My Coaching Family Tree

My Coaching Family Tree

My Coaching Family Tree, Written By Matt Lisle

As another great year of presenters came and went at the NFCA Convention in December, I was inspired to reflect on my own coaching career. I've always known that my philosophy of coaching, drills, and strategies, were merely a melting pot of the ideas of my mentors. And of course, the ideas of my mentors were borrowed from their mentors, and so on, and so on. However, I've never given much thought as to where each philosophy had originated. Obviously I wasn't the source, but like most great coaches I know that I have borrowed most of my ideas from other great coaching minds.
 
Looking back 13 years ago as a young high school head coach to now, I realized how little I knew about the game when I first started coaching. My knowledge and experiences of the game was passed on by only a few coaches mostly that of my own father. Don’t get me wrong, dad was a great coach and manager of players but as a young player I remember recanting my performances on the ride home from games more so than asking for coaching advice.”
 
As my first coaching season came to a close at the wise old age of 23, I had the realization that I better stop faking it (as a coach) by merely repeating the clichés I’d heard as a player, and actually begin developing my own coaching philosophy, so I could do a better job of developing the players and teams I worked with. It was then that I began my own journey to learn as much as I could about coaching and teaching. I begin to read every book and watch every DVD I could get my hands on. And as the digital age has developed, YouTube had become an even bigger resource! Each year I would continue to add to my own knowledge base, expanding my abilities to become my own person, and not just merely a clone of previous mentors.
 
As I began taking personal ownership, I have come to develop a personal coaching philosophy on everything from hitting, to the best way to wear a glove. But even with all the technology and information that was available to me over the years, my greatest philosophical implementations were always the result of personal encounters. Such encounters were made at conventions and clinics, like the NFCA, and even more so with coaches that I had the good fortune to work with.
 
Throughout my reflection of the last 13 seasons, I decided that I wanted to write down the names of each person that has shaped me as a coach and hopefully pass these names onto other coaches, so that they could have some resources on their journey as well.
 
HITTING
 
I’ve spent the majority of my research and learning time on hitting. I love offense and creating havoc for the defense. Along the road I was fortunate to meet a man named Craig Wallenbrock. Craig is a relatively unknown name to the public because he doesn’t mass produce DVD’s or spend time arguing mechanics on message boards. Craig currently works with over a dozen major league teams as a hitting consultant and has worked with many of the big name players in professional baseball. I was incredibly blessed to be able to spend some time with him and have many hours of video footage of himself and many other of his major league hitting coach colleagues breaking down the mechanics, timing and approach of the swing. Don Slaught is another great hitting mind who has influenced the philosophy on hitting mechanics. His software Right View Pro and the accompanying videos does a great job of breaking down and teaching the swing of elite hitters, both softball and baseball. Slaught and Wallenbrock are good friends and agree (for the most part) on the mechanics of the swing, so it was great to have another resource at my fingers with Right View Pro. I highly recommend if your budget allows.
 
TRAINING PLAYERS
 
Along the way I learned an incredible amount about the best way to train softball and baseball players and I have abandoned “old school” things like static stretching, and long distance running and replaced them with dynamic stretching and focusing on explosive movements. I’ve learned to train our players like sprinters and not marathon runners. Marcus Elliott from P3 Performance in Santa Barbara and Eric Cressey on the East Coast are the two best in the business, in my experience, and I would highly recommend each coach to seek out everything they’ve talked about regarding our game. Google is a great place to start.
 
Arm care is another important aspect to our program and it should be to all programs. I became friends withAlan Jaeger of Jaeger Sports at the baseball convention a few years back. His J-Bands and arm throwing routine is one of the most important things I think a team can do. I’ve seen numerous players have incredible gains in velocity, distance and healthy arms since starting to use his bands and routine over the last few years. His new DVD Thrive on Throwing 2 has a 16 minute section just on softball long toss for pitchers starring Monica Abbott. I couldn’t get my hands on it fast enough.
 
PITCHING
 
Making the switch to softball from baseball after 10 years made me a newbie again desperately seeking out information on how to teach and manage pitchers. I hit the lottery when my first softball coaching job was as an assistant at the University of Oregon under the tutelage of head coach Mike White. Mike is considered by many of my colleagues, and around the world, as not only one of the best pitchers to ever play this game but one of the best teachers of pitching as well. In our practices, on and off the field, I tried to absorb as much as possible from Mike about pitching as he would allow (I tend to ask a lot of questions) and am eternally grateful to have done so. Amanda Scarborough is another coach and former pitcher that I have learned a great deal from regarding mechanics and training pitchers. She has videos online that are definitely worth watching and sharing with your players. At this year’s convention, University of Washington pitching coach Lance Glasoe has began to reshape the way that I’m going to manage my pitchers with his presentation. Having a detailed and organized plan like he has given me feels like a secret weapon that everyone should have.
 
DEFENSE
 
When it comes to defense, I think I’ve taken a little bit from over 20 different coaches across baseball and softball. Most recently I’ve adopted University of Virginia head coach Blake Millers’ double play turning philosophy as well as his rundown philosophy (he presented at the 2012 NFCA and was also an assistant with me at Oregon). In regards to fundamentals of infield play, I met Ed Servais (Head Baseball Coach, Creighton) at a clinic once. Ed’s teams are known as one of the best defensively in the country every season. Outfield play is another area that I’ve just taken little pieces from many different coaches whether in person, at clinics or via video. There are so many great drills online as soon as you hit “search”.
 
CATCHING
 
When I’m working with camps or giving clinics across the country, I speak mostly on hitting but I get to teach and work with catchers a lot as well. Catching at the high school and college level is neglected so much more than anything else as many teams’ catchers are used strictly as a Fungo Assistant and bullpen. I believe that you can make the biggest improvement to your teams’ defense by spending 2-3 hours a week with your catchers developing them. If you’re looking for somewhere to start gaining knowledge, the best on this planet at least, is the New England Catching Camp. Their almost three hour DVD on catching is a must have for your collection and I have watched it over 20 times and have had several of my players watch it. Another great resource for catching is Xan Barksdale (Asst. Baseball Coach, East Tenn State) he has a book on catching that is one of the best I’ve found and shares a lot of information and drills online at his website and on YouTube.
 
OFFENSE STRATEGY
 
I have spent a lot of time developing my own style of offense strategy. My teams are always known as teams that cause havoc on the defense. We have wristbands that display over 20 offensive plays from “Fake Squeeze and Steal” to something we call “Cardinal Fake Bunt” (something they teach in the St. Louis Cardinals farm system). I have come across many coaches who think that it’s too complicated of a system for players to learn and say things like “I would rather simplify it”. Although I agree with trying to simplify things for players to understand, I also believe that players don’t need the game “dumbed down” for them and will rise to the expectation given if it’s taught well. A few seasons ago, we won over 10 games by 1 run. This wasn’t because of great pitching (although it wasn’t too shabby). It was because we found ways to create runs when needed.
 
TEAM BUILDING & CULTURE
 
When it comes to team building and culture (which I think is the most important of all the coaching topics) my greatest influencer is Bruce Brown of Proactive Coaching. The Captains & Coaches Workshop DVD was a game changer for me as a coach and can’t recommend it enough. His team works with many of the top teams in the country in all sports and you can get access to all of his books and DVD’s online. Yvette Healy (Head Coach, U of Wisconsin) did a great job at this year’s convention, speaking on culture and books to read as a coach and with your players. There are so many books out there on culture and team building. Try to read as many as you can and find the things that fit you and your program the best.
 
PRACTICE PLANNING
 
Besides hitting and catching the most common topic that I speak at clinics about is program building & practice planning. I’ve taken from so many good coaches on this area but I’ll name just a few that have stood out. John Cohen (Head Baseball Coach, Mississippi State) is one of the best I’ve come across and you can get his all-access DVD online. Another one would be a convention presenter from this year in Joe Evans (Texas A&M). I always stress to coaches to make a Master Plan with everything that you need to cover over the course of a season from 1st/3rd’s, bunt defenses, rundowns and more. Coach Evans spoke directly on that and shared her master plan checklist with everyone. I highly recommend having yours on hand for practice planning for the week. I know that Coach Evans plan will be a great addition to mine.
 
MY ADVICE TO YOU
 
The best advice that I can give coaches is to always be learning, growing, and changing. The worst thing that you can do as a coach is to develop a philosophy on something whether it be hitting, pitching or even bunt defense, and spend your entire career trying to defend it. Be open and willing that what you have been teaching may not be the best way and that you can always learn a better way from someone else. I see former players of mine from ten years ago and cringe when I think of the way that I taught them hitting, etc. This is why I love going to conventions, clinics and spending time with other coaches. If I can sit through a 45-minute clinic on a topic and can find just one small nugget to pull from it to add to my repertoire then that time was well spent. Sometimes you find more than a nugget and feel like you want to throw out your entire philosophy on something. Don’t completely abandon your philosophy and grab someone else’s until you’ve implemented it in small doses. (Or at least wait until the off-season)
 
ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
 
Whether you are a first year coach or a thirty-year veteran, I encourage you to write down your Coaching Family Tree, if not for yourself for your coaches that you may have an influence on and continue to add to it all the time. The biggest thing I took from this year’s convention wasn’t about hitting, pitching, practice planning or recruiting. The most important thing I took away was during Alyson Habetz's (Alabama Softball) introduction of Patrick Murphy (Head Coach, Alabama) at the Hall-Of-Fame banquet. She gave countless accounts of Coach Murphy’s “attitude of gratitude” when it came to everyone he came into contact with. That’s how I want to be described as someday. I am eternally grateful to every member of my Coaching Family Tree and the influence they’ve had on me over the years and will continue to have.

Fastpitch Magazine

How I Became a College Softball Coach

How I Became a College Softball Coach

How I Became a College Softball Coach, Written By Matt Lisle

I had always been a fan of softball. I loved the tempo & speed of the game. I hadn’t watched a ton of collegiate softball until the 2012 season. I ended up watching every single game of the regionals, super regionals and Women’s College World Series that was televised. By the end of the three-day battle between Kealani Ricketts of Oklahoma and Jackie Traina of Alabama, I was completely in love with the sport.
 
The Power of Email
 
The night of the final game of the Women’s College World Series I decided to try an experiment. I put together my resume and before I went to bed, I emailed it out to over 500 college baseball coaches and 500 college softball coaches letting them know my interest in returning to coaching collegiately.
 
When I had woken up in the morning, I had three emails from college baseball coaches with interest in having me join their staff. I had over 100 emails from college softball coaches. The responses were so overwhelming that I spent the next two days researching each program, each coach and making a spreadsheet of the Top 10 schools I was interested in. I figured this was God giving me a sign that maybe it was time to make a switch.
 
I spent the next few days doing phone interviews with coaches from all over the country as I tried to narrow down what would be the best fit for my family and myself especially if I was going to have to move them across the country again.
 
A One Man Wolfpack
 
I had narrowed it down to my Top 3 with the leading candidate being North Carolina State led by Head Coach Lisa Navas. She brought me out to campus to work a camp for a few days and interview me to see if I was a good fit for her. I loved the campus, the players I got to meet and I knew Coach Navas was a great fit for me. While I was there for a few days, I roomed with USA Men’s Fastpitch Hall-of-Famer Avon Meacham who currently coaches at University of South Florida. Avon and I became great friends in a short amount of time reminiscent of Summer Camp in Junior High.
 
On my second to last day of my trip to NC State, Coach Navas offered me a position and I told my wife it was a great fit and to start the packing. On the morning of my last day, while helping work camp with several of the Wolfpack players, I started to notice that within a five minute window many of them began sobbing in tears. I came to find out that Coach Navas had been let go that morning which also meant my tenure at NC State would last less than 24 hours. I spent the next few hours sharing somber moments helping Coach Navas clean out her office and sharing a final meal in Raleigh. I particularly remember taking extra care of carrying her ACC Coach of the Year glass plaque to her car.
 
The rest of that day, I remember feeling deep empathy for a woman that had started the program and you could tell had poured her heart and soul into her players. Coach Navas ended up giving me a big hug as she dropped me off at the airport apologizing that she wouldn’t be able to give me the opportunity to come work with her.
 
I remember flying home on the plane thinking, “OK God. What’s the plan here? I thought this was the place for us, I guess it’s back to the drawing board”.
 
Go Ducks
 
The next day, I received an email from Oregon Head Coach Mike White asking if I was still interested in a position. (Almost a month after I had emailed him).  I immediately emailed him back and asked him to use Avon Meacham as a reference. Avon had played several years with Coach White on the Men’s USA team. (crazy coincidence?) In what felt like a whirlwind 24 hour period, I ended up accepting a position with Pac-12 powerhouse and WCWS participant University of Oregon.
 
I’ll never forget getting an email from Coach Candrea at Arizona the next morning asking if I could throw BP and if I was still interested in a position there. Turning down Coach Candrea was one of the hardest and nearly surreal things I’ve ever done. I still can’t believe I wrote back saying that I wasn’t interested anymore.
 
A month later, my father and brother helped me drive the UHaul to Eugene, Oregon and wife and kids flew up a few days later, thus beginning my softball-coaching career.
 
The Softball Coaching Community
 
There were many coaches and friends who advised me when I started the process of transitioning from baseball to softball that if I went to coaching softball that it would be very difficult to go back to baseball if I wanted to. Many others couldn’t believe that I was even considering coaching softball and that they believed I would go back to coaching baseball after a short time.
 
In the now two years that I made the switch, I want to share with you why I have stayed with coaching softball and will continue to.
 
First, there isn’t a more welcoming and friendly community than the college softball coaching community. I feared that my lack of experience in fastpitch and my circle being so small to start that it would be a long difficult transition for me. It has been anything but. The NFCA has been an incredible organization that has help connect me with so many great coaches, mentors and friends. The friends that I have made in my short tenure in softball have been life changing. They are now some of my closest friends.
 
Over the course of the last NFCA Convention I became good friends with too many coaches to name including Dartmouth Head Coach Rachel Hanson. I mention her only because I now tease her that she is the female version of me. (I’m not sure if she’d take that as a compliment). There are too many coaches to name that have reached out to me, befriended me, advised me and cared for me since I’ve gotten started coaching softball that is overwhelming.
 
Secondly, and most importantly there are the players; the reason why we all call coach in the first place. I have been so blessed to work with some of the best players in my two years in this game. I have gotten total buy in from almost every one of the players I have gotten to work with and have loved the relationships I’ve been able to foster with them.
 
The Difference Between Boys & Girls
 
The question asked most by my baseball coaching friends is always, “What’s it like coaching girls? How much different is it?”
 
In my now almost 15 years of coaching experience, I can say that coaching boys vs. coaching girls is completely different. In my experience, boys have this innate posture of  “I know it all already” which hinders buy in. It doesn’t completely prevent it but it does slow the process for many young men. You can still get buy in from boys, but whether they got it from a former coach, parent or TV personality they carry a lot of baggage with them when it comes to working on new concepts. In my experience with girls so far, they listen better and have a posture of learning and wanting to get better, more so than boys.
 
I have also seen much larger jumps in improvement with girls that I’ve worked with. This season we had three catchers that you wouldn’t even recognize from the beginning of fall to the end of the season. I truly believe that our 3rd string catcher was one of the best defensive catchers in the league after all the work she put in.
 
Sometimes I hear coaches so that they believe that boys are more competitive and want to win/succeed more than girls do. I don’t buy this. The players that I’ve had the privilege to coach over the last few seasons in softball want to win and work hard to get better just as much as any boy I’ve ever coached.
 
A myth that I want to debunk immediately is the myth that girls can’t handle complex ideas and strategies. As coaches we want to make things as simple as possible for our players and that’s good. But simple doesn’t mean easy or dumbing it down. I’ve come across many coaches that don’t want their girls to work on complex things because they don’t think they’re capable of doing it. This is false. Players will rise to the expectation given to them. Boy or Girl.
 
Softball has been Life Giving
 
The best answer that I can give to people that ask me about the switch from baseball to softball is really simple actually. Coaching softball has just been more life giving to me. The community of coaches and players that I’ve gotten to know encourage and inspire me every day with their attitude, their effort and most of all…their love.  Everyday I wake up I’m excited and passionate about the day ahead of me and every day after a game and practice, I can’t wait for the next one to start.
 
The softball community has become family to me. I have been so grateful for the opportunities given to me in this game in such a short amount of time and the relationships I’ve built with the coaches I've gotten to work with and learn from and will continue to build. I can’t wait to see this game continue to grow and I can’t wait to grow with it. 

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Batters Box Battle

Batters Box Battle

Batters Box Battle, Written By Matt Lisle

At practice we as coaches tend to spend most, if not all of our hitting time on the mechanics of the swing and getting reps in BP. A few years ago after realizing that we had some players who had perfect mechanics and weren’t hitting above .200, I chose to reevaluate what were we doing at the plate. I began to sit with players and ask them what their process, routine and mindset was when they were at the plate. It was startling to find out that most players didn’t have any and were guessing most of the time once they were in the box. Soon afterwards we began to try to spend a good deal of time at practice working on these things and we named it the Batters Box Battle Mindset. This consists of three things for us. Routine, Breathing and Approach.
 
The first of these is Routine & Breathing. We have our players write out and work on having a routine they can repeat during each at bat. We will even have a routine or breathing station in our hitting stations.
 
A common routine that many of our players use is:
 
1) Step one foot in the box and look down at the 3B Coach. Take a deep breathe in. Hold it. Then release.
 
2) Step into the box with both feet with a swagger, a confidence that you're ready to rip it.
 
3) When you get into the box on each pitch, sweep your feet through the batter's box as if you were cleaning it. You're wiping away past AB's and past pitches.
 
4) Take your bat and hit it on the plate slow and controlled. But not just anywhere on the plate. Finding a little pebble on the plate or outside corner. Something to help you focus on something small and zone out your other AB's and be present in this AB.
 
5) Bring the bat up slow and controlled and lay the bat on your shoulder. Take a look at the pitcher and then take a another deep breath in and out. Relaxing your mind and body.
 
6) Get in rhythm with your body and have some positive self talk like “rip it, rip it, rip it”.
 
There are a lot of benefits to having a routine in the box. It can help hitter's stay focused, yet relaxed and present in each pitch and each AB. It helps hitters stay comfortable in some otherwise uncomfortable situations as well.
 
The routine is a normal part of life according to future baseball Hall of Famer Nomar Garciaparra.
 
Some people wash their face then brush their teeth. Some brush their teeth first.”It's more to get yourself focused than anything,” Garciaparra said. “You can askanybody if they take the same way to work every day. Or, if there's going to be a big day, do they put on a certain shirt? Or if they're going for a job interview, do they wear a certain thing? People do it in all walks of life.
 
University of Oregon All-American Alexa Peterson has been doing it so long she considers it more of a habit than a special routine. Routines can be broken. Habits are hard to break. Peterson has to do it, or the at-bat doesn't feel right. “What I do is clean out the box,” Peterson said. “I dig my spot with the right foot. Then wipe it with the left.”
 
Each player should come up with their own routine that gets them comfortable at the plate and in the batter's box. Each player's routine is unique to her. If you watch major leaguers you'll notice that they have all sorts of routines at the plate. There are times at practice where we practice this. The player will go through their routine and breathing and then take a swing visualizing a Home Run and come trotting out of the box. I talk to our hitters a lot about how the more relaxed their mind and body is during an at bat that not only will their heart rate be lower and mind clearer but their bat speed and strength will be increased as well.
 
A teammate of Chipper Jones once said that Chipper would look so relaxed at the plate in big situations that it looked like he was going to fall asleep.
 
The next, final and most important element of the Batters Box Battle Mindset is having a good approach. We talk about work on this every day in practice, scrimmages and games.
 
The approach that we like to have when at bat is what we call “Aggressiveness under Control”. H.A. Dorfman gave a perfect example in regards to how to do that at the plate. He says, “Every car has an accelerator and a brake. The accelerator represents aggressiveness – helping you get to where you're going. The brake represents control – assuring that when you get there, you're in one piece. Gas pedal and brake are necessary to appropriate operation of the vehicle, as both aggressiveness and control are essential to successful hitting. You see hitters are like a car. And the car's movement starts by hitting the gas pedal first. That's aggressiveness. A hitter's first thought before going to the plate should be about making good, solid contact. She anticipates a pitch she can hit and is ready for it when she sees it. She does not anticipate taking a pitch, because then, seeing a pitching in the hitting zone, she'll be surprised by it. Aggressiveness is her operative approach. On the other hand, her “control' is based on using her eyes when she gets to the plate. That's how she steers the bat to the ball. She hits the brakes only when she sees a pitch she does not want to swing at. Her eyes are essential for that discipline. That control.”
 
A lot of players that I first work with either don’t have an approach at the plate or they have an approach that makes it difficult to be aggressive. We still have hitters in our lineup that try to react to the pitch and read it before deciding whether to swing.
 
ESPN’S Sport Science did an episode on the speed of softball showing that a pitch traveling at 70mph at a release point of 37 feet gives the batter .35 seconds to react to the pitch. If our approach isn’t YES, YES, NO that .35 seconds goes by even quicker. By starting with the mindset of YES the batter only has to choose visual cues that are NO’s. We focus on those visual cues being high/low, inside/outside and rise. Anything else is (hopefully) within the strike zone and we’re taking a hack at it. When we have players strike out looking, I will always check in with them on what their mindset was on that pitch. A lot of times the answer will be “I was looking for this and she threw this instead” admitting that they got away from thinking just YES, YES, NO.
 
We have two rules on our team regarding what players are allowed to think about during an at bat. They are allowed to focus on breathing (with the goal of 2-3 deep breathes) and YES, YES, NO and that’s it. The mechanics of their swing, the scoreboard, the crowd and everything else has to be eliminated so that their .35 seconds can be focused on giving them the best chance to hit the ball hard.
 
If you’re looking for a way to improve your teams hitting ask yourself about how much time you spend on routine and approach. Take some time to sit and talk with your players about their current routines and approach and I think you’ll be surprised at the answers. I think you’ll find that they’re not as ready to get into a Batters Box Battle as you’d like them to be. 

Fastpitch Magazine

Real Talk. The Truth About Recruiting

Real Talk. The Truth About Recruiting

Real Talk. The Truth About Recruiting, Written By Matt Lisle

I have a confession. It’s 6am this morning and I’ve already deleted a dozen emails from recruits without reading more than one sentence. It has become a daily morning routine just like having my coffee.

Most of the emails I receive are direct from student-athletes and some are from recruiting services, but they all get deleted within five seconds opening and I can tell you this morning routine is commonplace across the country either at the homes or offices of most college coaches.

I actually love recruiting. I really enjoy going out and searching for and evaluating not only talent but also the intangibles, looking for things like attitude and effort. Searching for diamonds in the rough that have heart and hustle to go along with skill.

I’ve done recruiting at every collegiate level. And I mean every. I was an Associate Head Coach at the NAIA level. We had a ton of money to give and it was easier to get kids into school than I could imagine. The NAIA’s eligibility rules are not as stringent as the NCAA. I’ve been a Head Coach at the Division III level with no scholarship money. Where parents didn’t know the name of the school and would run for the hills when they found out I didn’t have any athletic scholarships to give. I’ve been at a Division I school that had more resources than probably any other school in the country. I’ve coached at the Division II level where scholarships aren’t fully funded, yet other schools in our conference were.

So back to those emails. You keep sending them. I keep deleting them. Let’s help each other out.

What Can You Stop Doing?

Stop sending me mass emails that you sent to a hundred schools (maybe more). Most likely, if I’m a Division I coach (which I am now) it got deleted before I even finished reading your name, not because I’m coaching at an elite program that is committed for the next 5 years, but instead because I don’t have the time to go through the 25 emails a day that are exactly the same from 25 different student-athletes. Depending on the Division II/III and NAIA school it got deleted before reading as well. That line in your email that says something like “I’m really interested specifically in your school” seems a little fishy when I look up in the To: column of the email and can tell it was sent to another 100 schools with the same line. I basically have now added you to my blacklist like a restaurant that posts the names of the people whose checks bounced.

There are a small percentage of coaches that do read the email and watch the video that you sent. And then they show interest. But when push comes to shove and they reach out to you, you realize that you’re a California girl and playing at a Division II school in Minnesota wasn’t what you were hoping for when you sent the email out.

What Can You Do?

Let’s talk more about this email thing and the best way to use it. First, it needs to be a very specific and very personal email if it comes directly from you (the student-athlete). I am “email savvy” enough to know when it’s a mass email to every coach on the planet.

Secondly, your best chance of getting me to read the email is to have someone that I have a relationship with send it. If I get a personal email from Tony Rico or from another reputable travel ball coach, I’m going to open it and read it. Yesterday I got a text from a friend who was a former college coach about a girl that he recommends. Do you think she’s on my recruiting list now? Yes.

Maybe your high school coach or travel ball coach isn’t very well connected and no one you know has relationships with the colleges that you want to attend. This does make it more difficult for you in regards to email and contact, which means that personal email you send out better grab my attention.

A friend of mine who is a Head Coach at a Division III school this year got a card in the mail from a prospective student-athlete. It was a card inviting her to a macaroni party with the words “macaroni party” crossed out and the “Colorado Sparkler” written above it. Do you think that caught her attention? Strangely, yes.

Two years ago, my youngest brother (I have four) was getting close to graduating. He was a small school All-State football player here in California and also an All-League baseball player. He didn’t go to any combines or exposure camps and because of his smaller (5-10,160) frame he was one of the only non-committed all state players. I spoke with him about what he wanted and he was willing to go to any college in the country that helped pay for school. I sat down and wrote an email to every college football coach in the country. I began by saying who I was and my experience in collegiate coaching. I received over 50 emails from schools all over the country showing interest. I helped him narrow down a few of them and he went on recruiting trips. He ended up going to a Division III school in Minnesota that he loves and although they don’t offer athletic scholarships, he was able to get 60% paid for with need based and academic aid. He’s going into his junior year now and has loved his experience and is the starting 3B for the baseball team.

Now you’re probably thinking to yourself, he broke his own rule about the mass email. Yes and No. I knew that my college email address coupled with my introduction about my own experience would help get a few more email opens. It helped a lot that my brother was actually sincere when saying that he was willing to travel anywhere and I was forthright about that in the email. If you want to ignore my advice on the mass email that is OK…I just wouldn’t put all my eggs in the email basket.

Email can work. It just has to be done right. 99% of you aren’t doing it right and its making 99% of the college coaches out there swipe left on their iPhone’s too many times a day.

Exposure

Everyone wants more exposure. This is why there are multiple recruiting services and travel ball tournaments every weekend of the year. (Don’t get me started on that) In a lot of ways the recruiting services like NCSA and NSR are great for student-athletes. They have helped thousands of student-athletes receive scholarships and helped place them at colleges. I recommend them for “certain” student-athletes that feel like they missed the exposure boat or have the resources to afford it. It’s not a good fit for everyone.

How can you get more exposure? If at all possible, you want to get in front of as many college coaches as possible. Playing on the right team for the right coaches helps. I admit that. At some of these showcase tournaments you’ll have 50 coaches at a Firecrackers vs. Glory game. (Or insert any other big name travel ball team).

Even if you don’t play for a big name travel ball team anytime you can get in front of a large number of college coaches this will “help” with exposure. And I know that may be difficult in many pockets of the country especially outside of places like California.

For most parents, exposure means expensive. The cost of traveling to showcases and tournaments has gotten astronomical. I think there are some parents out there who end up spending more on exposure and camps then they would have just paying for college. Be every selective in where you spend your money in the exposure department #realtalk

Skills Video

Making a skills video is a great idea and helpful for coaches that actually do read your email and want to keep a file on you. Having said that, please don’t have a long intro with schnazzy (is that a word?) effects and music. Just go straight into the skills. College coaches don’t care about the background music. We want to see your swing, your arm, your fielding, etc.

My Best Advice

If you really want to play at the college level my best advice is to figure out which schools you really want to go and start building a relationship with those coaches as soon as possible. The best way to do that is with the schools camps. Attending a schools camp gives you so much more face time with the coaching staff and allows you to get to know them and the campus and school. Maybe that coaching staff and school isn’t as great a fit for you as you had hoped.

Every school has youth camps and prospect camps where they can really get to know and evaluate student-athletes up close. Now let me make this very clear. If your Top 5 schools are in the Pac-12 or SEC and you’re skill set is better served at a Division II school, there is going to be a problem with this route. Make sure you are attending school camps of schools that you might actually get a chance to play at. Which leads me into…

Be Realistic

Parents and students must have clear expectations and be extremely realistic with their childs athletic ability. There were almost 400,000 high school softball players last year. 30,000 (almost 8%) will play in college. Out of those 30,000 there are about 180 in the Pac-12, which means 0.045% of high school softball players will end up playing in the Pac-12.

Recap

What not to do
Mass email

Burn through your savings and credit cards trying to get exposure

What to do
Attend schools camps. Build relationships

If you’re going to use email have a coach or someone that has relationship with college coaches send email and make sure that it’s personal. Not mass.

If you feel like you need a bump in exposure, sign up with a recruiting service but be VERY selective about who and the cost. It’s a huge red flag if the cost is absurd.

Attend as many showcases/tournaments as your pocket book allows and when you are there show the intangibles: Heart. Hustle. Attitude. Effort.

Make a video of skills with no frills

Recruiting = Ridiculous

I won’t get into my thoughts on the recruiting process from the colleges end (that will be for a different article). It’s a failing system in a lot of ways when we have 8th graders being verballed and 5th graders at showcases. (Yes, I saw this last week).

I know that this process is incredibly daunting for parents and student-athletes and will continue to be overwhelming until some big changes happen.

Lastly, be honest and open if you are being recruited and talking to coaches. There is nothing worse for a coach to spend quality time reading your email, watching your skills video, reaching out to you and getting their hopes up of your interest and then finding out you haven’t even heard of the university they’re from (happened to be several times at the D2, D3 and NAIA level).

Fastpitch Magazine

Secrets of Softball Savvy

Secrets of Softball Savvy

Secrets of Softball Savvy Written By Matt Lisle

Is your team as Softball Savvy as you think during games? I watch a lot of college, travel and high school softball games and am amazed at some of the things I see during games. Here is a break down of things that I notice Championship teams do to stay focused in games and display high levels of Softball Savvy that go highly unnoticed to the common set of eyes.

Savvy on Offense

Championship teams have a lot going on in the dugout that most fans don’t see. Not only are the coaches charting and working off scouting reports to call pitches and position the defensive, the players have a lot going on as well. There are always a few players that are working on trying to decipher the signs given by the opposing pitching coach to the catcher as well as a player and/or coach focusing on watching the pitcher to see if she gives away any of her pitches by pre-gripping or by tendencies in her delivery that might give away a pitch. They always have a few players charting tendencies as well.

Cheering, chants and songs are a big part of softball and I’m all for it. But if your team does those things the expectation is that everyone participates. Not just a handful.

On Deck Batter & Foul Balls

Most players and coaches know that the task of the On Deck Batter and In-The-Hole Hitter are to begin the process of getting focused in on their upcoming task of hitting with focusing on timing and approach. What most coaches and players don’t realize is that there are a few other “jobs” they have on a championship team.

The On Deck Batter has to know that if there is a play at the plate they will be behind home plate directing traffic to the runner letting them know whether to slide or not. It is also their responsibility to get any foul balls that come to their side. There aren’t too many things that irk me more than seeing a catcher run after a foul ball twenty five feet away that lands a foot from the on deck batter’s feet. By the on deck batter securing any foul balls on their side it’s sign of respect to the game of softball, the other team and especially the umpire by helping the game have a healthy tempo.

A key teaching point on retrieving foul balls in general: Anytime a coach or player on your team retrieves a foul ball, make sure to HAND the umpire the ball. Do not throw it even if you are only three feet away and are under handing it. We’ve all seen throws into the catcher or umpire that are errant or get dropped. Not only is it embarrassing but it also slows the tempo of a great game. Umpires appreciate and respect coaches and players that will run up to them and hand them the ball.

Championship teams also make sure to shag the foul balls down the foul line on their side of the field. My eyes roll back into my head when I see a foul ball go down into the corner of the field and the corner outfielder runs 100 feet to get it, throw it back in and then head back to their position. I love seeing a player fly out of the dugout as soon as it happens yelling “I got you” or “let it go” so that the game doesn’t have to wait and can continue without delay.

In-The-Hole Hitter

When an at-bat ends we want the In-The-Hole Hitter to go directly to the on deck circle so that they can begin their process of getting ready to hit. What we don’t want is for them to head towards home plate, pick up the bat of the previous hitter, and then walk all the way back to the dugout before finally proceeding to the on deck circle. To fix this issue we have the new In-The-Hole Hitter retrieve the bat. It seems like a simple step, but I see very few teams even at the collegiate level do it.

Pick-Up Your Teammate

When your team scores a run, or a player executes a sacrifice bunt or moves a runner over, everyone should get up in the dugout and pick up that player by giving her a high-five, fist pound, “thatta girl” or something positive to her regardless of the score. It shows that you’re focused in the game and also a great encouragement to your teammates. This is especially important for when players execute a quality at-bat that they don’t reach base on. On a non-championship team there are times that a player will hit a sacrifice fly to score the run and everyone high-fives the girl who scored and forgets the girl who drove her in. This sends the wrong message that only base hits help the team win.

Organized Dugout & Hustle

The dugout is your teams’ sanctuary. It should be kept extremely tidy. If possible, keep all bags out of the dugout or hang them to maximize your space. The only items that should be out of the bags are gloves and bats. Anything that is not needed in the game should not be in the dugout or at least not out of the bag. I see dugouts that have shoes, clothes and personal items strewn about and coaches and players tripping over them while trying to get in and out of the dugout. Which leads into next thing that championship teams do. As soon the defense gets in from the field, all outfielders should have their gloves placed together somewhere in the dugout and all the infielders gloves in a separate pile so that when the inning ends your nearest fielder can pick you up without having to look all over for your stuff. So much warmup time is lost when players spend a minute or longer looking for their glove between innings. Having your gloves organized allows the last batter of the inning and runners that are stranded on the bases to head directly to their position without having to run all the way back into the dugout. Players can your helmet to the nearest base coach and sprint out knowing that another player is going to pick them up.

A lot of coaches & players will read the above paragraph and say, “I don’t think those things are that important”. Championship teams think they are important. Championship teams know that they want to maximize every little detail of the game and want to use their 90 seconds of warm-up between innings getting as ready as possible for that inning. That’s why championship teams demand that as soon as the last batter of the inning gets out, they expect all 9 defensive players to be at their position in less than 15 seconds including the catcher and last batter (sometimes the same person).

In the next game that you play, stopwatch the amount of time you get to warm-up between innings and then stop watch how long it takes your team to get to their positions. Are you maximizing your time on the field? If you add this into your practice schedule every once in a while, you will notice how much this improves your teams over hustle and in the games you’ll notice that the umpire will appreciate your team even more and everyone wants the umpire to like them at least a little more.

Savvy on Defense

While on defense there are a few key things that championship teams do outside of just playing defense.

A championship team has players in the dugout working on deciphering the sign system of the 3B coach while also keeping a close eye on the batter and runner to communicate anytime the offense is up to something. They always have a player designated to give the CF and 1B a ball when they run in to have them prepared for the next inning’s warm-up.

Keeping with the theme of hustle, competing and respecting the game as soon as the third out is recorded on defense, we expect the entire defense to be in the dugout in less than 10 seconds. I love seeing defenses that are so excited to go hit they literally have a race to the bat rack. You can even incorporate this into your practice as a conditioning drill. Player’s love to see what their time was and if they beat the record.

Practice Savvy

Want to have the savviest team around? Start by having a classroom session teaching the little things, post a list in the dugout and then go out and practice it. You’ll find that your teams’ hustle will increase. You’ll find that your games go faster and have better tempo and you’ll see that they are so much more focused which will translate into a few more W’s in the win column as well.

Softball Junk

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