I want to talk about how softball is a very conservative sport. We are very old school for many of the things that we do. Unlike many other sports that adapt and pick up on new research findings to improve their game, we tend to stick to the old-fashion way of doing things far too often.
Why is that? I don’t really know. Perhaps it’s because most of our coaches are volunteers and are not well educated in sports sciences – all they know really well are techniques and strategies. Also, coaches often tend to use the same methods that they have experienced in their playing days and some of these methods might be out of date.
There are many things that we “still” do that are totally out of date. Here are a few.
1. Keeping the elbow up at the plate. Probably the biggest flawed coaching tip given to young players in the history of softball and baseball. Even in my playing days, when I was not successful at the plate, the first thing that my coaches or my parents would tell me was to keep my elbow up like it was the magic trick to cure all hitting problems. I have no idea where it is coming from but any decent coach or hitting instructor will tell you that it is the most ridiculous thing ever!
2. Using static stretching to warm-up. Scientific research has taught us in recent years that using static stretching as mean to warm-up is counter productive. Not only it doesn’t prevent injuries but it actually decreases performance by turning off the nervous system (decreasing speed and power). Static stretching has been replaced by dynamic stretching which “turns on” the nervous system and promotes speed and power generation and helps prevent injuries. Static stretching should be use in the cool-down after games and practices.
3. Using heavy bats while on-deck to build bat speed. Have you ever heard the principle that to be fast, you have to train fast? Then, knowing that swinging a heavy bat will slow down your swing, why so many softball players swing a heavy bat on deck thinking it will help them swing faster? Bottom line is that swinging a heavy bat on deck slows your swing down. Instead, use a slightly lighter bat (minus 1 or 2 oz) and that will make you swing faster before you step in the batter’s box.
4. Running a 1-batter and 9-fielders hitting practices. Have you ever seen practices where you have one player hitting and 9 players on the field waiting for the ball? This is the most ridiculous way of doing training hitting and a huge waste of time. Totally counter productive. You want to use stations and have most of your players doing something active at all time. You only have so much time to practice – make the best use of it by being highly efficient and effective.
5. Pitchers should not lift weights. Why would pitchers be different than other athletes? Pitchers can greatly benefit from lifting weights. It’s true that you have to be careful with overhead lifts with pitchers but outside of that, having your pitchers workout will only help them prevent injuries, develop greater stamina and become stronger, more powerful, faster, more dominant, and more consistent.
6. Doing endless aerobic training. How often in softball do you go non-stop for minutes at a time? Never. Spending hours and hours doing cardio is pointless and useless. Yes, you want to build a base of cardiovascular fitness but nothing more. If your athletes are able to job for 20 minutes at a moderate pace, that’s enough. They don’t need to do more. You want to spend more time building speed, strength and power which are essential qualities in softball. Doing too much running can actually hinder the development of these three qualities. Early in the off-season, you can spend a bit of time doing cardio but as you get closer to the season, focus on doing sprints and high-intensity work.
7. Yelling and screaming at players. It might have worked in the 70’s, in the 80’s and even a bit in the 90’s but today’s softball players don’t respond well to yelling and screaming. Yes, that might work in the short term but it doesn’t work over a long period of time. Yes, you can ask for discipline, hard work, and effort but no need to yell or scream. Instead, you want a positive, supportive and empowering environment so that your athletes respond well and want to go to war for you.
8. Eating Junk. Gone are the days were softball was seen as a sport where burgers and beers were the food of choice. Serious softball players watch what they eat and understand that what they eat and what they drink do influence their game. Softball is a sport that requires mental sharpness, great anticipation, quick reaction time, quick judgment, and alertness. Your brain cells use blood glucose (energy in your blood) to function. If you eat and drink junk, you will not be fuelling your brain cells with adequate stuff and you will not be mentally sharp. Your game will suffer.
9. Using the pitching machine too much. We love pitching machines. Pitching machines are a great invention but doing too much of it, especially doing the season is counter productive. The machines do not vary pitch locations and teach your players to swing at every pitch without making a decision. It’s great to train hitting mechanics in the off-season but nothing beats live pitching, front toss or other variations of live pitching to learn how to judge a ball and adjust to different pitches.
There are many more old school practices that are still around but I would have to write a book to talk about all of them.