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Disagreement With New Coach

by Dave
Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Don from New York writes in with a question/concern as follows:

"My daughter is fairly new to travel softball, this is going to be her second year.   My question has to do with how to handle a coach who is teaching something to my daughter that conflicts with how I have taught her or another coach has taught her?

My daughter is 11 and her travel team coach this year has been trying to change her throwing motion.   He wants her to bring the ball into throwing position by using almost a reverse windmill motion, which he refers to as "ball to the sky".   I have been teaching my daughter to bring the ball immediately up to the throwing position, sort of like a football quarterback taking the snap and bringing the ball up to his ears.   When I tried to discuss this with the current coach he informed me that the way he is teaching her 'is the way colleges want it done.'   But to me it seems like it would unnecessarily add a second or two onto the delivery time which in fastpitch is a lifetime!!

Any advice on how to handle this, I don't want my daughter to throw the wrong way but I also don't want to anger her coach."

First off, the question of how to approach a coach who is teaching something differently than you would like your daughter taught is, as you might imagine, very tricky.   I do not believe there is a good way to approach a coach about mechanical issues he or she holds near and dear.   Before you go about questioning the coach, ask yourself exactly what you hope to gain.   Sometimes parents like to question coaches just to prove that they know a thing or two about the game.   Sometimes such comments come off the wrong way.   Coaches often get a lot of this and walk away thinking, "if he's so smart, why doesn't he coach the darn team."

Still, if you completely disagree with a coach, you will have to talk to him about it unless you can live with the situation.   I think the line should be drawn where you feel the method the coach is using will harm your daughter physically as would be the case when throwing is taught in a manner that will inevitably yield injuries.   In such a case, I would try to explain your concerns and if you don't get satisfaction, plan on leaving the team and coach behind if he or she insists the skill must be done that way.   It is better to miss a season of softball or go through all sorts of gyrations to find a new team instead of putting your daughter's physical health in jeopardy.

If the mechanics are being taught in a way that will not potentially injure your daughter, the next level of concern is whether they will damage her play permanently.   This is very tricky and subjective.   You have to do your research and be sure of the facts before approaching a coach about a mechanical skill.   Chances are pretty good that the coach will tell you why the skill is being taught this way or that, and regardless of how much information you have at your disposal, continue to disagree with you.   These types of disagreements never have happy endings.   Usually it is the coach's opinion that wins out.   Coaches don't like being questioned on mechanical issues and they get their backs up immediately.

The only thing resulting from this sort of questioning of mechanical skills is putting yourself into the coach's "pain in the ..." list.   Once you're there, you'll find yourself getting less and less of the coach's time.   Your kid can suffer too.   If you question the way in which your kid is being taught to throw, you probably will get the coach to lay off your kid but you can also expect to get an earful every time she makes a bad throw in a game.   You can also expect her playing time to suffer.   If she's a third baseman and makes one errant throw, the coach is likely to mutter something under his or her breath like "I tried to teach her to throw but her father wouldn't let me."   Then he may move her off of third base, into the outfield, or even to the bench if any bad throwing persists.

The next issue I would like to address is the manner in which your daughter's coach is teaching her to throw.   You describe a method with which I am familiar, the ball to the sky method.   This is actually the method I use when teaching young girls.   It is a method which minimizes risks of shoulder, arm and elbow injury.   That is because it is the method of throwing which places the least amount of stress on the joints.

I've described the ball to the sky method before on the site but let me do it again for the benefit of those who may not be familiar with it.   First off, the player gets a proper grip on the ball with 2, 3, or 4 fingers across one seams.   This is the grip most dads are familiar with as being a 4-seam fastball grip.   Next the player takes up position in what is often referred to as "scarecrow position" in which the arms are up in a weak football "goal post" position.   Elbows are bent in a 90 degree angle.   The glove hand is facing the target and the throwing hand is in the opposite position, furthest away from the target.   The knuckles on the throwing hand are facing towards the thrower's face and the hand is cocked backwards so the ball is "open to the sky."   If you don't get what I mean, pick up a ball and try it.

The actual throw begins when the thrower steps sideways towards the target and then begins rotating the shoulders to bring the ball in the target's direction.   As the elbow comes even with the body, the thrower snaps her wrist and follows through down to her opposite kneecap.

Again, this is the method I teach to beginning players and is, in my experience, the one used most frequently at entry levels.   It is used to teach both girls and boys to throw in recreational leagues around the country.   It can also be found taught in some high schools.   Our high school and several nearby teach throwing exactly this way.   Yet, as your question indicates, not everybody teaches throwing exactly like that.

I am a little surprised that your coach replied to your questions by saying this is the way the colleges want it done.   Did he take a poll?   What exactly is the source for such a claim?   I'm not aware that colleges collectively have one specific method of throwing on which they insist.   I think this is a weak argument for the coach but demonstrates that the way in which he is teaching the skill is a way which will not change just because you question it.   Most likely the coach attended one seminar taught by a college coach which taught throwing this way.   From that point forwards, this is the way your coach will teach throwing and nothing will ever change his mind about it.

The ball to the sky method is one which I have often seen used by coaches teaching young girls but I have also seen experts teach throwing a bit differently.   If you check out Howard Kobata's defensive softball videos, you will find a very different method for teaching infielders.   Kobata is, as far as I'm concerned, the leading expert on defensive softball.   Kobata emphasizes that a quick release is more important than a strong throw.   The ultimate measure of an infield throw is the time it takes to get there.   A quick release can cut precious tenths of a second off the total time. And most big time college players I have observed use more of a Kobata method than the ball to the sky one for precisely this reason.

To take this a bit further, there is no one right way for all players to throw.   Catchers, outfielders, and infielders all should throw the ball differently.   From behind the plate, quick release is absolutely critical.   That's why catchers are taught to pull the ball up "behind their ears."   In the infield, quick release is almost as important as it is to catchers.   As you move up in levels, I believe you will see coaches instruct fielders to pull the ball upwards - not quite as drastically as catchers do but somewhat similarly.   Catchers pull the ball to the ear while infielders pull it to about six inches or so further way from their heads.

In the outfield, most folks tend to teach a more elongated method which is closer to the ball to the sky method.   Outfielders are taught to take a crow hop after fielding the ball and simultaneously swing the arm up in what could be described the way you do it, as a "reverse windmill."   They need to get more power on the ball and most of the time, the power is more important than the quick release, though rightfielders should be encouraged to throw like infielders on hard shots hit directly at them on which they have a decent chance of nailing the batter at first.

I question your suggestion that using the ball to the sky method adds seconds to the total throwing time.   It's more like a tenth or two. But you are right that this can be an eternity in fastpitch with its 60 foot bases, particularly as girls get older and faster.   In 12U ball, I do not believe that the throwing method is critical to getting outs and I suggest that, because the throwing method neither risks injury nor permanently impacts your daughter's play, you leave the issue alone for now.

In summary, there is no good way to approach a coach on a mechanical issue like throwing.   Before you do, ask whether the method poses a risk for injury.   If it does, go for it, or just plain go.   If it does not, think hard about what is being taught and the potential for permanent dimunition of skill.   In your case I think, because she is playing 12U ball, this is unlikely.   You are right that this is not the only way to teach throwing.   You are right that the coach is full of it when he says "this is the way the colleges want it."   You are right that there are better ways to make a throw depending on which position your daughter plays.   But leave this alone.   There's nothing to be gained.

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