Five fastpitch pitching coaches? That’s overload

Written by Bob on February 10th, 2012

YUCAIPA, CA – Every so often a fastpitch softball coach or parent will ask me “can you take a look at my pitcher and see what you think.”

That request always sends up red, warning flags. It has me suspecting that the coach or parent thinks there’s something wrong with their star pupil, and I can somehow work a miracle in one session.

Ty Stofflet, considered by many as greatest left-hander of all time.

Now, I’ve been around fastpitch softball since 1963; 34 years as a pitcher. My ability was mediocre at best. But I do consider myself a student of the circle. I’ve studied, photographed and written about some of the best in the men’s game: Michael White, Peter Meredith, Darren Zack, Ty Stofflet…and the list could go on. And also the likes of Lisa Fernandez on the women’s side.

Michael White, International Softball Congress Hall of Fame pitcher, and one of the all-time greatest.

So I think I’ve absorbed a few things about what makes a pitcher successful – at ALL levels of play – from the lowest to the highest. And I’ll gladly share what I know. Except.

Except when I’m asked to step in when the pitcher (usually a young girl) already has a pitching coach and a dad “heavily” invested in his daughter’s career. And in the case I’m about to present, a few other coaches as well.

Two weeks a go a college coach asked me to “take a look” at one of his pitchers. Let’s call him “Phil.” Anyway, Phil said the young lady of 18 has her own personal pitching coach, but he didn’t agree with some of the things the coach was teaching her. That sent up an instant warning flag.

Along with her personal coach, Phil has on his staff a pitching coach. And she pitched college ball at the NCAA Division II level. And added Phil, the young lady – let’s call her “Phyllis” has a father very interested in his daughter’s college career.

See where I’m going with this? Phyllis already has four coaches in her ear: Her head coach, her college pitching coach, her personal coach, and her dad. And now she’s being asked to take advice from yet a fifth person.

Warning flags flying all over the place.

I tried to back out by diplomatically stating that with Phil’s vast experience (stroking his ego) along with a large supporting cast, “I don’t think there’s much that I can add,” I said. “With too many teachers, you just might confuse the pupil.”

But Phil insisted. So I said on one condition. His college pitching coach has to be there with me. He said okay, not a problem.

Well it was a problem. The coach was a no show. And Phil wasn’t there either.

I wanted the pitching coach at the session as a collaborative colleague. And to make Phyllis feel comfortable. The pitching coach had been working with her for several weeks and obviously should know her strengths and weaknesses, and what pitches or mechanics she needs work on.

But I did have dad. Unfortunately. I could tell that his main concern was that I reported back to Phil with a “favorable evaluation.” He espoused how well she had pitched in travel ball. That’s great I said.

“What do you consider your daughter’s best attributes as a pitcher,” I asked.

“Her screw ball,” he said.

And in my mind I’m asking a silent question. “And what else?”

So with dad standing within three feet at my side, I asked a somewhat nervous Phyllis to show me her screw ball. She threw about a dozen pitches with moderate control. But the ball floated across the plate in the sweet hitting zone with no movement, begging, “hit me, hit me.”

I turned my attention on Phyllis, blocking dad out. I asked her what pitches she has the most confidence in. She said her rise ball.

“Your second pitch?”

“Screw ball,” she said.

“What about a drop ball?”

Doesn’t have one.

“Change up?”

“She has one,” dad chirped, “but she has trouble throwing it across the plate.”

Again, red flags all over the place. Coach Phil has asked me to work wonders in one pitching session. Not several mind you. But one.

That’s why I didn’t want to get involved in the first place. For what fair evaluation can one make about another’s skill level in one session? In any sport? In any endeavor? You can’t.

Furthermore, Phyllis intuitively knows that I’m “judging” her. The look in her eye, and the over willingness to please was obvious.

So trying to make her feel comfortable, I talked about some of the best female pitchers I had seen at the high school and college levels, and what made them successful pitchers.

I focused on Lisa Fernandez, UCLA All-American, and Gold Medal Olympian on the USA Women’s National Team.

Lisa Fernandez, Perhaps the greatest female softball player and pitcher in the world to ever step on to a ball diamond.

I told Phyllis – who has just average college speed at best – that what made Fernandez one of the best pitchers to ever step in the circle wasn’t speed, but were three things: Her incredible will to win. Her great command of her pitches – rise, drop and fabulous change up, all thrown right where her catcher asks for the pitch. And she was constantly trying to learn and improve.

“She wasn’t known for throwing the ball by hitters,” I said.

From the pitches that Phyllis showed me, I saw a mediocre rise ball. No drop. No change up. No screw ball.

I left her with this: If your rise ball is your best pitch, work hard to have total command of it and hit your catcher’s glove wherever she spots it, I said. And I stressed that she must develop a drop ball and a change up. And I showed her the grips and release point for both pitches.

And lastly, I told her she will find success at the college level if she believes in herself like a Lisa Fernandez. “If you work as hard as she did, you will be successful as a college pitcher,” I said.

She smiled, nodded her head up and down, but I could tell she was disappointed. She was like a pupil with her heart set on getting an “A”, only to receive a C+.

“If you work hard and are determined, you’ll get there,” I said giving her a shoulder squeeze, adding, “have fun, this is a great sport.”

Darren Zack, one of the hardest workers and best pitchers all-time, who still played the sport because it’s fun.

I could also tell dad was disappointed. I guess he – along with coach Phil – thought that Phyllis would miraculously emerge as a one-day wonder through my incredible teaching techniques. I was a bit upset and feeling guilty when I left the ball diamond, thinking this young impressionable pitcher has now been subjected to a fifth voice chattering in her ear.

The college pitching coach called me a couple of days later. She apologized for missing the pitching session. I said she really should have been there.

She wanted my opinion (actually, my judgment as I said earlier).

My point is this for coaches and parents of any athlete, playing any sport: Don’t overload a young mind with too much coaching from too many coaches. It causes confusion and raises doubt. As in, “they must think I’m not very good if it takes this many people to coach (teach) me.”

Find one coach that the young athlete believes in and trusts. And stick with him or her. Change only if the relationship isn’t working. But in fastpitch softball, the majority of personal pitching coaches I’ve encountered – almost all male – have years of pitching experience. Oozing with knowledge that they are delighted to share. And I suspect that Phyllis has a fine personal pitching coach. And I would like to tell dad that he should back away and let the coach do his job.

But five coaches? That’s overload.

Good luck Phyllis, I’m pulling for you. And I promise to stay out of your ear.

9 Comments so far ↓

  1. Kevin Kammueller says:

    Bob, I know you didn’t mean this as comedy, but one mans torture is another hilarity. The only difference is you were there and I got to just read about it. All I can say is, been there, done that. As can most people reading this. It is almost impossible to quell the itch to at least try to help, but it always works out that after 30 seconds you wish you anywhere but there.

  2. Larry Hineline says:

    Bob, I feel your anquish. You were in a can’t win situation. I can’t tell you the number of times someone wanted me to fix their daughter in one hour. I have had great success with my two college pitchers because I have them every day and they have to listen to me. The trouble is there are too many people out there with pitching opinions and have no business being involved, especially former D-2 pitchers.

  3. Rich Markham says:

    I’m so glad you wrote this piece–well done and addressing a very frequent problem! I would extend this “detail overload” a little further to the single coach or teacher who tries to take every pitcher down to the tiniest detail—the fingers, the wrist, the hips, the ankles, the glove, and so on. This is all very much an unnecessary overload.

    There are probably 3, maybe 4, things that a pitcher needs to focus on and if those are done properly, the other “pieces” have to follow.

    When a pitcher makes a pitch, she/he can think of only two things at best–one is the setup, that is, the position of feet, grip, legs, balance, etc., and the other is ONE thing during the motion. I do not believe anyone can focus consciously on more than one mechanical factor during a single pitch–step, arm swing, follow through, release, etc.

    I was asked to help a girl who, it turned out, was so focused on her left (landing) foot that she looked down at it on every pitch. That was the one thing she did well. When I had worked with her two years earlier, she was already a fairly natural pitcher who put everything together very well for a 12 year old. Her teacher had her worrying about the foot, the wrist, the fingers and several other things that I cannot even remember and I have been pitching for 50 years!

    We should caution coaches (and the fathers who are demanding that their daughters get the “best” teachers) not to overload the young women with details. Basics will take them through their careers every time!

  4. Doug Noble says:

    Pitching coaches…some girls can throw underhand and some can’t. Most girls have a hard time throwing over hand,and are taught to throw like boys. Boys don’t pay for pitching lessons. They watch men pitch and start form there. I grew up watching Harvey Sterkle, John Spring, Charlie Richard, and Joe Lynch pitch, for the Aurora Sealmasters. Men needed hitting lessons to learn how to do any thing but, PO and K, angainst these guys. I know there are too many pitching coaches across the states making money teaching girls how to throw wrong. Hillhouse calls them the PCM. There needs to be more X men pitchers teaching. There needs to be some kind of certification, to qualify to become a PC. Imagine how the girls game would change, if girls were taught to throw the right way and not the girls way…J. Finch and Cat, were taught wrong, and became good, because of their phyisical ability,size and disire to become the best. They could have become great like Bertha Tickey and Joan Joyce, had they been taught by a male pitcher, like you Larry, or Bill H. I think I know where the back arm swing came from. Even Cat and Finch used the back arm swing, and the roll over drop instead of the peel drop. Why? PC Mafia, maybe? Hillhouse says he takes little credit on a girls sucess. Their sucess comes from hard work and practicing the right ways. I got over to the AAU in Olando, and I did see Folkard and Manley throw. All the one foot on, crow hoppin and replanting would have been very disturbing ,had I not seen it on the internet videos, the last bunch of years. Fastball is not fast pitch. Thank God girls still play fast pitch. and not fastball. How can anybody compare Zack with Lynch, Stofflet, or Sterkle????

  5. Rick Daniels says:

    When Darren Zack and Michael White showed up i always thought of them as old school pitchers. And yes you could compare Zach to Lynch. Darren was taught to pitch by his uncle Lynch whom was as good a right hander as ty was a lefty.

  6. Rick Daniels says:

    correction Gene Mcwilly not Joe Lynch was Darrens uncle.

  7. Doug Noble says:

    Joe was as good as Ty. I never watched Zack. My Navy team beat both Joe with Clearwater and Ty with Penn. team. 70 or 71. Ty was with either York Bar Bell or Rising Sun out of Reading. Long time ago.

  8. Bob Becker says:

    I too grew up in Aurora watching Sterkel, Lynch, John Spring, Rocket Richard, Don Proctor, Chick Walsh, even back to Jimmy Chambers. It was a privilege to pitch on the same team with Sterkel and Richard before I left the state.And Doug, you are right…I dont understand why girls dont learn from the people who made the game great. I pitched with a guy in the Air Force named Garrett Porter who weighed no more than 140 pounds but brought it in the high 90s. Ive seen much larger girls who are impressed with throwing 65. In every sport there is, you get speed and power with a follow through. Kick a football, swing a golf club, throw the ball from deep short, you release the ball and follow through. Sterkel used to knock his hat back on his head with is follow through. Girls today stop at the waist and snap the wrist. You can snap the wrist and still follow through for more speed and more control, but it’s some kind of “girl” thing.

  9. Quint says:

    Bless all you old fastpitchers. I played until the sport died off in my area. Had the chance to bat against Mike White. I got beaned, right in the ankle. Also had the privilege of watching Darren Zack at the world tournament a good 18 years ago. Pure domination.

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