Now, before I dive into this month’s newsletter topic, I wanted to bounce an idea off you. I came up with this brainstorm recently and wasn’t sure how to go about getting the word out. So, in my normal, shameless way.. I thought I’d pitch it right here too (pardon the “pitch” pun). Some of you may also get a letter on this same topic via the US Postal service. Here’s my idea: Batting practice!
Last year, I mixed in throwing batting practice to a high school softball player in Ohio. The practice was held before I did my weekly lessons on that night. Now, trust me on something: I know my limitations. I am not talking about teaching someone the mechanics of a swing or knowing what’s right or wrong and how to teach it in regards to hitting. Far from it. But, I throw batting practice to this young lady weekly and get her used to seeing pitches with my velocity, my movement, and my game-plan strategies. In the process of doing this, I identify holes in her swing, teach her how to set up a pitcher for the pitch SHE wants, and help her to read me and my movements to get an early read on what pitches I’m throwing. Now, it should be said that the velocity and movement alone that I put on the ball is more than what she is used to. However, as she gets acclimated to facing me and begins to identify the pitches prematurely, her success has shot through the roof. Now, the velocity is not intimidating and she’s making solid contact on breaking pitches. At the very same time, we worked a great deal on reading pitchers and knowing what to look for which will tip off what pitch is coming.
So, this got me thinking about offering this service in addition to my normal pitching instructional business. Again, keep in mind, I’m not talking about teaching someone how to swing. I’m talking about teaching them how to read a pitcher, how to identify pitches early, showing them holes in their swing that a great pitcher would attack in a game, and getting them used to velocity and movement beyond what they will see at their current level. Think of how much less intimidating a team would feel about facing a very good 18-U pitcher after being trained against someone like myself. More and more National/Olympic teams are doing this very thing and it’s no coincidence that the top teams in the world (USA, Canada, Japan, Australia, Taipei, etc.) all use the best male pitchers they can obtain for the team batting practice. China, for example, asked me about doing this for them last
year but the time requirements were not feasible for me. Now they employ one of the pitchers from the 2007 men’s world championship team full time. So, similarly to how I conduct clinics throughout the country, I thought I’d try this also. By the way, the girl I was talking about who I see weekly.. has signed with powerhouse Northwestern University. Her hard work paid off!
As the winter season approaches, there are 3 types of pitchers: those who play winter leagues/tournaments, those who just practice, and those who don’t do a darn thing! Here in the NorthEast USA, our winter leagues are played indoors under different rules than normal softball because of the field conditions and size. Most are normal size infields but the outfields can be as short as 100 feet from home plate. Many teams don’t like playing winter ball because they don’t feel it provides the right training atmosphere and true situations. From a pitching standpoint, nothing changes. There are no rule differences to speak of and a pitcher can get the same work out in those games as they can in summer competition. Whether a pitcher is playing in winter competition or not, this is the critical time for development and learning. So, regardless of if she pitches in games or just in practices, there are always things to work on.
As a parent and/or coach, there is a certain mentality that you must bring to the practice also. It’s very easy to get upset and frustrated at your pitcher’s apparent lack of progress but, sometimes it’s simply too easy to focus on the negative than it is the positive. But, for the sake of your pitcher’s confidence and your own sanity you need to remember that progress is probably being made even though you don’t see it every day. It’s kind of like seeing a baby one day, then not seeing him again for 6 months. The kid looks bigger to you but, not to the parent who sees him every day. Pitching is similar. Just because immediate success isn’t felt in on area doesn’t mean it’s not being achieved in others.
We’ve all seen or heard about the over the top parents who take their kid’s sports too far. There are some horrific stories out there of things parents have done for the sake of their kids or because they don’t feel their kids are trying hard enough. I remember seeing an Oprah show where a dad was so intent on his son being a football star that this kid was actually catching balls on the run at age 3. THREE YEARS OLD! My son is 3 and the only thing that gets him running is when it’s time for bed! The right amount of patients and hard work mixed together is the recipe for success.
I’ve said this before and it seems blatantly obvious but, pitching is NOT easy. It takes years and years to be able to do this consistently and no amount of anger or frustration on the parents part is going to help. And the reality is, there are no shortcuts to doing it right. If it seems like your daughter is taking longer than it should, be thankful! That probably means she’s working on it the right way. Remember, there IS right and wrong here. The worst thing we can do is breeze over something just to move onto the next thing. Because pitching has so much ’cause and effect’ to it, if they are doing something wrong NOW… it will effect what they do (or cannot do) LATER.
I may not be itching where some are scratching with this article, and that’s ok. Consider yourself fortunate if that’s the case. But, if you are a parent who thinks this should be easier than it is.. then I suggest you try it along with your daughter. Nothing is more humbling than realizing how difficult this really is and that she probably is trying VERY hard to get this right.
It would be nice if there was a timetable for certain things. Like, everyone will have a riseball 5 weeks after they first learn how to do it. But, it just doesn’t work that way. And the reason so few pitchers have a real riseball that spins backwards (not sideways or with ‘bullet spin’) is because they may not have taken the time to set the foundation first. It’s like building the rest of the house before the basement walls have set and hardened. The house will shake for a while then collapse.
There is probably nobody more upset than the pitcher when the immediate success of learning the riseball (for example) is not felt. And there is a fine line between them not getting it and not trying to get it. In doing this for the past several years, I’ve seen my share of both kinds: the kids who are trying like crazy and the kids who don’t care at all. Those are the kids living out the dreams of the parent, kind of like that 3 year old kid I wrote about earlier. For me, in my job.. nothing is worse than the kid who doesn’t care. The odds are though, your pitcher DOES care and DOES want this. It’s easy to tell which kind of kid yours is by simply paying attention to how much EXTRA time they put into pitching when they aren’t at a team practice or at pitching class.
Just remember that progress comes slow and you need to be as supportive as possible, especially when things are more frustrating than ever. Thats when they need encouragement, not added pressure. Winter is the time to work on things, and nothing worthwhile comes easy.