By: Rachel Folden
It’s October! Do you know what that means? If you just screamed “PUMPKIN SPICE LATTES!!”, then you clicked on the wrong blog post. Of course, what I mean is PLAYOFF BASEBALL!!! (although, admittedly, I love pumpkin flavored ANYTHING). I grew up in Los Angeles, so I am an avid Dodger fan, and my second favorite team was always the Cubs (because they played on national television). My fiance is a Cubs fan too, so, needless to say, this is a great October for baseball in my house, with both teams having a legitimate shot at getting to the World Series. Why am I getting so pumped about baseball while writing a blog about softball? Because you should be watching, too!
I coach females for a living, and have worked with a few males too. Overwhelmingly, I have learned one very disappointing fact: young women don’t watch baseball. [Insert broken heart emoji here]. When I was a 10 year old kid, I remember standing in my living room with a bat in my hands and my older brother watching, imitating the batting stance of Ken Griffey Jr. and Jim Thome, my two absolute favorite players. I remember trying to throw a slider past my brother like Pedro Martinez, with my garage as a backstop. I also remember breaking my neck as he turned that “slider” right around and hit it over the neighbor’s house across the street. I wanted to play for the Dodgers as badly as a teenager wants their driver’s license. Which brings me to my first point on why watching baseball will help softball players.
1. WATCH AND IMITATE
As anyone with older or younger siblings will tell you, imitation is the best way to learn things. The youngest child in the family is often the best athlete (although not all the time) because they grow up watching big brother or big sister, and they have to learn quickly to catch up to them if they want to play with them. While I think it is fantastic that someone puts Sierra Romero or Lauren Chamberlain on the same pedestal that I put Thome and Griffey Jr., sadly those terrific athletes don’t play on television 162 times a year. I hope that changes sooner rather than later. But Major League Baseball players do play on television 9 months out of the year. What’s more, they get paid obscene amounts of money to be the best at what they do, and let’s be serious, they are VERY GOOD at what they do.
We can learn a TON from watching them. In fact, just this week a catcher of mine asked me to help her get velocity on her throw. So I taught her how to pitch. Overhand. Like a baseball player. I tried to take the mechanics that non-injury prone baseball pitchers have in common and apply that to her throw. Imagine how much better female throwing mechanics would be if all of the 6 year old girls in the world tried to imitate what they saw on the mound . We would hear the phrase “throw like a girl” more as a compliment than a put-down.
The same goes for fielding and hitting. Notice baseball players throw sidearm a lot more than softball players. The best softball fielders in the world (think Romero, Natasha Watley, Jenn Salling, etc.) all field and throw like baseball players, and I’d bet you they all have either a passion for baseball or an actual baseball background. When I was a catcher, I tried to move like Yadier Molina. In hitting, the best softball swings look remarkably like baseball swings these days. The game has more of a power-heavy focus than it ever has, and the two swings are now being taught virtually the same way. Imitation is vital to learning new skills, especially when you are imitating the best at their craft.
I love playoff baseball because you get something you don’t usually get during the regular season, and that is strategy. You will see bunts from players other than the pitcher, carefully executed hit and run plays, defensive shifts, intentional walks, and a much more calculated use of relievers in October and November. As players and coaches, we can learn how to manage lineups in the best way possible, as well as manage pitching staffs and pinch hitters. When there is no promise of tomorrow, MLB lineups usually go more defensive-minded. I think this is the opposite of what we see most in softball. Teams usually shuffle around lineups based on who is hitting best at that moment, not who is less likely to make an error in a key moment. There is no right answer, however, it is interesting to see coaches put a premium on pitching and defense in the playoffs.
One piece of strategy that is not often used in fastpitch is the intentional walk. I love the intentional walk. In fact, in the Blue Jays/Orioles game, an intentional walk to Edwin Encarnacion set up a double play to get the Orioles out of a jam. In the 11th inning, the Orioles elected not to walk Encarnacion, and he hit a walk-off home run. The intentional walk, or lack thereof, played a huge part in that game, and I think it can play a huge part in fastpitch as well, when used correctly. Shoutout to my Marshall University Head Coach Shonda Stanton, who uses the IBB as well as anyone. Love you, Coach!
One of the many reasons I hear my students say that they don’t watch baseball is “because it is so boring and slow”. MLB has, by far, the longest and most drawn out season of any of the major sports in this country. Game 65 doesn’t exactly carry much drama, unless it is against a major rival or something spectacular happens. But the playoffs are much different. There is real competition, real drama, real love for the game on display. This is the only part of the season where we see all of these well paid guys give their all and lay it out on the line, with only winning in mind. This time of year we don’t hear about contract disputes, injury prevention, or complaining about playing time. They are all just playing to WIN, plain and simple.
One of the biggest complaints I hear from college coaches when they are out recruiting is that they rarely get to see players in a competitive environment. College showcases are often in camp and pool play format, and they lack meaningful competition or bracket play. What worries these college coaches is that these players will come to campus without a desire to compete, which is what college sports are all about. If we are watching playoff baseball (or playoffs of any sport) we can see what real competition looks like. We can learn what clutch feels like (say what you will, but there is nothing as clutch in sports as the walk-off home run). We can learn to play with emotion in the manner that competitive sports require.
4. JOY AND FAILURE
When you watch the playoffs, look at how much FUN those guys are having when their teammate makes a great catch. They really are happy for each other in a way that only the playoffs can bring out. Also, look at how joyous the fans are after a big strikeout or a walk-off hit. Grown men playing a kid’s game seems to bring out the best in people when the game is on the line. This is perhaps the reason we love to watch the WCWS every summer, because of the utter joy and passion in the stadium and on the field. It is unlike anything else.
On the other side, when player makes a mistake, look at how quickly they get over it and move on to the next play. Keep in mind, these players are on the grandest stage possible, playing in front of 50,000 fans in the stadium and millions more watching at home. Any error made seems like 5, because it can end the season right there. The pressure and the failure that come along with the playoffs is riveting. 99% of the time, players handle themselves very well, with the occasional bad egg that loses their mind. Every year, I am amazed at how emotionless these players seem on the field while I am screaming, yelling, and nail-biting at home. As softball players, we can learn from these men at how to deal with failure and loss. As parents, we can learn a lot too at how to handle ourselves during tense moments.
It is time we stop treating baseball and softball as two drastically different sports and start appreciating their similarities. Until the day comes when fastpitch is on television as much as baseball, we need to take what we can get and learn from the guys playing a beautiful sport. Imitate them, learn strategy from them, compete like them, and learn to experience joy (and failure) like them. Who knows, maybe someday you will play in front of a stadium full of 50,000 with millions more watching at home. When that day comes, I hope you can channel your inner Ken Griffey Jr. and Jim Thome.
PS. For those of you who have no idea who the baseball players are in this article, they are basically to me what Mike Trout or Kris Bryant are to you. They’re awesome.
As a high school athlete aspiring to become a collegiate athlete, there are tons of resources available that can advance the process of earning an athletic scholarship; some reliable and some not so reliable for college coaches. As a potential recruit, they need to make sure that they do every little thing that will separate themselves from other recruits and have their information readily available and accurate for college coaches to look at. In addition to further developing their game and showcasing their on field abilities, it is just as important to let college coaches know what they are doing off the field.
Since our inception, we have had hundreds of college programs involved with our events and have developed personal relationships with them. Year in and year out we always ask them what exactly do they look for in their recruits and how do they go about searching for their top recruits. Having heard hundreds of answers, one thing is always consistent, college coaches want to see…
- Athleticism and Athletic Projectability
- Coachability and Competitiveness
- Academics and Community Involvement
- And lastly, coaches would like these athletes to be EASY TO FIND
Unfortunately, with MILLIONS of potential student athletes, limited recruiting hours and compliance (which we reviewed in our previous blog HERE), recruiting can be rather challenging for college programs. That’s why together with Top Recruit and Future Prospects, college coaches and players can rest their head on their pillow worry free knowing that they will have the proper well-rounded exposure that everyone can rely on. From NCAA verified combines, objective player assessment reports, player development programs, skills videos, reliable and user friendly searchable player profile database, equipment that players will feel confident with and well organized exposure showcases, tournaments and camps, Top Recruit and Future Prospects are every college coaches and athletes one stop shop.
So, in order to improve your athletes game and increase their exposure opportunities, here are some ways to utilize what our organizations have to offer…
1. Be Able To Provide FACTUAL Numbers!
College coaches are inundated with information from potential recruits that are not always necessarily accurate. Before going out and recruiting a player, coaches rely heavily on evaluations from third parties that they know they can trust. Parents can most certainly hire an expensive “neutral talent evaluator” or scout that can provide athletic measurables and subjective evaluations to coaches, but we have heard that the information that they provide can be fudged a little as well. It is imperative to be able to provide coaches with the most accurate information possible and can easily be done by a player just by sending an email or player profile. HOWEVER, you might be asking, “how can I make sure that a coach knows what I’m sending them is actually true?”.
At Top Recruit, we have invested heavily on obtaining the most state of the art, NCAA certified and up to date athletic measurement equipment. Our combine equipment is used at majority of our showcases and tournaments so that players, parents and coaches can be provided with objective athletic numbers and metrics. The numbers we obtain can provide honest answers about a players skill level, which enables players to set realistic goals about where they rank athletically, specific areas that they know they need to develop and a general basis of where they should realistically look for a potential athletic scholarship.
2. Have An Online Presence
Providing easy and organized access to your highlight videos, statistics, and academic information makes college recruiting much easier. However, when creating an online profile players and parents need to make sure that they are posting the most accurate information possible. THIS is the challenge for college programs when searching online for their next top recruits. There are several online profile systems out there, but NONE have VERIFIED athletic measurables or use the most ACCURATE equipment available on the market. This in itself has allowed us to grow as fast as we have. Our Top Recruit Player Profile Platform not only allows players to easily post and share stats, game and skills videos, pictures, academic performance, and social media, but also feature their VERIFIED athletic measurables that they obtained during our events. By doing this, college coaches know that they can rely on the information that’s being provided to them much more so than other profile systems that allow players, parents and scouts to post measurables.
Therefore, by painting an accurate picture for college coaches, they’ll be more likely to spend the time to scout that player in person and watch them play. However, sometimes this isn’t enough to get a coach to be persuaded to go scout a player; it’ll simply spark their interest. If that is the case, coaches would like to see what this player is capable of and by creating a professional skills video will do exactly that.
3. Provide Video
College coaches watch hours of video from recruits, so potential recruits need to make sure that their video(s) highlights everything that a college coach would look for. Some coaches may want detailed skills videos and limited in-game footage, it is important to have both easily available for coaches to watch and review.
Don’t send coaches unsolicited DVDs or YouTube/Facebook videos with poor quality. When a highlight video comes from a trusted expert such as Top Recruit, that video needs to be of the highest quality and filmed from angles that feature mechanics and action.
from Top Recruit Media on Vimeo.
4. Don’t Be Afraid To Contact Coaches
There are more than 1,800 colleges with athletic programs, so as a college recruit, there are plenty to choose from. Starting with a large pool of schools can help ensure that the perfect fit rises to the top when the recruiting process is over. It’s important to know that the majority of college athletic programs aren’t in Division I, so set realistic expectations accordingly. There are plenty of opportunities for scholarships for college at the Division II, NAIA or junior college level.
Players should also be sure to contact college coaches prior to exposure events. As a parent and/or coach, you should be aware of the colleges that are attending tournaments, camps, etc. and should be telling your player(s) to be proactive and send over their information prior to the event(s). Additionally, our Top Recruit player profiles feature everything that college coaches care about, therefore eliminating the stress of making sure that players are sending over the correct things that college coaches care about.
5. Be Sure To Pick The Right School For Your Future
Realize that when deciding a college that it’s not just a four-year decision, it’s a 40-year decision. Choosing a college is one of the most important decisions of a college athletes life. Players need to be realistic with themselves on where they stand athletically and academically. In doing so, they need to make an educational driven decision when deciding a college program simply because all athletes don’t stay athletes their whole lives. By participating in Top Recruit combines, players are able to objectively see where they rank athletically so that they can further develop their skill sets and choose the right college for them both athletically and academically.
The recruiting rules for when and how college coaches and student athletes can interact can be very confusing and frustrating. In order to be successful with the recruiting process, the guidelines and standards established by NCAA must be understood year in and year out. In order to first understand and interpret these guidelines, we must understand the definitions that revolve around recruiting.
A contact occurs any time a college coach says more than “hello” during a face-to-face interaction with a college-bound potential student-athlete and/or his or her parents off the college’s campus. However, during instructional/exposure camps, they are allowed to say more than just “hello”.
2. Evaluation Period
During an evaluation period a college coach may watch college-bound student-athletes compete, visit their high schools, and write or telephone student-athletes or their parents. However, a college coach may not have face-to-face contact with college-bound student-athletes or their parents off the college’s campus during an evaluation period.
3. Contact Period
During a contact period a college coach may have face-to-face contact with college-bound student-athletes or their parents, watch student-athletes compete and visit their high schools, and write or telephone student-athletes or their parents.
4. Quiet Period
During a quiet period, a college coach may only have face-to-face contact with college-bound student-athletes or their parents on the college’s campus. A coach may not watch student-athletes compete (unless a competition occurs on the college’s campus) or visit their high schools. Coaches may write or telephone college-bound student-athletes or their parents during this time.
5. Dead Period
During a dead period a college coach may not have face-to-face contact with college-bound student-athletes or their parents, and may not watch student-athletes compete or visit their high schools. Coaches may write and telephone student-athletes or their parents during a dead period.
6. Official Visit And An Unofficial Visit
Any visit to a college campus by a college-bound student-athlete or his or her parents paid for by the college is an official visit. Visits paid for by college-bound student-athletes or their parents are unofficial visits.
During an official visit the college can pay for transportation to and from the college for the prospect, lodging and three meals per day for both the prospect and the parent or guardian, as well as reasonable entertainment expenses including three tickets to a home sports event. The only expenses a college-bound student-athlete may receive from a college during an unofficial visit are three tickets to a home sports event.
Student athletes can visit a coach on that coaches campus at anytime, as long as they pay their own way. These types of visits are called unofficial visits and have become a big part of the recruiting process.
During your senior year the NCAA allows any academic institution to pay for you to attend campus on a 48-hour Official Visit. Included in the visit is transportation (airfare or mileage reimbursement) to and from campus, lodging (either on campusor in a hotel), meals, and tickets to sporting events on campus.
7. National Letter of Intent
A National Letter of Intent is signed by a college-bound student-athlete when the student-athlete agrees to attend a Division I or II college or university for one academic year. Participating institutions agree to provide financial aid for one academic year to the student-athlete as long as the student-athlete is admitted to the school and is eligible for financial aid under NCAA rules. Other forms of financial aid do not guarantee the student-athlete financial aid. The National Letter of Intent is voluntary and not required for a student-athlete to receive financial aid or participate in sports.
Signing an National Letter of Intent ends the recruiting process since participating schools are prohibited from recruiting student-athletes who have already signed letters with other participating schools.
A student-athlete who has signed a National Letter of Intent may request a release from his or her contract with the school. If a student-athlete signs a National Letter of Intent with one school but attends a different school, he or she will lose one full year of eligibility and must complete a full academic year at their new school before being eligible to compete.
8. Recruiting Calendars
Recruiting calendars help promote the well-being prospective student-athletes and coaches and ensure competitive equity by defining certain time periods in which recruiting may or may not occur in a particular sport.
2016-17 | NCAA Division I Softball Recruiting Calendar
August 1, 2016, through July 31, 2017
Important dates to remember:
- August 1 through November 23, 2016: Contact Period
- November 7-10, 2016: Dead Period
- November 24, 2016, through January 1, 2017: Quiet Period
- December 7-10, 2016: Dead Period
- January 2 through July 31, 2017: Contact Period
- April 10-13, 2017: Dead Period
- May 30 through June 8 (noon), 2017:** Dead Period
* Each institution is limited to 50 evaluation days (August 1 through July 31) per NCAA Bylaw 13.02.7.2, which do not include employment of coaches in instructional camps/clinics or the observation of prospective student-athletes participating in high school softball competition.
Although we are not a recruiting service and only provide various on and off field platforms that promote exposure opportunities for players to be recruited, we’ve heard several questions lately about NCAA eligibility requirements for high school athletes and would like to provide a little insight and information to help answer these questions.
Athletes that plan on continuing their athletics aspirations beyond high school and competing at the NCAA Division I or Division II level are required to register with the NCAA Eligibility Center; also commonly known as the former NCAA Clearinghouse. The Eligibility Center evaluates the high school athletes amateur status, GPA, core courses taken in high school, and standardized test scores (such as the ACT and/or SAT) in order to determine if they’re eligible at the Division I or Division II level as a freshman. Aspiring high school athletes cannot participate in Division I or Division II athletics if they have not been cleared by the NCAA Eligibility Center.
STEP 1: Registering with the NCAA Eligibility Center
Online registration takes less than one hour at the NCAA Eligibility Center website. Detailed information about registration is available online and by downloading the NCAA’s 2016-17 Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete. Ideally, registration should be done during the summer after the sophomore year of high school; however, most all information that is needed should be available after completion of the junior year of high school.
Additional Requirements for Eligibility
Again, detailed requirements for eligibility can be found in the most recent 2016-17 Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete. In order to help understand, we have provided the basic guidelines that outline what a high school athlete will need to be aware of in order to ensure NCAA eligibility.
STEP 2: Meeting High School Core Course Requirements
Core courses are academic courses taught at a college preparatory level that will assist high school students with Associate Degree course requirements. If a student is unsure if classes meet this criteria, high school guidance counselors should typically be able to assist and answer these questions.
- Typical Core Course Requirements for Division I
- 4 years of English
- 3-4 years of Extra Curricular Course (any category above or foreign language, comparative religion/philosophy)
- 3 years of Math (usually Algebra 1 or higher)
- 2 years of Natural or Physical Science
- 2 years of Social Science
- 1 extra year of English, Math, or Natural or Physical Science
- Typical Core Course Requirements for Division II
- 3-4 years of Extra Curricular Course (any category above or foreign language, comparative religion/philosophy)
- 3-4 years of English
- 3 extra years of English, Math, or Natural or Physical science
- 2 years of Math (Algebra 1 or higher)
- 2 years of Natural or Physical science
- 2 years of Social Science
STEP 3: Meeting GPA/Standardized Test Scores Requirements
As of August 1, 2016, requirements for Division I a minimum 2.300 GPA is now required in core courses along with the completion of graduating from High School. A sliding scale can also be used to match SAT and ACT scores with a core grade-point average. If a player is unable to meet the 2.3 GPA requirements, a 2.000-2.299 GPA is required to obtain “Redshirt Eligibility”. For more information, see the NCAA Initial-Eligibility Academic Requirements
Division II typically requires a ACT sum score of 68 minimum SAT score of 820. A minimum GPA of 2.000 is required in your core courses.
- AFTER August 1, 2018HS athletes must graduate high school and meet ALL the following requirements:
- Complete 16 core courses:
- 3 years of English.
- 2 years of Math (Algebra 1 or higher).
- 2 years of Natural or Physical Science (including one year of lab science if your high school offers it).
- 3 additional years of English, Math or Natural or Physical Science
- 2 years of Social Science
- 4 additional years of English, Math, Natural or Physical Science, Social Science, Foreign Language, Comparative Religion or Philosophy
- Earn at least a 2.2 GPA in your core courses.
- Earn an SAT combined score or ACT sum score matching the core-course GPA on the Division II sliding scale, which balances test score and core-course GPA. For low test score(s), athletes will need a higher core-course GPA to be eligible. For a low core-course GPA, athletes will need a higher test score to be eligible.
- Complete 16 core courses:
Note: When registering for the SAT or ACT be sure to use the NCAA Eligibility Center code of 9999 to ensure that scores are sent directly to NCAA. Some private institutions may have different requirements that differ from NCAA.
STEP 4: Understanding Amateurism
NCAA eligibility rules also require amateurism certification. The NCAA Eligibility Center will ask several questions about the participation of high school athletes in athletics in order to verify their status as an amateur. Items that may raise a red flag concerning an amateur status consists of:
- A contract with professional team
- Prize money or salary earned through athletics
- Tryouts, practice or competition with a professional team
- Benefits from an agent or agreement to be represented by an agent
- Delayed full-time college enrollment in order to participate in organized sports
- Any financial assistance stemming from athletics participation
Ready. Set. Go! The NCAA “To Do” List
- Ask counselor for a list of high school’s NCAA core courses to make sure of correct/transferrable classes.
- Register with the NCAA Eligibility Center at eligibilitycenter.org.
- Check with counselor to make sure of on time graduation with the required number of NCAA core courses.
- Take the ACT or SAT and submit scores to the NCAA Eligibility Center using code 9999.
- At the end of the year, ask counselor to upload your official transcript to the NCAA Eligibility Center.
- Finish last set of required NCAA core courses.
- Take the ACT or SAT again, if necessary, and submit scores to the NCAA Eligibility Center using code 9999.
- Complete all academic and amateurism questions within NCAA Eligibility Center account ateligibilitycenter.org.
- Upon graduation, ask counselor to submit final official transcript with proof of graduation to the NCAA Eligibility Center.
In summary, high school student-athletes have been set with a high set of academic standards by the NCAA in order to continue their athletics at the collegiate level. Although it can be a lot of keep up with, the NCAA has done a great job at making all information in regards to NCAA recruiting, eligibility and additional requirements readily available through the NCAA Eligibility Center and other online resources.
We received A TON of messages after posting about striding early (which you can read HERE if you missed it) and all of which were very receptive and everyone agreed. However, we were asked about several different drills and so we figured that we would discuss what drills to avoid and why. After reminiscing on the glory days and thinking back on all the crazy drills that we had to do as a player, we all agreed that THIS drill would have to be #1 on our list of drills to avoid.
We’ve all seen some crazy drills, but even in some of the bad ones you can find a break in the clouds that could benefit a hitter in some fashion. However, we can honestly say that there is not a single benefit other than developing a sliver of hand eye coordination to the following drill for any hitter in any situation. This drill was made up to take up time and it can make a hitter significantly worse with every repetition. If an instructor is trying new drills, this should not be one of them and if you ever question a drill, don’t be afraid to ask how it benefits a hitter. As a player, parent, coach or even fan of the game, always ask why certain drills are being done and how it develops the player; not only are you educating yourself, you’re making sure the instructor knows what they’re doing.
As we continue on, maybe someone will reach out to us and tell us differently about this drill, but we’ll be sure to explain why you should want to avoid this drill and share some videos to prove it.
Not So Pretty After All…
Firstly, we all love the Ripken family but we couldn’t believe that we found this clip from 2013 with Bill Ripken going over “soft toss from behind”. He even says that this drill is to basically mix things up a bit rather than doing your traditional drills; which proves that this drill practically does nothing. His point behind this drill is to work on hand eye coordination, which is great in theory but if you notice, the hitter performing the drill is very rotational, keeps majority of his weight on his backside, rarely squares the ball up and doesn’t look so pretty swinging.
Now this guy says that this drill is to keep your weight back and stay through the ball. Which is true, but just not in reference to what a real hitting instructor means by saying that. Just watch his swings later in the video, you’ll see what we mean and you’ll see the same thing in the first video….
And if you thought those were bad. It gets even worse… This last one the hitter is not only getting tossed from behind but also not tracking the ball!
**WARNING** Prepare your eyes, this might hurt a little…
Now that we’ve all watched some terrible swings, I think it’s time to weigh in on the matter of this drill….
1. Forward Momentum/Load
First and foremost, when the ball is tossed from behind, the hitter is forced to wait on the ball to pass them before contact can be made which is the EXACT opposite of what a hitter does when facing a pitcher. In order to optimize power and hit an opposing force that is coming toward us, a hitter must gain forward momentum/ground (otherwise we wouldn’t stride or get our weight moving forward). In this drill a hitter has to either A. keep the weight on their backside and spin/be rotational or B. lunge very drastically far out on their frontside (depending on who’s tossing and where the ball is tossed).
As we all witnessed, this drill typically teaches hitters to not gain forward momentum, thus leaving a lot of power on the table and neglecting hitting mechanics all together. The hitters performing the drill aren’t getting ready in time to attempt a good swing. They are forced to pick the ball up and swing from the wrists to hit away (which is why they’re able to hit away decently well) and be very rotational/long to be able to pull (which is why the inside pitches weren’t hit very well or rolled over). From a power generation standpoint, the last thing a hitter should be thinking about is focusing their efforts on developing quick wrists in order to generate bat speed. Once again this drill can really hinder this portion of a high quality swing.
Here are a couple great examples of baseball and softball hitters demonstrating great forward momentum, gaining ground and transferring their weight off their back side as they swing.
2. Bat Acceleration and Extension
No matter how you look at how to generate power, the goal of a hitter can be simply put as developing the ability to allow the barrel of the bat to obtain maximum speed in the shortest amount of time possible. And although bat speed varies from hitter to hitter due to talent level, size and athletic ability, the concept of developing maximum bat speed should always be the goal for a hitter.
Unfortunately, this drill also promotes bat “lag/drag” and decreases barrel acceleration from happening more than any other drill due to the hitter having give with the ball rather than having to hit against the ball. The hitter is forced to ease the barrel into a flat position and then pull the knob across their body without barely if any shoulder rotation. This is the typical knob to the ball approach, which is great for slap hitters but not typical hitting. Once again this over emphasizes on the wrists in order to create any barrel speed late in the swing.
Along with the rotation of the shoulders, the shoulder angle is also lost in this drill. A critical component to the swing when creating direct force and striking the ball well, the barrel must get in the path of the ball. With the ball coming from behind the hitter, there is an entirely different ball trajectory. Teaching a player to get a proper bat path and shoulder tilt while doing this drill is impossible.
3. Solid Contact = Improved Mental Approach
For every hitter, to hit the ball harder is a HUGE deal. This drill is a “hope to make solid contact” drill. With what we’ve already touched on, this drill in no way encourages kids to create a more aggressive swing and therefore inhibits an aggressive swing mentality. We always talk about developing a good approach at the plate, well approach can only mirror the hitters solid contact output. If a hitter knows that they can drive the ball with authority, then their approach will be directly correlate to being a more confident power hitter as apposed to a hitter thinking that the best they can do is flair a single over the infield dirt.
In summary, drills are meant to focus on training one particular element of whatever it is we’re working on while still maintaining and helping establishing proper mechanics. However, if we’re working on improving and developing one particular element (in regards to this drill, hand eye coordination) isn’t it a bit counterintuitive to neglect everything else while also promoting poor mechanics?
To put things into perspective, let’s just hear what MLB power hitter Josh Donaldson has to say about what we touched on in regards to some of the mechanics we’ve just discussed.
In this segment, we’re going to discuss why believing that we are going to fail more often in this game than succeed ultimately FAILS us. Although Yogi Berra’s mathematical skills are well below sub par, I don’t think many of us really realize how smart he actually is when he said “baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical”. His baseball “percentages” are actually spot on when it comes to the mental aspect of hitting in that when he hit, he realized half the battle was physical and that 90% of the the time we need to be able to be mentally positive because in actuality, we have about a 90% chance to have a successful outcome when a hitter puts the ball in play (it’s a little less than that, but we will learn more about this in detail as we cover this aspect of the game).
How many times have we heard the saying “you’re going to fail more than you succeed, even the best hitters fail 70% of the time”? We hear this 70% failure figure all the time in baseball but don’t hear it nearly as often in softball; which this alone could partially be why we see more softball players with higher batting averages than their baseball counterparts especially when the reaction time is significantly different and there’s a smaller playing field which should ultimately lead to more opportunities to fail; which we briefly went over in our previous hitting segment about loading early (if you missed it, you can read more HERE). But what we’re going to be focusing on is the fact that we all hear that we’re going to fail more than succeed on the diamond and although this statement is partially true, that belief alone establishes a negative cognitive mental state of mind before a player ever heads into the box. What players need to understand is that just because they see a low average, that statistic doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re failing as a batter.
Baseball and softball are both funny games, you can go up to the plate 4 times and scorch 4 liners right to someone and in the books, you’ve “failed”. However in actuality, you did exactly what you were supposed to do, hit the ball with authority into play. What hitters tend to be reminded of all too often is that hitting in itself is a difficult task. The ability to hit a round ball that’s moving and changing speeds with a round bat and with a fraction of a second to do it is a sport within the sport and if you can do it – CONGRATS – it ain’t easy to do. So as coaches, we need to make sure our players never get upset for squaring a ball up.
However, we all already know this by now right? We all want to know what fundamental things we can do as coach for our hitters to mental prepare them and teach the necessary strategies that will break the brainwashing of believing that hitting is mostly going to result in failure. Again, this is part 1 of the series so bare with us, we want to make sure that we touch all the bases and start from the ground up. So we are going to cover 3 basic fundamental areas that will help us teach our hitters to be more successful mentally.
#1: The Mind Set – Believe it or not, hitting has a VERY HIGH success rate, don’t let batting averages fool you
The stats we’re about to use for this are from fangraphs.com and softball hasn’t gotten into this much depth with hitting statistics YET, but always remember that #NumbersDontLie and you’ll be able to see a direct correlation with softball. In baseball, the average strike out percentage since 1980 for NCAA and MLB players ranges between 17-24%. To put things into perspective for softball, if you take a look at the 2016 softball World Series Champions Oklahoma, their strikeout percentage was roughly 10% whereas the Big 12 conference total strikeout percentage was roughly 14%, SEC and ACC were both roughly at 16% and the CAA was closer to 17%; so we’ll take the range of a 10-17% strikeout ratio just for fun (and keep in mind, that isn’t across NPF and ALL NCAA softball teams, D1 to D3 is also included in the fangraphs strikeout percentage for baseball).
As coaches, we always think that when a batter gets on base it’s a success, so anytime a hitter puts the ball in play, walks, gets hit, beats out a sac bunt, etc. there’s always a high probability of something good to potentially happen for the team. However strikeouts DO NOT benefit the team at all and are a TRUE statistic for a hitter to measure as failure (which is why we are focusing on strikeout percentages). Therefore with the numbers provided, the average hitter actually only truly fails 17-24% in baseball and 10-17% of the time in softball, which leaves a potential success rate of 76-83% for baseball and a potential success rate of 83-90% for softball! Also keep in mind that walks, sac flys/bunts and HBP are not factored into strike out percentages as they are not official AB’s, so the probability of success is even greater than that! Once the ball is in play, there are MILLIONS of scenarios that could possibly happen, we’ve all seen a ton of them as coaches and it’s now entirely up to the defense to step up and make the play. So again, a hitters job is plain and simple – put the ball in play, preferably a ball that makes the defense work.
So now you see factually that hitters have a very high probability of potential success – never forget that. There is too much emphasis that successful hitting is only measured by base hits and home runs. Most batters would be disappointed after an 0-3 day even though they took off the girls glove at SS three times in a row because they squared it up perfectly. Players need to always be reminded that softball and baseball are funny games and that once they hit the ball, it’s out of their control. As long as they took good aggressive swings at pitches in the zone and didn’t strike out, at the end of the day, they did their job.
Now, you might be saying as a coach “well if I put on a hit and run and the hitter hit it up the middle, or if I put on a bunt and they pop it up, they failed the team”, well guess what, you must not have practiced it enough and you as a coach have to hold yourself partially reliable and accountable for those types of failures; we’ll focus on these sorts of failures and the mental aspect of situational awareness at the plate in part 2. The point of this section is to prove that hitters have a much higher potential to be successful than what they typically think due to society relying heavily on rating success based on batting averages.
You can control you as a hitter – that’s it plain and simple. As a player, you can’t control an umpires strike zone, barking parents, the weather, field conditions, the pitches thrown, the fielders skill level, etc. Hitters have to be able to adapt to their surroundings and not let outside uncontrollable forces influence them. As long as a coach is seeing that a player is staying within themselves and controlling what is within their control (which are effort and attitude) typically players will be more consistent, exude more confidence and therefore will see better results. I’m sure we all tell our players “don’t worry about what’s around you, you can only worry about you”, well that’s a very broad statement because as we mentioned earlier, players have to be able to develop the ability to have situational awareness and can’t be solely focused on themselves, if they get their mindset too focused on this they’re going to end up not being successful from a team perspective; which is what we all want, we want to be able to put ourselves in a position to win.
Instead of focusing on solely ourselves as a hitter, we need to realize that we control our at-bats. Players need to strive for the unwritten statistic of what coaches keep mental notes of, which are quality at bats. To define a quality at bat into our best words, a quality at bat is an at bat in which the hitter is productive in a way that fits the situation, which may involve advancing the runner, getting on base, or making the opposing pitcher increase their pitch count. However, this is entirely left for interpretation from coach to coach and players need to be sure that they understand what a successful at bat is in the eyes of their respective coach.
There are several different ways to prepare for a successful quality at bat. Here are a few that we as coaches look for in a quality at bat (again this is left for interpretation and varies coach to coach, these are just typical ones that we need to make sure that me make note of):
Having A Clear Understanding Of What A Quality At Bat Is
Coaches need to provide a clear understanding of what a successful quality at bat is for their players. Coaches typically keep mental notes of players quality at bats, such as how many pitches the batter had in an at bat, did the hitter get a base hit, did they get an RBI, lay a successful sacrifice bunt, bunt for a base hit, move a runner over, get a walk, get hit by a pitch, hit a sac fly, hit-and-run, hit a hard fly ball, hard line drive, hard ground ball etc.. By understanding a coaches expectations and their interpretation of a quality at bat, this will allow hitters to learn and understand what it takes to be successful in their eyes and for the team. Players always need to know their expectations so that they can establish personal goals, learn various ways to allow their team to be successful situations, and hold themselves accountable to these standards.
Practice, Practice, Practice
This may seem obvious, but hitters need to work on their mechanics every day. Tee work, front toss, situational batting practice, etc. They need to be able to get to the point where they have proper hitting mechanics no matter the situation. As coaches we need to have our players be confident in their swing FIRST before we get them thinking outside the box during practice and start teaching situational awareness and plays. There’s already enough to think about at the plate, the last thing we want to see a hitter do is think about their swing during the game. Their swings should become automatic, that comes with practice, practice, practice and repetition. After that we can then move on to situational hitting.
Know Your Strengths And Weaknesses
As coaches, we need to be sure that our players realize their weaknesses and strengths at the plate. They need to know what pitches, situations and locations that they feel confident in and areas that make them feel uncomfortable at the plate (this can be an entire section in itself in a future post that we’ll be sure to touch on, but for now we’ll focus on hitting zones). We need to make sure that during practice we are touching each players strengths and weaknesses at the plate. We should never have an entire practice focusing on one or the other, especially weaknesses as doing this tends to enable doubt and leaves players feeling uncomfortable and lack confidence. As we continue to work on both areas, players will gradually learn where their “hot zone” is and it will gradually expand. You’d be surprised at how many players couldn’t tell you where their strengths at hitting are, we see it all the time and ask hitters after squaring one up and/or after mishitting one where the pitch was and they couldn’t tell us. It is imperative that hitters know this in order to be successful.
Set Yourself Up To Feel Confident
Upon establishing this, hitters need to come to the realization that they have at least three opportunities to put the ball in play in a single at bat and out of those three, there’s a high probability that a hitter will see at least one pitch that’s in their “hot zone”. If they’re struggling, feeling uncomfortable and/or lacking confidence, tell your hitter to be aggressive at the first pitch if it’s in their “hot zone” and to adjust themselves in the box to where the pitcher is typically locating their pitches so that they can be closer to their “hot zone”. For example, if a hitters “hot zone” is low and in, yet the pitcher is locating low and away, get them to stand closer to the plate. Not only does this set your hitter up for success, think less by focusing on one thing (which is looking for a pitch they know they can hit) and feel more confident, this puts pressure on the pitcher as well and gets them out of their comfort zone. This may all sound simple but many hitters don’t really realize where their true hot and weak zones are and it’s our job as coaches to get them to learn this. In turn, this will allow players to learn and feel their body/hitting mechanics which will help create a foundation on which players will realize what it is they need to work on without being told.
Always Keep Your Eye On The Ball Even If It Isn’t Being Thrown
Hitters should always be watching and practice timing the pitcher warming up and while their teammates are at bat. I always get my hitters to all grab a bat in-between innings, stand outside the dugout and time the pitcher as they’re warming up. They need to know if the pitcher is a lefty or righty, what their best pitch is, what locations are they throwing in certain counts and their tendencies such as, what they typically throw when behind in the count, when a base runner is on base, do they take more time before throwing a certain pitch, do they tip their pitches (such as “grinding” their hand in their glove when they are getting a grip for a certain pitch), do they have a different arm angle for certain pitches, etc. Doing this allows a hitter to get a better idea of what to expect and sets them up to be more successful and confident while at the plate.
Be Prepared To Swing, Don’t Mentally Decide To Swing
Hitters need to approach the plate with the mindset that they are swinging at every pitch. And what we mean by this is that a hitter needs to always be prepared to swing rather than mentally deciding to swing; deciding creates hesitation. You’ve put in the practice and repetitions as a hitter, now trust your body to do what you’ve been telling it to do. No matter the pitch, no matter the count, hitters always need to put themselves in a hitting position that is ready to swing. The first pitch is typically going to be the best pitch in an at bat for a hitter to take advantage of. According to studies performed in the MLB, 0-0 counts have the highest success rate of getting a hit when it comes to batting average.
Here are some statistics according to an article from Grantland.com that were taken during the 2014 season. If you’re a numbers person like we are, here’s some more interesting statistic from Fangraphs.com about the 2015 season.
Count Average on that pitch 0-0 .342 0-1 .321 1-0 .337 1-1 .319 1-2 .164 2-1 .327
You hear it quite often as a player to “take the first pitch”, when in actuality the probability of success is less likely by doing so. And if you think about it from a pitchers perspective, they know that if they get ahead they have a higher rate of success to get the batter out. Early in the count pitchers tend to work towards the middle of the plate and gradually work off the plate as they get ahead on the batter, so why not swing early and often?? At the end of the day, no matter the count, hitters always need to be prepared to swing.
Analyze Defensive Positioning, Know The Situation, And Realize Defensive Limitations
As coaches, I think we typically neglect to teach this part of the game to our hitters when it’s an incredibly useful tool for a hitter. When a hitter knows where the defense is positioned, they should get an idea of what type of play their expecting and by coming to this realization, a hitter will know where their limitations are. Before stepping in the box, hitters should always be analyzing where the defense is positioned and where the runners are (if there are any). A simple example would be that the outfield is shifted for pull and the right fielder is playing shallow on a right handed batter, odds are the pitcher is going to throw hard inside and soft away, therefore rather than trying to force yourself to hit away if you’re typically a pull hitter, set yourself up for success in the box to hit hard inside early in the count and take advantage of where they’re throwing you. Another example that we always see in MLB that is always mind boggling, a straight pull shift with a power lefty up. Third Base is WIDE open for an easy bunt, if they’re giving it to you, TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT AND DON’T BE SELFISH!
Establish A Short Term Memory Of Failure, But ALWAYS Learn From It
Finally, as a hitter we need to be able to develop a short term memory of our personal “failures” but we need to be able to build off it and learn from it so that we don’t fail next time. This is easier said than done because we are usually our hardest critic and we hate the feeling of failing our parents, coaches and teammates and if we focus on it too much, confidence and performance will decline. In order to instill this mindset in hitters, we as coaches need to:
– Always remind our players that the past is the past, all that matters is the present and whatever “failure” that may have happened can’t change; this goes back to what we noted earlier that hitters need to always being in control of what they have control.
– Make sure that hitters are able to learn from a failed at bat and move on; yet again, we go back to making sure that hitters realize their strengths and weaknesses so that they can develop the ability to learn.
– Remind our players that the odds are greatly in their favor and that they will succeed the next time (remember the probability of success mentioned earlier?) so get them psyched to get back up there and hit! Keep their head in the game!
Once hitters have established these fundamental principles, they can then can tackle the more “advanced” hitting strategies. Such as having a plan at the plate, situational hitting, being able effectively work on hitting weaknesses, and several other aspect of the mental game of hitting which we’ll touch on in Pt. 2.
In the meantime, GET AFTER IT!
Although comical, Will Ferrell’s infamous quote in Talladega Nights “If you’re not first, you’re last” applies to several real life applications and YES, we’re going to go there in regards to hitting.
There is no greater technical advantage given to a baseball or softball player than one that allows them to have more time to be able to react to various types of pitches. By now, I’m sure we’ve all seen the following Sports Science video which reveals why even the smallest amount of time can be extremely detrimental to a hitters success. If you have been hiding under a rock, it’s okay, you can watch it below.
The minor league hitter featured in Sports Science only had .395 seconds to react to a 95 MPH baseball, while the same hitter had even less time at .350 seconds to hit a 70 MPH softball. SO one must ask, what can a hitter do to increase their reaction time?
The question isn’t really how to increase reaction time, it’s more so how can we as a hitter prepare ourselves so that we can get our body to react quickly to what’s being thrown at us. In order to achieve this, a player must position themselves in a loaded position early enough in order to to increase the overall efficiency of a players body movement to create maxim bat speed on the best swing plane for the particular pitch that’s being thrown. One of the most common complaints we hear as coaches is that our players feel like they’re “being rushed” and end up witnessing players begin to panic, get tense, slam their foot down in order to try to increase their bat speed or overuse their hands and arms in order to make some sort of remote contact. What we’re about to say may seem simple, but many in-game swing issues from all levels of play have been solved by simply telling players to start their movement early and and transfer into a load/stride position with a slow, calm tempo.
The concept of starting early may seem off, especially to players that have issues with being consistently early at contact and that tend to pull the ball. HOWEVER, please note that we are NOT suggesting that hitters need to start their swing early; on the contrary, landing early is entirely acceptable as long as the tempo of the hitter is in sync in order to maintain a powerful hitting position and the ability to keep control of their body and swing. In fact, a late start to a swing quite often leads to early timing where the hitter doesn’t trust their stride and/or loading positioning and typically end up “pulling off” or “flying open” (whichever terminology you prefer).
As you can imagine, it is not easy or even possible to ALWAYS start your load/stride at the perfect time especially when a hitter has to be able to calculate pitch delivery, speed, type and location in the matter of a fraction of a second. You always hear the saying “think fastball, adjust to offspeed”, which is great in theory, but what typically tends to happen when this is heard is that a hitter will rush to hit the fastball and then fly open to hit offspeed; they’re timing fastball and adjusting offspeed, NOT adjusting and preparing for fastball and timing offspeed (if that makes sense). Let’s explain, successful hitters can ADJUST their bodies that allow an optimum loading position that allows them to turn on a fast ball yet also wait long enough on their back side to TIME hitting an offspeed pitch. So how can we make this type of adjustment to our players?
When recognizing or feeling an early mistake in their timing, if a hitter has a high leg kick, they can delay their timing by holding their leg in the air longer to maintain balance so that they can stride to react to any pitch. This adjustment is fairly intuitive and generally doesn’t even have to be taught other than showing the hitter how they’re reacting to pitches. The second type of adjustment when striding early with a lower leg kick (to no stride) is much more difficult but can really set a hitter apart from their peers. This adjustment usually occurs when a hitter doesn’t recognize the pitch as an offspeed pitch until the last moment. At this moment, elite hitters are able to cushion their landing and delay their lower half rotation by sinking into their front leg and waiting to unleash their hip rotation while keeping their hands back (typically coaches will recognize this as “being out in front” or as a “hitch in their swing”, well we’re here to tell you that’s not necessarily the case).
In order to further illustrate this timing concept, we’ll review some good example videos of professional and collegiate baseball and softball players that have various load/strides as examples.
We’ll start with baseball (simply because there’s more examples, not because of preference).
Let’s start this off with a quote from Bautista:
“I used to start when the pitcher would let go of the ball,” Bautista says. “His position would be like this” — he freezes his arm at a 90-degree angle, his wrist next to his ear — “and the ball would come out of his hand and I’d just be late. When the pitcher takes the ball out of his glove [now], I’m moving. I’ve got all this time to load. My top hand moves at the same rate as the pitcher is cocking his arm.”
While Bautista may have focused on his top hand, the reality is that he had a higher leg lift that began earlier and moved slower. In the video above, notice that Bautista is at the top of his leg lift well before the pitch is released. This simple but important change drastically changed Bautista’s career (however not his fighting ability). We’re showing this video first because we want you to note the noticeable balance point in his load prior to striding.
Above you will see Josh Donaldson utilizing a leg kick similar to that of Bautista. Notice that he is at the top of his leg kick well before the ball is released from the pitchers hand. This early start allows Donaldson time to perform his quality movements.
Manny Machado & Andrew McCutchen
Before you think that we are only picking players with big leg kicks, watch how Manny Machado and Andrew McCutchen start their loads early and stride slowly yet not utilizing a giant leg kick. They slow their forward momentum while striding by swaying slightly on their backside just enough to be able to adjust their bodies to time the type of pitch that is getting ready to be delivered. This type of loading has the same effect as a leg kick in that it allows these two to have a calm tempo and load that prepares their bodies to adjust to an inside fastball, yet allow themselves to time offspeed if necessary. Here’s an example below of Machado being able to keep his hands and weight back long enough to TIME offspeed and although what looks to be a little out in front, he’s able to sink his front side enough to where he can still release his hips and hands.
IT’S TIME FOR SOFTBALL
Again, you can see this balance point when loading that Amy does that’s similar to what we have shown above with MLB. She’s able to keep her weight (load balance) back long enough to be able to TIME the pitch that is being thrown at her. Due to softball hitting reactions being quicker compared to MLB, this load balance is a little harder to notice than that of a MLB player.
We get it A LOT, you simply cannot teach a high leg kick in softball…. Tell that to Koral Costa of Oregon. Although not quite as high as Bautista, you can see her get into a very similar loading position prior to striding.
And as you can see below, PRIME example of squatting on front side enough to put herself into a position that she can still stiffen her front side in order to release her hips and hands (we’ll get into more detail about this in a future post). But she’s obviously a little fooled on this pitch, yet because she was able to ADJUST herself to crush a fastball if it was pitched, she was able to keep enough weight back and TIME the offspeed.
Not to discredit this girl, but wasn’t able to find out who this was and it’s rather challenging to see her number (if you know who it is, would love to know!). Now, some coaches may see what her front foot is doing and consider it a “bad hitch”, while in actuality, she’s doing this because she has a wider stance, doesn’t like to stride and this is how she’s able to keep her weight on her backside and is able to time when she is ready to gain forward momentum, start hip rotation and begin her swing.
Regardless of your stride preference, starting early can be a very simple change that can lead to better timing, allow hitters to time pitches, position themselves into an athletic & powerful hitting position, and lead to more success.
It’s a question that we at Top Recruit hear all the time, “do combine measurables actually matter in softball?”. The simple answer is YES, but the point of this post is to educate the softball community as to why combines are important for athletes and what makes our combines at Top Recruit such a valuable resource for exposure and developing athletes.
In order to make sure we touch all the bases for any questions that may arise, we’ll be covering:
- Why Combines?
- At What Age Should An Athlete Attend A Combine
- Which Measurables Should Be Performed At A Combine
- Combine Testing Equipment
- The Top Recruit Difference
1. Why Combines?
To start, because college athletics are becoming extremely competitive at every level, today’s college coaches have to find the “top recruits” for their program before anyone else. For softball, today’s Division 1 collegiate coaches are beginning to recruit and evaluate players as soon as athletes start their High School careers (typically around 13-14 years of age). Besides the obvious of coaches evaluating actual play and how a player carries themselves (which we will cover in a future post), coaches are observing the overall athleticism and projectability of the athletes they are evaluating. There are 5 main tools that softball players need to develop and that college coaches look into when evaluating a players athleticism; which are…
5 Tools That Every Softball Players Needs To Develop:
- Running Speed
- Hitting for Power
- Hitting for Average
- Arm Strength
- Fielding Ability
Unfortunately, due to the nature of softball, coaches may not be able to evaluate all of these tools when observing a game. This is one of the primary reasons as to why an athlete would want to participate at a combine. By performing at a combine, a player and/or coach are able to determine how the player ranks at each tool and can predict how a player may develop in the future.
The second reason why an athlete would want to participate at a combine is so that they can assess which tools to further develop in addition to understanding their areas of strength and weakness. The areas of weakness will of course naturally develop as they continue to grow, but if an athlete can work on further developing those weaknesses at an early age, they will be able to advance their game quicker and have a much greater advantage when a coach comes to reevaluate and scout them.
Lastly, as we mentioned earlier, since coaches have a lot of recruiting to do in a little amount of time, these measurables can be sent to a coach and will catch the coaches attention if the measurables stand out. The only issue here is that reliable state of the art equipment should be used when obtaining measurables and should be conducted by professionals that can verify the legitimacy of a players results (which we will cover in the “Top Recruit Difference” section of this blog).
We highlight the words “reliable” and “verify” here due to combines being ran with improper measurement equipment (e.g. stopwatches which provide inaccurate times due the variable of human reaction time) which creates a great level of uncertainty for college coaches as to if the numbers that they are being presented with hold any validity to them (which is why we are covering “Combine Testing Equipment” later in this blog as well). That is why it is imperative that when attending a combine, players, parents as well as coaches should know that there is going to be reliable and accurate measurement equipment being used by combine professionals so that they can be provided the most accurate representation of an athlete.
2. At What Age Should An Athlete Attend A Combine
An athlete can attend a combine at any age, it will certainly do no harm for them to participate. However, we recommend that softball athletes should participate at a combine the summer of entering their freshman year of High School. We suggest this because this is a time where learning majority of the games fundamentals should already be known, they’re about to go through their final stages of puberty and this is a very critical time for college coaches to begin watching, observing and taking note of athletes.
Again, combines can be used as a great assessment tool in order to better understand which tools a player needs to further develop; the sooner an athlete knows what to work on, the quicker they will be able to advance their game.
Alternatively, just because a athlete is entering their senior year of High School, it doesn’t mean that they should not attend a combine. In fact, it provides them with a last chance to provide college coaches with “what they’re made of” and could very well be the missing piece to the puzzle that they’ve been looking to recruit.
In summery, any time a player can participate at a combine is great; the sooner the better. But no matter the age, athletes and college coaches alike are provided with a general perception of an athletes athleticism and assist in the development of enhancing a players skills.
3. What Measurables Should Be Performed At A Combine
Again, there are 5 main tools that college coaches evaluate and that every softball player should be looking to develop day in and day out. In order to figure out how to develop these tools, an athlete must understand their body and determine which areas need to be strengthened. So it is imperative that a combine reflects exactly which areas an athlete needs to improve upon.
Here we will review the 5 tools and the measurables associated that will provide insight for evaluating each individual tool:
- Running Speed
- 20 yard dash
- Pro Agility / 5-10-5 Shuttle Run
- We make players run a straight 20 yard dash to simulate a player running from home to first. The pro agility / shuttle run assists in evaluating overall agility and fast twitch (type II) muscles.
- Hitting for Power
- Bat Exit Velocity
- Grip Strength
- Bat exit velocity is the speed at which the ball leaves the bat which provides evaluators with a general idea of how hard and far a ball can be hit after contact. Grip strength is evaluated to provide insight on upper body strength which directly correlates with how powerful a player can hit and extend through a ball being hit with minimal kickback from the pitch at the time of impact.
- Hitting for Average
- Bat Speed
- Bat speed provides us with how quickly a player can get their bat to the point of impact; which in turn correlates with reaction time, ability to locate and recognize pitches, and swing efficiency.
- Bat Speed
- Arm Strength
- Throwing Velocities
- Catcher Pop Times
- Pitcher Fastball Velocity & Spin Rate
- By measuring throwing velocity, an evaluator can determine how far and quick a player can throw a ball.
- When measuring catcher pop times, we can determine how efficient and quick a catcher is while throwing. At Top Recruit, we also measure the throwing velocity while measuring pop time so that an evaluator can determine if a player has proper throwing mechanics from behind the plate.
- Pitcher fastball velocity allows us to see how hard a pitcher can throw certain pitches; but by also measuring spin rate we can determine how much movement is associated with each pitch.
- Fielding Ability
- 20 yard dash
- Pro Agility / 5-10-5 Shuttle Run
- Vertical & Broad Jump
- We can also use the pro agility / shuttle run and 20 yard dash to determine how quickly a player can react to a ball being hit as well as fielding range. By measuring a vertical and broad jump, we can assess fielding range, diving distances, and jumping distances along with how powerful a players first step is.
4. Combine Testing Equipment
Proper testing equipment is CRITICAL when measuring and evaluating a player. Because softball is a game of inches and most every play has a fraction of a second (from determining if a player is safe or out, to the ability to time a diving catch, to being able to come in the clutch at the plate and getting that game winning hit), combine testing equipment must provide evaluators and coaches with the most precise and accurate measurements. By using equipment that is even a tenth of a fraction off provides us with a misrepresentation of the player being evaluated and can make a tremendous difference when it comes to game time. Therefore, testing equipment needs to be extremely accurate; which is a big reason why we at Top Recruit are are the difference maker when providing combine testing.
5. The Top Recruit Difference
At Top Recruit, we are a proud US Certified partner of the only NCAA certified player assessment system solution featured in Fastpitch Softball testing events.
This means coaches can TRUST the data collection and integration process of our combine score recording. No other combine testing host in exposure fastpitch events can claim this.
These technological capabilities allow us to remove the human error element of record keeping. Yes, that means we are tossing out the clipboards with paper and pens at our combines; everything is done electronically. In addition we have the capabilities of hosting scalable events and post scores in real-time.
We have integrated all necessary sport-specific tests (as mentioned previously) associated with Fastpitch Softball of which are currently being viewed with relevancy by NCAA, NFCA, collegiate programs from NAIA as well as NJCAA, and many others nationwide.
All of our participating players receive a comprehensive report on their own scores in relation to those tested throughout the entire combine. We provide player’s with an in depth report in relation to the entire combine high, low and median scores in addition to providing a full combine report that separates objective data by position and cumulatively lists players by position and overall ranking.
Furthermore, we have developed our own online player profile platform where combine scores will be featured and verified by our professional combine staff. Now with an easily searchable player database and verified measurables, collegiate coaches can quickly find the right player for their program in the matter of seconds and don’t have to waste precious recruiting hours seeking after their next “Top Recruit”.
With 95 homeruns and a .960 slugging percentage, it’s hard to argue that Lauren Chamberlain has one of the most productive swings that softball has ever encountered. Several of the staff here at Top Recruit work with softball players from all over the nation and one things that our staff continuously hears from several of our new athletes is that they have been taught to “squash the bug”, not to turn their shoulders, keep their bat perpendicular to the ground, and the list goes on…
Obviously as a young player, you want to learn from the best. So why not learn the breakdown of professional players such as Lauren in order to help further educate, develop and maximize an explosive swing.
Hope you enjoy the swing breakdown from the guys at Maximum Bat Speed!
Improving stride length can be achieved by resistance sprinting. Having weight behind you allows you to lean forward and maintain a proper acceleration lean. The forward lean creates a proper shin angle, otherwise known as “positive shin angle” which allows the knee to be in front of the toe. When the knee is in front of the toe as the foot strikes the ground, this allows the athlete to apply force into the ground and drive forward. There are several tools and mechanisms available in sporting goods to facilitate the need for resistance training. Some of these methods consist of sleds, parachutes, tubing, bands, bags etc. and can often times be very costly. Therefore, the cheapest method and just as effective method for resistance sprinting is to find a hill with a small incline and sprint up it. The small incline will be enough to force the athlete to shorten stride length a bit in order to achieve the “positive shin angle.”
One of the biggest things to remember any time when using resistance sprinting is to not overload the athlete with too much weight. Trying to sprint with too much weight will result in an altered running form and possible injury. It’s always best to start with a very light weight and gradually increase the amount of resistance as the athlete becomes more accustomed. When the athlete is able to complete the sprint programs outlined in table 5.2 (younger athlete) or table 5.4 (older athlete), then you can begin to incorporate resisted sprints. Resisted sprints should be done once a week alongside a regular sprint program.
The low-back is an area that often gets overlooked in favor of training the abs. When this happens a muscular imbalance occurs making you more susceptible to injury. There are several exercises that can effectively strengthen the lower back. Some of them can even double as solid abdominal and oblique exercises as well killing two birds with one stone. Some of the exercises that will be discussed in this section are: supermans, plank/side plank variations, quadruped series, and dead bugs.
• Supermans – lay on your stomach with arms pointed straight ahead and feet pointed straight behind. From here try to raise your arms and legs off the ground as much as possible squeezing the back muscles. At first raise them enough off the ground to feel the contraction then lower back down. Start with 2 sets of 10 repetitions and build up to 3 sets of 15 repetitions. From here you can begin to hold each repetition for a couple of seconds. Progress the same as previous and slowly increase the amount of time holding the arms and legs off the ground.
• Plank/Side Plank Variations – the starting position for the plank is very similar to the starting position of a push up except instead of being on the hands with arms extended, the elbows are bent and resting on the forearms. With the hips off the ground, form a straight line from the head down to the hips. Try to avoid letting the hips sag towards the ground, or sticking them up towards the sky. Start by holding this position as long as possible, being sure to pull the bellybutton in and focus on steady controlled breathing. Continue to progress as long as possible. Variations can include raising one arm or one foot at a time off the ground, or raising alternate arm and leg off the ground. The side plank is performed similar to the regular plank except balancing on one forearm while sideways off the ground. This exercise is much more difficult and will take time to work up to. Progress in time the same as the regular plank alternating back and forth on both sides.
• Quadruped Series – the starting position for this exercise resembles that of a dog, in that you are on your hands and knees. The main objective throughout any movement in this series is to ALWAYS keep the shoulders and hips square to the ground. Start by extending one arm at a time straight out in front of you parallel to the ground while keeping the shoulders level to the ground. Hold this position for a couple seconds then return the arm to the ground. Perform the same movement with the other arm. Then extend one leg at a time straight out behind you while keeping the hips level to the ground. Hold for a few seconds then return the knee to the ground. Perform the same movement with the other leg. When you are able to do this movement with all limbs without having to lift your shoulders and hips to the sky then you can progress to alternate arm and leg. Start by raising the right arm and left leg in the same movements as before really trying to keep the shoulders and hips level with the ground. Hold it for a few seconds then return to the starting position. Perform the same movement with the Left arm and Right leg.
• Dead Bug – lay on your back and place your arms and legs in the same position as they were for the quadruped series. The main objective for this movement is to keep the shoulders, hips, and low back on the ground the whole time. Start by lowering one arm straight behind you towards the ground. Stop a few inches above the ground and hold for a few seconds being sure to keep the shoulders flat against the ground. Return the arm to the starting position and perform the same movement with the other side. Then extend one leg so it is parallel to the ground holding a couple inches off the ground. Maintain this form for a few seconds then return the leg to the starting position and perform the same movement with the other side. After you have perfected these basic movements then you can progress to alternate arm and leg. Start by extending the right arm and left leg in the same movements as before and hold for a few seconds. Be sure that the shoulders and hips are against the ground and you are not arching your low back. Return to the starting position and perform the same movement with the left arm and right leg.
In an earlier post I discussed the idea of myofascial release and using foam rollers to relieve tightness and help the recovery process. In this post I will discuss other methods that can be used to achieve the same goal.
Various balls such as lacrosse, tennis, racquet, softball, or a baseball can also be used as myofascial release techniques. These all serve the same benefit as a foam roller but can be used to locate one specific area at a time. To put things in perspective when comparing the different devices; the foam roller acts more like a “shotgun” in that it covers a larger area, and the various balls are more like a “bullet” because it’s more specifically located and precise. There are 3 different ways to utilize the different balls: the ground, a wall, self/partner. Lying on the ball similar to a foam roller allows you to use body weight to apply pressure. Since the ball is much smaller than the foam roller it will be more painful at first so gradually build up to it. Standing or leaning against a wall will allow you to press against the wall with the ball in between to distribute the pressure. This method would be better to start with before progressing to the ground because it is less painful. The last method is using either yourself or a partner. Depending on the location you are working on you will need a partner for help (i.e. most anywhere on the back).
Another useful form of myofascial release is a massage stick. A massage stick is exactly what it sounds like, a stick to roll out an area similar to a massage and foam roller. It’s usually a hard surface that allows it to roll freely when moving along the surface being massaged. The massage stick can be used either by yourself or with the help of a partner depending on the location.
IMPORTANT REMINDER!!! Do not shy away from knots and tight areas because of discomfort. Focus on that area and apply pressure to loosen the tightness.
As the field of sports performance becomes more and more popular, and given the fact that everyone wants to work with athletes, there are tons of people with suboptimal qualifications educating young athletes. Many certifications for personal trainers can be completed in one weekend or less and do not require any former education in an exercise related field. I am not writing this article to bash personal trainers because my resume lists quite a few instances when I held that position working with the general population to achieve optimal health goals. More advanced personal training certifications require former education and take place over a couple of weeks, but still only teach the basics necessary to help someone shed some body fat and put on a little lean muscle to look better in a swimming suit. These certifications still do not provide half of the information necessary to take an athlete regardless of sport and design a program to improve performance before the season while educating on the areas of nutrition, supplementation, and injury prevention.
A few of the most sought out and widely accepted certifications in the strength and conditioning world are:
• Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA)
• Collegiate Strength & Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCa)
• USA Weightlifting Coaches Certifications
There are several other certifications that will aide a strength coach but these are a few of the most respected organizations that are required by various collegiate and professional organizations. These certifications also require formal education in an exercise related field as well as time spent in either an internship or working under a qualified strength coach. They are also required to maintain their certifications and increase knowledge and education by completing CEU’s (continuing education credits) on a regular basis.
The reason why it is important to seek out a qualified strength coach as opposed to an average personal trainer or self-proclaimed sports performance specialist is because of the amount of knowledge that goes into athletes. Most often an athlete will be on a strict time frame where they need to be in shape or improve performance by a certain date. A strength coach will design a periodized program that can safely and realistically help the athlete get where they need to be or as close as possible. Since more advanced movements are utilized in sports, and injuries are a taboo word that will certainly get you a bad reputation, certain instruction must be provided that will not move an athlete to slow or fast while teaching proper form. A strength coach will also perform functional assessments on athletes to determine imbalances and weak areas for improvement to create a well-rounded athlete. Nutrition and supplementation are different for athletes as well and often more closely monitored than the general population. Therefore, strength coaches should be up to date on regulations to educate their athletes within their scope on how to fuel their bodies.
Do not be afraid to ask a sports performance coach about his/her credentials, experience, and education. Also inquire about their personal philosophies and methods of training. After all you are interviewing the person who will be training your son/daughter or yourself so you need to do the necessary research to ensure you are getting a qualified individual.
In last week’s article I wrote about how distance running is becoming a thing of the past. This week I am going to write about the positive benefits of high-intensity sprints. The effects range all over from increased fat loss, elevated growth hormone production, improve speed, and promotes anaerobic conditioning. For a ball player sprinting distances ranging from 20 yards to 100 yards will correlate much more than longer distance, slow paced jogs. Softball, like football is played in short bursts of all-out effort that that requires the body to accelerate as fast as possible, reaching top speed and then braking suddenly while changing direction at times.
Anaerobic (without oxygen) training refers to performing high-intensity sprints at approx. 85% VO2max or higher for repetitive intervals. When you enter the anaerobic zone during training the body starts utilizing sugar as its main energy source. Think of sugar as high-octane fuel in that it will provide tremendous performance but terrible gas mileage. Depending on training level a person can stay anaerobic anywhere from 1 second to 2 minutes before sugar stores are depleted. The more time you spend anaerobic by performing multiple intervals, the body creates what is called EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) which you can think of as an oxygen debt. If you were to go run one 100 yard sprint as fast as possible your heart rate would be elevated and your breathing would be increased for several minutes following the sprint. That is called EPOC, and the more debt you can create will lead to increased fat burning long after you are done working out.
High-intensity sprints produce a significant amount of lactic acid accumulation, which produces a large release of growth hormone which itself carries fat burning ability. This same response does not occur when training at lighter intensities. The production of growth hormone raises insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) which can help create lean muscle and burn fat.
In the article I wrote about improving speed I emphasized the importance of sprinting. As mentioned earlier high-intensity sprints produce lactic acid, which for untrained athletes begins quickly, and can result in fatigue and stopping early. The more you perform sprint training with limited rest periods, the more lactic acid is released into the muscles. Constantly training like this will condition the body to become more efficient at removing the lactic acid prolonging its onset, in return increasing the conditioning level of the athlete.
It’s also worth mentioning that high-intensity sprints improve pulmonary lung capacity and is effective for lowering cholesterol and improving cardiovascular health. Insulin sensitivity is improved in all subjects ranging from young healthy people to older overweight subjects.
Sprinting, as demonstrated in this article can elicit tremendous benefits all over the body. It improves athletic performance and can help achieve optimal body fat and lipid levels. When starting a sprinting program it’s best to start off with shorter distances focusing on perfect technique and allowing yourself enough rest time. As you become more conditioned you can progressively increase the number of sprints you perform, the distance you are sprinting, and decrease the amount of rest you take.
For years the common practice for a pitcher after throwing is to run long distances, sometimes several miles as a form of recovery. More and more information is being published refuting this practice in favor for short high-intensity sprinting. When we perform longer distance running at a slow pace we expose ourselves to a wide range of risk factors from decreased immune and endocrine response to reduced strength and power outputs. In this article I will tackle the negative effects of distance running. I will then proceed to cover the positive effects of sprinting along with effective conditioning drills between starts in future articles.
Elevated cortisol levels, systemic inflammation, and increased oxidative damage
Aerobic training raises cortisol (stress) levels which in turn promotes fat storage leading to visceral belly fat gain, which increases inflammation in the body. High cortisol increases oxidative substances in the body that can inflame the heart, brain, GI tract, and reproductive organs. There are two types of inflammation: chronic and acute. Chronic inflammation can lead to a plethora of health issues such as insulin resistance and diabetes, fat gain, arthritis, stomach problems, and heart disease. Acute inflammation such as that following resistance training or injury has a protective effect on the body by localizing blood to the damaged tissue. Even acute inflammation that is not cleared and is allowed to build up for long periods of time will lead to negative side-effects. Therefore training sessions should not be performed for extended periods of times, and rest should be factored based off of the volume of a workout. The Journal of Sports Sciences published a review article stating that strenuous aerobic exercise induces oxidative stress which can overwhelm antioxidant defenses.
Decreased immune and endocrine response
There is an abundant amount of evidence in the literature that aerobic training leads to suppression of the immune system. In turn, putting athletes that endurance train at a greater risk for infection, especially upper respiratory. Once again returning to the issue involving inflammation and can cause your athletes to be more susceptible to sickness and colds.
There are several factors that influence our natural production of testosterone and growth hormone. Bouts of resistance training and high intensity sprint training, adequate and uninterrupted sleep, low-glycemic nutritional approach, low sugar intake can all promote positive responses in these very important hormones. When you factor in long road trips in uncomfortably crammed vans, absurd sleeping routines filled with sodas and greasy fried foods (sound familiar to anyone reading), you are doing everything you can to lower testosterone and growth hormone. On top of this lifestyle, you go to the ballpark and partake in distance running which is directly responsible for lower testosterone levels.
Strength and power reductions
Ever heard the phrase “practice like you play?” The last time I watched a pitcher toss a blazing fastball, it was done so displaying tremendous amounts of power and strength to create that kind of velocity. It’s a motion completed in a fraction of a second as the arm whips through at a nearly blinding speed. So where is the reasoning to take this same pitcher and have her train at a pace exactly opposite? I’m not usually a big fan of using rhetorical questions but I had to bring it up. It makes as much sense to have your outfielders run long distances with the intent to improve their base stealing.
When you train explosively and produce significant amounts of power, which is displayed as the product of strength times speed, we further develop the Stretch Shortening Cycle (SSC). The SSC which involves mechanical (muscle & tendon architecture) and neuromuscular (motor unit recruitment) factors, is the basis of almost all human movement intended to maximize efficiency. The SSC can be described as what happens when you compress a spring momentarily and then release it. When the spring is compressed it is storing tremendous amounts of energy just waiting to be released. Exactly the same when an infielder dips down just before accelerating upwards to snag a line drive.
The best way to improve strength and power is not through distance running which can in fact negate these effects, but to train high intensity sprints and short bursts of power. A study by McCarthy et al noted that strength and power loss became an issue when the intensity of endurance exercise was approximately 75% max heart rate. The unfortunate part is this is the consistent pace most people run at for longer distances. Once again, reinforcing short all-out sprints with ample rest allowing, the heart rate to recover below 75% max.
A pitcher relies on maintaining superb flexibility all over to help prevent injury and generate as much power and force as possible. When you watch someone like Jennie Finch as she plants her left foot releasing the ball towards the plate, she is demonstrating outrageous hip flexion and extension at the same time. Her left side is flexed with the right side extended. This would be very difficult and or lead to injury without a high level of mobility. Stride length is vastly different when comparing an all-out sprint to a leisurely jog. When you sprint, you are training at a maximum level while increasing power and dynamic flexibility in the hips. This is negated during distance running, which limits you to insufficient hip flexion.
And last but not least which goes without saying, distance running is boring!! Hopefully this article provides adequate information to begin transitioning away from distance running in favor of sprints and power movements. Check back for future articles supporting high intensity sprints and effective drills to implement into your program!
McCarthy JP, Agre JC, Graf BK, Pozniak MA, Vailas AC. Compatibility of adaptive responses with combining strength and endurance training. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1995 Mar; 27(3):429-36.
Packer L. Oxidants, antioxidant nutrients and the athlete. Journal of Sports Sciences. 1997; 15(3):353-363.
Bat Velocity is an important factor in softball when hitting for power. Ball players from all levels traditionally swing weighted bats as a warm-up device with the notion that it will increase swing velocity. Along with weighted bats, power swings and sleeves, lead pipes, and weighted donuts are other common forms in circulation…but are these items really making us swing faster???
It’s been hypothesized that since motor activity of a movement follows a particular sequence (i.e. muscle memory), the additional motor units activated by the extra weight may continue to function when the weight is removed, resulting in greater velocity. In lay terms, swinging a heavier bat will help you swing harder once you get rid of the additional weight.
A study published by David Szymanski in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research tested the effects of 8 warm-up devices on a group of division I intercollegiate softball players. They found no significant differences in bat velocity after using any of the 8 warm-up devices that ranged in weight from 18-96oz.
Another similar study published by K. E. Bassett in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research used 8 different warm-up devices ranging in weight between 18-96oz. They also found no significant differences between any of the devices used.
Some red flags can also be raised when considering a batter’s swing pattern. Returning to the previous statement about muscle memory, when you practice day in and day out with a particular weight the body becomes comfortable controlling it and a pattern is created. When you all of a sudden alter that pattern by adding extra weight that they body is not used to, that swing pattern is adjusted to make up for it. As a result, the chances of successful hitting may be decreased.
On the other hand, certain psychological factors enter into play when using weighted objects as warm-up devices. If the player feels that the bat is lighter after swinging with a heavier one, then he is giving himself a mental advantage that can prove beneficial while hitting. After all we are trying to hit a round object with a diameter of roughly 2.9in with another round object that has a diameter of 2.75in that is changing speeds and the path it’s on…Any advantage we can bring to the plate is a good one!!!
The take away point from this article is that using a weighted bat has no significant change on bat velocity and can present some issues when it comes to proper swing mechanics. Conversely, a weighted bat when used properly can be a great item to warm-up with (i.e. swinging arm circles or practice swings), and potentially have mental advantages by building confidence.
Szymanski, David J et al. 2012. Effect of Various Warm-Up Devices on Bat Velocity of Intercollegiate Softball Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Volume 26, 1, 199-205. http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2012/01000/Effect_of_Various_Warm_Up_Devices_on_Bat_Velocity.26.aspx
Bassett, K E et al. 2011. Effects of Various Warm-Up Devices on Bat Swing Velocity of College Softball Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Volume 25, 1, S71. http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2011/03001/Effects_of_Various_Warm_Up_Devices_on_Bat_Swing.112.aspx
It goes without question that catchers don’t have the best reputation for burning up the base paths. They are often associated as being the slowest ones on the field. In fact Yogi Berra once said, “The wind always seems to blow against catchers when they are running.” But does a catcher really need to be the fastest, or is it better to be quick? A fast catcher makes for a better base runner but not necessarily a better catcher. A quick catcher can block a fastball in the dirt, or a curveball that’s 3 feet to the side. They can pounce on a bunt and pirouette, firing a strike to first base. Or spring from a crouch to gun down a would-be base stealer.
But how can I get quicker you ask? You have to train that way.
By going through blocking and throwing drills as quick as you can while wearing your gear. Working as hard as you can during bullpens to make yourself better. Killing it in the weight room to make yourself stronger and more flexible. Even running some sprints while wearing your gear will add artificial weight to your body and get you accustomed to moving in it so that it becomes second nature during games. It’s very important to train specifically for your position to give yourself the best opportunity to improve. So don’t stress over not being a fast catcher (cheers to you if you are because you’re one of the few) and focus more on making yourself quicker.
The on-deck circle serves a far more important purpose than merely warming up. Sure this is a great opportunity to swing that weighted bat (which really isn’t helping that much), talk to your friends or parents sitting behind the fence, chase foul balls against the backstop, or mess around with your teammates in the dugout. The on-deck circle should be a spot that’s used to mentally prepare you for your upcoming at-bat. Making sure your timing is on by taking strides and swings along with the actual game. Observing what pitches are being thrown and trying to get a sense for the umpires strike zone. Surveying the situation of the game such as the score, position of runners and fielders, what inning you’re in, the status and type of pitcher you’re facing, and where you are batting in the line-up. All of these things can factor into what pitches you will see in what count and certain locations. Being a talented hitter is a gift but who’s to say you can’t learn a little bit more about the game and situations to make yourself even better. Being able to know if the pitcher you’re facing is a junk-baller, loves the fastball, doesn’t like to throw inside to hitters, is getting tired because it’s late in the game, or fresh out of the bull-pen will help you considerably. As mentioned earlier, hitting third in the line-up will guarantee you see different pitches than hitting eighth. Make sure you are using your on-deck time to the best of your advantage to give you the best opportunity to succeed at the plate.
There are several different ways to become better at calling pitches during a game and it’s important to find the way that works better for you and your staff. One way is if you are not playing at the current time, sit next to whoever is calling pitches and observe. Watch what they are calling in certain counts and against certain hitters and don’t be afraid to ask questions about the reasoning. Another way is when you are catching to try and think along with whoever is calling pitches by thinking in different situations and what batter is up, count, situation, score etc. You can also use practice games, bull pens, and inter-squads to work on what pitches you will call in certain counts. Another very effective tool is by attending other games whether it’s high school, college, or professional and watch what pitches are being called and when. A great piece of advice is to never be afraid to ask questions whether it’s to another coach, player, or mentor to learn different philosophies and styles.
As a catcher your list of responsibilities does not end at the “simple” task of catching, throwing, and blocking. You are the coach on the field, the eyes of every situation, a vocal leader, and responsible for the pitching staff. By being the coach on the field you have to be able to know what is going on and take charge of the other 8 girls. You are the only one that can see everything everywhere on the field and have the best instinct and knowledge of how a play is developing and where the ball needs to go. Because you are the one that can see and know where the ball needs to go you have to be able to be heard by your outfielders in dead center field at the fence. Your confidence and leadership will ensure trust from your teammates to not question where to throw the ball and where to go, it will happen. A pitcher should have the most trust for her catcher so that she can throw any pitch, in any count, anywhere, with runners on any base, and know that it will stay in front of her. She should earn the trust and respect of a pitcher so that they never question a certain pitch or location and just pitch.