend their knees and hold the bat below their waist just about anyone can do the holding.

Practice is the best teacher has never been more true than for what you’ll be working on this month. In the first drill players will be on the ground in their figure 4 position and will reach up to hold the bat. The first thing I want you to learn this month is how to truly distribute your weight and that involves arching your back and extending at the same time. You will need to use the bat as leverage just like you would swing on the monkey bars or something. Now you know why I have the players with me … you will understand much better when you watch them. What you’ll find is that eventually you will get the timing correct and you’ll be exploding forward even though you have to overcome an enormous amount of friction because your booty is glued to the ground to start with. It may take you 3 times to get it, or it may take you 20 times to get it. Don’t move on until you do.

Once you have that I’m going to do you a huge favor I’m going to let you start without any friction holding you. But don’t get to excited because again it’s hard for me to explain with just words. You are going to start out standing up and holding the bat. The leg you extend for sliding is going to be leaned way back and then you are going to swing it under the bat and go into a slide. That had to be painful to read, because it was painful to write. If you email me I will thank Caitlin and Walker for you because when you see them it will make total sense. The purpose of this drill should be really obvious … help you realize that once you can overcome friction sliding becomes really easy. As with the first drill please don’t move on until you really have it and can repeat it several times without messing up. That’s called building muscle memory.

The next step in your progression this month is realizing that with speed this drill becomes so much easier. For this drill you will stand about 5 feet from the bat, run at it, grab it and then do your slide. Don’t cheat this part of the drill. If I wanted you to be in a stopped position before your slide I would have had you just do drill number 2 for the rest of your life. As you go faster and faster to the bat if you don’t slow down you are going to feel yourself actually sliding across the ground. As you get more and more comfortable then feel free to step back about 10 feet from the bat instead of just 5 and go full speed.

Be sure as you are doing these drills that you hold onto the bat. Don’t let go until you are stopped and ready to stand back up. If you are doing them correctly you will feel yourself jerking to a stop because your hands are on the bat. Instead of doing a seat drop you are now actually sliding across the ground and your arms are holding you back. Here is the cool part … you are just getting started with the weight distribution. Once you let go you are going to sail across the ground. Oh baby that’s going to be fun.

But wait I’m getting ahead of myself. I need you to have a helmet on before we get to that. So next month have your helmet ready so that we can finish this up. Wooo hooo.

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What a Bunch of Baloney

Written By Dalton Ruer

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Have you ever heard the expression “There is nothing to fear but fear itself”?

What a bunch of baloney. Anyone who has been around the game of Fastpitch softball for more than 1 day has seen players seriously injured while they were attempting to slide. Broken ankles. Torn up knees. Snapped wrists. Huge burns on their legs. Nothing to fear but fear itself huh. Seems like a lot of very real, very strong reasons for fear to me.

I’ve purposely saved sliding as the last major skill to do a series on for a reason. I truly believe that player’s fears are so well founded and legitimate. They aren’t irrational. It’s not a fear of what could happen. It’s a fear of what you’ve seen happen … some of you many times. I felt like I had to earn your trust by teaching you other skills and helping you through those fears first.

But with the new year and a new season rapidly approaching I felt like it was time to get down to business. To help you understand why players break ankles sliding. Why some tear up their knees. Why teammates have snapped their wrists. Why so many limp off the field with huge burns. My hopes and prayers are that once you fully understand why those very serious consequences occur and what you can do to avoid them you will become a more aggressive base runner.

Notice I didn’t say “you will start sliding.” Like diving, sliding is simply a skill. A skill intended to be used as a weapon on the bases to help you “generate” more runs.

Notice I didn’t say “score” more runs. Scoring is what you do when your teammates do their job and hit the ball forcing you to advance. “Generating” runs is what you do when you attack the bases in situations where others say “It’s just a ballgame. I’m not going to risk injury by sliding.” As a result you stand around on bases and use excuses like “I thought the coach said stop” “It felt like I was going to trip so I came back to third.” Oh you know what I mean.

As you watch the video you’ll understand how strong I know this fear is that you have. You’ll see something crazy. My two helpers won’t even move. They are going to sit perfectly still, as I want you to do as you simply understand why others, and perhaps even yourself, have been injured.

If we were in a Bug’s Bunny cartoon sliding would be easy. We could slide into a brick wall anyway we wanted to and we’d simply bounce back in the air with a funny sound effect like “Booooo-iiiiiiii-nnnnnng” playing in the background. Unfortunately that very solid player in our way at times isn’t Elmer Fud and is as solid and unmoving as a brick wall and science isn’t on our side, unless we let it be. You see science says “For every action there is an equal but opposite reaction. Meaning if you slide into a brick wall, or short stop, with a great deal of force that force is going to come right back through you. If we don’t understand and the knee on our leg that is extended is “locked” then that force is going to hit back at us. Unfortunately guess which teeny-tiny set of bones usually takes the brunt of that force? You are so smart … of course it’s your ankle.

So what can you do? You can provide a way for your body to absorb that force that doesn’t cause you to be in a lot of pain. Like ensuring that the knee on your extended leg is bent. Seriously it’s that easy! If you ensure that your knee is bent that force will come back through you and force it to bend more. Fortunately God designed your bodies in such a way that your knee bends the way it does enabling us to slide.

How about those knee and wrist injuries? How do so many players get them? Great question. Those are very real to and guess what … science is the cause again. You see that gravity stuff holds us onto the ground despite our desire to fly. Not only does it hold us to the ground but when we try and move across it another force called friction comes into play. As you sit on your bottom trying to slide that friction is great it won’t let you move much. You’ve seen this happen on the field a lot. A player runs towards full speed. Gets about 10 feet in front of the plate and slows down. She drops to the ground in a seated position. Catcher tags her. Umpire yells out. Her momma yells from the stands “She slid under the tag.” Or perhaps the catcher misses the throw and she’s safe and momma yells from the stands “Did you see that Harold our baby girl slid.” Regardless what the outcome of the play is, or what momma yells, that girl didn’t slide. She did a seat drop. There is no way with all of her weight on her bottom that she can possible slide forward. There is simply to much friction.

While goofy at times, y’all aren’t stupid. Eventually you figure that little piece of science out on your own. So you start leaning over to one side or the other so that you can continue your forward momentum … sliding across the ground a bit. Unfortunately that sideways slide makes you vulnerable to every injury in the book. If you put your hand down into the ground as you lean over … guess where most of your weight is. Yeah on your hand. Lots of friction there and as your body wants to continue sliding but friction is holding your hand in place guess where an awful lot of force is now being applied? Your wrist that is right above that hand on the ground. Can you say ouch?

Not only that but as soon as you roll over to one side your knee that was bent gets straightened out. Oh no I hate that for you. Now you are vulnerable to that whole sliding into a brick wall, for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction stuff that can snap your ankle or tear up your knee. Because while your knee bends one way really well, it doesn’t like to bend sideways. Yuck!

Oh wait there’s more. As you roll sideways while your weight isn’t all on your bottom and is distributed a little bit more because you are leaning over almost flat, there is still an awful lot of weight on the outside, upper part of your leg. Yep friction again. Friction as you know from rubbing your hands together causes heat. Good stuff when it’s cold outside. Bad stuff when it’s your leg on the ground. Too much friction causes too much heat which leads to burns. You know those great big open soars that so many girls get … right on the upper outside part of their leg. Hmmmmmm! But we can’t call them burns or that same momma cheering her daughter did a seat drop will come running on the field “my baby got burned … my baby got burned.” And nobody would ever slide again.

Instead we call them “raspberries” or “strawberries” and we simply say “It’s ok sweetie everybody gets them.” But guess what they “BURN.” You don’t want them. I don’t want them. So what are we to do. If we sit on our bottom we can’t go anywhere. If we roll over on our side we put ourselves into the worst possible position because then we are open to every injury.

For all it’s faults, and all of the boring people teaching it, science is good for one very positive thing. It’s called “weight distribution.” You see if we are seated, knee bent, and we simply lay straight back our body does the most incredible thing … it distributes our weight very evenly from our toes all the way up to our shoulders. If use weight distribution we can beat friction. Hurray for weight distribution. If we keep our knee bent we can beat “for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction.” Hurray for bending our knee.

You know what I call it when you bend your knee and distribute your weight? SLIDING.

As I led off with as you watch the video all you are going to see is my players sitting there so that you can visualize what I’ve written about. You then have an entire month to practice nothing more than being in the right position and laying back to distribute your weight. I’m thinking when next month’s article comes out you should have long since understood why others get injured and your body should now have the muscle memory to avoid it. See you next month and be ready to GET DIRTY!

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The Glass Is Neither Half-Full Nor Half-Empty

Written By Dalton Ruer

Dallas / Fort Worth Coaches Group

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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?

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Just Do Nothing

Written By Dalton Ruer

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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.

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Do It Because You Want To

Written By Coach Dalton

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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.

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