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Defensive Softball - Howard Kobata

by Dave
Thursday, February 22, 2007

Yesterday, within the context of a rotational vs. linear hitting analysis, I wrote a passing comment about another subject.   I wrote, "Kobata fielding techniques are best, particularly for infielders - but that's a discussion for another day."   A reader of the site wrote in to ask me about this.   He said, "Kobata?? - I was wondering if you have any articles on Kobata fielding techniques?   I'm not familiar with this and it sounds interesting."

I suppose it never occurred to me that many in this sport are still unfamiliar with defensive softball as taught by Howard Kobata.   So today I'll touch on some information regarding this essential part of your softball knowledge base.

Howard Kobata resides in Southern California where he teaches defensive softball skills on a private and clinic basis.   He was a baseball player who moved to SoCal from Hawaii and, like so many other top softball coaches, played fastpitch softball after his baseball playing days were over.   He has built a career by studying, perfecting and teaching defensive softball.

Once his playing days were over, he coached girls fastpitch softball at a very high level, including many top 10 finishes at ASA nationals and one national title.   He gives clinics locally and to organizations around the country.   His skills are included in a package of videos which are available for purchase via the web.

I first encountered the name Kobata on several softball forums.   Visitors inquiring about all sorts of topics were told to keep an eye out for Kobata fielding clinics in their areas.   To the neophyte, this seemed like excessive hype but it was, for me, something to at least keep in the back of my mind.   When clinics were held in my area, I figured I'd have my kid give one a shot but, to my surprise, I was told that girls attending these clinics should be at least 12, probably older, and be extremely serious about softball, not to mention currently playing at an advanced level.   So I resigned myself to waiting a few more years.

While I waited for the day that I could see Kobata in action, I learned that he had produced a couple of defensive skills videos.   I went online to see if I could find them,   I discovered Howard's site SoftballSkills.com and surfed through it for a while.   On the site I found his defensive softball series.   Unfortunately I found they were only available in VHS and because we no longer owned a VCR, I wrote him to inquire about whether he was going to make these videos available in DVD format.   Luckily he wrote me back to say he was planning on doing just that and I would have my videos in a few weeks.   These are currently available in DVD format.

The videos are: Softball Skills - Series 1, Catching and Throwing; and Series 2, Fielding.   Series 1 costs $30 plus shipping and handling.   Series two is ten dollars more.   But if you buy both, the price comes down to a total of $50 plus S/H and sales tax.   It is well worth the expense.

I dare say that neither tape is exclusively concerned with just one aspect of softball defense.   The two together form a nice cohesive whole and consist of an intensely packed series of skills and drills which totals to about an hour and twenty minutes.   But it is a long hour and 20 minutes.   You will have to go over and over each one of the segments to capture even close to a majority of the information provided.   I doubt that all the hours I have devoted to this have yielded even a small percentage of what is there.

Howard Kobata suggests that you watch this series with your glove in hand so you can act out the things he's teaching you.   I'll go a bit further than that.   My approach to watching these videos is a study in itself.   What I suggest you try to do is sit through one video played straight through in its entirety without trying to do anything more than just watching and listening.   Then I suggest you get out your mitt and a pencil with some paper so you can dissect it properly.   You will want to watch each segment several times, with frequent stops during each, and jot down your thoughts.   That will take you a significant amount of time since you will be stopping the video to write down a lot of little tips and aspects of these drills and skills.   Then you'll want to craft some drills for your team and give them a try.   Then you'll need to come back to the videos and watch some more, jot some more and then give something else a try.   This is certainly not a one-time deal where you sit and watch two videos over an hour and a half and then put them on your shelf to collect dust.

Kobata emphasizes sound defensive skills and how to best develop them through drilling and attention to the smallest of details like ready position, footwork, where in your stance you pick up the ball, how your body pivots around the fielded ball, and the best approach to making a throw.   Some of it you will have heard from other coaches - in fact many of Howard's drills are in common usage.   Some of it will strike you as obvious but something you hadn't thought of quite the same way Howard said it.   Some of it will offend your sense of how to play the game - as you learned it twenty years ago ... in the hands of an unqualified coach.   All of it is relevant to anyone attempting to do a good job of coaching a fastpitch team whether that team is an 8U rec program or an ASA gold team.   It is also relevant for parents of girls who play the sport at all levels.

Howard does not necessarily agree with the assertion that his in-person clinics are not suitable for younger players.   He says, "there is not much I can do if the player is still afraid of the ball and cannot learn to catch correctly."   Also many of the clinics held by organizations located out of state are mixed age ones and "sometimes the weaker player has trouble keeping up with the others."   My sense is the key pre-requisites for a Kobata clinic are motivation and no fear of the ball.   Howard notes that when he works with teams, "not everyone really wants to be there and so attitude problems may arise."   But he has worked with highly motivated 10U teams, eventually moving to fairly advanced skills.

Aside from the issue of whether or not Kobata clinics are right for younger kids, the skills taught on the videos are entirely appropriate.   From your first catch with your 8 year old daughter to your last coaching assignment with the high school state championship team, there is something to be gleaned from the Kobata defensive skills video series.   And, if you're but a mere parent, it doesn't really matter if you expect your kid to get a college scholarship or if your highest aspirations are your kid's simple enjoyment of the rec league for a few years.   If you study this information, learn it and learn how to explain it to others, your kid will benefit.   The true value of sport, in my humble opinion, is learning to do something difficult the right way.   And this series will teach you to teach kids to do just that.

I don't know what else I can say about this series or Howard Kobata without gushing even more than I have.   Let me add that Howard is totally devoted to the sport.   He is not just in this to make a few bucks.   He is a nice enough guy who bothers to take time out to respond to e-mailed questions.   What comes through in his replies to questions is total, complete, 100% devotion to the sport and the skills he has developed.

I've seen a lot of cheesy videos and other products which have apparently been made to make money.   They use famous people to endorse products.   They presume to teach topics whose names are attractive to people involved in the sport.   But very few effectively teach the subject matter.   The kobata series was the most pleasant surprise I found in the many purchases I have made to date.   I strongly urge you to pry the fifty bucks from your wallet and give them a try.   if you are not pleased, I cannot offer you a refund - though maybe Howard would.   But more importantly, if you are not completely impressed with this product I really would like to know why in detail.   I do not expect I'll have any takers on that challenge.

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