I remember going to softball camps as a kid. Every camp had new techniques and new ways of doing things. Most camps forced their way into your skills and changed how you did things. Countless times I entered a camp with one bunting technique and left at the end of the week with another. Now that I’m a pitching coach, and have been randomly coaching at different practices with multiple kids, I’ve been looking back on my experiences at these camps.
Walking into a practice where you aren’t the head coach, or even associated with the team; you begin to wonder where your boundaries lie. You know you’re there for a reason, and the coaching staff has asked you to help out because they admire your abilities. But, how much should you impose on their players? I found myself wondering; should I just fix the basics? Should I just teach them how to focus on the mound, and go over mental cues? Am I allowed to completely change their motion when they indeed have a pitching coach they’ve been working with?
Here’s the conclusion I came to. My success in softball came form sticking to one coach, and one philosophy my entire career. I was lucky enough to have the same pitching coach from the age of 10 until I ended my career at 22. I did go to camps, and they did temporarily change my mechanics, but as soon I as I went back to a team practice, my coaches put me straight back to our way of doing things. However, with that said, I can only teach what I know and believe in.
Today I gave a pitching lesson to two young pitchers who were having trouble mastering the change-up. I was asked to help them because the change-up was one of my best pitches. The way I see it is; I won’t fix something that isn’t broken. If they throw their curveball well, even if it’s not the way I would teach it, I’ll leave it alone. If they are struggling with different pitches, I’ll change them to the way I was taught. After all thats why I’m here.
My impromptu lessons tend to look like this. I have the pitcher go through all her pitches so I can see how she throws. I then begin to work on the pitch I was asked to help her with, or we work on the pitch I think needs the most attention. I have her throw it her way multiple times. I then do something unique. I ask the pitcher to teach me how they throw the pitch. They become the coach for a minute and show me the motion, snap, grip, and release of their pitch. After talking through the physical cues, most pitchers begin to throw more effectively. (Ahh secret sport psychology at its finest.) I then go over mental cues for them to recite before executing a pitch. If these two tactics and minor tweaks don’t improve their pitch, I break them down completely and teach them my mechanics.
I empathize with players who are constantly changing their mechanics due to working with multiple coaches; it can become very frustrating. However, as a coach, it’s my duty to teach athletes the methods I truly believe in. Even if it may frustrate and confuse them for a moment. I have to hope that my mechanics will assist them in experiencing a break through. I now understand why my skills were analyzed and changed throughout my softball camp experiences. As coaches we need to cater to individuals players, as every athlete has different strengths, but we must enforce the methods that we know; and believe in the most.
“You haven’t taught until they have learned.” -John Wooden
Great post. The athletes are definitely often overwhelmed by different teaching methods. However, coaches (and athletes) must always strive to get better and often times that means coming out of their comfort zone. So how quickly do we jump off our bandwagon of what we learned, and start learning/trying different things? You are right in recognizing that there isn’t only one way…but is there a best way (or at least a “better” way) to do things?
It is tough, I don’t have the answer for this. But as a coach I am always open to learning and possibly changing what I formerly believed, if there is a “better” way. Better can be a subjective term though…we need to be very critical and make sure any new methods make sense, are backed by research (when possible), and theory (including video of elite performers).
It is our job as coaches (the higher up we go, the more it is our responsibility) to find and teach what we think is the “best” way for our athletes. Their high school coaches may have taught a different way, but we college coaches should be spending our time analyzing the things that we want to teach and getting the athletes on board with those methods when they come to our program and trust us to do so. We should always be open to discussion with other coaches though, and should be able to justify anything that we do teach. As Don Meyer once said, “be your own best expert and worst critic.”
Great comment! Thanks so much for your thoughts!
I definitely agree that coaches need to constantly be learning and updating their repertoire of teachings. If they didn’t, the game would have never evolved into what it is today. I think it is the duty of a coach to keep up with the changing techniques and technologies of the game.
My hope was to encourage coaches to step in and make changes without being fearful of stepping on another coaches toes. I may have missed the mark on conveying this.
I think there is a best way, or a better way of doing things. With that said, I think you must cater to the individual athlete. Some techniques will work better for one athlete, and not as well for another. I also think this “best way” is constantly evolving and changing.
Thanks so much for your comment, I really enjoyed reading it and pondering this idea. Great quote too!
Hi,I am a travel coach that has been in softball since 1973.I started coaching in 1984 alongside my playing until I retired from playing in 2000 and I am now in my 40th year in softball. In my experience of running camps and clinics I have always found it to be helpful to young players to find out different ways of playing our game. When I work with other coaches I will discuss a point of mechanics with them to see if the problem has gone unnoticed to them and point out the benefits of making a change.Sometimes working with athletes for a long period little cracks in their mechanics can slip in unnoticed so the opinion of a coach from outside will be readily appreciated. Working with young girls you have to keep reviewing their mechanics or sometimes a whole process as they get older and their physique changes.I think finding out different ways of batting or any other part of the game will make you a better player than one who can only do something one way.When I am asked to a practice I know they want to see if my experience will benefit their team otherwise why would they ask and the same would go for you.The head coach often asks me right what would you like to do, and with that I would say lets go into your normal warm up routines and if there is anything I would like to add to it I will tell you if that is OK and they always agree.I have just opened the door to making comments and adding my ideas to their practice without confrontation and everyone will benefit.
In any situation in life or sport if you go in all guns blazing you will get resistance from whom you are trying to help.I carried out a pitching clinic last weekend with pitchers that have been pitching for years some of which had mechanics that were holding them back from their true potential and others that were causing pain.I felt no resistance to go in and show them how to improve and how to change their mechanics to avoid injury, it is your duty as a coach.They all benefited from this and so did their coaches.
I always take the time to watch every pitcher go through their warm ups and their pitching until they are at maximum speed and ability. Not only do I watch, I also film all of it as so often little things can be overlooked but on slowmo vision everything is there to see. The other thing players often suffer from is what is called the perception gap, that is what they think they are doing and what they are actually doing,so you have it all on film and there can be no disputes.I show pitchers all of the usual grips and then show them how many other ways you can influence the ball to move, that way if they cannot throw it in the noted form they still have options to make that ball move and they do not get discouraged. I always tell players not to dwell on other famous peoples styles, as that is all it is. You have your own style. If we train their mechanics right it will have the same outcome.
I think by what you have said you are doing a good job and therefore if coaches ask for your help and do not listen then not only will their team not improve but nor will their coaching.
I always say.
Inside every player is the best player they can be
It is my job as your coach to find that player
Your job as a player is to want it as much as me.
End of quote.
Keep on coaching the game needs you.