RETURNING FROM INJURY

Fear had very rarely been a term I would have ever used when it came to playing sports. I loved them, had a passion for them; they became a safe haven for me as I got older. Between softball and basketball, I felt fearless while playing – like nothing could touch me. It created a sense of exhilaration that only those who played would truly understand. Hitting a three-pointer with the shot clock winding down or making the crazy, incredible play would have me feeling on top of the world. When I got to play college softball, that feeling was only exaggerated. The feeling of having a crowd of over 1,000 people cheering for you is incredible. Fear would have been the last word in my repertoire in this moment.

Fast-forward to my senior year. I was recovering from my second shoulder surgery with a small likelihood of ever being the same player I was before them.

Fearful was the only word I could think of to describe how I felt.  

For as long as I can remember, I had always been gifted with an exceptional arm. I started as a baseball pitcher and then slowly transferred into the sport of softball, around age 13, where I became a shortstop and catcher. If you ask any coach of mine, they would agree with the statement that I was not gifted with the power of speed (even if I felt like I was). Because of this, I was not always thought to have potential as a shortstop until a coach saw my arm strength. I was able to adapt to my lack of speed with deeper angles because I had the arm strength to make the play deep in the whole. When I got to college, throwing off my back foot or on the run became my staple play as the speed of the game was ridiculous. My arm strength became my safety mechanism.

The First Hurdle

After my shoulder labral repair surgery, I remember looking up the statistics on throwing velocity post surgery (probably not the smartest decision for anyone in this situation). Some of the studies said the athlete would only get 80% of their velocity back. 80 PERCENT! I felt defeated before I even started the rehabilitation process. While in the process of my throwing program, I had a moment of clarity with my assistant coach, Jessica Moore. I had begun the section of throwing a softball from 90 feet and I thought it was going to be the hardest thing in the world – mind you, in order to complete the program I had to throw from 150 feet. It had been so long that I was struggling to understand how far 90 feet was. She set me up like I was throwing down on a steal to second base and I went after the first throw – it flew over her head. Now, for anyone who knows Coach Jess, she is quite sarcastic. I will never forget the stare she gave me with the, “and you were freaking out for what, Boyle?” look. I thought that was it; I thought I had gotten over my major mental hurdle coming back from an injury. Then came February 9th….

February 9th

Game Day. First game back. Emotions are running high with excitement as the season is about to kick off. This team gets to start to define what they are about today. We go through warm-ups and batting practice then go back to the locker room to get ready. Down to the field, we walk and the nerves start to set in. What if my arm gives out again? What if the anchors don’t hold? It’s my senior year. I can’t go through this again.

Luckily, I run into Dr. Lee, our Behavioral Health Coordinator at USF. I have been working with him throughout the entire injury recovery process and at that moment, I knew I was beginning to freak out with fear and needed help to calm down.

“Cassidy, take it pitch by pitch and just breathe. You got this.”

First inning. No ground balls – awesome, we can do this. Second inning – pop up, great we are okay.

Third inning. Ground ball bouncing over the pitcher’s head. Bare-hand, throw on the run. No pop. No pain. The umpire calls out and a smile erupts across my face, my coaches faces, my teammate’s faces. I was back, in Cassidy Boyle fashion. But the true test was still to come. Two more innings pass. Ground ball in the 5-6 hole. Backhand, throw off the back foot. It was the moment we all were worried about; we didn’t know what was about to happen. An absolute cannon across the diamond and the girl is out by a step. WITH NO PAIN. Last out of the inning.

Moments.

There are moments in our career that we never forget. This was one of mine. It was the realization that not only my effort but the help and aid of those around me all paid off. I trotted off the field and was swarmed in a hug by my head coach, Ken Eriksen. My teammates were all around me in excitement because we had just gotten out of a huge inning. Amidst this, I looked into the crowd to find my dad. Grinning ear to ear, with his quivering lip of love and relief, I gave him the thumbs up sign that he always looked for when watching the games the past 4 years. I walk into the dugout, finishing up the high fives, and put my glove down and just took in the moment. I turned around to find my best friend just standing there. We didn’t say anything, just a quick hug with enough understanding that no words were necessary. Fear was no longer in my mind but instead family. These people went through my journey with me. They were there for the good days and the bad ones. They pushed me to get back on the field and made me want to be out there with them again.

You see, I was lucky. I was lucky to be at a University that understands the importance of Student-Athlete Mental Health enough to have a Behavioral Health Coordinator in the department. Lucky enough to have a coaching staff that allowed him, the team doctor, and Sports Medicine Staff in our dugout for moments like February 9th. We are all under the presumption that sports are 90% mental and 10% physical. That 90% is way too important not to take care of. Dr. Lee is one of the most influential individuals in our Athletic Department. Without him, this moment may not have occurred. Returning from an injury is almost all mental. The mental battle needs to start during the physical recovery, but it doesn’t stop when we get cleared physically. In fact, that is when that battle revs its engine. It is one thing to practice post injury where you always have in the back of your head that you aren’t ready to go all out yet; it is another thing to play in a game where you are going all out to the point where there is no second thought of “what if.” I am so grateful to have had an individual during my process dedicate a portion of their time specifically to this aspect of injury recovery.

Remain resilient,

Cassidy

STRENGTH FOR THE AREA BETWEEN THE EARS

Before we start, I want to encourage every single one of you to keep reading. Even when it seems like this is just “another one of those articles” or it seems like it just doesn’t pertain to you. This topic is one that we must continue to talk about even when it is hard or doesn’t feel like it applies to us.

In the past six months, the mental health initiative throughout the athletic community, and pretty much the human community, has exploded. There is a mix of compassion and empathy as well as misunderstandings and negative attitudes. With this being said, the athletic community finds themselves in a polar divide as strong as the current state of political affairs. Many find themselves in the ideal of being the strong individual who only needs to rely on themselves or the “expressing how they feel is weakness.” This mindset has developed by generational transference through the athletic community. Passed down from mentor to mentee and the persona we place amongst athletes that they are indeed that – an athlete. They are the best of the best, the strongest of the strong, the greatest creation of human evolution. Survival of the fittest with the elite athlete being comprised of every human’s ideal form. Yet, at the end of the day, we forget one simple fact – they are human, just like me and you. We, as a human society misconstrued emotional strength for physical strength. Emotional strength is not the ability to handle everything on our own but instead the ability to understand what we can and cannot do by ourselves and the courage to ask for help when we cannot.

Me, Personally

I want to pause here for a little anecdotal information. In my 22 years of life, I have found myself living most of it from the area in which I felt I did not need another individuals help, in anything. I felt that being strong meant keeping everything locked up and handling it myself, or in some cases, lock it up and throw away the key. When I got to college, this internal process of mine was exacerbated, even though the personal stressors were piling up between the school, softball and social aspects of my life. It was suggested by a coach and two close friends that I seek out our Behavioral Health Coordinator, Dr. Lee Dorpfeld, for a chat. I remember thinking, “HA, that will never happen. I don’t need a psychologist.” For the next two and a half years, he and I played, what he calls, a game of cat and mouse. I would come in one day and then disappear from his office for four to six months. I would see him around our athletic facility and we would always chat or have a conversation but I avoided his portion of the facility with the same determination as a softball player attempting to avoid a slump. (You can see where this is heading.) Now, I am probably one of the slowest shortstops to ever have played Division I softball. It was joked that if you wanted to make me run fast, just put Dr. Lee at the opposite place you wanted me to run. You see, I fell into the misconception that we all have – the “ist” phenomena. Psychologist, dermatologist, orthodontist, therapist, etc. We often feel that professions ending in “ist” are all related to fixing someone.

It wasn’t until I sustained the first of my two major injuries that I started going to talk to Dr. Lee on a more “consistent” basis (I place the quotations because it wasn’t really that consistent but it was more often than four to six months). I began to realize how much less stressed I was because I had someone to talk through my stressors, uncomforts, and fears relating to my injury process. Slowly and surely that started to transition into topics regarding graduate school and relationships with others. My natural tendencies to “lock up” into self-protection mode slowly began to dissipate. I was starting to have real relationships and great friendships with people who mean a lot to me. My ability on the field finally came to full fruition as well. I was able to remain focused and locked in. Simply put, I felt lighter in everything I tried to do. No, sadly I did not get physically faster by releasing these personal loads but I was mentally faster. Understand this, I didn’t have to be “fixed” or wasn’t diagnosed with a condition as everyone fears. But, I found a safe place to be vulnerable and release myself from unnecessary stress.

Start By Changing Your Definition

You see, the ability to open up and discuss what is on your mind, whether good or bad, is “strength.” It is the understanding that we all need that person to talk to. Often, we lock athletes into this bubble that places them on a pedestal above the standards of the normal human. In actuality, their competitive profession places them in an area of high stress and personal demands. We need to re-educate the athletic community, starting with the youth athlete all the way to the professional, that asking for help or admitting your stressed isn’t weakness, it IS strength.

I’d like to emphasize another point – this doesn’t have to happen with a psychologist. It can be a friend, a coach or teammate, a mentor – anyone who you feel comfortable expressing yourself too. If you are fearful of the “ist” phenomena then I encourage you to find someone in your circle. It can be powerful to hear that someone feels the same as you, that you are not alone, as we most often are not. I look to another personal example that occurred with one of my closest friends.

Honestly, it happens quite frequently between the two of us so I cannot remember the context of the first one specifically but it went as most of them do. I was feeling quite overwhelmed with something softball wise and I blurted out during dinner, “can I ask you something?” She responded with “oh boy,” as she’s come to associate that question with something of grand context. I stated my point, as normally is not a question but a statement, to which she responded, “Cass, I feel the exact same way and I haven’t told anyone either.” It was a moment of mutual appreciation and understanding, as we both finally felt legitimized in our thinking. Now, I am not saying that this is always going to happen. Sometimes, you are going to open up and someone won’t feel the same way or understand it. That does not mean you hunker down and lock up – as with anything like athletics, there is going to be “failure.” But I want to reframe this thought as well; opening up and having someone not understand or feel the same isn’t a failure – it is just the process of human connection. Not one person is going to have the same sequence of events in their life as you but they will have general experiences similar to you; it is in this that the bond is created. We might not have the same exact feelings, but they will be close and possible to relate to – that is where you must find the comfort.

Why Athletes Warehouse

Athletes Warehouse is a prime example of changing this part of the athletic culture. We strive to challenge our athletes from a physical and mental perspective. We often incorporate mental skills training into most of our classes and large groups as we deem it as important as the physical skill set we can provide. We thrive on relatability – as all of our staff consists of former collegiate athletes which is effective as I find there is a slight difference in the natural tendencies of an athlete. We strive to create a safe environment for our athletes to challenge themselves and test their limits. We encourage open communication and discussion amongst staff and through the coach-athlete relationship.

I encourage any athlete, coach, or head of an organization reading this to let this message sink in. We are all human, so why don’t we allow athletes to act like it? Change doesn’t occur overnight. It takes one person impacting another and then another and this cycling continuing over and over to perpetuate change.

Let’s start now,

Cassidy

THE DICHOTOMY OF BAT VELOCITY

The game of baseball and softball has been studied extensively, especially in recent years with the boom of tracking devices entering the sports world. Most commonly investigated for hitters has been the measure of bat velocity (also termed swing speed). Anything from how this metric impacts the likelihood of a hit to what athletes can be doing in the weight room to improve bat velocity has been researched. As a former collegiate softball player to a graduate assistant studying the metrics of the softball swing and now as a performance coach, I have had a unique view of hitting from various perspectives. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to explore bat velocity and the contrast of what this metric can mean for a hitter.

What exactly is Bat Velocity?

The word ‘velocity’ scares people because it reminds us of physics class. Without diving into a scientific explanation, simply put velocity is a change in distance divided by a change in time. It is most commonly used when referring to our vehicles (miles per hour, miles being the distance, hour being the time). These values resonate with us as we can easily conceptualize a car going 60 mph vs. 20 mph. However in research, bat velocity is typically reported in meters per second (m/s). Additionally, even if we convert m/s to mph we are not as familiar with the ‘norms’ of bat velocity. Is a 50 mph bat speed impressive? What about for a softball player vs. baseball player? What factor does age play in these norms? The good news is, with the influx of data collection devices that are becoming more readily available to coaches and players alike, normative data based on all these factors will become even more clear and well defined in the years to come.

According to Blast Motion, here is a brief overview of averages for bat velocity:

LEVEL BAT VELOCITY (MPH)
PRO 63-75
COLLEGE 58-70
TRAVEL BALL 16U – 18U 54-66
HIGH SCHOOL VARSITY 49-63
HIGH SCHOOL JV 42-56
TRAVEL BALL 12U-14U 38-53
RECREATIONAL 32-46

(1)

As mentioned earlier, there has been a plethora of data to report on why an increase in bat velocity will improve at batter’s chances of being successful in the game.

Benefit Why is this important?
Increase in decision-making time A hitter with a longer period of time to make a decision at the plate will likely have an improved pitch selection.   The longer a hitter can wait before swinging, the more likely he or she is to be accurate at contact.
Increase in batted ball velocity High exit velocity has been correlated with power hitters.   An improved batted ball velocity can make up for a less than optimal ball trajectory.

(2, 4)

An increase is positive until a point….

So, now for the tricky part. If you ever played the game, hopefully you are thinking to yourself, ‘Wait a second…I have definitely been a situation where I was swinging too hard and wasn’t successful.’ And you would not be wrong. There is such a thing as swinging the bat too hard. As fielders, especially pitchers, we can understand this concept of sub-maximal effort easily. Imagine if you tried to throw the ball as hard as you possibly could every single time. Sure, you would throw it hard but it probably wouldn’t be too accurate. The ball would sail or you’d miss the strike zone more often than you’d like in order to be effective in the game. Same goes for hitting. If we swing the bat too hard, we will decrease our ability to accurately get our barrel to the ball. Coop DeRenne in his book, “The Scientific Approach to Hitting” claimed the two most important factors to successful hitting were accurate contact and having the bat arrive on time (3). With that being said, this tells us that bat velocity does not tell the entire story.

Improved Swing Time?

Previously, research has claimed that improved bat velocity would lead to an increase in decision-making time. This makes sense, the faster you swing, the later you get to start your swing thus the longer you get to wait to interpret a pitch. Not so fast… Let’s take a look at the way we calculate swing velocity.   

Take a look at picture 1: 

This athlete is able to get from the start of her swing to the end of her swing in .22 seconds. This would be her time. She may be able to improve her velocity by starting with her hands further back (increase distance) – see picture #2: 

She may have improved her distance but if she did so at the cost of her swing time then this could lead to a potential increase in overall swing velocity yet it can be detrimental to the hitters ability to hit faster pitching. Szymanski and colleagues claimed, “If pitchers are going to be throwing harder and harder, then we need to start swinging harder, period” (10). I agree, to a point. As long as our total swing time does not get compromised by the incoming pitch. To conclude this part, a future article explaining swing acceleration (change in velocity over change in time) is in the works as this metric becomes one of the most important factors contributing to on-field success at the higher levels.

Improved Batted Ball Velocity?

Due to our ability to hit an incoming pitch relying so heavily on the accuracy of our barrel to the ball, it would be naive of us to assume that the only factor contributing to batted ball velocity is bat velocity. The accuracy of our barrel is heavily dependent on the kinematic sequencing of the movement as a whole (5). Alterations to our swing sequencing in an attempt to obtain increased bat velocity will more times than not lead to a negative impact on the swing. For example, we may increase our stride length in order to improve velocity yet by increasing too much we end up altering our vertical displacement of our head height and missing underneath the ball. Or, perhaps we over coil in the loading phase and end up missing directional extension thus spinning off the ball too soon. Or the added coiling ends up leading to a swing that is too long thus getting jammed. Although increased in bat velocity with proper accuracy undoubtedly leads to a greater batted ball velocity, it is important for coaches and athletes to understand the balance and work to feel where optimal bat velocity is for each athlete.

Ways to Improve Bat Velocity

Alright, we are sold on bat velocity when managed the proper way will without a doubt aid in hitting performance. Now, what are the best ways to do so? Although there are several factors argued in the literature (grip strength, weighted bats, certain hitting techniques, etc (9, 8, 6, 5) it is indisputable that when you incorporate an increase muscular development, you are giving that athlete a system capable of producing a higher bat velocity. Having athletes work with trained professionals that can determine the needs of the athlete from a sports skill perspective as well as a human movement system is imperative to reaching each hitter’s potential in the batter’s box. Moving forward, I challenge our entire softball and baseball community to work toward finding smarter ways to evaluate the optimal bat velocity for each hitter. By doing so, we can work to have the athlete.

*It is important to note that this graph is not always a perfect bell curve. There are many athletes that operate best at a swing velocity 75% of their maximal swing whereas other athletes may operate best at 95% of their swing velocity. With that being said, I leave you with this: It is better to improve maximum swing velocity so that an athlete can operate at a higher bat velocity that is lower percentage of their maximum or is it best to get athletes better and more comfortable at swinging at higher percentages and instead ignore improving maximum bat velocity?

Comment below to let us know your thoughts!

References:

(1) Bentley, M., & Bose, B. (2015). U.S. Patent No. 8,941,723. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

(2) DeRenne, C., Hetzler, R. K., Buxton, B. P., & Ho, K. W. (1996). Effects of training frequency on strength maintenance in pubescent baseball players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research10(1), 8-14.

(3) DeRenne, C. The Scientific Approach to Hitting. San Diego: University Readers Custom Publishing, 2007

(4) Escamilla, R. F., Fleisig, G. S., DeRenne, C., Taylor, M. K., Moorman III, C. T., Imamura, R., & Andrews, J. R. (2009b). A comparison of age level on baseball hitting kinematics. Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 25, 210-218.

(5) Flyger, N., Button, C., & Rishiraj, N. (2006). The science of softball. Sports Medicine, 36, 797- 816.

(6) Fry, A. C., Honnold, D., Hudy, A., Roberts, C., Gallagher, P. M., Vardiman, P. J., & Dellasega, C. (2011). Relationships Between Muscular Strength and Batting Performances in Collegiate Baseball Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25, S19- S20

(7) Hoffman, J. R., Vazquez, J., Pichardo, N., & Tenenbaum, G. (2009). Anthropometric and performance comparisons in professional baseball players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23, 2173-2178.

(8) Miller, R. M. (2017). The Relationship of Maximal Leg Power and Swing Velocity in Collegiate Athletes (Doctoral dissertation).

(9) Szymanski, D. J., DeRenne, C., & Spaniol, F. J. (2009). Contributing factors for increased bat swing velocity. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research23(4), 1338-1352.

(10) Szymanski, D. J., Bassett, K. E., Beiser, E. J., Till, M. E., Medlin, G. L., Beam, J. R., & Derenne, C. (2012). Effect of various warm-up devices on bat velocity of intercollegiate softball players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26, 199-205

WHAT COACH CASSIE IS LEARNING ABOUT THIS WEEK

As a performance coach, we focus so much on how our athletes move yet we don’t always get an opportunity to observe how the athlete responds to game-like stimuli. Due to this, I was provoked to dive into this deeper when an athlete of mine had every athletic tool necessary to be successful in their sport yet when we incorporated a game-like scenario where she was required to respond to a visual stimulus, it appeared there was a delay in her motor response. Too much time was taken to make a decision on how to move instead of relying on athleticism and instead of reacting. This made me feel like we as coaches may be missing a major piece to our athlete’s development. So much of my passion for this topic comes from my personal experience as an athlete. I have first hand experienced a ball looking as if it is moving in slow motion and being able to interpret the spin. Did that happen because of something I did in training? Was it more of a psychological response and was I instead just in a state of flow? Would I have ever experienced that visual acuity had I not faced great pitchers at a young age? Is there a way to measure someone’s capability for pitch interpretation? I ask all of these questions because the follow-up question to all of this becomes, how much does developing proper swing mechanics ACTUALLY matter with an athlete?

Therefore, this week I decided to dive deeper into how an athlete responds to their environment. Here is some major information I have come across: 

-The most important aspect of movement = the way it is initiated.

-As an object approaches an athlete OR as athlete approaches an object, the image on the retina gets progressively larger.

-The rate of dilation of the image on the retina may be the trigger for specific motor responses to athletics.

-The best athletes have a sequence of focuses (in response to a hitter facing a pitcher): 1. Soft focus – viewing the whole body of the pitcher, 2. Fine focus: Viewing something specific in the plane of the ball release (ie. outfield wall), 3. Specific Fine Focus: Looking at the area of the release (hip for softball or arm slot for football).

-The attention process in fastball sports is limited by three factors of the athlete: 1. Amount of information in the display, 2. The time available to take in the required information, 3. The ability of the player to then respond to this intake.

-Higher performance players are able to process critical information earlier in the opponent’s action. Thus giving themselves the feeling of, ‘having all the time in the world’ to respond.

This concept applies to all athletes. You can be the most athletic person but if you try and play your sport with your eyes closed and your hearing impaired, you are going to be at a severe disadvantage. In order to be able to use our athleticism that we’ve developed over our lifetime, we must also be in the correct mindset but consciously and subconsciously to respond to our environment.

Coach Cassie

WHY THE CLEAN SHOULD BE APART OF EVERY CATCHERS PROGRAM

When it comes to the sport of softball, quick, explosive moments followed by a period of physical relaxation has come to define its physical exertion. Some positions, such as the pitcher and catcher, require it to happen more frequently than others. The frequent movements a catcher makes requiring explosive power provides performance coaches with the reasoning for incorporating the clean into their workout programs. Below is a video of just some of the similar movements between the clean and throw down for a catcher.

What Does the Clean Provide for an Athlete

“The hang power clean exercise has been found to produce high bar velocities, high ground reaction forces, and high power outputs.” (1)

  1. It teaches the importance of the kinematic sequence  
    1. In order for an athlete to effectively complete a clean, there is a series of movements that must happen in a specific order. The kinematic sequence allows the athlete to transfer power throughout their body necessary for completing a powerful movement. Triple extension is an imperative sequence in the sport of softball – it is the concurrent extension of the hip, knee, and ankle that produces power up the kinetic chain (2). For the clean, this power travels from the feet all the way to the upper limbs which are responsible for flipping the bar to the catch position.
  1. Force application into the ground  
    1. In order to generate the power for the kinematic sequence, the athlete completing these movements must first pound into the floor. The equation for force is mass multiplied by acceleration. In order to initiate the clean, we are started from a neutral position and accelerating as fast as we can. This speed multiplied by our own mass is equivalent to the force we put into the ground. This force then transfers up our physical chain which allows the upward pull sequence to involve less upper body work and allows the arms to only have to “get under” the bar.
  1. Explosive Power  
    1. Olympic lifts, such as the clean, require high amounts of muscle fiber recruitment in order to provide the explosiveness necessary to complete the sequence. This translates to speed and power development. The ability to quickly recruit motor fibers of several muscle groups is necessary for the reactive aspect of softball and other sports.
  1. Rapid Concentric to Eccentric and Eccentric to Concentric Muscle Action  
    1. The first movement of the clean forces triple extension – mentioned above – that is a concentric movement. From there, we are forced into an eccentric load on the squat portion of the clean and back to a concentric movement on the extension of the clean. This rapid amortization phase in the clean correlates to the power output of an athlete. The faster you can go through this cycle, the more powerful you are.
  1. Feeling like a Boss Afterwards  
    1. There is no better feeling than hitting a clean that seems daunting. After this movement, athletes tend to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment as it is not an easy movement to perform. Drop the bar like you drop the mic.

How this Translates to Catching

Numerous aspects of the clean translate to the catching position. First off, the catcher is performing an enormous amount of eccentric and concentric movements – think of the number of times they go into and out of a squat. As for the catchers throw down, triple extension is paramount to throwing out of a squat. Being able to effectively go through this kinematic sequence is important to ball velocity on the throw down. Effective use of the legs in the squat position transfers power up the kinematic chain which, in turn, increases velocity. Tthis begins with the force application into the ground and travels up through the midline, to the shoulder, ending in the fingertips. Similar to the clean, there are very few feelings like throwing out a runner. You get to sit there and feel like a boss for just a split second. The confidence in the weight room can translate onto the field.

It is important to note that, as a strength performance coach, we cannot give an athlete a movement just because we know it works. If the athlete is not strong enough, or ready to understand the movement, it can be more harmful than beneficial. There are certain segments of the clean – the deadlift, jump shrug, and high pull – that can be used to start the athlete on the process of performing the clean. But when the athlete is ready for it, the clean can be an extremely beneficial movement for the athlete.

Cassidy

References

Rucci, J. A., & Tomporowski, P. D. (2010). Three Types of Kinematic Feedback and the Execution of the Hang Power Clean. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(3), 771-778. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181cbab96

Ayers, C. (2016, June 221). Basic Biomechanics: The Foundation–Triple Extension. Retrieved from: http://www.byanymeansbball.com/blog/basic-biomechanics-the-foundation-triple-extension

  1. (2017, July 6). How Olympic Lifts Translate to Athletic Performance. Retrieved from http://blog.bridgeathletic.com/how-olympic-lifts-translate-to-athletic-performance

HOW TO BE A GREAT PINCH HITTER

April 10th, 2011. Sunday, mid-day.

LSU Senior Brittany Mack is on the mound.  Not only is her drop-ball nasty, but she throws three different speeds and they all look the same out of the hand.  I was a freshman that year and had heard something about the LSU curse. For some reason in the last 8-10 years, Alabama softball could not win a game on the road in Baton Rouge.  However this year, I remember thinking that this team was different. We were ranked number one going into the series and LSU had a rough start to the season.

Rewind to Friday night, and I finally understood as we watched a walk-off homerun for LSU sail over the right-center field fence…in the bottom of the 14th inning (that’s seven extra innings for those who don’t know.) What a heartbreaker.

The next night.  Deja Vu. SAME GIRL.  10th inning. Walk-off homerun.  

Maybe we can’t win here?

Sunday rolls around and I take a mini batting practice. I don’t really do my normal hitting routine because I haven’t seen a live at-bat in over 5 weeks since I broke my finger. I wouldn’t be hitting this game.

Once the game began, it didn’t take long for us to realize, like the previous two games of the series, this too was going to be another pitcher’s duel.  Brittany Mack had her good stuff that day and our team just wasn’t scoring, let alone getting on base. Murph, our head coach, is getting upset, rightfully.

Midway through the game, I hear my coach say, “Ryan, you ready? You’re in.”

Um no.  Wait, what?

“Yes,” I hear myself say as a scramble to find my batting gloves.  

My heart is racing.  Why am I in? Am I even cleared to hit?  Should I hit away or slap? What has she even been throwing our lefties?

Strike one.  

Ohhh now I understand what they mean when they say her ball bites.  

Strike two.

Oh boy.  Breathe. Just put it in play.  

Strike three.
—-

Let’s just say I became a pretty good pinch hitter throughout my college career, but I had to learn the hard way, and it took more embarrassing instances than I’d like to remember.  

Here are my 7 Tips to becoming a great pinch hitter:

  1. Get Over It
    This was going to be the last tip, but honestly, if you don’t take care of this first, then you won’t be able to do the rest. Look, pinch-hitting is hard.  You get one chance to see the pitcher.  You can sit there and complain that it’s not fair and everyone else gets more opportunities, or you can take advantage of, as Eminem’s famous song calls it, your “one shot.”  You get a chance to be the spark plug, the hero, or the Debbie Downer who is already beat before she steps up to the plate. You choose. 
  2. Prepare Long Before Game Day
    If you notice that you’re struggling on a certain pitch, then work on it! Not just during practice, but before and/or after your practice time. My junior and senior years I had a few opportunities to lead off the 6th or 7th inning to just get us going.  There were other opportunities where I would come in just to advance a runner. I was a great pinch bunter, which makes me laugh, but it was such an important role! Better yet, everyone on my team made me feel that way. How cool is it that I got to come in, put a bunt down, move the runner, trot down to first, get out and get swarmed with a million helmet hits and pats on the back?  It was the easiest job in the country!But what made it so easy was that I would ask our former All-American Pitching coach, Stephanie VanBrakle Prothro to pitch to me before or after practice at least twice a week.  I would laugh in the box and say “C’mon give me that famous drop ball,” and she would! And I would fail and miss and foul it off, but EVERY pitch I bunted was just another pitch added to my memory bank.  I didn’t try to be perfect in practice. I wanted practice to be harder than the game.    
  3. Warm-Up Like You Are Going to Start
    I noticed my freshman year that I concentrated a lot more on the days I knew I was starting.  I didn’t talk as much in warm-ups. I easily took an extra 20-30 warm-up swings. I even tried to look better on those days making sure my hair was perfect. HAH! Once I got a little older, I really took more pride in my preparation not because I had to, but because it was the right thing to do. Call it superstition, but I really thought the game would know if I cheated my warm- up. And as they always say, you’re one injury away from starting every game and you can’t get that warm-up and all of the previous warm-ups back.  Prepare like you’re going to start.
  4. Take Notes While on the Bench
    I was a great student, so I don’t expect everyone to do this, but I can promise you this is a lot easier than school! Most college teams chart their own hitters.  This helps for scouting reports or future games if you see the same team in playoffs. For instance, if we played Tennessee twice in the regular season and then saw them again in the World Series, it helped so much to pull up your hitting chart and see how they pitched you, in order to have a plan for the next game.I am a lefty and we used to have at least four lefties in the line-up at all times.  The more lefties the better for me because I would chart every hitter we had. By doing this, I was able to pick up patterns a pitcher may have had. For example:  Did the pitcher have a tendency to start all lefties off with a screwball? Was her change up was her “go-to?” What did she typically throw with two strikes? It was like getting the answers to the test before I had to take it!   If you’re in high school and your team doesn’t chart pitches, then bring a notebook and start writing pitch patterns! You never know what you can figure out for yourself AND your teammates.
  5. Visualize
    This was a tough concept to me at first and I can see how tough it can be to buy into.  Now as a coach, I’ve started to use it a lot with my lessons. Let’s keep this very simple so it’s practical! If I notice that all lefties are getting an outside pitch, then I’m going to take the following steps:  First, I’ll watch the pitcher perform a pitch, really studying her motion. Then I will close my eyes for a second and picture myself in the box and her on the mound. As if in slow-motion, I will visualize that outside pitch hitting my bat, and then watching it go right up the middle for a single.  Then, I will open my eyes and watch the next pitch. Without getting too much into the science of this, and I encourage you to look into this if you’re skeptical, your brain can’t really tell the difference between something your body has actually done and something you have visualized your body doing.Now I’m not saying, skip all your reps at practice and take 300 imaginary swings – haha- but I am saying that in games, really work to put yourself in that box picturing the exact pitcher! It used to help me if a pitcher had a great rise ball. I would actually picture myself in the box tracking a high pitch and laying off of it.  Then once I actually got in the game, my previous visualization would help me see it down!
  6. Be Ready Before Coach Calls Your Name
    My freshman year we faced  Stanford in Super Regionals. We were up 6-0 or so in the 4th inning, and to be honest,  I wasn’t really thinking I would come in that game. I decided to go to the bathroom in the dugout when I heard a knock on the bathroom door.“Um, Ryan, you’re hitting.”   I vividly remember zipping my pants up, sprinting out the door, grabbing the bat with no batting gloves, walking to the plate while simultaneously scrambling to tuck my shirt in.  Everything we preach about routine and slowing things down and taking a deep breath went right out the window. My hands were shaking, heart racing, and I swung at the first pitch.  I hit a tiny dribbler and ended up beating it out. Everyone was so excited, and it happened so fast, I didn’t know what just happened. Another lesson learned. From then on, around the 5th inning, I always had a hunch that I would get to hit soon.  So, in order to be overly prepared, I would casually walk to my bag and grab my batting gloves and stick them into my back pocket.  I would also make sure a helmet was nearby. Additionally, I have always had a coach’s brain.  I knew the girls in the lineup who were 0-2 and didn’t look like they were having a good day.  I also knew which players had a shorter leash when it came to performing at the plate. I would pay attention when they were coming up and I would stand at the top of the dugout.  I WANTED to hit. And Coach Murphy would always look over and see me there, ready to go, eager to make an impact and get my job done. If he was ever looking for a pinch hitter, it was a no-brainer. As a coach now, I want the girl at the plate who wants to be up.  It’s so hard to look in the dugout and see girls pouting that they aren’t playing, or girls having a great time but so unfocused. Challenge yourself to be the player focused and ready to go no matter the circumstances.
  7. Be Aggressive and Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself
    I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  Pitchers are told to go right after pinch hitters, so get excited! The scary part is, more than likely your first pitch is the best one you’re gonna see! It’s a gamble because if you get out, then your whole at-bat that you’ve been preparing for is over in five seconds. However, if that pitch is right down the middle, you may be getting that winning RBI! Remember, if you’ve prepared properly, taking notes, visualizing, and getting yourself ready to hit, it’ll feel like you’ve already had 4 at-bats! You’re ready for this!And finally, you can do everything right and the odds of getting you out are still higher than you getting on-base! Welcome to softball.  But why play the game if you’re afraid to fail?   Don’t underestimate what a long at-bat that ends in a strikeout does for your team.  Don’t underestimate what a hard line drive caught by a diving center fielder does to start a rally! Even getting out can get your team going. Take pinch-hitting as a challenge, and even a compliment that your coach thinks YOU can get the job done.  I’m not sure if any of you watched the MLB World Series this year, but Boston had two HUGE pinch-hit home runs in games they eventually went on to win.  Everyone falls in love with the story, so start preparing to be the main role. WHAT I WOULD GIVE TO GO BACK!

As always, telling it like it is,


Ryan

SIX EXERCISES YOUR CATCHER NEEDS TO BE DOING

Catching is painful; from the bruises to the ever constant joint pain, it stays with you long after you catch your last pitch. It is a brutal position that is physically taxing on the body. So, before I continue with this article, I want to make a point – HAVE YOUR CATCHERS WEAR KNEE SAVERS. They do just that – save your knees. It is not weak, it is smart. Conceptually, most individuals and researchers will say that you should be strong enough to sit in that position. Research takes anecdotal perspectives in a given situation and not the whole experience. Instead, I challenge you to think about it from this perspective. One game is on average two hours. Split in half and estimate one hour is spent on defense. Now, multiply that by five to six games (at a minimum) a weekend for 32 weeks. That’s 160 hours of sitting in a squat position!! Now, multiply that by countless practices and training sessions and the hours pile up on the individual’s knees. When interpreting the studies conducted on this topic, researchers are just considering the one game, not all of the excess hours put into the craft. But here is the catch. Regardless of whether you utilize knee savers or not, catchers still tend to have hip, knee and lower back discomfort. So, how do we address this issue?

3 Stretching Activities Your Catcher Needs to Do

  1. Hip CARs (controlled articular rotations) – 
  1. Known as an FRC (Functional Range Conditioning) exercise, hip CARs challenge the athlete to go through the full range of motion at the hip joint. In concurrence with the “use it or lose it” mentality, when we do not challenge ourselves to go into certain ranges of motion, our body’s ability to get there deteriorates. Flexibility at the hip joint is imperative to a catcher’s physical health. As the range of motion breaks down, the body will adjust to an inferior position. Catchers tend to rotate their hips internally which places excess stress on the knees and lower back.
  1. Directions – Bring knee as high up as it can go. Open “the door” of the hip without rotating at the torso. Then rotate the foot at the knee joint (internal rotation). From this position, work the knee back with hip into extension. Reverse the process with as much control and precision as possible.

90/90 Switches – 

    1. Here we are focusing on opening up the hip joint and working on the internal and external rotational ability of the joint. Being able to control and move through this range of motion is imperative to full body health of a catcher. We are working postural awareness in conjunction with hip mobility. Another function of a healthy hip: taking pressure off of the lower back.  
      1. Directions – Driving the open leg down into the ground, try to lift the closed leg into the air. Drive both legs in the opposite direction and eventually switch.
  1. Talus Slide Lunge Stretch 
  1. Dorsiflexion is the ability to flex the foot in the upward direction thus allowing the shin angle to decrease to a more acute angle while squatting. Ankle mobility is extremely important in catchers. Often, they are stuck in an elevated position, similar to a calf raise, for a majority of their time catching. It is important to provide flexibility and the opposite range of motion to avoid extreme stiffness which can lead to injuries up the chain. If a catcher does not possess the adequate dorsiflexion needed to achieve the most effective position it is important to note that this will not inhibit the athlete from sitting in a squat but instead will cause the athlete to compensate into ineffective positions in order to get into that position.   
    1. Directions – While maintaining contact between the heel and the ground, go into a lunge position. Drive the shin forward while still maintaining heel contact with the ground. Work to avoid shifting hips and instead keep torso and hips in line while driving forward.

3 Strength Exercises Your Catcher Needs to Do

  1. Internal/External Hip Lift Offs 
  1. Mobility is one aspect of injury prevention, strength is the other. Being able to get through the full range of motion can be just as dangerous if you do not have the strength to stabilize the joint. These isometric holds at the hip joint provide strength to the hip abductors and adductors which are responsible for holding the ball and socket of the hip joint in place.  
    1. Directions – In the 90/90 position, lift the front knee and foot off of the ground. Hold for 10 seconds. Next, lift the back knee and foot off of the ground. Hold for 10 seconds. If actively achieving these positions is not possible, work to find a passive range of motion as well.
  1. Deadbug Variations 
  1. Core strength is important for every aspect of athletic movement. In catchers, it provides stabilization to the pelvis in a squatting position. The deadbug forces the athlete to contract their midline, activating erector muscles of their back into the ground, while either holding the position or going through small, controlled movements. The key here is to push your lower back into the ground while maintaining the ability to breathe. Being able to contract the core and breathe is important for athletes of all sports and positions as it ensures the muscles surrounding the diaphragm are responsible for breathing and not the muscles that are supposed to be stabilizing the spine.  
    1. Directions – While pushing hands  into the wall, drive the lower back into the ground while maintaining the 90-degree angle at the hips and knees. Drive one foot out, leading with the heel, work to breath while simultaneously maintaining ground contact with the lower back.
  1. Supermans 
  1. When constantly being positioned in lower back flexion, think about a catcher’s squat with a rounded back. In order to combat this, we need to strengthen the catcher’s back in the opposite end range – extension. Supermans provide posterior chain activation in the gluteal, hamstring, and spinal levator muscles along the posterior chain. Whether it is in the contracted hold or constant movement range, this exercise provides stabilization to the area catchers tend to be underactive in.  
    1. Directions – Driving the belly button into the floor – lift your arms, using your lower trap muscle structure, and your legs by flexing your glute and hamstrings. Hold for 3 seconds and then relax.

While there are far more exercises your catchers should be doing, these are ones they can do on their own at home. These should be done at least three times a week for both the stretches and the strength exercises. Before performing any catching activity, the stretches should be done. Providing flexibility and mobility to a position that generally results in extreme stiffness is imperative to preventing injury. But, as stated before, mobility should only be given with the intention of providing strength to stabilize the mobility. Finding the optimal balance between strength and mobility is the first step to preventing injury in any athlete.

DEALING WITH AN INJURY

Being injured isn’t easy. Ask any player, in any sport, who has dealt with an injury and they will probably all respond the same: It is one of the hardest challenges you can face as an athlete. Through this article, I can’t speak for every athlete that was ever injured, but I can speak for myself.

My Story

Heading into college I had never dealt with a major injury. I had broken a few bones but never suffered from a major injury. Then came the winter offseason of my freshman year. I was at USA Junior National Team tryouts when I felt like every muscle in my upper back had just cramped. Luckily, the USA National Team athletic trainer, Michele Latimer, was also a Senior Athletic Trainer at the University of South Florida, where I was attending. When we got back to campus, she was able to work on it and loosen it up but I started noticing a weird sensation in my right (throwing) hand. I would go throughout my day and my arm and fingers would tingle, like the pins and needles you feel when you notice a limb was “asleep.” Then, I would be practicing and I would struggle with knowing when the ball was in my hand – I couldn’t feel anything. Midway through my freshman season, I was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS). I played through this nagging injury for two years. By the fall of my junior year, my condition had deteriorated so much that I was struggling to even hold a pencil. Finally, my coaches, sports medicine staff, and I decided to have the issue surgically corrected. I took the entire fall season to rehabilitate the injury in order to be back in time for  the spring season. I worked extremely hard to get back and pushed myself to limits I didn’t think I could go. In the end, it paid off and I was playing opening night. A few weeks into season, we were playing Ole Miss – a team with a ton of slappers. I came across the field on a high chop over the mound and threw the ball from an off balance position. Instantly I felt a pop; in all honesty, I thought I got shot. I sat out the next game because we had another game with Ole Miss later in the day, and my arm was struggling. During my first at-bat of the game, I swung the bat and thought my shoulder went with the ball. It was agony. After the MRI, it was concluded that I had obliterated my labrum. I decided to finish the season, designated to a pinch-hitting role and have surgery at the conclusion of the season.

It was extremely difficult dealing with an injury for the first time but the second time? It was the lowest I ever felt in my career. I had six months to recover in order to be ready for the start of my senior season. It was a challenge that pushed me even further, but luckily I had a group of teammates also recovering from a major injury that made us all go the distance. Shoutout to my Crip Crew!!!

It’s a Process

There are so many layers that go into dealing with an injury. From the physical pain to the mental struggle, recovery is a long process. The physical limitations depend on the injury but they change how you go about your everyday life. Fun fact – I had to learn how to do everything with my left hand, including putting my hair up. The simplest of tasks became extremely difficult. For lower body injuries, you need to learn how to WALK properly again. Imagine the mental struggle an elite level athlete has with learning how to walk again. Further struggle then comes being around your team. In the beginning, you have to watch them give their everything in practice and weight sessions while you stand on the side hoping your athletic trainer allows you to hold a ball! Yes, your teammates know you’re doing everything you can to be back out there with them but there is still a feeling of inadequacy that washes over you. I was lucky enough to have two teammates to go through this process with. We weren’t afraid to discuss how we were feeling with each other or when we were struggling with an exercise. We did our rehab programs together – two of us were shoulder and one an ACL recovery.

Your Challenge

I challenge you, as a teammate of someone who is injured, to not let them feel alone. Simply having someone from your team help you with your rehab goes a long way when you are recovering from an injury. As coaches reading this, I challenge you to find something for your injured athlete to do. While I was designated to a hitting role, even my true role was being an everyday shortstop, my coaches gave me the challenge of picking every potential sign from the opposing team. I was able to use my strengths as a player to read situations and help put our defense in the best position possible. Offensively, I was able to pick the pitches in order to give my teammates at the plate the best chance for success. It was hard going from playing every single game to only pinch-hitting but it was more the feeling that I wasn’t doing anything for my team that got to me the most. We all want to play, don’t get me wrong. But feeling inadequate is much worse. My coaches understood that my strength as a softball student would still be useful even with me off the field. It gave me a sense of purpose during this injury that made it just slightly easier.

My challenge to the injured athlete reading this – trust the process. It sucks and it is hard but you are going to be a better PERSON because of it. It teaches you how to deal with adversity and how to adapt to your situation. Find people to help you through it. Talk about what is difficult for you in the process and suggest ideas that will help make it easier. There is strength in saying you are struggling to adapt to your situation. If you don’t say anything, no one will know how to help you. Have a conversation with your coaches and sports medicine staff. The people around you only want the best for you. It is up to you to take control of your recovery process.

Remain resilient,

Cassidy

10 Tips for the Next Generation of Softball Players

  1. Practice bunting every time you practice hitting. Some of the biggest situations you’ll find yourself in will call for you to get the bunt down. There’s no worse feeling than not being able to pull through for your team in that moment. 
  1. Learn how to run the bases. Be aggressive, but know when it’s smart to take a risk and when it’s more logical to play it safe. Consider the outs, inning, score, and where your team is at in their line up. Even when you’re not on the bases, think about what you would be doing if you were in the situation. 
  1. Practice being uncomfortable. The game moves very quickly in college and there are a few times where you can sit back and watch things play out. Practice being nervous for at-bats. Practice making throws when the game is on the line. Practice in the rain. Practice when you’re sore and out of breath. If you can make practice more difficult than the game, you’ll be that much more comfortable in a live setting. 
  1. Invest in your teammates. This holds true regardless of the level at which you are playing. You are lucky to be surrounded by others your age who share the same passion you do for this sport. Get to know them off the field. One of the most valuable things this sport has blessed me with is the opportunity to know some pretty unbelievable girls.  I personally think this sport would eat each and every one of us alive if we were forced to play it as an individual rather than with a team. Make seeing your teammates the best part of your day. 
  1. Learn how to recover from failure. This game beats you up both physically and mentally on a daily basis. Coming to college has taught me that there will be an abundance of both good and bad days. Learn from the bad ones, and know that the good ones are just around the corner. 
  1. With that being said, don’t make the bad days worse than they have to be. It’s easy to write off a practice if you’re not feeling 100%. Challenge yourself to stay motivated and put in your full effort. You don’t wake up for every game day feeling great, learn how to be successful even when things don’t feel right. 
  1. Learn to love lifts and conditioning. Learn to love putting work in before the sun comes up. If you choose to drag your feet about this part of improvement, it’ll make for some very groggy, dreaded, painfully slow workouts. There’s something cool about working hard while the rest of the world is sleeping. Relish that, and don’t hit snooze. 
  1. Pick up your teammates’ bats every opportunity you get. You’re all in this together, so set the tone that you’re going to be the most selfless version of yourself every time you all come together. There’s never an inappropriate time to give a high-five. Acknowledge the small stuff, and don’t be timid to give compliments.
  1. Find your own perfect level of confidence. This is something that I think about often in college. While you never want to be overconfident, in order to make it to the highest level of this sport, you need to believe in yourself before others do. There will be people who tell you that you’re not good enough. There will be teammates who make you feel small. There will be times during which you tell yourself you’re not good enough. Let the confident voice prevail, even when you’re not totally sold.
  1. Take time to reflect on how far you’ve come. Look at where you started, and look at where you want to be. It’s a lot harder to work toward a goal if you can’t remind yourself of the goals you’ve already accomplished in your past. Trust the process. Try not to get caught up in comparisons. Use statistics wisely.

BACKSIDE DRIVE PART 2

Do you feel like you’re swinging hard but the ball is going nowhere? Is ‘warning-track-power’ your nickname? Do you feel like if you ever do get a hold of a ball it gets pulled foul? Then you may be suffering from a lack of backside power…

In hitting, there are three main components to developing power within a hitter: Separation, front side tilt, and backside drive. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the most effective ways to train backside drive in an athlete, in particular, a female softball hitter.

This article will cover the various ways to coach an athlete through improvement. Some hitters operate best with a simple cue while others need a more focused skill development. Sometimes, neither of these work and the hitter is instead limited physically by their structure and muscular functions. For this article series, we will dive into each of these categories so that you as a parent, coach, or athlete can feel fully equipped to develop backside drive.

Part 2: Structure & Function

See part 1 for an explanation on backside drive.

When hitting, our ultimate goal is to be able to drive the lower half while simultaneously staying centered enough to rotate along the middle axis of our body. If you see the video below, I am analyzing the hitter’s drift once her front heel makes contact with the ground. This is indicative of the initiation phase beginning. Therefore, the back side (back hip) should begin to violently externally rotating as the front side hip absorbs the rotation by internally rotating.

It is important to note that if the athlete does not possess the ability to rotate at the hip joint then they will rely solely on linear aspects in order to generate power. If you view the video below, you’ll notice the tilt angle drastically changes during the initiation phase because the individual lacks the ability to properly rotate on their front hip.

Additionally, if the athlete cannot get into the proper loaded position at separation then they will miss getting into the proper position in order to drive out of their backside anyway. This will typically happen when an athlete does not possess the proper strength or awareness to sink into their backside as they begin to separate. This does not necessarily mean the athlete is not strong, it just means that the position they are in is inhibiting them to exhibit that strength. In this video below you’ll notice an athlete sway or drift backward opposed to sinking into their back hip and as a result, they have a tremendous push forward instead of an effective drive that allows the hand path to smoothly translate to and through the ball. The athlete still hits the ball hard but it requires a maximum effort in order to do so. This inability to load down into the back hip will throw off muscle sequencing and thus disallow the proper muscle firing order in the swing.

Okay, great – what do we do about this now? If you are looking for skill specific work to address these issues, then check out our first article on backside drive. If you have attempted each of these drills with precision and consistency and have still struggled to find results in your hitter, then perhaps there is an issue with structure or function.

The body won’t create what it can’t first absorb

What does this mean? The body won’t jump to a height it does not feel strong enough to land from. A pitcher won’t be able to throw so hard that the shoulder doesn’t feel like it can hold the arm in place. And lastly, a hitter will not swing with a velocity that the body does not feel it can slow down. In a perfect world, these statements are 100% true. However, when the athlete pushes through these limitations, compensates with poor movement patterns or neglects to listen to their body’s signs of fatigue, the result is an injury. Therefore, in order to have the body trust the swing, it is imperative to activate musculature needed to absorb the power created in the swing.

Below are three basic activation exercises that require zero equipment. Thoughtful intent and high kinesthetic awareness are required.

Activation Exercise #1: Lateral Plank with Rotation

For this exercise, the athlete begins on their side. They will work to keep their balance on the outside of their bottom foot as they cross over their top leg and plant it firmly on the ground for balance. It is imperative that the elbow on the ground is aligned with the shoulder so as to avoid undue stress on the shoulder capsule. From here, the athlete will work to reach around their midline and then while maintaining balance and control, reach their arm to the ceiling. As a coach, look to have the athlete maintain proper hip height throughout the entire movement. If the athlete struggles to balance in this position, have them first just hold the lateral plank position and eventually progress to the plank with reach variations.
Activation Exercise #2: Glute Bridge

There is a multitude of variations for the glute bridge. The ultimate goal is to get the body to activate the glute. Seems obvious enough yet it is important to note that many athletes will feel their hamstring or lower back activate instead of their glute. Remember, athletes are not the best movers, they are the best compensators. We will figure out a way to accomplish the task regardless if we are utilizing the best musculature in order to do so. Therefore, progress these movements slowly and controlled and work to communicate with the athlete on where they are feeling this movement. Adjusting the hip height and alternating between unilateral vs. bilateral variations will aid in the effectiveness of this exercise.

Activation Exercise #3: Split Stance Tempo Up Downs with Rotation

Although this drill appears simple in nature, the complexities of it come from understanding the bodies smallest movements. From a kneeling stance, the athlete should work toward exhaling their ribcage into a neutral position thus adjusting their spine and hip position to an active neutral position as well. From there, the emphasis will be on activating the glute of the trail leg. The athlete should be able to keep the glute engaged throughout the entire length of the movement. If the athlete is unable to stand all the way up with their glute remaining engaged, then take the athlete to the height of disengagement and work toward improving range of motion each week.

Correcting for Common Issues

Addressing the inability to separate the lower half and the upper half. See below for various drills that work toward having the athlete feel the separation in the swing.

Banded Separation/PVC Separation

Seated Thoracic Mobility

Quadruped Thoracic Mobility

Addressing Drifting on Load or Initiation Phase

Many times in the swing, the athlete will experience drift due to an inability to internally and/or externally rotate at the hip or rotate at the thoracic spine. Below are exercises that address these two issues.

Internal/External Hip Rotation Conditioning

Adductor Slides

HOW TO MAKE HITTING EASIER

Imagine if you knew every pitch that was going to get thrown to you before the pitcher released the ball. Would this make you more comfortable as a hitter? Picking pitches is slowly becoming a major part of the game of softball. Any advantage one team can gain over the other makes the path to victory a little simpler. As a player trying to stand out to college coaches or make a difference on their team, the ability to pick signs or pitches can separate you from the rest. So, how do we do this? Here are multiple ways to gain that edge.

Picking off the Coach

When signs are relayed from the dugout to the catcher, we have the first opportunity to figure out the opponent’s plan. Whether you decide to write down the numbers, you can begin to notice a pattern or common sequence. It may take a few innings to notice a pattern but it is important to pay attention to every single pitch. By having a player or two focused on the pitch calling makes your ability to pick the pitch that much more possible. It is important to be creative in this part of the game. You don’t know the pattern so you must keep your mind open to all possibilities. Some coaches can choose a sequence based off the inning or batter in the lineup. Never get set on what you think the pattern is until you are absolutely sure because you may miss the true sequence. When the coach is using touches off the face or body, the same rules apply. The first goal is to figure out the indicator – this can be a number or a feature on the face such as the nose or ear. Once you have the indicator, you can then work towards the actual pitch and location. For location, you can either look for odds or evens for inside and outside or potentially splitting the strike zone into five sections. Next is the pitch – you need to focus on location and speed to understand the pattern. It may go location then pitch or pitch then location. This may sound complicated to some but keep in mind you don’t need to decode the opposing team’s entire pitch sequence. Something as simple as finding out the sign for the changeup can be extremely valuable. Still, this may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Luckily, there is more than one way to pick pitches.

Reading the Pitcher and Catcher

As the softball community shifts towards the armbands for pitch calling, picking off the coach becomes incredibly difficult – as there is almost no pattern to the sequence. Therefore, we have to use what is given to us. Starting with the catcher, the catcher tends to move based off of location and might shift based on the speed or height of pitch. This tip can help us work through the other ways of picking pitches. From the pitcher, there are multiple ways. (1) Body language: Pitchers often have confidence in some pitches and fear of others. Once you notice a reaction to a certain pitch, you can start to associate the reaction to the pitch. (2)  Grip: When pitchers grab a specific pitch they may shift their glove or place their hand in the glove a different way. When we notice this, we can gain an advantage in the picking process.

The only way to understand and get good at this process is to practice it. At first, it will feel overwhelming and difficult. However, as you practice, you begin to notice common tendencies and your confidence will increase.

Have fun picking,

Cassidy

Sometimes Attitude and Effort Just Isn’t Enough

“Your coach doesn’t really determine your playing time. Your own choices do. Your attitude, your effort, your work ethic and more.”

I stumbled upon this while mindlessly scrolling on Instagram, like we all do late at night when we should be doing other things.  I scanned over it quickly and the word “effort” caught my eye, so I scrolled back up and reread it.  

And it bothers me.

And for the girl who starts and plays ever game, this post won’t bother her.

And for the girl who sits the bench, knows she has a poor attitude and doesn’t work that hard, it won’t bother her either.

You know who it will bother?

The girl who busts it every day.  Who stays late at practice. Who hits on the tee late at night in the basement.  Who goes to a private instructor once a week. Who cheers her teammates on. Who, despite doing everything right, still sits the bench.  It will bother her.

Because there are WAY too many instances where this quote just isn’t true.

Don’t get me wrong, I get the point. Basically, this is trying to say: those with poor effort, a bad attitude, and no work ethic, will have limited playing time.  

Duh. Boring. We know.

Goal Setting – Controllables vs Uncontrollables

We started a class this fall on the mental game and in week two we spoke about goal setting.  Some girls want to start on varsity this year, another wants to pitch a perfect game, and one wants a full scholarship to the University of Alabama.

What’s something all of these have in common? They are all at the mercy of someone else.  The varsity coach will determine who makes varsity. Your defense behind you, the umpires, and each batter a pitcher faces will determine whether a perfect game is thrown.  And sometimes The University of Alabama softball team has a full scholarship for only one player in the entire country in your recruiting year.

Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t crush these girls’ dreams.  We simply told them this: IF these were your dreams and goals, let’s make sure we do EVERYTHING in our power to control the controllables.  

What is Controllable?  

We helped each girl come up with their own list of steps to reaching their goal.

One girl’s goal was to make Varsity this spring:

  • I will hit on my own for 25 minutes, 2x per week (10 slow & controlled swing, 10 jump back drill, 10 skip-up drills, etc).
  • I will ensure that my school work is done first, so that I have the ability to play softball this week.
  • As a pitcher, I will develop my change-up this fall, so that I am prepared to face varsity hitters. I will work with a pitching coach once per week and on my own as well.
  • I will work on playing third and outfield with my travel team, so I can play multiple positions.  
  • I will shut my phone off until at least 7:30pm, so I can get my school work and extra softball work in before I turn to social media and group chats with my friends
  • I will work on handling my emotions and being a great teammate during fall ball.

And Now for the Hard Part, The Bitter Truth

Even if you did every single thing on this list, the game does not owe you a dang thing.  

As a player, of course I wanted to be on that field.  I wanted to get the game-winning hit, or make the diving play. I wanted to be at the bottom of that dog pile, instead of running to jump on the top of it. I prepared for it.  I worked outside of practice, took care of my body, taught the game to others around me, and screamed as loud as I could for my teammates when they did something well. I did everything right.  But someone was still better than me. Someone who didn’t have to work that hard. And that’s ok.

Now, five years later, I’m a coach. And my heart strings tug a little every time I see that girl working a little extra, diving all over the field, giving me her best.  And someone else is still better.

Because this games owes us nothing, but pouring everything you have into it sure does put you a hell of a lot closer to your dreams.  Leave it out there. No regrets.

I’m not telling you this to put you down, I’m telling you this because maybe the actual goal (i.e. playing time, wins, hits, etc) is not the point of working hard, but instead it’s about the person you become along the way in pursuit of your goals. We chase the instant gratification, but what if the delayed gratification is even better? So if for some reason you’re sitting there thinking your “time” never came, just hold on. It may look a little different than you originally had imagined.

Don’t believe me?  Read my best friend Jordan Patterson’s article The Game Knows and thank me later.  

As always, telling it like it is,

Ryan