The Toughest Pitch To Hit???

The Toughest Pitch To Hit???

The Toughest Pitch To Hit??? Written By Troy Olson

As I sit here in my house with the temperature hovering around -5 degrees, it is very obvious that softball season is a long way off. The funny thing is I have already heard people talking about the upcoming season, granted here in Wisconsin there isn't much else to do other than ice fish and catch a basketball game or two. Well during one of these conversations I heard an interesting statement being made, someone said the hardest pitch to hit is a riseball that's why my kid is learning to throw it. This got me to thinking, was the riseball the ultimate pitch in the game of Fastpitch Softball?

So I started with some of my own research, I surveyed a variety of people with an age of 20-71 years old. I talked with men and women, college players, local league guys, players who had won state tittles, players who are on Team USA, International players and retired old duffers from many years ago. I had preconceived ideas about what would come from this question, but the results and answers from these survey subjects were amazing.

The test was of many different kinds of players 55% of them had pitching experience, in our sport very few people only pitch unlike baseball. 25% of the subjects had some catching experience and 20% are utility players/out fielders. I wanted to get the biggest range of players possible, its tough with everybody jumping around from pitching or playing middle infield to catching in this sport we just have athletes that are able to play a lot of different positions on defense.

Well in my test I found that 5% of the people responded with curveball, this was a huge surprise to me as a curveball typically stays on the same plane but does move in or out. The average age of these people were 39 years old, and they caught and played infield.

The next pitch was the dropball with 19% of the vote, once again I didn't expect this pitch to be even mentioned before I started this research. The interesting thing here was that the pitcher with the most International experience chose this pitch, he may also be the best hitter in the group as well. So I had to contact him ask why, his reason for this answer was that at his level of play this pitch is the hardest to hit out of the park. If I miss with the dropball it goes in the dirt, if I miss with a riseball and leave it thigh high its hit over the fence. I had often felt like this myself and had this discussion with some of my buddies, but it was an interesting take from someone at the highest level of our sport. Average age of the subjects for the dropball was 34 years of age.

The runner up pitch was the riseball with 33% of the vote, and an average age of 30 years old. I found this young age to be a very surprisingly low number. So this got me to thinking even more, were these younger guys that everyone knew had played baseball and they fed them a steady diet of riseballs? Or has our sport became madly in love with rise? It seems like every highschool girl claims to throw a riseball, which I think is the toughest pitch to master. Has our sport got to the point where we only throw hard pitches, have we fallen into a trap of watching Adam Folkakrd on youtube throwing 80+ MPH riseballs and we are all trying to duplicate this??? It just raises many questions to me…

Well first place goes to the changeup with 43% of the vote. Here the average age was 45 years old, and this group of players had the most experience of all the other groups. When I talked with these players it was stated that its easier to hit a pitch on location that is relatively the same speed, than it is to get your hands out front and be off balance. These players were not afraid of pitch location as much as they were scared of pitch speed. I find this to be true in my batting as well, once I get fooled with a good change up, I really feel out of sync in the box. Don't get me wrong you have to have a good changeup or great hitters will see it coming, all great hitters are always trying to see what you are throwing.

So as you can see from this data if you want to pitch and be successful you better be able to switch speeds. I think a lot of times we spend too much time focusing on top speed of pitchers and not enough time coaching or teaching how to pitch. There is a huge difference between throwing and pitching, but we will leave that for another article……

Mens Fastpitch Softball, What Happened To It???

Mens Fastpitch Softball, What Happened To It???

Mens Fastpitch Softball, What Happened To It??? Written By Troy Olson

I find it very amusing that I tell people I have a softball game and they naturally assume I am playing slow pitch softball. Did you know that there is actually Mens Fastpitch Softball in America? I happen to live in Wisconsin and we have a lot of Fastpitch Teams in our state, the league I play in is in a small town called Cushing. Our league is consistently between 8-12 teams per year, just depending on who is around for the summer. Most tournaments will once again draw 8-12 teams with several traveling from Minnesota to participate.

At one time Mens Fastpitch was a huge sport in this country, in the 60's and 70's it was at its peak. There was all kinds of hugely talented teams and of course the most famous of them all “The King and His Court.” So what happened to this one time flourishing sport?

In my opinion its a combination of several things, first was the evolution of slowpitch softball. Most people aren't happy going 1 for 3 at the plate, jumping to slowpitch would allow even poor hitters to put the ball in play all the time. It also seems with no practice one can still compete in slowpitch. Lets be honest if you are going to be successful at Fastpitch you have to put time and practice, you just don't pick up a bat and hit riseballs out of the park.

The second part of the equation is lack of homegrown pitching, this has really hurt our sport. Pitching in fastpitch softball takes a lot of time and effort to be good. Most of the great pitchers right now in the Mens game are from foreign countries like New Zealand, Australia, and Mexico. Don't get me wrong there are some real good pitchers from America but we just don't seem to produce as many as other countries.

The third reason I feel our sport is declining is TIME. To play this game and be good, its going to take a little time. This game is different than baseball or slowpitch. It appears to me a lot of young guys aren't patient enough to take the time to develop into great fastpitch players. Our society as a whole doesn't seem to have a lot of free time, we are all busy with work, school, family, and dozens of other things.

One positive thing I have noticed is kind of a resurgence of interest in Mens Fastpitch Softball lately. It is starting to slowly turn around and I have even seen a few new teams sprouting up. I think some of this is the fact that there is an entire generation that has never seen Mens Fastpitch, with the raving success that the womens side has seen I think guys are starting to get the itch to try the sport. I hope that men can take a look at how the women have been able to promote their sport and with a little help maybe we can revive this wonderful game.

Comforts of Hitting….

Comforts of Hitting....

Comforts of Hitting…. Written By Troy Olson

Hitting what does it take to be a successful hitter? One could spend their entire life just writing about this one aspect of the game, all you need to do is search youtube and you soon realize there is a lot of experts out there. Everybody seems to have an opinion on this topic, and everybody seems to have a different way to be successful at hitting.

Is there one key that can make you or your child a great hitter? The answer to that is no, there is no magic spell that will make you a great hitter in this game. I do truly think after playing for almost thirty years on the mens side and talking with hundreds of other players there are a couple of key points.

First is comfort, if you aren't comfortable in the batters box the cards are stacked against you from the start. Some people grab a bat and head for the batters box only to look like a deer in the headlights of on coming traffic. Pitchers see these batters walking up there and they just start to drool, they know three fast balls and this ones heading back to the dugout. So how do we attain this comfort, the best remedy for this is obviously success. Nobody feels uncomfortable once they have had some success, doesn't matter if its doing Algebra or batting, being successful breeds confidence which makes us comfortable in these situations.

The batters that I have talked with who have had great success at the plate all say the same thing, we do live hitting practice. Well this makes sense doesn't it, live hitting simulates game time hitting and will help us achieve a more confident attitude in the box. I can relate to this because as a young fastpitch player starting out, my uncle threw hours of batting practice for me, this really helped in the development of my hitting.

I am a firm believer in making practice as game time like as possible, practice should be tough and challenge players to get better. Once we start to do this then games become fun, the reason they become fun is games become easier than our practices. I am not huge on pitching machines, but if you don't have someone to throw batting practice its better than nothing. Pitching machines allows one to kind of focus in on a small spot and swing away, live pitching still makes you pick good pitches to swing at….

I still think that using a pitching machine, hitting off a tee, and using other drills will help make you a better hitter. I also understand when I was younger we had several guys that worked on pitching and threw batting, many teams don't have this luxury either. This is probably why every time a guy volunteers to help out with a club the first question is, can you throw batting practice?

This can be tough to accomplish, throwing batting practice to people isn't easy. Usually you throw into a net, which is tough for me I prefer a catcher back there. Many times there's only one person to throw batting practice and you get tired trust me… Pitching to 15 girls and not getting a breather is not all it is cracked up to be. So if you are coach or a person involved in your club I highly recommend you ask around and try to find a guy that can throw or maybe a girl who played in high school or college who can help with these duties. Your team can never get enough live pitching and you will never find enough pitchers to throw to your team, kids love to swing a bat and they will keep hitting as long as you can throw that ball over the plate… Good Luck

Why Do You Do That???

Why Do You Do That?

Why Do You Do That??? Written By Troy Olson

I am no world class pitcher by any means or reason, I am just a guy that has always been a third pitcher on the team or an emergency type guy. If nobody else shows up to our league games that can pitch or cares to pitch, then I step in and do what I can, sometimes its good and sometimes its a disaster… As I have ventured in to the world of coaching, I have noticed more and more coaches calling pitches from the dugout….

I guess that this isn't new, as I have noticed college coaches doing this for as long as I can remember watching softball on TV. My question is WHY? What is this purpose of having a coach sitting on a bucket in the dugout calling pitches??? Do we feel that these pitchers and catchers aren't experienced enough to know what pitch to throw?

So why am I against this you ask? Well for one, every situation is different when you are on the mound, every ball is different in the game. What you say, yes every softball is different, some have higher seams, some are heavier than others, some are scuffed up a little, some are slick. So what if I have a ball with low seams and you call a rise ball from the dugout, if this is a slick ball with low seams I cant throw that pitch effectively. I might be able to throw that pitch 4 out of 10 times with that ball, but that won't cut it against great hitters.

What if the pitcher notices that the batter opens their stance, or the batter grips the bat a little different, what if you call a drop ball and I notice the batter slide their hands a bit in the box wanting to bunt, we need a rise ball in this situation. These are things that a pitcher and catcher need to be able to work together on, these are game time adjustments that we have to make. Maybe with a runner on base I have more confidence in my change up than my drop ball, don't you want your pitcher to throw their most comfortable and confident pitch in this situation? Maybe I want to throw a change up so the ball goes to third base, because I have more confidence in that fielder to get us out of the inning…

I think that at a certain point you as a coach need to have faith in your players, at the college level the pitcher and catcher should be able to call the game. Talk about the situations between innings with the athletes, maybe I am just not a control freak and that's why I don't do this. Or maybe its because I would hate this if I were the pitcher, out there waiting for my catcher to get a sign from the dug out. How do you ever get into a groove pitching if you have to wait for someone to decide what you are going to throw next? What if I want to quick pitch a batter that screws around in the batters box? There is just too many situations that the pitcher needs to control, and waiting for you spitting seeds on a five gallon bucket to send in a called pitch isn't one of them….

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Team Chemistry

Team Chemistry

Team Chemistry Written By Troy Olson

As a coach we talk about team chemistry all the time, but the truth be told team chemistry starts at the top with the coaching staff. If you or anyone on your staff is negative or demeaning to the athletes there is no way that you can have good team chemistry. You can have the greatest athletes, but you will never reach your potential with out good team chemistry.

So what makes good team chemistry? How do we achieve this feat? Can this be accomplished? These are just a few questions we are faced with as coaches, but this is probably the most important aspect of setting up your team. If the coaching staff and athletes cant find common ground to work with then we will never achieve our team goals. Creating team chemistry really isn't that hard, I think back to a few coaches I have had over the years that I didn't get along with or didn't care for and I do the opposite of what they did… I think as we age its easy to forget about what it is like as a 15 or 16 year old athlete trying to get playing time, I always to put myself in their shoes. Now I still think you can always learn something from everybody, the coaches I didn't gel with I still learned things from, like how not to treat people.

Its funny because when I look back in my life, there is only two coaches that I really thought fit this mold. Guess what neither of them had successful teams over the years… I remember thinking when I get my chance to coach I am going to do things different than this, and I do… We never had team functions with these coaches, and the only way the teams ever got it together, was by setting up our own team meals and bonding experiences.

So now days I try to consider what the athlete needs or is looking for with this team, how can I help them. The big one I think is never talk down to your athletes, this sounds like common sense but nobody wants this kind of treatment. If you respect these young adults they can achieve just about anything in life or on the field. These athletes want to be just as successful as the coach wants to be. Its really amazing to me the more I am involved with coaching the more I see that if you stick up for these athletes and treat them with respect they will give so much more on the field.

What do we do to get this team chemistry? Somethings we have done is one night cut practice short and go out to eat, the kids love this, heck they are 16 years old and can eat every 15 minutes if you let them. Once a year we usually order pizza to the field for after the game, we invite the other team to join us. Bring a cooler of water or Gatorade for the athletes, I have even brought ice cream and cones and had this after practice, rice crispy treats or brownies are a big hit all the time too.

I am not going to lie, from time to time we will have problems or heated discussions. These are a good thing, this allows people to vent and move on… the worst thing is to keep this bottled up. So as you can see there are many ways to achieve team chemistry, and yes it is possible. The important thing to remember is it starts with you the coach, your team will be a reflection of you and how you treat your team. So just keep this in mind the next time you have something to say to the team…. Good luck

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