If you enjoyed last issue’s list of 10 of my Top 20 Brilliant Take-Aways from this year’s Pitching Summit, then these final 10 take-aways will not let you down. Be sure you check out my final 10 Pitching Summit Brilliant Take-Aways!
Covering all of the amazing information discussed in our recent Pitching Summit would take volumes, but I’ve made it easy for you by condensing the best pitching information in the game down to 20 Top Take-Aways. This article is Part 2.
Throughout this incredible 3-day event, college coaches from all over the country (37 different states) shared their workouts, tips, drills and “secrets” in an effort to improve themselves, their pitchers and the game. What was really remarkable to me was how willing people were to help their competitors. Nobody withheld information in an effort to prevent their opponents from learning how they did things. Considering what’s at stake now in college softball – that speaks volumes about the quality of people coaching college softball!
This year’s Pitching Summit speakers included: Beth Torina – LSU, Beverly Smith – University of South Carolina, Mike White – University of Oregon, Stephanie VanBrakle – University of Alabama and Rhonda Revelle – University of Nebraska. They were all extremely approachable, honest, open and vulnerable. They each shared what might be considered their “secrets”, answered every question with complete honesty and commented on how much they learned as well.
So here’s Part 2 of a two-part article on 20 of my top take-aways from this year’s Pitching Summit:
- Everybody needs to feel 2 things: Needed and Noticed – Rhonda Revelle, the Hall of Fame coach from University of Nebraska made a great statement during the Summit. She said, “give your most to your least”, and what she meant by that was that as coaches, we need to do our best to give most of our attention and our time to those players on our team who get the least amount of playing time, and who might think the least of themselves. Giving time to our stars is easy, and great coaches go beyond easy. Through your words, and actions and time do your best to help ALL of your players feel needed and noticed and be aware of giving your most to your least.
- Hard doesn’t mean complicated, too often we make pitching seem super complicated – while pitching is vitally important to the outcome of a softball game, that doesn’t mean that the pitching skill needs to be made complicated. It’s basically the same motion repeated over and over again. What makes pitching hard isn’t its complexity, but rather the conditions under which you pitch; an ever-changing strike zone, a zero tolerance for mistakes, an environment with little knowledge to help you, and don’t forget a batter with a $400 bat in her hands. The simpler we can make the pitching motion the more likely our pitchers are to remember it and repeat it under pressure. Avoid the temptation to think of pitching as complicated just because it’s hard.
- Block practice is more orderly and looks better, but Random practice resembles games more closely and results in deeper learning for the player – I covered this topic as it’s one of my current favorites (here’s a previous article I wrote on this topic). Block practice is the most common form of practice and involves the player doing the same skill over and over again. It makes the coaches and players feel good since eventually, there’s a good degree of success. But block-type practice has very little value in helping players get better in games. Random practice is just that – random. It’s frustrating, doesn’t allow for a ton of the same thing over and over and yet helps the player have a much higher degree of game success. For pitching, block practice involves the pitcher doing 10 drop balls followed by 10 curveballs followed by 10 riseballs (or whatever types of pitches the pitcher is practicing). Most pitching practices involve the pitcher throwing large groups of the same pitch thrown over and over again until the final 1 or 2 are pretty good. Since the pitcher usually finishes with some success she gets a false feeling of accomplishment. The problem with this type of practice is it’s NOTHING like the way she’ll have to throw pitches in a game. Game pitching requires one pitch followed by a completely different pitch followed by a third pitch. This type of random pitching is why pitchers often are frustrated with themselves…”I can throw well in practice but not in games, so what’s wrong with me?!” The answer is nothing is wrong with the pitcher, what’s wrong is how she’s practicing. Structure your practices in a more random-pitch format to achieve great game success.
- Females are very loyal and can therefore feel that learning new ways goes against their favorite pitching coach. Mike White (Oregon) made this point when talking about fall workouts. Since females tend to be very loyal and therefore have a strong emotional connection to their pitching coach, any changes you ask a pitcher to make can’t make that pitcher feel like she’s going against her former pitching coach. If it does, the pitcher will resist it, not in an act of defiance but rather out of loyalty to her former pitching coach. So find a way to insert new instruction in such a way that the pitcher sees it as adding to what she already knows or does instead of making her choose between your way or her old way.
- The vertical jump helps determine how physically tired vs mentally tired your pitchers are. The college softball season can be long and arduous for a pitcher, so mental and physical fatigue is very common. It’s important for a coach to accurately determine if their pitcher is physically tired instead of mentally tired because physical fatigue will lead to injury. So, the vertical jump test is a very accurate way to assess a player’s degree of physical fatigue. Measure everyone’s vertical first thing in the fall and then again throughout the season. As the season gets long, players can still hit their usual jump height if they’re mentally tired, but not if they’re physically tired. When you start seeing lower jump heights it’s a great indication your pitchers are starting to get tired, and a good time to give them a rest.
- When calling pitches, freshmen in the lineup usually are often unknown so they usually struggle hitting changeups and struggle hitting to the opposite field – a great tip from Beverly Smith (South Carolina) regarding how to call a pitch against a freshman hitter that you’ve never seen before, was to realize they’ll likely struggle with hitting to the opposite field (so pitch them outside), and have a hard time controlling their weight shift (so throw them tons of changeups). Until they start hitting these pitches, attack a typical weakness in freshmen hitters.
- After the first inning, catchers must be able to help the pitch caller answer “what’s the strike zone?” – great pitching involves great catching, and every great catcher knows that in every game the strike zone is different. So teach your catcher to be an intel gatherer and after the 1st inning, report back to tell the pitch caller “what’s the strike zone?” Is it wider today, skinnier, higher, lower…every zone is different so put your catcher in a position of responsibility to work with the pitch caller to let her/him know the zone, and to alert the caller each time the zone changes within the course of the game.
- To help your pitcher’s practice learning to adjust and better handle adversity make an “adversity bag” for practice – your adversity bag can be either a hat, bag, or small box that’s filled with papers listing different types of difficult or adverse situations. The pitcher picks out a slip of paper and must then do what’s listed on the slip. You might list things like: Throw a strike with a wet ball, You’re behind in the count 3-1, Do your 911 warmup, Throw a strikeout without your best pitch. Its purpose is to force the pitcher to immediately perform whatever’s listed on the slip she pulls and practice those difficult and challenging situations.
- Whenever you’re calling pitches, trust your gut as your in-game feel will trump all of your research – it’s important to do your research before a game and know as much about the opposing hitters as you possibly can. You might be able to study video, or watch game film or talk to coaches who have played that particular team, or even talk to your own team as many of your players may know some of the other team’s hitters. But no matter how much research you’ve done there will be times during a game when your research says to do one thing and your gut says to do something else. Your in-game feel will tell you things like the current strike zone, how your pitcher’s throwing right now, how this hitter has hit your pitcher so far – all things that research can’t tell you but that can change your pitch decision. Don’t be afraid to follow your in-game gut when calling pitches.
- Sometimes a pitcher’s “out pitch” is their ability to throw every pitch in every count –pitchers usually throw their best pitch when they really need an out. While that makes sense it can also make the pitcher pretty predictable. Pitchers always want that one “great” pitch they can depend on to dominate the hitter, but a less conventional way to have an “out pitch” is to be able to throw every pitch in every count. Keeping the hitter off balance can happen simply by being unpredictable with the type of pitch your pitcher might be throwing. Not every pitcher will be able to do this, but when you have one that can, realize her gift and use it to your advantage.
We know many of you would love to be a part of our next Pitching Summit, and while we do limit attendance to college coaches, we filmed the entire Summit for release later this Fall. Watch for it.
In the meantime, check out the following: