During this time of year, why are parents laying wide awake at night with anxiety and wonder? Nervous about their taxes? Nope. Stressed about their March Madness bracket? Nada. Figuring out their commute time with the snow dump job? Never. It is baseball and softball tryout season time. A magical time of speculation, prediction, over analysis and sometimes downright praying for what team their son or daughter will make for the summer.
At a young age, catchers tend to take more steps towards 2nd base to try to get more on the throw due to their arm strength being poor. On the other hand, older players tend to not use their lower half as much and rely on their arm strength to make a strong accurate throw to 2nd. The lower half is what drives the catcher towards 2nd and aides in getting as much on the throw to the base as possible.
Just like in every sport and every facet of life, fundamentals are the keys to success. A successful player is a player that understands this aspect of the game and works tirelessly to make sure he is fundamentally sound.
One of the most important aspects of baseball, in every aspect of the game is a player’s footwork. When you’re hitting, you need your footwork to be consistent and repeatable. When you’re pitching your footwork needs to put you in position to fully utilize the rest of your body. When you’re fielding, you need your footwork to stay consistent and get you in an athletic, powerful position to make the play.
Pre-game routines are a very important and often overlooked part of preparing for competition. Giving youth pitchers structure when preparing for a game is something that can pay off for them for the rest of their careers. As arm injuries continue to rise, it is something that needs to be attacked from the ground up. At the youth level, most players don’t feel a need to warm-up. Their bodies are loose and ready for competition without much activity. They may not feel what picking up a baseball and throwing with no warm-up is doing to their bodies, but over time it will more than likely affect them in a major way. There are multiple benefits of having a structured pre-game routine.
As a coach, I get it, I need my catchers to be able to throw, I need that out. As a player whose arm was injured as a result of that throw...it worries me. Softball isn’t like baseball. The base paths don’t grow with the kids. The diamonds that the girls play on at 10 years old are the same ones they’ll play on at 18. The catching part is important to me, but the throwing part is the one thing I make sure my catchers work on at every practice. I want to make sure that they don’t wrap their arms behind their head, and that they’re using their whole bodies because that’s a long throw. Had I been taught the proper mechanics I could’ve spent my final year playing rather than in the press box.
It’s that time of year where you are wrapping up your summer club season and trying to decide whether to stay with your current club/association, or chose between a variety of different clubs. Maybe the change is needed due to experience, or it is time to move on and play at a higher level. I’m not telling you what to do or where to go, but I am speaking as a previous youth, association, club, high school, and college player who has played at all those levels and had to figure out the best choice for me and my family in terms of what fit our needs. I played association softball up until 14U and then I decided that I wanted more, in terms of travel, coaching, and just overall training and exposure.
As I stood in the warm glow of the May sun outside of Willey Hall on the West Bank of the University of Minnesota campus, a subtle feeling of accomplishment was beginning to wash over me. After clawing my way out of the academic sink hole that I created for myself the previous semester, I was finally walking out of my last final exam of my freshman year confidently knowing I would be off academic probation. My focus could eagerly go back to preparing myself mentally and physically for the following fall’s walk-on tryouts.
We’ll just go ahead and skip the part about how I fell in love with the game of baseball the second I first saw Ken Griffey Jr. stroke a ball over the right field fence. With his swing sweeter than my mom’s fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, just watching him forever cemented my place as a left-handed hitter, attempting to mimic said swing straight out of a dream, albeit with significantly less power. We can also skip the endless hours underneath the scorching summer sun playing whiffle ball in the front yard with my little brother, and anybody that we could find to fill a position (sometimes it would be as simple as playing one-on-one pitcher’s hand until we couldn’t see the ball anymore). These endless hours left scars and memories in the grass of our front yard in Eagan, Minnesota.
Writing this article made me think about the pep talk I would give to my 11 year old self, the year this journey began. To tell that awkward, lanky, bespectacled tween that she was going to be in for the ride of her life (and that sparkly denim is fashion statement, so don’t let the haters tell you otherwise). To tell her that sometimes things were going to be incredibly difficult mentally, physically and emotionally, but those occasions would pale in comparison to the absolute bliss that would come from achieving her goals and forming lifelong relationships.
The final value to discuss is leadership. Leadership, first and foremost, is recognizing that the most important person to lead is oneself. This is done through honest self-assessment while maintaining a positive outlook and a growth mindset. It is about saying and believing the idea, “I can improve through hard work and deliberate practice.” You set goals, determine a practice plan, and hold yourself accountable. Along the way, you take time to celebrate your successes and progress. Leaders not only rely on their own honest self-assessment, but they exhibit a thirst for feedback.
Next on the list of our core values to discuss is “grit.” When we talk about grit we aren’t talking about a southern breakfast dish or abrasive particles. We are talking about firmness of character and an abominable —strike that, wrong word— an indomitable spirit. It’s an approach to life. A focused, concentrated and determined approach that doesn’t have room for getting discouraged.
Last week we started the Beyond the Bench blog with an examination of the Starters’ mission statement, which, for a quick reminder, is below:
To be the most trusted and superior resource for training, coaching, and educating athletes on and off the field. We mentor our athletes so they reach their full potential in sport and in life.
The Starters’ team has had a few humorous lead-ups to our “Beyond the Bench Blog.” Hopefully we will be able to use the blog to inform and entertain. But before we get into the content of instruction or humor we wanted to tell you a bit about ourselves, and how seriously we take training you or your child(ren).