So what is it that separates the good from great? Written By Chez Sievers
To answer this question, I asked some of the great middle infielders in softball this very question. Here’s what they had to say:
Lead – The great middles are leaders that are most reliable on defense. They’re clutch in the intense situation. Good middles tend to follow and blend in with the crowd. GM’s (great middles) set the bar for what work ethic and execution look like. Leaders break through mental and physical barriers because they know their destination.
“The great ball players understand and don't mind doing the extras because the extras aren't extras, it's part of the territory of being great.”
– Bianca Mejia, LIU Assistant Softball Coach
A great middle doesn’t have to be an All-American to put in more practice because practice doesn’t feel like work. Practice feels like play. The game should always feel like play.
“Great middles not only have the physical ability but they also demand a presence. They are the vocal leaders and the leaders by example.”
Ashley Charters, Former University of Washington Second Baseman, USA Team, USSSA Pride
You don’t have to be an Olympian to be a vocal leader. Communicate; give max effort, and have the courage to do what is necessary to help the team win.
The Anticipating Mind
“Good fielders just participate in the game; great fielders are playing the game in their minds to be one step ahead of the next play.” – Kaylan Howard
Kaylan Howard, former All-American Oregon Duck second baseman, makes an important distinction in how the good and great players approach the game. GM’s keep a mental scorebook throughout the game of the hitter’s tendencies. You’ll see them adjust their positioning on the field according to past at-bats.
“I think the biggest separating factors are knowing the game and having the confidence to communicate and run the defense.” – Lauren Lappin
Lappin, former USA Softball player, Professional Softball player, and wonderful human being, makes an important point that great middles “know the game.” When a GM conditions the mind to know exactly how to counter every move of the offense, that conditioning breeds confidence. Conditioning the mind and body is done through experience, repetition, and retention.
The greats have the ability to anticipate the most probable play before the ball is hit.
“Great middle infielders have the natural ability to read the ball within the hitting zone, understand hitters tendencies and have a great first step, therefore having a great angle to catch any ball.” – Ashley Charters
Charters formulates a key assessment as to why great middles are able to cover so much ground. If you anticipate where the ball will be hit, your chances of making the out increase. And when a GM anticipates consistently and correctly, they make plays. They get outs.
“A great SS has got to think like a coach…one play at a time, one play ahead, and anticipate the move!” – Jen McFalls, Former USA Olympian, University of Texas Coach
Eyes – Through conscious and unconscious repetition, great middles use their eyes to guide them. When they’re awake, they track the ball with our eyes. In their sleep, they will sometimes dream of tracking an imaginary ball. By watching the ball with intense focus and clarity, GM’s react to the angle of ball off bat and position themselves in proximity to where the ball will be hit.
“Great middles know how to read spin and hops to pick their approach.”
Depending on how the hitter strikes the ball, middles can see the spin of the ball and predict how the ball will bounce. With seeing spin comes recognizing the speed and direction of the ball. Coach JT D’Amico of University of Washington, stresses the importance of recognizing speed and direction because it is vital to decision making. Through processing information through our eyes, our body sends messages to the rest of our body telling it to move according to the speed and direction.
Feet – Your feet take you from point A to point B. 90% of the GM’s I asked about what separates the good from the great middles mentioned footwork.
“What separates the good infielders from the great infielders is how they use their feet. You could have the best arm in the world, but if you do not understand how to use your feet correctly then your 100mph throws doesn’t matter. Feet are key!”
– Jenn Salling, Pennsylvania Rebellion, Former University of Washington Shortstop
When watching great middles, they look like they’re gliding across the field.
It’s important to mention that great middles have great hands and/or glovework. They have the ability to absorb and diffuse hops with fluidity depending on speed of ball and where it may land.
In the next Smart Softball video, I will go into more detail about glovework and daily practice in the infield.
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“Commitment: It separates the doers from dreamers.” – John C. Maxwell
Chez Sievers Chez is the Director of Softball at D-BAT Austin and a Blogger/Podcaster for smart-softball.com. A former University of Texas shortstop/second baseman participated in 3 Women's College World Series. Sievers went on to coach at Cal State Fullerton, University of Texas, the Austrian National Team, and UC Riverside.
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