Developing Productive Hitters - by Mike Candrea* From The Softball Coaching Bible by National Fastpitch Coaches Association.
Reprinted with Permission.

The stance, although cosmetic, can either help or hinder the hitter’s ability to see the softball. I urge any serious player to have a thorough eye examination that includes testing for depth perception. No matter how well the hitter performs the mechanics, if her eyes are relaying bad information to her brain, her chance of success decreases. The stance shows the greatest amount of variety from hitter to hitter. Great hitters have hit from every foot and hand position imaginable. The primary purpose of the stance is to allow the hitter to see the ball with both eyes and to allow her to arrive in a position that creates balance and proper plate coverage. I have found that whether the hitter’s stance is open, closed, or square, successful hitters stride to square position to get maximum coverage. Depending on the hitter’s dominant eye, the proper stance can enhance her ability to see the ball with the greatest amount of clarity. Two other common characteristics that I have found in the stance of effective hitters are flexibility and rhythm. A key element to any athletic movement is balance. Without flexibility in the ankles and knees, it is impossible to create a balanced and powerful base from which to hit. It is important for the hitter to keep her weight on the balls of her feet and not have her weight falling to her heels. This flexibility explains why you see many hitters in their prepitch routines bend at the waist and touch the outside portion of the plate with the bat in their bottom hand only. This routine is helpful in creating a balanced base and also ensures that the hitter has proper plate coverage. Rhythm is another key to hitters with high batting averages. The ability of a hitter to create rhythm in her stance helps her execute the stride. It allows the hitter to keep her body and hands tension-free. Tension is a hitter’s worst enemy. The tighter she is, the slower her reaction is. The locking of any body parts before contact causes extreme problems in the execution of the swing. Rhythm is much easier to demonstrate than to describe. Simply put, a hitter who has rhythm can control her movements in preparation and execution of the swing. The ability to control movement and allow proper sequencing is the key to maximizing power and efficiency. Rhythm is noticeable in great hitters. Any movements made with the lower body or hands must be minimal and controlled. The more movement a hitter has when preparing to swing, the easier it is for the pitcher to disrupt her timing. When I discuss rhythm with hitters, I stress that the hitter should match her movement with the pitcher’s movement. As the pitcher moves toward the plate, the hitter must get into launch position and secure her base for the execution of the swing. This movement should be smooth and controlled. Many young hitters wait too late to execute the loading phase; therefore, they come in late and out of control. The main purpose of effective pitchers is to throw off the timing and rhythm of a hitter. The rhythm displayed by hitters is slightly visible in the lower body and hands. The head, of course, should always stay as quiet (still) as possible during the initial stance. As I mentioned earlier, the stance is purely cosmetic: Although a hitter does not hit from the stance, a solid stance makes a huge difference in how she sees the ball, the plate coverage she achieves, and the preparation of her body and hands to attack the pitch.

In my estimation, most of your coaching and teaching probably centers around the next phase of hitting, the stride. The stride is nothing more than a small movement that allows the hitter to achieve a strong, powerful position to initiate the swing. There are many terms used to describe this movement including stride, trigger, load, and so on. The important fact of this movement is that the hitter places her lower and upper body in a position that allows her to generate a swing on time and on the proper plane of the pitch, with maximum bat speed while managing some degree of balance. Through my years of teaching this phase of hitting, I have found that many hitters make this move too late and create a base that inhibits their ability to use their legs properly. A hitter can never stride too early! The key to this movement is to understand the proper sequence and the foundation the hitter is trying to achieve. As the heel lifts and the knee rolls slightly inward to initiate the stride, the hands slightly move into the position from which the batter launches the bat. Contact with the ground is made with the inside of the foot. The stride is completed by executing a short, soft step toward the pitcher, maintaining a degree of closure with the front foot (45 to 90 degrees in relationship to the plate). Contact with the ground is made with the inside of the foot. The lower body has maintained flexibility, the head is perfectly still, and the hands are prepared to initiate the swing. Common flaws that exist in the stride occur when the hitter overstrides to a point that her weight must move forward, causing her head to have excess movement. When the hitter attempts to load her hands as she strides, it creates a separation of her power base (hands and weight, moving in opposite directions at the same time). Therefore, it is very important to load the hands before moving the stride foot. The final point I would like to make regarding the stride foot is that the heel must get down to the ground to allow a firm base (front side) to hit against as the hitter begins the explosive movement of the swing. Many hitters do not actually move their stride foot forward but rather pick it up and put it down, or they just execute the loading phase and then hit. This type of hitter usually spreads her initial stance to achieve a balanced and powerful position. I have found that hitters move into a strong hitting position or start in that position.

After the hitter has achieved a good base from which to hit, it is time to execute the swing. The swing is initiated by a sequential unlocking of body parts. Powerful hitters unwind from the bottom up with a combination of linear and rotational movement. The back side rotates against a firm front side. The word firm is important: If the hitter locks the front side, her weight actually moves back as she executes the swing. This movement does not allow the hitter to create a positive weight shift that delivers her energy toward the contact point. When locking occurs, I like to use the term negative movement (hitter’s weight is moving away from the contact point). If we divide the body down the middle from the head through the belly button, the front side of the body supplies the direction while the back side provides power. This principle is the same when you are teaching proper throwing mechanics. Let the back side knock the front side out versus using the front side to pull the back side through. A key element of generating the proper leg and hip action is the position of the back (pivot) foot. By watching the pivot foot on contact, you can tell what kind of weight shift occurred by the position of the heel of the pivot foot. Another key is the position of the back leg: L-shape versus straight leg. We like a hitter to have her heel up at contact. This tells me that she has achieved a positive weight shift. The closer the heel is to the ground, the more weight remains on the back side and is not transferred to the contact point. Some hitters actually finish on the toe of the pivot foot. This habit is common for hitters who hit off their front foot—for example, Laura Espinoza. Front foot hitters need to be strong in the upper body and gifted with great hand-eye coordination. Obviously, Laura has both, as she is the NCAA leader in home runs. As long as the hitter can achieve a positive movement to the contact point, the pivot foot takes care of itself. I have found more young hitters who have worked so hard pivoting that they actually overrotate, forcing their front sides to fly open and create a long swing. Now that we understand that the legs lead the swing (unwind from the bottom up), it is time to discuss some key elements of the hand action to the contact point. The bottom hand (the pull hand) sets the plane of the swing; the top hand (the throwing hand) finishes the swing. Both hands work together and have equal importance. Successful hitters keep their hands relatively close to their bodies and have a knack for controlling the barrel of the bat. I use the phrase Throw your hands inside the ball. If the hitter is going to deliver the barrel to the ball, her hands must be inside the ball. Hitters who always try to hit the outside of the ball often have poor results. The only pitch hit on the back of the ball is the inside pitch. All other pitches are contacted on the inside half of the ball. Some common attributes of the upper body in good hitters are: Hands are held in a strong position to throw the bat head (barrel). Hands are at the top of the strike zone. I like the bottom hand at the top of the strike zone. Bat is held at 45-degree angle. Stay away from extremes, like the bat positioned perpendicular, flat, or wrapped behind the head. Elbows are down. Lead arm forms an L. Both arms form an upside down V. Front side is soft. Front shoulder is slightly lower than back shoulder. Wrists are in an active or cocked position to allow a throwing motion. One of the easiest ways I have found to describe the proper hand action that results in a short, compact swing is to isolate the bottom hand. When the batter holds her bottom hand in the hitting position, her lead arm has three joints: shoulder, elbow, and wrist. When the hitter unlocks in the proper sequence, the first joint to move is the shoulder, then the elbow, and finally the wrist. Another cue I use: I ask the hitter to imagine she is drawing a line through her chest with her bottom hand, then executing a karate chop to the contact point. This skill is easier to demonstrate than to describe. If you watch a successful hitter from the pitcher’s circle, you notice the first movement is her elbow, then the knob of the bat, and the last thing to arrive is the barrel. Proper sequencing of the lower and upper body produces a key ingredient of great hitters known as bat lag. The barrel of the bat stays very close to the hitter’s back shoulder as the hands are delivered toward the contact point. If the bottom hand does its job properly, the top hand takes care of itself. As the bat head arrives at the contact point, the arms maintain flexion, contact is made, and the hitter extends through the ball. A common flaw is when hitters reach extension before contact, therefore losing bat speed. A hitter’s hand position at contact is usually from palm-up/palm-down in the lower position of the strike zone to backhand-of-the-bottom-hand/palm-of-the-top-hand in the upper portion of the strike zone. The rolling of the wrist is a follow-through motion and should not be overemphasized. Contact points vary depending on the location of the pitch. I actually put three balls on the ground that signify the proper contact points for the inside, middle, and outside pitch. A key coaching point for proper contact is the following: For an inside pitch, the barrel is in front of the hands. For a middle pitch, the barrel is even with the hands. For an outside pitch, the barrel is behind the hands. As the hitter completes the swing, her hands should finish somewhere around her front shoulder. Hitters vary with the location of their follow-throughs, either above the shoulder or at the shoulder. The follow-through should allow the hitter to maintain balance and assure a quality head position.

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Connecting With the Ball* From Softball Fundamentals by Human Kinetics, Rick Noren

Good hitting begins with a proper stance. Creating balance is crucial throughout your swing. Begin with your feet slightly wider than your shoulders. If you have extremely long legs, then widen your feet a little. A good rule of thumb is to position your feet as if you were fielding a ground ball. To have good balance, you must bend forward slightly at the waist and allow your knees to also bend slightly.In the stance, the front elbow is bent at 90 degrees, in the shape of an L, and the rear elbow resembles a V pointing toward the ground. Many coaches encourage players to keep their back elbow up in the stance. This can lead to several problems in the swing, including tightness through the shoulder area. By staying relaxed, your hands will move more quickly, resulting in greater bat speed. In addition, if you squeeze the bat too tightly, the swing slows down and bat control is diminished. Your bat should be held comfortably in the fingers, with the knuckles you would use to knock on a door lined up to help with the wrist snap.

Being able to time your swing with the arrival of the ball is the next obstacle to overcome as a hitter. Usually, a good point of reference is to start with a short stride as the pitcher releases the ball. If you overstride, too much weight will shift onto the front foot, causing your eyes to move forward and down, making it more difficult to see the ball. A good analogy for the stride is to imagine you are stepping onto a frozen pond, checking to see how strong it is. If you put too much weight on that first step, you may break through the ice.

Now that the swing has started, you have about two-tenths of a second to decide whether the pitch is a ball or a strike. If it is a strike, then you have about another two-tenths of a second to make that perfect swing and connect with the ball. Power in the swing begins by pivoting the back foot, allowing the knee and hip to turn easily. As you rotate the hips, keep your hands back in the launching position as long as possible. This creates some torque in the body, resulting in greater bat speed. At the final possible moment, release your hands toward the ball, snapping your wrists to make contact. Follow through with the bat above your shoulder, maintaining balance throughout the swing.

Your physical size and strength determine how much power the swing generates, and ultimately how far the ball travels. However, practicing the proper fundamentals can make anyone a better hitter. Learning to hit the ball to the opposite field, executing a hit and run when called on, or scoring a runner from third to win a game are learned skills that can be just as rewarding.

Seeing the Pitch
The greatest tool a hitter can have is good vision--the ability to recognize a pitch as it travels toward the plate. It begins in your stance by keeping both eyes level and focused on the pitcher. In softball, the ball will always be released from the hip, so don’t let the pitcher’s motion distract you from where the ball will be coming. Your hands should begin at the top of the strike zone, just in front of the rear shoulder. The strike zone is a rectangular area, the width of the plate, from your knees to your chest. It is the area in which you can hit the ball well if your timing is correct. If you don’t swing and the ball travels through this zone, the umpire will call a strike. If the pitch is outside of this strike zone, a ball will be called.

Hitting for Power Hitting
A long home run to win a game is any player’s dream. Developing enough power in your swing to do so takes a combination of bat speed and strength and a commitment to perfecting it. A powerful swing begins by developing maximum rotation from the lower body. The energy generated from the legs is then transferred through the body to the arms and eventually through the bat at the point of contact.
As the pitcher releases the ball, your vision takes over and tells you to swing because this one looks like a strike. By waiting as long as possible, you see the ball for a greater period of time and can recognize the type of pitch and its location. As the ball approaches, your lower body begins to generate power by rotating, while your upper body stays still, with your hands remaining in a launching position. This movement causes a buildup of torque through your midsection, which is essential when hitting for power. As the energy is released through your arms, extend them to the point of contact. Also, make sure to snap your wrists just before contacting the ball, adding that last bit of bat speed.
Selecting the proper equipment also plays an important role in hitting home runs. As technology continues to improve, the responsiveness of the bat is allowing players that in the past wouldn’t be able to hit the ball over the fence to do so regularly. Several years ago, manufacturers developed sophisticated metals that allow the bat to act like a trampoline and propel the ball with tremendous velocity.

Hitting to the Opposite Field
Pitchers often rely on throwing the ball to the outside part of theplate to get a batter out. Learning to hit this pitch to the opposite field is a sign of a great hitter, one that pitchers fear. When a pitcher throws a pitch to the outside portion of the plate, try to hit the ball in that direction, or to what is called the opposite field. Most players tend to pull the outside pitch, meaning they hit it to the same side of the field they are hitting from, resulting in a weak ground ball to an infielder. But by learning to recognize the ball’s location and using the proper bat angle, you can achieve great success hitting to the opposite field.
Once again, seeing the ball and determining that it will be outside are vitally important. As you recognize the pitch, keep your hands back and allow the ball to get deeper into the hitting area, somewhere near home plate. On an inside pitch, the point of contact with the ball will be out in front of the plate, and the bat angle will cause you to pull the ball. By waiting on the outside pitch, you can then allow your hands to stay slightly in front of the ball, creating a bat angle that will direct it toward the opposite field.

Hit and Run
Another offensive weapon coaches call on is the hit and run. With the player on first base running on the pitch, it is your job as the hitter to make contact with the ball. Ideally, you should hit a ground ball through the opening created by the infielder moving to cover the base of the advancing runner. This means swinging down through the ball with a smooth stroke, making sure to hit a ground ball, rather than swinging as hard as you can. If the ball can get by the infielders,then the runner should have an excellent chance of advancing to third base. The hit and run is typically used only in special situations. The batter needs to be a good contact hitter that can becounted on, even on a bad pitch. In case the hitter doesn’t make contact, the runner at first should possess good speed to give her a chance at stealing the base. In addition, the pitcher should face a count that forces her to throw a strike. When all of these factors exist, the hit and run can be a great tool.

Fake Bunt and Hit
Occasionally, you will face a team that brings their defensive players in very close to the hitter when a bunt situation is in order. By having these players so close, it gives you as the hitter an opportunity to more easily hit the ball by them. One technique is to square the bat around as if to bunt, but then pull it back as the pitcher releases the ball. With a smooth downward motion, hit a ground ball past the incoming defensive players, resulting in an easy base hit.

* To reprint this excerpt with permission from Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc., please contact the publicity department at 1-800-747-4457 or

The Five Fundamentals of a Winning Mental Game - by Jeff Janssen* From The Softball Coaching Bible by National Fastpitch Coaches Association.
Reprinted with Permission.

The mental game revolves around five important mental characteristics: commitment, composure, concentration, confidence, and consistency. These five skills are the critical elements athletes need to be able to perform at their potential. They form the basis of the mental training program I use with athletes. Let’s examine each of these mental skills and discuss some strategies for developing each of them.

Getting athletes to perform to their potential really starts with commitment. Players must be committed in order to work hard, practice with quality, and improve their skills. In essence, commitment means that players play with passion, are intense competitors, and put their hearts into the game. Unfortunately, commitment can sometimes be difficult to find in today’s athletes. How can you as a coach get your players to be more motivated and committed? In our fall ball meetings with our freshmen at Arizona, one of the first things we have them do is think ahead to the end of their careers. They project ahead four or five years to the end of the year banquet following their senior seasons. As they imagine this future event, we ask them to think about and note what they would like the coaches to say about them when their college careers are over. We also ask them to consider how they would like to be remembered by their teammates, support staff, parents, and fans. In essence, we are asking them to explore what type of impact and legacy they would like to leave on the program. We encourage them to envision their legacy before they even see their first pitch on the college level. When your players examine the kind of careers they want to have, you begin to discover their reasons and motivation for playing. This exercise reveals what drives each player to succeed as well as keys to motivating them. Many players want to be remembered as being hard workers, team players, effective leaders, and winners, as players who are committed and have a great attitude. Some talk of the desire to win conference and national championships during their careers. Others may talk about All-Conference, All-American, and even Player of the Year honors. Not surprisingly, virtually every player wants to leave a positive and lasting legacy on the program. Your challenge as a coach is to harness the power of these motives and encourage your players to commit to working on their long-term legacy now. The difference between wishes and mission is commitment. Commitment is the single most important factor that differentiates champions from the average. While every athlete wishes she could be successful, only a few make the commitment to pursue their dreams. Commitment entails action. It means deciding your destiny not by fate or luck but by determination, sweat, and hard work. Inform your players that a commitment is a promise to themselves that they will consistently do what is necessary to achieve their mission. If your players want to be remembered as being dedicated and successful at the end of their careers, show them how they can start working on that legacy today by setting daily goals. Each day they are presented with numerous opportunities to become the players they would like to be. They can commit to being leaders in conditioning workouts or they can choose to slack off. They can commit to coming to practice early and taking extra batting practice, or they can choose to show up just seconds before practice starts. They can commit to approaching drills with a positive and enthusiastic attitude or they can choose to be lazy and cut corners. Help your players understand that the commitments they make on a daily basis either build or erode the legacy they want to leave. One of the saddest things I see is when seniors look back on their careers with regrets. They regret not working harder during the off-seasons to improve their game. They regret not taking advantage of practices and coaches who were willing to help them. They regret not being more confident and aggressive when they stepped in the box. They regret how they cheated themselves and their team because they did not start giving it their all until it was too late. Invest the time to sit down with each player and ask her about her long-term goals and how she would like to be remembered. After you discover what she wants to achieve, help her set short-term goals to improve her skills. Then encourage her to commit to working hard on a daily basis.

To perform successfully, players must maintain control of themselves. Great players have the poise to handle pressure situations rather than tensing up, becoming frustrated, or playing scared. Thus, in addition to teaching your players hitting, fielding, and throwing skills, you must also teach them how to remain composed, especially under pressure. At Arizona, we use an analogy of a traffic light, originated by sport psychology consultant Ken Ravizza (Ravizza and Hanson 1995), to discuss and strengthen our team’s mental game. A green light mental game means that the player is focused, confident, positive, aggressive, in the flow, and in control of herself. Mental green lights lead to players who have their heads in the game, have quality at bats, and consistently make routine plays. A yellow light mental game means that a player is frustrated, distracted, stressed, tentative, and losing control. Mental yellow lights show up on the field when a player is pressing at the plate and swings at pitches out of the strike zone; when she forgets to check the signs, runners, or number of outs; or when she tenses up and can’t seem to throw a strike. Yellow lights decrease the player’s chances of playing to her potential because her mental game gets in her own way. A red light mental game means the player has lost control, is extremely angry, and is very frustrated and negative-or she may be totally apathetic and have given up. If the player is still on the field when she is in a red light, she is worried about looking foolish at the plate, praying the ball is not going to be hit to her in the field, and scared to death as a pitcher of getting hit hard. When a player is in a red light, she gives herself very little chance of playing well because her head is not positioned for success. Composure means getting the player into a green light before practices and games. It means helping her stay in a green light despite distractions, pressures, mistakes, and criticism. Mental toughness means staying in a green or quickly getting back to a green light even when it is very easy to go into a yellow or red light. We encourage players to recognize when they are slipping into a yellow light and work to mentally change it to green before allowing themselves to drop into red. Mental strategies for doing this are presented in the following sections.

Concentration is another critical skill for athletes. Because focus is so important for hitting, let’s examine the role it plays. Imagine this scenario: Bottom of the seventh, you’re down one run, you’ve got runners on second and third with two outs. Would you rather have a batter at the plate who has a few mechanical flaws in her swing but who you know is mentally tough, confident, focused, aggressive, and looking forward to the opportunity to come through for the team? Or would you rather have your most mechanically sound hitter standing in the box physically, but her mind is a million miles away because it is filled with doubts, distractions, and fears? While mechanics are definitely an important aspect of softball, a poor mental game can cause them to break down, especially in pressure situations. How many times have overanxious hitters cost you games because they swing at bad pitches? How often have you seen a player freeze up and not be able to pull the trigger because her mind was too cluttered or distracted? While you spend countless hours in the cages and on the field trying to perfect a player’s swing, more often than not a weak mental game is the cause of poor at bats. The good hitter whom you see in relatively stress-free practice situations is not always the same person who shows up at game time. Rather than spending an extra 10 minutes in the cage perfecting her mechanics, perhaps your time is better invested in strengthening her mental game. What your players choose to focus on both before and during their at bats is a key factor in determining their success (Janssen and O’Brien 1997). Successful hitters learn how to focus their minds in ways that maximize their chances of being successful. To help your players have more consistent quality at bats, encourage them to focus in the following ways. Focus on the Controllables Often players let factors they have little or no control over get into their heads and take them out of their game. Umpires are a good example. How many times have you seen a player blame an umpire’s strike zone for her failures? While umpires’ zones can fluctuate, your players have little to no control over their calls. Instead help your players focus on adjusting to the umpire’s strike zone rather than constantly blaming and battling him or her. Convince your players it is a battle that’s out of their control and one that they therefore will never win. Don’t allow them (or yourself) to use terrible umpiring as an excuse for why you can’t perform. Make a mental adjustment. Focus on the Present The most important at bat of the game is always the present one because it’s the only one your players can do something about. Too often hitters drag thoughts of previous bad at bats into their present focus. Dwelling on the past only clutters their minds and divides their focus. The key is to take it one at bat, and even one pitch, at a time. One way to teach this concept is to talk about bad at bats as bricks. Just as a player would have a tough time hitting well while holding on to a brick, so too would she have a difficult time mentally hanging on to a previous at bat. Have your players let go of bad at bats by encouraging them to convert them to mental game lessons, such as thinking, The pitcher is going outside to me, so I need to go with it and drive it the opposite way. Lessons help players focus on what they want to do right for the next time rather than dwelling on what went wrong the last time. Focus on the Positive One of the most common but easily correctable mental errors is when hitters try to negate the negative. For example, they negate the negative when they step into the box thinking, Don’t strike out or Don’t swing at bad pitches. What hitters fail to realize when they rehearse this self-talk is that their minds have a funny way of disregarding the don’t. These words actually register in their minds as Strike out and Swing at bad pitches. Since the body seeks to fulfill the wishes of the mind, have your players focus on the positive things they want to execute. Tell them (and have them tell themselves) to See the ball, Hit the ball, Hit your pitch, and Put a good swing on a good pitch. Helping your hitters focus on the positive things they want to accomplish is much more effective than focusing on the negative things they want to avoid. Focus on the Process Being obsessed with outcomes such as batting averages is often a hitter’s worst downfall. Batting averages can distract hitters so much that Arizona Coach Mike Candrea never lets his players see them (Janssen and Candrea 1994). Instead he has them focus on quality at bats where the goal is to see the ball well and hit it hard somewhere. The focus is much more on the process of successful hitting-seeing the ball well, being balanced, having relaxed hands and a calm and clear mind. If your hitters can take care of the process of successful hitting, you are much more likely to get the results you want. To help your players focus on and acknowledge the importance of the process, congratulate them when they hit the ball hard, regardless of whether it is a hit or an out in the scorebook. Our players realize the power of the process and celebrate hard hit outs as much as hits.

At some time during a season, a player may find herself at the plate with the game on the line. Runners are in scoring position, and you and your team are relying on her to get the clutch hit to tie the score or get the game-winning RBI. Why do some players tighten up and fall apart under this kind of pressure, while others remain calm, cool, and collected? The answer is confidence. Believing you can be successful is more than half the battle. Ty Cobb once said, “The great hitters operate on the theory that the pitcher is more afraid of them than they are the pitcher.” Your hitter must believe she has what it takes to perform in the clutch. She must convince herself that her ability to hit the ball is greater than the demands of the situation. There are four basic sources of confidence that your players can draw from to help them perform in virtually any situation both on and off the field: strengths, past successes, preparation, and praise (Janssen 1996). By developing and reminding themselves of these four areas, your players have the mental tools necessary to cultivate and create confidence. Furthermore, one of your biggest roles as a coach is that of confidence builder (Janssen and Dale 2002). Use these four sources for building confidence to help your players create the mental toughness necessary to come through in the clutch. An effective source for building confidence is to have your players reflect on and remind themselves of their strengths. Because players are often too critical of themselves, they have a tendency to forget about the good things they can do. To help your players remember their strengths, have each player list them on a sheet of paper. Or taking this exercise a step further, have your players go around and list each other’s strengths. Not only is this a great way to build a player’s confidence, but it is also a good team building activity (Janssen 1999). One of the more powerful sources of confidence comes from past successes. If a player has had success in a previous similar situation, she is much more likely to feel confident when she is in the situation again. If she’s done it once before, then she can do it again. Have your players list all of the great games they have had as well as their clutch hits. Reflecting on past highlights is a great way to create the confidence necessary for future successes. Quality preparation could be considered the mother of confidence. When players work hard in the cages, off the tee, in soft toss, and on the field during practice, they earn the right to feel confident during the game. Confidence is earned and built through hours of hard work and gallons of sweat. Additionally, quality preparation can take the form of studying a pitcher’s tendencies, talking to teammates who have already faced her, and developing a consistent mental hitting routine. Hard work and quality preparation help your players feel like they deserve to be successful. A final source of confidence comes from praise. Have your players list the compliments and encouraging words that have been said about their games. These words might have come from teammates, parents, opponents, and most importantly you. The feedback you give your players has a tremendous effect on them, some more than others. Ask yourself and your coaching staff, “Are we building or eroding our players’ confidence?” While Arizona coach Mike Candrea is an expert at the mechanics of hitting, he’s perhaps better at helping players build their confidence through his positive and encouraging feedback. Remember, the level of confidence you show in a player often has a big effect on the confidence she has in herself.

One of the telltale signs of being a great player is consistency. Some players may occasionally have a game or two where they play well, but the truly great players perform well on a consistent basis. It doesn’t matter whether it is a scrimmage situation or the seventh inning of the national championship game of the Women’s College World Series; great players are ready to do battle. How can you help your players become more consistent? The key to consistent hitting begins with proper preparation and thinking before each at bat. Proper mental preparation allows your hitters to be more focused and confident when they actually step into the box. It is this focused and confident mindset that allows your hitters to have more quality at bats. When your players can have more quality at bats, they become more consistent hitters. To help our players become more consistent hitters, we encourage them to develop a consistent mental routine before each at bat (Ravizza & Hanson 1995). This routine typically involves a certain sequence of thoughts and actions that are done before every at bat. The primary goal of the mental routine is to help your hitter properly prepare herself and create the mindset necessary to have a quality at bat. The routine helps the player focus on the process of hitting, which if done well, maximizes her chances of getting the outcome you both want-hits. The first phase of a mental routine for hitting involves making sure that the hitter is in control of herself. A player who is not in control of herself may be dwelling on past problems or letting things outside her control take her out of her game. A player who is not in control of herself has a distracted mind and a tense body. This stressed-out mindset does not make for good hitting. Thus, the player needs to be able to control herself before she is able to control her hitting. She should assume control in the dugout before she is in the hole. If she finds herself somewhat distracted, frustrated, or tentative, she should use her time in the dugout to regain control of herself before bringing this ineffective mindset into the box with her. She can regain control by taking a deep breath and using the refocusing ideas covered in the concentration and confidence sections. The second phase of an effective mental routine is planning. The planning stage occurs as the player is on deck and until the time she steps in the box. During this time she can be watching the pitcher and timing her swings with her delivery. She also should be scanning the field so that she begins to get a feeling for what she might be called on to do for her upcoming at bat. By the end of the planning stage, your hitter should understand what she wants to accomplish with her at bat and have the confidence to do it. The final stage of an effective mental routine for hitting is trusting. Trusting means that the player has a clear mind and is focused only on the release point of the pitcher so that she can pick up the ball as early as possible and see it well. In essence, she is turning off the thinking and analyzing part of her mind and allowing herself to trust her hands to react. Most problems occur when a hitter is still thinking and analyzing when she steps into the box. Too much thinking causes a hitter to be overanxious or freeze up. A trusting mindset is the key to letting her hands (and the rest of her mechanics) react naturally. To help your hitters get into the trust mode, encourage them to take a breath before they step into the box. This breath should symbolize to them that they are emptying their mind of the thinking and analyzing and are now stepping in with a calm and clear mind. Have them fix their eyes and fine-tune their focus externally on the pitcher’s thigh area, so they pick up the ball as quickly as possible. Even though I used hitting as an example, pitchers, infielders, and outfielders can also use mental routines. The key is to help your players run through a quick mental checklist to make sure that they are in control of themselves, focused on the situation, and ready to trust themselves and react naturally.

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The Coach - by Denny Throneburg* From The Softball Coaching Bible by National Fastpitch Coaches Association. Reprinted with permission.

After coaching well over 1,000 softball games and numerous players from T-ball to Olympic level, I’ve come to the conclusion that two of the most important attributes of a coach are the ability to teach fundamentals and the ability to motivate. Although there are many great players, not every great player is a great coach. On the other hand, I know some very good coaches who were not exceptionally good players. Why is this? I believe it is simply the ability to teach fundamentals. Being able to break a skill down into learning parts and then transferring that knowledge to players through a series of progressive drills is an ability that all successful coaches have. Coaches gain that knowledge through a variety of ways. Some coaches were very good players and were taught by good coaches. Others use resources such as videos, camps, clinics, and seminars. I believe any coach who is willing to learn can learn. Coaches should check their egos at the door. No matter how many games or state championships a coach has won, every coach can still learn. Coaches who attend clinics, read books, or watch videos have admitted a great thing in coaching: They want to get better. I guess the coaches who bother me the most are those who don’t ask for help. Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness. I suspect that some coaches never attempt to get better because they don’t want to admit how little they actually know. Some coaches seem to be more afraid of success than they are failure. With success, expectations become greater, and some people don’t want that kind of pressure. A coach actually told me once he just wanted to be .500 every year, then the expectations would never be too high. I’ve never been able to rationalize that statement. There is no magic formula to motivation. A successful coach simply has to do it his or her own way. If you try to be someone you are not, your players will see through you in a heartbeat. If you’re emotional, be emotional; if not, don’t. Players adjust once they realize you are being you. A coach has to be able to challenge, inspire, and discipline. There is nothing wrong with demanding excellence. You do not always get it, but there is nothing wrong with striving for it. I always tell our players the two easiest things in life to do are to lose and to quit, and we’re not real fond of anyone who enjoys either of them. We want to be contenders, not pretenders. There are no shortcuts to success. Any coach or team can have the occasional exceptional season, but to win year after year requires the three Ps: patience, persistence, and practice. Persistence leads to perfection. We don’t do anything fancy in our practices. We believe in teaching a skill correctly and then repeating it over and over until muscle memory of the correct skill becomes an immediate reaction. Nothing takes the place of repetition. Another important lesson we instill in our players is “If it is done in a game, do it in practice.” Usually this lesson relates to fundamental skills such as diving for a line drive or a grounder. If done in practice, it will succeed in a game. What some people attribute to luck, we attribute to the desire to practice. Teach only one skill at a time. Whether it is a pitching workout, swings in the batting cage, or fielding a ball, don’t confuse the player with constant adjustments. Give the player time to work out some flaws on her own. Let her think for herself. As we sometimes say, “Flex your brain.” In certain situations, overcoaching can be as dangerous as no coaching. When a player becomes robotic and stops to think about each move, there is no fluidity in her play. This goes back to repetition. Think before the play; react during the play. All successful coaches love to teach. To me, the softball diamond is just another classroom. As long as you believe in what you are doing and you can pass that knowledge to the players, they will have the confidence to succeed. As a coach looking to establish a successful program, courage to succeed is a must. Don’t be afraid of taking risks. It is easy to be average, which is perhaps why some people tend to be, but to excel and to be different from the rest takes a lot more courage. A coach has to be able to endure criticism and the occasional setback. We do not like to use the word failure. In fact, one of the more common slogans we use in our program is “Failure is not an option, just a nagging possibility that helps us stay focused.” It is easy for a coach to ask for respect, but it is much harder to earn it. The coaches who usually make the biggest difference are not necessarily the ones with the best credentials but the ones who show the greatest concern. Successful coaches have to be resilient. They have to be able to bounce back from adversity if they expect their teams to. To measure the character of a team, watch how they react after a loss. If they accept the loss as a learning experience, if they evaluate why they lost, and if they then correct those mistakes and make their adjustment, then they are on the right path. If a losing team immediately begins the excuse trip, then there is still a long way to go in building the successful program. To me, teaching and coaching are synonymous. A coach feels a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment when a player truly begins to excel. A coach who wants to establish a successful program never hides from the challenge but seeks it out and conquers it. The biggest obstacles to conquer are often the easiest because there is so little competition at that level. Remember that whatever is demanded of others, you must demand of yourself. Good coaches, like good players, are made, not born. Success in coaching is a direct result of preparation. All good coaches are well-prepared. They are able to think ahead, and nothing that happens in a game surprises them. They know their players. They know who reacts best in a given situation, and they try to place players in situations where they are likely to experience that success. A coach cannot be afraid to take a risk, but it has to be a calculated risk. Your strength is in your belief, so give it your best and cope with the rest. The best example I can give of believing in our system was the championship game of the state tournament in 1999. Entering the bottom of the seventh inning, we trailed 3-0 and did not have a hit off the opposing pitcher. As we huddled for our at bats, I told the kids, “We got ’em right where we want ’em. This is exactly where we want to be. Let’s see if all this discipline is really what it is supposed to be.” Down to our final out, we loaded the bases on an error and a pair of walks by using the discipline not to swing at a marginal pitch. I chose to sub for our runner at first, believing that if we managed a hit, we would have to score all three runners since the opposing pitcher was so outstanding. True to script, our batter hit a ball into the gap for our first hit, and all three runners scored. We held the opponents scoreless in the eighth inning, then we scored one run in the bottom of the eighth to capture the state championship. There is no limit to what can be accomplished if you truly believe in what you are doing. If you can dream it, you can do it.

* To reprint this excerpt with permission from Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc., please contact the publicity department at 1-800-747-4457 or

Explosiveness for Jumping, Running, Throwing, and Striking* From Athletic Strength for Women by David Oliver, and Dana Healy.

Reprinted with Permission

Almost every athlete would like to improve the height of her vertical leap or increase the explosiveness of her jumps. Power is essential for every sport. Using power to block shots in basketball, get height on vaults in gymnastics, and spike a volleyball improves your chance of a winning performance. Plyometrics have become an effective and popular method for improving an athlete’s lower- and upper-body power. Plyometrics are movements such as jumps, leaps, bounds, skips, or throws performed at a very high rate of speed and are therefore considered an advanced form of training. While most movements in traditional strength training are performed with slow, controlled movements, the explosive movements of plyometrics require balance, timing, rhythm, and muscle control and, therefore, more closely simulate the skills performed in your sport. Power is an athlete’s ability to move a mass a given distance in the least amount of time (strength X speed). Therefore, power movements are explosive and require speed. Because of the advanced nature of plyometric and explosiveness training, athletes should have a solid strength base before performing plyometric drills. In strength training exercises such as the squat, the primary focus is on exerting force against a resistance for a given number of repetitions. The speed of the movement is not a factor. We actually want athletes to perform a strength routine slowly while maintaining control. However, in Olympic lifts (such as the power clean) and plyometrics (such as a box hop), the focus is on the speed of the muscles’ contractions while exerting force. Olympic lifts and plyometric drills can also simulate many of the movements performed in competition. For example, bounding drills are an advanced form of running, and box shuffles simulate cutting. Recent research also suggests that correctly performing eccentric loading (plyometrics) exercises can reduce a female athlete’s risk for injury. The neural changes that occur can significantly improve balance, coordination, and an athlete’s overall ability to absorb ground force. To begin building power and explosiveness, it is essential to master several movements. Then you can adapt these movements as you move into the power development training phase. One of the best ways to train for power and explosiveness is to jump rope. Jumping rope may appear to be a simple exercise, but adding a few technical movements turns it into one of the best drills for developing coordination, speed, and timing for any sport. Each drill in this chapter can be modified depending on the goal of the exercise. For example, a more technical drill may be best completed at shorter intervals to stimulate coordination and speed. These drills are usually done for 30 seconds to one minute. Simple drills can be done as a conditioning exercise and can be done for longer periods of three, five, or even ten minutes. You can add variety to jumping rope with several variations: Forward jumping is a basic bounce step. Single-leg jumping is the basic bounce step on one leg. Side-to-side jumping is the basic bounce step moving laterally three to five inches left and right. Scissor jumping is the basic bounce step alternating feet into a forward and back movement. Backward jumping is the basic bounce movement while swinging the rope backward. Running forward requires moving quickly in a straight line while jumping rope. This is a great way to teach bounding. X jumps alternate a wide straddle position with a crossed-feet position. Double jumps require the athlete to jump higher and swing the rope faster while turning the rope twice under each single jump.

* To reprint this excerpt with permission from Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc., please contact the publicity department at 1-800-747-4457 or

ASA/USA Softball Announces Olympic Team Open Tryouts 3/6/2006 OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - The Amateur Softball Association announced today its tryouts for the 2008 Olympic team who will look to win its fourth gold medal in 2008 in Beijing, China. The ASA, the national governing body of softball, will begin holding open Olympic team tryouts in May. The ASA along with USA Softball takes the responsibility of choosing its teams seriously and has invested great time and resources to create a fair and equitable tryout process. This process will allow anybody with an Olympic dream to tryout for the 2008 team. Any female United States citizen is eligible to tryout. There is a $100.00 non-refundable application fee that must be submitted with your application form. You are responsible for your own expenses to the tryouts. The minimum standards, dates, sites and application deadline are as follows:

Minimum Standards

Infielders/Outfielders (Must meet each of the following)

Bat Speed - 50 mph (min)
Run Home to 1st - 2.95 sec. (max)
Throwing Speed - 55 mph (min)
Run Home to Home - 12.5 sec. (max)
Push-ups - 30

Pitchers (Consistent speed for any three of the following)

Fastball - 63 mph (min)
Riseball - 60 mph (min)
Change-up - 45 mph or 18 mph slower than maximum pitch speed
Curveball - 60 mph (min)
Dropball - 63 mph (min)

Catchers (Must meet each of the following)

Throw Home to Second - 2.0 sec. (max)
Throwing Speed - 55 mph (min)
Run Home to Home - 12.5 sec. (max)
Bat Speed - 50 mph (min)
Run Home to 1st - 2.95 sec. (max)
Push-ups - 30


Sun. May 7, 2006 @ Santa Fe Springs, CA (Deadline- Fri. April 21, 2006)
Sun. May 21, 2006 @ Altamonte Springs, CA (Deadline-Fri. May 5, 2006)
Sat. June 3, 2006 @ Midland, MI (Deadline-Fri. May 19, 2006)
Sat. Aug. 19, 2006 @ Grand Prairie, Texas (Fri. Aug. 4, 2006)

Applications and complete tryout information can be found at . Detailed information will be sent to applicants after receipt of completed application and required fee.