While visiting my wife’s family farm in Washington, Iowa this weekend, I had the privilege to conduct a hitting clinic for the coaches and some of the players on the Washington High School softball team. The Lady Demons are coming off a very successful season where they team finished 4th in the Iowa State Softball Tournament this past summer. Yes, this past summer. In Iowa, the softball and baseball seasons actually begin after the school year ends in May.
As I was working with the WHS softball players, I was reminded that softball players around the country share many commonalities. Here are just a few:
* It was 9:30am on Saturday morning and each of the WHS girls walked in the door of the hitting facility adjacent to the school with a smile on her face. Most of them carried the new hitting backpacks that are popular with softball players, which holds their equipment and two bats that stick out like antennae. Even though they had never met me, they appeared eager to hear what I had to say about hitting. One of the reasons I really enjoy working with high school softball players is they WANT to learn, and are open-minded when it comes to trying something new. What I teach is fairly “mainstream” for baseball hitters, but can be a bit controversial for the softball community. Not once during the workout with the Washington hitters did I feel that I didn’t have their full attention and their total committment to hear and try what I was teaching. This is consistent with softball hitters I have worked with in the Chicago area.
* I have observed over the years that girls work hard on the technical aspects of their sport. Softball players are no exception. Even though I strive to keep hitting as simple as possible, there is no getting around the fact that hitting a softball or baseball is highly technical, and requires hours of practice. When I teach any of my hitting keys to softball players, I know they will try to execute what I am asking of them with exactness. At times, this keen focus on “technique” can cause some softball hitters to appear too mechanical. However, I have found that it is relatively easy to help hitters who are technically sound, but a little mechanical. I encourage them to trust the hitting mechanics they worked so hard to perfect and to employ some of the effective “inner game” mental techniques I teach. This helps hitters loosen up and makes it easier for them to “let if fly”.
* While striving for technical perfection, I have noticed that some softball players can become easily frustrated. They can hit ten balls hard, but if the next hit is a weak ground ball or a pop-up, it seems like the agony of that one miscue negates the ten rockets. Unlike my baseball hitters who don’t seem to internalize failure as much as my softball hitters, I need to continually remind these young women not to let the small setbacks detract from the great strides they are making toward becoming powerful and consistent hitters. The good news is softball hitters respond quickly and favorable to my encouragement to focus on the positive.
* Without insulting my baseball hitters, I think softball hitters have more fun! I enjoy working with softball hitters because it just seems like they have more fun working on their hitting and playing the game. If you compare a high school baseball game to a softball game, it is obvious who is having more fun. Softball players are smiling, singing, chanting, and laughing, while still maintaining their intensity and concentration. Even though I was with the Washington girls for only a couple of hours this weekend, I could see how much they enjoy the game and like to have fun. I credit much of this to their successful coach, Angie Shrader. I’m sure this is why they went so far in the playoffs.
* On a lighter note, the only improvement I would like to see in high school and college softball is more nicknames. I always ask my new softball hitters if they have a nickname.The answer is almost always “No”. Baseball is widely accepted as the sport with the most nicknames, even at the high school level. Off the field, softball players are generally more creative than their male counterparts, so I am hoping girls will use this creativity to come up with nicknames that will make the game even more fun, and friendships more memorable.
The game of fastpitch softball continues to grow in participation and popularity, in spite of the ongoing competition from soccer, volleyball, and lacrosse. I attribute this to a game that is becoming less dominated by pitching. As hitters continue to develop mechanics that improve bat speed, power, and consistency, the popularity of the sport for participants and spectators, will continue to increase.
Keep having fun, ladies!