As I write this we are not only in the beginning of the Christmas/New Year holiday vortex but also an actual polar vortex. Winter Storm Elliott is hammering much of the U.S., including parts that aren’t used to it, with snow, gale force winds, and bitter cold of the type that makes you run right back inside as soon as you feel it.
It’s so bad where I live that the facility I usually work out of has been closed for the last couple of days. No sense having people risk their health and/or their lives just to come to a lesson when there are no important games on the immediate horizon.
So does that mean all softball-related activities must come to a dead stop? Hardly.
In fact, times like this offer the perfect opportunity to really dig into mechanics and the mental game to work on the little things that can make a huge difference in a player’s overall performance.
It’s like when a player comes to a lesson and says they are feeling a little ill, or tired, or have an injury. I light up – not at their misfortune but at the chance to go deeper in aspects of the game that they might not want to spend so much time on ordinarily.
Not because it’s not necessary, but because it can be really boring to them. When it’s all they can do, however, those things become a lot more interesting.
So while it’s bitterly cold or snowy and you’re stuck at home (or even if it’s bright, sunny, and balmy for that matter) here are a few things to work on that don’t require a cage, a bat, a regular softball, or even much space.
Quick Pitching Release
I have yet to meet a pitcher who doesn’t want to be faster (including a few pretty famous ones). While speed alone isn’t everything, the more you have the better everything else seems to go. And the better you can get by until you can improve other aspects of your game.
One of the keys to speed is the ability to transfer as much of the energy the pitcher has generated through leg drive as possible into the ball. That requires a lightning-quick yet relaxed pronation of the forearm at release.
Building that pronation doesn’t require a lot of space or fancy equipment. You can:
- Throw a rolled up pair of socks into a wall or mirror
- Throw a plyo ball, foam ball, or regular ball into a net
- Walk around the house practicing releases, Ks, and full circles with nothing in your hand
- Perform various exercises (such as squeezing a stress ball) to build your grip strength
Focusing on that one little bit can pay huge dividends the next time you go to pitch at a full distance.
Leg/Body Drive and Timing Off the Rubber
Don’t worry non-pitchers, we’re getting to you. But this is another area that’s often under-trained when pitchers are left on their own.
A lot of pitchers have trouble generating effective leg/body drive off the pitching rubber. After they load they will start to reach forward with their stride (glove-side) leg while essentially standing on the drive (throwing-side) leg.
This type of movement is inefficient, even if it’s done quickly. To generate the kind of energy needed to throw hard you have to get the hips driving forward before the stride leg has gone out fully.
In other words, pitchers have to learn to use their legs together instead of one at a time. Fortunately, this is the same type of leg action used when you skip (or for you multi-sport athletes go for a layup).
Find a few feet of space and skip. Feel how the legs are working. Then try doing the same thing but adding a pitching motion to it.
Take video so you can see if you’re truly getting some spring in your step or if you’re just standing on the pitching rubber as the stride leg goes out.
You can also just stand on the ball of the foot of your drive leg, push forward, then “catch” yourself with your stride leg. This should all occur in a quick, short motion rather than trying to get out far.
Feel the legs working together, then start extending it until you can do it full speed, just as you would in a game.
You probably know from endless hours of lessons what you’re supposed to do at each phase of the swing. But are you actually doing those things?
Here’s a way to find out. Set yourself up in front of a full-length mirror and watch yourself take a swing. If space is limited substitute a curling iron or a short pool noodle for the bat.
Go through it slowly and see what position your body is in at each phase. Check to see that you are:
- Getting positive movement forward
- Leading with your hips
- Getting separation between your hips and shoulders
- Keeping your hands up instead of dropping them to launch the bat
- Driving your back side around your front side
Do it slowly, over and over, checking each aspect. Then do it a little faster, then a little faster, each time checking all those aspects.
While this doesn’t do much for your timing, it ensures that if you are on time you’ll greatly increase your chances of hitting the ball hard.
While this applies to any position, it especially applies to catchers. The faster you can transfer the ball from your glove to your throwing hand, the sooner you can get the ball on its way so you can throw out even the fastest of rabbits.
This is a skill that can be practiced in a bedroom or living room.
Start out barehanded, with the ball in your glove hand. Then transfer it to your throwing hand by slamming it from one to the other.
Then add a glove, doing the same thing. Do it over and over, each time trying to go a little faster.
Before you know it you’ll be able to move that ball from one hand to the other with the best of them.
Ask any coach or player how important the mental game is and they’ll likely tell you it’s hugely important. Then ask them what percentage of their practice time is spent on the mental game and, if they’re honest, they will probably tell you little or none.
That’s because physical practice seems like practice. Mental game practice feels like you missed something you should have been working on.
This is your chance. While you’re stuck inside, do some visualization, seeing yourself making great plays or slamming great hits.
Work on your positive self-talk. A kind word from yourself at the right time can work wonders.
Look online for various stress-relieving techniques you can use during a game. Examples include:
- Squeezing a stress ball or other device
- Grabbing a handful of dirt, squeezing it tightly, then throwing it away
- Inhaling deeply through your nose and blowing the air out slowly through your mouth
- Washing your hands with water
- Creating a pre-pitch routine or ritual
Turn on loud music or a talking podcast then try to do something unrelated such as a reading or math problems. It’s amazing what this exercise can do for your ability to focus.
Time invested now in your mental game can pay big dividends when it’s actually time to play.
No Justification Needed
Really, these things aren’t just for bad weather. They are things you should be doing any time if you want to get better.
But bad weather provides the perfect opportunity because there is little else you can do.
Don’t waste this chance. Get on it now and you’ll find you’re than much farther ahead in your goals once you hit the field again.
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