“Speed Kills – slow speed that is” – The Most Under Used Pitch in Softball is the Change-up!

The Change-up is the most under used pitch in softball.  I am not disagreeing that speed is important. The focus at USA Elite Training LLC is getting our young pitchers (13 and under) to throw 50 mph with command as soon as possible.  As much as speed is used as a benchmark for developing our pitchers so is the development of an effective change-up.  Before our pitchers learn any movement pitches we require that they have an effective change-up, which they can throw in pressure situations.   Based on my experience, it is more difficult for an older pitcher (high school age) to develop the change-up later in their pitching career.

 

Unfortunately, many of our younger pitcher lack experience in throwing change-ups, as the pitch is not called frequently enough for them to develop consistency or confidence in the change-up.  Too often, the coaches will not call the change-up after it gets hit once.  My question to them is, “Does the fastball ever get hit?”  When the only pitch the young pitcher has is the fastball coaches are forced to throw it. Coaches love speed at the youth level as it does dominate.   But in order for the pitcher to develop confidence the change-up must be used.  My focus on the change-up is toward the future development of the pitchers.

 

With the use of pitching machines, batters are able to practice hitting speed and become less intimidated by speed.   Ask the great hitters, at any level, even the professionals, what pitch they fear most, it’s the change-up!  The change –up throws the batters timing off.  In addition, speed differential, the appearance that speed is extremely different, occurs once the pitcher throws the change-up.  On the next explosion pitch following the change-up, it appears to be 3-4 mph faster than it normally would be to the batters eyes.  My favorite saying during the game is when the coaches on the opposing team start telling their players, “watch out for the change-up.” This is music to my ears, as the pitcher has now mentally placed a question in every batter’s plan.  For the hitter, their focus has shifted from concentrating on the positives of hitting the ball to the negatives of don’t get suckered into swinging at the change-up, or not to be paralyzed by the pitch and let if float over the plate for a strike. The batter is now becoming a defensive hitter verses an offensive hitter.

 

I encourage coaches to utilize the change-up more in their pitch calling.  The change-up should not be called only when the pitcher is a head. Call the change-up when it is least expected.  On a full count, as a first pitch, or when the pitcher is behind in the count in my opinion are great times to throw the change-up. Too often, the calling of the change-up is very predictable, used only when a pitcher is a head of the count and then it gets hit.  A pitcher also gains confidence in the pitch when it is called earlier in the count, or when least expected, because they know they can throw it for a strike.  If your pitchers can develop the confidence in an effective, deceptive change-up at an early age you have developed a lethal weapon for years to come.

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Attitude is Everything

What we think directly affects how we feel, which directly affects what we do. Said another way: attitude determines our altitude, and it comes from how we think, whether we realize this or not. Wait…does this mean that athletes who are confident and having fun play better than those who are frustrated and timid? Absolutely! So which comes first, the chicken or the egg? I don’t know. But which comes first: successful outcomes or a positive, confident, fun attitude? For many, success does, but for the greatest athletes in the world, the ideal attitude for performance comes first.

 

Attitude is a function of what we think about/focus on. Most people’s attitude goes with the flow, thinking about/focusing on current events, current needs, current fears, current desires, etc. That can be good, but can just as easily be bad if the current is, for example, the Niagara River. It might not even seem dangerous at the moment, but it could be heading towards a great fall! My reminder to athletes: you have extremely little control over what goes on around you, but total control of how you choose to respond to it. It is in these choices that lay your freedom, your growth, your happiness, and your personal power. Choose wisely.

Many people have a less-than-ideal attitude about “failure.” Instead of viewing it as a needed stepping stone for success, they see it as an end in itself — a bad one. If they would remember the wonderful goal of approaching their potential, it would be easy to think like a scientist pursuing the question, “How good can I be?” Always remember that we learn and grow from adversity.

 

Concrete examples:

 

• A mistake by self (or someone else) often leads to negative emotions, which can cause the problem to snowball by creating a poor approach/attitude on the next play.

 

• An athlete or his teammate makes an error and he tries to “make up for it” by trying harder on the next play. Was he not trying hard before? Trying to do too much (pressing) is not the way to win the mental game.

 

• An official blows the call, but it’s just one call. It is almost always the athlete’s response to this that blows the game.

 

• A losing player is so mad that he forgets to learn from the experience.

 

• A winning player is so pleased that he forgets to learn from the experience.

 

• Poor self-talk words such as “gotta” “impossible” and “don’t screw up” lead to a less-than-ideal performance attitude. These words could be replaced with “opportunity” “challenge” and “excited” to create a winning attitude.

 

Suggestion: relentless positivism, emphasizing whatever helps and de-emphasizing whatever doesn’t. Don’t underestimate the “glass half full” attitude’s impact on performance! Mental skills improve with practice just like physical skills do, so don’t wait until game day to practice the skill of having a positive attitude. Consistently bring positive energy, respect, and appreciation to practice. Hold yourself accountable for your attitude and body language, even during conditioning or after making a mistake. If you receive constructive criticism, be grateful, not resentful. Use your brain to overcome your fearful emotions. After all, would you prefer that the coach ignores your mistake, signifying that she’s giving up on your potential?

 

Your perspective on things determines your attitude. Appreciate your opportunities; they are significant. Compare our chances for happiness, satisfaction, and service to others to what they would be if we had been born in a different place or time. Statistically speaking, you and I did better than winning the lottery when we were born.

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And we are off….

Welcome to the start of another college softball season! This is always an exciting time as college teams get to see what they really have and we as fans get to watch the drama unfold. If you are a young softball player looking to play college softball or the parent of one, this is the time to learn about what is out there in the college softball world.

 

When I ask players around the country what they know about the top teams in college softball, I usually hear about the D1 teams who played in the previous College World Series and this is understandable. The ESPN coverage at the softball College World Series is outstanding and usually this is the only college ball young players ever see. But there is so much more out there. Players and their parents need to get educated about the many options for college softball.

 

Great resources

 

A great chat room for college softball with many passionate and knowledgeable people is www.ultimatecollegesoftball.com. Check it out as it is a fun read and you can learn a lot about softball programs from around the country from a unique perspective.

 

If you don’t have the time to look up every Division 1 program on the internet but want to see what is going on check out www.spysoftball.com. Rayburn Hess does a great service to the softball community by posting a collective report on softball happenings.

 

Who is on top?

 

You can also check out the softball polls – they have them for Division 1 and Division 2 and Division 3 as well as Junior College and NAIA. Check out www.NFCA.org website under polls for great information – they also have a TV schedule of upcoming games!

 

There is so much more out in the college softball world then the teams you see in the College World Series. In Division 1 there is such a diversity of funding so you do have a case of the “have” and “have nots”. In general, if a college has big time football then they have big time finances and with Title IX the women’s sports benefit. This means more money for travel, equipment and better facilities. Within Division 1 you see some teams who have to fundraise for trips and even some teams who do not have the full complement of scholarships or even full time coaching staffs. So even though teams are classified as Division 1, it does not mean they are all equal.

 

In addition to Division 1 there is great softball being played at the Division 2 level. I had the pleasure of coaching softball at C.W. Post College on Long Island and it is a great place to go to school and they have great softball.  We would play D1 teams and from a softball perspective were as good if not better. What C.W. Post offered was a different student experience. My players could join a sorority or a club in addition to playing softball. When I coached D1 there was little time for players to do things like that. For example, at C.W. Post I had an outstanding pitcher who could easily have played D1 but she loved horses and our school had a stable on campus and she joined and competed on the equestrian team when not in season for softball. She loved it. The players at D2 have a different experience and for many it is a better fit. As I always tell people – softball is one piece of the college puzzle and how big of a piece depends on the player.

 

In addition to D1 and D2 you have great schools at the D3 level. There are also softball opportunities at the Junior College level and in the NAIA (we will feature these in a later article).

 

Take some time in the next few months to go and see a college softball game at a local college. See different schools in different divisions and build that knowledge base of what is out there. Take the team out to a game – if you call ahead many colleges will work out a team discount on admission and many of the non D1 schools do not even charge.  By going to different types of schools and watching them play and seeing the campus you are helping your young softball players increase their knowledge of what is out there so when the time comes to start looking at colleges for themselves they already have a starting point.

 

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Make Learning Most Important Every Day

By: Dr. Aaron Weintraub   – Performance Consultant

Make your top goal is to be the best you can be at your sport because this will maximize your chances to achieve all your other goals. What does it take to approach potential? It does not require that you perform perfectly today, but don’t get excited that it is easy: it requires that you learn as much as possible today about how to give your best effort in the future.

 

Three questions: Do you perform better with a positive attitude than a negative one? Isn’t adversity inevitable? If yes to both, then isn’t staying positive through adversity going to be a critical skill for you to develop to be the best you can be? Here’s how to do it: make learning most important! Adversity is good because it usually provides information about something that isn’t working. Even when it doesn’t, it provides an opportunity to practice controlling your attitudes and emotions with the positive self-talk that comes from an optimistic explanatory style.

 

When you make learning more important than achievement today, you are able to adopt the scientist’s mindset that there is no such thing as “failure,” only poor outcomes that can be avoided in the future by making effective adjustments. Learn what to repeat from your successes and what to change from your “failures.” But remember, learning doesn’t happen automatically. You have to pay attention, looking for patterns and details. This is too much trouble for most people, but since you are committed to being the best you can be at your sport, it’s certainly not too much for you. You know that to get what most people won’t ever get, you’ll have to do and think things that most people won’t do and think.

 

Consistently ask questions, including:

 

What was I trying to do?

 

What happened?

 

Why?

 

What do I want to try to do the next time that I’m in a similar situation?

 

How do I do that?

 

We are not born with the information needed to formulate the best plan of attack for any situation. We must seek it out if we are going to have a chance to approach our potential, being open to the possibility that our old maps of life that tell us how to get to where we want to go probably have a few mistakes on them. Also, each map is certainly lacking in some of the details and distinctions needed to traverse such a challenging path as yours.

 

Here are two big ‘ifs:’ If you know what you want and if you have both the motivation and courage to go and get it, then you are on your way. That way is learning to be your best, and this process defines your success (most people think it leads to your success). Our ability to get what we want in life is no different from our rate of learning and applying what we learn. Know your job and do your job!

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