Every season the game of fastpitch softball seems to get quicker and quicker. As teams incorporate training programs of maximal strength and conditioning mixed with sophisticated ball exit speed testing, base hits are rocketing through the infield while base-runners are down the line in 2.8 seconds. All of this makes the offensive game ignite the spark that makes fastpitch softball exciting and deserving of its name. However, it's the defense that has to deal with the rising pressure in less reaction time. Therefore, to know how to defend the diamond we need to first understand the answer to the following question:
“When does fastpitch happen?”
Does fastpitch happen at the pitcher's release point or umpire's call? Does fastpitch happen at the crack of the bat or once you have fielded the ball in your glove? Does it happen once your coach has yelled from the dugout where to throw the ball? If you have answered “yes” to any of the above, then you are too late as fastpitch has already happened. Time has run out, your 2.8 seconds are up and the runners are turning the bases. To know how to make timely plays, we must understand that fastpitch happens before the actual play, in the play, in the pre-planning stages of what's forthcoming. In other words, fastpitch softball is a proactive sport more so a reactive sport. Of course there is a ton of reaction going on as hitters are recognizing pitches as they come in and making split second decisions in each at bat. However, on top of that, there is a lot of proactive manifesting going on. It is the difference between learning how to catch and throw at a young age, and turning double plays off a first and third situation as a seasoned pro. After you develop the physical pieces of proper fielding mechanics, you begin to explore the magic of moving quicker than your own thoughts. The great thing is that you are not just doing this all on your own. If you are turning double plays, then you are moving at high speeds in unison with your teammates. I call this orchestration the mastery of Game Speed Defense.
Let's start with a simple scenario of nobody out, nobody on with a ball hit to the short stop. Before the pitch has been delivered, there are many things the short stop can do to assess the hitter up to bat. For example, is the hitter a power hitter or a short game threat? If she is a lefty slapper, does she give clues of slapping for power or slapping for soft placement in defensive holes? How much speed does this batter possess? By asking such questions as the batter is getting into the box, the short stop can plan for fielding on the run versus getting into a routine fielding position. She can also choose her positioning. If the fielder has taken time to create a mental game plan prior to the crack of the bat, she can spend the rest of the time executing the play as opposed to thinking, reacting, and executing. Remember in fastpitch we are always looking to shave not seconds, but milliseconds, so let's eliminate extra time thinking once the ball is hit.
Let's take it further and discuss how communication amongst teammates on the field helps in that same situation of a ground ball hit to the short stop. Suppose the ball is hit and the first basemen hustles back to cover the bag. As the short stop is going down to field, the first basemen shouts “Hit me at one!” There is no hidden secret that the play is at one, however the shout from the first basemen at the bag gives the short stop an auditory cue of where her feet should line up for an accurate throw straight to the base. As we know, we have to keep our eyes on the ball. However, the shortstop's feet have lined up towards the first basemen before her eyes have made their shift from catch to throw. In this instance, the communication from the first basemen helped the short stop shave a few milliseconds off her play as she relied on sound before sight.
Plays like this sound so routine, it is easy to overlook our dependence on our teammates. However the best defensive teams also make the most difficult plays look routine, and when they do, there is most certainly communication involved.
Teams that possess solid Game Speed Defense are proactive and have an attitude to manipulate the course of the game in their favor. In any manifestation in life, we set goals, create a vision board, and come up with measures to tackle the possible challenges that can come up along the way. The same goes for a defensive player who assesses how many outs there are, the speed of the runners on base, and their spatial orientation from each base prior to the pitch being thrown. This assessment is followed by pre-planning on a series of possibilities that are likely to occur, like where to throw the ball if it is either hit hard up the middle versus shallow towards home plate. As you can see there is a lot of constant thinking going on in the mind of a proactive player. However it is at this level of focus in which an entire team can get on the same page and the game becomes all the more fun.
|Lisa Iancin: Lisa Iancin “LI” competed professionally in the (NPF) for 5 seasons, gathering a national championship in 2004 with the New York/New Jersey Juggernaut and in 2006 with the New England Riptide. In 2005, Iancin was named the NPF Defensive Player of the Year. Among her college accolades at Cal are First Team AII-Pac 10 and back-to-back appearances at the Women's College World Series in 1999 and 2000. Internationally, Iancin played for Team Bussolengo, Italy in 2001. Iancin was the Assistant General Manager of the Tennessee Diamonds for the 2010 (NPF) season. To find out more about LI go to LISoftballAcademy.com|
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