Still here, folks!

WHEW! What a whirlwind this last year has been. First, I graduated college! 3 kids and 8 years later, it is DONE! My website took a backseat to school, but now that I’m finished, and my daughter is back in school, it’s game on. After switching facilities, I’m proud to say I’ve been at Advantage Baseball for a little over a year now. It’s slim pickins for indoor batting cages in Houston, but I have found a GEM!  The staff has been awesome to me, and the issues I was having with availability are resolved–like no more being locked out! AB is great: 8 huge tunnels, plus batting cages with 4 pitching machines of various speeds. The facility mainly caters to Baseball teams, and I like being the main softball instructor on the staff. Plus they hook me up with cool t-shirts all the time! Very thankful for the opportunity at Advantage. Still no AC, but softball doesn’t have that luxury anyway. Buck up, buttercup!

I am also still working with Houston Havoc players at Moffit Park. I am only there about two days a week, but I enjoy getting outside and being on a field. Havoc has been so good to me, it’s hard to stay away.

I’m still taking new lessons, but my availability is slim. Fall is so hard for girls to make definite plans with Monday night softball, school starting, other sports practices, etc. And I know y’all can appreciate my need to be home and tuck the babies in. Easiest way to get in is early lessons (4&5pm) or Saturday am’s. Anyway, all is well for those who have asked if I’m still in the game. You guys know I could never be out for too long… 😉 Plan to start posting tips and articles weekly. Stay tuned for the $$$!

-Sylvia

 

5 Ways to Effectively Coach New Athletes

1. Set Goals: Attainable and rational goals are essential to an athlete’s growth and performance because they need to know where they are starting, and where want to end. Goal setting helps because it gives them a step by step of accomplishment. Without goals, thinking about the end result (ex: wanting to be an excellent bunter) seems very far away. With short term goals (ex: making contact with the ball, attempting to bunt good pitches and finally, laying down a sacrifice bunt in a game) it is much easier to measure the athlete’s growth.

2. Simple Instructions/Modeling: Giving a short and simple presentation of what the athlete should be doing is essential to their learning because “telling” them isn’t giving them a visual. Many learners need to get the information through several sensory systems, so a visual and auditory presentation is necessary for them to fully understand what you are asking. In softball, if you were teaching a new athlete to bunt for example, you could tell them body position, and what they should be doing with their eyes, and then give them a model and example to see.

3. Constant Practice: Before getting the athlete into a live game situation to practice their bunting skills, they need to first practice it with the bare bones. Perhaps using a whiffle ball and a broom handle to help them develop tracking skills might be helpful. Drills that work on the fundamentals of bunting, such as tracking the ball, bunting strikes, and using their legs (not arms) to get to the ball, are more effective in the learning process instead of putting them in a live situation.

4. Contextual Practice: After an athlete has learned the fundamentals of bunting, they should move on to contextual practice, or practicing the skill in the context it will be used. Instead of working on fundamental drills, the athlete needs to practice in a live setting. Bunting practice off of a live pitcher on a field with a full infield set is much more “real” than in a batting cage when the pitcher is behind a screen, and they are using dimple balls. Contextual experience is essential because when it’s time for an athlete to perform in a game, if they have never practiced on a field with a live pitcher, they are much more unlikely to be successful.

5.Verbal Rehearsal: After the new skill has been introduced, modeled and practiced, the last part is a verbal rehearsal of the skills. Now we are going to talk about and review everything we have learned. I think this is a staple in feedback as a coach–, you know what the athlete has actually learned when they are able to convey it back to you verbally. Another part of verbal rehearsal is the athlete explaining to you the steps of the bunt, and the desired effect. The best part about verbal rehearsal is if the athlete can explain to you what they should be doing and why, even before they have the motor skills to do it, they are closer to getting there with their motor skills than they think! The mind and body will connect with each other eventually.

(Hoffman, Introduction to Kinesiology: Studying Physical Activty. 3rd Edition)

Softball Burnout

With the hectic schedules we have these days, softball burnout at a young age is all too often a reality. If you live in a state with sunshine and warm weather most of the year, it’s a real possibility players will have no off season. This can be a great thing: no season where it’s too cold to be outside, always improving skills and playing in tournaments year round to be the best they are capable of. However, there is a downside to awesome outdoor weather too. Players that don’t get a mental or physical break are at a huge risk to burning out before or during the prime of their career. It is necessary for their well being to take a break and relax for a few weeks.

    I repeat: It. Is. Necessary. A good three or four week break in between seasons is the perfect time to heal injuries, take a mental break, and have some fun with no restrictions. There is always time to play softball, but remember: these are young ladies that are also in the middle of growing up. They sacrifice a lot of time and social outings to do what they love year round. Three or four weeks in the midst of it all can make a huge difference. When their confidence gets low at the end of the season, and their drive starts wearing down, you’d be amazed at what a break can do. It gives that time to step back and relax for a while and not think about softball. The benefits of a break are endless. Mental rest is SO huge– it’s one of the main factors that leads to burnout. I always suggest changing a routine when it gets mundane– helps spark that fire again too. You will see that your players that needed a break come back stronger than ever, chomping at the bit, and ready to go with new excitement and zeal!
If you think your daughter is suffering from burnout, ask. Some signs are physical and mental fatigue, frustration, anger, and over all different tempermant. Ask in an open and honest environment where she doesn’t feel like she needs to say something that makes you proud. Give the option of taking a few weeks off and explain to her how important it is that she takes some time for herself to reevaluate and clear her head. It’ll make the beginning of the next season so much more fun and relaxed, instead of dreaded.
Lastly, as a coach, there are a few options for delaying the onset of early softball burnout. Play as many games as you can. Practice gets monotonous day after day. Playing makes the season fly by. Also, do at least one “fun” drill per practice. Ask your players to pick the drills, and give them some options. Try not to let practice drag on: be efficient and plan well, so when the goals for the day are done, so are the girls.
Inevitably, awesome athletes will be lost to burnout and mental fatigue. It’s sad but true. But coaches, parents, and friends can make a huge impact on when and if this happens, so do the right things to make sure your daughter has the best chance to succeed in her softball career.

Rotational Hitting

How do the professionals do it? Well, the game has moved from a linear swing to a rotational swing. It used to be the linear swing (extend hands straight to the ball, weight on the back side, squish the bug) was all that was taught. But through the years, and lots of studying successful hitters swings, we have come to teach the rotational swing. The rotational theory revolves around using the body (the torso particularly) as a whip pull the hands around to crush the ball.

A Quick Overview of the Rotational Swing

Stance

I am what I call an “equal opportunity foot placer” because I like the feet in a straight line to start the stance. I don’t like a closed stance because I think it hurts me on an inside pitch, and I don’t like an open stance for the opposite reason. However, all hitters have something that makes them unique, and if you are successful on all pitches with an open or closed stance, do what works! (Until it stops working). Jump as high as you can and when you land, that’s what your stance should resemble. Knees bent and legs a little wider than shoulder width.

Locked N Loaded

Our hands should be high by our ears, moderately close to the body, not far from the head. As the pitch comes, there are many mechanisms that work to “cock” the gun, but some hitters load their hands back, lift a front leg, transfer weight back, lift a front toe, all in anticipation for the front foot (or heel) to PLANT! (this is where this gets exciting!)

Hips Hips Hips

When the front foot plants, it immediately gives way for the back hip to shoot towards the pitcher which leads to the heart of the rotational swing..

THE WHIP BABY!

The most important part of the rotational swing is keeping your hands and bat as ONE with your torso. When the back hip starts to dip and pull forward, twisting your torso as fast as possible. With the twist, the hands whip around and if they are on the same plane as the ball… YOU CRUSH IT!

And crushing the ball, is always $!

Choosing A Bat

“Is my daughter swinging the right bat?” is probably the most frequently asked question I get. Which, by the way is a great thing, because if you don’t ask –you won’t know! Let’s examine a few things before we get into the heart of the matter. First and foremost, let’s be realistic and know that by the end of this article, you still may not know if your daughter’s bat works for her. Without watching the little slugger in action, it’s difficult for me to pick out if there may be a better option. There are however, a few pointers that should help get you in the right direction. Also, these tips and suggestions are what I have used in my experience, and what I think works best, so the following is “IMO” (In My Opinion).

Length: I have found that when a bat reaches a player’s hip bone, it is sufficiently long enough. I don’t usually have a probably with bats being too long for girls, but too short. If a bat is a few inches too long, we can choke up a smidge. If a bat is too short… well..one fix: New Bat!

Weight: This is probably the most difficult of all the variables to figure out. The perfect weight is difficult because you don’t want to spend $200 on a bat that will be too light in 6 months because the player has gotten stronger, but you don’t want to get one too heavy that they can’t swing right away. A great way to find a starting weight is to have your daughter swing a friend’s bat that is close to the weight you are looking at buying,  for a practice to get a good feel. A bat that is too heavy will impede bat speed and mechanics, but a bat that is too light won’t get the maximum power out of a hit. A happy medium is an important place to be.

Weight Distribution: And so we get to “end loaded” and “even weight distribution”.  Simply put, an end loaded bat is beneficial for a rotational swing, and an evenly loaded bat is beneficial for a linear swing. If you can’t tell whether the bat in question is end loaded, or evenly loaded, hold it in a bunting position. If the bat head dramatically falls, it is end loaded. If you can hold it in the middle easily, it is probably more evenly distributed. I like my younger girls to stick with longer, lighter bats, (-12, -13) because they leave more room for error. They have length, but don’t sacrifice weight, and can cover all aspects of the plate. For my older, stronger girls, I like to go to a composite so they get some weight behind their swing. Remember: If the player can’t get around on a ball, it doesn’t matter how heavy, expensive, etc. the bat is. The ball won’t go without contact!

Composition: Aluminum/Mixed/Composite
To keep it short, I’ll give a quick overview of how I think the composition of a bat can help or hurt a batter. Again, I like aluminum bats for beginning and younger girls, or girls that don’t have the strength for a composite bat (yet). Composite is ideal because (theoretically) the weight behind the ball makes it go further than an aluminum when you make contact. And it does! You can definitely see and hear the difference in aluminum versus composite. However, I said it once and I’ll say it again… If the bat is too heavy to swing, the ball will go nowhere. I generally find that girls with an advanced swing make a smooth transition to a composite, as long as the bat isn’t too heavy. You will however, sacrifice length with the composite.

Lastly, when picking a bat, take a second and read the label. I know it sounds silly, but I have so many girls that come to lessons with slow pitch, or tee ball bats!  Get the right bat for what you are trying to do. Oh yeah, now that’s $$.

So you want to be a lefty… Left Handed Slapping

I have a lot of parents ask the question, “Should my daughter learn how to slap hit from the left side?”

Left Handed Slapper: A left handed hitter that makes contact with the ball in motion in order to reach first base quick(er) than the right side.

Well, there are a few things to consider. First, a successful lefty needs to have an excellent eye, good bat speed, good running speed,  and has to be tough. A good eye is a must, because they have to know where the strike zone is, and what the umpire is calling. They have to be able to find good pitches to slap and bunt. They need to have a fast bat to hit any type of pitcher, and need to have a little bit of speed because most hits will stay in the infield. Lastly, they have to be tough! Lefties get hit because they hug the plate and some pitchers can’t throw well to them. The goal of a slapper is to get on any way you can, and a hit, walk, or hit by pitch is doing their job.

Aside from natural ability, most of the slappers skills can be taught. With enough pitches seen, a good eye develops. With running camps and conditioning, some speed can be taught. There are drills and workouts to increase bat speed. Toughness is also acquired! It’s always a little shocking to be hit with a pitch, but after a few reactions can improve. You can also practice getting hit the “right” way, as in turning away from the ball and getting hit on some meat of your body. (I like to do this with wiffle balls, as new lefties tend to open up to the ball instead of turning in, so does need to be practiced).

Lastly, becoming a slap hitter takes a lot of practice. I definitely recommend a lesson by a professional or experienced coach when you are beginning. Maintenance is easy to do alone with enough will power, but you are learning an entirely new skill. Bad habits die hard, so learn it right to start! It’s comparable to picking up a bat for the first time! Whatever practice you put in, you will get that much in return for performance. So, you put in five extra swings a week, you will see very minimal improvement. However, if you swing off a tee for 15 minutes every day, you will improve (dramatically) faster. The amount of effort you put in to softball is the direct result of your performance, the more you put in, the more you get out. That’s money! Oh, and please remember…

Left handed slapping isn’t easy.. that’s why not everyone does it!

 

That being said, one of my favorite skills to teach is slapping. I teach a drag bunt, a half slap, and a full slap. I would love to teach your daughter a new skill!

 

Hitting the Off Speed Pitch

*For Sydney

There are two things that MUST happen for you to be successful hitting the off speed pitch:

1. Recognition

2. Effective Timing

The first one seems simple, but definitely has to happen to conquer the offspeed pitch. There are a few tricks to this. I think the first is to be aware that the pitcher may have an offspeed pitch in her arsenal. If you are not a lead off batter, you should be paying attention to see if she throws one. I’d say 8/10 pitchers will throw a change up after 12U. Pay attention to where she is throwing it in the count, and make a mental note for your at bat. Usually there is a method to when they throw it. Some throw immediately after two strikes, some after the first, etc.  Second, some throw a back hand or a flip change. This is noticeable when you are batting, as the pitch is released much differently and is easily picked up if you are focusing on the release. It’s always good to know what her change up looks like before you get in the box because you can be better prepared and more alert.

Know where you are in the count. As a catcher, I usually don’t throw change ups to batters lower in the batting order, because (traditionally) they have a little slower bat speed and can hit the change up well! We want to throw a change up to very aggressive hitters that might make a mistake and not hit this pitch well. Because timing is so important in hitting, an effective change up can really mess up a power hitter. So catchers– evaluate the batters on your own, but I’d bring the heat for batters 7-9. And hitters, if you are 7-9 in the order, and you get a change up, Bust it over the fence!

The second part, is adjusting your timing effectively. Different athletes use different timing mechanisms, but most use some sort of step or foot plant. In order for the timing mechanism to be effective, your hands have to stay back until you know whether or not you will swing at the pitch. Hands have to stay back for the read– fastball or offspeed. If your hands automatically come every time the ball is pitched, there will be problems. Also remember that our swing can not start until that front foot is on the ground.  Lastly, if you must swing at an off speed pitch, do not slow your bat speed down. Accelerate through contact. Think of it as soft toss! If you have problems with the step (like too big, or late) I like to try a heel lift and plant instead of movement forward.

Always be ready for the fastball, but have in the back of your mind that an offspeed pitch is an option, especially with two strikes. Everyone can be a change up hitter! That’s Money!

How to Relax in the Batter’s Box

I’m sure everyone has heard “Relax” while they are in the box. Well, with a runner on third, bottom of the 7th, and your team is down by 1 run, that’s not exactly the easiest thing to do. I always say that there is a fine line between the amount of pressure you should put on yourself and the amount that makes you crumble. Let’s talk about a few strategies that are helpful when trying to relax in the batter’s box.

1. Relaxation Breaths: This does a couple of things. First, physiologically it puts more oxygen in your muscle tissues and allows your body to perform better, and second it sends more oxygen to your brain, which increases your capacity for maximum performance. Slow, deepth breaths will relax your body and your brain.

2. Positive Self Talk: This is crucial! Everyone has heard how important it is to “think positive”, but really– this will up your game so much! If you step into the box thinking you can’t do it, you are right! Fake it ’till you make it. Believe that you can do it, and your mind will listen. When hitters step into the box, I encourage them to think “Yes Yes Yes” or “GO GO GO” as the pitch is coming. If it’s a ball, we say “No” as it crosses the plate. This gets them on the OFFENSE instead of the DEFENSE. The defense should be scared, after all, you are the one with the bat. Act like it!

ELIMINATE words such as:
I CAN’T, I WISH, I HOPE, I HAVE TO

ADD words such as:
I WILL
I CAN
I’M GOING TO
I’VE ALREADY

3. A Routine: Lastly, we can talk about how a routine benefits your game.

Let’s relate this to how you sleep in a hotel room, and how you sleep at home. At a hotel, the room is unfamiliar, and most would have a hard time falling asleep. But at home, the smells are familiar, the sounds are the same, and you are in control. It’s the same thing when you have a routine getting into the batter’s box. Every good batter has some sort of ritual before they step into the box. Some make the sign of the cross, some draw something on the ground, some jump up and down, and other’s hit their cleats with their bat. Whatever works for you, do it the same, every time. It begins to feel like home, and whether you are in a “nobody on, nobody out” situation, or the “bottom of the 7th, winning run on 2nd” situation, you will be able to stay calm and focused.

To close, these have been very helpful techniques for myself and other successful hitters. Remember, mental organization and strengths are FREE POINTS that give you an advantage over the competition. You are already WINNING and the game hasn’t started. That’s Money!

 

Conquering Performance Anxiety

Are you coaching an athlete that freezes when the ball is hit to them during a game? Or chokes in the bottom of the 7th with the winning run on third? Anxiety can ruin an athlete’s performance. It can paralyze even the best athletes. If in fact, you have someone that is struggling with this, there are ways to conquer it!

The best advice that can be given to an athlete about performance anxiety is tri-fold. First, the athlete needs to practice some relaxation techniques. Finding a “happy place” is a good place to start. If an athlete is so wrapped up in bunting the ball, hands are so tight on the ball, they are tracking the hardest they can, and has overwhelmed themselves with pressure, they will not be able to perform. While some sort of pressure is necessary, too much is crippling. If you can get an athlete to start thinking about things that make them happy, they will start to relax. (My particular “happy place” was full of F-150’s, blue things, beaches, and Dave Matthews Band music– yeah, they are all pretty specific, ha.) This is a great way to draw focus away from the anxiety. Also, negative thoughts need to be replaced with positive thoughts. The mind is so powerful, if the athlete thinks they are going to mess up, their mind will start to believe it, and their body will perform the way it thinks it’s destined to. The next part is drawing a focus
on what matters. Focusing on the pitcher and body positions, instead of the hitter’s father in the stands that is going to be upset if the hitter doesn’t perform, or the break up with the boyfriend from the night before. The athlete has to focus on what they can control. I believe that when the outside factors are ignored, the weight of the
world is lifted from their shoulders, and they can breathe easier. Lastly, if the anxiety can not be controlled by relaxation and re-routing an athletes focus, we can submerge them in the very setting they are not able to perform in. If they are having anxiety at the plate, get them in a (pseudo)game situation and have them practice, practice, practice. Face the fear!

5 Ways to Effectively Coach New Athletes

1. Set Goals: Attainable and rational goals are essential to an athlete’s growth and performance because they need to know where they are starting, and where want to end. Goal setting helps because it gives them a step by step of accomplishment. Without goals, thinking about the end result (ex: wanting to be an excellent bunter) seems very far away. With short term goals (ex: making contact with the ball, attempting to bunt good pitches and finally, laying down a sacrifice bunt in a game) it is much easier to measure the athlete’s growth.

2. Simple Instructions/Modeling: Giving a short and simple presentation of what the athlete should be doing is essential to their learning because “telling” them isn’t giving them a visual. Many learners need to get the information through several sensory systems, so a visual and auditory presentation is necessary for them to fully understand what you are asking. In softball, if you were teaching a new athlete to bunt for example, you could tell them body position, and what they should be doing with their eyes, and then give them a model and example to see.

3. Constant Practice: Before getting the athlete into a live game situation to practice their bunting skills, they need to first practice it with the bare bones. Perhaps using a whiffle ball and a broom handle to help them develop tracking skills might be helpful. Drills that work on the fundamentals of bunting, such as tracking the ball, bunting strikes, and using their legs (not arms) to get to the ball, are more effective in the learning process instead of putting them in a live situation.

4. Contextual Practice: After an athlete has learned the fundamentals of bunting, they should move on to contextual practice, or practicing the skill in the context it will be used. Instead of working on fundamental drills, the athlete needs to practice in a live setting. Bunting practice off of a live pitcher on a field with a full infield set is much more “real” than in a batting cage when the pitcher is behind a screen, and they are using dimple balls. Contextual experience is essential because when it’s time for an athlete to perform in a game, if they have never practiced on a field with a live pitcher, they are much more unlikely to be successful.

5.Verbal Rehearsal: After the new skill has been introduced, modeled and practiced, the last part is a verbal rehearsal of the skills. Now we are going to talk about and review everything we have learned. I think this is a staple in feedback as a coach–, you know what the athlete has actually learned when they are able to convey it back to you verbally. Another part of verbal rehearsal is the athlete explaining to you the steps of the bunt, and the desired effect. The best part about verbal rehearsal is if the athlete can explain to you what they should be doing and why, even before they have the motor skills to do it, they are closer to getting there with their motor skills than they think! The mind and body will connect with each other eventually.

(Hoffman, Introduction to Kinesiology: Studying Physical Activty. 3rd Edition)